Sunday, October 30, 2022

Guest Who: Suddenly Songbird?

One of the previously unseen TV shows that I watched during the Covid-19 lock-down was Thriller, a British anthology typically featuring some sort of mystery and/or mayhem. It ran from 1973-1976. As the run developed, an effort was made to include an American name or two within each installment, the idea being that there could be better chances at re-run success in the States if familiar faces were included. This could sometimes be a little clunky story-wise (explaining why a "yank" was in the mix), but the show did indeed air in U.S. syndication. I just somehow missed it. It was fun discovering these eps, especially when one featured an utterly unexpected guest appearance. Take this one, for instance...

A world-famous opera singer is in the midst of a tour and has currently landed in London. We're always all-in whenever a hairdo like this is at play. But who is this songbird? (The episode's proper title is "Nightmare for a Nightingale.")

Fellow guest Stuart Damon (of the 1965 Cinderella and decades on General Hospital) watches the lady ply her trade.

"New York is where I'd raaather stay...!" (I'm kidding. It's not Eva Gabor...)

All sorts of folks want to toast her performances... But who's the singer? Would you believe...

Susan Flannery!?

The Golden Globe winner for New Star of the Year - Actress of 1975 is the Special Guest Star. Flannery had been on TV for well over a decade before being crowned "New" Star of the Year.

After guesting on Burke's Law, Death Valley Days and Ben Casey, she landed on Days of Our Lives in the key role of Laura Horton. She spent a decade there, winning a Daytime Emmy in 1975, the same year as her Golden Globe. The reason for her Golden Globe was a featured part as the doomed secretary Lorri in the mega-hit The Towering Inferno (1974.) Her association with producer Irwin Allen, on whose shows Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and The Time Tunnel she'd been a guest, had aided her in winning that part.

Some of the patented loving looks and smooching she gave boss Robert Wagner in Inferno can be detected here in her relationship with Damon.

She also finds herself having to contend with stage actor and fellow guest star Keith Baxter. You may have seen him in Ash Wednesday (1973) with Elizabeth Taylor. (He'd been cast as Octavian in her Cleopatra (1963) and filmed much of his role before her lingering illness shut the movie down and many of the parts had to be recast due to timing.)

Flannery goes through a variety of personal turmoils in the show, often draped in chiffon and with her hair piled high as seen here. It's a very unaccustomed look for the actress who mostly wore shorter, simpler looks.

And she does, in fact, return to her freer, lighter locks at other points in the episode.

Naturally at bedtime (in this atrocious confection) she opts for the easy look.

Still, we prefer the stiff, big, intricate way. LOL

Also check out these eyelashes! She had the big-time peepers to pull the look off, but I must say they are ginorous when you really begin to look them over.

But a gal need a little help when belting out an aria on stage.

This was but one year before Damon would create his iconic daytime role of the devious Dr. Alan Quartermaine on General Hospital. He was nominated for seven Daytime Emmys, winning once.

It was fun to see these two soap opera stalwarts work together on Thriller.

Flannery later made a triumphant return to daytime TV as the matriarch Stephanie Forrester on The Bold and the Beautiful. She was nominated nine times for the Emmy, winning three. She worked on the show from 1987-2012. (On-screen hubby John McCook remains on the show even now! A recent story line had him grappling with ED.....)

In real life, Flannery had little interest in long (or big!) hair as she grew older and kept a close-cropped style. She wore wigs for a while as Stephanie, but eventually abandoned those for her own short, silver strands. During her time on Bold, she developed into a skilled director as well, but since departing the screen a decade ago, she now lives out of the limelight and is currently 83. As you may or may not be aware, she was the lover of Fannie Flagg for a while, cohabiting for eight years in the late-'60s and early-'70s.

It's been suggested that her sexuality hampered her standing with some producers & directors back in the 1970s and that is why all that promise withered on the vine and she was soon back on TV. In any case, I don't know of any case in which she phoned in a performance. She was committed and charismatic in everything I ever saw her in. (And, to this day, I keep a VHS tape of her on Bold, going at it with gusto against one of her enemies.)

This episode of Thriller, with all the chiffon, polyester, Aqua Net and eyelashes one can handle, may be seen here, free with limited ads on Tubi. Other eps are there, too, with everyone from Donna Mills to Bradford Dillman to Gary Collins to Carol Lynley (and a fascinating one with Helen Mirren), among others!

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Ssstrriiike "3!"

In 1976 & 1977, there was probably no one else on the planet's surface as "big" as Farrah Fawcett-Majors. She'd been a working actress for close to a decade, but Charlie's Angels, along with a smash poster, shot her into the celebrity stratosphere. (It remains the best-selling poster of all time.) A small role in Logan's Run (1976) brought extra viewers to that movie, myself included. She abruptly left Angels, leading to a protracted legal battle, and proceeded to star in three feature films. Somebody Killed Her Husband (1978, a reworking of Charade, 1963), Sunburn (1979, a muddled mess) and Saturn 3 (1980, a highly troubled production.) Each one was met with derision and her big-screen career was spotty thereafter. It would be television (along with the stage) that redeemed her as an actress. But today we're taking a look at that third film, whose fallout sent her back to the dugout for a time.

Saturn 3 (1980) was the brainchild of esteemed production director John Barry (who designed the sets for both Star Wars, 1977, and Superman, 1978, among others.) He was set to direct with Stanley Donen producing. Sir Lew Grade of ITC Entertainment put up the money and it was he who interested Fawcett in the project in its earliest form. Before long, conflict had Barry out on his keister with Donen taking over the helm. And cost overruns on Grade's Raise the Titanic (1980) led to some budget trimming on this film.

Things begin austerely, with Saturn in view as a ship comes to pass across it.

Soon enough, the ship eclipses our view of the planet, in an rather blatant steal from the opening of Star Wars.

Arresting visuals set a stylish tone as workers prepare to launch a small rocket ship from their vessel to Triton, one of Saturn's three moons.

The craft departs, with an unseen inhabitant, for its destination. However, we know something is quite wrong since the pilot of the craft has just gorily murdered the intended astronaut and taken his place!

The tiny ship is flung from the larger craft and heads towards its destination. (For reasons unknown, it feels the need to go through one of Saturn's rings, being bumped by debris all the while...!)

Barely visible in the center at bottom are Triton's two inhabitants, who are awaiting the arrival of this visitor. 

The three go through a sort of disinfection procedure before entering the compound. There's such an odd scale issue here... The man in green is in front of the woman behind him, yet looks far smaller. I'll show you what I mean in a moment.

The visiting man in green is revealed to be Harvey Keitel.

The resident male is Kirk Douglas.

And the resident female is our top-billed star Farrah Fawcett.

See how much bigger and broader Keitel is than Fawcett?! Yet in the earlier scene, she looked as big or bigger than he. Weird... We're ominously informed that, thanks to an eclipse, there can be no contact with Earth for 21 days.

In the futuristic story, everyone has a tattooed scan marking on them, which allows others to know things about them, such as where they've been. For instance, Keitel can ascertain that Fawcett has never been to Earth.

Welcome to Douglas and Fawcett's pad.

Douglas and Fawcett are on Triton to develop experimental food for a starving, depleted Earth. (It's a fer piece from Saturn to Earth... check those expiration dates, people, if you get and canned goods marked "Made on Saturn 3!")

Keitel has come to speed up the process as, apparently, the powers that be on Earth are dissatisfied with the progress being made thus far. The outpost is not considered a desirable place despite all the creature comforts like velour and Fawcett. Douglas declares that "when the world gets an enema, this is where they stick the tube" or something close to that!

Like I said, Douglas has it pretty good. He's got to try to grow some food all while sharing a complex (and more!) with the three-decades-younger Fawcett!

Veteran leading man Douglas took second-billing to Ms. Fawcett for this part and one can only assume that part of it was the added benefit of being practically entwined like snakes and barely clothed during much of the filming.

Fawcett knows little about the now-depraved ways of Earth and Douglas has not-so-fond memories of the place himself.

He is dismayed by a blue dreamer, a hallucinogenic drug, which Keitel has offered to Fawcett. Keitel has also offered himself (!) to Fawcett in the most matter of fact way imaginable. Such things are common on Earth, but foreign to the naive Fawcett.

She doesn't take the pill (or Keitel), but places it in a glass repository.

Here is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it topless scene with Fawcett clearly breaking character as she bops over to a waiting Douglas.

Like I say, there are worse ways a 64 year-old can sustain a movie career.

A squeal breaks out (no, not from Fawcett) and we find that there is yet one more dweller on Triton, the little Cairn terrier Sally. She's locked herself in one of the compartments. Nymphet Fawcett, is apparently used to darting around the place starkers, but Douglas tosses her a filmy sheet to put on since Keitel is now on site!

While she's gone, he weighs the importance of the pill she showed him. In this scene, a crew member is sloppily shown crouching down at Douglas' side! See the patterned shirt in the mirror at center? It would have been harder to spot had the person nor made sudden, jerky moves to unsuccessfully get out of frame.

Fawcett gets the dog, but can't resist investigating a mysterious, large vial that Keitel has brought among his supplies. He's been adamant that no one touch it and is angered when she does so.

She's also appalled to find out that the only time Keitel has ever owned a dog was when he got ahold of one... to eat!

Later, Keitel observes (up close!) Fawcett and Douglas' late-night activities. In this version of the future, there's no widescreen hi-def. It's strictly Zenith test tube TV action.

He takes his pills and heads to sleep in his comparatively Spartan accommodations.

The next morning, we catch a glimpse of how Fawcett and Douglas stay fit at their remote outpost, with Fawcett sprawling across the carpet with her exer-wheel while Douglas jumps rope ferociously.

Keitel is all business (except for wanting to jump Farrah's bones) and he and Douglas really don't hit it off well at all.

He's busily unpacking all the components from his luggage, though neither we, nor his hosts, know what it all is. Note the ponytail he's sporting.

Note also how that initial shot of the space station dock is duplicated in the insignia on Keitel's uniform, an interesting design detail.

Keitel isn't the only one with access to cameras. He overhears Keitel making another go for Fawcett and also learns that Keitel considers him obsolete. (I can't forget to tell you, when Fawcett rebuffs him, Keitel says that on Earth, it is "penally unsocial" to do so! Meaning prison-worthy, but it's still amusing.)

The researchers, decked-out as always in their Anthony Mendleson designer duds, are finally about to be filled in on what Keitel is there to do.

He's got a big bucket of unspoiled fetus brains (!) that he's going to install into a robot. The robot will ultimately be intelligent and effective enough to replace one (not both?!) of the Triton researchers.

Fit and healthy as they are, I think we know which one is the most likely to be ousted... This jogging sequence ironically pays tribute to a touchstone moment in Fawcett's real life.

She and hubby Lee Majors were on magazine covers everywhere, jogging away. But as Saturn 3 was being made, their divorce was in process and her billing is minus the then-familiar "-Majors" on the end.

Douglas knows that the ultimate result of this visitor from Earth will be the removal of him from their project and he lets Fawcett in on that.

Perhaps needing a break after a stressful day at the lab, the two decide to split the one blue dreamer that Keitel gave her (with bourbon chasers, apparently?)

Before the drug takes effect, we get another good glimpse of their funky pad.

Douglas tells her that he thinks she ought to visit Earth, though she's been content thus far to avoid the place.

Ruh-Roh... Keitel has been putting all his pieces together and this is starting to look a little threatening.

Keitel brazenly bursts into his hosts' apartment to announce the completion of his robot Hector. He tells Fawcett to instruct it to do something. She asks Hector to hand Douglas a flask.

Well... it worked in rehearsal! The metal flask is crushed almost in two!

Dismayed by the lack of effectiveness of his creation, Keitel uses new methods. He performs direct contact between himself and the robot, which imprints his own knowledge (but also his thoughts and feelings!) into the machine. Here, he and Hector try out a sort of space-age hokey-pokey with their right hands in.

Get a load of the jewelry and hair baubles on Fawcett here during a simple game of chess. Back on Earth, people are starving, but she has all the latest clothing and accessories imaginable?! No wonder they sent Keitel to shut this shit down.

Keitel shows up again and wants Hector to challenge Douglas in a game of chess.

Douglas manages to win and Hector is not happy about it!

And Sally also isn't buying whatever Keitel is selling...

Fawcett is studying her rock collection (which has what to do with food production?)

Harvey just wants to get his rocks off...! And since Hector now shares his thoughts, he's begun to take notice of the pretty research scientist, too!

Later in their apartment, the cuddle-bunnies are discussing this whole robot thing. Douglas is concerned about the robot being able to control its thoughts. 

He instructs Fawcett to undrape while he focuses solely on a non-sexual concept, to see if he's able to control his own thoughts/actions.

She complies while he focuses solely on matters scientific. Do I have to tell you which method wins out in the end?

The next day, Fawcett experiences an excruciating accident in which a chip of rock enters her eye. Keitel tries to help her, but she's understandably reluctant.

She's even less enthused about it once Hector heads over...!

After that flask incident, she's not at all looking forward to this. And you thought glaucoma exams were annoying?!

Remarkably enough, Hector gets the lead out. But Keitel is still harping on how obsolete Douglas is, something Douglas overhears while dumping waste nearby.

Funny. Fawcett doesn't consider Douglas obsolete at all!

Things still aren't 100% great with the robot, though. Here, the 8-foot high klunker has Fawcett by the wrists, suspending her off the floor!

What's more, Hector no longer seems to like or trust Keitel and only lets go of his captive once she asks him to free her!

For a brief moment, Fawcett is grateful to Keitel for getting her out of this mess.

But soon enough she's distraught over the fact that he has instilled this thing with the will to inflict harm or even kill.

Douglas is horrified when Hector defiantly refuses to do even what Keitel tells him to do. Douglas is tempted to allow Keitel to perish, but ultimately comes to his aid.

Narrowly escaping with his life, Keitel wants to contact Earth when they can (in three days) to see how the robot can yet be fixed.

After this latest escapade, though, Douglas is pissed and orders Keitel to dismantle the big ol' hunk o' junk. Keitel doesn't want to, but finally acquiesces.

Fawcett (all nipples akimbo) is understandably worried about the stability of Keitel. Douglas is more worried about his mechanical creation. He nevertheless checks to be sure that Keitel is truly dismantling Hector.

It scarcely matters, though! Hector has somehow been able to enlist some of the less-sophisticated machines on Triton to help put Humpty-Dumpty back together again, without Keitel's input!

The researchers are preparing for yet another night of unbridled bliss when...

...all of a sudden Keitel storms in and announces that he is leaving the moon... and taking Fawcett with him!

With this, Douglas has truly had it and he bounds from the bed naked and tackles Keitel to the floor.

He comes perilously close to choking his enemy to death, saved only by the desperate clawing and pleas of Fawcett.

A shaken Douglas is led back to bed by his partner. Audiences were surely confronted by where exactly to look here: at Douglas' sexagenarian rump or at Farrah's horribly droopy baby doll drawers!

It probably seems as if I've covered the entire movie, but I assure you, I have not! There is still plenty more to come. The duo find themselves in a cat and mouse chase for their lives in the serpentine hallways of the facility.

It's ultimately man vs machine. 

Or perhaps Beauty and the Beast versus the Frankenstein monster?

However you deem it, this amalgam of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Silent Running (1972) and Demon Seed (1977) tanked at the box office. (Any similarities to Alien, 1979, by the way, were unintentional as this project was actually in the works beforehand.) The movie was initially 15 minutes longer than the 88 minute release, but its unclear whether the changes had any impact, good or bad, on the movie-going public's interest.  A good print, free with limited commercials, can be seen here at Tubi.

One of the most publicized looks of Ms. Fawcett was used in foreign release posters (and in more than a few stills, too), but never appears in the film as released...!

When she and Douglas split that blue dreamer pill, she appears in this hooker-ish get-up more suited to Sybil Danning. It's a brief sequence, but Sir Lew Grade cut it (some say at Farrah's request.) Much of the trimmed footage found its way into the TV version of the movie (since they simultaneously had to cut much of the other semi-nudity), but this moment was still absent. Just like Fawcett's two prior movies, it was the pre-sale to TV for millions of dollars which saved them all from financial Armageddon. 

Barry had started in the art department of British films such as Murder at the Gallop (1963) before graduating to the role of production designer on Kelly's Heroes (1970) and A Clockwork Orange (1971.) It was while working on Stanley Donen's ill-fated Lucky Lady (1975) that the idea for Saturn 3 was first tossed around. By the time it was green lit, Barry had won an Oscar for his (inter) stellar work on Star Wars (1977) and had Superman (1978) under his belt, too. But it turned out that directing was another story and progress faltered. With conflict arising on set and the pressures of filming a troublesome robot (which one would think wouldn't be such a quagmire in the wake of C-3PO and R2-D2, fer cryin' out loud), he finally departed his baby altogether and found a home on George Lucas' The Empire Strikes Back (1980), directing second-unit scenes. Within two weeks, though, he was dead of infectious meningitis at age 43. He never lived to see the release of Saturn 3 and some have suggested that the stressors of attempting to film it led to a weakened immune system, which allowed the fatal disease to strike.

This wasn't the last feature film that Fawcett took part in, but she was never paid the same way again. (As an example, her salary here was $750,000 vs Keitel's, which was $70,000!)  Her next movie, a hit in fact, was the ensemble car chase flick The Cannonball Run (1981.) Beginning with 1981's Murder in Texas, a well-done TV-movie, her reputation began to shift. With The Burning Bed, Small Sacrifices, Poor Little Rich Girl: The Barbara Hutton Story and others, she became known for more than her hair and her smile. Extremities (1986) came about after she'd essayed the leading role on stage. By the early-2000s, she was only acting on occasion, but it still stunned the world when she was claimed by anal cancer in 2009 at only age 62. By then there had been much personal tumult with Ryan O'Neal and their troubled son Griffin. But her legacy as a beaming, sunny sex symbol-turned-serious-actress remains.

Douglas was a leading man from the very start in 1947's The Strange Love of Martha Ivers opposite Barbara Stanwyck. And is wasn't long before Oscar nominations came his way as with Champion (1949), with Broderick Crawford winning that time for All the King's Men. Later, he was nominated twice more for The Bad and the Beautiful (1952, the award going to Gary Cooper for High Noon) as well as Lust for Life (1957, losing to Yul Brynner for The King and I.) In 1996, he was given an Honorary Award for his 50-year career. He reportedly could not be swayed from appearing nude in Saturn 3, which is fairly evident even in these caps. But he liked his washable suede wardrobe enough to keep it. He clashed mightily with initial director Barry and was later portrayed in a roman à clef book by the screenwriter Martin Amis called Money. Always adept at aggressive, energetic characters, he kept busy and vital for many years. He'd done The Fury in 1978 and had The Final Countdown in 1980 and in 1986 re-teamed with frequent costar Burt Lancaster in Tough Guys. But a debilitating stroke in 1996 knocked him for a loop and thereafter affected his speaking voice. He nonetheless pressed on, albeit in a limited output, until 2008. He amazed many by living to 103 when he passed away from natural causes. 

Keitel also encountered trouble with this production (and he'd just been fired from Apocalypse Now the prior year!) His natural Brooklyn accent was ultimately deemed inappropriate or undesirable for his character, but he refused to change it when it came time for looping dialogue. So all of his lines were re-dubbed by British actor Roy Dotrice in a sort of mid-Atlantic dialect. (If one isn't aware of Keitel's own voice, it's a pretty seamless job, in truth.) He'd won acclaim for several streetwise roles in movies such as Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver, Mother, Jugs & Speed (both 1976) and Fingers (1978), but this experience constituted a setback. He did continue to work as the '80s went on and came to particular prominence as the 1990s dawned. Bugsy (1991) earned him an Oscar nomination (the award went to Jack Palance for City Slickers) and he proceeded to hits like Reservoir Dogs, Bad Lieutenant, Sister Act (all 1992), The Piano (1993) and Pulp Fiction (1994) among many others. (There was a cinematic point where he also had trouble keeping clothes on!) A valued character performer for decades now, he continues to act to this day at age 83.

The End!