1979

Zombie (1979, Lucio Fulci)

They filmed a lot of Zombie on location—New York City, the Dominican Republic, the ocean floor. For over half the movie, the location filming is the most important thing—if we’re going by what director Fulci showcases the most. Not even the gore gets a bigger showcase until the third act, though there are some rather gruesome exceptions. But the static (or just panning) long shots of palm trees once the action gets to the Caribbean island where Richard Johnson is playing Dr. Moreau only with zombies are the rule. It’s very pretty, even if it’s desolate as something has happened—an unseen voodoo witch doctor has decided the dead must rise so everyone’s a flesh-eating zombie. The film can’t decide on what happened. Johnson says things went bad three months ago, non-acting action hero and world traveller Al Cliver says the island’s been cursed at least a year. It’s also unclear how long Johnson’s been on the island. And why. Despite the almost endless exposition in Zombie, usually from actors poorly delivering it, the exposition just doesn’t matter. Because Zombie is going to be all about the gross stuff Fulci and his crew get his fake shemps to endure.

For instance, I don’t think there are any shemps covered in maggots—their faces, the zombie makeup is entirely on their faces—but lots of them have live worms wriggling around the makeup. I think one zombie has a mouthful of live worms, no doubt worms not protected by the American Humane Association. The zombie makeup itself isn’t great. There are a lot of attempts at showing bone in the makeup, incorporating masks, which just makes the zombie look bulky like their skulls are retaining water or something. So the live worms and such do a good job distracting from such deficiencies. Zombie has a lot of gore in the second half, a little in the third, with Fulci saving the grossest zombies for the finale. They’re coming out of their graves too at one point, so he’s able to get a lot of mileage out of his long (timing wise) practical effects shots. Sergio Salvati’s photography and especially Giorgio Cascio and Fabio Frizzi’s music help for those shots too. They’re really good tests of one’s stomach; the last big gross-out scene the gore is so extreme it’s actually unbelievable at least one of the characters doesn’t puke. Though then we’d have to see one of the leads trying to essay puking, which they probably couldn’t do.

See, Zombie’s an Italian production shot without a synchronous audio track, which is called motor only sync (MOS). I didn’t know the jargon until today, even though pretty much every Italian production from the twentieth century seems to use this method. Thanks Wikipedia. But what the lack of synchronous sound means is the actors, who might be speaking different languages, never get any actual rapport. Fulci tries to compensate with reaction shots. It doesn’t work.

The worst case is when ostensible lead Ian McCulloch is watching Auretta Gay undress for scuba diving. She does it topless and in a string bikini bottom. McCulloch just stares, occasionally making sure top-billed Tisa Farrow’s still watching him watching. You’re worried the male gaze compounding on itself is going to cause a cosmic singularity before the sequence ends. Though McCulloch’s exceptionally unconvincing comb-over is enough to cause a singularity on its own. Farrow doesn’t mind the comb-over by the way, in fact she’s very hot to trot for McCulloch. At one point during the long opening of the third act, “escape the zombies on foot” sequence, Farrow even gives McCulloch the “I don’t want to die without sex” speech, so they get it on in a graveyard. Too bad the now zombified corpses are waking up below.

But not really because even though Farrow’s not good, she’s not a shit heel like McCulloch. It’s hard to be a such a big shit heel when you’re dubbed but McCulloch abides.

The best performances appear to be Johnson and his assistants—Stefania D'Amario and Dakar—worst are Johnson’s wife, Olga Karlatos, Gay, Cliver, McCulloch. Farrow gets a pass from that list because she’s so irrelevant once they get to the island. She mustn’t have been willing to take her clothes off. Karlatos, who the film manages to portray negatively for not wanting to be on the zombie island of undying death, also gets a gratuitous nude scene. Unlike Gay, however, it’s not prelude to something awesome. Gay’s scuba diving sequence leads into the zombie versus shark scene, Zombie’s claim to fame. It’s an impressive underwater stunt sequence. But much like the rest of the film’s impressive moments, it’s nowhere near enough to justify it. With a better budget, Fulci and his crew probably could’ve done something revolting and realistic, instead of revolting and effective. Zombie’s set pieces are gross instead of scary, but its default—with Fulci’s often good composition, Salvati’s photography, Vincenzo Tomassi’s editing, and that score from Cascio and Frizzi—is disquieting. Maybe it’d help if the third act of the script didn’t sink it.

It also doesn’t help the best sequence—an empty sailboat showing in New York Harbor, Dracula-style—is the first one in the picture.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Lucio Fulci; written by Elisa Briganti; director of photography, Sergio Salvati; edited by Vincenzo Tomassi; music by Giorgio Cascio and Fabio Frizzi; production and costume designer, Walter Patriarca; produced by Fabrizio De Angelis and Ugo Tucci; released by Variety Films.

Starring Tisa Farrow (Anne Bowles), Ian McCulloch (Peter West), Richard Johnson (Dr. Menard), Olga Karlatos (Mrs. Menard), Al Cliver (Brian Hull), Auretta Gay (Susan Barrett), Stefania D’Amario (Nurse Clara), Ugo Bologna (Dr. Bowles), and Dakar (Lucas).


You’re the Greatest, Charlie Brown (1979, Phil Roman)

You’re the Greatest, Charlie Brown is the unlikely tale of Charlie Brown (Arrin Skelley) participating in the school’s track meet–doing the decathlon–and doing well. It opens with Peppermint Patty (Patricia Patts) trying to sucker one of her classmates into doing the decathlon; Charlie Brown shows up just in time to go for it. It certainly seems like he’s going to mess it all up, writer Charles M. Schulz forecasts him messing it all up, but then he doesn’t. Instead, Greatest is usually surprising in the developments.

The first third is Charlie Brown training with Peppermint Patty coaching. Snoopy’s helping. Though Snoopy does better than Charlie Brown. And Marcie (Casey Carlson) is hanging around and encouraging Charlie Brown because she’s got a crush on him.

Only then Marcie becomes Charlie Brown’s back-up because Peppermint Patty realizes he can’t do it alone. It’s never explained why Peppermint Patty can’t do it, as she trains him by example. She does the decathlon events successfully, he fails. And she spends the whole meet just coaching him.

Anyway, the whole meet. The second two-thirds of Greatest are basically just the decathlon events. It’s Charlie Brown, Marcie, Snoopy in his Masked Marvel disguise (and Charlie Brown not just not recognizing Snoopy but not remembering where Snoopy went to obedience school), and some mean older, taller kid (Tim Hall). It’s the ten events, with Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty in between talking about the school’s chances. It’s dramatic, it’s funny, it’s perfectly solid stuff.

There are no standout bits because the whole thing just works. Some lovely animation, fine direction from Roman, and strong acting from the cast. Particularly Carlson and Patts. Marcie gets her own story arc, although it’s background; Carlson excels. And Schulz gets to mix that arc with some good sportspersonship messaging.

Then there’s the final “Charlie Brown” moment and it’s painfully perfect. Unlike Patts and Carlson, the animation defines Charlie Brown more than anything Skelley can do. It’s just a physical part for Charlie Brown. He’s pumping iron… Anything could happen.

Greatest isn’t the greatest but it’s inventive and sublimely executed. Nice music from Ed Bogas and Judy Munsen too.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Roman; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Roger Donley and Chuck McCann; music by Ed Bogas and Judy Munsen; produced by Bill Melendez; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Arrin Skelley (Charlie Brown), Patricia Patts (Peppermint Patty), Casey Carlson (Marcie), Tim Hall (Fred Fabulous), Daniel Anderson (Linus van Pelt), and Michelle Muller (Lucy van Pelt).


It’s Dental Flossophy, Charlie Brown (1980, Bill Melendez and Phil Roman)

There’s an adorable moment when Woodstock makes a nest out of dental floss in It’s Dental Flossophy, Charlie Brown, but otherwise it’s a hard going five and a half minutes.

Charlie Brown needs to floss and Lucy’s going to teach him. She wants to get all that plaque out before she goes to Schroeder’s concert. There’s so much pointless exposition, all of it with wooden delivery, one has to wonder how much work writer Charles M. Schulz put into Flossophy. Or how much work the directors put in to Michelle Muller’s performance as Lucy. It’s impossible to believe some of her deliveries weren’t just first takes.

Woodstuck gets Lucy’s dental floss because he’s having trouble building a nest. It’s a twenty or thirty second subplot and about the only charm in the cartoon. Snoopy helps him with it, apparently able to maintain brain function through Lucy’s flossing instruction instead of just shutting it off entirely.

And it’s all on Muller. Schulz gives her all the lines. She’s got to precisely describe various flossing techniques and there’s no way to make them work in dialogue. It gets her some sympathy, even if her performance itself doesn’t deserve it. When she gets to the “smell your floss, isn’t it gross, that smell is the plaque” moment, the goodwill’s gone. It’s unclear if the plaque smelling is supposed to be funny, disgusting, or instructional; regardless, like the rest of Flossophy, it’s a fail.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Bill Melendez and Phil Roman; written by Charles M. Schulz; music by Vince Guaraldi; released by the American Dental Association.

Starring Arrin Skelley (Charlie Brown) and Michelle Muller (Lucy).


Charlie Brown Clears the Air (1979, Bill Melendez)

Charlie Brown Clears the Air opens with a deceptively funny gag. Snoopy messing with Linus. It’s the only funny thing in the cartoon, produced for American Lung Association with the apparent purpose of boring children into environmentally responsible behavior.

See, Snoopy’s in a mood because his dog house has got soot all over it because the neighbor is burning leaves and trash. The neighbor won’t stop burning leaves and trash unless Snoopy gets his motorcycle’s exhaust system fixed. Woodstock is Snoopy’s mechanic and he can’t figure it out–when the Woodstock cameo falls utterly, painfully flat, it’s clear how little Clears is going to impress–so they’re just going to have to live in mutual misery.

Then there’s the baseball game where Lucy can’t see because of air pollution and Linus can’t catch fly balls because he trips over litter. We see the litter. We don’t see the air pollution–apparently the American Lung Association didn’t offer the filmmakers much in the way of money, Clears has almost no backgrounds and nothing in the way of establishing shots. What can Charlie Brown do about it?

He can give a report at school.

A really boring report.

Bad dialogue throughout from Charles M. Schulz–so bad I didn’t think he wrote it–and similarly bad deliver from Arrin Skelley as Charlie Brown. There’s no way to make the clunky, expository dialogue work. Neither Daniel Anderson (as Linus) or Michelle Muller (as Lucy) do much better; they don’t do as bad, however, just because they don’t have as much dialogue as Skelley.

Clears doesn’t have anything going for it. Not writing, not animation, nothing. It’s charmless to the point of being annoying.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Bill Melendez; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Roger Donley and Chuck McCann; produced by Melendez and Lee Mendelson; released by the American Lung Association

Starring Arrin Skelley (Charlie Brown), Daniel Anderson (Linus), and Michelle Muller (Lucy).


Spider-Man: The Dragon’s Challenge (1979, Don McDougall)

Some of The Dragon’s Challenge’s problems are because it’s a TV two-parter stuck together then packaged as a theatrical. An overseas theatrical, but still a theatrical feature. The action in the first half takes place in New York, with some cuts to villain Richard Erdman making plans. He needs to get a Chinese official out of the way so he can build a steel plant.

When the Chinese official (Benson Fong) heads to New York, Erdman sends touch guy Hagan Beggs after him. Better to assassinate him in New York than Hong Kong.

Except Fong’s in New York with a purpose–get help from Robert F. Simon and the Daily Bugle. Enter Nicholas Hammond and, pretty quickly, Spider-Man. Fong’s got a niece, played by Rosalind Chao, who thinks Hammond’s a coward for running off. Little does she know he’s running off to change into his Spider-Man outfit and save the day.

The second half takes place in Hong Kong. Much of it shot in Hong Kong. When the Spider-Man stuntman is dangling alongside a huge Hong Kong skyscraper, Dragon’s Challenge delivers on something it hadn’t really been serious about. Even though director McDougall is clearly thrilled to be shooting on location in Hong Kong, nothing in Lionel E. Siegel’s teleplay sets anything up for Spider-Man. It doesn’t even set anything up for Nicholas Hammond. The Hong Kong stuff is entirely about the villains hunting Hammond, Chao, and soon-to-be government witness John Milford. Until they get attacked, however, it’s a travelogue with this odd trio.

Hammond and Chao have no chemistry. It’s Hammond’s fault. He ignores Chao in the first half, then condescends in the second. It’s because he’s sweet on her, it turns out. Milford’s fine, but not any fun. The travelogue still can get away with it because it turns out they’re on location.

There’s a car chase in Hong Kong and then a helicopter chase. Oh, and a boat chase. And Spider-Man lets the bad guys get away. For maybe the second time in Dragon’s Challenge. Hammond makes some bad superhero decisions throughout.

Series regulars Chip Fields and Ellen Bry don’t get anything to do and barely make an impression. Particularly Bry. Even though she and Hammond get a very romantic setup–using New York location shots–they don’t have anything going on in Dragon’s Challenge. Mostly because Hammond’s weird subplot about Chao not liking him infests the first half. It’s silly.

Chao’s good. She’s got lousy material and no energy from Hammond but she’s a great guest star. Simon’s got some strong scenes with Fong. Beggs is a fine bad guy, even if he is an idiot who whines about his inability to plot assassinations. It’s more amusing than when Hammond mopes about Chao thinking he’s a coward. Those scenes are just awful.

Hammond’s part in Dragon’s Challenge is thin. His job is to run out and become Spider-Man then have no excuse when Spider-Man gets done so everyone is an idiot for not realizing the obvious.

It’s nice to see Fields, even if it’s only for a few scenes.

Fine editing from Erwin Dumbrille and Fred Roth.

The Dragon’s Challenge has got some decent pieces and it’s far from unbearable; it’s still closer to unbearable than any good.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Don McDougall; teleplay by Lionel E. Siegel, based on characters created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; “The Amazing Spider-Man” created by Alvin Boretz; director of photography, Vincent A. Martinelli; edited by Erwin Dumbrille and Fred Roth; music by Dana Kaproff; produced by Siegel; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Nicholas Hammond (Spider-Man / Peter Parker), Robert F. Simon (J. Jonah Jameson), Chip Fields (Rita Conway), Ellen Bry (Julie Masters), Rosalind Chao (Emily Chan), Hagan Beggs (Evans), Richard Erdman (Mr. Zeider), John Milford (Professor Roderick Dent), and Benson Fong (Min Lo Chan).


Alien (1979, Ridley Scott), the director’s cut

Ridley Scott’s director’s cut of Alien feels like vaguely engaged exercise more than any kind of devout restoration. Its less than artistic origins–Scott cut it together a combination, apparently, of fan service and studio marketing needs–actually help it quite a bit in the first act. Scott’s new cut rushes things, though it doesn’t really rush them anywhere. At the beginning, it’s kind of neat to see how he’s able to move things faster (so long as you’re generally familiar with the film and its plot), only once he runs out of story, Scott and the film stumble repeatedly.

This Alien maintains establishing shots and transition shots; Scott and new editor David Crowther hurry the actual scenes, cutting into performances. John Hurt is deemphasized, Ian Holm is more emphasized. Even though there might be more Sigourney Weaver, it takes her even longer to assume the lead role because with an increased presence for Holm, the dynamic changes. And Scott and Crowther don’t really adjust for it later, because they’re not cutting for performances, they’re cutting getting in new footage. In trying not to be sensational, Scott just makes it even worse. He doesn’t account for what his new pace is doing to how the film plays on its own, not as a special feature.

The collision of Holm and Weaver doesn’t pace well, for instance, but once its resolved, Alien: The Director’s Cut finds its footing once again. Sure, it loses it again and never quite recovers, but it loses it in the place where Alien just loses its footing, the third act. There are some “director’s cut” specific problems in the third act, which hurt the pacing and the overall experience because it’s clear when inserted footage is taped in–Crowther’s editing doesn’t match Terry Rawling’s at all, which is another big problem. It’s disjointed. In the first act, it’s kind of charming; after over an hour, it’s just tiresome.

Maybe the greatest disservice of Alien: The Director’s Cut is to the Jerry Goldsmith score. It feels more rushed than anything else. Goldsmith creates this sterile calm, a disappointing tranquility, and Scott and Crowther don’t have any time for it.

Scott should’ve just let the additional footage bloat Alien. The trims he makes elsewhere aggravate quickly before ultimately failing. At least bloated, the film would have some personality. Instead, it feels like Scott trying to turn Alien into more of a crowd-pleaser. But for a limited, familiar audience. He’s not trying to make a better film.

Luckily, the pieces are still strong. Holm, Weaver, Yaphet Kotto, Tom Skerritt, all great. Veronica Cartwright gets more to do and has less of a character as a result. Weaver experiences something similar; Scott hacks at her and Skerritt’s scenes just enough to weaken them both. Weaver’s performance deserves a lot more respect, frankly. It takes her too much for granted.

And somehow Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton lose their mojo in the new cut. Most of the content remains, but none of the personality. Again, Crowther’s using a dull hatchet on Rawling’s delicate scalpel cuts.

Alien, the director’s cut, isn’t so much a missed opportunity as a pointless endeavor. But it could have turned out a lot worse. Scott’s lack of ambition might be the saving grace.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ridley Scott; screenplay by Dan O’Bannon, based on a story by O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Derek Vanlint; edited by Terry Rawlings, Peter Weatherley, and David Crowther; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Michael Seymour; produced by Gordon Carroll, David Giler, and Walter Hill; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Tom Skerritt (Dallas), Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Veronica Cartwright (Lambert), Harry Dean Stanton (Brett), John Hurt (Kane), Ian Holm (Ash), and Yaphet Kotto (Parker).


Sunburn (1979, Richard C. Sarafian)

Sunburn is a Farrah Fawcett star vehicle. It’s really Charles Grodin’s movie for the most part, but it’s Farrah Fawcett’s vehicle. She can be down home, she can be glamorous, she can be faithful when playing Grodin’s fake wife (which Grodin can’t), she can be adventurous, she can be dumb, she can be smart, she can be scantily clad, she can be topless in bed but with her back turned. Because sometimes Sunburn is all about the male gaze. Sometimes it’s all about gentle comedy. Sometimes it’s bad car chases. Sometimes it’s about puppies.

In addition to Grodin and Fawcett, Art Carney rounds out the lead characters. Grodin’s an insurance investigator, Fawcett is his presumable local model fake wife (he calls an agency to hire her and it’s made clear it isn’t an escort agency), Carney is the local P.I. buddy of Grodin. Carney’s got some cred, but Sunburn is boiling over with credibility cameos. There’s Keenan Wynn, Eleanor Parker, John Hillerman. Wynn is in one scene and has like two lines. Parker doesn’t even get a close-up. She’s the widow of the case and Grodin never gets around to interviewing her. Hillerman has a couple scenes and no character. William Daniels at least has some personality.

But then there’s Joan Collins. And she’s awesome. She’s got the promiscuous, unhappy older rich married lady part. “She must be forty!” Fawcett tells Grodin at one point, hoping to dissuade his interest without appearing jealous. Because Sunburn is nothing if not a product of its time. Three screenwriters–James Booth, Stephen Oliver, producer John Daly–and the best acted moments in the film are when Grodin and Carney are mugging it for the camera. Seriously. Carney sort of assumes the space in the film Collins does in the first act or so. It’s unfortunate. Collins is a lot more fun. Carney is cute, but it’s a nothing part. Collins has a nothing part and goes wild with it.

Shame Sarafian can’t direct it. He can’t direct any of it. He goes from mediocre to bad to worse. Geoffrey Foot’s editing is awful, but it’s obviously a lack of available footage. Sarafian can’t figure out how to direct any of it. Not interiors, especially not exteriors, not his actors, not action, nothing. In the second half, once the investigation is going full steam, there’s almost some attempts at style, but Foot’s editing ruins it.

Álex Phillips Jr.’s photography is solid. Acapulco looks nice. John Cameron’s poppy score is preferable to the top 40’s soundtrack, which actually is part of the story–Fawcett is always playing cassettes on her portable player.

Grodin’s occasionally got moments. Not many, not great ones, but some. He’s able to survive Sunburn. He’s doing his thing, he’s doing it turned up to eleven, and he’s able to get through.

As for Fawcett, after a slightly promising start, she gets a terrible arc for a star vehicle and there’s only so much her likability can get through. The film lays on a lot of backstory to get sympathy, along with a clumsiness subplot it immediately drops, but it’s all show. There aren’t any real scenes between her and Grodin, just exposition–which is initially fine because of their awkward bantering–and when she makes her second act transition to intrepid, scantily clad adventurer, there’s just no support for it. Sunburn stops pretending it’s going to give Fawcett anything to do.

The cast of Sunburn is strong enough to do this thing. It’s a noir spoof, or should be. Sarafian can’t do it, the script can’t do it. The actors could. Collins sort of does.

Oh, and the non-credibility cameo stars. Robin Clarke, Joan Goodfellow, Jack Kruschen, Alejandro Rey. Alejandro Rey is awesome. Robin Clarke tries really, really, really, really, really hard. And he sucks. Goodfellow’s bad but likable. Kruschen needed to be the best credibility cameo. Sunburn’s Mr. Big needs to be someone formidable, because there is actual danger.

So, an interesting film to dissect given its motives, but it’s dramatically inert due to technical incompetence.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Richard C. Sarafian; screenplay by James Booth, John Daly, and Stephen Oliver, based on a novel by Stanley Ellin; director of photography, Álex Phillips Jr.; edited by Geoffrey Foot; music by John Cameron; production designer, Ted Tester; produced by Daly and Gerald Green; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Farrah Fawcett (Ellie), Charles Grodin (Jake), Art Carney (Al), Joan Collins (Nera), Alejandro Rey (Fons), Robin Clarke (Karl), Joan Goodfellow (Joanna), Eleanor Parker (Mrs. Thoren), John Hillerman (Webb), William Daniels (Crawford), Keenan Wynn (Mark Elmes), Jack Kruschen (Gela), and Seymour Cassel (Dobbs).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Eleanor Parker, Part 4: Guest Star.

She’s Dressed to Kill (1979, Gus Trikonis)

She’s Dressed to Kill is a simultaneously a perfect TV movie and a disappointment. It’s a murder mystery set on an isolated mountain; Eleanor Parker is a recluse fashion designer who has a show and the attendees can’t stop being murdered. Only the killer has followed the attendees, as the murdering starts before the fashion show.

The movie opens with top-billed John Rubinstein and Jessica Walter. She has the fashion agency, he’s her photographer Friday. Rubinstein and Walter are really good together. She’s good throughout, but George Lefferts’s teleplay eighty-sixes her pretty quickly. Doesn’t kill her, just ignores her. Dressed isn’t good at character development. Rubinstein ends up romancing Gretchen Corbett to give him something to do and their courtship mostly consists of him telling her, “you don’t have to be a model to be beautiful,” and then treating her to an impromptu fashion shoot. It’s a TV movie, sure, but it’s on very precarious philosophical ground.

Especially given how much of the second act is spent with experienced model Joanna Cassidy trying to talk newbie Connie Sellecca out of modeling.

There are suspects aplenty but Dressed doesn’t have a good solution to its mystery. Lefferts isn’t writing a mystery so much as a thriller. It’s engaging during viewing but it doesn’t hold up on consideration. So, a perfect TV movie. It’s ephemeral, without any further ambitions, which is a shame given the cast.

Parker has a great time as the fashion designer. She’s playing it constantly hammered, with a lot of knowingly exaggerated tragedy. And Walters is great when she’s in it. Corbett’s got a lousy part but she’s good. Rubinstein’s likable, until he gets grating. Banks is good. Cassidy tries. It doesn’t work–director Trikonis doesn’t direct his actors or for them–but she does try.

Speaking of trying, Sellecca is probably the movie’s biggest misfire. She’s incredibly shallow. Sellecca does try, but she’s not good. She’s got zero chemistry with the other actors and her part’s annoying. And Peter Horton’s pretty weak in a smaller suspect role too.

But She’s Dressed to Kill definitely diverts for its runtime. I just wish it did something more. Being a completely competent television movie is one thing, but wasting the fine performances–Walter especially–is inexcusable.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Gus Trikonis; written by George Lefferts; director of photography, Thomas Del Ruth; edited by Ira Heymann; music by George Romanis; executive producers, Merrill Grant and Barry J. Weitz; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring Connie Sellecca (Alix Goldman), John Rubinstein (Alan Lenz), Eleanor Parker (Regine Danton), Gretchen Corbett (Laura Gooch), Jessica Walter (Irene Barton), Jim McMullan (Sheriff Halsey), Clive Revill (Victor De Salle), Barbara Cason (Deenie Gooch), Cathie Shirriff (Kate Bedford), Corinne Calvet (Colette), Peter Horton (Tony Smith), Jonathan Banks (Rudy Striker) and Joanna Cassidy (Camille Bentancourt).


Captain America II: Death Too Soon (1979, Ivan Nagy)

Captain America II: Death Too Soon, although it actually doesn’t have an onscreen subtitle, could just as well be called Captain America II: The Show No One Wants to See. I don’t even mean the eventual show (Death Too Soon is the second, Reb Brown-fronted CBS pilot), I mean this pilot movie, which retains executive producer Allan Balter and a lot of the crew from the initial attempt. It’s a complete wreck.

First example: Len Birman. Awesome co-star of the previous pilot movie. Given nothing to do outside some exposition, which he handles admirably. Except perving on Connie Sellecca, who does not give a good performance as a trouble-shooting super-scientist. She doesn’t. But she does start an actual subplot with her boss, Birman, sniffing her hair. It’s weird. What’s weirder is it doesn’t go anywhere. It doesn’t exactly get dropped, there just isn’t anymore character development for the characters. At first, I thought it was star Reb Brown sniffing her hair, but he’s actually got an entirely separate love interest.

Brown, or Captain America, is in love with his painting. Writers Wilton Schiller and Patricia Payne can’t stop having people talk about Brown and his stupid painting. He paints portraits of old people, cats, women on horses. He just loves painting. And maybe he should, but Death Too Soon doesn’t develop Brown’s protagonist either. Instead, it runs him around in a dumb costume for desperate action sequences. There’s obviously some significant spending on this second attempt, but Balter doesn’t use it well. It’s too cheap on the character stuff, too focused on motorcycle stunts and awful fight scenes; Death Too Soon amps up the previous pilot’s “Wonder Wonder”-wannabe syndrome. Everything good in the previous pilot gets flushed for everything bad in it.

There’s one good segment in Death Too Soon. Otherwise, director Nagy alternates between atrocious and incompetent. He’s never even pedestrian. It’s a poorly directed pilot. Except one chase sequence where Captain America’s motorcycling on a dam. It doesn’t even end well. But it’s really well done before it goes bad. It’s incredibly out of place.

Christopher Lee and Stanley Kamel play the villains, along with Lana Wood (who’s awful). Lee and Kamel are fun together, with Lee turning in a mostly awesome performance. He doesn’t class it up though, he just excels in his own role. It’s kind of cool, actually. He protects his brand.

Okay supporting turn from Katherine Justice as Brown’s human love interest. John Waldron’s obnoxious as her kid though. And Ken Swofford’s awful as a government stooge.

Death Too Soon also has this really weird “pro-gadget, anti-science” thing going on, which should–combined with being a failed “‘Wonder Woman’ for boys” TV pilot, Lee, Brown’s desperately lighted blond hair, experimenting on babies, Birman’s perving, Justice’s too tight jeans–make it a lot of bad camp fun. But it doesn’t, instead it’s just awful. It’s a poorly produced television pilot. It fails.

Except the dam. And, at some point in the production, someone did come up with some all right ideas. Mostly involving Lee’s character. Nagy just couldn’t execute any of them.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ivan Nagy; teleplay by Wilton Schiller and Patricia Payne, based on characters created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon; director of photography, Vincent A. Martinelli; edited by Michael S. Murphy; music by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter; executive producer, Allan Balter; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Reb Brown (Captain America / Steve Rogers), Katherine Justice (Helen Moore), John Waldron (Peter Moore), Christopher Lee (Miguel), Stanley Kamel (Kramer), Connie Sellecca (Dr. Wendy Day), Len Birman (Dr. Simon Mills), Ken Swofford (Everett Bliss), Christopher Cary (Professor Ian Ilson), William Lucking (Stader) and Lana Wood (Yolanda).


Captain America (1979, Rod Holcomb)

Captain America is almost loveably dumb. It’s never good, it doesn’t even have a good performance–at least, any good performances have caveats attached–but it’s so painfully obvious it ought to be lovable. It even has a lovable oaf of a lead–Reb Brown–who just happens to be really smart. Brown’s ability to recite all his dumb expository dialogue is one of the most lovable things about him. He’s trying. You appreciate him trying to hard.

But that trying–and Len Birman’s strangely strong but not performance as his mentor–occasionally gets Captain America the passes it so desperately needs. After some decent (for an action TV show pilot aimed at eight year old boys) character development, it turns into a pedestrian action show. The girls get kidnapped, the boys have to rescue them. There’s no more inventiveness in Don Ingalls’s script. He’s gotten to the action and he’s done.

Oddly, Captain America does have inventive moments before its second half. There’s this weird bit about Steve Forrest’s villain–a California oil man who wants to play Goldfinger–being scared of disappointing his mad scientist (James Ingersoll) who’s making a neutron bomb. Captain America acknowledges itself a bit. Even when director Holcomb goes on and on with the helicopters and motorcycles. It’s an acknowledged excess.

The problem is there’s nothing else. Holcomb has no other tricks up his sleeve. Once Brown suits up as Captain America, it becomes a strange “Wonder Woman” knock-off. Brown’s barely allowed a presence, which is dumb because Captain America letting Brown have such a presence is the only thing to make it engaging. Watching Captain America is about watching Brown stay above water. You root for him. You root for him to pull-off maybe Vietnam vet (definitely ex-Marine), vaguely genius, motocross enthusiast, California square hippie guy thing. With some kind of folksy accent. And he does.

It just isn’t enough. The third act is an incredible letdown. Holcomb’s got no sense of action pacing and the supporting cast wrap-up (setting up for a series order) flops. The cast–Brown, Birman, Forrest–deserved better.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rod Holcomb; teleplay by Don Ingalls, based on a story by Ingalls and Chester Krumholz and characters created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon; director of photography, Ronald W. Browne; edited by Michael S. Murphy; music by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter; executive producer, Allan Balter; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Reb Brown (Steve Rogers), Len Birman (Dr. Simon Mills), Heather Menzies-Urich (Dr. Wendy Day), Robin Mattson (Tina Haden), Dan Barton (Jeff Haden), Joseph Ruskin (Rudy), Lance DeGault (Harley), James Ingersoll (Lester) and Steve Forrest (Lou Blackett).


Scroll to Top