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Play It Again, Charlie Brown (1971, Bill Melendez)

“Play It Again, Charlie Brown” is shockingly bad. About the only good part of it comes near the end, as Danny Hjeim’s Schroeder debates whether to play rock instead of Beethoven at a concert. There’s actual internal conflict and so on.

Unfortunately, it’s a small scene and can’t make up for the rest of “Play It Again”. No one escapes responsibility.

Melendez’s direction is mostly mediocre but occasionally bad. There are constant jump cuts and the editing, in general, is poor.

Charles M. Schulz’s script involves what boils down to a sci-fi deus ex machina, eradicating the other characters’ struggles in a few seconds.

But the worst part is Pamelyn Ferdin’s performance as Lucy. Maybe it’s mean to pick on a twelve-year old and whatnot, but she makes “Play It Again”‘s twenty-five minute runtime a grating annoyance. She’s just awful.

It’s a very disappointing Peanuts outing.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Bill Melendez; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Robert T. Gillis, Chuck McCann and Rudy Zamora Jr.; music by Vince Guaraldi; produced by Melendez and Lee Mendelson; released by Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Pamelyn Ferdin (Lucy van Pelt), Stephen Shea (Linus van Pelt), Danny Hjeim (Schroeder), Hilary Momberger (Sally Brown), Lynda Mendelson (Frieda), Christopher DeFaria (Patricia ‘Peppermint Patty’ Reichardt) and Chris Inglis (Charlie Brown).


The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1986, Jeannot Szwarc)

If it weren’t for director Szwarc actually being French, The Murders in the Rue Morgue might be the perfect post-modern adaptation.

It’s Americans pretending (without accents, thankfully) to be French. Poe, an American, had never been to France when he wrote the original story. So there’s an artificiality to it, which really fits the story as it turns out.

Unfortunately, Poe’s short story was an earnest attempt. This film version–produced for television–is not. It appears to be an American attempt to capture the ambience of the Granada Television’s “Sherlock Holmes” television series. Rue Morgue‘s producers fail.

The biggest problem is the script; screenwriter Epstein pads the adaptation with rote melodrama (Dupin, played by George C. Scott, not only has a daughter–Rebecca De Mornay–with romance troubles, he’s also got a professional adversary in Ian McShane). Most of the additions play as to Scott being a grumpy old man. I assume aging Dupin was to fit Scott, as a bit of stunt casting.

As far as the acting goes, I suppose McShane gives the film’s only good performance. He’s a slimy politician and he enjoys it. Kilmer and De Mornay are both earnest, but not any good in poorly written roles. Kilmer has these wild, theatrical arm gestures in his scenes with Scott… almost as though he’s trying to get Scott’s attention.

Scott’s performance is lifeless, somewhat appealing out of respect for his ability, but utterly empty.

Szwarc’s direction is similarly limp.

It’s a trying ninety minutes.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jeannot Szwarc; teleplay by David Epstein, based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe; director of photography, Bruno de Keyzer; edited by Eric Albertson; music by Charles Gross; produced by Robert Halmi Jr.; released by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring George C. Scott (Auguste Dupin), Val Kilmer (Phillipe Huron), Rebecca De Mornay (Claire Dupin), Ian McShane (Prefect of Police), Neil Dickson (Adolphe Le Bon), Maud Rayer (Melle L’Espanaye), Maxence Mailfort (Inspector Alphonse), Fernand Guiot (Dupar) and Patrick Floersheim (The Sailor).


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A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965, Bill Melendez)

Two things stick out in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. First, Charlie Brown is a bit of a drag. Charles M. Schulz, writing the script, initially sets up Charlie Brown as the Scrooge of “Christmas”. While that condition changes a little–eventually, Charlie Brown is the victim of the rest of the Peanuts gang–it’s a disconcerting opening.

Schulz is trying to make a statement about commercialism and Christmas, but it never connects.

The other thing about “Christmas” is Melendez’s direction. It’s often terrible, which is surprising. The beginning is reasonably sublime, set to Vince Guaraldi’s lovely score, but then the action moves inside and Melendez loses touch. He has these terrible close-ups.

There are some nice touches–Linus on the run from Sally, Lucy and Schroeder contending with Snoopy–but “Christmas” is undercooked.

Schulz works towards a point, but doesn’t find one, and Melendez similarly flounders.

It’s rather disappointing.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Bill Melendez; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Robert T. Gillis; music by Vince Guaraldi; released by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Peter Robbins (Charlie Brown), Christopher Shea (Linus Van Pelt), Tracy Stratford (Lucy Van Pelt), Kathy Steinberg (Sally Brown), Chris Doran (Schroeder / Shermy), Geoffrey Ornstein (Pig-Pen), Sally Dryer (Violet), Ann Altieri (Freida), Karen Mendelson (Patty) and Bill Melendez (Snoopy).


A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973, Bill Melendez and Phil Roman)

“A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” only has one great scene. The special is generally good–though the usual Peanuts logic problems–but there’s a great sequence with Snoopy and Woodstock messing around to a song from Vince Guaraldi. It’s set against the precious painted backdrops and it’s lovely.

The sequence also stands out because it’s the only original song in the special, which is otherwise a comedy of errors.

Or, actually, a comedy of missed communications. The drama of the special is Peppermint Patty has invited herself to Charlie Brown’s for Thanksgiving. So, instead of talking to her about it (or talking to his parents about it), Charlie Brown and company set up a Thanksgiving feast replete with popcorn, toast, pretzel sticks and jelly beans. Patty is disappointed. Two minutes of drama ensue.

Melendez and Roman’s direction makes it seem better than it is–it’s charming, sure. Just not particularly engaging.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Bill Melendez and Phil Roman; written by Charles M. Schulz; animated by Bob Bachman; edited by Robert T. Gillis, Chuck McCann and Rudy Zamora Jr.; music by Vince Guaraldi; produced by Melendez and Lee Mendelson; released by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Todd Barbee (Charlie Brown), Robin Kohn (Lucy van Pelt), Stephen Shea (Linus van Pelt), Hilary Momberger (Sally Brown), Christopher DeFaria (Patricia ‘Peppermint Patty’ Reichardt), Jimmy Ahrens (Marcie) and Robin Reed (Franklin).


The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross (1964, Don Siegel)

Don Siegel can compose no matter what ratio, so his shots in The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross are all fine. There’s a lack of coverage and the edits are occasionally off, but it’s a TV show (an episode of “The Twilight Zone”); it’s expected.

And Siegel does get in the occasional fantastic shot. He’s got a great lead actress with Gail Kobe and Vaughn Taylor’s all right as her father. The problem’s the lead, Don Gordon. Gordon has some great monologues but when he’s acting or reacting to someone else, he falls apart. It’s probably the script, which concerns a listless thug who discovers he can magically trade physical and psychological conditions with people.

He figures to “improve” himself with the power. But the character has no motivation other than filling twenty-some minutes of a television program.

Still, a single great Siegel shot makes up for the rest.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Don Siegel; teleplay by Jerry McNeely, based on a story by Harry Slesar; “The Twilight Zone” created by Rod Serling; director of photography, George T. Clemens; edited by Richard V. Heermance; produced by Bert Granet; aired by CBS Television Network.

Starring Don Gordon (Salvadore Ross), Gail Kobe (Leah Maitland), Vaughn Taylor (Mr. Maitland), J. Pat O’Malley (Old Man), Douglass Dumbrille (Mr. Halpert) and Douglas Lambert (Albert).


Salem’s Lot (1979, Tobe Hooper)

During Salem’s Lot’s finale, Hooper gets this amazing physical performance out of Bonnie Bedelia as she is exploring the vampire’s lair. At that moment, I realized Hooper was intentionally making Lot palatable for a television audience—he could have made the entire three hours terrifying, but he was handicapped by the format.

The miniseries issues are rampant. Screenwriter Paul Monash can write, but he’s drowning in nonsense from the novel. The first half has two characters—played by George Dzundza and Julie Cobb—whose story takes up nearly a fourth of the film… They don’t even appear in the second half. Their story in the first half does nothing to further the story. It’s just crap Stephen King had in the novel and Monash was stuck including it.

Lot had a shorter, theatrical European cut—it’s incomprehensible, which is a surprise—the full version is so fatty, a good editor should’ve been able to lop off an hour without any negative effect.

Except for poor James Mason, who’s fine in the first half and goofy in the second, the acting is nearly all good. Bedelia’s amazing, lead David Soul is surprisingly good. Dzundza is a little broad, but Ed Flanders, Kenneth McMillan and Lew Ayres make up for it.

Hooper saves his enthusiasm for the second half—including a couple lovely Hitchcock homages. It’s too bad he didn’t sustain it throughout.

Without the weak ending and the awful Harry Sukman score, it would have been better. As is, it’s decent.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tobe Hooper; teleplay by Paul Monash, based on the novel by Stephen King; director of photography, Jules Brenner; edited by Tom Pryor and Carroll Sax; music by Harry Sukman; production designer, Mort Rabinowitz; produced by Richard Kobritz; released by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring David Soul (Ben Mears), James Mason (Richard K. Straker), Lance Kerwin (Mark Petrie), Bonnie Bedelia (Susan Norton), Lew Ayres (Jason Burke), Julie Cobb (Bonnie Sawyer), Elisha Cook Jr. (Gordon ‘Weasel’ Phillips), George Dzundza (Cully Sawyer), Ed Flanders (Dr. Bill Norton), Clarissa Kaye-Mason (Majorie Glick), Geoffrey Lewis (Mike Ryerson), Barney McFadden (Ned Tibbets), Kenneth McMillan (Constable Parkins Gillespie), Fred Willard (Larry Crockett) and Marie Windsor (Eva Miller).


Dr. Strange (1978, Philip DeGuere)

Dr. Strange aired in September, Superman came out in December… and they both have the same flying techniques, at least for couples, though Superman does have a longer flying sequences… Dr. Strange just kind of hints at it.

A number of things put Dr. Strange above the standard seventies television movie. First, it rarely has noticeable commercial breaks. It’s been edited, sure, but the story doesn’t have awkward pauses. Second, Jessica Walter’s the villain. Yes, she has some incredibly goofy moments (and goofier makeup) but she’s great. Third, DeGuere worries about composition with his shots. Dr. Strange is a good-looking movie, with DeGuere coming as close to making me believe a Hollywood backlot is New York City as anyone is going to be able to in a seventies TV movie.

The problems, actually, are minor. Except the flying, special effects are bad–the lasers coming out of people’s hands and so on. I wish they’d come up with something more imaginative, since the cheap effects route doesn’t work.

Then there’s the regular plotting problems with a pilot. There’s an almost hour-long setup here and a relatively hurried resolution. DeGuere even gets too subtle on plot points because he just doesn’t have time.

Peter Hooten’s a good lead (it would have been a fine television show), because he’s basically an altruistic alpha male who becomes a superhero (lame costume though).

And Anne-Marie Martin’s a decent romantic interest. She plays young college student well and their romance is compelling.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Philip DeGuere; screenplay by DeGuere, based on the comic book created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; director of photography, Enzo A. Martinelli; edited by Christopher Nelson; music by Paul Chihara; produced by Alex Beaton; released by Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Peter Hooten (Dr. Stephen Strange), Clyde Kusatsu (Wong), Jessica Walter (Morgan LeFay), Anne-Marie Martin (Clea Lake), Philip Sterling (Dr. Frank Taylor, Chief of Psychiatry), John Mills (Thomas Lindmer) and June Barrett (Sarah).


Badge of the Assassin (1985, Mel Damski)

Mel Damski, if Badge of the Assassin is any indication, might be the finest TV movie director ever (who never went on to good theatrical films anyway). He understands composition, camera movement, editing–how to let actors do what actors do–beautifully. Badge of the Assassin looks like a TV movie and that description is, thanks in large part to Damski, not at all a pejorative. Admittedly, he has a lot of help. The film’s perfectly as cast, top to bottom. Alex Rocco, Larry Riley, Richard Bradford, all three are particularly good, but there are no bad performances. David Harris is real good too.

But the film really belongs to Yaphet Kotto. Even though James Woods gets a lot to do, he never gets as much to do as Kotto… and he doesn’t get to do it as long. It’s sort of cheap, since the film’s about black militants killing cops and Kotto’s a black cop struggling to understand. Woods’s basically just the driven district attorney, not wanting to disappoint the grieving widow (and the film’s source book is from the real district attorney, so it’d be interesting if the Kotto emphasis was in there too). However, regardless of what a terrible film McQ is… screenwriter Lawrence Roman is of a definite pedigree and his influence is probably significant.

The script is another area Badge really makes a model TV movie. The character content, which is considerable–scenes with Rocco, Woods and Kotto all have a lot of weight–occurs over a really long time. The film’s present action is something like four years. Besides the first act establishing of the characters, nothing is known about what happens in their lives other than in relation to the case at hand. It’s precise, not sweeping. Damski’s a master at knowing how best tell that precise account… and Roman’s script really focuses on the best possible way to get the lengthy period into ninety-four minutes.

Adding to the film–and I’m not not mentioning Woods because he isn’t great, but because it’s depressing how good he used to be (before he came a personality with Casino)–is the location shooting. It helps immensely, forcing the viewer to engage with the reality of what’s on the screen in front of him or her.

In the end, Badge of the Assassin sort of runs out of time. It doesn’t run out of story so much as it runs out of scenes it can enact well. It’s a good looking film, though, with some great acting.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Mel Damski; screenplay by Lawrence Roman, from the book by Robert K. Tannenbaum and Philip Rosenberg; director of photography, John Lindsay; edited by Andrew Cohen; music by Tom Scott; produced by Daniel H. Blatt and Robert Singer; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring James Woods (Bob Tannenbaum), Yaphet Kotto (Cliff Fenton), Alex Rocco (Bill Butler), David Harris (Lester Bertram Day), Steven Keats (Harold Skelton), Larry Riley (Herman Bell), Pam Grier (Alie Horn), Rae Dawn Chong (Christine Horn), Richard Bradford (L.J. Delsa), Kene Holliday (Washington), Toni Kalem (Diana Piagentini), Tamu Blackwell (Gloria Lapp), Richard Brooks (Tony Bottom), Akosua Busia (Ruth) and Alan Blumenfeld (Charlie).


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