Jessica Walter

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).


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).


Home for the Holidays (1972, John Llewellyn Moxey)

Director Moxey has–there’s no better word for it–a compulsion for zooming. He absolutely loves it. I imagine it saved the time and money needed for additional set-ups–and I think short zooms from character to character were a 1970s TV movie standard–but it looks just terrible. It kills some of the scenes in Home for the Holidays; otherwise perfectly fine, sometimes eerie scenes, ruined by Moxey and his zooming camera. After the first twenty or thirty minutes, it almost gets funny, how bad a technique he’s employing. When he turns in one particularly taut sequence–Sally Field being chased through the forest by the murderer–it’s a surprise he can do such good work. It’s a great chase scene, full of suspense… with only the commercial break to eventually impair it.

Moxey does have considerable talent, however. He frames shots rather well–when he’s not zooming–and the way he moves actors around in a static shot is fantastic. His close-ups aren’t particularly special, but the medium shots where he can fit four actors into the frame are good. Home for the Holidays, though written, produced and directed by men, is a woman’s picture. The five principals are women, with Walter Brennan in a glorified cameo as father to Field, Jill Haworth, Jessica Walter and Eleanor Parker–Julie Harris plays his new wife, who the women’s mother killed herself over. Brennan’s got little to do in a poorly written role–the Brennan voice doesn’t work with the character. The only other male actor is John Fink, as Field’s erstwhile romantic interest (and, for one possible moment–and for more interestingly–Parker’s). Fink turns in a standard TV movie performance, which doesn’t cut it in the company of the female actors.

The weakest performance is Haworth. She has one okay scene and a lot of bad ones. Joseph Stefano’s script moves quickly, especially when establishing the characters, and he rushes a tad much with Haworth’s character development. But it isn’t really Stefano’s fault–just like Moxey–he’s not really responsible for most of the film’s success. Walter doesn’t have much more character, but she’s excellent–even when she’s delivering this strange Shakespearian monologue. Parker’s solid, with a lot more to do at the beginning than the end, when Home for the Holiday‘s becomes a Sally Field vehicle. It’s hard to imagine what Field’s getting her master’s degree in, but that disbelief aside, she actually does pretty well considering she’s not really a match for Parker, Walters or Julie Harris. Harris has the toughest performance–she’s got to be the hated step-mother, the suspect; Harris manages beautifully, creating a character who the viewer hopes isn’t guilty, even though all evidence points to it.

The end, the unveiling, falls apart. It’s paced well, though, with the revelation coming before the climax, allowing for some more solid acting and decent scenes. Moxey ends it on one of his zooms, but it’s got the music from George Aliceson Tipton going–and the music is excellent–so it gets a pass.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey; written by Joseph Stefano; director of photography, Leonard J. South; edited by Allan Jacobs; music by George Aliceson Tipton; produced by Paul Junger Witt; released by the American Broadcasting Company.

Starring Jessica Walter (Frederica Morgan), Sally Field (Christine Morgan), Jill Haworth (Joanna Morgan), Julie Harris (Elizabeth Hall Morgan), Eleanor Parker (Alex Morgan), Walter Brennan (Benjamin Morgan), John Fink (Doctor Ted Lindsay) and Med Flory (Sheriff Nolan).


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