Even for a TV miniseries, Vanished feels like it runs too long. There are always tedious subplots, like folksy, pervy old man senator Robert Young plotting against President Richard Widmark. Widmark is up for re-election and he’s vulnerable. Even his own press secretary’s secretary (Skye Aubrey) thinks Widmark is “an evil man,” possibly because he’s going to end the world in nuclear war, possibly because he’s a secretive boss. It’s never clear. Aubrey, both her character and her performance, are the most tedious thing about Vanished until she, well, vanishes. A lot of characters just vanish. After meticulous plotting, Dean Riesner’s teleplay throws it all out after the resolution to the first part “cliffhanger.”
The setup for Vanished is probably the best stuff it has going for it. At the beginning, it all seems like it’s going to be about that press secretary–James Farentino–who’s new to job and dating his secretary (Aubrey). He’s got an FBI agent roommate (Robert Hooks) and spends his time at happening parties with friends while avoiding reporter William Shatner’s intrusive questions. There’s also a significant subplot involving Widmark’s best friend, civilian Arthur Hill, who’s an active older American. He and Eleanor Parker as his wife are great together. For their one scene. Because then Hill goes missing–he’s Vanished, you see–it’s up to Farentino and Hooks, unofficially working the case, to track him down.
While avoiding Shatner’s intrusions and Aubrey’s annoying behavior.
And Riesner–and director Kulik–manage to make Farentino’s a believable amateur detective. The plotting helps out with it, as does Widmark’s mysteriousness. Shatner’s not very good in Vanished, mostly just broadly thin, but he’s a decent enough adversary for Farentino. Eventually, Widmark’s part grows and he too gets an adversary. CIA head E.G. Marshall thinks Widmark’s keeping too much from him and gets involved with Young’s scheming senator.
Marshall’s so good at playing slime bag, especially the quiet, unassuming one here, those scenes pass fairly well. Farentino’s decent, Hooks’s good, Widmark’s fine. Aubrey’s bad. And no one is anywhere near as compelling as Hill and Parker, or even Farentino before he just becomes an exposition tool. Maybe if Vanished kept him around in the last hour, except for awful bickering scenes with Aubrey, it’d have finished better. Instead, after dragging out the first couple hours–including a pointless excursion to Brazil for Hooks–Farentino vanishes too. Parker goes somewhere towards the end of the first hour, Hooks somewhere towards the end of the second, Farentino in the third. At least in Hooks’s case, it’s so Reisner can perturb the plot. But Farentino just stops being interesting.
And the interesting thing is supposed to be the reveal, which is way too obvious towards the end of the first half of Vanished. Reisner doesn’t have anything to do with it (presumably) as he’s just adapting a novel. Instead of spreading it all out, however, Vanished would do much better, much shorter. It still wouldn’t fix the stupid resolution, which comes during a lot of reused footage for the “action” sequences, but at least shorter there’d be less time investment.
Because Reisner and Kulik don’t answer the most interesting questions. The film skips any number of good scenes to “go big” with stock footage of aircraft carrier take-offs. There’s also a lot of grand, “real world” spy technology in the second half, which is a waste of time. Well, unless Kulik had made it visually interesting, but he doesn’t.
Vanished is a disappointment, but one with mostly solid (or better) acting. Nice small turns from Murray Hamilton, Larry Hagman, Don Pedro Colley; plus a really funny single scene one from Neil Hamilton.
Maybe if Farentino and Hooks weren’t such appealing leads–or if Hill and Parker didn’t imply they’d be able to do great scenes together–Vanished wouldn’t disappoint so much. But it even fails Widmark; after intentionally obfuscating him for over two and a half hours, Vanished wants the viewer to rest their emotional weight on him.
Vanished is reasonably tolerable throughout, just not adding up to anything, until the bungled reveal sinks it.
Directed by Buzz Kulik; teleplay by Dean Riesner, based on the novel by Fletcher Knebel; director of photography, Lionel Lindon; edited by Robert Watts; music by Leonard Rosenman; produced by David J. O’Connell; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.
Starring James Farentino (Gene Culligan), Richard Widmark (President Paul Roudebush), E.G. Marshall (Arthur Ingram), Robert Hooks (Larry Storm), Eleanor Parker (Sue Greer), Arthur Hill (Arnold Greer), Skye Aubrey (Jill Nichols), William Shatner (Dave Paulick), Murray Hamilton (Nick McCann), Tom Bosley (Johnny Cavanaugh), Larry Hagman (Jerry Freytag), Denny Miller (Big Bubba Toubo), Don Pedro Colley (Mercurio), and Robert Young (Senator Earl Gannon).