William Daniels

The Return of the Incredible Hulk (1977, Alan J. Levi)

The Return of the Incredible Hulk is the second pilot movie for the subsequent “Incredible Hulk” TV series. It aired three weeks after the first pilot, which featured the origin of the Hulk–scientist Bruce Bixby turns himself into green-skinned musclebound grotesque Lou Ferrigno thanks to gamma rays–and his pursuer, annoying, uninformed tabloid reporter Jack Colvin. Luckily Colvin doesn’t come into Return until over a half hour in so there’s limited Colvin, which is just fine. Return has enough acting… issues without Colvin mucking up too many scenes.

It’s not all Colvin’s fault; the details of his scenes are idiotic television shorthand. But it’s not like he makes the scenes work, which an actor could with some enthusiasm. The cast of Return of the Incredible Hulk is usually at least enthusiastic–all the guest stars act like they’re auditioning for a regular CBS show, which they are–but not Colvin. He’s just an unenthusiastic jackass, which isn’t a good kind of jackass.

And Colvin isn’t the one who drags Return down. The Return of the Incredible Hulk is a perfectly adequate, lower mediocre, late seventies television pilot. The one impressive shot in it doesn’t even involve the Hulk and it’s only technically impressive. Director Levi does show some interest occasionally, but he also shoots some really mediocre scenes. He’s got no interest in the soap opera aspects of the story, which is sort of a Gothic about a troubled young woman (Laurie Prange), who lost her father and her ability to walk, now getting sicker and sicker, in the care of stepmother Dorothy Tristan and special doctor William Daniels. Although an heiress, her true love is Gerald McRaney. He disappears after the first third, which is too bad. He’s rather enthusiastic about the whole thing.

Prange ends up getting the spotlight, befriending both Bixby and Ferrigno–separately. She calms Ferrigno’s beast and Bixby is trying to save her from those conspiring against her. Though there’s not much mystery in who’s conspiring against her. Kenneth Johnson’s teleplay is nothing if not efficient. The moment after Bixby reveals he knows Daniels’s doing something slimy, Daniels’s conspirator confronts Daniels about it. So all of a sudden Return’s got specific villains who have specific henchmen for Ferrigno to fight.

All the action takes place on Prange’s orange orchard in Northern California. At the opening, before it’s been made clear what a low bar Return is going for, it almost seems like there’s going to be a Bill Bixby as Tom Joad thing. There isn’t.

There is a Lou Ferrigno is Boris Karloff with the old man, which would be a lot more amusing if the old man didn’t stick around the rest of the movie. John McLiam plays the old man, a loner who has cut himself off from the world because of tragedy. He’s a veteran. He’s also a drunken Northern California hillbilly living in a surprisingly well-lighted shack. Oh, and his introduction is taunting the chicken he’s cooking about how he’s going to eat it.

And McLiam plays it all straight, which is just the wrong way to play it.

Everyone in Return, with the exception of Colvin and McLiam, tries. Daniels has some good nerdy creep moments. Tristan has some good moments. Some bad ones too, but at least there’s some energy to her performance. Though muted… as it appears in Charles W. Short’s thoroughly competent and boring lighting.

Prange tries. And she is frequently bad. But when the script’s at its best and the melodrama is toned down, Prange has a really good moment or two. There’s a sweetness between she and Ferrigno and it’s entirely from the actors. Johnson makes the time in the movie for it, but–as producer–he doesn’t make Levi enable it. Instead they rely on Joseph Harnell to do a terrible theme for Prange, separate from the “Incredible Hulk” theme, which gets a disco-ish remix early on in Return. And they use that theme for Prange ad nauseam. It ruins scenes, it ruins momentum.

Because Return finally gets some momentum in the second half, when Bixby, Prange, and McLiam are on the run. Through the Northern California orange country swamp, chased by men with dogs and a guy in a helicopter. And there are snakes.

And bears. And Ferrigno fights a bear. It’s not a bad fight. Like, for a TV pilot movie? With the “Hulk”’s demographic target audience? It’s a decent bear fight. Much cooler than the rest of the Ferrigno action. There’s too much slow motion, not enough choreography. When there’s choreography–even a little bit–it works better. There’s also the breaking stuff factor. Ferrigno breaks things (it’s the reason Bixby can’t stay in one place too long, Ferrigno might break something–not kill someone, break something). They’re big things, sure, but the set pieces are often tedious in Return. And sometimes Levi will all of a sudden decent to get serious during a fight scene and totally change the tempo.

But the bear fight is cool.

The snake not so much.

There’s also a quicksand sequence, because it’s a TV pilot movie from the late seventies. The quicksand is a disappointment.

I forgot McRaney (just the like the movie; though maybe he was busy shooting other things). He’s not good, but he’s likable. You can tell he’s got the TV star thing down. And when he’s in the movie, there’s at least a chance for it to go someplace surprising, story-wise.

It’s when he disappears Return becomes a race to the half hour chase scene.

And the half hour chase scene makes up for the rest. Enough for a late seventies TV pilot movie. The whole thing is an audition tape for Bill Bixby and the various things he’ll be able to do on the subsequent series. There’s just enough with Ferrigno to show off the action possibilities. Prange has just the right amount of tragedies to show off the sentimental possibilities. Bixby’s likability, especially opposite Prange, makes up for a lot throughout. Johnson does a fine job advertising a series.

While still adequately plotting out the ninety minutes. Return is well-produced, it’s just unimaginatively executed and rather underacted.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Alan J. Levi; teleplay by Kenneth Johnson Johnson, based on the Marvel comic book created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Charles W. Short; edited by Glenn Lawrence and Jack W. Schoengarth; music by Joseph Harnell; produced by Johnson; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Bill Bixby (Dr. David Banner), Laurie Prange (Julie Griffith), John McLiam (Michael), William Daniels (Dr. John Bonifant), Dorothy Tristan (Margaret Griffith), Gerald McRaney (Denny Kayle), Jack Colvin (Jack McGee), Victor Mohica (Rafe), Robert Phillips (Phil), Mills Watson (Sheriff), and Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk).


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.

The Parallax View (1974, Alan J. Pakula)

Not quite halfway through The Parallax View, the film loses its footing. Director Pakula keeps the audience a good three car lengths from not just the action of the film–with long shots in Panavision–but also understanding the action of the film. Parallax even goes so far to introduce protagonist Warren Beatty with a proverbial wink.

But Beatty isn’t a traditional protagonist. Screenwriters Dean Giler and Lorenzo Semple Jr. don’t just keep viewers from passing judgement on Beatty, the writers keep viewers from even thinking they might want to think about the character at all. Beatty moves through the film just fine, but he’s being endearingly indignant or running most of the time. It’s not a hard job.

It’s especially not a hard job since a lot of the effectiveness comes through due to the technical aspects of Parallax. Gordon Willis’s photography is amazing, even if Pakula does mostly utilize the right side of the frame for action; the left tends to be for setting information and the shots are beautiful, just beautiful with too much free space.

John W. Wheeler’s editing is also of note. Every cut in Parallax, which is always trying to surprise the viewer–whether with big conspiracy stuff or, in the first half, Beatty’s roguish behavior–and it works thanks to Wheeler.

Well, Wheeler and composer Michael Small. Parallax’s a cynical take on a patriotic hero story; Small’s music plays to it sincerely.

Parallax may have its problems, but it’s also gorgeous filmmaking.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Alan J. Pakula; screenplay by David Giler and Lorenzo Semple Jr., based on the novel by Loren Singer; director of photography, Gordon Willis; edited by John W. Wheeler; music by Michael Small; production designer, George Jenkins; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Warren Beatty (Joseph Frady), Paula Prentiss (Lee Carter), William Daniels (Austin Tucker), Walter McGinn (Jack Younger), Hume Cronyn (Bill Rintels), Kelly Thordsen (Sheriff L.D. Wicker), Chuck Waters (Thomas Richard Linder), Earl Hindman (Deputy Red), Anthony Zerbe (Prof. Nelson Schwartzkopf) and William Joyce (Senator Charles Carroll).


All Night Long (1981, Jean-Claude Tramont)

There’s a certain tragedy about All Night Long. Not the film’s story or anything, but the film itself. It’s a debacle–Barbara Streisand is unbelievably terrible and the cuts made to the film (twenty minutes) significantly damage it–a painful to watch debacle. It’s such a chore to get through, I can’t imagine trying to watch it in the theater. IMDb’s trivia section is no help–Lisa Eichhorn, who’s excellent, was originally in Streisand’s role.

The tragedy aspect is Gene Hackman. It’s an amazing performance. Hackman’s performance is so good, it conquers the bad plotting, uninspired direction and annoying score. It just can’t beat Streisand. The funniest scenes–unintentionally–are the ones with Hackman acting well and Streisand acting horribly. One half of the screen is a good movie, the other half is All Night Long.

Further problems stem from the screenplay’s lack of emphasis on Hackman’s relationship with son Dennis Quaid. The two are fantastic together, something apparently the director didn’t realize when shooting the film. Diane Ladd’s also good (as the wife Hackman leaves for Streisand), but Kevin Dobson (as Streisand’s husband) leaves a lot to be desired once the plot requires anything from him.

Richter sets the film up as a comedy–it’s a real precursor to American Beauty–with Hackman managing an all-night pharmacy after losing his office job. Way too little time is spent in the pharmacy though, even though the film populates with odd-ball characters and appealing ones too. Once Hackman leaves, around halfway through, the rest of the film becomes the back and forth of pursuing Streisand.

Something about the script suggests a real lack of maturity (though Richter was thirty-six), particularly in the way all the good guys get a happy ending. The real problems the characters experience are never addressed. Hackman walks out on his wife of seventeen years immediately, though the film never shows any particular problems with their marriage, except her wanting him to apologize to his old boss and he doesn’t want to do it. It’s sloppy writing, sloppy editing and so forth. Director Tramont did very little else–maybe theatrical audiences couldn’t sit through it, no shock–and, as the film ended, I thought about who would have done a better job of directing it. Practically anyone is the obvious and glib answer… but also maybe the right one. Still, it sounds like (from the IMDb trivia page) the producers really wanted Streisand and she’s the overriding problem with the film.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jean-Claude Tramont; written by W.D. Richter; director of photography, Philip H. Lathrop; edited by Rachel Igel and Marion Rothman; music by Richard Hazard, Ira Newborn and José Padilla; production designer, Peter Jamison; produced by Leonard Goldberg and Jerry Weintraub; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Gene Hackman (George Dupler), Barbra Streisand (Cheryl Gibbons), Diane Ladd (Helen Dupler), Dennis Quaid (Freddie Dupler), Kevin Dobson (Bobby Gibbons) and William Daniels (Richard H. Copleston).


Scroll to Top