Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Bring Back the ABC Movie of the Week

I mentioned that ABC should bring back its Movie of the Week and a buddy added that airing some of those golden oldies during the summer would be totally cool.  I agree!  If ABC aired a classic Movie of the Week on Saturday nights opposite Smash, I'd watch in a heartbeat.  Some of those old made-for-TV movies were better than a couple of big new theatrical releases I paid to see last year in a cineplex.  I'm sure I'm not the only babyboomer who couldn't wait to talk about some of those TV movies the next day with his classmates.  Young guys and their dads teared up at the end of Brian's Song.  Based on a true story, James Caan and Billy Dee Williams co-starred as the NFL players who were competitive on the Chicago Bears playing field yet formed a tight friendship off the field.  And then Brian Piccolo, played by Caan, is diagnosed with a terminal illness.

This was a tale of male bonding beautifully told and a big hit with viewers.  Actor Lou Gossett Jr. had the Gayle Sayers role but injured himself during rehearsal practices and had to withdraw.  This TV movie did good things for the film careers of Williams and Caan.  Billy Dee went on to do Lady Sings the Blues.  Caan did The Godfather.

Last week came Hollywood news that Lou Gossett Jr. and James Caan will team up for a boxing movie.  Long before ABC's gay male parents on the sitcom, Modern Family, there was That Certain Summer.  Hal Holbrook starred as the loving, divorced father who came out and was now living in San Francisco.  Martin Sheen played his partner.
The son lives in Southern California with his mother, played by Hope Lange.

He wants to visit his father for a few days.  Dad hasn't told his son about his new life.  This was a groundbreaking made-for-TV drama, tastefully done and very well-acted.
The only thing I questioned was...how the heck did two Anglo-looking characters played by Hal Holbrook and Hope Lange manage to have a kid who looked like the firstborn child of Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman?  Not that Scott Jacoby wasn't a good young actor in the role....but....well, look at them.  Look at him.  We've got That Certain Summer going on, next thing you know, we're casting for Meet the Fockers.

That's how my mind worked back then when I was a student.  One feature we talked about at school for days was Trilogy of Terror.  It was just too damn cool and spooky!
Karen Black as a woman alone in her apartment with a possessed voodoo doll creeped the bejeebus out of us.  Even today, it's one of Karen Black's most famous roles.

Another popular ABC movie was Duel.  Steven Spielberg, in his early 20s, directed this original TV thriller starring Dennis Weaver.  Spielberg had not yet started directing Hollywood feature films such as Sugarland Express and Jaws.  Weaver played a Southern California suburban man terrorized on the long, open road by a diesel truck.
We never see the face of the stalker trucker nor do we know why he's stalking.  This tense drama was released theatrically in Europe.  I think it's still one of Spielberg's best works.  By the way, he shot this highway death match in 13 days.

The ABC Movies introduced us to new talent.  Viewers loved Stockard Channing in the black comedy, The Girl Most Likely To... with its story and script by Joan Rivers.  (Earlier this month, I blogged about this one in my entry about Joan with actor Burt Lancaster.)  Stockard Channing was fabulous as the abused ugly duckling college girl who survives a car crash and gets a new life with a new face after plastic surgery due to disfigurements.  With that new life, her keen mind and a series of disguises, she kills each mean sorority girl and guy who made her lonely life even more miserable.

The Girl Most Likely To... still makes me laugh.  What a good revenge comedy.  The ABC Movie of the Week was a great vehicle for casting mature actors from the Hollywood Golden Era and pairing  them with new talents on the rise.  Darren McGavin was in David Lean's 1955 classic Summertime with Katharine Hepburn.  He was a hit in two Movies of the Week.  Jan-Michael Vincent was a new actor with the ultimate surfer look.

He played the long-haired rebel hippie who, surprisingly, has the right stuff be to a Marine in Tribes.  McGavin played his hippie-hating drill sergeant in this feature made during the Vietnam War years.  The drafted recruit's gentle spirit is hard to break.

McGavin also played an investigator named Kolchak, a guy on the beat of the occult in The Night Stalker.

That one was so enjoyable that it became a TV series -- a series that should've had a longer life.

Bing Crosby was one of the biggest stars of Hollywood and the pop music business.  He won the Best Actor of 1944 Oscar for playing a priest in Going My Way.  He topped that performance with his portrayal of a co-dependent alcoholic has-been actor/singer attempting a comeback in The Country Girl.  He went to the dark side in that performance and totally deserved his Oscar nomination for Best Actor of 1954.  His final performance was in an ABC Movie of the Week.  It was one of his strongest performances since The Country Girl.  He plays a New England M.D. with a very dark side in Dr. Cook's Garden.

This thriller paired the Hollywood legend with a new actress named Blythe Danner.

Jackie Cooper and Eleanor Parker were starring in movies before Sally Field was born.  She acted with them when she played a teen runaway who returns to the suburbs in Maybe I'll Come Home In The Spring...
...and two of them worked together again in the really fun Christmastime murder mystery, Home for the Holidays.

Bickering relatives at a family gathering are trying to not get killed before Santa Claus arrives.  The future 2-time Best Actress Academy Award winner was acting opposite Oscar-nominated Hollywood stars Eleanor Parker...

...and Julie Harris.

This yuletide murder mystery TV script was written by Joseph Stefano, the man who wrote the iconic screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece, Psycho.  Here's some more trivia about that:  Did you ever see Cabaret?  This stars two women who played Sally Bowles.  Jill Haworth (seen in the black hat) played Sally Bowles in the original Broadway cast of Cabaret in the 1960s.  Julie Harris played Sally in the 1955 movie I Am a Camera, based on the Christopher Isherwood stories.

One sci-fi horror thriller that was so cheesy it became a guilty pleasure to watch starred Patty Duke...

...and former MGM musical comedy star, June Allyson.

One of them may have the power to turn into a giant bug at night in The Curse of the Black Widow.

Sid Caesar co-stars.  Anthony Franciosa is the hero who solves the mystery of macho studs being punctured and killed.  You need Margaritas and snacks to sit through this one.  And a couple of friends to laugh with you at Patty's Eastern European accent.  There were lots of ABC Movies of the Week.  They introduced us to new faces like Nick Nolte's and presented fabulous familiar faces like Fred Astaire's.  A number of TV series got their starts as a MOTW (Movie of the Week).

Each MOTW ran under 90 minutes.  We got some pretty good entertainment in the 1970s in a short amount of TV movie time.  They weren't all classics but many were highly entertaining.  The Night Stalker inspired the creator of TV's The X-Files.  I'd get big retro kicks seeing some of them repeated in prime time again.  And today's film students could learn an Old School thing or two from a solid feature like Spielberg's Duel.  Only 75 minutes long -- and it's way better than last year's big sci-fi production, Prometheus.

Did you have any favorites in the MOTW line-up?

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