Once again, for your consideration, yet another TV Movie from the Seventies.
I’ve noted this before, and at greater length, but there were a lot of excellent science fiction, horror, and mystery movies made for TV during the era, thanks in part to a fair amount of creative freedom and, to an impressive pool of talent both in front of and behind the camera (including Dan Curtis, Joe Stefano, Levinson and Link, and even a young Steven Spielberg).
But perhaps more important was that they made so many of them.
Wide World of Mystery was a regular offering on ABC and, while you might call it an anthology series, it was really just a name slapped on a time slot when they ran TV Movies, something you’d find on a lot of the networks at the time.
It was mildly unusual as it was only 90 minutes and not the more standard two hours, but that was hardly unheard of, either. I believe it was run late night, which wouldn’t really surprise me as the networks have tried for years to fill that slot.
However, what stands out rather more is that it looks like a daytime Soap Opera. Not only does it have that grainy video look, but it has the familiar daytime lighting and is confined to a handful of interior sets (in fact, if you watch carefully, you’ll note that the exteriors of the house are in fact a still photo, even if they track along it in some of the shots! Clearly these were a quick cheap product, which would also make sense of the claim that these movies were originally made in Great Britain and production only later moved to the U.S.
But don’t quote me on that.
A very young Kate Mulgrew, a long way from becoming the Captain of the Voyager, plays Susan, a young woman who had a breakdown after her parents died. She spent some time recovering in a sanitarium but has now moved in with her Uncle and Aunt. She thinks she has fully recovered, but begins to doubt her own sanity when she starts hearing a mysterious voice calling to her. In the attic — in her cousin Jude’s old electronics workshop — she finds an old television set, which turns on by itself and a handsome young man appears on the screen. He tells her his name is Marc and that he comes from another dimension — and needs her help so he can enter our world.
As Susan becomes increasingly enamored of Marc, her guardians begin to suspect that she may be seriously disturbed — possibly schizophrenic — and are planning to send her away.
And then she learns that Jude knows more about Marc than he’s admitting…
Rather than a mystery, as the series title promises, this is far more like a Twilight Zone episode, although until the very end the question of whether or not Marc is real is left very open. As you can imagine, the effects are minimal and mostly left to some fairly simple video tricks. Nor is it actually 90 minutes long, thanks to the need for commercial breaks. The version available on Youtube does not have the series credits or the closing credits and is barely over an hour. But the shorter length works well for a story like this: it offers a number of possible solutions (including some potentially criminal ones), sets up a bit of creepy atmosphere, and throws in some heavy duty drama, all of which is resolved in a sudden shock ending.
It’s very minimal — and very obviously so. Let’s face it, they only things which can lift a production like this above the second rate are the writing and performances, and that is definitely the case here: besides Mulgrew, we have Pernell Roberts, who starred as Trapper John, M.D., while the show was produced by Dan Curtis, and written by one of the most highly respected TV Writers of the era, George Lefferts.
If George’s name is familiar to you, it is probably for the serious TV dramas he wrote in the Seventies. However, thanks to my love of Old Time Radio, I recognized his name from the countless episodes he wrote for the landmark science fiction series X Minus One and Dimension X, where he adapted a lot of short stories by famous authors for radio — and contributed quite a few original episodes of his own.
You have to admit that that’s a pretty solid background for anyone writing a science fiction movie — even if it is only a short one, intended for late night TV.
And, yes, I liked this one. It was well-written, the story is solid, the performances get the job done, it is surprisingly entertaining if you ignore the movie’s glaring technical flaws, — and ends on a scary final note.
Even if the ending is left wide open.
So, if you loved those classic radio shows — or you enjoy a Twilight Zone-style final twist — then by all means take a chance on this one.
After all, it’s short.
And it’s free…
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