The Tenth Level (1976)

The Milgram experiment was a series of social psychology trials conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram, who measured the willingness of men to obey an authority figure who instructed them to administer electric shocks to someone else, even forcing them to continue the punishment until they killed someone. Strangely — or not all that strangely, when you realize how humanity can barely put a mask on when they spend ten minutes in a grocery store — a high proportion of the subjects would fully obey the instructions, even when they thought that it was all real.

That’s what inspired this controversial TV movie, starring William Shatner as Professor Stephen Turner, who is shocked when he discovers just how much pain his students can dish out in the name of science.

Written by George Bellak, who worked on the kind of old TV like Playhouse 90 that this resembles, and directed by Charles S. Dubin, who was ABC’s head director for thirty years, this film was so shocking that it took eight months to line up enough sponsors to get it on the air. It’s never been released in any format.

Shatner gave up his divorce visitation rights on Christmas Day to film this, showing how much he believed in it. It’s pretty stagey — like I said before, it’s very old TV — and even Professor Milgram, who was paid $5,000 as a consultant on the film, thought it was dull.

Somehow, this is my second TV movie in a row with Lynn Carlin in it, so that has to be the universe sending some kind of message. Or maybe she did a lot of 1970’s TV movies, as she was in Silent Night, Lonely NightA Step Out of LineMr. and Mrs. Bo Jo JonesThe Morning AfterThe Last Angry ManTerror on the 40th FloorThe Honorable Sam HoustonThe Lives of Jenny DolanDawn: Portrait of a Teenage RunawayGirl on the Edge of TownForbidden LoveA Killer in the Family and The Kid from Nowhere.

It also has Ossie Davis, Viveca Lindfors, Stephen Macht (in one of his first roles), Estelle Parsons, Charles White, Roy Poole, Mike Kellin (Mel from Sleepaway Camp) ad supposedly a young John Travolta, which may be an urban legend.

You can watch this on YouTube.

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