This is the great thing about Mill Creek box sets: we probably would have never reviewed this TV Movie obscurity for the site. Well . . . maybe we would have . . . you know us and those “Big Three” network TV flicks of the ’70s and ’80s.
The cheapjack DVDs you pick up from those cardboard-boxed impulse buy end caps at your favorite retail outlets (Dollar Tree, Marshalls, and Bealls; even those Walmart barrels ‘o plenty in the electronics section) woefully credit Michelle “Catwoman” Pfeiffer as the “star” of this TV mini-series that originally ran for two nights in October 1981. The cast is a TV Movie support cast-dream, with just about every actor who ever booked a supporting role on a ’70s TV series or movie (Joy Garrett, John Harkins, Macon McCalman, and James Sloyan, in particular) appearing in a wide array of bit parts. The cast is not headed by Michelle, but by ubiquitous TV actors Lindsay “Bionic Woman” Wagner, along with Jameson “Simon & Simon” Parker, and the-easily-moves-between-TV-and-film actors Dabney Coleman (McKittrick from WarGames; in production on his 178th project!) and Andrew Prine, who shows us just how great of an actor he really is — and if you’ve spent any amount of time at B&S About Movies, you know Prine’s done his share of Drive-In junk, yet always shines in his role. (If you’re new here and not familiar with Prine’s work The Town that Dreaded Sundown, Simon King of the Witches, and Hannah, Queen of the Witches will get you started down your own Prine-rabbit hole.)
Sadly, Prine isn’t here much, only acting as the story-narrating Kimbel Smyth, as the story of Callie Lord (Wagner) unfolds: She’s a 1940’s unwed mother forced to give up her son for black market adoption. Moving from her small Texas town to the big city of Dallas for a new start (to study to become a courtroom stenographer), she comes to meet newspaper editor-in-chief Randall Bordeaux (Coleman) while working as a waitress. They marry. And understanding her pain, he tracks down her once-a-rebel-always-a-rebel son, Randy (Parker). Now a powerful newspaper editor after her husband’s passing, Callie looses it all when her son is up on murder charges over his gold digging, ne’er-do-well wife (a rather pudgy Pfeiffer; not at all the svelte Cat Woman we know).
If you’re a fan of those prime soap operas of the ’80s, with their ongoing tales of secrets, lies, and betrayals committed by the underprivileged behaving very badly, there’s something here for you to spend your two-plus hours on. Just don’t be duped into thinking Michelle Pfeiffer is running the show, but Lindsay Wagner fans will enjoy it. And while Wagner’s southern accent leaves a bit to be desired, Prine thrives in southern-slang roles; even in voice over, he’s excellent.
Director Waris Hussein, whose TV career began in Britain with a dozen episodes of Doctor Who in the mid-’60s and moved into the theatrical realms with the very early Gene Wilder film Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx (1970), serviceably moves the camera about the solid set design that transitions from the 1940s to the late 1970s. We could easily do a week of just Waris Hussein TV movies, but we’ll call out the two we remember best: The Henderson Monster, a 1980 Frankenstein-esque horrror starring Stephen “7th Heaven” Colllins, and the really good John Savage-starring Coming Out of the Ice, a 1982 Cold War bio-drama. Teleplay scribe Thomas Thompson is an old TV western scribe whose career goes back to the days of The Rifleman, Rawhide, Wagon Train, The Virginian, Bonanza, and High Chaparral, but . . . he penned one of the great TV movies, well two: The Death of Richie (1977) and — the one that we really need to re-watch (and review!) after all these years — the two-night mini-series rating winner, A Death in Canaan (1978), which stars the sorely-missed-from-acting Paul Clemens (The Beast Within).
You can, of course, pick this up as one of the 50 movies offered on Mill Creek’s Excellent Eighties box set. There’s also a freebie upload on You Tube.