THE EXCELLENT EIGHTIES: Savage Journey (1983)

This movie made this entire month worth it.

That’s because it unlocks another part of the saga that is my fascination with the utterly strange and mysterious Night Train to Terror, a movie that I have written about more than once.

While this movie is listed on IMDB as a 1983 made for TV movie, the truth is that this movie was originally released six years earlier as Brigham. I love this comment on the movie from Mormon Literature and Creative Arts, which stated that the film came about as David Yeaman wanted to “create a film billed as authentic and sympathetic to the LDS view. Top Hollywood brass was involved, primarily Oscar-winning screenwriter Philip Yordan, and the LDS public grew excited to finally see themselves depicted accurately on screen.”

Oh man. Let’s take a break from this quote just to remind everyone who Phillip Yordan was. In The Phillip Yordan Story, a Hollywood urban legend is just part of his legend. It was claimed that Yordan hired someone else to go through law school for him so that he could get a degree without doing the work.

While Yordan is the listed writer on nearly a hundred movies, including DillingerDetective Story and Broken Lance*, the jury is out on what films he actually wrote. Some believe that many of the movies he wrote were actually a front for blacklisted writers, who still wanted to make films, giving Yordan all the credit and half the paycheck.

In the late 1950s, Yordan finally got caught. He mixed up two scripts, delivering a Fox script to Warner Brothers and vice versa. Seeing as how he was under contract at Fox, Darryl F. Zanuck threatened to get him blackballed at all the major studios. A few years later, his secretary would claim that she was the real writer of The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond and things got so bad that Columbia demanded that he have an office on their lot where they could watch him write, guaranteeing that he was the author. Despite this new contract, he was still hustling scripts at other studios and was fired and forced to return his paycheck. This time, he really was told you’ll never eat lunch in this town again.

Yordan then showed up in Spain, working for Samuel L. Bronston, using folks like Ray Bradbury, Ben Barzman Arnaud D’Usseau, Julian Halevy and Bernard Gordon, who really wrote The Day of the Triffids, not Yordan.

By the mid 60s, he was back in Hollywood, a survivor of everything from being blackballed to going bakrupt, working as a script doctor on movies like Horror Express — also a horror movie set on a train — and Psychomania.

At the end of his life, he worked as an adjunct screenwriting instructor at San Diego State University and was writing scripts for movies like The UnholyMarilyn Alive and Behind Bars (which is also part of Night Train to Terror), Cataclysm (ditto), Cry Wilderness and this movie.

Back to our friends at Mormon Literature and Creative Arts, who wrote that “Unfortunatley, when released, Brigham proved a critical fiasco. It was criticized for poor acting, incomprehensible chronology, sensationalized violence, incredibly poor casting, lack of dramatic focus, and even for recycling wagon train footage from earlier films like Brigham Young itself. The film was quickly withdrawn, reedited, and re-released early the following, billed as The New Brigham. Similar attempts at repackaging continued as it was apparently again revamped and christened Savage Journey a few years later (perhaps to parallel the 1983 handcart film Perilous Journey). Despite this, Brigham remained a critical flop, and modern Mormons, if they remember it all, do so with humor or derision.”

Yes, this was a movie that Yordan made specifically for the Mormon Chuch and along the way, he brought director Tom McGowan, who — yes, you got it — also directed Cataclysm, and Richard Moll, who would star in that film and Marilyn Behind Bars. Seeing as how both movies are segments in Night Train, it gets really disconcerting watching Moll have hair, not have hair and be played by a double with astoundingly hairy arms.

Other actors who appear in both films include Maurice Grandmaison, who plays Brigham Young himself and Papini, the homeless Catholic priest who attempts to help the heroine Claire Hansen; Stephen Cracroft, Phineas in this one and a first AD on Night Train; Lou Edwards, Brother Becker in Mormon times and a production manager on Night Train; Faith Clift, who was Claire Rudley in this movie and appears as Claire Hansen in Night Train (she was also Yordan’s wife, showing up in his movies Captain ApacheHorror Express and Cry Wilderness); an uncredited Marc Lawrence (yes, the very same man who made Pigs and appears in Night Train as Abraham Weiss) and most importantly, Yordan’s son Byron, who is the song and dance man doomed to die on Satan’s Cannonball, but not before he sings “dance with me, dance with me” more times than you can count.

I’m astounded that this film exists. Actually, I’m so into the fact that Yordan did, a flimflam man who claimed to have never read a newspaper before the age of fifty, yet somehow was a lawyer who became an Oscar-winning writer, a producer and the connection between so many movies that are just plain strange.

So how’s the movie?

Moll, who used the named Charles Moll for this film, sums up Savage Journey best in the movie The Work and the Story, saying “All independent films suck, all Mormon films suck, and, ergo, an independent Mormon film must royally suck.”

*A movie he won an Best Original Story Oscar for, despite it being a remake of 1949’s House of Strangers and the fact that he probably didn’t write a single word of the actual script.

The Excellent Eighties: Callie & Son (1981)

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.

Before Michelle Pfeiffer outshined them all and took over the later DVD boxes.

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 SundownSimon 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.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

THE EXCELLENT EIGHTIES: Portrait of a Showgirl (1982)

I’ve watched plenty of Steven Hilliard Stern movies, like The Park Is MineThe Ghost of Flight 401Miracle On IceMazes and MonstersStill the BeaverNot Quite Human (written by Alan Ormsby!), I Wonder Who’s Killing Her Now? and Murder In Space, but he’s probably best known for his redneck opus, Rolling Vengeance. It’s probably the best — and only — movie where a man reacts to the death of his wife and children by making a monster truck and killing everyone responsible.

This is Showgirls with the sleaze dialed down for TV consumption. But hey — it’s got Rita Moreno as Rosella DeLeon, an old dancer trying for one more run and in love with Joey DeLeon (Tony Curtis). Then there’s Jillian Brooks (Lesley Anne Warren), the New York dancer. And newcomer Marci (Dianne Kay, Eight Is Enough) as the innocent girl new to Vegas.

It’s not going to change your life, but it’s definitely a great Sunday afternoon watch. Does anyone still do that? Well, I do.

You can watch this on YouTube.

THE EXCELLENT EIGHTIES: Act of Love (1980)

In between playing one of America’s most beloved teenagers and directing its favorite movies, Ron Howard took several against type roles. This is one such example, as he plays Leon Cybulkowski, who puts his brother Joseph (Mickey Rourke!) out of his misery as he asks to be killed instead of living out his life as a quadriplegic.

Director Jud Taylor started his career as an actor before becoming an in-demand director of TV movies. Some of his best-remembered films include Revenge!The Disappearance of Flight 412, Search for the Gods (which has Kurt Russell and Stephen McHattie seeking ancient astronauts), Out of the Darkness and The Great Escape II: The Untold Story (he was an actor in the original).

Based on the book Act of Love: The Killing of George Zygmanik by Judith Paige Mitchell, this NBC TV movie originally aired on September 24, 1980. It’s an emotional watch and Howard is pretty decent in it. It also has Robert Foxworth (the voice of Ratchet in the Transformers movies), Jacqueline Brookes (The Good Son), David Spielberg (Christine), Mary Kay Place (Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman), Chris Mulkey (Hank Jennings from Twin Peaks), Pat Gorley (Kiss My Grits) and David Faustino in his first acting role.

You can watch this on YouTube.

THE EXCELLENT EIGHTIES: Saigon Year of the Cat (1983)

At the end of 1974, as American forces withdraw from Saigon, only a few CIA advisors remain. In this strange end of the war era, one of those advisors named Bob Chesneau (Frederic Forrest, who was in another better known Vietnam movie, Apocalypse Now) is having an affair with a bank analyst, Barbara Dean (Dame Judi Dench).

Written by David Hare (The Hours) and directed by Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, High Fidelity), this Thames Television film also has a strong cast with E.G. Marshall (Creepshow), Wallace Shawn (The Princess Bride), British comedian Chic  Murray, Manning Redwood (The ShiningShock Treatment) and Josef Sommer (Witness).

It’s pretty amazing the places that Hare and Frears went after this movie, which doesn’t show much of the promise that they would later display. But here it is, one of the many British made for TV movies that are all over this giant brick of a Mill Creek collection.

You can watch this on YouTube.

The Excellent Eighties: Hard Knox (1984)

The joy of enjoying Robert Conrad as an actor is a case of you had to be there: if you weren’t, you missed out. Back in the day: we went gold, red and black because Conrad told us so. And we can remember those days thanks to Mill Creek rescuing this lost and forgotten TV Movie adrift in the public domain.

If you’re a younger surfer amid the digital pages of B&S About Movies, Conrad is just that old guy from The Wild Wild West (1965 – 1969) adapted into that utterly awful Will Smith movie Wild Wild West (1999) where Smith portrayed Conrad’s Jim West: no, there was never any giant, Civil War-era mechanical spiders in the series. If you’re a wee-bit older and go back to the pre-cable days of local UHF-TV, you remember coming home from school and watching Conrad as Tom Lopaka on the early ’60s series 77 Sunset Strip, a character which grew into its own four-years series, Hawaiian Eye. And the not-so-old and the not-so-young remember Conrad as Pappy Boyington on Black Sheep Squadron in the ’80s.

Before there was a Tom Selleck, there was Robert Conrad: he was the “he man” of the ’70s, rife with the “sex” for the women and the “brawn” for the men. From Murph the Surf (1975), Sudden Death (1977), and The Lady in Red (1979), he packed the duplexes and the Drive-Ins. From Smash-Up on Interstate 5 (1976), Coach of the Year (1980), and Two Father’s Justice (1994), we turned his TV movies into ratings winners. If Conrad was still active and relevant as an actor in the 21st Century, Sylvester Stallone would have cast him in The Expendables, because, for his fans (moi): Action equals Conrad and vise versa.

However, Conrad, even when playing off his tough guy image, isn’t comedy. And that led to his decision, which he later regretted, in turning down the role of Cmndt. Lassard in the first Police Academy film. Conrad tried to correct that career misstep with a role in Neal Isreal and Pat Profts’s next film, Moving Violations (1985) and this military comedy. With his two comedic bids failing at the box office, he went back to the action genre with the TV movies The Fifth Missile (1986) and Assassin (1986; which we reviewed as part of our last Mill Creek blowout with their Sci-Fi Invasion set).

Image courtesy of terriers4u/eBay.

In a story idea conjured by Conrad, and in an obvious bid to correct the wrong of turning down Police Academy, he’s Joe Knox: a hard-nosed, retired Air Force Colonel who takes over the leadership of a co-ed military academy from his mentor, General Garfield (Bill Erwin; Across 240-plus credits: Plains, Trains & Automobiles, Home Alone . . . and too many TV series to mention, yes, Samuel, even Seinfeld: “My Teeth, My Teeth, you moron!”). Helping Col. Knox whip the Porky’s-cum-Animal House bumbling cadets (including Alan Ruck of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off fame) into shape is Thomas “Top” Tuttle (ex-Elvis body guard Red West of Road House).

Since this is an ’80s TV movie, the shenanigans are innocuous and not as racy as the Police Academy films it apes, and it’s not as funny as No Time for Sergeants (the military comedy gold standard, so what film is), but it doesn’t fail as badly as Mad Magazine‘s (really awful) military school romp Up the Academy (1980). Also keep your eyes open for Reb Brown (TV’s original Captain America, Space Mutiny) and Dennis Farina (in an early role; on his way to TV’s Law & Order as Det. Fontana).

Sam? Notice how I got a plug for both Law & Order and Seinfeld into one review? Sweet!

You can get your own copy of Hard Knox as part of Mill Creek’s Excellent Eighties box set and watch it on You Tube.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

The Excellent Eighties: Blunt, aka The Fourth Man (1987)

Here’s another Mill Creeker that Sam, the boss at B&S, and myself never heard of and would have passed on — if not for it being on a Mill Creek box set. And you probably never heard of it either, as it is a British TV movie, part of the 165-episode run of BBC-TV’s 1985 – 2002 series Screen Two. According to the digital content managers at the IMDb, the Screen Two project was the brainchild of producer Kenith Trodd, who headed a team to create a programming block for the BBC to compete with Channel Four’s efforts in making movies for television and theatrical release. The series plan was to break the BBC away from their studio-made stage play format (know your old PBS-TV rebroadcasts of Doctor Who) to create “live,” non-stage programming. Known as The Fourth Man during its TV run, it carried the title of Blunt for its VHS and overseas theatrical releases.

Of course, it helps that we have Sir Anthony Hopkins heading the cast to inspire us to sit down and review the title for our Mill Creek blowout of their 50-film Excellent Eighties box set.

So, what’s it all about?

VHS image courtesy of ijcm3/eBay.

Hopkins is Blunt, Anthony Blunt (bad Bond joke), a British art historian and professor who became the infamous “fourth man” in the Cambridge Five, a notorious group of spies comprised of rogue MI5 agents (Britain’s CIA equivalent) working for the Soviet Union from the 1930s up through the early 1950s. Once a Sir of the Royal Victorian Knighthood, Blunt was stripped of the honor in 1979 when his activities came to public light.

While the production values exceed the TV stage play-style they were attempting to update, this is — even with Hopkins to hold our interest — still pretty dry and pretty boring and the production values really haven’t improved much: this isn’t an action drama, but (still) a stagey, psychological drama that attempts to get inside the heads of the men and asks “why” Blunt did it. While Blunt and the Cambridge Five’s exploits are certainly intriguing and appealing to spy aficionados, the way this story is told, it just isn’t as engaging as the exploits of Ashaf Marwan, an Egyptian billionaire who worked for Mossad, the State of Israel’s intelligence agency to became the world’s first true “super spy” during the 1973 Yom Kippur War/Arab-Israeli War. His exploits are chronicled in the much better spy film The Angel (2018) and its accompanying documentary, The Spy Who Fell to Earth (2018).

You can watch Blunt: The Fourth Man on Tubi as a free-with-ads stream.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

THE EXCELLENT EIGHTIES: Hazard of Hearts (1987)

Yes, along with The Lady and the Highwayman, this Mill Creek has not one but two John Hough made for TV movies. Hough is an interesting director who made perhaps my favorite late model Hammer movie (Twins of Evil), one of the best car movies of all time (Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry), several fun Disney movies (the Witch Mountain films, The Watcher In the Woods), some out there slashers (American Gothic and Incubus), a few sequels (The Triumphs of a Man Called Horse and Howling IV: The Original Nightmare) and even executive produced a really insightful wrestling documentary (The Backyard).

This bodice ripper, based on the book by Barbara Cartland, starts with Sir Giles Staverley (Christopher Plummer) being tricked into gambling away not only his home but his daughter to Lord Harry Wrotham (Edward Fox, M in Never Say Never Again). He becomes so distraught over what he has done to his daughter Serena (Helena Bonham Carter in one of her first big movies) he kills himself.

However, Lord Justin Vulcan (Marcus Gilbery, who is also in Hough’s Biggles) wins everything from Wrotham yet has no idea what to do with the house and the girl. His mother, Lady Harriet Vulcan (Diana Rigg!) wants her far away from her son and their ancestral home of Mandrake, so all manner of upper crust intrigue follows.

Originally airing on December 27, 1987 on CBS, there are also roles here for Stewart Granger (The Wild Geese), Fiona Fullerton (A View to a Kill), Neil Dickson (who was also in Biggles, an HBO afternoon movie that I really need to get to), Anna Massey (Peeping Tom), Eileen Atkins (Sister Albana from I Don’t Want to Be Born), Gareth Hunt (who is in Hough’s Lady and the Highwayman) and Robert Addie (Mordred in Excalibur).

Eurospy fans will be pleased that two Bond girls (Fullerton and Rigg) show up here, while noting that both Rigg and Hunt played roles on The Avengers (she was, of course, Emma Peel while he played Mike Gambit on The New Avengers).

You can watch this on YouTube.

THE EXCELLENT EIGHTIES: Choices (1981)

Seeing as how many TV movies are on this set, I was thinking that this would be the 1986 Cannon Pictures made for TV movie Choices, starring George C. Scott, Jacqueline Bisset and Melissa Gilbert, which was directed by David Lowell Rich. Nope.

Instead, this is a 1981 TV movie directed by Silvio Narizzano, who made Georgy Girl and the Dennis Hopper and Carrol Baker-starring Bloodbath, in which Hopper plays Chicken, a junkie living in a small Spanish village where magic and child sacrifice is a fact of life. You better believe I’m hunting that movie down right now.

You know, by comparison, this tale of a partially deaf teenager dealing with his handicap while winning over his football team and a new girlfriend while staying out of trouble seems really boring.

That new girlfriend is played by Demi Moore. It was her first role, but when she became a star, her image became the art on the VHS re-release. The major trivia I can impart to you on this movie is that star Paul Carafotes told Daily Mail that the night before Demi married her first husband Freddy Moore, she snuck out of her own bachelorette party to spend the night with him. She did mention this in her biography Inside Out, but never mentioned him by name.

You can watch this on YouTube.

THE EXCELLENT EIGHTIES: Scandal Sheet (1985)

If you’re a fan of made for TV movies, the Mill Creek The Excellent Eighties is a must buy, as it has plenty of telefilms for one low price. One example is this 1985 David Lowell Rich directed effort.

Rich directed 113 titles in his IMDB resume. The majority of his career was spent in television, working on shows such as Naked CityRoute 66The Twilight ZoneMannix and Cannon, as well as theatrical films such as Eye of the Cat and The Concorde… Airport ’79. But he’s more known for his TV movies, which include Horror At 37,000 FeetSST: Death FlightSatan’s School for GirlsThe Defiant Ones (he worked with Robert Urich often), TelethonThe Sex Symbol and Runaway!

First airing on ABC on January 21, 1985, Rich has a great cast here, led by Burt Lancaster as the publisher of the titular scandal sheet, which is obviously the National Enquirer. His role as Harold Fallen is complex, as he’s kind to many of his employees, but driven by selling paper. When he senses a story, such as causing recovering alcoholic actor Ben Rowan (Urich) to get back on the sauce, he does everything he can to destroy that person.

One scheme is by hiring Helen Grant (Pamela Reed, who was great on Parks and Recreation) as one of his writers. She’s a real journalist who sees herself above his supermarket tabloid, but he promises her a way out of her financial struggle and an opportunity for people to actually read her work. However, he’s hiring her because her best friend Meg North (Lauren Hutton) is married to Rowan, which Fallen rightly assumes will give him inside access to the man he wants to fall down into the gutter again.

Look for appearances by Peter Jurasik (Sid the Snitch from Hill Street Blues), Bobby Di Ciccio (I Wanna Hold Your Hand), character actor Trey Wilson, Douglas Rowe (Critters 2), Rance Howard (father of Ron and Clint), Jeff Goldblum’s ex-wife Patricia Gaul (who shows up in several John Hughes movies), ALF star Max Wright, another fun character actor in Frederick Coffin, Hanna Landy (Grace Cardiff from Rosemary’s Baby), Robert Jayne (who you may know better as his other stage name, Bobby Jacoby) and a small role for a young Frances McDormand.

While you can see where this film is going — it has nothing to do with the 1952 movie Scandal Sheet — it’s surprisingly dark and ends on a total down note, with destroyed friendship, death and face spitting at a funeral. Therefore, this is exactly the kind of movie I love, one that decries sleaze while absolutely swimming in it.

You can watch this on YouTube.