The Astronaut (1972)

As the credits roll, you’ll notice this production is headed by Harve Bennett and produced by Universal Television for the ABC-TV television network, which aired this as their “Movie of the Week” on January 8, 1972.

Of course, we all know the connection between Universal Studios and ABC-TV with 1978’s Battlestar Galactica*. But you’ll also notice several familiar names from Bennett’s next production: The Six Million Dollar Man, which aired as a 1973 TV movie, then as a 1973 to 1978 series on ABC. (And near the end of both series, Bennett gave us the coolest do-it-yourself astronaut with Harry Broderick in another great TV movie (and ill-fated series), Salvage 1.

The lead in The Astronaut, Monte Markham, portrayed the Seven Million Dollar Man (as Barney Miller/Hiller in “The Seven Millon Dollar Man” and “The Bionic Criminal” episodes). Of course, we remember his co-star, Richard Anderson, as Oscar Goldman in the series. You’ll also recognized several familiar TV and film support players, such as Susan Clark (Colossus: The Forbin Project; ’80s TV Webster), Jackie Cooper (the original Perry White in 1978’s Superman), and Robert Lansing who, ironically, starred as General McAllister the 1989 TV movie, Bionic Showdown: The Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman — but we remember him for the trash classics of 1977’s Scalpel and Empire of the Ants, 1980’s S*H*E and Island Claws, and 1988’s The Nest. (How is it that I watched all of those Lansing movies? I don’t know if that makes me cool, or just very sad). Keener eyes will pick up on ubiquitous TV actor John Lupton (Airport 1975), along with the he’s-everywhere James B. Sikking (TV’s Hill Street Blues, Outland, the ’80s Star Trek movies) as one of the ill-fated Mars astronauts.

The Astronaut was the film, well, teleplay, writing debut for TV scribes Charlie Kuenstle (who went on to write Airport ’77), Gerald Di Pego (who wrote the 1974 pseudo-giallo W, the beloved 1974 Linda Blair TV romp Born Innocent, and a couple The Incredible Hulk TV movies), and Robert Biheller, who continued with his prolific TV acting career (but also worked as a staff writer on TV’s CHiP’s and Charlie’s Angels). Robert Michael Lewis wrote a slew of TV movies throughout the ’70s and ’80s, most notably: 1974’s highly-rate Prey for the Wildcats (yep, with Andy Griffith from Salvage 1) and The Day the Earth Moved (with Jackie Cooper). (Remember that, at the time, Watergate was the crime of the decade, and you’ll see that conspiracy-cover up concept the frames of the teleplay.)

Monte Markham is Col. Brice Randolph, the first man on Mars (in an Apollo rocket and LEM, just like the later Capricorn One from 1978). As Randolph sets foot on the surface and begins to explore, the TV coverage is abruptly cut off. Officially, the story is that it was a slight communications glitch and the crew is heading home. Unofficially, Mission Control officer Jackie Cooper and a few top-ranking officials (Richard Anderson) know the truth: Randolph died on the surface due to a bacterial infection.

If the news of his death gets out: goodbye space program. So, instead of faking the mission or killing off the astronauts in a cover up (as in Capricorn One), NASA recruits a fellow officer, Eddie Reese, and — with a little surgery and a switcheroo at the splashdown site — passes him off as Randolph. But the plan begins to fall apart when Randolph’s wife (Susan Clarke) starts to realize something’s not quite right about her “husband.” And when the Russians announce they’re going to Mars, will the U.S. warn them of the dangers of the Red Planet?

(And if this all sounds a bit like the 1999 did-anybody-actually-see-it Johnny Depp box office bomb, The Astronaut’s Wife, it probably is.)

Markham went back to the moon — alongside Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead, Re-Animator) in the 2016 English-language Serbian-Korean-Slovenia co-production The Rift: The Dark Side of the Moon (not to be confused with the underwater Alien ripoff, The Rift, or the better, other Alien ripoff, The Dark Side of the Moon). The plot concerns a sleeper CIA agent in Belgrade dispatched as part of a multi-national team to secure the remains of a crashed satellite in Eastern Serbia. The team comes to discover the satellite has vanished and they work to discover the truth behind the crash and their ill-fated mission. As you can see by the trailer, the production values and acting are of a high quality. (I liked this one, but opinions vary — to the side of “suck,” so you know how that goes.)

The VHS and (grey market) DVDs for The Astronaut are out there, if you want a hard copy for your sci-fi collection, but you can watch an okay taped-from-TV VHS rip of The Astronaut for free on You Tube. You can also watch The Rift: The Darkside of the Moon as a PPV on You Tube and Vudu.

And by the way: We reviewed a pretty cool German variant of the Capricorn One concept with 1977’s Operation Ganymed. Put all three together for a night of viewing.

* Be sure to check our our two-part, month-long Star Wars ripoffs and galactic droppings blowout “Exploring: Before and After Star Wars.”

There are more TV movies to be had with our “Week of Made for TV Movies,” “Lost TV Week,” “Son of Made for TV Movie Week” and “Grandson of Made for TV Movie Week” tribute spotlights to those films that, in many cases, are even better than the movies that played in theatres.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

The People (1972)

Based on pre-feminist science fiction writer Zenna Henderson’s story Pottage, as well as some of her other pieces like Ararat, Gilead and Captivity, this movie stars two of the top stars of made for TV movies: William Shatner (The Horror at 37,000 FeetGo Ask Alice) and Kim Darby (Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark). This movie also draws on the love Trekkies had for Shatner and Darby together after “Miri,” an episode of the original series.

He’s there to be a doctor and she a teacher for a commune of Amish-like people who — surprise, it’s 1972 and Erich Von Daniken is everywhere — are space aliens whose origins sound suspiciously like Battlestar Galactica years before that became a movie and TV show.

Diane Varsi from Wild In the Streets, Laurie Walters from Warlock Moon and Dan O’Herlihy — Conal Cochran, Andrew Packard, The Old Man and Grig! — are all in this.

This was the directoral debut of John Korty, who also would make Go Ask Alice, and was produced by Francis Ford Coppola.

There’s a rumor that this was a pilot for a series that never got picked up. What’s an even bigger shame is that there’s never been an official release of this film. I sound like a broken record, hoping that old made for TV movies that I only I care about will someday come out on blu ray.

You can watch this on YouTube:

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1972)

Following What’s the Matter with Helen?, Curtis Harrington directed this psycho-biddy film where Mrs. Rosie Forrest, the Aunty Roo of the title, is known by the children of a local orphanage as a kindly old lady who throws a huge Christmas party every single year for them. The truth is that she’s obsessed with her dead daughter Katharine, whose mummified body lies in state in her attic so Aunty Roo can sing lullabies to her every night.

Mark Lester and Chloe Franks from The House That Dripped Blood play Christopher and Katy Coombs. two orphans who find themselves in Roo’s clutches. She thinks that Katy might be her daughter and things just get weirder and more like Hansel and Gretel from there on.

Ralph Richardson is in this as Mr. Benton, a fake psychic trying to help Aunty Roo connect to the spirit of her long-departed daughter.

The early 70’s are filled with what I call enjoyable junk. This would be one of those films, with Winters practically devouring the scenery. It makes a great double bill with the aforementioned What’s the Matter with Helen?, which is the superior of the two films.

REPOST: Madame Sin (1972)

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This James Bond-influenced made for TV movie/pilot features Bette Davis and is totally worth watching. We originally posted it on December 4, 2018 and have edited it in this post and added new links so that you can stream it for free.

Originally broadcast on January 15, 1972, this film emerged at the tail end of the superspy craze to present a truly insane idea for a weekly series that was never to be: Bette Davis as a villainous vixen who commands an army beneath the Scottish highlands to do her bidding. Imagine if Dr. Evil were the lead in his own show and you have a vague idea of how completely bonkers this movie is.

Arming her men with sonic weaponry and possessing the ability to implant memories that make people do whatever she wants, what the titular vaguely Asian spider lady wants is to get her very own nuclear submarine.

Helping and hindering her in this plan is Anthony Lawrence (Robert Wagner), whose father was a past lover/adversary of Madame Sin. She’s helped by Malcolm De Vere (Denholm Elliot) and a huge army of sycophants, including numerous women who dress like nuns.

If it seems like I am describing a dream I had that is my best film idea ever, this is close. Imagine if Bette Davis were a villainess on The Avengers, but one that — spoiler warning — wipes out every single person who faces her and even dares to imagine kicking the British Royal Family out of Buckingham Palace.

While intended to be an ABC in the U.S. and ITC in the U.K. co-production, this film sadly wasn’t picked up. It’d be hard to see this level of quality continued week in, week out, such as shooting everything at Pinewood Studios.

Madame Sin was directed by David Greene, who was also behind the film version of Godspell and big TV event movies like Roots and Rich Man, Poor Man. One of its writers, Barry Shear, was the director of Wild in the Streets.

Ah the 1970’s, when spy movies like this would just show up as Movies of the Week and then disappear into the ether, only to remain in our subconsciousness or perhaps a replay on the CBS Late Movie.

You can get this from Shout! Factory. Or watch it for free on Amazon Prime and Tubi.

Melinda (1972)

The film noir and Blaxploitation genres meet in MGM’s follow up to 1971’s Shaft (along with 1972’s Cool Breeze and Hitman), which plays as a more action-packed version of Clint Eastwood’s better known radio romp, 1971’s Play Misty for Me—with a dose of karate.

Instead of a bad mother private eye, Frankie J. Parker (Calvin Lockhart of the box office bomb Myra Breckinridge and Amicus Pictures’ Blaxploitation-werewolf flick The Beast Must Die) is a Los Angeles soul radio disc jockey with martial arts skills, courtesy of a school operated by his best friend, Charles Atkins (Jim Kelly in his film debut, on his way to Enter the Dragon with Bruce Lee and lead roles in Black Belt Jones and Three the Hard Way).

As with all of the smooth talkin’, womanizing jocks, Frankie J. cools his heels after his shows in a nightclub owned by another one of his friends, ex-football player Tank Robinson (Rockne Tarkington of Black Samson, Black Starlet, and The Ice Pirates). And Frankie J. meets the ubiquitous, newly arrived-in-town femme fatale Melinda (Vonetta McGee of Hammer with Fred Williamson, Blackula, Shaft in Africa, and Detroit 9000). And she’s the ex-squeeze of a Chicago gangster. And she has a damning tape recording that can take down the operation. And she’s stupid enough to think that Ross Hagan (Alienator) won’t track her down. And she ends up dead in Frankie’s apartment. And it turns out Tank is involved with the mob. And the thugs kidnap Frankie’s girlfriend Terry (Rosalind Cash of The Omega Man and Tales from the Hood) for the tape.

Does Frankie J. recruit Jim Kelly and his karate students to go “Shaft” on their asses and save Terry? You bet. And it’s awesome—snake-filled cage and all.

Oh, and for the Pandora kiddies: Those are reel-to-reel decks and VU meters and the man in the booth is a DJ.

You also known Lockhart from his appearance as Silky Slim in 1974’s Uptown Saturday Night and 1975’s Let’s Do It Again with Billy Cosby, and his late ‘70s appearances on episodes of TV’s Good Times and Starsky and Hutch.

Then again, maybe you don’t. But that’s how I remember the late Calvin Lockhart the most. You dig?

And you can dig it, through Amazon Prime. In addition to the trailer, you can watch two more clips from the film courtesy of You Tube HERE and HERE.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

The Doomsday Machine (1972)

You have to admire a movie that was originally filmed five years earlier under the titles Armageddon 1975 and Doomsday Plus Seven before the money stopped rolling in. The rights got sold, a new ending was filmed with totally different actors and plenty of padding got thrown in to make this — along with NASA stock footage and special effects taken from other movies.

Hell, the Astra, the main ship in this, changes its look every few minutes.

Original director Herbert J. Leder also made Fiend Without a Face. The fixed up footage came from Lee Sholem, who directed more than 1,300 episodes of television, as well as the movie Superman and the Mole Men.

Ruta Lee, who was one of the Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, stars in this. She’s joined by Mala Powers (who ran the estate of acting teacher Michael Chekov after his death), Grant Williams (The Incredible Shrinking Man), Henry Wilcoxon (the bishop in Caddyshack), former Tarzan Denny Miller, M*A*S*H* star Mike Farrell and Bobby Van, who hosted eight-year-old Sam’s favorite game show, Make Me Laugh.

You think the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey didn’t make sense? At least it didn’t abruptly end after wiping out most of the cast off-screen and Venusians try to explain the entire movie away via a voice-over.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime or on Tubi, which has a Cinematic Titanic riffed version and another hosted by Elvira. It’s also available on the Internet Archive or you can just watch the YouTube link attached here.

So Sweet, So Dead (1972)

In case you thought So Sweet, So Dead wasn’t an amazing title, this movie also has the alternate titles Rivelazioni di un Maniaco Sessuale al Capo Della Squadra Mobile (Revelations of a Sex Maniac to the Leader of the Mobile Team), The Slasher is a Sex Maniac and Penetration, which was used for a U.S. re-edit that also has x-rated scenes courtesy of Deep Throat’s Harry Reems and Tina Russell.

Director Roberto Bianchi Montero bounced around from genre to genre, like the spaghetti westerns Seven Pistols for a Gringo and The Last Tomahawk to peblum (Tharus Son of Attila) and horror (The Island Monster, which starred Boris Karloff).

This movie has a great pedigree in spite of all that sleaze, as star Farley Granger appeared in two movies by Alfred Hitchcock: Rope and Strangers on a Train.

Someone is killing the rich and adulterous wives of Rome. First, he or she takes photos of them as they do some crab fishing in the Dead Sea — so to speak — and then he kills them. The images of their trysts are laid next to their bodies with the faces of the men scratched out. And Siskel and Ebert thought slashers were anti-woman! They would have lost their minds in 1972 Italy!

Sylva Koscina from Lisa and the Devil is in this, as is Annabella Incontrera (The Case of the Bloody Iris), Chris Avram (Enter the Devil), Femi Benussi (Hatchet for the Honeymoon), Krista Nell (The Bloodsucker Leads the Dance, another Italian horror film that was re-edited to feature adult scenes) and giallo queen Nieves Navarro, whose resume includes favorites like Death Walks on High HeelsAll the Colors of the Dark and Death Walks at Midnight.

The rich society wives don’t stop sleeping around — neither do their husbands but the killer wants nothing to do with punishing them –and even discuss the crimes while getting their nails done in the nude. Such is the world of So Sweet, So Dead. It’s also a place filled with opulent homes, awesome fashions, squeaky horns, dance parties and a killer named the Avenger that completely was influenced by the look of the murderer in Blood and Black Lace.

The Dead Are Alive (1972)

Originally known as L’etrusco Uccide Ancora (The Etruscan Kills Again), this film comes to us from Armando Crispino, who made the quite enjoyable Autopsy and the fabulously named Frankenstein Italian Style. It’s based on a novel by Bryan Edgar Wallace, the son of the man who gave inspiration to both the krimi and giallo genres.

It was released in Germany as Das Geheimnis des Gelben Grabes (Mystery of the Gold Diggers), in France as Overtime and as El Dios de la Muerte Asesina Otra Vez (The Death God Kills Again) in Spain.

Two young folks are looking for a place to load the clown in the cannon, but while they’re aardvarking they are murdered within an Etruscan tomb. Oh, if only that tomb hadn’t recently been violated by Professor Porter (Alex Cord, Chosen Survivors) and his team of archaeologists!

Because of how the bodies are positioned, it seems as if they were sacrificed to the ancient Etruscan god Tuchulcha. The bodies soon pile up, but soon, as the title says, the dead seem to be alive. This is a giallo, but more on the supernatural side of the genre. If you’re looking for a movie that makes sense, you know — you’re watching the wrong kind of movies.

Samantha Eggar (Demonoid) shows up as Cord’s ex-wife, as does John Marley (who woke up with a horse’s head in his bed in The Godfather) as her rich new husband, as well as Wendi D’Olive from The Bloodstained Butterfly. Riz Ortolani makes it all better with his soundtrack, too.

The nice thing for non-hardcore fans of giallo is that this movie has the actual dialogue by the original actors, so it doesn’t suffer from a bad dubbing. It also has plenty of great locations and 70’s fashion, which makes it feel pretty fun once it gets past its initial slow going.

Crimes of the Black Cat (1972)

Italy and Denmark unite for a film made in the wake of Dario Argento’s landmark The Bird With the Crystal Plumage. Just look — there are crimes right in the title and some vaguely associated animal name! Actually, a black cat does kill some people in this, so the name makes sense.

Originally titled Sette Scialli di Seta Gialla (Seven Shawls of Yellow Silk), this movie was written and directed by Sergio Pastore.

Several fashion models are killed by a murderer — think Blood and Black Lace — by a black cat that has been alerted to them by gifted shawls laced with chemicals. Such a strange way to kill someone, but hey — we’re in the psychosexual world of the giallo, so why worry?

Paola, the first victim, had been dating Peter Oliver (Anthony Steffen, who was Django in Django the Bastard and also shows up in Play Motel and The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave), a blind composer who believes that he’s heard the killer. He and his butler (Umberto Raho, Enter the Devil) are on the case, tracking the cat down to its owner, who is killed before she can reveal who has been taking care of her cat.

Much like the aforementioned — and superior — Bava film, Francoise (Sylva Koscina, Steve Reeves love interest in Hercules and Hercules Unchained; she’s also in Bava’s Lisa and the Devil) was killing the models to cover up another killing. That’s because Paola was sleeping with her husband and certainly had to pay.

So yeah. The movie is a Bava retread with a lead character taken from another giallo, Bava’s The Cat O’Nine Tails. And the killer’s method comes from Bela Lugosi and The Devil Bat. It’s still fun — the fashions are inordinately loud, the zooms are wild and the music is out of control. There’s a vicious shower kill than leaves nothing to the imagination. And it’s still better than anything out there today and let’s face it — 90% of all giallo pales in comparison to masters of the form Bava and Argento.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime.

My Dear Killer (1972)

This Italian/Spanish giallo comes to us from director Tonino Valerii, who wrote The Long Hair of Death and directed plenty of great spaghetti westerns like Day of Anger and My Name is Nobody. He’s recruited George Hilton for this film, who was also in Sartana’s Here… Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin, as well as giallo classics like The Sweet Body of DeborahAll the Colors of the Dark and The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh. He’s rocking an excellent mustache in this, if that’s what you’re into.

You have to love a movie that starts with a mechanical digger tearing a man’s head clean off his body before female voices singing the film’s Ennio Morricone composed theme over blood red title cards.

An unsolved case of kidnapping and murder has led to a serious of seemingly unconnected deaths that Inspector Peretti (Hilton) must put together. All he has to go by is a drawing that a little girl made, but giallo films have been solved with less clues.

While this movie stays more on the police side of the equation than many giallo, it still has some kill scenes that stand out, such as a grisly circular saw murder.

Marilù Tolo — the only woman that fashion designer Valentino claims that he ever loved — is in this. Former roommate of Keith Richards and star of Jess Franco films William Berger also appears, as does Patty Shepard (one of the queens of Spanish horror; she was Hannah Queen of the Vampires, the vampire woman in the Paul Naschy film La Noche de Walpurgis and also shows up in Slugs and Edge of the Axe), Piero Lulli (Kill, Baby, Kill), Helga Liné (The Vampires Night Orgy), Corrado Gaipa (Don Tommasino in The Godfather), Dana Ghia (The Night Child) and Lara Wendel, who shows up in everything from The Perfume of the Lady in Black to TenebreGhosthouse and Zombie 5: Killing Birds.

This film was written by Roberto Leoni, who also wrote Sergio Martino’s Casablanca Express and Jodoworsky’s Santa Sangre. The end of this all feels more Agatha Christie than Argento, but that’s fine. It’s certainly a different feel for the genre.