Monday, January 09, 2012


Ed here: Yeah a lot of them were trashy but some were fun-trashy and a few of them were actually good. I'd take them over most of the predictable sit-coms and cop shows airing now. One especially fine one was Ira Levin's "Dr. Cook's Garden" with believe-it-or-not Bing Crosby in this creepy but oddly moving tv version of the play. There was another good one, too, that always struck me as a knock-off of a very good John Brunner science fiction story but that may just have been the fan boy in me wanting to promote an sf writer.


ABC's The Movie of the Week

Made-for-TV movies eventually got a bad rap, which explains why they pretty much faded from network television in the 1990s. But I still fondly recall what I call the "Golden Age of the TV Movie": the early 1970s when ABC began broadcasting its Movie of the Week.

Every Tuesday night, ABC introduced a world premiere telefilm in a ninety-minute time slot (about 72 minutes without commercials). The success of the series can be attributed, in part, to the variety of its films: suspense (The Longest Night), horror (The Night Stalker), science fiction (Night Slaves), World War II action (Death Race), comedy (The Daughters of Joshua Cabe), Western (The Hanged Man), serious drama (That Certain Smile), film noir (Goodnight, My Love) and even kung fu (Men of the Dragon). Many of the telefilms were also pilots for TV series--some of which made it as regular series (The Six Million Dollar Man) and some that didn’t (The Monk with George Maharis as a private eye).

Dennis Weaver in Duel, written by
Richard Matheson.
Several films earned critical plaudits, such as Brian's Song, Duel, That Certain Summer, Tribes, and The Point. Occasionally, one would be released theatrically in either in the U.S. or Europe--often with additional footage--after its TV broadcast. That was the case with Steven Spielberg's suspenseful chase drama Duel and The Sex Symbol with Connie Stevens playing an actress loosely inspired by Marilyn Monroe.

I'm always surprised by how many of the ABC Movie of Week telefilms are fondly remembered by fellow film buffs. For example, people may not remember the title of Trilogy of Terror--but mention the creepy TV movie with Karen Black about the killer doll and a lot of folks will know it.

The original Movie of the Week debuted on Tuesday night in 1969. It was so successful that ABC launched a Movie of the Weekend, which subsequently shifted to mid-week so there were Tuesday and Wednesday Movies of the Week installments. The final Movie of the Week was broadcast in 1976.

The catchy theme to the Movie of the Week opening was written by Burt Bacharach. Its actual title is "Nikki," named after Burt's daughter with Angie Dickinson. Click on the clip below to view the full opening for When Michael Calls, a thriller with Ben Gazzara, Elizabeth Ashley, and Michal Douglas. At the end of the clip is preview for the following week's movie, The Screaming Woman, starring Olivia de Havilland. Unfortunately, the video quality doesn't do justice to the bright, colorful graphics.

In terms of originality, the only network that competed with ABC was CBS, which launched CBS Tuesday Night Movie in 1972. It sent speeding helicopters (Birds of Prey), ancient evil Druids (The Horror at 37,000 Feet), and, most memorably, Gargoyles to battle its TV-movie rival at ABC.

Crosby as Dr. Cook.
Sadly, only a handful of these films are available on DVD (and even then, the prints are usually inferior in quality). I’d love to see TCM get the rights to the Movie of the Week. It’d be great to see Bing Crosby in Dr. Cook’s Garden again and see if the film as good as I remember.

Below is a sampling of the telefilms that played on The Movie of the Week (to include the Tuesday and Wednesay editions and The Movie of the Weekend on Saturday). Note that several movies featured performers from the classic film era:

Seven in Darkness (1969)
Daughter of the Mind (1969) with Gene Tierney & Ray Milland
Gidget Grows Up (1969)
Honeymoon with a Stranger (1969)
The Over-the-Hill Gang (1969) with Walter Brennan & Andy Devine
The Ballad of Andy Crocker (1969)
The Immortal (1969)
Wake Me When the War Is Over (1969)
Along Came a Spider (1970)
Carter's Army (1970)
Crowhaven Farm (1970)
How Awful about Allan (1970) with Anthony Perkins & Julie Harris
Night Slaves (1970)
The Over the Hill Gang Rides Again with Walter Brennan & Fred Astaire
Run, Simon, Run (1970)
The Love War (1970)
Tribes (1970)
Brian's Song (1971)
Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate (1971) with Helen Hayes, Myrna Loy, Sylvia Sidney
Dr. Cook's Garden (1971)
Duel (1971)
In Broad Daylight (1971)
In Search of America (1971)
Maybe I'll Come Home in the Spring (1971)
The Birdmen (1971)
The Devil and Miss Sarah (1971)
The Feminist and the Fuzz (1971)
The Point! (1971)
The Reluctant Heroes (1971)
A Great American Tragedy (1972)
Goodnight, My Love (1972)
Moon of the Wolf (1972)
That Certain Summer (1972)
The Astronaut (1972)
The Daughters of Joshua Cabe (1972) with Buddy Ebsen & Sandra Dee
The Longest Night (1972)
Madame Sin (1972) with Bette Davis & Robert Wagner
The People (1972)
The Screaming Woman (1972) with Olivia de Havilland
Women in Chains (1972)
A Cold Night's Death (1973)
A Summer Without Boys (1973)
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)
Female Artillery (1973)
Go Ask Alice (1973)
Isn't It Shocking? (1973)
Satan's School for Girls (1973)
Shirts/Skins (1973)
The Girl Most Likely to... (1973)
The Girls of Huntington House (1973)
The Man Without a Country (1973) with Cliff Robertson
The Night Strangler (1973)
The Third Girl from the Left (1973)
Get Christie Love! (1974)
Hit Lady (1974)
Houston, We've Got a Problem (1974)
Killdozer (1974)
Locusts (1974)
The Mark of Zorro (1974)
The Morning After (1974)
Thursday's Game (1974)
Winter Kill (1974)
Posted by Rick29 at 10:28 PM 5 comments
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Labels: dr. cook's garden, duel, movie of the week, rick29 (author), trilogy of terror


pattinase (abbott) said...

I remember Dr. Cook's Garden. How old am I?

Fred Blosser said...

Harlan Ellison savaged THE MONK in one of his LA FREE PRESS reviews reprinted in THE GLASS TEAT, a classic case of taking a shotgun to a cockroach. Harlan might not have been so pitiless had he been able to look ahead 40 years to see the sorry likes of THE BACHELOR, THE KARDASHIANS, JERSEY SHORE, and other bubbling slime in the 2012 TV cesspool. IN SEARCH OF AMERICA was a pretty lame attempt by middle-aged Hollywood types trying to copy the EASY RIDER vibe. On the other hand, THAT CERTAIN SUMMER was a fine, low-key Levinson-Link script about a divorced contactor and father coming out of the closet, excellent kitchen-sink realism. That one aside, many of these movies are probably more interesting now as time capsules than as entertainment.

Jeff P said...

As a teen-ager I LOVED "Moon of the Wolf".

"When Michael Calls" was, I believe, based on a novel by John Farris.

Todd Mason said...

Some of these definitely better than others...among the unmentioned, IT COULDN'T HAPPEN TO A NICER GUY, all about how hilarious it is for men to be raped, but on the other hand there were the fine Matheson/McGavin items (so vastly better than the series) and even such pleasant near-misses as Tim Conway's ROLL, FREDDY, ROLL. (I found the ending of A COLD NIGHT'S DEATH rather annoying even at the time...but THE PEOPLE was a credible Zenna Henderson adaptation, I thought.)

Mike Dennis said...

Ed--I remember well DR COOK'S GARDEN. I also remember GARGOYLES, THE OVER THE HILL GANG, and many of the others. There were definitely some gems in there.

Having said that, however, I don't believe we would be as impressed with them if TCM got hold of them. The fade-to-black commercial breaks would be way, way too obvious, the opening credits would undoubtedly be fast-cut (a sure sign of low-budget TV), and the visuals would likely be very flat, directed by people who were working with a very small screen. Remember in those days, there were no 65 inch HDTVs. The whole thing went onto a 24" screen, often black-and-white.

I believe those movies belong in our fading memories, making us smile as we think of them. Recycling them would only invite too-close scrutiny by our 21st-century sensibilities.

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Matthew Bradley said...

Wow, so many nice memories, and such a nice tribute; thanks, Ed. It's true that if seen today, some of those films might disappoint, yet others (e.g., Richard Matheson's THE NIGHT STALKER and DUEL) hold up remarkably well. It's also interesting to note how many people who grew up with such films cite seeing those and a few others (e.g., A COLD NIGHT'S DEATH, DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, TRILOGY OF TERROR) as experiences that terrified them in ways they will never forget. And of course several of them adapted works by friends and colleagues of Matheson's such as Ray Bradbury (THE SCREAMING WOMAN), Jerry Sohl (NIGHT SLAVES), and Theodore Sturgeon (KILLDOZER). A fertile period indeed, and well worth remembering.

patrick lordoew said...

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Larry Bird said...