Friday, February 27, 2015

Classic Film TV Post "Horror at 37,000 Feet" and "Ellery Queen: Don't Look Behind You" 

Hey, something's wrong with this plane!
The Horror at 37,000 Feet. What can you say about a movie in which William Shatner gives the most credible performance? That’s the challenge with The Horror at 37,000 Feet, a 1973 made-for-TV film with a better reputation than it deserves. It makes one wonder if the film’s admirers have actually sat through all 73 minutes. The premise shows promise: An airplane departs London with a handful of passengers and cargo consisting of remnants from an abbey used by Druids for sacrificial rituals. It’s not long before the plane comes to a standstill mid-flight, the cabin temperature drops to icy depths, and possessed passengers start spewing Latin. The cast consists of TV veterans Chuck Connors, Buddy Ebsen, Roy Thinnes, Paul Winfield, and Shatner. They struggle with poorly-developed characters, bad dialogue, and inane plotting. At one point, Connors’ pilot copes with the situation by telling the stewardesses to offer free alcoholic beverages! Only Shatner rises above these ruins as a defrocked priest who ultimately takes matters into his own hands. My advice is to steer clear of The Horror at 37,000 Feet and seek out three other nifty made-for-TV terror tales:  Gargoyles (1972), Trilogy of Terror (1975), and Spectre (1977).

I don't think a single strand of
Lawford's hair moves during the film.
Ellery Queen: Don’t Look Behind You. Before NBC launched the popular Ellery Queen series with Jim Hutton in 1975, it made an earlier TV movie with Peter Lawford as the literary detective. Ellery Queen: Don’t Look Behind You (1971) was intended as a pilot for a prospective series that never materialized. It’s easy to see why, although it’s not a total disaster. Based on the 1949 Ellery Queen novel Cat of Many Tails, the plot revolves around a series of apparently unrelated NYC murders committed by a killer dubbed “The Hydra” by the press. The connection between the crimes is a clever one, but it’s revealed with almost half the running time remaining. Even worse, it doesn't take much deduction to figure out the killer’s identity (there are only two viable suspects and one is much too obvious). Unlike Hutton’s 1940s-set series, Don’t Look Behind You is a contemporary mystery and Ellery has been transformed into a ladies man. In lieu of his father, Inspector Queen (wonderfully played by David Wayne in Hutton’s show), Harry Morgan plays an uncle that works for the police department. Lawford and Morgan don’t really click and Stefanie Powers is wasted as a suspect that gets involved with Ellery. Although the teleplay is credited to Ted Leighton, Columbo creators William Link and Richard Levinson may have penned an earlier draft. In an interview on the Ellery Queen TV series DVD boxed set, William Link mentions working on an Ellery Queen movie. However, the script was rewritten while he and Levinson were vacationing in Europe. They had their names removed from it. Given the timing, I suspect he was referring to Ellery Queen: Don’t Look Behind You.

1 comment:

RJR said...

Spectre has always been one of my favorite made-to-TV movies. Robert Culp and Gig Young!