Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Town Has Turned to Dust (1998)


Network: Sci-Fi Channel
Original Airdate: June 27th, 1998


Before the SyFy Channel (then Sci-Fi) produced A Town Has Turned to Dust in 1998, the original story and its many adaptations already had a long, and varied history. Originally conceived as a stage play about racial injustice, and inspired by the horrifying death of Emmett Till, Rod Serling wrote Noon on Doomsday, intending to showcase the power behind defying and inverting mob mentality to create a proper justice system. Although it was met with a bit of controversy, a recording of that play was produced by the United States Steel Hour and aired on April 25, 1956. This version was directed by Daniel Petrie and featured both Jack Warden and Lois Smith (I loves me some Lois!).


It was then restructured into a story about the lynching of a Mexican boy and how this act haunted the townspeople who did nothing to prevent it. This version, titled A Town Has Turned to Dust was produced as part of the Playhouse 90 series, and originally aired on June 19th, 1958. It also featured some fine people working on and off camera, including renowned director John Frankenheimer, and actors such as Rod Steiger, William Shatner and James Gregory, among others.


Then (are you following this?), Serling adapted his story yet again for a Twilight Zone episode titled Dust, which explores how the opportunistic prey on the desperate. This episode aired January 6th, 1961. (For more on Dust, check out Tom Elliot's amazing Twilight Zone podcast. Details with links can be found at the end of this review.)


Jump ahead some three decades later to a completely (well almost) unrelated event. In the early 1990s, the Sci-Fi Channel (I hate writing SyFy... whoops! There I go!) began producing original films, the first of which was titled Homewrecker (OAD: December 17, 1992), which debuted in their Planetary Premiere slot. The incredible Fred Walton (When a Stranger Calls) directed this telefilm about a computer who falls in love with its programmer, and features Robby Benson as the aforementioned hottie coding nerd, and Kate Jackson as the voice of the computer! Not that this film fared so well critically, but, following in the footsteps of the USA Original, it is a reminder of the early days of cable and how they took a page out of the book of old school network programming.


So, with all of that in mind, sashay up to 1998 when Sci-Fi gave yet another nod to golden age TV and re-adapted A Town Has Turned to Dust, restructuring it yet again as a post-apocalyptic tale about a beaten down town divided by the indigenous peoples and the settlers seeking mob justice (and, ultimately, the price they pay for such an act).


Whew! That’s a lot of history for what is a fairly by the numbers, but arguably watchable, made for television movie that essentially came and went. Director Rob Nilsson was a bit of a indie film scene renegade, pioneering the video to film transfer, which would help revolutionize the digital filmmaking of today. I remember Nilsson’s Heat and Sunlight (1987), which was completely improvised, and shot in black and white. And while, quite honestly, I wasn’t all that taken with the film, it would seem Nilsson was an incredibly interesting choice to direct Town. At this point, he had never worked in television (and as far as I know, had not worked in the sci-fi genre either), and was an indie filmmaker who thought outside the box. What better way to re-introduce Serling’s work than with another outsider who had a better understanding of film as art than most workmanlike TV movie directors (not a slate against my TVM guys, just to be clear).


However, maybe that was the issue. TV movies have to accomplish big ideas with very little time or money. For his part, Nilsson assembled a great cast, which includes Ron Perlman, Judy Collins (!), and Stephen Lang, but while it seems fairly faithful to Serling’s story at least in terms of themes (in fact, Serling gets sole writing credit), it just doesn’t click the way it should. Subsequently, Town was met with mediocre reviews, both People magazine and Entertainment Weekly were less than impressed with the final product, with People aptly synopsizing Town as a “disappointing trip back to the future.”


So, what went wrong? It’s hard to pinpoint. Town is not necessarily a bad film, but it’s not very good either. It lacks pacing, and doesn’t have the emotional oomph it should, especially considering the rich subject matter and source material. Part of the problem stems from its futuristic setting, because even with all that neat red dust and dystopian imagery, the story feels completely dated. There is an awkward mix of apocalyptic towns dubbed “New Angeles” and that old school approach to the themes of race and class.


What it does have going for it though is genuine performances from all involved. Lang is particularly good, even if the character isn’t all that memorable, and Perlman is appropriately sleazy. It’s really too bad that things didn’t work out for Town because although it is playing with traditional beats, it unfortunately presents what seems to be a timeless tale of marginalization and the sad state of mob mentality. Perhaps Town is due for another retelling, but instead of trying to update the story with spiffy modern visuals, it should concentrate on its original inspiration and reflect on whether or not the world has changed much since Till’s death. Now, that would be a chilling tale.

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This review was inspired by Tom Elliot's excellent Twilight Zone podcast. In the latest episode Tom takes an in-depth look at Dust, which is yet another adaptation of Town. You can download the episode via the site or through iTunes. (Also check out Tom's other podcast The Strange and Deadly Show while you're at it, cuz it's, like, the best thing ever!)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Podcast Info... Again


Hope everyone is having a wonderful 2016, even though it's been a bit of a sad and weird start to the new year. If you are a fan of music, you know what I mean. But, we try to keep it upbeat here, and celebrate nostalgia and overlooked small screen treasures of the past. As you probably know, I have a new-ish podcast dedicated to made for TV movies, and I've taken this semi-nerve wracking but oh-so-awesome adventure with Dan Budnik and Nathan Johnson. You can find all of our episodes on the podcast's companion website, or via iTunes (I figured out how to upload things to iTunes! Mini technological victories are sah-weet!). Please visit, and feel free to leave feedback about either the TVMs we are discussing that episode, or anything else small screen related you'd like to discuss!

Basically, this is the look of shock and awe we've had from all the positive feedback! Thank you!

Our next episode is dedicated to two iconic monsters of the 1970s small screen: Gargoyles (1972) and The World Beyond (aka The Mud Monster, 1976). Here is our contact info.

And, if you enjoy the show (fingers crossed!), we'd love it if you left some feedback on our iTunes page. If you hate us, well, maybe just drop us a line through our email. ;) Seriously, feel free to suggest topics for discussions, changes or additions as you see fit. We might not end up doing it, but we are definitely open to anything. Thank you!

It's lonely out there! Drop us a line!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Christmas Present for Everyone: Robert Urich in Winter Wear in Vega$!


I was hoping to get in my annual holiday post, and thought that there was no better way to celebrate the season than with a gorgeous Robert Urich wearing a bunch of incredible sweaters!

I know, I know. Christmas cheer for everyone!

Don't worry, Dan Tana. We also love you for your mind.
The Vega$ episode Christmas Story originally aired on December 17th, 1980, and places Dan Tana in the middle of small town seasonal mystery and intrigue when he takes his girlfriend Rocket (the lovely Lindsay Bloom) to what looks like a cozy ski resort just outside of Reno, only to be greeted by a young girl claiming to be his daughter! Is he the father? Where is her mother? Who will survive and what will be left of them?

Does it matter, because Urich looks oh-so-heavenly in his array of colorful sweaters, scarves and ski wear. Luckily, this episode of Vega$ is really quite sweet, so if you can get past the drooling over Urich stage, you are in for a treat!

Check out my image gallery, and happy holidays!


Looking for more small screen Christmas offerings? Check out the following:

My Very Merry MeTV Blogathon posts:

Kojak: How Cruel the Frost, How Bright the Stars
Father Dowling Mysteries: A Christmas Mystery

And my reviews of:

A Mouse, a Mystery and Me
An American Christmas Carol
A Very Brady Christmas
Bernard and the Genie
Ebbie
Petticoat Junction: A Cannonball Christmas
Terror on the 40th Floor


A guest review post from Joanna Wilson of Christmas TV History:

The Gathering


I also did a guest review I did for Christmas TV History:

Nestor, The Long Eared Christmas Donkey

Finally, The Made for TV Mayhem Show recorded two holiday podcasts. You can check them out on the website, or via iTunes.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

TV Movie Marathoning!


Oh, the glamour! 

I made it through another semester, and to celebrate, I watched a gaggle of TVMs! I thought it would be fun to jot down some brief thoughts on each film, making it a one-woman-blogathon!


Eyes of a Stranger 
Network: NBC
Original Airdate: December 7th, 1992


First up was this early 90s curio starring the babe-a-licious Parker Stevenson and the gorgeous Emma Samms as an upper class couple who run afoul of a two-bit hoodlum (Michael Easton), and his lovely professor/girlfriend (Joan Chen, working some nifty silver flats in the last scene). The couple's lives collide during a rainstorm, and all paths lead to accidental murder, badly thought out cover-ups, some not bad small screen sex scenes and exploding boats.


Written and directed by Richard Friedman, the mastermind behind the goofy but lovable Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge, Stranger is a bit of a convoluted mess. The worst issue was the timeline. For example, Samms finds a videotape on a boat, and after some major mayhem, the boat is burnt to a crisp, and then at least two days pass before the tape comes into question again. Samms tells someone she found the tape yesterday, which would have been impossible.


It’s also ridiculously predictable, but watchable because of the cast, and the overall confident and slick look of the film. I wouldn’t be surprised if a sexier version of this movie exists, but was edited for television. It has all the markings of those early 90s erotic thrillers that I enjoy so much. Interesting then, that it was produced by Doris Keating, whose father directed such films as The Diary of Knockers McCalla and Fanny Hill Meets Dr. Erotico. I don’t necessarily recommend this to anyone except the Samms or Stevenson completest. Since I fall into the latter, I can’t really complain. Stevenson takes off his shirt just enough to keep me interested! Yes, I'm superficial, and easy to please.


Valentine Magic on Love Island 
Network: NBC 
Original Airdate: February 15, 1980

As if Supertrain wasn’t enough of a disaster for NBC, the execs tried to put a spin on Love Boat and Fantasy Island yet again in this choppy, and chaotic romantic comedy that is somewhat watchable and sometimes fun, but not nearly as great as the similar Three on Date.


Eight singles visit Love Island in the hopes of becoming four couples, and… hmmm… if I do my math correctly, yeah, I think we do end up with four couples. I guess that’s a testament to how haphazard the whole thing is, that I had go back through my mind to remember what happened (and the movie just ended 10 minutes ago). Still, gotta love (even if just a little) anything that stars Bill Daily, Lisa Hartman, Dominique Dunne, Christopher Knight, Janis Page, Adrienne Barbeau and Dody Goodman, right? And that’s just part of the game cast, who make the most of the crap material they were handed. (Random trivia: This was the second time Knight and Dunne appeared in a TVM together. The other telefilm was 1979's Diary of a Teenage Hitchhiker)


Paige is the Mr. Roarke who mixes up her “white” magic in the hopes of helping people reach complete coupledom (or consciously couple as the young kids might say). Of course, there has to be a little mismatching and mischief first, where little to no hilarity ensues, but there’s a pretty cool costume party. Unfortunately, this Dick Clark production does not have a good beat and I had a hard time dancing to it (see what I did there). But, like the small screen sucker I am, it was good to finally see it.


Sorry, Wrong Number 
Network: USA
Original Airdate: October 11, 1989

This movie has been on my “To Watch” list for what seems like forever. A TVM based on a theatrical film, which was based on a radio play sparked my interest, and yes, I like Loni’s TVMs quite a bit (thinking of My Mother’s Secret Life right at this moment!), and it’s a USA Original… and… and… well, you get my drift. Despite mixed reviews, there are some films I simply need to see for myself. Luckily, although this remake isn’t, like, the best movie ever or anything, it’s a pretty fun timewaster with a surprisingly suspenseful ending.



Loni is Madeline, a Dynasty-rich invalid who has a wild New Year's Eve getting her lines crossed over and over again. Overhearing two men planning a murder of an unknown woman in Madeline’s neighborhood, this housebound heiress starts to uncover the mystery behind her strained marriage, and the real danger that lurks just outside of her door. Slick and confident, Sorry is also helped by a wonderfully capable cast including Patrick Macnee, Hal Holbrook, and OMG hawt Carl Weintraub. It’s not like you don’t know where this one is going, but the wonderful pacing and crisp and glamorous aesthetics are well worth a look. My favorite of the three films I watched.

I also took two naps. It was a great day.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Very Merry MeTV Blogathon: Kojak: How Cruel the Frost, How Bright the Stars


This blog post is part of A Very Merry MeTV Blogathon hosted by The Classic TV Blog Association. Check out the blogathon schedule here and make sure to check out all of the great MeTV holiday programming here!




Call me crazy, but I normally do not associate Christmas season programming with gritty cop dramas. I’m funny that way. Luckily, my hesitancy was quickly put to rest just a few minutes into Kojak’s How Cruel the Frost, How Bright the Stars, which manages to capture all of the bleakness of a holiday in a crime ridden city while also catching some of the magic of hope and happiness that permeates the season.


The depressing setting of a NYC police department is brightened up slightly by a Christmas Eve party, but these cops aren’t going to be drinking spiked eggnog tonight, as they are all on duty and covering several potentially dangerous situations. Kojak (Telly Savalas) is on the lookout for a man who randomly shot at a pretty and sassy brunette in a low rent bar, one of his underlings who is mourning the death of his wife has developed an itchy trigger finger on a stakeout, and Detective Stavros (Telly’s brother George Savalas) is looking after a privileged but kindhearted heiress who thinks her unemployed boyfriend might commit a crime so he can afford to give her an extravagant gift. Although all lives do not perfectly collide on the eve of Christmas, there are strange intersections where love and is both captured and lost, and Telly ends the episode proclaiming to the streets of New York City, “Love thy neighbor, baby!"

Preach.


Abby Mann, who created Kojak, was no stranger to courting social dramas and was probably most famous for writing Judgment at Nuremberg. He won an Emmy for his Kojak pilot TVM script, The Marcus Nelson Murders, and the series became a staple of television for five seasons, running from 1973-1978. Granted, it was often full of a stark sense of gloom and doom, but that melancholy was punctuated by brilliant dialog and a masterful performance by Savalas, who commanded every frame he appeared in.


According to Savalas, he wasn’t acting at all. In an interview he remarked, “Savalas and Kojak - we’re the same guy. Hey, you think it’s going to be different, baby, you’re wrong. You don’t walk onto a TV set and create a character like me in five minutes. Even I know that. I have to be Telly. I have to play myself by whatever name. Otherwise, I’m in trouble.”


And boy, was Savalas great at being himself. The character of Theo Kojak charmed his way into our living rooms, and left us with that fantastic tagline, “Who loves ya, baby?” which can apparently be used for people you actually care about or criminals, depending on your situation. Kojak's got your back... uh, baby!


And, the supporting cast was just as good. I remember Kojak introduced me to Kevin Dobson, who I would later fall in love with on Knots Landing. In this holiday episode you can also grab an early look at both John Larroquette (credited as Sailor) and Veronica Hamel who plays a woman much too young for the lollipop addict. But mostly, Kojak is matched up with the ready-to-party Loretta (Jesse Welles), who, despite her superficial veneer of living a life of dances that never end, finds her own bit of sadness amongst the falling snow and Latin music.


Originally airing on December 21, 1975, this episode might have been one of the more poignant looks at Christmas that year. And certainly one of the most memorable. Catch Kojak on MeTV tonight (December 9) at 9 PM EST and PST and 8 PM CST and MST. I promise, he will love ya, baby!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Very Merry Me TV Blogathon: Father Dowling Mysteries: The Christmas Mystery


This blog post is part of A Very Merry MeTV Blogathon hosted by The Classic TV Blog Association. Check out the blogathon schedule here and make sure to check out all of the great MeTV holiday programming here!




Although it doesn’t capture the milieu to a T, I always considered Father Dowling Mysteries to be a part of the cozy mystery movement of the late 1980s. Of course, Jessica Fletcher of Murder, She Wrote, the rebel and trendsetter that she is, gave America a nice antidote to the glitzier, neon-soaked detective shows of the same era. I’m not saying she’s the first to serve murder with a comforting cup of tea, but she certainly set the tone that would be followed by a lot of fun small screen sleuthing. Matlock and Diagnosis Murder were two other ridiculously popular shows that veered slightly from the formula, but still managed to make murder and mayhem seem like a warm crocheted blanket. Father Dowling also had all of the right ingredients to knock it out of the park (and even featured MSW regular Tom Bosley who exchanged his sheriff’s badge in Cabot Cove for cleric gear in Chicago). With its untroubled tempo, church setting and laid back “Let the Father do the driving” mystery stories, Dowling was an underrated charmer. But because of a galdurn writer’s strike and a network switch, the good Father was lost in the scheduling shuffle and ended after 3 seasons (the first two only half seasons), producing 42 episodes.


The setting and occupation of the main characters made a Christmas episode either the most obvious idea ever, or the worst thing that could happen (depending on your threshold for murder on the holiest of holy days). Luckily for fans of Father Dowling, it was done just right, with an attempted murder, a couple of pistol packing Santas, and the amiable and capable Nun-named-Steve keeping watch over a trouble little boy. The holiday was in full swing, and it was good times indeed.  


The Christmas Mystery, which originally aired on December 13, 1990 on ABC, opens with the season going strong, and the local department store desperate for holiday help. So fraught in fact, that they will hire you on the spot and put you on the sales floor immediately, or, apparently make you a security guard and hand you a gun! Single mother Wendy (Anne Kerry Ford) is desperate for work and relieved that the store wants her to start straightway, but she’s due to pick up her shy son, Brian (played by twins Christian and Joseph Cousins) from the airport. She asks Father Dowling for some assistance and he sends Steve (the completely adorable Tracy Nelson) on her way to retrieve Brian. However, while Wendy is changing for work, a security guard from the store knocks on her door, insinuates that the two have met somewhere previously, and then shoots her point blank!

Merry Christmas, right?


Back at the church, everyone becomes worried about Wendy and through a series of random, only-on-television events, Steve ends up stepping in for Wendy at the store. Steve does two things while she’s there: 1. Fix a doll for a kindly old woman, and 2. Sniffs out a Santa with a gun! This girl is on it, they should hire her full time! Meanwhile, Dowling visits Wendy’s home and finds her sprawled on the floor, possibly at death’s door. But while connecting the pistol-packing Santa to Wendy may seem like a stretch that can only happen with the greatest of faith, Father Dowling and company are on the case, and should have things wrapped up just in time for gift giving!


Fast, good-natured and perhaps a little trivial (in a good way), The Christmas Mystery is absolutely delightful, and must be viewed with a cup of eggnog and a cat snuggled at your feet. Strife has never been so fun, easy and overloaded with major shoulder pads!


This episode may stand out to small screen connoisseurs for a few different reasons. The Christmas Mystery was written by the great Brian Clemens, who gave us The Avengers, and the excellent British anthology series Thriller (check out my review for Dial a Deadly Number). If anyone can spin a twist, even a mild one, into something substantial, and even menacing, Clemens is the one. When it is revealed how Wendy knows her attacker and how her son is involved, there’s a great “GULP” moment. And even though it’s followed by a mediocre maybe-chase that ends in a storage room, the thrill is still there.


The Christmas Mystery was also directed by TV stalwart James Frawley who is probably best known for directing the bulk of The Monkees brilliant two-season run. There’s no psychedelic chaos here, but it is wonderfully paced and kept light as air with fun performances and a few interesting set pieces. But what kind of retro TV blogger would I be if I didn’t sing the praises of Tom Bosley who was one of the friendliest faces of 1980s television! From Mr. C to Amos Tupper to Father Dowling, Bosley was always a sight for sore eyes and a great treat to watch. Although, I would have to say this is really Nelson’s episode. Steve throws herself into the mix, never loses her cool and although Dowling inevitably saves the day, I’m pretty sure Steve could have done the same.  

The Christmas Mystery is airing tonight (December 7th) at 9 PM EST and PST and 8 PM CST and MST on MeTV, so grab your eggnog and favorite kitty, and enjoy!