Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past! On Sundays, I will be reviewing the made-for-television movies that used to be a primetime mainstay. Today’s film is 1975’s The Secret Night Caller! It can be viewed on YouTube!
Though the show pretty much guaranteed that he would forever be a part of the American pop cultural landscape, Robert Reed was not a fan of The Brady Bunch. Onscreen, Reed played Mike Brady, the stern patriarch who always knew the right thing to do and who, as a result, was named father of the year by the local chamber of commerce. (Of course, even though she was responsible for him getting the reward, Mike still grounded Marcia for sneaking out to mail in his nomination forms.) Offscreen, Reed was notoriously difficult, complaining that the scripts for the show were juvenile and shallow. Reed was correct and it should be noted that all of the actors who played the Brady kids have said that Reed never took out his frustration on the cast and actually became a bit of a surrogate father to all of them. Still, you have to wonder what Reed was expecting when he signed up for a show that was created by the man responsible for Gilligan’s Island.
The Brady Bunch was cancelled in 1974, temporarily setting Robert Reed free from the burden of playing Mike Brady. (Of course, he would later return to the role in The Brady Bunch Hour and we all know how that turned out.) One of the first post-Brady movies that Reed starred in was The Secret Night Caller.
In this film, Reed plays a seemingly mild-mannered IRS (booo!) agent named Freddy Durant. Freddy has a good career and a nice home but he’s deeply unsatisfied. He barely communicates with his wife, Pat (Hope Lange). He freaks out over his teenage daughter, Jan (Robin Mattson), wearing a bikini. He fantasies about hitting on almost every woman that he sees. He hangs out at a strip club and, when he’s really feeling unsatisfied, he makes obscene phone calls! Because this is a made-for-TV movie from the 70s, we never actually get to hear what Freddy says on the phone but he manages to disgust and/or horrify everyone who has the misfortune to answer his call. He even calls a woman who works in his office, scaring Charlotte (Arlene Golonka) so much that she subsequently has an auto accident. Unfortunately, for Freddy, one of his victims, a stripper named Chloe (Elaine Giftos), recognizes his voice and tries to blackmail him. Freddy’s life is falling apart. Can his psychiatrist (played by Michael Constantine) help him put it all back together again?
Freddy Durant is obviously meant to come across as being the exact opposite of Mike Brady. (Of course, many of us who have seen The Brady Bunch have our suspicions about what Mike was actually doing in his office….) Whereas Mike Brady was the perfect father, Freddy is cold, distant, and repressed. Reed is convincingly uptight as Freddy and he’s surrounded by a fine supporting cast, including Sylvia Sidney as his disapproving mother-in-law. That said, it’s still impossible to watch this show without thinking to yourself, “There’s Mike Brady making an obscene phone call.” That’s the difficulty of typecasting unfortunately. For all of his efforts to escape the shadow of the Brady Bunch, it’s impossible not to associate Robert Reed with the show, even when he’s talking dirty on the phone.
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