Retro Television Review: Roll, Freddy, Roll (Dir by Bill Persky)

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 1974’s Roll, Freddy, Roll!  It  can be viewed on YouTube!

Poor Freddy Menlo!

Played by Tim Conway, Freddy is a well-meaning guy who gets absolutely zero respect from the rest of the world.  He works as a computer programmer but his boss (Henry Jones) doesn’t think much of him and an attempt to score a contract with the U.S. Navy falls through when Admiral Norton (Scott Brady) announces that he doesn’t think much of computers.  Meanwhile, his ex-wife (Ruta Lee) has fallen in love with and married “Big Sid” Kane (Jan Murray).  Big Sid is a millionaire who made his fortune selling used cars.  Big Sid is seen every day on television.  And, due to catching the biggest bluefish tuna on record while on his honeymoon, Big Sid Kane is now in the Guinness Book of the World Records.

A lesser engineer would crack under the pressure and go on a rampage through Los Angeles, Falling Down-style.  But Freddy just wants to be a good father.  He just wants his son, Tommy (Moosie Drier), to look up to him the way that he now looks up to Big Sid.  Freddy takes Tommy to a roller skating rink and awkwardly skates around while Tommy talks about how much he enjoys going to Big Sid’s car lot.  When it’s time to leave the rink, Freddy is informed that his shoes have been lost.  An angry Freddy refuses to return the rink’s skates until he gets back his shoes.  Freddy then takes Tommy down to Big Sid’s used car lot, where Big Sid has invited other people to come and try to set world records of their own.  A local news reporter sees that Freddy is on roller skates and announces that Freddy is seeking to set the world record for the most time spent rolling around!  Finally, Freddy has found a way to impress his son!

Excuse me while I catch my breath.  That was a lot of plot to cram into just two paragraphs.

Roll, Freddy, Roll is not a particularly complicated movie.  For the most part, it exists solely so that Tim Conway can do some mild physical comedy while trying to balance himself on roller skates.  It only has a 73-minute run time and it basically feels like an extended episode of an old sitcom.  With all that in mind, it still seems like it takes forever to actually get Freddy into those roller skates and once he does put them on, the movie keeps up coming with implausible excuses to keep him from taking them off until he finally decides to go for the world record.  The story would have been stronger if Freddy has been the one to look at his feet and say, “I’m going to set a world record,” as opposed to him just being bullied into it by a news reporter.  Tim Conway’s likable but there’s only so many times you can watch someone fall on roller skates before the joke starts to wear thin.

It would not surprise me if Roll, Freddy, Roll was meant to be a pilot for a sitcom.  It’s easy to imagine Tim Conway trying to impress his son and win back his wife by doing something stupid on a weekly basis.  As far as I know, Roll, Freddy, Roll did not lead to a television series and that’s probably a good thing.  Freddy had a hard enough time just rolling around Los Angeles for two days!  Who knows what would have happened if he had tried to do it on a weekly basis!?

Retro Television Reviews: Fantasy Island 1.7 “The Funny Girl/Butch and Sundance”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Tuesdays, I will be reviewing the original Fantasy Island, which ran on ABC from 1977 to 1996.  The entire show is currently streaming on Tubi!

“Smiles, everyone, smiles!”

Sorry, Mr. Roarke, there’s not much to smile about when it comes to this episode.

Episode 1.7 “The Funny Girl/Butch and Sundance”

(Dir by Cliff Bole, originally aired on March 18th, 1978)

At the start of this episode, Tattoo is all excited because his birthday is coming up and he remembers that, last year, he partied all night and a bunch of beautiful women celebrated with him.  Mr. Roarke promises Tattoo that things will be different this year.  This year, Mr. Roarke says, there will be no presents.  Tattoo will play a game of chess and drink a glass of sherry and maybe there will be a cello recital.  Tattoo, needless to say, is disappointed.

Ignoring Tattoo’s anger, Mr. Roarke introduces him to the latest guests at Fantasy Island and it turns out that their fantasies are almost as disappointing and boring as Mr. Roarke’s plans for Tattoo’s birthday.  Kay Penny (Marcia Strassman) is apparently the world’s most successful comedienne even though she never comes across as being particularly funny.  Her fantasy is to move to small town where no one knows her.  That sounds like a pretty lousy fantasy but whatever.

Bill (Christopher Connelly) and Alex (James MacArthur) are two friends who want to be Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid for a weekend.  They’re huge fans of the film, though it appears neither one of them ever stuck around for the end.  Mr. Roarke takes Bill and Alex to an old west town (perhaps the same one that we saw a few weeks ago) and Bill and Alex get to live out their fantasy while trading quips and robbing banks.  The problem, for those of us who are watching then, is that neither Christopher Connelly nor James MacArthur can compare to Robert Redford and Paul Newman.  Eventually, though, the great character actor William Smith shows up as a visitor whose fantasy is to be Wyatt Earp.  He attempts to arrest Butch and Sundance.  They outsmart him and then Bill and Alex go home, satisfied.  Good for them but what about the guy who wanted to be Wyatt Earp?  Does he get his money back?  Seriously, I don’t think being humiliated was a part of his fantasy.

Meanwhile, Kay finds herself living in a small town.  Using the name Katherine Patrino, she gets a job as the receptionist for a veterinarian (played by Dennis Cole) and she also helps the vet’s silent son get over the recent loss of his mother.  She also tells a lot of jokes, none of which are particularly funny.  The best thing about this fantasy is that Mr. Roarke disguised himslef as a clown and showed up at the small town’s Founders Day Festival.

And then Tattoo did the same thing.

Anyway, during the festival, a dog was hit by a truck but Kay helped to bring it back to life and that brought a tear to my mismatched eyes.  Otherwise, this was a very forgettable trip to Fantasy Island.

On a positive note, though, it turned out that Mr. Roarke was just joking and Tattoo got to have a wild party after all.  Good for him, he earned it!

Who Is The Black Dahlia? (1975, directed by Joseph Pevney)

In 1947 Los Angeles, the body of 22 year-old Elizabeth Short is discovered in an empty lot.  Short, who was nicknamed The Black Dahlia because she always wore black, was an aspiring actress who was violently tortured before being chopped in half.  Her murder remains one of Hollywood’s most infamous unsolved crimes.

In this made-for-television movie, Ronny Cox and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. play the two detectives who are assigned to investigate Short’s murder.  Though they struggle to find any clues identifying who could have killed Short, they do learn about her life and how she went from being a naïve innocent who came to Hollywood with stars in her eyes to being a hardened and cynical woman who may have been supporting herself through sex work when she was murdered.  The film makes use of frequent flashbacks, in which Elizabeth Short is played by Lucie Arnaz.  Her friends and acquaintances are played by familiar television faces like Henry Jones, Mercedes McCambridge, June Lockhart, Brooke Adams, Donna Mills, and Tom Bosley.  Also be sure to keep an eye out for Sid Haig, playing a tattoo artist.

What Elizabeth Short went through over the course of her short time in Hollywood was probably too graphic to be put on television in the 70s but this movie still does a good job of recounting the basic facts of her life and murder.  Because the film is based on fact, no one is ever arrested for Short’s murder.  The only suspect is a doctor who turns out to have an alibi.  The movie instead focuses on Short trying make it in Hollywood and discovering that it’s a cruel town.  Lucie Arnaz was far better than I was expecting in the role of Elizabeth and brought a lot of vulnerability to the role.  The film ended with a title card, asking anyone who had information about the murder of Elizabeth Short to call the LAPD.  The case remains open to this day.

Horror on TV: Circle of Fear 1.17 “Doorway to Death” (dir by Daryl Duke)

Tonight, on Circle of Fear, bratty Robert (played by Leif Garrett) discovers that an upstairs door in his family’s new apartment building leads to someplace very unexpected.  His older sister, Peggy (Susan Dey), doesn’t believe him but she soon learns the error of her ways.  

This episode is really creepy and atmospheric and I don’t want to spoil too much of it.  It was written by Jimmy Sangster, who also did several Hammer films, and it was directed by Daryl Duke.  To be honest, this episode reminds me of the episode of Lost where Jack stumbles across the ghosts of Ben’s parents outside of the cabin.  It has a similar, dream-like feel to it.

The episode originally aired on January 26th, 1973.

The Covers of If

1957, by Edmund Emshwiller

If was science fiction magazine that was published from 1952 to 1974, by Quinn Publications.  Though If was never more than a modest success as far as sales went, it still published work from authors like Harlan Ellison, Robert A. Heinlin, and Larry Niven.  It also featured some of the best covers in the business.  Here are a few of the covers of If magazine:

1952, by Henry Jones

1952, by Martin Key

1952, by Ralph Joiner

1952, by Ralph Joiner

1954, by Ken Fagg

1955, by Frank Kelly Freas

1959, by Frank Kelly Freas

1959, by John Pederson

1959, by John Perderson

1962, by Virgil Finlay

1965, by Richard McKenna

Horror on TV: Suspense 4.12 “The Far-Off House”

Mrs. Collins (Judith Evelyn) is returning home after a long visit with her mother.  There’s storm raging.  The power’s dead.  Her husband is on a business trip.  There’s an escaped killer on the loose.  And, as soon as Mrs. Collins arrives at her home, she realizes that she may not be alone….

The episode of Suspense stars Judith Evelyn.  Fans of classic films may recognize her as both Miss Lonelyhearts in Hitchcock’s Rear Window and as the deaf victim from William Castle’s The Tingler.  Here, she gives another good performance as someone in trouble.

This episode originally aired on December 4th, 1951.


Horror On TV: Kolchak: The Night Stalker 1.5 “The Werewolf” (dir by Alan Baron)

What a day!

Hi, everyone.  If today’s horrorthon seemed to be missing some of the usual contributions, that’s because today has been a crazy day.  It’s been raining in Dallas since last Friday and it’s supposed to continue to do so for the next week.  This morning, the storms brought lightning and that lighting struck a building and set it on fire.  The building’s roof proceeded to collapse.  That building belonged to AT&T and it’s destruction let to what those of us in Dallas have christened the Great ATT Outage of 2018.

Basically, for the past 11 hours, the Texas Bureau of the Shattered Lens has had no internet access!  So, I’m sorry to say that I was not able to write and post all of the reviews that I wanted to post today.  I’ll have to play catch up later this week.  I do want to say thank you to Gary, Jeff, and Case for their contributions today!  It’s nice to know that you can depend on your partners in crime!

Fortunately, things are back up and running once again.  And just in time for me to share the fifth episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker.  In this one, our favorite nervous reporter deals with a — you guessed it! — a werewolf!  This episode originally aired on November 1st, 1974.


Horror on TV: Thriller 2.4 “The Weird Tailor” (dir by Herschel Daugherty)

On tonight’s episode of Thriller, we see what happens when an aspiring sorcerer (George MacReady) accidentally kills his son.  In order to brings his son back to life, he has to have a special suit made by the weird tailor of the title (played by Henry Jones).

This is one of the better episode of Thriller.  For once, the use of the word “weird” in the title is not a misnomer!  This one was written by Robert Bloch, who adapted his own short story.  It originally aired on October 16th, 1961.

Insomnia File #26: Rabbit Run (dir by Jack Smight)

What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If, at one in the morning on Wednesday, you were suffering from insomnia, you could have turned over to TCM and watched the 1970 film, Rabbit Run.  That’s what I did.

Rabbit Run is the epitome of a dumb lug film.  In a dumb lug film, a male character finds himself living an unfulfilling life but he can’t figure out the reason.  Why can’t he figure it out?  Because he’s a dumb lug, with the emphasis on dumb.  Usually, the viewer is supposed to sympathize with the dumb lug because he doesn’t mean to hurt anyone and everyone else in his world is somehow even more annoying than he is.  Typically, the dumb lug will have an emotionally distant wife who refuses to have sex with him and who is usually portrayed as being somehow at fault for everything bad that has happened in the dumb lug’s face.  (Want to see a more recent dumb lug film than Rabbit Run?  American Beauty.)  Ever since the silent era, there have been dumb lug films.  In particular, male filmmakers and critics seem to love dumb lug films because they allow them to pat themselves on the back for admitting to being dumb while, at the same time, assuring them that everything is the fault of the wife or the girlfriend or the mother or the mother-in-law.

In Rabbit Run, the dumb lug is named Harry Angstrom (James Caan), though most people still remember him as Rabbit, the high school basketball star.  Harry’s life peaked in high school.  Now, he’s 28 and he can’t hold down a job.  He’s married to Janice (Carrie Snodgress), who spends all of her time drinking and watching TV.  He has a son and another baby is on the way.  One day, when the pregnant Janice asks him to go out and get her a pack of cigarettes, Harry responds by getting in his car and driving all the way from Pennsylvania to Virginia.

When he returns to Pennsylvania, Rabbit doesn’t go back to his wife.  Instead, he drops in on his former basketball coach (Jack Albertson) and begs for advice on what he should do.  The coach, it turns out, is more than little creepy.  He also has absolutely no practical advise to give.  He does introduce Rabbit to a part-time prostitute named Ruth (Anjanette Comer).  Rabbit quickly decides that he’s in love with Ruth and soon, he’s moved in with her.

Meanwhile, there’s all sorts of little things going on.  Rabbit gets a job working as a gardener.  Rabbit befriends the local Episcopal minister (Arthur Hill), even while the minister’s cynical wife (Melodie Johnson) tries to tempt Rabbit away from both his wife and his mistress.  Rabbit both resents and envies the sexual freedom of the counter culture, as represented by his younger sister.  And, of course, Janice is pregnant…

Rabbit Run is based on a highly acclaimed novel by John Updike.  I haven’t read the novel so I can’t compare it to the film, beyond pointing out that many great works of literature have been turned into mediocre movies, largely because the director never found a way to visually translate whatever it was that made the book so memorable in the first place.  Rabbit Run was directed by Jack Smight, who takes a rather frantic approach to the material.  Since Rabbit Run is primarily a character study, it needed a director who would be willing to get out of the way and let the actors dominate the film.  Instead, Smight overdirects, as if he was desperately trying to prove that he could keep up with all the other trendy filmmakers.  The whole movie is full of extreme close-ups, abrupt jump cuts, intrusive music, and delusions of ennui.  You find yourself wishing that someone had been willing to grab Smight and shout, “Calm down!”

(On the plus side, as far as the films of 1970 are concerned, Smight’s direction of Rabbit Run still isn’t as bad as Richard Rush’s direction of Gettting Straight.)

James Caan actually gives a likable performance as Rabbit, which is good because Rabbit would be totally unbearable if not played by an actor with at least a little genuine charisma.  There’s nothing subtle about Caan’s performance but he makes it work.  You never like Rabbit but, at the same time, you don’t hate him.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing subtle about the rest of the cast either.  Something rather tragic happens about 80 minutes into the film and, as much as I knew I shouldn’t, I still found myself giggling because Carrie Snodgress’s performance was so bad that it was impossible for me to take any of it seriously.  Even worse is Arthur Hill, as the minister who won’t stop trying to help Rabbit out.  I eventually reached the point where, every time that sanctimonious character started to open his mouth, I found myself hoping someone would hit him over the head and knock him out.  Among the major supporting players, only Anjanette Comer is allowed a chance to be something more than just a sterotype.  Like Caan, she does the best that she can but ultimately. this is James Caan’s movie.

It’s a disappointing movie but it did not put me to sleep.  Give credit for that to James Caan, who is the only reason to see Rabbit Run.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season


A Movie A Day #154: The Day They Hanged Kid Curry (1971, directed by Barry Shear)

Welcome to the Old West.  Hannibal Heyes (Pete Duel) and Kid Curry (Ben Murphy) are two of the most wanted outlaws in the country, two cousins who may have robbed trains but who also never shot anyone.  After being promised a pardon if they can stay out of trouble for a year, Heyes and Curry have been living under the names Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones.

During a trip to San Francisco to visit his old friend, a con artist named Silky O’Sullivan (Walter Brennan), Heyes is told that Kid Curry is currently on trial in Colorado.  When Heyes goes to the trial, he discovers that the accused (Robert Morse) is an imposter and that the real Kid Curry is watching the trial from the back of the courtroom.  It turns out that the man of trial is just an attention seeker , someone who is so desperate for fame that he is willing to be hanged to get it.  At first, Curry thinks this is a great thing.  After the imposter hangs, everyone will believe that Curry is dead and they’ll stop searching for him.  Heyes, however, disagrees, especially after the imposter starts to implicated Heyes in crimes that he didn’t commit.

Obviously inspired by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Alias Smith and Jones was one of the last of the classic TV westerns.  Though I originally assumed that it was the show’s pilot, The Day They Hanged Kid Curry was actually the first episode of the second season.  With commercials, it ran 90 minutes.  Because of its extended running time, The Day They Hanged Kid Curry was not included in Alias Smith and Jones‘s standard rerun package.  Instead, it was edited to remove the show’s usual opening credits and it was then sold as a motion picture, despite the fact that it is very obviously a television show.

As long as no one is expecting anything more than an extended television episode, The Day They Hanged Kid Curry is okay.  I have never been a big Alias Smith and Jones fan but this episode’s plotline, with Robert Morse confessing to crimes he didn’t commit just so he can have a taste of fame before he dies, feels prescient of today’s culture.  For classic western fans, the main reason to watch will be the chance to see a parade of familiar faces: Slim Pickens, Henry Jones, Paul Fix, and Vaughn Taylor all have roles.  Most important is familiar Western character actor and four-time Oscar winner, Walter Brennan, as Silky O’Sullivan.  This was one of Brennan’s final performance and the wily old veteran never loses his dignity, even when he’s pretending to be Kid Curry’s grandmother.

As for Alias Smith and Jones, it was a modest success until Pete Duel shot himself halfway through the second season.  Rather than retire the character of Hannibal Heyes, the show’s producers replaced Pete Duel with another actor, Roger Davis.  One day after Duel’s suicide, Davis being fitted for costumes.  This move was not popular with the show’s fanbase and Alias Smith and Jones was canceled a year later, though it lived on for years in reruns.