Retro Television Reviews: Fantasy Island 1.11 “Reunion/Anniversary”

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 1986.  The entire show is currently streaming on Tubi!

This week, Fantasy Island is all about confronting the mistakes of the past.

Episode 1.11 “Reunion/Anniversary”

(Dir by Allen Baron and John Newland, originally aired on April 29th, 1978)

Before I talk about the two fantasies in this episode, here’s a bit of trivia.  This episode was originally intended to be the first episode of the series.  That perhaps explains why it has a tone that is more similar to the original TV movie than to the more light-hearted episodes that followed.  Just as in the made-for-TV movie, Mr. Roarke is a bit of an enigma in this episode, one who has little trouble manipulating his guests in order to get the results that he wants.  This episode even ends with Tattoo saying, “Thank God,” and Mr. Roarke replying with a mysterious half-smile.  Roarke isn’t quite as sinister as he was in the TV movie but he’s also not quite the cheery host that he would become in later episodes.  Roarke, at one point, also mentions that he has people who research everyone’s fantasy before choosing whether to grant it.  That’s certainly different from later episodes, in which the fantasies are apparently available to anyone who can pay or who has been lucky enough to win Roarke’s sympathy.

Of course, when it came time to air the first season of Fantasy Island, this episode got pushed back and it aired as the eleventh episode.  As a result, it presents a bit of a change-of-pace from the episodes that aired the weeks before.  One can only imagine how someone who decided to start watching the show because of the fantasy where Don Knotts played a private eye reacted to this episode, in which four guests were stalked by a murderer who wore giallo-style black gloves.

The guests being stalked by the murderer are Agnes (Pamela Franklin), Hannah (Hilarie Thompson), Carol (Michele Lee), and Jill (Sue Loyon).  They are all members of the Honeybees, a group of former high school cheerleaders who are having a ten-year reunion.  Their fantasy is to spend the weekend at a recreation of the Beehive, a cabin where they used to hang out while in high school.  Of course, every one of them has a dark secret and, after one of the Honeybees is apparently blown up in a nearby barn, the three remaining Honeybees have to solve the mystery.  It all gets fairly dark and sordid but, fear not!  Mr. Roarke shows up and even takes part in some hand-to-hand combat before revealing the truth about what is going on at the Beehive.

(Again, this is not something that we would normally expect from Mr. Roarke.)

Meanwhile, troubled couple Toni (Lucie Arnaz) and Tom Elgin (Ronny Cox, looking slightly embarrassed) come to the island for their anniversary!  Toni wants to relive the weekend that they got married, when they were still happy and before Tom became a drunk.  All of their old friends are invited to the island and soon, Tom is flirting with another woman while Toni is flirting with another man.  Mr. Roarke even invites Rev. Allen (Stuart Nisbet), the man who performed the original wedding ceremony.  The reverend explains that, due to a mix-up at the licensing office, he wasn’t actually legally allowed to perform marriages when Toni and Tom get married so it turns out that Tom and Toni have been living in sin all this time!  Now, Tom and Toni have to decide whether to get married for real or to go their separate ways.

I vote for separate ways, just because they really do seem to be miserable together.  However, it turns out that Mr. Roarke has a plan to keep this awful couple together.

The decision to move this episode from the start of the season to the latter half was definitely a good one.  It was probably a bit too dark and dramatic to really work as the premiere episode but, as the 11th episode, it provides a nice change-of-pace.  After several comedic and somewhat shallow episodes, this episode emphasizes the dramatic side of Fantasy Island.  In this episode, the ultimate lesson appears to be that fantasies are fun but that it’s far more important to deal with the real world.  In other words, Fantasy Island is a nice place to visit but only Mr. Roarke and Tattoo should live there.

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.

Strange Bedfellows: BILLY JACK GOES TO WASHINGTON (Taylor-Laughlin Distributing 1977)

cracked rear viewer

Billy Jack, hero of the oppressed, goes up against an enemy he can’t wrap his head around – the politicians of Washington, D.C. in BILLY JACK GOES TO WASHINGTON, the final chapter in the Billy Jack saga. I know I harped on the fact that the last film, THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK , didn’t contain enough action, and this one has even less, but I liked this film better. It’s a remake of Frank Capra’s 1939 classic MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (Capra’s son is the producer), retooled for the modern era and casting Tom Laughlin’s Billy Jack character in the Jimmy Stewart role. You’d think a forty-plus year old political film would be dated, but truth to tell, not a lot has changed since then… if anything, it’s gotten worse.

When Senator Foley has a heart attack and croaks, the powers-that-be look for a patsy to replace him…

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Shattered Politics #41: Billy Jack Goes To Washington (dir by Tom Laughlin)


The Happy Hooker wasn’t the only person to go to Washington in 1977!  Billy Jack may have started out killing bikers and then moved on to killing Bernard Posner and then finally ended up killing yet another Mr. Posner but, in 1977, Billy Jack was appointed to the U.S. Senate.

Now, it may seem strange to think of someone like Billy Jack being appointed to the U.S. Senate.  Over the course of the previous three films in the franchise, Billy had been shot in the back, shot in the leg, arrested for murder, convicted of manslaughter, and then shot by the National Guard.  In Billy Jack and The Trial of Billy Jack, Billy goes as far as to state that he does not feel the laws of the United States apply to him.

And then, when you consider that the three previous films all featured old, rich, white guys plotting to kill Billy, you would be justified in wondering how he would ever find himself appointed to serve in the senate.

But it happened!

And we’ve got a movie to prove it.

Directed by and starring Tom Laughlin, Billy Jack Goes To Washington is actually a remake of Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.  (To the film’s credit, it’s honest enough to actually give credit to Mr. Smith‘s screenwriters in the opening credits.)  What’s remarkable is just how faithful a remake Billy Jack Goes To Washington actually is.  All the scenes made famous by Jimmy Stewart — the scene where the newest member of the Senate attempts to introduce his first bill, the scene where he’s shocked to discover that Sen. Paine (played here by E.G. Marshall) takes orders from Boss Bailey (Sam Wanamaker), the scene where cynical Saunders (Lucie Arnaz) tells the senator that he should leave Washington, and, of course, that famous filibuster — are all faithfully recreated here.  The only difference, of course, is that it’s no longer idealistic Jimmy Stewart proving himself to be incredibly naive about politics.  Instead, it’s a former Green Beret, half-Indian, judo master named Billy Jack.

Tom Laughlin was a good actor, which is something that’s often overlooked by reviewers writing about the Billy Jack films.  As flawed as The Trial of Billy Jack may have been, Tom Laughlin was a compelling enough presence that the film itself remains a compulsively watchable 3-hour mess.  Laughlin had a very authoritative presence.  You looked at him and you knew that he knew what he was doing.  He was someone who you automatically wanted on your side, a natural born leader who knew how to get things done.  However, in Billy Jack Goes To Washington, Laughlin attempts to play Billy Jack as the type of naive neophyte who would be shocked to discover that politicians are corrupt.  But surely, after spending three films being harassed by every authority figure in America, Billy would have already realized that.  There’s nothing about Laughlin’s screen presence that suggests he could ever be that innocent.

And that’s the main problem with Billy Jack Goes To Washington.  For the film to have any chance of working, you have to forget everything that you’ve learned about Billy Jack over the previous three films.  However, if you haven’t seen any of the other Billy Jack films, then you probably wouldn’t be watching Billy Jack Goes To Washington in the first place.

Of course, since this is a Billy Jack film, there are a few scenes that were nowhere to be found in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.  For instance, Saunders’s husband is murdered when he threatens to reveal the truth about Bailey’s operation.  Later, Billy, Jean (Delores Taylor), and Carol (Teresa Laughlin) are confronted by a gang of Bailey’s assassins and, for the only time in the entire movie, Billy goes through that whole routine where he takes off his boots while slowly speaking and then kicks everyone’s ass.  (Jean and Carol get to join in the ass-kicking as well and good for them!)

And, of course, there’s the scene where Billy, Jean, and the kids from the Freedom School (who are apparently now known as Billy’s Raiders) have a meeting with two liberal social activists.  It’s an interesting scene because it was clearly unscripted and it has a naturalistic feel to it that’s lacking from the rest of the film.  However, that does not mean that it’s a particularly good scene.  If I learned anything from Billy Jack Goes To Washington, it’s that self-righteous activists in 1977 were just as boring as self-righteous activists in 2015.

And yet, as I’ve said about all of the other Billy Jack films, I can’t bring myself to be too hard on Billy Jack Goes To Washington.  Again, it all comes down to sincerity.  It’s clear that Laughlin and Taylor felt they were making a difference with their films and that sincerity comes through in a way that makes Billy Jack Goes To Washington a likable, if rather inept, film.

Billy Jack Goes To Washington ran for a week in one theater in 1977 and was reportedly such a box office disaster that it couldn’t get a wider release.  (In a commentary track that he recorded for the film’s DVD release, Laughlin suggests the film was the victim of shadowy government forces.)*  While Laughlin and Taylor would later try to make The Return of Billy Jack, that film was left uncompleted at the time of Laughlin’s death.  So, the last time that filmgoers would see Billy Jack, he would still be U.S. Sen. Billy Jack.

And really, that’s the perfect ending for the saga of Billy Jack.  Starting out as a loner who protected a small California town from a biker gang to eventually becoming the protector of the Freedom School to finally embracing both non-violence and his love for Jean, Billy Jack earned himself a happy ending.

Having now watched and reviewed all four of the Billy Jack films, all I can do is say thank you to Delores Taylor and the spirit of Tom Laughlin.  It was great ride.



* To be honest, the commentaries that Laughlin and Taylor recorded for the Billy Jack films are actually very informative and interesting.  Laughlin actually had a far better sense of humor than you might guess from some of the movies he directed.