Retro Television Review: Love Boat 1.21 “Taking Sides/Going By The Book/A Friendly Little Game”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Wednesdays, I will be reviewing the original Love Boat, which aired on ABC from 1977 to 1986!  The series can be streamed on Paramount Plus!

It’s time to once again experience the magic of The Love Boat!

Episode 1.21 “Taking Sides/Going By The Book/A Friendly Little Game”

(Dir by Richard Kinon, originally aired on February 18th, 1978)

This week’s episode begins with the extremely nerdy Howard Wilson (Harvey Jason) preparing to board the ship.  Before he does so, he’s approached by his best friend, Bernie (Paul Sylvan).  Bernie gives Howard a book on how to talk to women.  Apparently, this is something that Howard’s not good at but Bernie swears that the book will change his life.  There’s a Roy Lichtenstein-style picture of a man and a woman kissing on the cover of the book so Howard decides that Bernie knows what he’s talking about.

On the boat, Howard immediately notices Sheila Lawrence (Georgia Engel).  However, Sheila’s overprotective father (Herb Voland) has specifically asked Captain Stubing to make sure that no one seduces his daughter.  The captain assigns Doc Bricker (Bernie Kopell) to keep an eye on her, which makes absolutely no sense.  Over the course of the last twenty episodes, Doc has yet to meet a woman who he has not hit on.  Doc is a walking HR nightmare and quite frankly, I would be kind of uncomfortable going to him for a medical examination.  He seems like he would be a little bit handsy, if you get my drift.

Anyway, Doc turns out to be pretty bad at his job because Howard still manages to hit on Sheila.  Of course, Howard’s just doing what the book tells him to do.  Eventually, though, he realizes that he doesn’t need the book and Shelia realizes that she needs to spend more time on her own happiness and stop worry about what her father wants.  Yay!  It’s another Love Boat success story,

Meanwhile, Scott (Robert Urich) and Ellen (Diana Canova) are newlyweds who seem to be totally in love until they make the mistake of having dinner with an old married couple, Max (Robert Mandan) and Gladys (Audrey Meadows).  Listening to Max and Gladys bicker soon leads to Scott and Ellen bickering and it looks like their marriage might be over.  But again, the magic of The Love Boat leads to everyone realizing that bickering is a part of marriage and that you can still love someone even if you disagree with them.  Yay!  Robert Urich and Diana Canova were such a cute couple.  They just looked like they belonged together.

Finally, poor old Wendell Snead (Harry Morgan) is taking his wife on a cruise that he can’t really afford.  In fact, he secretly took out a mortgage on their house in order to buy the tickets.  Wendell has plan, though!  He has a set of marked playing cards and he beats Gopher at several games of gin rummy.  When the crew discovers that he’s been cheating, their initial reaction is to cheat back.  But when they learn why he’s been cheating, they give him all the money from the ship’s emergency fund.  Awwwwww!

This was a sweet episode.  Yes, the stuff with the book and the overprotective father was pretty stupid but the other two stories were entertaining.  Harry Morgan’s melancholy performance was the episode’s stand-out.  The fact that the crew gave him money instead of calling the cops brought tears to my mismatched eyes.  Nicely done, Love Boat.

What will happen next week?  We’ll find out in seven days!

Retro Television Reviews: Return of the Rebels (dir by Noel Nosseck)

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 1981’s Return of the Rebels!  It  can be viewed on YouTube!

Mary Beth Allen (Barbara Eden) used to be the wife of the leader of Rebels, Arizona’s toughest motorcycle gang.  She’s now a widow and she operates a Colorado River campground.  Her teenager daughter, Amy (Deanna Robbins), has got a crush on a local boy named K.C. Barnes (Patrick Swayze) and that’s a problem because K.C. is kind of a jerk.

Every weekend, K.C. and his gang descend on the campground and proceed to have a good time, redneck-style.  They set up a few kegs of beer.  They water ski.  They play loud music.  They get into fights.  They drive their vans all over the property.  They are so disruptive that Mary Beth is losing customers.  For reasons that are not quite clear, the police refuse to help her.  For some reason, K.C. seems to be determined to drive Mary Beth out of business.  And when I say “for some reason,” what I mean is that there’s absolutely no reason for K.C. to be as obnoxious as he is.  It’s not like he owns a rival campground or anything.  He’s not going to gain a thing by running Mary Beth out of business.  K.C.’s only motivation seems to be that he’s a jerk.  Unfortunately, he’s played by a young Patrick Swayze, who was a bit too likable to be believable as someone who would be a jerk just for the Hell of it. Swayze smirks and sneers and laughs whenever Mary Beth yells at him but, up until the last few moments of the film, he still comes across more as being an overgrown teenager who is too dumb to realize how annoying he’s being than a true villain.  When K.C. does suddenly reveal himself to be a true villain, it’s a bit jarring.  It’s like seeing the neighborhood bully suddenly pick up a gun and rob a bank.  Swayze’s character was definitely bad but he didn’t seem that bad,

Regardless of K.C.’s level of villainy, his antics are threatening to put Mary Beth out of business.  She goes into the city and pays a visit on Sonny (Don Murray).  Sonny used to be a member of the Rebels.  Now, he’s a fairly successful auto mechanic.  He’s also always been in love with Mary Beth.  When he finds out that Mary Beth needs help, he decides that it’s time to get the old Rebels back together so that they can put some young punks in their place. 

The problem, of course, is that some of the old Rebels are really, really old.  Al Williams (Robert Mandan) was once the most fearsome dude on a motorcycle but now he sells used cars and collapses after he’s challenged to run down to the end of the street.  Mickey Fine (Jamie Farr) is now more concerned with taking care of his family than riding motorcycles.  Jay Arnold Wayne (Christopher Connelly) is a wealthy businessman who …. well, he doesn’t get much of a personality beyond that.  “Wild” Bill Karp (Michael Baseleon) is still wild but he’s also middle-aged and out-of-shape.  

Can Sonny get the gang back together before K.C. takes over the campground?  And even if he can, will he able to gather enough former Rebels to take on K.C.’s surprisingly large gang?  Seriously, when K.C. and his gang show up at the campground, K.C. appears to be leading a convoy.  It’s almost as if the entire population of Arizona is following K.C. around for the weekend.

As you may have already guessed, Return of the Rebels struggles to find a consistent tone.  On the one hand, the battle between the old bikers and the young rednecks is a dangerous one and the film tries to generate some suspense over whether everyone will survive.  On the other hand, the film’s cast is full of sitcom veterans who often deliver their lines as if they’re waiting for a laugh track to punctuate their point.  On the one hand, Patrick Swayze’s gang is supposed to be dangerous.  On the other hand, they’re Patrick Swayze’s gang.  For a bunch of delinquents, it seems like all they really want to do is spend the weekend water skiing and drinking beer.  Obviously, beer and motorboats don’t always go well together but Swayze and his friends still never come across as being quite as dangerous as they’re supposed to be.

Return of the Rebels is a film about getting old.  The members of the Rebels have all found success but all of them are nostalgic for their days of being “outlaw” bikers and they get one final chance to show everyone what they can do.  It’s not a bad theme but again, the film can never quite make up its mind how seriously it wants us to take either the Rebels or Swayze’s gang.  It’s a bit of a mess.  That said, the scenery was gorgeous and I’m enough of a country girl that I definitely got a little thrill out of watching scenes of various pickup trucks and vans driving through the river.  I have a weakness for rebels and reformed bikers.  It’s an amiable film, even if it doesn’t make much sense in the end.

Horror on TV: Circle of Fear 1.21 “The Ghost of Potter’s Field” (dir by Don McDougall)

While doing research for a story at Potter’s Field, a reporter (Tab Hunter) sees a stranger who looks much like him.  At first, the reporter thinks that it’s a coincidence but then the reporter starts to run into the stranger everywhere.  His friends think that he’s getting upset over nothing.  His girlfriend thinks that he’s in danger.  The reporter knows that he has to figure out who the stranger is and why he’s haunting him.

The second-to-last episode of Circle of Fear aired on March 23rd, 1973.  Tab Hunter is a bit of a bland hero but the episode still had creepy moments.


Horror on TV: Ghost Story 1.5 “The Summer House” (dir by Leo Penn)

On tonight’s episode of Ghost Story, Carolyn Jones and Steve Forrest play a couple who spend their summers in a vacation home that appears to be haunted as well.  This was one of Carolyn Jones’s final roles.

This episode originally aired on October 13th, 1972.  Director Leo Penn is perhaps best known as the father of actors Sean and Chris Penn.

Horror on the Lens: The Norliss Tapes (dir by Dan Curtis)

The Norliss Tapes (1973, dir by Dan Curtis)

Today’s Horror on the Lens is The Norliss Tapes, a 1973 made-for-TV movie that was also a pilot for a television series that, unfortunately, was never put into production.

Reporter David Norliss (Roy Thinnes) has disappeared.  His friend and publisher, Stanford Evans (Don Porter), listens to the tapes that Norliss recorded before vanishing. (Stanford Evans, it must be said, is a great name for an editor.)  Each tape details yet another paranormal investigation.  (Presumably, had the series been picked up, each tape would have been a different episode.)  The first tape tells how Norliss investigated the mysterious death of an artist who apparently returned from the grave.

For a made-for-TV movie, The Norliss Tapes is pretty good.  It’s full of atmosphere and features a genuinely menaching yellow-eyed zombie monster. The film was directed by Dan Curtis, who was responsible for several made-for-TV horror films and who also created the deathless TV show, Dark Shadows. Curtis also directed a few feature films. Burnt Offerings, for instance, will be forever beloved for its scene of annoying little Lee Montgomery getting crushed by a chimney. If you ever get a chance to listen to the director’s commentary that Dan Curtis recorded for the Burnt Offerings DVD release, you must do so. Curtis comes across as the crankiest man on the planet and it’s actually kind of fascinating to listen to. His irritation when Karen Black keeps asking him if he knows the name of the actor who played the ghostly chauffeur is truly an amazing thing to here. (For the record, the actor’s name was Anthony James, he also had important supporting roles in two best picture winners — In The Heat of the Night and Unforgiven — and yes, he was one of the best things about Burnt Offerings. Karen Black knew what she was talking about.)

But back to The Norliss Tapes!

Admittedly, this is not the first Halloween in which I’ve shared The Norliss Tapes with our readers. Back in 2015, The Norliss Tapes was one of our “horrors on the lens.” Unfortunately, there’s only so many good quality, public domain horror films available on YouTube so, occasionally, a movie is going to show up more than once over the years. But, as long as it’s good film, who cares?

Enjoy The Norliss Tapes!

Hickey & Boggs (1972, directed by Robert Culp)

Frank Boggs (Robert Culp) and Al Hickey (Bill Cosby) are two private investigators who are constantly in danger of losing their licenses and going out of business.  Hickey is the responsible one.  Boggs is the seedy alcoholic.  When Hickey and Boggs are hired to track down a missing woman, their investigation lands them in the middle of a war between the mob and a group of political activists who are fighting over who is going to get the loot from a recent robbery.  Hickey and Boggs are targeted by the mob and soon, everyone is dying around them.

With its cynical themes and downbeat ending, Hickey & Boggs is very much a 70s film.  The script was written by future director Walter Hill and when it was eventually offered to Bill Cosby, Cosby agreed to star on the condition that his I Spy co-star, Robert Culp, be hired to direct.  Producer John Calley hired Culp but after Calley refused to provide the budget that Culp requested, Culp bought the script and raised the money himself.

There are a few problems with Hickey & Boggs, the main one being that the plot is next to impossible to follow.  As a director, Robert Culp apparently didn’t believe in either filming coverage or providing establishment shots so, especially early on, it is often impossible to tell how one scene is connected to another or even how much time has passed between scenes.  I don’t know if this was an intentional aesthetic decision or if the production just ran out of money before everything could be shot but it makes it difficult to get into the film’s already complicated story.  On a positive note, Culp did have a flair for staging action scenes.  The film ends with a shoot out on the beach that’s is handled with such skill that it almost makes up for what came before it.  Also, like many actors-turned-director, Culp proved himself capable of spotting talent.  Along with giving early roles to Vincent Gardenia, James Woods and Michael Moriarty, Culp also took the chance of casting sitcom mainstay Robert Mandan as a villain.  It was a risk but it worked as Mandan convincingly portrays the banality of evil.

Of course, the biggest problem with Hickey & Boggs is that it stars Bill Cosby as a straight-laced hero and that’s no longer a role that anyone’s willing to believe him in.  Cosby actually does give a convincing dramatic performance in Hickey & Boggs.  Just look at the final scene on the beach where Hickey has his “what have we done” moment and shows the type of regret that Cosby has never shown in real life.  The problem is that to really appreciate Cosby’s performance, you have to find a way to overlook the fact that he’s Bill Cosby and that something that I found impossible to do while watching Hickey & Boggs.  When you should be getting into the movie, you’re thinking about how many decades Bill Cosby was able to get away with drugging and assaulting women.  If not for a comment from Hannibal Buress that led to a social media uproar, Cosby would probably still be getting away with it.  If Buress’s anti-Cosby comments hadn’t been recorded and hadn’t gone viral, Bill Cosby would still be free and the media would probably still be holding him up as some sort of role model.

At the time Hickey & Boggs was made, both Bill Cosby and Robert Culp were at a career crossroads.  Cosby was hoping to transform himself into a film star.  Culp was hoping to become a director.  Hickey & Boggs, however, was disliked by critics and flopped at the box office.  Culp never directed another film and we all know what happened with Bill Cosby.  (Of course, it wasn’t just the box office failure of Hickey & Boggs that kept Cosby from becoming a movie star.  Say what you will about Robert Culp as a director, he had nothing to do with Leonard Part 6.)  Hickey  & Boggs is too disjointed to really work but Robert Culp and Bill Cosby were convincing action stars and the film’s downbeat style and cynical worldview is sometimes interesting.

Zapped! (1982, directed by Robert J. Rosenthal)

In this painfully dumb high school comedy, Scott Baio is Barney, a teen scientist who experiments on lab mice and grows specially modified orchids for his high school’s principal, Walter Coolidge (Robert Mandan, who played a lot of high school principals back in the day).  When there’s an accident in the lab, Barney develops telekinetic powers.  Barney then falls in love with the class president, Bernadette (Felice Schachter), while his best friend Peyton (Willie Aames) pursues the beautiful but vain Jane (Heather Thomas).  Barney uses his powers to make a ventriloquist act as if it’s possessed and to help Peyton rig a casino-themed frat party.  Meanwhile, Scatman Crothers plays the school’s baseball coach and has a long scene where he gets high and imagines that he’s riding a bicycle with Albert Einstein.  That’s actually kind of cool.

Zapped! is a movie where Scott Baio magically gains the power to move things with his mind and yet the most implausible part of the movie is the idea of Willie Aames being the most popular student at the high school.  Heather Thomas is believable as a cheerleader and Felice Schachter is perfectly cast as the brainy class president.  Even Scott Baio is not terrible as Barney.  But then Willie Aames shows up and we find out that he’s supposed to be a chick magnet and it becomes impossible for those watching to continue to suspend their disbelief.

Not much really happens in Zapped!  Even after he gets his powers, Barney is frustratingly passive character who just does whatever Peyton tells him to do.  Barney uses his powers to help Peyton show up Jane’s college boyfriend and he uses his powers to help Peyton win games at the school carnival and then Barney uses his powers to help out Peyton when Jane’s boyfriend tries to beat him up.  Maybe Barney needs to get new friends.  The only time Barney uses his powers for himself is when he’s playing baseball and he makes the ball stop in mid-air so that he can hit it.  Somehow, no one watching the game seems to find it strange that the baseball stops in mid-air.  The movie ends with a take on Carrie.  Barney uses his powers to blow off everyone’s clothes at prom.  It’s all to help Peyton, of course.

Zapped! supposedly has a cult following, probably composed of people who were 13 when they first saw it and who only remember the sweater scene with Heather Thomas and the final prom scene.  (Or they’re remembering the famous poster, which is a lot more fun than anything that actually happens in the movie.)  Other than that, this is one of the most boring films ever made.  Perhaps the only interesting thing about the movie is that Heather Thomas sued the production when they failed to acknowledge that a body double was used for Jane’s nude scenes.

On a positive note, Zapped! did give us this classic Onion headline:


A Movie A Day #326: MacArthur (1977, directed by Joseph Sargent)

The year is 1962 and Douglas MacArthur (Gregory Peck), the legendary general, visits West Point for one last time.  While he meets the graduates and gives his final speech, flashbacks show highlights from MacArthur’s long military career.  He leaves and then returns to Philippines.  He accepts the Japanese surrender and then helps Japan rebuild and recover from the devastation of the war.  He half-heartedly pursues the Presidency and, during the Korean War, gets fired by Harry Truman (Ed Flanders).

MacArthur is a stolid biopic about one America’s most famous and controversial generals.  It was produced by Frank McCarthy, a former general who knew MacArthur and who previously won an Oscar for producing Patton.  McCarthy was obviously hoping that MacArthur was do its subject what Patton did for George Patton and both films follow the same basic pattern. a warts-and-all portrait of a World War II general with all of the action centered around the performance of a bigger-than-life actor in the title role.  Though obviously made for a low budget, MacArthur is a well-made and well-acted movie but it suffers because Douglas MacArthur was just not as interesting a figure as George Patton.  Gregory Peck does a good job subtly suggesting MacArthur’s vanity along with capturing his commitment to his duty but he never gets a scene that’s comparable to George C. Scott’s opening speech in Patton.  The main problem with MacArthur, especially when compared to Patton, is that George Patton was a born warrior while Douglas MacArthur was a born administrator and it is always going to be more exciting to watch a general lead his men into battle then to watch him sign executive orders.

Horror on the Lens: The Norliss Tapes (dir by Dan Curtis)

Today’s Horror on the Lens is The Norliss Tapes, a 1973 made-for-TV movie that was also a pilot for a television series that, unfortunately, was never put into productions.

Reporter David Norliss (Roy Thinnes) has disappeared.  His friend and publisher, Stanford Evans (Don Porter), listens to the tapes that Norliss recorded before vanishing.  Each tape details yet another paranormal investigation.  (Presumably, had the series been picked up, each tape would have been a different episode.)  The first tape tells how Norliss investigated the mysterious death of an artist who apparently returned from the grave.

For a made-for-TV movie, The Norliss Tapes is pretty good.  It’s full of atmosphere and features a genuinely menaching yellow-eyed zombie monster.