Retro Television Reviews: The Love Boat 1.12 “The Old Man and the Runaway / The Painters / A Fine Romance”


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!

Welcome aboard!  We’re expecting you.

Episode 1.12 “The Old Man and the Runaway / The Painters / A Fine Romance”

(Directed by Stuart Margolin and James Sheldon, originally aired on December 24th, 1977)

Hey, this episode of The Love Boat aired on Christmas Eve!  Oddly enough, unlike last week’s episode, it was not a holiday-themed episode.  You really do have to wonder if there was some sort of scheduling snafu at ABC and perhaps the episodes were shown out-of-order.  Then again, it could be that ABC realized that everyone would be busy getting ready for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve so they decided to burn off a lesser episode while no one was watching.

(Doesn’t everyone spend Christmas Eve getting ready for Midnight Mass while their aunt tells them to dress more like the Virgin and less like the Magdalene?  Or was that just my experience?)

Yes, this is a lesser episode of The Love Boat.  It’s not a terrible episode but, at the same time, it’s not all the memorable.  A big problem is that there’s not really much romance on this cruise.  The show was called The Love Boat for a reason and, when there’s no love, it just doesn’t feel right.

For instance, one subplot dealt with two incompetent painters (played by Arte Johnson and Pat Morita) painting the captain’s office during the cruise.  They kept screwing up the job, which led to Captain Stubing getting progressively more and more annoyed.  From the start, I guessed that the punchline would be that the painters were screwing up on purpose so that they could stay on the boat and get a free cruise and …. yep, that’s exactly what it was.  Johnson and Morita were a good comedy team but the story itself felt like filler.

Meanwhile, a grumpy old widower (Will Geer) discovered that he was sharing his cabin with a teenage runaway (Bayn Johnson), who had stowed away on the ship and who was planning on meeting up with her boyfriend in Mexico.  Once he got over complaining about her being young and irresponsible, Geer convinced her to return to her parents.  Again, it wasn’t terrible and Bayn Johnson did a good job of keeping her character from getting annoying but it felt a bit out of place on The Love Boat.  Obviously, the 75 year-old man and the 16 year-old runaway weren’t going to fall in love and leave the ship arm-in-arm while the crew smiled knowingly.  Instead, this was a typical generation gap story.  The most interesting thing about this story is that this was the second time that a runaway managed to stowaway on the Love Boat.  Does that boat not have a security team?  Don’t you actually have to show your tickets to board the boat?  How does these people keep sneaking aboard?

Finally, the third storyline felt a bit more like a Love Boat story.  Cruise director Julie (Lauren Tewes) is super-excited when she sees that Sean McGlynn (Anson Williams) is a passenger on the cruise.  Julie and Sean grew up together and Julie always had a crush on him.  At first, Julie and Sean have fun hanging out but, whenever Julie tries to flirt, Sean panics and runs off.  Julie worries that there’s something wrong with her (oh, Julie!) but …. nope, Sean’s a priest.  Apparently, he was having a crisis of faith when he boarded the boat, which is why he didn’t tell anyone he was a priest.  But, when his roommate (Tom Poston) has a heart attack, Sean delivers the last rites and his faith is restored.  (Don’t worry.  His roommate survives and has a surprisingly quick recovery.  Doc Bricker is a miracle worker!)  Anyway, Sean leaves the boat wearing his collar and Julie stays on the boat, no doubt waiting for someone else from her past to buy a ticket.  It’s a bit of a shame, as Lauren Tewes and Anson Williams did make a cute couple.  Then again, we all know that Julie and Gopher belong together.

Like I said, this was not a terrible episode.  It just wasn’t particularly memorable.  It needed just a bit more romance.  After all, love is life’s sweetest reward.

The Hanged Man (1974, directed by Michael Caffey)


In this made-for-TV western, Steve Forrest stars as James Devlin.  A hired killer and a notorious outlaw, Devlin has finally been captured and is sent to the gallows.  At first, it seems as if the hanging’s been a success and Devlin’s life has been extinguished at the end of the rope.  But then, while his body is at the funeral home and is being prepared for burial, Devlin suddenly opens his eyes and reveals that he’s alive.

No one can figure out how Devlin manage to survive being hung, especially not Devlin.  However, Devlin is now alive and free to leave town.  Has Devlin been sent back to Earth to serve God or did he just get lucky?  Devlin may not be sure himself but he is determined to turn around his old ways.  That starts with protecting a widow (Sharon Acker) and her son (Bobby Eilbacher) from Lew Halleck (Cameron Mitchell), a greedy businessman who wants their land and is prepared to go to any lengths to get it.  Devlin is not only still as good with a gun as he was before his execution but, having survived his hanging, he can now read minds!

The Hanged Man was designed to be a pilot for a weekly TV series and watching it, it’s easy to imagine how the show would have developed.  Devlin would have traveled around the old west, helping out a new guest star every episode and presumably trying to discover why he had been returned to life.  It’s not a bad idea for a show, though the pilot film doesn’t do enough with it.  Despite the fact that Devlin might be undead and that he now has the power to read minds, it really is just a conventional western, featuring the saintly widow and the evil land baron and all of the other familiar tropes of the genre.  It may begin with Devlin coming back to life but it ends with a shoot-out that could have been lifted from any number of old TV shows.

Still, as far as made-for-TV westerns are concerned, this one is entertaining enough.  Steve Forrest is a good hero and, as always, Cameron Mitchell is a good villain.  I wish they had done more with the supernatural aspects of the story but The Hanged Man is good enough for undemanding fans of the genre.

Hurricane (1974, directed by Jerry Jameson)


Hurricane Hilda is crashing down on the Gulf Coast and everyone in its path is about to get all wet.  While Will Geer and Michael Learned try to warn everyone about the approaching hurricane, coast guard pilot Martin Milner observes the storm from the air and tires to rescue everyone in its path.  Some people listen and some people don’t.  Milner’s own father, played by Barry Sullivan, ends up getting stranded in a cabin while Larry Hagman and Jessica Walter play a married couple on a boat who find themselves sailing straight into the storm.  On temporarily dry land, Frank Sutton (a.k.a. Gomer Pyle’s Sgt. Carter) plays a homeowner who refuses to evacuate because he’s convinced that he knows everything there is to know about hurricanes.  He and the neighbors have a drunken party while waiting for the storm.  When Patrick Duffy and his wife announce that they’re heading for safety, Sutton demands that they come in and have a beer with him.  When Hilda finally makes landfall, some survive and some don’t.

Hurricane is a by-the-numbers disaster movie.  It was made after The Poseidon Adventure and during the same year as The Towering Inferno and it hits all the usual disaster movie beats.  Survival is determined by karma, with Hilda going after anyone who was too big of a jerk during the first half of the movie.  It’s predictable stuff but it does feature footage from an actual hurricane so it’s at least not too dragged down by any of the bad special effects that always show up in made-for-TV disaster films.

This is one of those films where the cast was probably described as being all-star, even though most of them were just TV actors who needed a quick paycheck.  Seen today, the film feels like a MeTV reunion special.  Years before they played brothers in Dallas, both Larry Hagman and Patrick Duffy appeared in Hurricane, though neither of them shares any scenes.  Will Geer and Michael Learned were starring on The Waltons when they appeared in this movie and they’re in so few scenes that they probably shot their scenes over a weekend before returning to Walton’s Mountain.  The best performance is from Frank Sutton, who died of a heart attack just a few weeks after this movie aired.  He’s a convincing hothead, even if he doesn’t have Gomer around to yell at.

Hurricane may be bad but it’s still not as terrible as most made-for-TV disaster movies.  People who enjoy watching TV actors pretending to stare at a tidal wave of water about to crash down on them will find this film to be an adequate time waster.

Jeremiah Johnson (1972, directed by Sydney Pollack)


In the 1840s, Jeremiah Johnson (Robert Redford) is a veteran of the Mexican War who wants to get away from civilization.  He sets up an isolated life for himself in the Rocky Mountains and looks to support himself by working as a trapper.  At first, he struggles but eventually he gets some much-needed help from a veteran trapped named Chris Lapp (Will Geer).  Along the way, Johnson discovers that life in the mountains can be harsh and violent.  He adopts a mute boy named Caleb, whose family has been killed by Blackfoot warriors.  Later, the chief of the local Flathead tribe “gives” Jeremiah his daughter.  Despite the language barrier between him and his new wife, Jeremiah is soon the head of a happy family.

One day, when the U.S. Calvary shows up and requests that Jeremiah guide them through the mountains so that they can rescue some starving missionaries, Jeremiah reluctantly leaves behind his family and helps them.  However, Lt. Mulvey (Jack Colvin) insists that Jeremiah lead them through a sacred Crow burial ground.  The Crow retaliate by killing Jeremiah’s family.  Driven mad by grief, Jeremiah sets out to kill every Crow that he can find.

Jeremiah Johnson is really two movies in one.  The story starts out with Jeremiah as a proto-hippie who wants to get away from the hypocrisy and violence of modern society.  Jeremiah takes care of the land, makes friends with other outcasts, and makes a good life for himself.  After Jeremiah’s family is killed, the movie turns into a Death Wish-style revenge thriller, with Jeremiah losing himself in his rage and killing almost everyone that he sees.  Redford is surprisingly convincing as the insane, murderous Jeremiah and the sudden outbursts of violence provide a strong contrast to the relatively peaceful first half of the film.

Jeremiah is a like a lot of the early American settlers.  He wants to get away from the world and start an entirely new life for himself.  He’s seen what the civilization has to offer and he would rather just build a cabin in the mountains and pretend that the rest of the world doesn’t exist.  If Jeremiah had been born earlier, he probably could have pulled it off.  But, by the time Jeremiah tries to go off the grid, it’s already too late.  Society is growing too fast for him to escape from it.  Jeremiah discovers that it’s impossible to truly cut yourself off from humanity. In the end, he’s much like the Crow Indians that he’s declared war upon.  His way of life is ending, whether he’s ready for it or not.  When he and the Crow chief greet each other with a raised open hand (meaning that they come in peace), they are both acknowledging that they are bonded as men whose time is coming to an end.

Jeremiah Johnson was the second of Robert Redford’s many collaborations with director Sydney Pollack and it’s one of their best.  This may be an epic film but it never loses its humanity and, for once, Redford plays someone who isn’t a cut-and-dried hero.  Jeremiah Johnson has recently been rediscovered because of a popular meme of a bearded Redford looking at the camera and nodding but people should know that it’s also a damn fine film on its own.

 

On the Border: BANDOLERO! (20th Century-Fox 1968)


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BANDOLERO! was made at an interesting time in the history of Western movies. Sergio Leone’s “Man With No Name” trilogy had begun to exert their influence on American filmmakers (HANG EM HIGH, SHALAKO). Traditional Hollywood Westerns were still being produced (FIRECREEK, 5 CARD STUD), but in a year’s time, Sam Peckinpah’s THE WILD BUNCH would change the Western landscape forever. Andrew V. McLaglen’s BANDOLERO! is more on the traditional side of the fence, though it does exhibit a dash of Spaghetti flavor in its storytelling.

Outlaw Dee Bishop and his gang attempt to rob a bank in Valverde, Texas. The heist is going well until rich Nathan Stone walks in with his beautiful Mexican wife, Maria. Stone tries to break it up, and gets shot for his troubles, thus alerting the attention of Sheriff July Johnson and his deputy, Roscoe. The lawmen successfully catch the gang as they’re leaving the bank. Stone dies, and Dee and…

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Shattered Politics #25: The President’s Analyst (dir by Theodore J. Flicker)


Presidents_movieposter “If I was a psychiatrist, which I am, I would say that I was turning into some sort of paranoid personality, which I am!” — Dr. Sidney Schaefer (James Coburn) in The President’s Analyst (1967)

Let’s just be absolutely honest about something.  Judging from what they regularly get caught saying and from some of the policies that they support, a good deal of politicians could probably use some sort of professional help.  That’s probably especially true of the men who sit in the Oval Office.  It can’t be easy to have to hide so many secrets, tell so many lies, and be constantly aware of how close the government is to actually collapsing.  We’ve had 44 Presidents and I imagine all of them probably could have used someone to talk to.

But here’s the thing.  We spend so much time worrying about the well-being of the President that we often don’t stop to think about the people who have to listen to them speak on a daily basis.  I imagine that being the President’s therapist must be a thankless job.  Not only do you have to spend hours listening to someone who you may not have voted for but, at the same time, you can’t share any of the information that you’ve learned.

That would certainly seem to be what’s happening with Dr. Sidney Schaefer (James Coburn), the title character of the wonderfully psychedelic 1967 satire, The President’s Analyst.  At the start of the film, Sidney is a supremely confident psychiatrist.  He can calmly and rationally deal with all of his patients problems and, in order to keep from getting overwhelmed, he has his own analyst (Will Geer).

One of his patients is Don Masters (Godfrey Cambridge), an agent for the Central Enquiries Agency (CEA) who is first seen casually murdering a man on the streets of New York.  (When Sidney discovers that Don is an assassin, he’s thrilled and impressed to discover that Don has managed to channel all of his hostility into his job.)  What Sidney doesn’t realize is that Don is testing him to see if he’s up to the job of serving as the President’s analyst.

At first, Sidney is thrilled with his new position but he soon discovers that being the closest confidante of the leader of the free world has its downside.  For one thing, Sidney is viewed by suspicion by Henry Lux (Walter Burke), the head of the Federal Bureau of Regulation (which, in this film, is exclusively staffed by people who are less than 5 feet tall).  Even beyond being targeted by the FBR, Sidney struggles with not being able to see his own therapist and discuss what he’s been told by the President.  Soon, Sidney is becoming paranoid and is even convinced that his girlfriend is a spy.

(And, of course, she is.)

So, Walter does what any sensible and paranoid person would do.  He makes a run for it.  Pursued by the FBR, the CEA, and a Russian assassin (a funny performance from Severn Darden, who also played Kolp, the sadistic torturer in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes), Sidney hides out with everyone from a group of hippies to a family of heavily armed, karate-trained, middle class “militant liberals.”

(The father of the militant liberal family is played by William Daniels, who decades later would play Mr. Feeney in Boy Meets World.)

Of course, there’s an even bigger conspiracy at work than even Sidney realizes.  The real threat is the TPC and I’m not going to tell you what that stands for.  You need to see the movie.

And really, The President’s Analyst is a film that you really should see.  What makes this film truly special — beyond the clever dialogue and the excellent performances and the great direction — is that it’s both a product of when it was made and a timeless portrait of power and paranoia.  It’s a time capsule that still feels incredibly relevant.

 

Shattered Politics #17: Advise & Consent (dir by Otto Preminger)


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In case you hadn’t heard, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer has recently announced that she’s retiring in 2016.  For the first time in decades, there’s going to be an open senate seat in California.  There’s been a lot of speculation about who might run for the seat and, for the most part, it’s all been the usual political suspects.  The state’s attorney general is running.  A few congresspeople might run.  Token billionaire Tom Steyer is thinking of getting into the race.

What disappoints me is that, as of right now, it doesn’t look like any celebrities are planning on running.  You know what would have made the Golden Globes perfect?  If George Clooney had announced his candidacy while accepting his Cecil B. DeMille award.  (At the very least, it might have given Amal something to smile about, as opposed to just sitting there with a condescending smirk on her face.  Seriously, what’s up with that?)  But even beyond George Clooney, there’s all sorts of celebrities who could run.  Charlie Sheen lives in California, after all.  Jeff Bridges might not be able to run in Montana but what about California?

I was discussing this with a friend of mine who suggested that Betty White should run because who could vote against Betty White?  Speaking for myself, I could easily vote against Betty White but I do think there would be something appropriate about Betty White serving in the U.S. Senate.  After all, in 1962, she played a senator in Otto Preminger’s political epic, Advice & Consent.

White played Sen. Bessie Adams of Kansas and was only given a few minutes of screen time.  She’s one of many performers to show up in Advise & Consent‘s version of the U.S. Senate.

For instance, Walter Pidgeon plays Sen. Bob Munson, who is the Senate majority leader and, as a result, the closest thing that this sprawling film has to a central character.  His job is to make sure the President’s agenda is pushed through Congress.

And then there’s Peter Lawford, as Sen. Lafe Smith, who always has a different girl leaving his hotel room.  When Advise & Consent was made, Lawford was President Kennedy’s brother-in-law.  Interestingly enough, one of Kennedy’s former girlfriends — actress Gene Tierney — shows up in the film as well, playing Bob Munson’s lover.

George Grizzard plays Sen. Fred Van Ackerman, who is about as evil as you would expect someone named Fred Van Ackerman to be.  Grizzard gives one of the better performances in the film, which just goes to prove that it’s more fun to play an evil character than a good one.

Don Murray is Sen. Brigham Anderson, a senator who is being blackmailed by Van Ackerman’s lackeys.  Despite being happily married to Mabel (Inga Swenson), Anderson is leading a secret life as a gay man.  The scene where Anderson steps into a gay bar may seem incredibly tame today but it was reportedly very controversial back in 1962.

And finally, there’s Sen. Seabright Cooley.  You may be able to guess, just from his overly prosaic name, that Cooley is meant to be a southerner.  That, of course, means that he wears a white suit, is constantly fanning himself, and speaks in lengthy metaphors.  Sen. Cooley is played by Charles Laughton, who overacts to such a degree that I’m surprised that there was any oxygen left over for anyone else.

All of these senators have been tasked with deciding whether or not Robert Leffingwell (Henry Fonda) will be the next secretary of state.  Fonda, not surprisingly, is the epitome of urbane liberalness in the role of Leffingwell.  However, Leffingwell has a secret.  Back in the 1930s, Leffingwell was a communist.  When Sen. Cooley introduces a witness (Burgess Meredith) who can confirm this fact, Leffingwell offers to withdraw as the nominee.  However, the President (Franchot Tone) refuses to allow Leffingwell to do so.  Instead, with the help of Van Ackerman, he tries to pressure Anderson into supporting Leffingwell’s nomination.

This, of course, leads to melodrama and tragedy.

As far as literary adaptations directed by Otto Preminger are concerned, Advise & Consent is better than Hurry Sundown while being nowhere to close to being as good as Anatomy of a Murder.  It’s a film that is occasionally entertaining, often draggy, and, if just because of all the different acting styles to be found in the cast, always interesting to watch.

And, for what it’s worth, Betty White makes for a convincing senator.  So, perhaps the people of California should watch Advise & Consent before voting for Tom Steyer…

44 Days of Paranoia #2: Executive Action (dir by David Miller)


The Kennedy Memorial in Downtown Dallas

The Kennedy Memorial in Downtown Dallas

Even though it happened 22 years before I was born, I sometimes feel as if it was only yesterday that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

A lot of that is because I’m from Dallas.  When I was born, my family lived in Oak Cliff, a few blocks away from where the accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald once lived.  I drive by the Kennedy Memorial several times a week.  I’ve gone to the Sixth Floor Museum.  I’ve made out on the Grassy Knoll.  On a daily basis, I see tourists who have come down here from up north with their preconceived prejudices, their unwieldy copies of Stephen King’s 11/22/63, and their overactive sweat glands.  (“How do you handle the heat!?” they ask when the temperature is barely above 90.)  With the 50th anniversary of the assassination approaching, the Dallas Morning News has been running daily stories examining every detail of that terrible event.

The rest of the nation, of course, will never let us forget that JFK was assassinated in Dallas.  Just last week, there was an idiotic and bitter opinion piece in The New York Times, written by James McAuley, in which he claimed that Dallas was a “city of hate” that should feel more guilt over the JFK assassination.  As McAuley (who is studying history at Oxford and is not a resident of that city that he apparently feels qualified to judge) put it, “For 50 years, Dallas has done its best to avoid coming to terms with the one event that made it famous: the assassination of John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963.”

This, of course, is bullshit.

There are two competing schools of thought about the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  One says that Lee Harvey Oswald was solely responsible.  The other is that Kennedy was killed as the result of a complex conspiracy.

JFK Assassination Bullets

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.  Well, Oswald was born in New Orleans but he was raised up north in New York City.  He was also a communist with a history of mental instability.  Hence, if you accept that Oswald was the lone assassin than you also have to be willing to accept that Oswald would have tried to kill Kennedy regardless of what city he was living in.

IMF Head-Perp Walk

Things get a bit more complicated if you believe that Kennedy was killed as the result of a conspiracy.  But let’s consider the usual suspects that come up whenever people start talking about the possibility of conspiracy.  The Mafia was based in the north.  The CIA was based in Washington, D.C.  The anti-Castroites were based in Miami.  Again, all of these conspirators would have killed Kennedy regardless of what city he went to in November.

It’s easy for the rest of the country, in a fit of jealousy, anger, and delusion, to blame Dallas and Texas for the assassination of John F. Kennedy but, regardless of whether you believe in the lone assassin or a larger conspiracy, the truth is far more complex.

Over the next few days, as part of the 44 Days of Paranoia, I’ll be taking a look at some of the many films that were inspired by this assassination.  Let’s start things off with one of the lesser known entries in the JFK genre, 1973’s Executive Action.

Executive Action opens with a series of grainy, black-and-white photographs of both America in the 1960s and the men who, over the course of the film, will be portrayed as having plotted and carried out the assassination of President Kennedy while a mournful piano plays in the background.  It’s a low-key but eerily effective opening and it also lets the viewers know exactly what type of film they are about to see.  As opposed to Oliver Stone’s far better known JFK, Executive Action is a low-key, almost deliberately undramatic film.   Despite the fact that there are some familiar faces in the cast (or, at the very least, familiar faces to those of us who watch TCM), Executive Action almost feels as if it could have been a documentary.

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As the film opens in 1963, we see a group of very rich men talking about the future of America.  Ferguson (Will Geer) and Foster (Robert Ryan) are concerned that President Kennedy’s policies are going to destroy America.  Foster is worried that Kennedy is planning on cutting back on military spending.  Ferguson is upset by Kennedy’s support of the Civil Rights movement.  (In one memorable scene, we see Martin Luther King delivering his Dream speech on TV before the camera pulls back to reveal Ferguson watching in disgust.)  Their associate, the shadowy Farrington (Burt Lancaster), argues that the only way to stop Kennedy is to assassinate him and put the blame on a lone gunman.

With the support of Ferguson and Foster, Farrington recruits a group of gunmen (led by Ed Lauter and including Roger Corman regular Dick Miller) and works to set up the perfect patsy.  A man (James MacColl) goes around Dallas, acting obnoxious and telling anyone who will listen that his name is Lee Oswald.  At Ferguson’s insistence, a picture is doctored to make it appear as if Lee Harvey Oswald is posing in his backyard with a rifle.  As all of this goes on, the date of November 22nd steadily approaches…

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As I stated before, Executive Action is an almost obsessively low-key film.  That, however, works to the film’s advantage.  Ferguson, Foster, Farrington, and the other conspirators are chillingly believable because they are presented almost as being anonymous.  Instead of being portrayed as being super villains, they are instead men who approach assassination as just another part of doing business.  The impression one gets is that Kennedy isn’t the first leader they’ve had killed and he probably wasn’t the last.  Director David Miller seamlessly mixes historical footage with film reenactments and the end result is a disturbingly plausible film.

Unfortunately, Executive Action is less well-known than some of the other films that have argued that a conspiracy was responsible for the assassination for John F. Kennedy.  However, it may very well be the best.

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Film Review: Brother John (dir by James Goldstone)


Yesterday, while I was out running, I tripped over an invisible rock (at least I think it was an invisible rock) and I twisted my ankle. My first impulse was to check to see if I was being chased by zombies since I’ve learned from movies that anytime a woman sprains her ankle, there has to be either zombies or a masked killer somewhere nearby. Fortunately, movies are not real life. Anyway, I’m staying home from work today, trying to rest and stay off my ankle — which means going against every naturally hyper instinct in my body.

Fortunately, I’ve got thousands of movies, a lot of books, and a TV to help comfort me as I spend the day on the couch.  (I also have the sound of my landlord’s son mowing the lawn outside.)   Earlier this morning, as I was exploring everything that television has to offer, I came across a channel called Bounce TV and a movie called Brother John.

Up until I randomly came across it on Bounce TV, I had never heard of Brother John.  A quick google search hinted that I probably wasn’t alone in that.  Brother John appears to be a rather obscure film.

And that’s a shame because, as I quickly discovered, Brother John is actually a pretty interesting film.

Released in 1971, Brother John takes place in a small town in Alabama.  The majority of the town’s black citizens work at the local factory, where they are exploited by the white owners and kept in check by the white sheriff (who, as played by Ramon Bieri, is the epitome of the nightmarish Southern law enforcer).  When the workers, under the leadership of the charismatic Charlie Gray (Lincoln Kilkpatrick), threaten to unionize, the town finds itself on the verge of exploding into racial violence.

Into all of this comes John Kane (Sidney Poitier).  Wearing a dark suit and viewing the world through weary eyes, John grew up in the town.  The local doctor and town drunk Doc Thomas (Will Geer) can still remember delivering John.  However, John mysteriously vanished when he was a teenager.  As Doc Thomas points out, John only returns after someone dies.  In this case, it was the funeral of John’s sister that led to him returning to town.

This time, however, John doesn’t leave immediately after the funeral.  Instead, he spends a few days in the town and dates a school teacher (Beverly Todd).  The authorities — led by Doc Thomas’s politically ambitious son, Lloyd (Bradford Dillman) — are convinced that John is a labor agitator who has come to town to start trouble.  Meanwhile, the factory workers (including Todd’s ex-boyfriend, played by Paul Winfield) are angered by John’s reticent nature.

After having John arrested, Lloyd discovers, from looking at John’s passport, that John has been all over the world, even to communist countries that should be closed to American citizens.  He discovers that John carries a journal that’s full of empty pages.  When he asks John how he managed to learn a dozen different languages, John replies, “I listened.”  Lloyd thinks John is a communist.  Doc Thomas, meanwhile, is convinced that John is something more than just a human being…

Who is Brother John?  That’s the question that everyone’s asking in this film.  It’s a question that the film never answers.  Instead, it’s up to the audience to consider the enigmatic clues offered up in this film and come to their own conclusions.

And that is why I enjoyed Brother John.  It’s a film that encourages the audience to think for itself.  Featuring an excellent performance from a perfectly cast Sidney Poitier and plenty of moody Southern atmosphere, Brother John is a great discovery waiting to be found.

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