Sunday, April 30, 2017

On the Big Screen :: A (Frustrating) Day at the Movies: Comical Shoot-Outs, Free-Wheeling Pandas, and a Friendly Cannibal Invites You All to Dinner.

As I’ve belabored elsewhere, our local cinema leaves a lot to be desired in a “I laugh in their face whenever they ask if I’d like to become a premium member” sense. I mean, they force you to sit through over twenty minutes of previews (-- not an exaggeration --) for films that at least 2/3rds of which will never, ever play there. And this is why I occasionally abandon my small micropolitan community and head to Lincoln or Omaha for an all day movie binge to catch films that likely won’t make it into the hinterlands of our beloved Stadium 7, which is also kinda like the Hotel California in that if you find the sticky seat or splotched spot on the floor you may never, ever leave again.

And so, off to Lincoln I went this last Thursday for a proposed triple-feature at the Marcus Grand Theater, my cinematic Shangri-La-multiplex, if you will, with the nice comfortable seats with the retractable arm rests, the minimal previews, and the wide selection of features. But things were a tad ominous when I entered the building and saw one whole wing of theaters was roped off and tarped over due to some kind of remodeling effort. And then, when I laid out my day of viewing with the cashier, everything was normal with the first feature but for the second and third I had to pick a reserved seat in the newly remodeled theaters with the new and much ballyhooed “Dreamloungers”.

Now, I hate having to pre-select a reserved seat (-- for reasons I’ll get into later--) but I had been to a theater with those kind of oversized Naugahyde-covered recliners before at a different venue, and while I wasn’t a huge fan of them, this apparently is the future of cinema, making a trip to the movies the exact same experience as staying in your basement. That’s me shrugging right now.

Anyhoo, my first feature of the day, Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire (2016), was in a theater that hadn’t been refurbished yet and so I got to pick my own seat on a first come first seated basis as the cinematic gods intended since moving images first flickered. The film itself takes place in 1978 and concerns a brokered arms deal between two IRA members, Chris and Frank (Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley), looking to buy some M-16s from a smarmy South African arms dealer, Vernon (Sharlto Copley), and his right-hand man, Martin (Babou Ceesay), in an abandoned factory along the Boston waterfront. Brokering this deal is Justine (Brie Larson), and moderating this transaction is some hired mercenary named Ord (Armie Hammer).

Now, despite not getting quite what was asked for specifically, it appears the exchange of money for guns will go off without a hitch with everyone satisfied and happy. Well, at least it was until mere coincidence rears its ugly head when the local thugs hired by each group to do the heavy lifting prove to have a volatile history (Sam Riley, Jack Reynor), which soon escalates into a massive firefight between the now opposing factions. Complicating matters further for this free-fire-for-all shoot-out is the location, which is tailor-made for ricochets, and whose low-lighting has loyalties switching as stray shots turn into friendly fire. And as the damage adds up and things devolve into everyone for themselves, things get even trickier when two more shooters show up, hired by someone already there, who had intended an ambush to take the guns and the money and leave no witnesses before the shit hit the fan, leaving the audience to sort out true allegiances and figure who, if anyone, will still be standing come the end.

Turns out reserved seating wouldn’t have been that much of an issue as I wound up with a private screening of Free Fire. And let me tell ya, you all missed a pretty great movie. You kinda wind up rooting for everybody in this thing -- except for Steve-O (Riley), who gets exactly what is coming to him. (And come to think on it, everyone kinda gets exactly what they got coming to them in this thing.) The action is great, the characters endearing, and the comedy is delightfully black and morbid. Sharlto Copley kinda steals the movie as the vainglorious dolt Vern, and I fall more in love with Brie Larson with each successive movie I see her in, but, holy crap, between this and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) the resurgence of Armie Hammer has been equally fun to watch. That dude deserves a bigger box office break. And so, with its brief, but action-packed run-time, I guess one could consider Free Fire to be nothing more than a disposable actioneer. But don’t be surprised if you keep digging it back out of the trash to watch over and over again.

Thus and so, the only real complaint I had during my first screening had nothing to do with the movie but the amount of construction noise leaking through the walls. Nothing like a power saw and stripped screws leeching into your movie. Luckily, my lone but out loud laughter was enough to drown most of that out. Thankfully, the next showing was in a theater further away from this demilitarized zone. And so, after a quick bathroom break, I made a beeline for my next feature, the Disneynature documentary, Born in China (2016).

Okay. Let me back up for second and confess to something. I was a little hesitant to see this film, what with it being a Disney animal documentary and all. Why? Well, we all know what happens in a Disney nature documentary, right? Right. [ArmsFlailing/] THEY’RE GONNA KILL THE MAMA ANIMAL BECAUSE THEY ALWAYS KILL THE MAMA ANIMAL IN A DISNEY NATURE DOCUMENTARY!!! [/ArmsFlailing] *thud* You know it will happen, I said. I know, I answered. You will start blubbering like you always do, I said. I know, I also said. And you will turn into a sobbing puddle of goo like you always do with these kinda things. True, I said. Still, Circle of Life and all that. And so, as I bravely entered the theater, bracing for the worst, I found something that did reduce me to remorse, but it had nothing to do with the movie.

No, the movie itself was fantastic, immersive and beautifully shot as the cameras and our narrator, John Krasinski, took us by the hand and led us on a year long adventure into the wilds of China, splitting time between a giant panda and her cub (Ya-Ya and Mei-Mei), a golden snub-nosed monkey (Tao-Tao) trying to find his place in the family clan after the birth of a little sister, a herd of antelope-like chiru and their reproductive migration, and a mother snow leopard (Dawa) trying to raise two cubs in a desolate rocky landscape.

Often hilarious and sometimes harrowing and, yes, sometimes melancholy, this film is a treat. Not gonna lie, though. There were some tears as [SPOILERS] casualties included one baby monkey snatched up by a hawk and one baby sheep felled by a predator; but where I really lost it is when the snow leopard gave her all for her offspring but came up short. And while the film called for optimism in the face of this kind of sacrifice and tragedy, the ultimate and unrevealed fate of her cubs kind of left me on a bit of a bummer despite everything else being pretty delightful -- especially watching a runaway panda bouncing uncontrollably down a hillside.

Still, my biggest regret of seeing Born in China was not what I saw on screen but what I was forced to sit on to watch it, bringing us back to those Dreamloungers. Now, as I said before, I had been to one showing at an AMC theater that had recliners and that is exactly what they were: single seat recliners. What the Marcus theaters were offering, however, was not a single seat recliner but a small two person loveseat with a retractable divider arm. Taking this in when I found my designated seat, I muttered “You gotta be f@cking kidding me.” The theater was otherwise empty as it was nearly twenty minutes until the next showing. First I tried to sit in it with the arm down and, being a very large man, one buttcheek got caught, leaving my ass at a 45-degree angle. That wouldn’t do. Next, I tried again with the armrest up. No 45-degree angle this time but you were still partially sitting on a hump with a pitiable small space left for some poor sap if they reserved the seat right next me.

It was at this point, completely frustrated, I contemplated going back to the ticket line and purchasing the second seat next to mine to make sure that didn’t happen -- I mean, I don’t like to get that intimate with a complete stranger, which isn’t really fair to them or me but it’s what you gotta do to fit in a world not built for your specs. And for a minute, as I envisioned the whole multiplex made over this way, I got really angry at this ruination and was almost ready to just chuck the whole thing, demand a refund for the second and third feature and go home. But I decided to wait it out and, if someone did wind up beside me I would apologize for the inconvenience and move to another empty lounger -- if they’d let me. (I lucked out as only four more people showed up for the second screening.) Again, yay, reserved seating. I mean, what happens if you get stuck by some obnoxious asshole? Or some fat-ass like me taking up a third of your seat? Or some tweener who can’t separate themselves from their cellphones. Or a rowdy family of six? Before, you could just move to another empty seat. Now, you might hesitate since that seat might belong to someone else, too. Madness. I also gave a morbid chuckle when the Marcus Theaters’ CEO came on screen and welcomed the audience to his theater and encouraged everyone to go for the large popcorn. Not with these limiting seats, buddy. Forget it.

And so, feeling bluer by the minute, I dragged myself toward the next theater and the final feature for the day. Again, I thought about buying the extra ticket but the small crowds of the first two features found me deciding to risk it again. And besides that, screw them. Why should I have to pay for a second seat due to your ill-conceived remodel. And another thing about these damnable Dreamloungers. Why put the controls on the inside of the armrest where the slightest contact from your thigh causes them to engage, either flopping you forward or backward as they recline and retract with no warning? Yeah, screw this noise, I thought. I am never coming back here again. Ever.

Regrettably, then, I was in a pretty foul mood when I carefully settled in for the third and final feature, The Lost of City of Z (2016), as best I could, which I was going into kinda cold, sold on the recommendation of a friend (-- thanks, Dave), who loved the source novel by David Grann, and beyond that really having no idea what I was about to see as my Dreamlounger reclined and retracted on its own through the whole damned movie at the minutest of shifting. (Never. Ever. Again.)

Turns out the film was good. Damned good. Real damned good. How good? I didn’t think about the infernal contraption I was sitting on for nearly two hours and twenty minutes, that’s how good it was as the film spun the true story of famed British explorer, Col. Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), who first journeys into the Amazon with his trusted Corporals, Henry Costin and Arthur Manley (Robert Pattinson, Edward Ashley) to survey and find the source of a river to settle a border dispute between Bolivia and Brazil at the behest of the National Geographic Society in 1906. There, deep in the jungle, Fawcett finds evidence and the remains of an ancient advanced civilization but when he brings his tale back to Britain he is met with scorn and ridicule and prejudice by the scientific establishment “who regard all indigenous populations as mere savages” and therefore completely incapable of building what he described. (The Incan city of Machu Picchu wasn’t 'rediscovered’ until 1911.)

Undaunted, Fawcett mounts a second expedition into the Amazon to bring back even more proof of what he refers to as the Lost City of Zed (Z). This, however, ends in both disaster and failure. Then, his ambitions are seemingly sidelined permanently after suffering injuries during a gas attack fighting in the trenches of World War I. All the while, Fawcett’s wife, Nina (Sienna Miller), has stood by his side -- mostly metaphorically as her husband spent years away from home on his adventures, leaving her to raise their three children on her own. His constant absence also estranges the father from eldest son, Jack (Tom Holland). But this is eventually reconciled, and together, father and son decide to go on one last adventure into the jungle together to find Zed in 1925 only to never be heard from again. And like with the real-life Fawcett, the film ends rather ambiguously on whether the expedition was a success or failure.

Tearing into the history of this film a bit shows it went through several casting changes before settling on Charlie Hunnam for the lead, replacing both Brad Pitt and Benedict Cumberbatch, but he acquits himself rather well and carries the epic scope of this film with ease. I did not recognize Robert Pattison at all, nor Tom Holland until the very end. And while this film felt like a bit of a throwback to the works of David Lean and the early films of Werner Herzog -- especially Aguire, the Wrath of God (1972), the biggest impression I took away from the film was how much the level, even-handed portrayal of the natives in The Lost City of Z was a raised middle finger to the likes of Ruggero Deodato and Umberto Lenzi and their exploitative cannibal atrocity movies. Cannot recommend this one enough.

Heck, I can honestly highly recommend all three films I partook in for this triple-feature. As for the venue, well, I’m still kinda bitter and think I have time for one more dig on the Dreamlounger before wrapping this up, specifically the very loud snoring from one of my fellow patrons reclined-up and sacked-out two rows up during the last film. Yay. Going to the movies is fun. Well. It used to be. *sigh* 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

YouTube Finds :: You're a Good Man, Stinky Miller :: Oblitering the 4th Wall with Olsen and Johnson in H. C. Potter's Hellzapoppin' (1941)

Hot damn! You know you're in for something a little different in Hellzapoppin' (1941), when the opening, Busby Berkeley-esque chorus number is crudely interrupted when the staircase under a bevy of beauties collapses and they all slide into Hell, where they are tormented by a number of imps and demons. Enter, stage left, comedians Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson, who quickly reveal this was all part of an elaborate movie currently in production for Miracle Pictures -- "If it's a good picture, it's a miracle." (Aw, I see what you did there, Joe Dante.) Seems the director doesn't think they can get any of this blasphemous nonsense past Joseph Breen and his censoring hatchet men, but, fear not, the screenwriter (Elisha Cook Jr.) has a brand new pitch. And from there, things really get wild and raucous in this musical comedy extravaganza -- and even a bit surreal. Case in point, when the melodical romance between the two leads (Jane Frazee and Robert Paige) is crudely interrupted by a persistent 'message' from the theater:

"Yeah, go home, Stinky." 

Yeah, Stinky. Go home.

I honestly haven't seen this kind of anarchy in a movie since the Marx Brothers first broke out in the early 1930s with Monkey Business (1931), Duck Soup (1933) and A Night at the Opera (1935). Between constantly talking to the audience, to the Stinky Miller interlude, to the running feud with the projectionist (Shemp Howard), which leads to a reel mix-up and more Duck Amuck type shenanigans, the fourth wall is not only breached in Hellzapoppin' but obliterated. Even the Frankenstein Monster shows up.

The team of Olsen and Johnson were highly successful vaudevillians who first paired up way back in 1914. They made their film debut in 1930 with Oh, Sailor Behave! (1930), but then split time between motion pictures and live musical revues for most of their careers. (Johnson is credited with writing "Your in the Army Now.") And so, they had been performing and honing their act for nearly thirty years before they wrote and produced a stage version of Hellzapoppin' in 1938, which was later adapted to film by Universal in 1941. And not only do you get the comedy styling of our headlining act, we get ample support from Martha Raye (-- who has a couple of adorable musical numbers and suffers a ton of abuse), Hugh Herbert as the roaming comedy relief, and Mischa Auer, who is hilarious as always as a doofus ballet dancer. Not to mention the show-stopping Lindy Hop number, featuring musicians Slim Gaillard, C.P. Johnstone and Slam Stewart and the hired help stealing the movie in a dance number to end all dance numbers.

Hellzapoppin' was my first exposure to Ole and Johnson, and while I find them to be genuinely funny, and I like their Wheeler and Woolsey approach of letting everyone in the show being in on the joke, essentially making themselves the straight-men in a lot of gags, alas, nothing else they've done lives up to the pure comedy fusion of this film. Ghost Catchers (1944) comes the closest, from what I've seen, but it just can't match the bonkers bedlam found in Hellzapoppin'. And in the good news / better news department, it appears after decades of being stuck in a legal quagmire, Hellzapoppin' has finally managed to crawl its way out of litigation purgatory and eke out a home video release on DVD. There's also a fairly decent print up and streaming on YouTube right now if you want to give it a test spin before committing to a purchase. Either way, I don't think you'll regret it.

Hellzapoppin' (1941) Mayfair Productions Inc. :: Universal Pictures / P: Jules Levey / AP: Alex Gottlieb, Glenn Tryon / D: H.C. Potter / W: Nat Perrin, Warren Wilson, Alex Gottlieb / C: Elwood Bredell / E: Milton Carruth / M: Frank Skinner / S: Ole Olsen, Chic Johnson, Martha Raye, Hugh Herbert, Jane Frazee, Robert Paige, Mischa Auer, Elisha Cook Jr., Shemp Howard

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Fly the Friendly Skies, My Ass :: A Beer-Gut Reaction to George McCowan's Made for TV Movie, Murder on Flight 502 (1975)

While there will be almost 250 passengers and crew destined to board Flight 502, non-stop from New York to London (-- though I'm pretty sure that's LAX), our film will narrow its focus to the flight crew, the twenty or so first class passengers, and the two stewardesses tasked to serve them as the last few stragglers scramble to secure their boarding passes. Meanwhile, in the first class lounge, we’re introduced to several of those passengers as they check in:

First up is the Garwoods, Dane and Laraine (Clark, Day), a married couple running away from the grieving process over the death of an estranged daughter due to a drug overdose of dubious circumstances; next is Mona Briarly (Bergen), a bitchy, best-selling mystery author who is too scared to fly unless she’s fully crocked (-- and she’s halfway there already); and then there's Jack Marshall (Bono), a washed-up pop singer looking to make a comeback in a spaghetti western; and also Ida Goldman (Picon), an elderly yenta, who strikes up an instant relationship with fellow octogenarian, Charlie Parkins (Pidgeon); and a young turk named Millard Kensington (Bonaduce); and then there’s two doctors, one medical, Kenyon Walker (Bellamy), and one academic, Otto Gruenwaldt (Bikel); and finally we have International man of mystery, Paul Barons (Llamas), who barely gets checked in on time before the final boarding call.

Meantime, Captain Larkin (Stack) is already on board the 747, where he checks in with head stewardess, Karen White (Fawcett -- here billed as Fawcett-Majors), who, having been liberated long enough, she says, is on her last flight before retiring to a life of wedded bliss, and then watches as the disaster prone Vera Franklin (Adams), the other first class attendant, trips and falls, dislodging the contents of her overnight bag. And while the two women scramble to clean up the mess before the passengers board, Larkin finds one of them got on early, lurking near the cockpit. 

But this man introduces himself as Detective Daniel Myerson of the NYPD (O’Brian), on his way for special training with Scotland Yard, and he’s there to check in with Larkin, hoping to get permission to carry his firearm during the flight since he “feels naked” without it. But cop or not, rules are rules and Larkin confiscates the service revolver, promising to return it once they land in London.

And once everyone is aboard and secures a seat, with several of those mentioned passengers sitting beside each other, this triggers myriad subplots and clandestine animosities between several parties, which start bubbling to the surface as the plane taxis down the runway and prepares for take-off. Then, once the plane is in the air, back on the ground an attendant finds a gift someone from first class left behind -- a gift that is apparently ticking! But after the bomb squad is called in and starts tinkering with it, the package harmlessly detonates in a puff of smoke. A fast check of the passenger list by Robert Davenport (Maharis), the airport’s chief of security, quickly narrows down the most likely culprit to that punk, Kensington, who has pulled several similar pranks on this particular airline at airports around the country (-- for reasons and guesses that are as good as mine). And while this one proved relatively harmless, what the attendant brings to Davenport’s attention next is anything but: a letter, addressed to him, left in the first class lounge that he normally wouldn’t have received until the next day; a letter whose anonymous author apologizes for the murders they’re about to commit on Flight 502...

The made for TV movie thriller, Murder on Flight 502 (1975), is one of those features that is chock full of, and dependent on, and hoping the audience will swallow, an absurd amount of improbabilities and coincidences to make its plot work. For, here, we have a plane with a pre-confessed murderer on it, that is past the point of no return, with all other airports socked in by inclement weather (-- I’ll assume that to be all of Canada, Greenland and Iceland), meaning the flight must continue on to London. And on top of that, every passenger in first class seemingly holds a homicidal grudge against someone else who also just happens to be on the exact same flight.

See, against all odds of credulity, Dr. Walker just happens to be the surgeon who couldn’t be reached in time to save Gruenwaldt’s wife, leading to several grief-fueled death threats. And not only that, guess whose house the Garwood’s groupie daughter overdosed in? That’s right; not only did she O.D. in Marshall’s house, she died in his bed. And though he was cleared of any wrongdoing, the singer wasn’t even home at the time, Dane Garwood still holds him personally responsible and intends to seize this proximity for a little payback, especially when Marshall starts hitting on the pretty young girl sitting next to him.

Now, all of this background info is uncovered by Davenport, who relays it onto Larkin, who lets Detective Myerson in on death threat and gives his gun back. But by then, after determining it is not prank (-- ruling Kensington out), it’s already irrelevant as Gruenwaldt suffers a massive coronary, with Walker being his only hope of pulling through. And as Walker treats him, the two men make peace as the victim pulls through, eliminating the both of them, in Myerson's estimation, as suspects. (The author of the note promised multiple murders, so the math doesn’t work out here.) 

Meanwhile, Garwood violently attacks Marshall in the lounge with a serving fork he stole from the galley. (This, thankfully, interrupts a very painful musical interlude between Marshall and his brand new groupie played by Stack’s daughter, Elizabeth.) This fight is broken up before any damage can be done, and Marshall is in a forgiving mood once he finds out who his attacker really is. And while the mother has come to grips with what kind of a person their daughter had become, the father still holds her up on a ivory pedestal. And together, Laraine and Marshall talk Garwood into finally coming to terms with her death by, essentially, lying to him to keep his delusions safe because denial IS just a river in Egypt, apparently.

Again, the math on the Garwood / Marshall feud doesn’t jive with the plural murder letter so another probable suspect is eliminated, sending this ersatz investigation back to square one. Then, as Myerson eliminates the crew as suspects, another couple of leads come courtesy of Briarly, who is convinced Barons is the mastermind behind a brazen bank robbery several years back that left one guard and one accomplice dead, which netted the two remaining thieves over seven million dollars. Barons, obviously, vehemently denies this. Sure the cops pulled him in for questioning, he admits, but they had no evidence and let him go. 

Undaunted, the tenacious and slightly intoxicated author keeps probing, wondering how he managed to smuggle that much money out of the country? Again, Barons denies everything and is really regretting his choice of seatmates right now. And then, the ever observant and always suspicious Briarly might also have pegged Barons’ living accomplice, pointing out the odd behavior of a priest to Larkin, who, one, didn’t budge when Gruenwaldt had his heart attack, and two, What kind of priest would ever wear nail polish? (I know that’s me shrugging right now.)

When word comes from Davenport that the ‘priest’ currently occupying seat 14-B actually died the year prior and his identity was assumed by a three-time loser named Hoffman, Larkin relays this to Myerson. But when he goes to confront the suspect he finds his seat empty. Now, we already know Hoffman was clandestinely attacked and most probably killed by an unseen assailant near the restrooms while Briarly was making her case to Larkin upstairs in the lounge. And this is confirmed when Myerson and Kathy eventually find the body, stuffed in the galley elevator, triggering a scream from the girl.

When Dr. Walker determines the man was strangled to death, meaning a murderer is on board the plane, the cat is officially out of the bag. And so, to calm the panicked passengers, Larkin and Myerson fully disclose the contents of the letter with everyone. The captain also reveals the killer is most likely a first class passenger, and he/she promised more than one other passenger would die. (And this is supposed to calm everyone down how?!) Deciding on the best course of action, since there’s less than an hour before they land, Larkin orders everyone to remain in their seats under the watch of Myerson until they touch down. With that, Larkin returns to the cockpit to update Davenport. And while he radios in, Briarly, now really intoxicated, continues to put the screws to Barons, who is becoming visibly upset and belligerent with her line of questioning.

Meantime, down in the storage area below the galley, someone is rifling through the stewardesses’ luggage and finds a crapload of money stashed in Vera’s bag. (But wait, you say? Hang on, I say.) And one could probably safely assume this same person a short time later snatches an unaware Vera into the lounge bathroom where she is subsequently strangled to death. Then, when her body is discovered by the co-pilot (Baggetta), this finally pushes Barons over the edge. Convinced he is next on the killer’s hit-list, he demands protection from Myerson. When asked why, Barons lets slip he was responsible for the bank robbery and Hoffman was his accomplice. This, was all Myerson wanted to hear and Barons’ confession proves the last puzzle piece in a three year pursuit of vengeance that is about to reach final fruition.

You know, an airborne jumbo jet has a lot of potential as an excellent setting for a locked room murder mystery. And while that certainly is the central premise for Murder on Flight 502, an excellent locked room murder mystery it really isn’t. The first murder doesn’t occur until an hour in, and it really doesn’t find any traction until there’s about ten minutes left when the killer is finally revealed and engages his endgame. Before that, all we got is a ton of padding revolving around those amazing coincidences I mentioned earlier as the film tries to throw you off the trail of the real intended victims and the killer, making Murder on Flight 502 a bit of a slog.

Obviously, from the cast of dozens, to the near miss airline disaster, to the geriatric romantic interlude, to the PTSD marriage counseling, Airport (1970) and the resulting franchise had a huge influence on this production, though the film’s true cinematic surrogate is most probably Skyjacked (1972), where someone leaves an anonymous note on the ground that someone on board has a bomb, with the plane eventually hijacked to Russia by a crazed Vietnam veteran.

Translating all this melodrama and intrigue to the small screen were producers Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg. These two had established Spelling-Goldberg productions in 1972, which unleashed the prime-time 1970s staples, Starsky and Hutch, S.W.A.T., Fantasy Island and Charlie’s Angels. The two would also churn out a ton of made for TV movies, ranging from sagebrush to the supernatural, beginning with The Daughters of Joshua Cabe (1972) and the delightful, star-studded tale of family skeletons, Home for the Holidays (1972). My personal favorite was the totally creepifying, A Cold Night’s Death (1973), where a couple of arctic researchers finally realize who’s been trying to kill them too late. 

And then there was the totally wonky Satan’s School for Girls (1973) and Death Cruise (1974), the twisty Death Sentence (1974), and the ghostly Death at Love House (1976). (Sensing a pattern here?) And then the two men would amicably dissolve the company in June of 1977, but not before finishing things off with The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (1976) and Little Ladies of the Night (1977), which would kind of lay the groundwork for the social dramas Spelling would later produce in the 1990s.

Again, Murder on Flight 502 isn’t Spelling and Goldberg at their finest, and most of that falls on David Harmon’s script and the train-wreck of coincidences and padding found therein, and the fact that the killer had to have free run of the ship, narrowing down the probabilities to one passenger, Myerson. (It might’ve been helped with a shorter time slot because there just isn’t enough here to fill two hours.) And this terminal script isn’t helped all that much by George McCowan’s lackluster direction, who doesn’t do a whole lot with his minimal settings, which makes the film feel very repetitive.

The veteran cast plugged into these stock characters are solid but aren’t given a whole lot to do. The only real standouts are Polly Bergen and Hugh O’Brian. (The doomed romance between Picon and Pidgeon was endearing but belonged in a different movie.) Everyone else is walking through this as fast as humanly possible. In fact, the film might’ve been improved by moving Bergen’s character to the forefront and make her the main character instead of the pilot and let her unravel the mystery ala Jessica Fletcher. They wouldn’t even have to sober her up as this was an interesting character trait. I mean, she basically uncovered the conspiracy plot on her own already -- a little too conveniently, I might add, as her whole case was based on her sorta, maybe, recognizing Barons, who only sat by Briarly so he could hit on her, which quickly gets him cut off at the knees.

O’Brian, meanwhile, comes to the forefront at the end when it’s revealed he was the killer all along and starts to crack-up, taking several passengers hostage in the lounge, where he lays Barons’ sins bare, including the revelation the guard he killed was Myerson’s brother. Seems he figured Barons and Hoffman were guilty, and finally sussed out they were using a stewardess to smuggle the stolen money out of the country in small increments, which is why he killed Vera after finding that money in her suitcase. And once he’s laid out his case, he intends to execute Barons in front of these witnesses. Things get a little hairy when Larkin’s plan to disrupt this, dropping the oxygen masks from the ceiling, kinda backfires as Barons still gets plugged and several ricochets ignite the enriched oxygen. Thus, the lounge is soon a blazing inferno.

And while all the other passengers manage to escape, except for Myerson, who is severely burned, Larkin gets the plane landed safely for the awaiting emergency crews, leaving us with one final twist in the plot that needs to be tied off. Remember at the beginning of the film when Vera’s bag spilled all over the cabin? Well, Larkin sure does, and he doesn’t remember seeing any money, meaning Kathy was the real accomplice all along, who panicked when Hoffman was killed, moved the money into Vera’s bag, framing and getting her friend killed to save her own hash while she essentially hid in the cockpit. 

With that, Kathy and Myerson are taken into custody, the two old farts decide to share a hotel room -- wink, wink, nudge, nudge and pass the Geritol already, and Briarly is already taking steps to get signed releases from all the passengers with every intention of making this little murderous misadventure the plot for her next mystery novel.

Murder on Flight 502 made its debut on November 21, 1975, as the ABC Friday Night Movie. I don’t think it ever had a release on VHS but a quick check shows there’s been a ton of legitimate and not so legitimate releases on DVD. The film is also readily available for streaming on several YouTube channels. I can’t really recommend a watch because the film really isn’t all that great or engaging and is a rather dull and lackluster affair -- well, it was until the last ten minutes where it goes completely bonkers; but like with Davenport’s last radio message, revealing Myerson is no longer a cop after suffering a nervous breakdown, after the plane had landed, this was too little too late. But such is the life of a Made for TV Movie obsessive-compulsive. As always, your frequent flyer miles may vary but I honestly recommend trying to find some friendlier skies to fly.

Murder on Flight 502 (1975) Spelling-Goldberg Productions :: American Broadcasting Company (ABC) / EP: Aaron Spelling, Leonard Goldberg / P: David Chasman / AP: Bret Garwood / D: George McCowan / W: David P. Harmon / C: Archie R. Dalzell / E: Allan Jacobs / M: Laurence Rosenthal / S: Robert Stack, Farrah Fawcett, Hugh O'Brian, Polly Bergen, Sonny Bono, Ralph Bellamy, Theodore Bikel, Dane Clark, Laraine Day, Fernando Lamas, George Maharis, Molly Picon, Walter Pidgeon, Brooke Adams, Danny Bonaduce
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...