Celluloid Diaries: Five TV-movies you haven't seen (but should)

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Five TV-movies you haven't seen (but should)

forgotten tv movies

This is a guest post by Amanda Reyes, the author of Are You in the House Alone? A TV Movie Compendium 1964-1999.

It would probably not be an understatement to declare most made for TV movies as lost. With over 5,000 telefilms in existence, to call just a few of them “obscure” might be opening up a can of worms since this list could probably be compiled of hundreds of titles that came and went during the golden age of the telefilm (by my count, that would entail several decades, encompassing the mid-sixties until the end of the nineties). But, here I am, shaving down the list to five films that have been forgotten, and which, in my very humble opinion, deserve to be rediscovered. That’s all to say, lists are difficult. I’m sure I’m missing something noteworthy, but I do think these TV movies would play really well to new eyes, so if you haven’t seen them, give ‘em a shot.

The Old Man Who Cried Wolf (1970)

In one of his last roles, the great Edward G. Robinson plays an elderly man who may or may not have witnessed the murder of his friend. This telefilm is as much a thriller as it’s a heartbreaking look at how we treat the old. It’s a poignant and gripping TVM that also features Martin Balsam, Ed Asner, and Diane Baker. But, truly the telefilm rests on the shoulders of Robinson who is excellent as he takes us through to the tough, uncompromising and somewhat shocking ending. If you need a little pick me up afterward, this might make a good double with Robinson as the kindly but deathly ill grandpa in The Night Gallery holiday episode The Messiah of Mott Street.

Griffin and Phoenix: A Love Story (1976)

Another film I caught on the local station when I was about 10 or so, this is one of those movies that ages like fine wine. Peter Falk is Griffith, the romantic lead, but a troubled one as well, as he’s just found out he’s dying. He meets up with Phoenix (Jill Clayburgh), who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. They unwillingly fall in love and share their ordeal. The result is romantic, poignant and heartbreaking. Watching the film now, as an adult who has suffered their own fair share of loss, Griffin and Phoenix is elegant and cathartic. I’m not sure why this film remains so obscure. It’s lovely, and important.

Murder By Natural Causes (1979)

Written by the creators of Columbo, Richard Levinson and William Link, Murder by Natural Causes is one of those films I was lucky enough to catch a few times as a kid, thanks to our local station. I was probably too young to fully understand the brilliance of the twisty twists, but I appreciated the story, which captivated me. And this may be where I first fell in love with Barry Bostwick, who plays a hammy actor, but doesn’t ham up the role to do it. The story is simple: A famous “mind reader” has a weak heart and his philandering wife thinks she can scare him to death. The plan is ludicrous but gripping, and Murder is brimming with smart dialog, energetic pacing, and quite a few nice surprises. Well worth a visit.

Murder Can Hurt You (1980)

This comedic spoof is a must for fans of seventies cop dramas. You’ve got Nojack (Gavin MacLeod), Ironbottom and his assistant, Parks (Victor Buono and Jimmie Walker), Pepper (Connie Stevens), MacSkye (Buck Owens), Studsky and Hatch (Jamie Farr and John Byner), Polumbo (Burt Young) and Lambretta (Tony Danza) as the goofy long arms of the law. Unfortunately for this group, someone has targeted the bumbling gumshoes and is picking them off one by one. Luckily for the audience, this film is laugh-out-loud funny. It’s not nearly as sophisticated as Murder By Death, but it is hijinks galore, and a real treat just for MacLeod’s Nojack. The actor puts in one of the most unabashed performances I’ve ever seen. He shines big and bright and hysterically, and his castmates seem to be having just as much fun in their roles. Moreover, if you’ve ever wondered what Mrs. Columbo was really like, ummm, well… see for yourself (PS: It’s amazing!).

On the Line (1997)

The 1990s is the most maligned decade for the network telefilm, but I feel that’s somewhat unfair. Sure, budgets were smaller, and the film had a more static appearance, but some films just hit the right spot. On the Line features Linda Hamilton as a cop working on the sexual assaults unit. Hamilton starts bringing the traumas of the victims back home, and finds that maybe working in homicide might actually be better for her mental stability! She is assigned to find a group of murderous bank robbers, but she also has to deal with her chauvinistic co-workers. This is an oddball but amazing film, which also features Jeff Fahey as her partner. There’s also gratuitous Coolio here in a fairly stylish late entry telefilm. There’s just something about this film, probably thanks to Hamilton who is amazing. There’s also a grittiness and a shocking ending that had my jaw on the floor. Look, it’s not reinventing the wheel, but it is a solid telefilm that I find myself returning to time and time again.


About Amanda Reyes

Amanda Reyes is an archivist and historian. She sometimes works as a freelance writer and runs the popular blog Made for TV Mayhem, which gives her an excuse to watch everything from Snowbeast to Danielle Steele's Daddy. Amanda also loves soap operas, Hart to Hart, her husband, and two cats (but not always in that order). She contributed essays to the books When Animals Attack: The 70 Best Horror Movies with Killer Animals and Yuletide Terror: Christmas Horror on Film and Television. She recently published her first book Are You in the House Alone? A TV Movie Compendium 1964-1999.

Also by Amanda Reyes: Women in Horror and the TV Movie Genre that Embraced Them

obscure tv movies


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