Saturday, July 30, 2016

Charlie’s Angels 2:1 “Angels in Paradise” (Parts I and II)

Airdate: 9/14/77

New Angel Kris Munroe (younger sis of Jill, who left for France to try to win Le Mans – but wasn’t Sabrina the racer?) joins the team, but there’s hardly time to celebrate. Charlie’s been kidnapped while on vacation in Hawaii, by a mysterious woman named Leilani Sako, using the act to extort the Angels into helping her get her husband Billy out of jail.

Sun-burned Sabrina turns to Don Ho, playing himself, who informs her that the Sakos control all the gambling and smuggling on the island, and that Billy was set up by some pretty ruthless ruffians. Bosley queries Hollis, the Sako’s lawyer, who gives him the skinny on jail visiting hours, and Kelly turns to a shady massage parlor, run by a madam who seems to know more than she’s letting on. But bikini-clad Kris has the worst luck – her subject, Billy’s schoolteacher sister, gets shot while surfing, before she can provide any info. 

She’s okay – whew! -  but the thugs won’t stop, even attempting to put a slug in Kelly at the beach. Head thug Ace (a James Woods sound-alike) turns out to work for a Mr. Blue, a Chicago-based Sako rival, who demands to have Charlie. This puts a crimp in the Angels-agreement, particularly after the trio made good on their promise to spring Billy from the slammer. They drive a hard bargain with Leilani, but wind up confronting the Blue man himself, who confirms his possession of their beloved boss. Are they too late, though? A coroner has just left a message for the Angels that dead body washed ashore with the ID of Charlie Townsend. Du-duduuuuuum!

Nope, false alarm – some drunk named Harold who

stole Charlie’s wallet and fell off the boat. (Whew!) So Kris locates crackpot nudist (Sammy, played by a currently ABC-employed Norman Fell), going nude herself to get the 411 that Charlie’s on Blue’s yacht (really? Couldn’t they have assumed that?). Refusing to trade Sako for Charlie knowing the Hawaiian would be dead in a second, the Angels engage in a search and rescue operation. Sabina runs the distraction – attempting to return Billy for money, neglecting Charles – while the other girls sabotage the ship. The Coast Guard arrives, but Charlie and the girls escape.

Angels had earned enough Nielsen’s clout to have a grand, gala two-hour second season premiere, shot on location in Hawaii. No opening titles yet (not enough available clips), it sort of played as a second pilot – with one big exception: skin galore. Yes, by now Angels had earned a rep for jiggle-TV, so the producers must have decided they needed to live up to it, particularly in Part II, when we get extended gratuitous close-ups of belly dancing and an entire third act featuring Kris and Kelly in string bikinis. Never mind that the dénouement leaves more plot holes than a double helping of a Swiss cheese sandwich.

Did this need to be double-stuffed? No, but back then you whupped it up for the second year to prove you were in business (The Incredible Hulk did the same thing a year later, also taking Hawaii as its setting). The story is a bit stupid when you really look at it, despite a brief scene early in Part II of Billy explaining his life in crime, trying to make sense of it all. But I have the sense they wanted a more lighthearted entry to commence their sophomore year, what with a new girl in town and all. And given that purpose, the tone neatly squeaks by. It is, after all, a lot of fun to see the girls havin’ fun in the tropics, both as characters and actresses.

And how ‘bout new Angel Kris? Well, she displays her body in bikini quite admirably (something Farrah never did), and jumps right in to the mystery-solving line reading with equal proficiency. Clearly she has to grow into the role (I can’t believe I just said that), and she will, faring just as well as other 70’s blonde replacements like Priscilla Barnes (Three’s Company) and Diane Ladd (Alice). Perhaps even better, given her continued post-series success, unlike those other two.

Mr. Blue is a fun, ham-handed, James Bondian villain, but don’t trust baddies who use phones with both a cord and antenna!

Client: None – Charlie’s been kidnapped!

Plot difficulty level: 7 (overall easy with pockets of dense information)

Rating:  ***

Monday, July 25, 2016

Charlie’s Angels 1:22 “The Blue Angels”

Airdate: 5/4/77

A police chief enlists the angels to get behind a blown vice squad raid at the Paradise “massage” parlor, in which an in-cahoots cop, Howard Fine, has just murdered its crooked manager, who in turn had murdered a rowdy customer who had beaten a hooker unconscious (don’t be late for this episode). Sabrina goes undercover as a visiting vice cop, assigned to assist a skeptical Klein; Kelly poses as a masseuse, attempting to get the skinny from the lades’ side of things; and Jill and Bosley are set up as managers of their own fake parlor. 

But when Sabrina nearly gets run down in a back alley, all eyes are on the cops, and in particular the leadfoot cadets John Barton and Ted Miller; Kelly “reenlists” at the academy to shadow them. The final straw – the unconscious hooker is on the verge of IDing “Doc,” the cop on the take, and they get the hard evidence they need when he extorts 200 dollars a week from Bosley’s new establishment. The Angels’ cover gets blown (thanks to Sabrina’s ex-hubby), and it all comes down to a showdown at a car junkyard, not ending so fine for Fine.

Season one of the series ends with a meh episode that promises a lot more spice than it delivers, Farrah’s twirly dance in a braless sundress notwithstanding. But of course, it was the 70s still, and standards and practices didn’t loosen up the reins a bit until the 80s, when Miami Vice introduced a more hardcore look at vice crime. But even without delving into the seedy underbelly of its subject matter, this one’s pretty much a snoozer, only generating a bit of suspense at the end when Fine learns of Sabrina’s true purpose and you can see the evil wheels turning inside his head.

It’s a bit of fun to see a pre-Starbuck Dirk Benedict on the show as one of the nefarious police cadets (still not 100% sure why they needed trainees to do their dirty work), and a pre-pre Growing Pains Joanna Kerns gets to show some of her own pains as the hospital-bed bound, roughed-up parlor girl. But the overall best performance comes from steely Ed Lauter as Fine himself, reminding me of a Craig T, Nelson everyman type. We may be seeing more of him in future Angels adventures. 

And, of course, it is with this episode that we bid a fond farewell to Farrah; she left the show as a regular cast member at the end of the first season, offering no actual reason but implying the stress of her separation from husband Lee Majors and the yearning to peruse other projects. As she broke a five-year contract, however, ABC offered her a deal to return to the show in six guest appearances, which she accepted, so Jill Monroe will return, don’t you worry.

Angels finished fifth in the ratings at the end of Season 1, with little or no competition from the other networks. So, according to network logic, ABC moved it ahead an hour, to 9PM, where it competed with some of Norman Lear’s megahits One Day at a Time and The Jerffersons. Would it still do well? Stay tuned, true believers.

But back to the ep: decent enough, but no fireworks.

Client: Captain Rogers (the police chief)

Plot difficulty level: 6 (just somewhat confusing in the beginning)

Rating: **1/2  (and too bad; they were on a roll about two-thirds into the season)

Friday, July 15, 2016

Charlie’s Angels 1:21 “Angels at Sea”

Airdate: 3/23/77

Two hapless cruise ship passengers are steamed to death, sullying the reputation of its line’s owner, John Strauss, who hires the Angels to catch the culprit. Problem #1:the killer knows the Angels are on to him even before they board (nice going, girls), sending them threatening notes without even bothering to sign his name. Weird stuff happens right away: the chief engineer gets whacked, Bosley is knocked out and left naked on the deck, and Kelly nearly meets the same fate as those first two from the beginning. When Bosley takes over the ship for the investigation, he sets a trap for the perp, and winds up ensnaring… Frank Gorshin, playing Harry, the quite mad “clairvoyant” lounge act, holding a grudge against Stauss for not supporting his special ability. But wait, didn’t he also set three bombs on the ship, ready to go off unless the Angels can diffuse them? Hmmm.

Nice change of scenery for the series, closing out its first season, starts out as interesting whodunit, sort of an Orient Express on the Pacific. But then, roughly after the halfway mark, they catch the guy, and it becomes nothing less than a vehicle for Frank Gorshin’s high-energy, impressionistic skills (sort of a Jim Carrey before his time; no wonder both guys played the Riddler). The producers were probably hoping his manic performance style would translate to crazy, but it doesn’t. We’re entertained, and we’re wondering why the Angels are not.

Nice Titanic stock footage
And then, the last quarter is just filler, with the Angels sweating it out to diffuse those bombs, consulting, via telephone, a bomb expert, who kept reminding me of Lloyd Bridges guiding Ted Striker to land in Airplane! It got me thinking: how many of these straight-arrow dramas from the 60s and 70s will never be the same after that groundbreaking satire? Airplane was one of those movies where everyone from that generation immediately got the joke, and roared in union, and relief, that finally someone could skewer a couple decades worth of Baby Boomer mainstays.

Oh, yeah, back to the episode. A mixed bag at best, but probably most noteworthy for inspiring Aaron Spelling's then just-beginning Love Boat (the first episode would air two months later). Incidentally, the Angels will guest star on Boat later on, with most likely a decidedly different tone than the more macabre leanings of this offering.

Client: John Strauss (owner of the ship line)

Plot difficulty level: 4 

Rating: **1/2

Sunday, July 10, 2016

I’m Pretty Psyched Right Now...

Because I just purchased, from Amazon (of course), the biggest movie box set I’ve ever seen: the Fox 75th Anniversary Movie Collection. I had been waiting for its hefty $400-and-change price tag to come down, and it did – to a more reasonable $129. It came a few days ago, and I’m psyched. I know I already said that, and please accept my apologizes for using the vocabulary of a 13-year-old, but I can’t help it. It does put me in mind of the days when I used to order things in the mail, and get positively euphoric upon receipt of those heavenly parcels that always seemed to just match my admittedly high expectations. I’m a preteen again.

But anyway, this set is another addition to my collection of movie studio compendia, begun a few years ago with my purchase of the United Artists Collection, and continuing on with a similar release for Universal Studios. These are all album-formatted anthologies of fifty or so significant movies from their respective studios, in DVD form, replete with commemorative booklet and “handsome” packaging. Ok, it’s largely good marketing, but for a tried and true film buff like myself, it’s total Christmas Morning.

And now, the biggest and baddest of them all – the Fox collection – is a dream come true. This easily has the largest disc count. I don’t know the exact number because I’m intentionally ignorant of the titles beyond what I scanned when deciding to buy (I want to watch the array like I did with the UA set: surprised with each page turn). But I know it’s a shitload, so this will probably take me until the end of the year to get through. I’m planning on blogging about each movie too; so stay tuned to the RR for a great deal more cinematically themed content. Hey, I am an NYU film major after all.

I also think these are good collections in the interest of film literacy – they highlight the significance of studio as film purveyor, and help us understand films in their historical context of studio ebbs and flows throughout the mid to late 20th century (e.g. heyday of the 30s/40s; the empty, epic bloat of the 50s; the breakup of the 60s/70s; the blockbuster mentality of the 80s). And if one were to base his or her film collection on the acquisition of every major American film from the silent era onward, one can do little better than to organize his or her archive according to the six major studios which produced them.

So I’m getting’ ready to see those two illuminating spotlights, along with their accompanying famous fanfare (which I, and so many other Gen-Xers, always expected to be followed by the Star Wars theme). Many, many times. But I’m ready.

Because I love movies.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Charlie’s Angels 1:20 “I Will Be Remembered”

Airdate: 3/9/77

Former film star Gloria Gibson is shocked to see a man hanging from a tree in her backyard – a replication of a scene from one of her old movies. Is she hallucinating, or is someone trying to freak her out? The Angels take the case, soon discovering her dire economic situation: after her husband’s death, she took some time off, and her agent hasn’t exactly been besieged with offers. But now she’s in the remake of one of her old chestnuts, playing the mother this time, with the Angels undercover on the set. Finally, after an all-too-obvious act of trailer-arson, a failed spotlight drop and a lot of gunplay up in the rafters, our fair heroines discover the truth: the culprits are Gibson’s erstwhile art director, prop master and even… agents, all in cahoots with her deceased husband to smuggle an authentic Botticelli fresco into her estate from Italy. Scaring he out of her wits, and into bankruptcy? Necessary, since her death would put her home into probate; an eviction would make the art-grab nice and simple.

Interesting enough mystery has much going for it – including its beguiling lead character - before sacrificing all its merits to a pretty dumb dénouement. Really? Art smuggling? After a nifty tribute to Sunset Boulevard, All About Eve and all those other great dramas about aging film stars struggling to keep that star shining in a changing Hollywood? The casting of actual elder idol Ida Lupino is inspired in and of itself, and the writers even give her a fantastic scene in which she “auditions” for the producer of a remake she’s considered for, replicating the drama-queen persona for which she’s known. That and a backstage scene in which Jill questions an old-school set designer really echo the silver screen worship which was still felt in mainstream entertainment as late as the 70s.    

Since you asked - a casting director who doubles as an extra
Too bad it all goes South in the end. Even the eleventh-hour villains are a bunch of lightweights. A curio for Lupino fans, or die-hard Angels aficionados (like myself). Others are best steered to rent an old B&W flick to quench their classic movie appetite.

Charlie sightings: The end, munching popcorn, telling the Angels he’ll be at the premiere in a tux (all the men will be in tuxes, get it?).
Client: Gloria Gibson

Plot difficulty level: 6 (but very bottom heavy)

Rating: **1/2

Friday, July 1, 2016

Charlie’s Angels 1:19 “Dancing in the Dark”

Airdate: 2/23/77

The client: Laura Clusak, widower of a famous baseball player now considered for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. But Ms. Clusak is the victim of a professional blackmailer named Alexander Cruz, who set her up in an uncompromising position with a sleazy dance instructor named Tony Bordinay, and hired a P.I. to take pictures of the indiscretion, along with incriminating drugs. It cost her 10 grand to keep the pictures down low and assure her deceased hubby’s legacy, but now the Angels are on the case.

Kelly goes undercover as Cruz’s new PI, while Jill poses as Tony’s new employee, a disco instructor. Sabrina, meanwhile, takes on the role as Sabrina Walker, a rich but shy, insecure heiress looking to try the two-step, and Tony immediately takes the bait. An indiscretion is set up, and Cruz blackmails Sabrina’s “father,” Bosley, for twenty grand. Ah, but the Angels stage a twist: Sabrina informs her blackmailer that Bosley is an imposter, planning to sell the pix to the real Walker Sr.; so the pictures are bought back with interest. Now they take the shots to the real Walker – Charlie himself – but he refutes the woman’s identity as his daughter. Bad news all around for the baddies; their goose is ultimately cooked when they go after Kelly in a bowling alley.

Genuinely strange episode has blackmail once again used as the crime of the week, only this time the perps are an erudite Englishman and a talented but sleazy dance instructor, a man so talented I could never really understand why he’d be mixed up in such an odd plot, prone to so much potential error. (With his 70s looks at ‘tude he could easily be an employee at Tony Manero’s Brooklyn dance studio.)

But yet, the Angels, and their actresses, look like they’re having a grand ol’ time playing dress up (especially Sabrna, who gets to don a pair of nutty glasses by playing Mrs. Wilson). Even Charlie himself gets in on the action this time, playing the real Wilson father – look sharp to see the back of his head and mostly obscured face, easily the most we’ve seen of him this season. Plus I do have to admit that the complex scheme they devise to entrap Cruz and Tony is mostly pretty clever, although once again things do have a way of working out a little to easily and cleanly.

Again, modern-era sensitivity to rape makes the scenes where Tony attempts to strip an “unconscious” Sabrina unintentionally troubling (even though he has intentions to go any further). However, the disco references don’t date one bit – we even hear Jill mention the Hustle in the epilogue. Groovy!

I’d say this one benefits from taut, clockwork writing, even if the general concept is sort of loopy.

Charlie sightings: Bosley’s “chauffer”; obscured view of face rejecting photos

Client: Laura Clusak

Plot difficulty level: 6

Rating: **1/2

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