Saturday, December 29, 2012

Menahem Golan's Interesting Misfire: "Silent Victim"

Growing up in the 1980s, I admit that I enjoyed all of the movies that Israeli-born producer/director Menahem Golan and his cousin Yoram Globus made at the Cannon Group, Inc.  I enjoyed Golan's own "The Delta Force" (1986) as well as the "American Ninja" movies that he produced, among other films.  When Golan left Cannon in the late 1980s, after it had gone through financial challenges, he regrouped with another production company called 21st Century Film Corporation, with the goal of producing ambitious, high-quality films.  It was during his time with 21st Century that Golan directed one of his most ambitious and unlikely films, the abortion drama "Silent Victim" (1993).  I first heard about the film in a short article in "Variety" announcing it was going into production.  I remember being intrigued that Golan was tackling this subject matter.  "Silent Victim" was filmed in the Fall of 1991 on location in Newnan, Georgia.  According to an article discussing the making of the film in the October 18, 1991 issue of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, it had a budget of $4 million and its original shooting title was called "Hot House."  Golan admitted in the interview that no distributor had been lined up for the movie, but that "he would offer it to all the major studios.  If there aren't any takers, he'll offer it to a cable network, such as HBO or Showtime, or a home video distributor."  The usually flamboyant Golan was quite humble in discussing his purpose in making "Silent Victim," telling the Journal Constitution that "I'm not doing this for the sake of politics...The main thrust of the story is when it happens, everybody comes to take advantage of the situation.  I'm walking a razor's edge.  I hope the movie will be good enough that people will learn something and enjoy it."  As it happened, "Silent Victim" never found a theatrical distributor and premiered on cable.  It's been virtually forgotten and is now only available on Netflix streaming or Amazon prime.  It's a shame, because it's a very intriguing and entertaining movie for all the right and all the wrong reasons.

In "Silent Victim," former "LA Law" regular Michele Greene stars as Bonnie Jackson, a meek young woman trapped in an unhappy marriage with her overbearing and abusive husband Jed Jackson (Kyle Secor).  Jed believes that the one thing that would save their marriage is a child, so he relentlessly puts pressure on Bonnie to take all the proper medication and precautions in the hope that they can conceive a child.  When Jed beats Bonnie after a particularly brutal argument, she takes pills and attempts suicide.  When Jed finds her, he rushes Bonnie to the hospital, where her life is saved, but it is discovered that she had been pregnant and her suicide attempt caused a miscarriage.  An enraged Jed inspires local ambitious District Attorney Carter Evans (Alex Hyde-White) to bring charges against Bonnie for criminal attempt to commit suicide, interference with husband's property rights, failure to obtain spousal notification, and unlicensed practice of medicine to produce criminal abortion.  Bonnie's best friend from college Lauren McKinley (Ely Pouget), a high-powered Manhattan attorney, returns to Newnan to defend Bonnie in court.  The resultant publicity surrounding the case puts Bonnie square in the middle of the abortion debate, with protestors representing both the pro-choice and pro-life perspectives descending upon Newnan.  In the course of the trial, it is revealed that the man who fathered Bonnie's baby was not Jed, but Bonnie's friend, African American pharmacist C. Ray Thompson (Ralph Wilcox).  Bonnie had been having an affair with C. Ray because of the unhappiness of her marriage with Jed.  The jury acquits of her all the charges except unlicensed practice of medicine to produce a criminal abortion.  The Judge, disgusted at the circus atmosphere surrounding the trial, suspends Bonnie's sentence and fines her $1,000.  He urges Bonnie and Jed to try and rebuild their lives.  Outside the court, Bonnie tells Jed she needs time to decide what future lays ahead for her and walks away from him.

With that storyline, there is no way that "Silent Victim" would ever be called boring.  Golan keeps up the energy and pace of the movie so that it remains completely engaging and compelling from the opening scene.  He also makes excellent use of real locations in Newnan, Georgia that allows the town to become a vivid supporting character in the movie.  Newnan has a texture and character to it that allows it to stand out as an interesting movie location.  Golan gets technically good performances from his entire cast, but there's a certain lack of restraint in both his direction and in some of the acting that prevents "Silent Victim" from becoming the hard-hitting, serious drama it aspires to be.  Golan adds some strange touches to the movie that are at times tasteless or unintentionally funny.  During the scene when Bonnie is in the Emergency Room being treated for her suicide attempt, Golan cuts to a quick shot of blood and afterbirth coming out from between her legs, to demonstrate her miscarriage.  When Jed moves out of the house and into a motel, Golan shows him getting drunk watching a women's prison movie with lesbian nude sex scenes.  When Bonnie is confronted by a bunch of reporters, she covers her ears and sings aloud "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" to drown them out.  Outside of the courthouse, where a carnival/circus has been set up to entertain spectators, there's a truly bizarre scene with two hand puppets playing a married couple.  The male hand-puppet, upon learning that the female hand-puppet wants an abortion, beats the female hand-puppet to death while the children in the audience applaud approvingly.  When the verdict is being read aloud by the jury foreman, the potential drama and tension of the scene is undercut by the visual incongruity of having a middle-aged man wearing a pony tail (1960s-era actor Bart Patton, star of 1963's "Dementia 13" and a former Francis Ford Coppola associate) play the foreman.  When the Judge fines Bonnie $1,000, an overly eager Jed jumps to his feet, pulls out his checkbook, and offers to pay the amount.  At the end of the film, when Bonnie encounters C. Ray outside the courthouse, two ridiculous looking clowns (who we saw earlier enacting a scene where the "pregnant" clown has its protruding stomach caved in with the wooden mallet wielded by the other clown) are prominently standing in the background, undermining what is meant to be a very serious, poignant moment.  But the strange touches in Golan's direction isn't the only thing that's over the top here.  Kyle Secor embarrassingly overacts as the unsympathetic, stupid Jed.  His performance has such a "bull in the China Shop" quality to it that Jed comes across as borderline psychotic at times.  I'm not convinced that Golan and the screenwriters intended to make Jed unsympathetic since they had the character have a change of heart in the latter half of the movie where he expresses regret at bringing charges against Bonnie.  Jed also seems sincere at the end of the movie when he appears to want to make amends with his wife, but because Secor didn't invest subtler qualities of genuine caring and vulnerability into the character earlier in the story, you're always nervous that Jed is on the verge of another violent outburst against Bonnie.

Along the same lines, Michele Greene also elicits little sympathy as Bonnie.  There's always been a quality about Greene, even as far back as "LA Law" that was rarely warm or likeable.  Greene tends to be cast in victim roles, which is strange, because I've always sensed a cold, disconnected chilliness from her as an actress.  There's rarely an accessible humanity or vulnerability emanating from her that makes her characters someone that people can relate to.  I've chatted with two female friends about Michele Greene after seeing "Silent Victim" recently.  At the mere mention of Greene's name, both friends said to me, "I've never liked her as an actress...what is it about her?"  So at least I know I'm not alone in feeling this way.  I think Greene is miscast as Bonnie, but to be fair to her, the script stacks the deck against Bonnie by portraying her as someone who is weak, selfish and dishonest with the people in her life.  She doesn't stand up against Jed (Bonnie admits to Lauren she still loves Jed even after all his abuse and bullying), uses C. Ray as a source of comfort from her unhappy marriage, doesn't come clean with either men as to the identity of the father of her child until she is forced to, and decides to commit suicide instead of taking a proactive stand for herself against the bullying and abusive Jed once and for all.  Bonnie even turns on her friend Lauren at the end of the film, accusing Lauren of exploiting Bonnie's case for professional and political gain because Lauren chose not to work out a plea bargain with D.A. Carter Evans.  The ungrateful Bonnie forgets how Lauren, despite her ulterior motives, was the only person who remained on her side throughout her ordeal and worked hard at getting her acquitted.  Bonnie is an extremely flawed character, who would have been even more compelling in the hands of a more skillful actress who could have brought empathy to her without compromising or homogenizing the character one bit.  A young Julianne Moore, before she hit stardom, might have been more ideal as Bonnie.

Much more compelling and nuanced are Alex Hyde-White and Ely Pouget as, respectively, D.A. Carter Evans and Bonnie's attorney and friend, Lauren McKinley.  Hyde-White and Pouget do a fine job at giving their roles nicely balanced shades of grey.  At the outset of the movie, Carter Evans appears like he will be the "villain" of the piece, since he decides to prosecute Bonnie in order to build a political platform to run for Governor of Georgia.  But, later in the film, you see he has second-thoughts and has regrets pursuing the case as he realizes it has gone too far.  And Pouget does a good job balancing her character's genuine concern for her best friend with her own opportunism at building a career for herself as an attorney for feminist issues.  Because their characters have a romantic history together, this allows Golan to take advantage of an easy on-screen chemistry Hyde-White and Pouget have together in the movie.  I was actually more interested in finding out what would happen with Carter and Lauren's relationship, as a result of the controversy surrounding the trial, than I was with Jed and Bonnie.  What I liked the most about Hyde-White and Pouget's performances is that they rose above one-dimensional stereotypes you see in movies about Southerners.  Carter Evans and Lauren McKinley come across as complex and interesting characters, and you don't sense any condescension in Hyde-White or Pouget's performances towards their characters the way you do with Secor and Greene regarding their roles.  Hyde-White and Pouget seem completely committed to understanding their roles, bringing intelligence and depth to them.  On the other hand, Secor and Greene just struck me as condescendingly looking down on both Jed and Bonnie, making no effort to try and walk in their shoes, because they each came across as selfish and foolish.

Even though there are genuine flaws to "Silent Victim," by no means do I suggest that the movie is not worth watching.  Actually, it's the flaws, along with its genuinely good qualities, that make "Silent Victim" such an interesting movie so that it rises above being a Lifetime TV movie.  You never know from scene-to-scene if you're going to watch something that is going to be good or campy.  On the plus side, Golan populates his supporting cast with excellent regionally-based actors who bring a lot of authenticity to their roles--more authenticity than Greene or Secor ever bring to their roles.  Notable are Dan Biggers as the sensible Judge presiding over the case, Tommy Cresswell as one of the prosecuting attorneys who is initially sympathetic to Bonnie's situation until he is convinced of the political advantage of putting her on trial, and Bill Ewin and Janell McLeod as the conscientious motel owners who provide a key piece of evidence at the end of the trial.  All of these actors have built accomplished careers playing supporting roles in films and TV shows shot in either Tennessee or Georgia.  They, like Hyde-White and Pouget, bring depth and humanity to their roles to ensure that they don't succumb to any one-dimensional Southern stereotypes.  1980s TV actress Leann Hunley also does good work as an ambitious TV reporter covering the case.  Despite the flaws in "Silent Victim," I think Golan effectively underscored the adverse polarization of this country concerning the subject of abortion.  (For the record, I am not taking one side or another on the issue, as this blog remains apolitical.)  Even though the movie could ultimately be characterized as pro-choice in theme, I don't think Golan completely sides with pro-choice activists with the way he portrays them in the movie.  In the end, Golan does a good job at depicting how both sides of the abortion issue, or any other controversy for that matter, tend to exploit an individual and personal tragedy when the facts surrounding a specific situation conform to their own agendas.  Neither the pro-life or pro-choice characters come off well in this movie.  The pro-life protestors are portrayed as intimidating bullies and fanatics, while the pro-choice protestors are portrayed as opportunistic, condescending, and crass.  I think Golan leaves enough room to allow the audience to come to their own conclusions.  Even though he adds strange touches to the movie, Golan never trivializes the genuine issues that continue to surround the abortion controversy.  "Silent Victim" remains a noble effort on Menahem Golan's part, an underrated film worthy of rediscovery. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Requiem for Richard Avery

Today is the 33rd anniversary of the premiere of "Knots Landing" on CBS.  Its first episode aired on December 27, 1979.  As I have written about before, I preferred the early seasons of this show when it was originally about four married couples living in a Southern California cul-de-sac.  I wasn't as interested in the show when it started phasing out its original cast members and creating more and more larger-than-life characters and situations that seemed at odds with the earlier low-key storylines.  One character who I wish never left the series was the troubled, complex attorney Richard Avery, played by actor John Pleshette.  During its initial run, I didn't like the Richard Avery character at all.  I found him very uncomfortable to watch as his character was continually denigrating his wife Laura.  Maybe my discomfort with Richard and his storyline with Laura was because he came across as so real.  Now that I'm older and have a better appreciation for such nuanced characters, I think that Richard Avery was one of the best characters to have ever appeared on "Knots Landing."  He's definitely one of my favorite characters on the show.

Richard Avery started out life on "Knots Landing" as an ambitious, status-conscious attorney who took his wife Laura for granted and used her as his constant whipping-boy and a scapegoat for his own insecurities and disappointments.  Among other things, he cheated on her with neighbor Abby Cunningham (Donna Mills), flaunted his affair with Abby in front of Laura and the other neighbors, resented her success as a realtor when he was unable to support his family on his own, and was a general embarrassment for all involved.  But Pleshette made Richard fascinating and sympathetic despite all of his shortcomings.  Over time, Richard's good qualities started to emerge.  He was a loving and devoted father to the sons he had with Laura, he proved to be a loyal friend to Karen Fairgate (Michele Lee) after she was widowed (a development no one would have ever expected when Karen constantly came to Laura's defense at Richard's emotional abuse), and he eventually grew to become someone who genuinely cared about his neighbors on Seaview Circle once he stopped obsessing about his professional advancement and became concerned about the people around him.  In turn, the other neighbors, particularly Val (Joan Van Ark) and Karen, also grew to care deeply about Richard's well-being.

In the episode entitled "Night," which was written by John Pleshette, the mentally unstable Richard holds Laura hostage in their home at gunpoint.  While everyone around them remain concerned about Laura, both Karen and Val remain concerned about Richard.  They both realize that Laura is the stronger person in the end, and that Richard is the vulnerable one more susceptible to being hurt at whatever the outcome is with the hostage crisis.  I also recall the earlier episode where Richard, sensing that his neighbor Gary Ewing (Ted Shackelford) is on the verge of having an affair with Abby, reminds Gary of the special love he has for his wife Valene and warns him of the pitfalls of being involved with Abby.  Richard and Gary had always had an awkward relationship from the beginning of the series, when Richard attempted to ingratiate himself with his new neighbor because of his ties to the oil-rich Ewing family.  This didn't sit well with Gary.  Richard concern for Gary's well-being reflects the degree to which the character grew from the moment we first met him, as well as his eventual regret at hurting Laura for having the affair with Abby.

Some of my favorite moments with Richard include the scene in the Season 3 premiere at the hospital where Richard brings Karen croissants and coffee after she has been up all night worrying about Sid (Don Murray) after he has sustained severe injuries in a car accident.  Richard's typically sardonic nature is used to good effect here as he uses it to mask the vulnerable side that he reveals to Karen because of his concern for Karen and Sid.  Another occurs later in the season during the 1981 Christmas episode when he surprises Laura on Christmas morning, with a brand new blue Buick Regal coupe.  They take it for a drive and then return home, content and happy, until Laura's boss at the realty company Scooter (Allan Miller) shows up with with a brand new Mercedes sedan, as a gift for her job performance that year.  Richard swallows his pride and puts on a brave front when he urges Laura to accept Scooter's gift.  Richard still wants her to enjoy the new Mercedes even though his efforts to do something thoughtful for Laura have been overshadowed by Scooter's generosity.  In both scenes, Pleshette really makes you feel for Richard.  Despite his many flaws, he also has enough good qualities that make it difficult to completely write him off.  

Much of the success of the Richard Avery character is due to the immense contributions of John Pleshette, a multi-talented powerhouse who also wrote and directed several episodes.  More than any other actor, Pleshette understood how the middle-class suburban milieu of the first four seasons of "Knots Landing" was what distinguished it from other prime time soaps of the era.  I attended the Museum of TV and Radio tribute to "Knots Landing" in 1995 and I vividly recall when Pleshette and Donna Mills responded, in-unison, to a question from the audience regarding how much creative input the actors had with their characters on the show.  Mills said "Not enough!" at the exact time Pleshette said "Too much!"  I suspect Pleshette's comment reflected how the actors on "Knots Landing," especially Mills, influenced the show to where it became more glamorous and upscale like "Dallas" and lost some of its distinction.  I also believe that Pleshette's comment reflects how the actors added too many of their own individual personal qualities to their characters to a degree where they started to play themselves and not their original characters anymore.  For example, Val lost whatever earthiness she had from her days on "Dallas" and became weirder and more neurotic over time, which I believe reflects the self-indulgent quality that comes across in Joan Van Ark's interviews.

In contrast, even though Richard developed into a gourmet chef, which reflects John Pleshette's real life acclaimed culinary skills, I don't think this ever distracted from, or seemed out-of-place, for the character.  If anything, it blended perfectly with Richard's ambitions to someday enjoy the finer things in life.  It didn't contradict the character to a degree where I felt Pleshette was playing himself, and not Richard anymore.  Pleshette always kept his eye on the ball where "Knots Landing" was concerned.  As mentioned earlier on this blog, I once met Pleshette at a bookstore in Los Angeles and chatted with him about "Knots Landing."  I told him that I thought the show wasn't nearly as good when he and James Houghton and Kim Lankford left and it became more about corporate, rather than suburban, intrigue.  Pleshette was extremely polite and gracious.  I sensed he was both appreciative and a little uneasy about still being identified with "Knots Landing" after all these years.  He thanked me for my comments and said "We gave it, or at least tried to give it, some depth in the first few years before it became 'Dallas in California.'"

Pleshette needn't feel awkward about his contributions to the series.  The episodes he wrote were some of the finest from the early seasons of "Knots Landing."  He not only understood his character well, but also had a keen insight into the other characters so that he was able to write good moments for his fellow actors.  I also don't believe that Pleshette allowed Richard to be more sympathetic over time because he was afraid of playing a jerk on the series.  I simply think it's because Pleshette is smart enough to understand that all people, good or bad, have different sides to their personalities and that it's more effective to allow those different nuances to come into play at appropriate times.  Even when Richard became a more sympathetic character, especially because of his supportive friendship with the widowed Karen, he still didn't make life easy for Laura.  In addition to having a nervous breakdown and holding Laura hostage in their house at gunpoint when she was pregnant with their second child, in the next season when he later opened a restaurant, he went behind Laura's back and signed a promissory note with Abby to get a loan to pay for his extravagant restaurant expenses.  He also mistreated her friend Ciji (Lisa Hartman) when he suspected them of having an affair.  But, through it all, he was always portrayed as a loving and devoted father even if he was a lousy husband.  As with all great fictional characters, Richard wasn't all good or all bad, but a nuanced, complex human being.

Even Janet Baines (Joanna Pettet), the police detective investigating Ciji's murder, ultimately had more sympathy for Richard than she had for Laura, when Laura misplaces her rage at being abandoned by Richard by falsely accusing him of murdering Ciji.  Baines is disgusted at Laura's eagerness to blame the crime on Richard, characterizing him as a "poor, unloved guy who couldn't cope."  The fact that an outsider like Janet Baines recognized Richard's sympathetic qualities demonstrates the degree to how Richard had changed from when we first met him on the premiere episode of "Knots Landing" almost four years earlier, when we would never have found anything redeemable about him.  In 1983, after four years with "Knots Landing," Richard had one of the best exits scenes of any regular character on a TV series.  Realizing his marriage with Laura was unsalvageable, he packs a suitcase, leaves the house in the middle of the night, with a framed photo of his family tucked under his arm, and drives out of the cul-de-sac.  Before he leaves, Richard stops the car, gets out and takes a look at the street that was once his home, and disappears into the night.  It was one of the few exit scenes for a major character on the series where the show's suburban setting was effectively utilized.  The street where Richard had forged some of his strongest friendships, where his marriage had unraveled, and which symbolized the pain and suffering he had alternately experienced and caused during the years he lived there, was now a place he had to escape from.  Even though Richard later returned in 1987 for a pair of episodes marking Laura's death, it was still a haunting exit scene worthy of a character who had given "Knots Landing" some of its finest moments.  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Redemption of Cliff Barnes

One of the most annoying characters in television history is Cliff Barnes, played by Ken Kercheval, on "Dallas."  Throughout most of the run of the original series, which ran from 1978 to 1991, and even now in the revival "Dallas" series on TNT, Cliff is always the bane of the existence of JR Ewing (Larry Hagman) and his family.  Cliff hates the Ewings because of what he perceives to be an injustice committed against his father Willard "Digger" Barnes (David Wayne and, later, Keenan Wynn) by his former best friend Jock Ewing (Jim Davis) when they were wildcatting for oil in the 1930s.  Digger always believed that Jock stole his fortune, and his sweetheart Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes) from him, and Cliff was raised to believe that his sole purpose in life was to avenge his father's purported maltreatment at the hands of the Ewings.  As such, Cliff was incredibly insufferable throughout much of "Dallas."  He started out as a dignified, ambitious attorney but eventually, over the years, degenerated into a pathetic comical figure.  His repeated inability to defeat JR or the Ewings eventually branded him a "loser" and Cliff lost much of his edge as time wore on.  We knew that Cliff would never really defeat JR for long, and so a change in course was long due for his character.

That change occurred in 1987, at the end of the 9th season, when Victoria Principal, who played Cliff's sister Pamela, left the series in a bizarre storyline where Pam is burned alive in a car crash and badly disfigured.  The producers, still reeling from having to bring Bobby (Patrick Duffy) back from the dead when ratings fell drastically in his absence, made the entire 1985-86 season of "Dallas" a dream, a move that still divides fans to this day.  The producers decided to avoid this by concocting a story of having Pam run away to parts unknown so that they wouldn't have to kill her off.  The reason given for Pam's disappearance was her fear that her disfigurement from the burns sustained in the car crash would traumatize her loved ones.  I remember reading an interview where Ken Kercheval expressed concern that Pam's absence would leave Cliff with little to do on the show.  By that point, Cliff had pretty much outlived his usefulness as an effective adversary against JR, and most of his storylines towards the end of Victoria Principal's tenure involved Cliff's interaction with Pam.  He needn't have worried, because Principal's departure actually paved the way for some of Kercheval's best work on "Dallas."

Starting in the 10th (1987-88) and continuing into the 11th (1988-89) seasons of "Dallas," after Pam disappeared, the writers created a fascinating storyline where Cliff had to reconsider his entire raison d'etre.  He realized that he was truly alone because he had lost virtually every member of his family and he also lost much of the drive he once had to destroy JR and the Ewings.  Cliff's storyline during that time was profoundly existential, as he was forced to truly define who he was as a man.  Cliff's epiphany began right after Pam's disappearance, when he befriended an elderly drunk in a bar Harrison "Dandy" Dandridge (Bert Remsen), an aging old wildcatter who never found success and only found solace in a bottle.  Dandy reminded Cliff of his daddy Digger and so Cliff decided to help Dandy fulfill his dream of drilling for oil on a piece of land that Dandy owned, but could never convince anyone to let him explore.  As it happens, Cliff and Dandy don't find oil, but a rich deposit of natural gas.  When a drunk Dandy turns on Cliff and tries to shoot him in front of other guests at the annual Ewing barbecue, Cliff realizes that Dandy's delusion that Cliff tried to swindle him out of their natural gas discovery echoed all of the times Digger had blamed Jock for "stealing" Ewing Oil away from him.  He realizes that the alcoholic, self-pitying Digger squandered all of the opportunities given to him and that Jock had actually never tried to take anything away from him.  He makes amends with Miss Ellie in a very touching scene where he makes peace with the Ewing family, and asks for her forgiveness for having caused her family so much turmoil through the years.  You can see it here.  Miss Ellie asks hopefully "Does this new way of thinking include you and JR too?"  Cliff laughs and says "You know, what's gone on between your son and me goes far beyond the Barnes and the Ewings and, I swear, I think JR and I would've hated each other no matter what our names were."  Cliff then solemnly adds, "I tell you what would've about made this day perfect though is if Pam could've been here just to see her brother learn his lesson."  In so doing, Cliff has finally stopped living his life for his father.

Across the next two seasons, we start to see Cliff make real strides towards finally growing up.  He and his brother-in-law Bobby develop a genuine friendship and Cliff becomes an attentive and loving uncle to his nephew Christopher (Joshua Harris).  When Lisa Alden, the adopted Christopher's biological aunt, shows up during the 10th season suing for custody of her nephew, Cliff attempts to bribe Lisa into giving up her claim on Christopher, not only because he is the only family that Cliff has left, but also because Bobby and Christopher have suffered enough in recent months due to Pam's accident and disappearance.  Cliff even becomes best friends with April Stevens (Sheree J. Wilson), a scheming blonde once married to an Ewing cousin who had come to Dallas to build her powerbase and fortune.  Cliff grows to genuinely care for April as a surrogate sister in Pam's absence.  Rather than having little to do, this new Cliff actually entered into the most interesting phase of his time on "Dallas."  He existed as a character on his own terms because his raison d'etre was no longer tied to feuding with JR or the Ewings.

At the end of the 10th season, Cliff learns about Pam's whereabouts from Jordan Lee (Don Starr) after Jordan spotted a woman who looked very much like Pam while he was vacationing.  At the start of the following 11th season Cliff, accompanied by April Stevens, goes off in search of Pam with the intent to bring her back.  When Cliff finds Pam as a patient in a sanitarium, she tells him that she had reconstructive surgery to give her a new face (thereby allowing a new actress named Margaret Michaels to play the role) and announces she has fallen in love with her doctor and has no intention of ever returning to Dallas.  Cliff begs Pam to return with him ("You can't turn your back on us...on me.  You're all I've got."), but she refuses.  She urges Cliff to go back home and says "forget you ever had a sister.  Go home.  Live your own life....Goodbye, Cliff.  We're never gonna see each other again."  Cliff is so heartbroken he can't even tell April, who was waiting outside in the hallway, what happened.  Cliff never realizes that Pam lied to him because she is dying and does not want raise the hopes of her loved ones by coming back to Dallas only to then have her family see her deteriorate and die.  Cliff, who was never the most gracious or sensitive person on "Dallas," decides not to tell Bobby or Christopher that he found Pam, in order to spare them the pain of believing that she chose someone else over them.  Kercheval makes the scene work with his heartfelt performance.  He digs deep to bring forth a reservoir of feeling to convey the inconsolable hurt Cliff experiences at being rejected by his sister.  He is so good, he makes you forget that Victoria Principal isn't even playing Pam in this scene.

Cliff takes Pam's advice to heart and begins making drastic changes in his life.  He decides to sell Barnes-Wentworth Oil to Bobby, spends even more time mentoring Christopher and his cousin John Ross, and begins dating Tammy Miller (Irena Ferris), one of Bobby Ewing's college girlfriends.  He develops warm feelings for Tammy until he realizes that she is still hung up on Bobby, but Cliff doesn't get spiteful over it.  Cliff even turns down Sue Ellen's offer to team up together to destroy JR once and for all, telling her that it's a waste of time to carry around that level of hatred.  Even Sue Ellen notices Cliff's change in character.  When she observes how caring and attentive he is with Christopher and her own son John Ross, an impressed Sue Ellen comments that she wished she had seen this side of Cliff years ago when the two of them were still romantically involved.  Because he is no longer looking to fight with JR, Cliff has stopped putting himself in situations where he will be considered a "loser."  Bobby even invites Cliff to join his newly recreated Ewing Oil as a full partner, an offer Cliff accepts as long as JR is not involved.  Even when Bobby allows JR to rejoin Ewing Oil, Cliff attempts to stay out of JR's way and tries not to let his presence fluster him. 

All of the developments occurring with Cliff in Season 11 help set the stage for his most important story arc that season, the return of his ex-girlfriend Afton Cooper (Audrey Landers).  Afton broke up with Cliff and left Dallas almost 5 years earlier when it was apparent that his obsession in defeating JR and the Ewings was all-consuming.  She is back in Dallas for a lucrative singing engagement that even she could not turn down.  Afton was Cliff's most important love interest on "Dallas," a girl who genuinely cared about him and tried to support him when he was constantly abused by JR or taken for granted by Sue Ellen.  It's very touching to see Cliff make a sincere effort to show Afton how much he has changed in the last few years.  The interesting twist to the storyline is when Cliff learns Afton has a 4 and a half year old daughter named Pamela Rebecca Cooper.  He senses that this girl must be his child because she is named after his sister and his mother.  At the end of the season, when Afton realizes that Cliff has been snooping around to prove his paternity, she flees Dallas with her daughter, with Cliff giving chase.

More than any other time in "Dallas" history, we root for Cliff to have a happy ending during these two seasons.  He makes dramatic strides towards growing up and has finally become a man that his sister can be proud of.  Cliff is no longer as self-centered or narcissistic as he once was.  He is a flawed, but sincere and caring individual.  Ken Kercheval gave some of his best performances as Cliff during this period of the show.  He brought out unexpectedly touching nuances to a character that had, only a short time earlier, grown tiresome, annoying and repetitive.  Cliff and JR don't really interact much during this time on the series, and this allows Cliff an opportunity to develop beyond being a mere foil or plot device for the show.  For once, Cliff is somebody that the audience actually cares about and does not want to see bad things happen to him.  During these seasons, he is no longer a comic figure of ridicule.  I particularly like how Cliff and Bobby have become good friends, after they had been adversarial brothers-in-law for years.  Which is why it's so perplexing that the creators of the new "Dallas" have decided to do a 180 on Cliff and bring him back to the series as a vengeful character who ruthlessly uses his grown daughter Pamela Rebecca and his nephew Christopher as pawns in his scheme to destroy JR and the Ewings.

In the new series, he has Pamela Rebecca pose as another girl in order to trick Christopher into marrying her so that she will be strategically placed in the Ewing family to help initiate and execute his intricate plans for revenge.  This completely contradicts the genuine love he expresses for his daughter and his nephew, as well as the respect and friendship he has forged with Bobby, on the original series.  Even though Cliff and the Ewings would continue to have a few more scrapes with each other in the remaining two years of the original "Dallas," nothing that occurred between then and now would have prepared the audience for how evil and hateful Cliff has now become.  As much as I admire the new "Dallas," this regression in the Cliff character is one of the reasons why I can't fully appreciate the show.  When the 2nd season for the new "Dallas" premieres next month, they will have to explain what has happened to Cliff in the last 20 years that would make him resume his venomous hatred for the Ewings.  Otherwise, I'll be inclined to write off the new "Dallas" as another one of Pam's season-long dreams. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Diary of a "Gosford Park" Chambermaid

One of my favorite movies I never tire of watching is Robert Altman's "Gosford Park" (2001).  Even though I've said for years that Altman's "Nashville" (1975) is my favorite movie (and that hasn't changed), I sometimes think that "Gosford Park" might be an even better film.  It's the story about the interrelationships between wealthy Britons and their servants who are at an English country estate for a shooting party weekend, and what happens to them when a murder takes place.  But it is much more than that.  It truly is a multi-layered character study where you can pick up new nuances and meanings with each viewing.  What's interesting is how my perceptions of its characters have either changed or deepened through the years.  Because screenwriter Julian Fellowes appears to have personal experience, from his upbringing, with the sorts of characters from the English upper and servant class being portrayed, "Gosford Park" turns out to be a much more compassionate, though no less satirical or trenchant, than Altman's other films.  It's not as cynical or misanthropic about humanity as Altman's other films because Fellowes makes sure that the movie plays fair with its characters.  You've got upper class characters (such as Jeremy Northam's Ivor Novello and Charles Dance's Lord Raymond Stockbridge) who have decent qualities, as well as servants (such as Adrian Scarborough's complaining and back-stabbing Barnes, valet to Tom Hollander's hapless Commander Anthony Meredith) who are actually venal and devious people.  But my favorite character is Emily Watson's sullen, sexy, and sympathetic head housemaid Elsie.

Elsie has been working for the hosts of the shooting party weekend, Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon) and his shallow wife Lady Sylvia (Kristin Scott Thomas) at their estate called Gosford Park for several years.  She has been having an affair with Sir William for quite some time, and finds herself frequently defending the unrefined and unsympathetic Sir William whenever people disparage him in her presence.  Sir William is all things to all people, but somehow Elsie brings out the best in him.  Elsie acknowledges at one point, after Sir William has been murdered, "I didn't love him.  I didn't mind him, but...I liked the way he talked.  He only talked to me because he was sick of her (Lady Sylvia) but I liked it.  He used to say to me I could be anything I wanted as long as I wanted it enough....What did he used to say?  'Carpe Diem.'  Seize the day."  It's because of this that Elsie has a healthy self-respect and self-confidence that many of the other servants do not have about themselves.  She does not base her self-worth on her employer's social standing.  When one of the other servants proudly quotes her employer by saying "Lady Lavinia says a woman who travels with no maid has lost her self respect.  She calls it 'giving in'" Elsie defiantly responds by saying "I don't have a maid.  I haven't given in."  When the other servant says "That's different," Elsie challenges her by asking "Why?"  To Elsie, working for the McCordle's is just a job until she figures out what she plans to do the rest of her life.  It's not a way of life as it is for the other servants.  She is someone who has not bought into her country's class system.

As such, Elsie's sympathies are not cut purely across class lines.  Elsie serves as a confidante to Lord William and Lady Sylvia's vulnerable young daughter Isobel (Camilla Rutherford), who is being blackmailed by the treacherous unemployed banker Freddie Nesbitt (James Wilby) over an undisclosed secret that Isobel doesn't want her father to find out about.  Similarly, Elsie comforts Freddie's seemingly meek wife Mabel (Claudie Blakley) after she walks in on a particularly ugly scene where Freddie degrades and denigrates Mabel.  After Freddie leaves the room, Elsie gives Mabel a handkerchief to wipe away her tears and helps Mabel look presentable before she joins the other guests at the formal dinner downstairs.  The interesting aspect to Elsie's character is that, unlike the other servants, she's not friendly with these women because she's trying to score points with people in the upper class.  She's friendly with them because she likes them personally, not based on what social strata they represent, and she proves to be a source of comfort for both of them.  Similarly, she has little respect for Lady Sylvia's own lady's maid Lewis (Meg Wynn Owen) because Lewis has no life of her own, spends far too much time kissing up to Lady Sylvia, and is precisely the sort of servant whose self-worth is based on who her employer is.  At one point, Elsie says "Why do we spend our lives living through them?  I mean, look at poor old Lewis.  If her own mother had a heart attack, she'd think it was less important than one of Lady Sylvia's farts."

In essence, Elsie looks at the character of the person she befriends or disdains, not their social status.  She immediately befriends Mary Maceachran (Kelly Macdonald), the naive but extremely perceptive lady's maid to the snooty Constance, Countess of Trentham (Maggie Smith), and the two become good friends and confidantes within a short amount of time.  Elsie gives Mary insight into the lives of the upper class characters they work for, as well advises her on the structured class system that the servants abide by below stairs, so that the young girl can develop survival instincts on how to best navigate the challenges of her job.  I enjoy the genuine camaraderie that Emily Watson and Kelly Macdonald have in this movie.  Watson brings an insolent wisdom to Elsie that is incredibly winning, and Macdonald is very touching and sincere as Mary.  Their friendship that develops while being roommates during the course of the several days that the storyline of "Gosford Park" spans reminds me a great deal of the friendship between Joan Prather and Annette O'Toole's beauty contestants in Michael Ritchie's "Smile" (1975), which I have already blogged about.  As with Prather and O'Toole's friendship in that earlier movie, you hope that the Elsie/Mary friendship continues long after this movie ends.  Just like Joan Prather was the main character in "Smile," Kelly Macdonald's Mary is ultimately the main character in "Gosford Park" amidst the gallery of characters all housed under one roof despite the fact that most critics tend to overlook both actresses/characters when the write about both movies.  And just like Annette O'Toole proved to be a good foil for Prather in "Smile" and helps her understand the pitfalls of competing in a beauty contest, Elsie proves to be a good mentor for Mary and helps the young girl develop the self-confidence she needs to hold her own during her stay in Gosford Park.  The Elsie/Mary scenes prove to be the heart and soul of "Gosford Park."

Just as Joan Prather comforted Annette O'Toole in "Smile" when she does not win any preliminary prizes on the first night of the beauty contest, the naive Mary is concerned for Elsie's welfare after the more worldly young woman is fired after defending Sir William at the dinner table when Lady Sylvia insults him in front of the other guests.  Despite Elsie saying she didn't love Sir William, I think she did indeed care about him deeply because she was always sticking up for him with the other servants.  She's one of the few characters (Lady Stockbridge, with whom William had long-lasting feelings with, is the other) who is genuinely saddened after Sir William is murdered.  Many of the other characters are pleased by Sir William's death because it serves their self-interest, but Elsie cared about him unselfishly.  Even the snooty Lady Constance recognizes Elsie's sincerity when she observes, "Aw, it's a pity, really.  I thought it was a good idea to have someone in the house who is actually sorry he's dead."  Despite her wary skepticism, Elsie is a good person who deserves a happy ending in the film.  That's why it's so satisfying when Hollywood-loving film buff Elsie ("I only cut it out for Garbo.  I prefer the American stars.  I think they've got more oomph") gets asked at the end of the movie by Hollywood producer Morris Weissman (Bob Balaban) if she needs a ride into London in his car.

Weissman came to Gosford Park to do research as he prepares to produce "Charlie Chan in London."  Throughout the movie, we hear about his casting problems when he makes transatlantic phone calls to Hollywood.  Moments before he asks Elsie if she needs a lift, he states that the studio will allow him to cast anyone he wants, even an unknown, to play the English maid in the movie.  We immediately infer that Weissman's invitation to give Elsie a lift is not a come on (he's gay) but to seriously consider giving the unknown and inexperienced English girl a chance to come to Hollywood and become a movie star.  Elsie's discovery reminds me of Barbara Harris's discovery at the end of Altman's own "Nashville."  Just as Elsie's discovery came about due to the death of Sir William, in "Nashville" Harris's Albuquerque is discovered as a new singing star after the reigning queen of country music Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakley) has been assassinated while performing at a political rally.  Both characters are working class women who unexpectedly get a chance to prove themselves and we are glad to see them make it.  Elsie richly deserves this opportunity, especially since Elsie is rescuing Sir William's unloved dog Pip by taking him with her when she leaves.  She realizes that Weissman's offer is the opportunity to improve her life that Sir William always encouraged her to recognize and make the most of.  Because the real-life movie "Charlie Chan in London" featured a British actress named Elsa Buchanan who played the maid and who worked in movies throughout the 1930s, we can infer that Elsie did indeed go to Hollywood and have a career in movies.  The irony is that her imminent success in Hollywood is a tribute to the much-hated Sir William, as his mentoring and positive influence on Elsie proves to be one of his few redeeming qualities.  It's because of these subtle and richly layered nuances, which only become apparent after repeat viewings, that "Gosford Park" remains as eminently watchable as ever. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Grateful Acknowledgement to "TCM Remembers"

Turner Classic Movies has released its annual "TCM Remembers" tribute to film professionals who died during the calendar year of 2012.  You can see it here.  As I have mentioned before on this blog, my own father died last month.  The reason I mention it again is because, more than ever, I realize the importance of acknowledging the presence and contributions of people who are no longer with us.  I have always admired the "TCM Remembers" tributes much more than the annual Oscar "In Memoriam" segments during the Academy Awards ceremony because "TCM" Remembers" tends to be very inclusive in terms of who gets acknowledged.  I remember being heartened at how, in 2008, TCM included such names as Vampira ("Plan 9 from Outer Space"), Hazel Court ("Premature Burial," "The Masque of the Red Death" and "The Raven"), Julie Ege ("On Her Majesty's Secret Service," "Creatures the World Forgot" and "Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires"), and Roberta Collins ("The Big Doll House," "Caged Heat," and "Death Race 2000")--all cult movie stars dear to the hearts of us film aficionados, but who you don't really expect the Academy to acknowledge.  I recall that the esteemed Lois Nettleton--whose film credits include "Period of Adjustment" (1962), "Come Fly With Me" (1963), "Mail Order Bride" (1964), "The Good Guys and the Bad Guys" (1969), "Dirty Dingus Magee" (1970), "The Man in the Glass Booth" (1975), Wes Craven's "Deadly Blessing" (1981), and "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" (1982)--was excluded from the Academy Awards "In Memoriam" tribute for 2008, but was included in the "TCM Remembers" tribute reel for that same year.  TCM seems to have a more consistent, logical standard with which they choose who gets included in their annual tributes.  Even if they can't include everyone who may have worked in the movies who died in a calendar year, they at least try to cast as wide a net as possible.  The Academy seems much more random and arbitrary in terms of their selections.

I was already troubled by the Academy's "In Memoriam" the year they excluded Dorothy McGuire and Peggy Lee, but included the tragic singer Aaliyah, who had only recently died in a plane crash.  In 2010, I was reminded of their strange standard of review when Michael Jackson's death was acknowledged, but Farrah Fawcett's was not.  The reason they gave was that Fawcett was better known for her television work and that they would leave it up to the Emmys to acknowledge her.  If that's the case, then Michael Jackson should have been excluded as well, and left up to the Grammys to remember him, because he was better known for his music than for anything he did in the movies.  Fawcett was indeed known for her TV work, but she also appeared in such feature films as Claude Lelouch's "Love is a Funny Thing" (1969) with Jean-Paul Belmondo; Myra Breckinridge" (1970); "Logan's Run" (1976); "Somebody Killed Her Husband" (1979); "Sunburn" (1979); "Saturn 3" (1980) directed by Stanley Donen; "The Cannonball Run" (1981); "Extremities" (1986); "See You in the Morning" (1989); "Man of the House" (1995) with Chevy Chase; Robert Duvall's acclaimed "The Apostle" (1997); and Robert Altman's "Dr. T and the Women" (2000).  Fawcett more than qualified to be included in that year's Academy Awards "In Memoriam" section.

It's been said before, but I'll say it again:  the Academy wastes precious air time with dumb musical numbers and comedy routines that no one really wants to see.  I would prefer it if they got rid of those sections and added more minutes to the "In Memoriam" section so that it could be more comprehensive and inclusive than it is now.  I realize that the Academy Awards are purportedly about celebrating excellence (ahem) in the cinema, but when it comes to the "In Memoriam" section, they really need to keep a more open mind about including people who may not be as acclaimed or as popular or as famous as the people they tend to choose.  There are a lot of professionals, in front of and behind the cameras, who have built careers in both films AND television.  It's an industry where the two mediums enjoy a very symbiotic relationship.  And just because a person found more success in one medium doesn't negate their contributions in the other.  I just feel that the decision-making process that the Academy chooses is far too arbitrary to be accurately representative of the kinds of people who have made contributions to the movies.  I don't expect them to ever really change their policy on this issue, so that's why I'm glad TCM continues to do a good job with their "TCM Remembers" tributes.  Sometimes, I feel TCM gets a little overrated by us movie aficionados because it is simply a repository of movies in their catalogue that they run in rotation.  And, as much as I like Robert Osborne as well, I think we also overrate him a little because of his role in hosting the programming on that channel.  As knowledgeable as he is, he didn't actually make the movies he introduces.  I get the feeling people forget that distinction when they praise both him and that channel.  But, at the end of the day, I still love them because they actually show respect and acknowledgement to us movie aficionados, as reflected in their attention to detail when they put together tributes such as "TCM Remembers."  TCM actually honors those of us who are film aficionados, rather than the Academy, which simply honors themselves.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Heart, Humor and Humanity of "The Phil Silvers Show"

One of my favorite TV shows is the classic "The Phil Silvers Show" that aired on CBS from 1955 to 1959.  I caught up with it in the mid-1990s due to frequent airings of it on Comedy Central and TV Land.  I wish more than one season of the show would be released on DVD, as I never tire of watching the antics of Phil Silvers as Master Sergeant Ernie Bilko and the many schemes he concocts at Fort Baxter in order to make life more enjoyable for himself and his men.  One of the aspects of the show I enjoy the most is his adversarial relationship with his Commanding Officer, Colonel Hall (Paul Ford).  The hapless Colonel Hall is always at wits end trying to put an end to Bilko's numerous schemes and activities.  But what makes the episodes so funny is that there is no underlying hostility between Bilko and Hall.  Beneath it all is some genuine caring and affection and no episode exemplifies this better than "The Colonel's Reunion" which aired February 17, 1958.

We open the episode with Colonel Hall initiating "Operation Moonbeam," an enterprise to end Bilko's gambling operations on Fort Baxter.  Hall and his subordinate Captain Barker (Nick Saunders) successfully undermine Bilko's attempts to run a casino in his office, in a kitchen, in a gas chamber, and in a shower.  Bilko is so flustered by the success of Hall's operation that he endeavors to get Colonel Hall away from Fort Baxter for the upcoming weekend so that he and his men can gamble on base unencumbered.  When Bilko learns that a reunion of Colonel Hall's military academy regiment is occurring that weekend in Chicago, he coerces retired General Bertram Whitney (Howard St. John), head of Consolidated Industries and the host of the reunion, into inviting Colonel Hall and his wife to the reunion.  Bilko sends a telegram, using Colonel Hall's name, to General Whitney indicating that the Colonel intends to visit him this coming weekend.  The snooty General and Mrs. Whitney, who felt the Halls were beneath their social strata to ever consider having at the reunion, reluctantly send an invitation to the unsuspecting Halls.  The Whitneys think so little of the Halls that they decide to house them in the tiny maid's room that does not even have a closet.  Colonel Hall is touched at the notion that General Whitney might have remembered him well enough to invite him, and is excited at the prospect of seeing his former classmates (all of whom, except for Hall, have risen to the level of General) again.  Colonel Hall, realizing that Bilko will take advantage of his absence and allow gambling at Fort Baxter, orders Bilko and Private Paparelli (Billy Sands) to accompany him and Mrs. Hall on the trip as their drivers.

After Bilko and Paparelli drop the Halls at General Whitney's residence, they overhear the General and his wife speaking derisively about Colonel Hall and his wife.  Bilko becomes incensed at hearing the Whitneys mocking Colonel Hall's intellectual acumen and Mrs. Hall's simple wardrobe.  Filled with contrition because he has created a situation that could lead to the Hall's humiliation, Bilko decides to trick the Whitney's into thinking that the Halls are much more prestigious than they have given them credit for being.  Bilko returns to the residence later, dressed in a trenchcoat playing "Secret Agent X-43," to notify General Whitney that Colonel Hall is spearheading "Operation Moonbeam," a top-secret project to establish American supremacy in Outer Space.  "Agent X-43" describes to General Whitney how Colonel Hall used to debate physics with Einstein at Princeton, which causes General Whitney to regret ever calling Colonel Hall by his old military academy nickname "Melonhead."  He scolds General Whitney for ever thinking of Colonel Hall as stupid, "By George, if we had all listened to John Hall, we would've been on the moon two years ago!"  All of this causes General Whitney to also regret putting the Halls in the maids room and he promises "Agent X-43" that he will move them to larger quarters immediately.

Later, Bilko returns disguised as the fictitious Parisian fashion editor "Pierre Boudoir" to speak with Mrs. Whitney.  "Pierre Boudoir" asks for Mrs. Whitney's permission to use a photograph of her home on the cover of the French fashion magazine "Chic."  He informs Mrs. Whitney that it was Mrs. Hall who suggested he put her home on his magazine, and that Mrs. Hall is known in Paris as a fashion trendsetter nicknamed "Frou-Frou."  He extols the virtues of Mrs. Hall's fashion sense and tells Mrs. Whitney that "She will wear my gorgeous creations once and then Poof!...tomorrow she gives it away to a chambermaid or somebody...She is what you Americans call very generous."  He extracts a promise from Mrs. Whitney that no one will copy the dress he has designed for Mrs. Hall to wear that evening, because it will not reach American shores for at least a year.

Bilko's scheming works and Colonel and Mrs. Hall become the hit of the party.  They arrive at the reunion with the status-conscious Whitneys leading the other guests in a performance of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow."  The other Army Generals try to extract information from Colonel Hall about "Operation Moonbeam" to which the unsuspecting Colonel Hall says "Well, it was nothing, really.  I just don't like gambling!"  One of the Generals responds "And you're so's suicide gambling with our National Security!"  Meanwhile, the smooty, fancy women at the party fawn over Mrs. Hall's low-key dress to such a degree that she promises to send Mrs. Whitney one just like it once she returns to Fort Baxter.  Mrs. Whitney boasts to the other women "I'm lucky!...Usually the chambermaid gets it!"  Bilko's scheme works almost too well when he later learns that General Whitney offered Colonel Hall a high paying (for 1958-- $25,000 a year!) executive position with Consolidated Industries.  Bilko, realizing that Colonel Hall does not have the business acumen to make a success of the offer (nor does he want to take the time to "break in" another Commanding Officer that he can easily manipulate), talks loudly to Paparelli about his plans to turn Fort Baxter into a full-time gambling casino for Colonel Hall to overhear.  Hall decides not to take the job offer, "Bilko, I'm not going to stand by and let a camp belonging to the United States Army be taken over by a mafia in khaki!...The (job) opportunity can wait.  Fort Baxter is more important to me at the moment.  It isn't much, Bilko, but I love that camp!  And I'm not going to let you turn it into a carnival ground!"  And so ends another brilliant episode of "The Phil Silvers Show."

The episode is notable because Bilko uses his manipulative ways to help, rather than hinder, Colonel Hall.  When Bilko learns that General Whitney did not initially invite Colonel Hall to the regiment reunion, he becomes indignant, not merely because it interrupts his gambling operations, but also because he disdains the snobbery the Whitneys have for the Halls.  Bilko might take advantage of Colonel Hall's dim-witted nature to his own advantage, but he actually seems to like the Colonel and his wife and would never intentionally degrade, humiliate or condescend to them.  They might be adversaries for control of Fort Baxter, but Bilko's actions in this episode indicate that he ultimately respects Colonel Hall, if not necessarily as his Commanding Officer, then at least as a fellow human being.  I believe the inherent decency in Bilko is what endears him to audiences.  His scheming never becomes annoying or off-putting because it is all done in good fun.  His rebellion against Colonel Hall is not a rebellion against the United States or the Army, but merely against boredom and complacency at Fort Baxter.  I think Bilko is a character who still takes a lot of pride in serving his country and, in the end, I also believe he grudgingly respects Colonel Hall, and the authority he represents as his Commanding Officer, even if he doesn't necessarily always abide by it.  Phil Silvers is smart enough to realize that Bilko's schemes remain endearing because he never forgets to instill heart, as well as humor, to this character.  So that's why it's particularly satisfying in "The Colonel's Reunion" episode to see Bilko use his talents for the force of "good," so to speak, when he fools the pompous Whitneys into believing that the Halls are more prestigious than they are.  Phil Silvers is absolutely brilliant in this episode when he plays "Agent X-43" and "Pierre Boudoir."  You find yourself rooting for him as he lays the groundwork for the comeuppance of the Whitneys and the validation of the Halls.

But the scheme wouldn't be as satisfying if Paul Ford and Hope Sansberry were not so sympathetic as the Colonel and his wife.  What makes the Halls so likeable is the fact that Ford and Sansberry never come across as overly stuffy authority figures on "The Phil Silvers Show."  Ford has a good natured warmth about himself as Colonel Hall that you always feel for him whenever Bilko outwits him.  And Sansberry never allows Mrs. Hall to come across as cold or uptight.  She is always endearing and sweet.  The two of them are wonderful together, especially in the scene where they are nervous right before they make their entrance at the reunion.  Colonel Hall feels intimidated because his former classmates have all exceeded him professionally, and Mrs. Hall is intimidated because of the simple dress she is wearing.  They needn't worry, because it's clear that they have more substance as human beings than the prestigious "posers" waiting in the other room.  I find the scene that follows where Whitney and the other Generals pump Colonel Hall for information on "Operation Moonbeam," while all the fancy women in attendance fawn over Mrs. Hall and her low-key dress, wonderfully gratifying and endearing.  It is a rare moment for Colonel Hall and his wife to triumph and, what's admirable is that they don't allow this sudden popularity to go to their heads.  Even though they are excited and overwhelmed by the attention, they remain as humble as ever.  They were worthy of Bilko watching out for them.  I am also always touched by the earlier scene in this episode where Colonel Hall reacts excitedly like a kid at Christmas at receiving his invitation to the reunion.  Colonel Hall says to his wife, "I still can't believe it!  Nell, I didn't think General Whitney even remembered me!"  Mrs. Hall says supportively, "That's your whole trouble dear, you're always underestimating yourself.  Why shouldn't he remember you?"  Colonel Hall follows up with the heartbreaking "Nell, it'll be fun seeing the old gang again!"  You can tell that it means a lot to him to believe that General Whitney thought enough to invite him, and you do not look forward to the potential hurt and humiliation he will have to endure if he ever realizes the truth.  Thankfully, because of the heart and humanity of his greatest adversary, Master Sergeant Ernie Bilko, Colonel Hall doesn't have to. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

"Special Guest Star Tina Louise"

A couple of days ago I blogged about how I don't believe Morgan Fairchild ever got outside the box as an actress.  I gave examples of other actresses considered sex symbols who I felt had distinguished themselves at some stage of their careers with top-notch performances.  Among them was Tina Louise, who I have blogged about before and acknowledge is my favorite actress (and also acknowledge I'm not being objective when writing about her).  I felt like giving some examples of Ms. Louise's work through the years where I thought she challenged herself to rise beyond what was expected of her and created some interesting and unique characters.  Most of her best work as an actress were in the hour-long television dramatic guest appearances she made during her long career.  In these guest shots, Ms. Louise had a chance to play roles she normally was not offered in feature films.  Elizabeth Ashley once joked in her autobiography that guest-starring on television was the lowest gig imaginable for an actor because you usually just go in, hit your marks, have a couple of laughs, and then sit back and wait for the check to come in the mail.  Ashley made the joke self-servingly so that she could assert how she took those assignments more seriously than her peers, but she wasn't the only one who took advantage of such opportunities.  In my humble opinion, Tina Louise made guest-starring on television almost an art form.  She didn't just play "Tina Louise" in these roles--she brought nuance to each of these performances so that every one came across as a completely different individual from the other.

The first role that comes to mind when I think of Ms. Louise's TV guest appearances was her appearance on the "Kraft Suspense Theatre" episode entitled "The Deep End" which aired on NBC on January 2, 1964.  The episode opens at a lake where a blonde, shapely and youthful Lucille Benton (Ellen Burstyn then known as "Ellen McRae") is swimming.  Lucille is attacked and drowned by a mysterious scuba diving assailant.  Her death leads to an investigation spearheaded by smooth private detective Dan Walsh (Clu Gulager), who is hired by Lucille's twin sister Barbara Sherwood (Burstyn again).  Dan's investigation leads him to Lucille's lover, financially troubled building contractor Sam Kimber (Aldo Ray).  Ms. Louise played Aldo Ray's cooly efficient, loyal secretary, Angie Powell.  Angie is a mysterious, prim and proper religious fanatic and psychopathic killer who believes that the Lucille "corrupted" her boss "Mr. Sam" (her nickname for him) into embezzling from his company and so Angie murdered Lucille as a result.  Angie will do everything necessary to eliminate those she believes will taint "Mr. Sam's" soul.  But what's interesting about the character is that she's not in love with nor sexually attracted to "Mr. Sam."  She simply idolizes him into being something that he is not.  When Angie realizes that "Mr. Sam's" accountant Gus Hickman (Whit Bissell) knows about her employer's embezzlement and threatens to expose him, she invites Gus to meet her at a construction sight late at night.  During their conversation, the madness of Angie's character slowly emerges.  She tells Gus, "I would've been proud to keep it (the embezzled money) for him if he'd asked me.  But he didn't.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that he must've given it to that woman (Lucille).  So I went to see her in the night...She tried to lie to me, but it didn't work.  She thought that you told me about the cash.  She said that you tricked her....I'm going to protect him with all my heart and with all my soul.  Do you think that I would let him run off with that immoral woman?  Do you think that I would let him run off alone with that money?  I'm going to protect him the rest of his life.  That woman would be alive today if you hadn't been so sneaky.  And'd be alive...tomorrow."  With that, Angie puts Gus into a chokehold and strangles him before putting his lifeless body in his car and setting it in motion so it can crash into the construction site, thus covering up her crime.  When she realizes that Gus is dead after she has strangled him, Angie has an almost vampire-like close-up as if she has been rejuvenated by her act of murder.

Rather than making flashy gestures, Ms. Louise was very subtle and subdued in playing this complex role.  Angie starts out the episode speaking in a very low, clipped, confident voice.  As the episode progresses, and her character's mind unravels, Angie's voice drops to almost a child-like innocence, a reflection of how she believes she has good intentions for "Mr. Sam" and is completely unaware of how homicidal she is.  You can tell that Ms. Louise is so engaged and committed to this character that she does not color in her trademark beauty mark on the left side of her face and allows the director to stage scenes on the right side of her face (which rarely occurs because, like Claudette Colbert, she is usually photographed from the other side for maximum visual impact).  Even though she looks fine in this episode, she's not at all concerned about appearing glamorous and wears very conservative suits and dresses throughout.  I also enjoy the contemptuous way Angie refers to Lucille and Barbara, Burstyn's dual characters in this episode, as "that woman."  The mildly annoyed tone she references Lucille and Barbara throughout the episode subtly suggests the extent to which she hates and despises both of Burstyn's characters.  At the end of the episode, Angie is apprehended and locked in a guarded, empty hospital room where she talks aloud in the direction of the locked door, as if she is speaking directly to "Mr. Sam."  It kind of reminded me of the ending of "Psycho."  She explains out loud why she must now punish his character as well, even though he is absent from that hospital room, and Ms. Louise's performance is chilling.  Angie's childlike feelings of disappointment and hurt towards "Mr. Sam" are sad, because we realize that he was much more corrupt than she ever realized.  In her own psychotic way, Angie had genuinely pure intentions, even if they were homicidal and destructive, and the tragic part is that "Mr. Sam" never deserved the level of loyalty she paid to him.  It's my all-time favorite performance of Ms. Louise's.  You can see that episode here on YouTube.

A couple of years later, Ms. Louise had a meaty, unglamorous role on the "Desperate Passage" episode of "Bonanza" which aired on NBC on November 5, 1967.  She played Mary Burns, a survivor of Paiute Native American attack on a Western town.  The Cartwrights discover both her wandering deliriously in the streets, as well as a prisoner locked in the town's jail cell, Josh Tanner (Steve Forrest), who was arrested prior to the Paiute attack for a murder he was alleged to have committed.  The only witness who can exonerate him is Mary Burns, but Tanner forces Mary not to say anything to the Cartwrights or run the risk of revealing that they were adulterous lovers.  The noble Josh does not want Mary's reputation ruined if it becomes apparent that Josh shot the man he is accused of killing in self-defense because he burst into Mary's hotel bedroom while Josh and Mary were having an intimate moment.  Ms. Louise eschews the glamorous expectations people had of her (this was the very first role she did right after the cancellation of "Gilligan's Island") by wearing no makeup and playing Mary in a low-key, frightened and vulnerable manner.  Her love scenes with Steve Forrest are touching as both actors underscore the deep love and sense of urgency the characters feel for one another.  The episode ends on a bittersweet note, as Josh Tanner and the Cartwrights rescue Mary from being kidnapped form the Paiutes and Mary ends up reunited with her husband instead of the man she truly loves.  You can see it on YouTube here.

She next guest-starred as SIA government agent Anna Martine in an episode of "It Takes a Thief" entitled "Totally by Design" which aired February 20, 1968 on ABC.  In the episode, Robert Wagner's Al Mundy is assigned to break into an impenetrable Middle Eastern fortress in order to steal a bank book that could be used to help finance that nation's war against a neighboring country.  Ms. Louise's character is assigned to assist him in his efforts to gain entry to the stronghold.  We first see her character Anna Martine living in a werehouse across from the guarded fortress.  She explains to Al Mundy how she's carefully staked out the fortress and briefs him as to what she has already discerned about it.  What I liked about the episode was the assured way in which Ms. Louise played this character.  She rarely had chances in her career to play a Howard Hawks-type heroine.  In this show, Ms. Louise lowers her voice to a deep register to where she comes across as controlled, confident, and assured.  Her Anna Martine comes off as so firm, and no-nonsense that All Mundy even notes at one point "You shake hands like a man."  I particularly like the moment when she explains that her "cover" story for this assignment is as an agricultural research expert.  Mundy looks incredulous and asks her if she even knows anything on the subject, to which the non-plussed Anna Martine replies "I majored in it in college, that's why Noah set it up that way."  In Ms. Louise's hands, Anna Martine comes across as witty and attractive as well as being intelligent and capable.  She has good chemistry on-screen with Robert Wagner and it's evident the two of them enjoyed working together.  If anything, her "It Takes a Thief" performance makes you regret how Ms. Louise never got to be a Bond Girl.  She would have been a more ideal Tiffany Case in "Diamonds are Forever" (1971) than Jill St. John.

Ms. Louise soon followed that up with a guest appearance on "Ironside" in the episode "Beware the Wiles of the Stranger," which aired January 22, 1970 on NBC.  She played Candy, an accomplice in the robbery of an illegal gambing casino who is assigned to pose as a hitchhiker on the highway to find a patsy who she and her partner can murder and plant evidence on so that they can blame the robbery on the patsy.  She is picked up on the side of the road by Mark Sanger (Don Mitchell), the assistant to the show's Chief of Detectives Robert Ironside (Raymond Burr) who is driving north back to San Francisco after visiting family in the Southern California area.  Candy's assignment is to make her presence conspicuous at all roadside stops that she and Mark make so that her accomplice Fred (John Ericson) can easily catch up with and find them.  Fred plans to kill Mark and leave his body with enough evidence to mislead the mobsters in charge of the illegal gambling casino, who are out to retrieve the money Candy and Fred robbed.  A complication in the storyline arises when Candy finds herself attracted to Mark and tries to get him out of the predicament that she has gotten him into.  What's interesting about the episode is that, underneath the robbery storyline, is a subtext about an interracial relationship as the African American Mark and the Caucasian, red haired Candy have real chemistry and rapport with each other.  Whenever they make a stop, the locals eye them suspiciously as Candy and Mark ignore the glares and simply enjoy each other's company.  There's even a scene where Candy and Mark are refused separate rooms at the third motel they've visited that evening.  No explanation is given by the proprietor why they've been refused and none is needed.  In yet another scene, Mark and Candy are at a coffee shop waiting an inordinate amount of time to be served.  The waitresses ignore them and serve the other customers.  Candy goes over to counter, picks up the coffee decanter, and serves she and Mark while the others watch, indignant at her boldness.  What's refreshing about the episode is that it never gets preachy about race relations and simply allows the story speak for itself.  Don Mitchell and Ms. Louise play off one another well.  They seem like a natural couple together.  Ms. Louise effectively conveys Candy's contrite humility later in the episode after she realizes she likes Mark and regrets getting him involved in her scheme.  Unfortunately, the dictates of the crime storyline prevent a satisfactory resolution to the Candy/Mark relationship.  The episode ends with Mark receiving in the mail a fancy pair of bell-bottom trousers from Candy to make amends for the trouble she has caused him.  There is no final scene between Mark and Candy to indicate where their relationship might go, now that the crisis has been resolved.  Even though the "Ironside" episode tread new ground for television in 1970, by clearly depicting a romantic attraction between a black man and a white woman, it still wasn't ready to see its themes through to a proper resolution.  That episode is available on Hulu here.

Ms. Louise gave one of her best performances a few years later in the "Die Before They Wake" episode of "Kojak" that aired on CBS on February 6, 1974.  The storyline involved Kojak's investigation into a prostitution/narcotics ring run by sleazy Harris Yulin.  When Yulin murders a crusading television reporter who is dedicated to uncovering this racket, Kojak must protect the reporter's young widow (Jess Walton), a former junkie herself who is out to avenge her husband's murder.  Ms. Louise played Audrey Norris, a pathetic, strung out heroin addict who helps Yulin recruit girls for his prostitution ring.  Ms. Louise plays Audrey as a sad, lonely soul.  Early in the episode, she asks Yulin if the two of them are arguing because he doesn't spend time with her anymore.  Yulin makes lame excuses about being busy and Ms. Louise awkwardly smiles and attempts to put on a good face knowing full well that he has no longer has any sexual or romantic interest in her.  She effectively conveys Audrey's embarrassment at being rejected by her former lover.  She's also very good in her two scenes with Telly Savalas's Kojak.  In the first scene, Kojak visits her apartment seeking information about her former roommate, who was murdered after acting as an informant to the reporter, while Audrey is high on dope.  Ms. Louise plays Audrey as withdrawn and emotionally dead underneath the drug-induced haze in this scene.  She effectively conveys how Audrey doesn't care enough about herself to be concerned whether Kojak is going to bust her for using drugs.

Later, at the end of the episode, Ms. Louise and Savalas have a powerful moment where Kojak confronts Audrey concerning the whereabouts of Jess Walton's character.  He lays out what a lie her life has become because she has medicated herself from the pain of her empty existence, and how her cohorts will quickly wash their hands of her and let her rot in jail before they even admit they know her.  Ms. Louise conveys Audrey's sadness and humiliation in this scene beautifully.  It is not simply that Ms. Louise allows herself to look "ugly" by wearing little makeup, and keeping her hair in disarray.  She also conveys Audrey's emotional and physical fragility in the way she shakes nervously, hyperventilates, and clings desperately to the lit cigarette in her right hand.  Audrey's at the end of her ropes and the only way she can turn her life around is to come clean and provide Kojak the information he needs to put the people who turned her into a junkie away.  At the end of the scene, after Audrey has helped Kojak, he kisses her hand and says his trademark "Who loves ya?"  Ms. Louise allows Audrey a faint, hopeful smile at the end, an indication that someone has finally broken through to her protective, medicated shell by simply expressing basic human decency to her.  That episode is available on here.

Ms. Louise soon followed that up with another good part on the series "Movin' On" starring Claude Akins and Frank Converse as a pair of independent truckers hauling freight across the country.  In the episode "The Cowhands," which aired October 24, 1974 on NBC, Ms. Louise played Helen Trueblood, the ex-wife of rodeo owner/rider Tommy Trueblood (Glenn Corbett).  Akins' Sonny is old friends with the Truebloods and offers to help keep the rodeo operational after Tommy has been badly injured after being thrown off a rodeo bronco.  Helen owns half the circus with Tommy since the judge granted it to her in their divorce, as well as collects $500 a month in alimony from him, so she has a vested interest in seeing the rodeo prosper.  Sonny and Helen, old sweethearts, clash throughout the episode because of her ruthless self-interest.  When Helen collects her $500 alimony from the till before the rodeo has paid its financial obligations, she and Sonny argue bitterly about it, "Now what's mine is mine!  Now that $500 is mine, and you can't take that away from me, the court gave it to me!...I don't have any obligations to anybody!  Now Tommy Trueblood owes me $500 a month, and he's gonna owe me till the day he dies!  And I ain't ever gonna let him forget it, and don't you forget it either!...That is his problem, not mine!  Listen, if you don't like it, you know what you can do about it.  And if you really want your money, you better pray for a miracle at the box office, 'cause after I collect this month's alimony I'm standin' right here to collect next months!"  But it's not all bitterness and bickering between Helen and Sonny.  Akins and Ms. Louise have a sweet scene by a roadside after Helen has angered Sonny to such a degree, he and Will (Converse) have left in their rig.  She follows him in her car until he finally stops and she recalls their long-ago feelings for one another, "You remember Cheyenne?...It was when Tommy was still thought of a star.  Remember we had a little money then?  That was before the first divorce.  Did you ever know why...why the divorce?...Tommy thought I was crazy about you, because we danced 51 dances in two nights.  Did you ever know that?...And he sat there, and he drank.  Did you ever know that?  And he was right, I was (crazy about you)."

The "Movin' On" episode is unique because it's a very character, rather than plot, driven storyline.  There are no criminals nor villains who need to be captured or defeated in the storyline.  This allows Ms. Louise to create a three-dimensional character who is not a plot device for the episode.  In her hands, Helen Trueblood comes across as a determined, essentially good-hearted woman who has been disappointed enough in life that she now jealously guards her financial future at the expense of others.  At the end of the episode, Helen is reunited with her injured ex-husband, who pulled himself out of the hospital bed to ride in the rodeo after the defection of the star attraction.  Ms. Louise and Glenn Corbett have genuine chemistry playing a couple who have been through enough conflicts and reunions in their lifetimes that they understand each other completely.  The tenderness in their scenes make them seem like a real married couple, not just a pair of actors pretending to be one.  By the early 1970s, Holywood was moving away from glamorous actors in feature film roles.  Earthier actors such as Karen Black, Ellen Burstyn, and Susan Anspach dominated the cinema.  Ms. Louise admirably dresses down for this performance.  She pulls her trademark red hair into a pony tail and wears minimal makeup so that her natural freckles show.  She lowers her voice into a deep register to emphasize the maturity and gravitas of her character.  Her performance in this episode proves her range was not limited to glamour-girl roles on TV.  At the end of the episode, she gives Akins's Sonny the money that her ex-husband's rodeo owes him out of her alimony money.  She apologizes and thanks Sonny by hugging him and saying "Thanks big buddy.  Sorry I was so uptight.  I get scared."  It's a simple moment and a simple line of dialogue, but the affection and contrite humility Ms. Louise conveys in that brief moment speaks volumes.  This episode is also on Hulu here.

The following year, Ms. Louise played Nell Dexter, a determined LAPD police detective, in an episode of "Cannon" that aired November 19, 1975 on CBS.  Nell Dexter is the daughter of a veteran police officer who was once Frank Cannon's (William Conrad) partner and training officer.  She has followed in her late father's footsteps, but has been relegated into posing as prostitutes while working on the Vice Squad.  Nell sees an opportunity to get out of Vice when she is attacked by a john she has picked up who played the Wedding March on a tape recorder right before he brutally assaults her.  She notices that there has been a series of brutal attacks and killings of prostitutes by a john who plays the Wedding March and realizes that she is on the trail of a serial killer.  When her own police captain (Vic Tayback) refuses to re-assign her to Homicide to investigate the case, she seeks the assistance of Frank Cannon to help catch the killer.  At one point, when Cannon appears reluctant about encouraging Nell to investigate the case she reminds him that he was the cop who trained her when she was a rookie and that he once said "If you can't hack it, all of it, you don't belong.  That's what you used to tell me.  Well I've hacked it for years.  I belong!"  Like Anna Martine in "It Takes a Thief," Ms. Louise makes Nell Dexter intelligent and capable.  It's possible that she invested a lot into that character because she knew how it felt, as an actress, to be passed over for more substantial assignments and offered roles that relied heavily on her looks and not her abilities.  As such, Ms. Louise never short-changes the character and is always conscientious about ensuring that she comes across as a mature police officer.  The character is never shown as a sex object trading on her looks the way Angie Dickinson occasionally was relegated to playing on "Police Woman."

When it came time for Ms. Louise to appear on "Fantasy Island," she landed a good part.  She played the dual role of Lisa Corday, a woman who comes to Fantasy Island to find out what is the root of the nightmares she has been having for several months where she dreams she is locked in a room in a European castle.  Lisa learns from Mr. Roarke that she is the descendent of Elizabeth Bathory, a ruthless Hungarian countess known for slaying young girls and bathing in their blood in order to retain her beauty.  The nightmares Lisa is suffering from stem from the fact that Elizabeth's ghost is trying to reincarnate herself in the 20th Century by taking over Lisa's body.  Mr. Roarke reveals that he was once Elizabeth's lover centuries ago and vows to help Lisa fight to prevent Elizabeth from taking over her soul and coming back to life.  Ms. Louise does a good job in both roles.  She makes Lisa a sympathetic and believable protagonist while, at the same time, makes Elizabeth Bathory haughty, ruthless, charming, frightening so that they both come across as separate and distinct personalities.  She does not just walk through the episode with an eye towards collecting her paycheck.  Ms. Louise appears truly engaged by the storyline, especially during the confrontation Elizabeth has with Mr. Roarke at the end where she tries to convince him to allow her to take over Lisa's body and return to life.  She brings some pathos to the evil Elizabeth's plight of having her soul be in a state of limbo for centuries that she comes across as a tragic victim of her own ruthless desire for eternal youth.  It's actually one of the scarier episodes of "Fantasy Island."

Ms. Louise still played glamorous roles through the years that might, on the surface, be reminiscent of her "Gilligan's Island" Ginger Grant character, but she usually brought nuance to these later roles that distinguished them from what was expected of her.  One example was her role on "Blacke's Magic" on January 29, 1986 on NBC.  Ms. Louise played glamorous TV star Lainie Warde, working at Universal on a big-budget special effects epic when the producer of the film is found murdered at the studio.  The homicide is investigated by magician/amateur sleuth Alexander Blacke (Hal Linden) and his father Leonard Blacke (Harry Morgan) who are also working on the film.  Lainie recognizes that the movie is her last shot at becoming a major movie star.  She rejects the skimpy costumes and lascivious sex scenes being forced upon her by the producers as she battles her own drinking problems and insecurities.  By the end of the episode, she pulls herself together to help the Blacke's unmask the killer stalking the movie set.  Even though Lainie Warde could have been a caricatured parody of Hollywood actresses, Ms. Louise invests some heart and pathos into the character so that she has substance and does not come across as shallow or narcissistic.  She genuinely likes Alexander Blacke and appears to regain some self-respect when she helps the Blacke's solve the murder.  In the scene where she argues with the director about the trashy love scene that they have scripted for her to appear in, she plays it with intelligence and dignity so that Lainie does not come off sounding whiney.  Even when appearing in the sort of roles that are expected of her, Tina Louise still gives them more depth than is required.

In one of her last TV guest appearances before she refocused her priorities and began volunteering in the New York public school system reading to children, Ms. Louise guest-starred on the syndicated action series "L.A. Heat" in the episode "In Harm's Way" which aired May 19, 1999 on TNT.  She played Patricia Ludwigson, a ruthless criminal who has been robbing banks and armored cars with her grown son.  You'd have to go as far back to "Nightmare in Badham County" (1976) to see Ms. Louise playing such an unsympathetic character.  Her Patricia is cold, brutal, scheming.  There's very little that redeems her character, but Ms. Louise seems to be having a ball playing this role, whether it's scolding and needling at her son, threatening poor Billy Barty, or going down fighting in a hail of bullets while firing a sawed-off shotgun.  If she does nothing further in her acting career, Tina Louise went out auspiciously in a blaze of glory with this role.  By now, I think you get an idea of how Tina Louise made the most of the opportunities given to her in TV guest appearances and went for broke whenever she was offered something that might offer a challenge.  In contrast to Morgan Fairchild, she often went beyond what was expected of her as an actress so that many of the roles I just described came across as separate and distinct characters.  That's why, to me, the title card "Special Guest Star Tina Louise" at the opening of an hour-long dramatic series has always held the promise of something unexpected and surprising, no matter what the script.