Thursday, January 19, 2017

Logan's Run 40th Anniversary Blogging: "Capture" (September 30, 1977)

Oh no, it's yet another TV version of The Most Dangerous Game! 

We all know that story; it's the one where a hunter decides that the best prey is humankind and sets about hunting nice decent folk on his big estate. It's a great story, but it's also a science fiction TV cliche.

Going back to the beginning, in 1924, Richard Connell's story The Most Dangerous Game (also called The Hounds of Zaroff) appeared in Colliers. Connell's work told the tale of Sanger Rainsford, a hunter from New York stranded on the island home of General Zaroff and his minion, Ivan. 

Rainsford soon learned that Zaroff, also a hunter, had become tired of standard game. Now he only hunted human prey. Where did he get his game? Well, from stranded, ship-wrecked sailors. He often offered them a deal. If they could elude him for three days, they would be allowed to leave the island alive. If not, they would be killed.

The Most Dangerous Game was done as an episode of The Incredible Hulk on December 7, 1979 ("The Snare") and Space:1999 even took a kind of swipe at it called "Devil's Planet" during Year Two. Series such as Lost in Space and Gilligan's Island also broadcast variations of the oft-told tale.  

Well, I'm sure you know where this is goind. Logan's Run'third episode "Capture" is The Most Dangerous Game redux.

In "The Capture (written by Michael Richards and directed by Irving J. Moore), Francis -- a.k.a. the Hapless Pursuer -- finally captures Logan, Jessica and REM. 

It's not hard, since they're laying around by the shore of a lake taking it easy. 

Anyway, Francis plans to take the "criminals" back to the City of Domes. But soon they all run afoul of a married couple, James Borden (Horst Bucholtz) and Irene (Mary Woronov), who share an unhealthy passion for hunting. They've been hunting Runners lately (you can tell by their trophy board consisting entirely of Ankhs...), but now is their opportunity for some real prey: Sandmen. 

While Jessica is imprisoned on the grounds of the Borden estate, Logan and Francis are forced to work together to beat the hunter at his own game. This fact makes "Capture" both a Most Dangerous Game knock-off and a "My Enemy, My Ally Story...)

Meanwhile, Borden has planted all kinds of booby traps in the wilderness, including a pit, and a cage that materializes out of nowhere.

I have so many questions about this episode, I don't know where to begin them. Like, where do Irene and James get the power to run their house? A portable generator? That they got...where, exactly, in post-apocalyptic 23rd century Earth?

How is that they came to have this house and its collection of fine 17th-through-21st century weaponry in the first place?  Did they rob a museum?

How did they survive the war? 

Where did they come from, if not from the City of Domes, or one of the primitive settlements? 

I mean, they must have had parents, right? Then they must have met and married at some point? So where's their underlying social circle? Where were they educated in the history and use of these weapons?

There are no answers here.

Lastly, why does it seem that each Logan's Run episode has the budget for precisely two and no more than two "name" guest star villains. You'd think they'd do a better job of hiding that deficit, but in each story so far, we've gotten exactly two major guest roles/villains. In the pilot it was Siri and Draco. In "The Collectors" it was John and Joanna. Here, it's James and Irene.

I must also say, I'm really not impressed with the TV depiction of the Sandmen. Given their pedigree from the novel and the movie, you'd think they'd be impressive killers. Instead, this week they are easy prey. They fall into pits, get snared in cages, and only manage to survive the hunt at all because Francis is armed. Like the "Riders" segment of the pilot, there's a problem dramatically when gun play solves all the plot problems. Imagine if on Star Trek, a good blast from a phaser solved the dilemma every week. 

That's what it's like on Logan's Run, at least so far.

That said, I love the design of the Sandman flare gun (from the movie), and there are several wonderful close-up shots of the gun in action in this episode; flaring in all four quadrants of the nozzle. Very cool, but I would have preferred a solution that didn't again involve the winner possessing the superior weapon.

Much like "The Collectors,"  "Capture" feels as though the makers of this series don't know what the series is about. 

How realistic is it that a couple living alone in the woods in a post-apocalyptic society would be gun aficionados who want to hunt living prey? 

There's no underlying basis or reality (or history...) to these characters, so the whole story just seems ridiculous. Again, Logan's Run should be exploring a messed-up post-apocalyptic world, as Logan and Jessica grapple with the idea of starting over, of seeing what exists outside the Domed City. There could be all kind of savagery and weird civilizations out there, but so far we've seen androids, aliens and now mean hunters. That just doesn't feel right.

So not only is this story a formulaic one based on a frequently used source, it is one that makes next to no sense, given the "world" according to the series.

Next week: "The Innocent."

Cult-TV Movie Review: The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975)

Lizzie Borden took an axe. She gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.”

-- Old jump rope song.

“The story you are about to see is based largely on fact. It is considered one of the most infamous and bizarre murder cases of the past century.”

--Title card, The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975)

In Fall River, Massachusetts in August of 1892, a shocking murder occurs. The prime suspect is demure Sunday school teacher, Lizzie Borden (Elizabeth Montgomery) adult daughter of one victim, Andrew Borden (Fritz Weaver) and step-daughter of the other victim, Abby Borden (Helen Craig).

On initial interrogation at an inquest, Lizzie is unable to adequately explain the events of the day of the murder, and is held for trial. 

While in prison, however, Lizzie -- the so-called “sphinx of coldness” -- opens up emotionally to a reporter, and, thanks to the ensuing newspaper article, becomes a beloved celebrity. Some readers feel that she is an innocent woman, held wrongly, and the subject of a witch-hunt.

Others believe that Lizzie is a cold-blooded murderer.

Throughout the trial, Lizzie listens to and watches testimony about the crime, including that of expert witnesses, and the family maid, Bridget (Fionnula Flanagan). The prosecutor (Ed Flanders) is determined to see justice done, but after all the evidence is presented, Lizzie is found not guilty of the terrible crime.

“You’re special, and special people have always been misunderstood.”

The Legend of Lizzie Borden, based on a “true crime” story, is one of the most memorable TV-movies of the 1970s, for a few reasons.

First and foremost, the telefilm involves an endlessly fascinating subject: an unresolved murder case that became a national sensation. As recently as 2014, Lizzie Borden’s story was retold for modern audiences (Lizzie Borden Took an Ax).

And secondly, the film is buttressed by the surprising --  yet thoroughly committed -- central performance by Bewitched (1964-1972) star Elizabeth Montgomery (1933-1995) as the possible killer with ice water in her veins. 

Montgomery doesn’t showboat or over-act here, and there’s no trace at all of her Samantha Stephens persona.  Instead, Montgomery makes the most of a kind of inscrutable stone face -- and her penetrating eyes -- to leave audiences guessing about the truth.

Today, the telefilm might be judged an artistic success, as well, because of the ambiguous approach it adopts throughout. 

The Legend of Lizzie Borden follows, via sepia-tone title cards (the equivalent, essentially, of newspaper story headlines from Lizzie’s day), the progress of the criminal case. Section titles include “The Accusation,” “The Ordeal,” “The Trial,” “The Betrayal,” “The Trump Card,” and, finally, “The Verdict.”

In not one of these sections is the absolute truth ascertained, or revealed.

Early on, motives for the crimes are suggested. Was bad mutton broth the cause of some temporary insanity that affected the family, and especially Lizzie?  It's one possibility.

Some flashbacks also suggest an inappropriate relationship between Mr. Borden and Lizzie. Was he abusive to her, and was his brutal behavior the cause of Lizzie's retaliation?

And then, of course, there are other incidents brought up at trial, like the occasion in which Mr. Borden brutally murdered Lizzie’s pigeons. Also worthy of consideration is the fact that Lizzie’s stepmother, Abby, was, apparently, conniving to have Lizzie and her sister, Emma (Katherine Helmond) removed from their father’s will, essentially disinherited.

So far as Lizzie Borden’s guilt is concerned, in the telefilm provides no easy answer. And as she listens to and watches the witnesses in the court room, the film cuts to explicit imagery of how Lizzie could have committed the murders, and yet still had no blood stains on her clothes at the end of the day.  

Specifically, we see Lizzie stripping down nude, and committing bloody murder…twice. The criminal acts are filmed from cockeyed, exaggerated angles, which suggests how completely outside the norm they would be for someone in Lizzie’s shoes.  Also, it's worth noting that the corpses in the film are posed in positions very accurate to crime scene photographs of the murders. 

The question of ambiguity comes into play, however, more deeply in consideration of these "flashback" or "re-enactment" moments. Are we seeing what Lizzie did? Or are we seeing what Lizzie could have done, in the situation?  Are we witness to her her memories, or her fantasies?

I make that last point because it is noted in the film that Borden is “special,” and a “sphinx of coldness,” quite different from those around her. Is it possible that she possessed a dark side -- imagining such crimes -- but not a side so dark that she would commit murder?  The film’s approach allows us to consider both possibilities fully.

If Lizzie Borden did not commit these murders, then who did? 

What The Legend of Lizzie Borden does not do, one might note, is present any convincing alternate theory. Lizzie seems the only logical suspect.  I told my ten-year old son the story of the trial, and he immediately suggested that the murderer was Emma, Lizzie’s sister, who established an alibi of being out of town, in both the historical case and the film. Perhaps Lizzie was protecting her?  After all, Emma would have possessed at least one of the same motivations to kill as Lizzie did.

Of course, it’s all guess work. 

You can take a stab at puzzling it all out, but we are left, finally, with an acquittal and lots of questions. What the telefilm captures quite beautifully, I think, is the fickle nature of those “devouring” the Borden case as daily news, or recurring, soap opera gossip. One day Lizzie would be a cold-hearted villain hated by all. The next day she was a saint, and a national treasure. 

Clearly, one of those assessments was wrong.  

But which one?

You’ll get no answer from The Legend of Lizzie Borden, and that’s what makes this telefilm immortal. Lizzie could be America’s first celebrity sociopath, or simply a very private person caught up in a mess. Perhaps she was merely more assertive in her beliefs (and her defense of her prerogatives) than other women typically were at the time. But that doesn't make her a murderer. It makes her...ahead of her time. 

Montgomery’s performance walks a perfect line of strangeness in the telefilm, so that we can’t judge if Lizzie is simply weird for the time period (standing up for herself when wronged…an early feminist, perhaps), or strange in a way that made her dangerous and monstrous.

I'll be honest: before watching this TV-movie (for the first time in decades…) I had always blindly assumed Lizzie Borden’s guilt. The ubiquitous jump rope song about her doesn’t make any bones about her culpability, after all, right?

But after seeing the film again in 2017, I can’t help but second guess my first impulse. When Lizzie notes at the end of the film that she is free, "finally, really free," is she speaking of the end of the trial, or of the death of her parents? And even if she is speaking of the latter subject, does that make her a killer, or someone who just escaped an unpleasant home environment?

There is much to chew on here, in a 1970s TV-movie that actually lives up to the adjective “legendary.”

Cult-TV Movie Promo: The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Action Figure of the Week: Captain America (Mego)

Coloring Book of the Week: Captain America (Whitman)

GAF Viewmaster: Captain America

Halloween Costume of the Week: Captain America (Ben Cooper)

Model Kit of the Week: Captain America (Aurora)

Board Game of the Week: Captain America (Milton Bradley)

Lunch Box of the Week: Captain America