Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Isn't It Shocking? (1973)
This ABC made-for-TV movie, which aired in October of 1973, somehow got fixed in my mind as being on par with disturbing TV classics like Bad Ronald or The Cube. I am sorry to say that is not so.
Sure, there's a promising first sequence - which plays like something Avon Productions might have produced a few years later - in which an elderly man (Edmond O'Brien) breaks into an elderly woman's bedroom while she is sleeping, methodically applies lubricant to some metal paddles, turns on the connected machine, cuts open the poor old lady's nightdress with scissors, fries her naked ass (offscreen of course), munches contentedly on a candy bar while he stares down at her body in fascination, and then casually shuts his machine off. Alright, you have my attention.
Sadly, that's as good as it gets, folks. The rest of the piece has a different tone entirely: a local small-town sheriff Dan Barnes (Alan Alda, of all people) sneaks around with a motel manager in the next small town over, ducking her whenever she brings up either commitment or her children, moseying into work, cutting quips with his deputy or whoever she is (Louise Lasser), talking to locals. Old people start dying, most of them naked or shirtless in bed; eventually, Barnes realises something is up.
The ending tries to return to to something of that creepy feel at the films' outset, but unsuccessfully so - with spunky Ruth Gordon and O'Brien hamming it up and trying to convey a back-story that doesn't make much sense: she was carrying on with him like fifty years ago and was embarrassed by some friends seeing them naked together. No, he says, I was one of the people who saw you. Further, he says, I was engaged to you and you were naked with this other guy.
He's ostracized by the community ("they laughed me out of town") -- which makes sense because, after all, living in a small town, having your fiancée seen naked by a crowd of onlookers with a naked guy who is not you... apparently it was fine for her to continue living there but he had to skedaddle? Until decades later when he starts killing everyone concerned.
Alda's utterly ridiculous performance as the town sheriff culminates in his falling asleep right next to a room in which a murder is about to take place before being awoken in a blind panic when a cat jumps in his lap. Seriously. He then walks in on Gordon and O'Brien, hears their bizarro back-story, knows full well that he has the murderer in his presence, and keeps his gun trained at the floor the entire time - until O'Brien announces he is going to kill Alda, then starts getting electrocuting him (and yes, this is kind of funny). The sheriff immediately drops his gun, and nearly dies at the hands of this old man he completely had the drop on.