Friday, February 12, 2010

The Friday Night Late Movie: Robert Culp and Eli Wallach Face a Cold Night's Death

When a scientist is found dead at a remote Arctic research station, Frank Enari (Eli Wallach) and Robert Jones (Robert Culp) are sent to complete the high-altitude experiments on chimpanzees and monkeys. Strange events hamper the two from the beginning: an audio tape is mysteriously erased, the generator is turned off while they’re sleeping, their food supply is almost destroyed, and Jones is locked outside in the subzero temperature. Each man begins to suspect the other as the tension builds to an unexpected climax.

Essentially a two-character play, A Cold Night’s Death benefits from compelling performances from Culp and Wallach. Credit must also be given to Christopher Knopf’s clever script which portrays Jones and Enari as something of an odd couple. They almost act married at times: Enari divides up the chores and ends up cooking and cleaning while Jones performs the more “manly” task of shoveling snow to make water. The two scientists bicker almost constantly. When Enari thinks Jones is acting irrationally, he moves his bed to another room—the symbolic equivalent of making Jones sleep on the couch.

The confined sets, the dark hallways, and director Jerrold Freedman’s sometimes extreme camera angles create an atmosphere of uneasiness. Things don’t even look right at the Tower Mountain Research Station.

A Cold Night’s Death (aka The Chill Factor) was broadcast in the early 1970s during what I consider to be the “Golden Age” of made-for-television movies. It was shown on the ABC Movie of the Week, which consisted of 73-minute films of all genres. Although the casts were typically TV performers and the budgets were understandably modest, there were several memorable movies. To mention just a few: Bing Crosby starred in the disturbing Dr. Cook’s Garden; Jan-Michael Vincent was surprisingly good as a hippy Marine in Tribes; and a then-unknown director named Steven Spielberg made the offbeat chase thriller Duel.

6 comments:

  1. Rick, Maybe along with Duel ,the most well known film is Brian's Song with James Cann & Billy Dee Williams directed by Buzz Kulik in 1971

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  2. Don't forget THE NIGHT STALKER and TRILOGY OF TERROR! Plus, several popular TV series originated as pilots on the ABC MOVIE OF THE WEEK, to include STARSKY AND HUTCH, ALIAS SMITH AND JONES, and THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN. Then, there were critically acclaimed efforts like THAT CERTAIN SUMMER, HOW AWFUL ABOUT ALLAN, and THE POINT.

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  3. Hey Rick how about Clint Walker in Killdozer?

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  4. I've often wondered if KILLDOZER was somehow an inspiration for Stephen King's MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE.

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  5. "A Cold Night's Death" was an interesting little movie. The setting makes me chilly just thinking of it. I enjoyed your write-up, Rick. Now for a nice hot cup of chai.

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