Thursday, December 20, 2012

ABC Movie of the Week: Tierney & Milland Team Up; Doug McClure Plots an Incredible (Fact-based) Escape!

Ray Milland as the grieving father.
Daughter of the Mind (1969).  Ray Milland stars as a guilt-ridden scientist responsible for his young daughter Mary's death in a car accident 13 weeks earlier. After visiting her memorial in a cemetery, he hears Mary's voice while driving home and sees an apparent apparition of her in the road. Is he imagining his daughter's ghost? Is someone trying to affect his mental state? Or has his daughter really returned from the dead? Enter parapsychologist Don Murray, who is determined to discover the truth.

Written by Luther Davis from a Paul Gallico novel, Daughter of the Mind unravels too quickly for its own good. When Murray hears Mary's voice, that eliminates the possibility that Milland may be imagining Mary's appearances. Shortly thereafter, the arrival of a federal agent, nicely played by Ed Asner, steers the plot toward an espionage scheme. The film quickly evolves from "what's happening" to "how was it done." That's a different sort of mystery altogether and, in this case, the explanation is revealed in what amounts to an epilogue.

Gene Tierney in a rare TV appearance.
Still, there are two good reasons to watch Daughter of the Mind. The first is is the opportunity to see Milland and Gene Tierney (who plays his wife). Tierney has a minor role, but Milland gives one of the better performances of the latter part of his career (certainly superior to Frogs and The Thing With Two Heads!). The second reason to watch this film is a delightful cameo from John Carradine, who plays a former charlatan who advises Murray not to concentrate on how the tricks were done...but rather how he would do them.

Das Dodo gets ready for flight.
The Birdmen (1971).  This fact-based tale stars Doug McClure as a POW in 1943 Germany who comes up with the idea of building a glider to escape from Colditz Castle and fly ten miles across enemy lines to Switzerland. Incredibly, most of the film is true: fourteen POWs really did build a glider after discovering a book on aeronautical engineering in the prison camp's library. They really did build a false wall to hide their work from the German guards. And they constructed a glider with a fuselage of 19 feet and a wing span of 32 feet. However, the glider never took flight--the prisoners were liberated before it was launched.

The real Colditz Cock.
Screenwriter David Kidd takes a couple of liberties with the facts to build dramatic tension. Whereas the original glider was built to keep up the prisoners' morale, Kidd has intelligence agent/aviator McClure building the glider to break out a nuclear physicist captured by the Germans. And, of course, this glider (dubbed Das Dodo instead of the real-life Colditz Cock) actually takes flight in The Birdmen.

Basehart as the German commandant;
he played Hitler in a 1962 film bio.
The cast is peppered with familiar faces: Chuck Connors as the senior American officer; Tom Skerritt as an aeronautical engineer; Max Baer, Jr. (with no trace of Jethro's accent) as a gruff soldier; and, best of all, Richard Basehart as the prison camp's German commandant.

Indeed, the only weak spot in this above-average telefilm is ten minutes of stock footage that's tacked onto the opening for no good reason. It consists mostly of explosions and gunfights--dull stuff compared to the audacious escape plot that inspired The Birdmen.


  1. I don't remember seeing these, Rick, but my gosh what a line-up of excellent actors in both! I am a very big Milland fan, and would like to see him and Tierney in the first one. I also like Don Murray a lot. It's too bad they did what you described with the story -- it could have been a lot better with a longer period of suspense and an ending that did not need an epilogue (I don't like that!)

    The Birdmen sounds fascinating -- I really wish someone would start syndicating these old TV movies. I think they would be so much fun to see, and hopefully would have a good enough audience to make it worthwhile.

    Merry Christmas, Rick ... I hope your holidays are happy!

  2. "Daughter of the Mind" isn't one of the best of the Movies of the Week. It plays like a TV pilot though I don't think it was one. I still enjoyed seeing Ray and Gene. Agree that "Birdmen" is pretty good. Wasn't it also called "Escape of the Birdmen?" That's a better title. The first one sounds like a horror movie.

  3. I can't say I've seen Daughter Of The Mind, but I have a question about the other film, The Birdmen. I remember seeings this on the tube back in the early seventies. But I think it was called "The Birdmen Of Beckstadt". Any Comment ?

  4. Tom, I don't recall that title, but could be. I know it was later retitled ESCAPE OF THE BIRDMEN.