Monday, February 8, 2016

MOTW: "Seven in Darkness" and "Men of the Dragon"

Seven in Darkness (1969). The first film broadcast by ABC under its Movie of the Week banner is a well-made suspense adventure bolstered by a nifty premise. All the passengers aboard a chartered airplane are blind; they are traveling to a conference in Seattle. When the plane runs into a strong storm, one of the pilots inquires about passengers. The stewardess replies: "Anyone else being tossed like this, I'd have my hands full. But they just sit there...it's kinda creepy."

Milton Berle and Sean Garrison.
Inevitably, the plane--which has gone off-course--crashes into the mountains. The seven people that live are all blind! Alex (Barry Nelson), the group's de facto leader prior to the crash, reminds the survivors: "We're blind, but we're not helpless." Spurred by the dual threats of more bad weather and a pack of hungry wolves (plus the fact that one of them is pregnant), the group leaves the crash site. They press Mark (Sean Garrison), a Vietnam veteran, into a leadership role. He resists it initially, but realizes it's the best course of action for all concerned. He doesn't notice, though, that this sudden change in leadership doesn't sit well with Alex.

There's a lot going on in Seven in Darkness. When the survivors aren't crossing a treacherous bridge with rotted wood, they're bickering among themselves and fending off wolves. Although the characters slip into stereotypes at times, a veteran cast keeps the film on course. Milton Berle, in a rare dramatic role, gets better as the story progresses and Sean Garrison makes a good stalwart hero with a secret. Garrison is perhaps best remembered for his short-lived TV series Dundee and the Culhane, in which he and John Mills played lawyers on the Western frontier. Other cast members include Arthur O'Connell and a blonde-haired Lesley Ann Warren (who gets to sing).

Director Michael Caffey directs with a sure hand, using sounds and images to remind us of the perils faced by the blind survivors. The whistling winds and the distant howls are particularly effective, as is a shot that shows us (but not the characters) that a railroad track being followed leads to a precipice. Incidently, Caffey is the father of Charlotte Caffey, who played in the all-female rock band The Go-Go's.

Katie Saylor gets ready to rumble.
Men of the Dragon (1974). As the Kung Fu craze reached its peak in the U.S., ABC showed this lively made-for-TV variation on Bruce Lee's hit Enter the Dragon (1973). Jared Martin (Dusty on Dallas) and Katie Saylor star as siblings who return to Hong Kong to save a near-bankrupt martial arts school run by a close friend (Robert Ito) and his father. During a shopping excursion, the sister is kidnapped by a powerful villain who aims to sell her as a slave for $1 million. With the help of a kindly brothel madam, the brother and his friend--both martial arts experts--track sis to an island fortified by the bad guy's minions.

Yes, there's not much to the plot of Men of the Dragon--but it provides an adequate framework for the many fight scenes. David Chow, who served as the "technical adviser" on the Kung Fu TV series, choreographed the kicks and punches. The fights may seem pedestrian compared to Lee and his peers, but they're convincing enough and wisely avoid the over-reliance on slow motion employed in the Kung Fu series.

Wiseman in his better known role.
Men of the Dragon is also notable for two other reasonsFirst, it's refreshing to see a female character on 1970s TV trade punches with the male baddies. Granted, Saylor's big fight scene may be brief, but she remains feisty throughout the film. Second, the villain is portrayed by none other than Joseph Wiseman, best known as the title character in Dr. No. He doesn't have much to do here, but he can make any line sound evil!

Jared Martin, Katie Saylor, and Robert Ito look respectable in the fight scenes. I couldn't confirm that any of them practiced martial arts in real life. Martin, who was Brian De Palma's roommate at Columbia, did appear in the 1987 film Karate Warrior. He and Saylor also starred together in the short-lived 1977 sci fi series The Fantastic Journey. Robert Ito is probably best-remembered as lab assistant Sam Fujiyama on Quincey M.E.

5 comments:

  1. Seven in Darkness sounds fascinating. Have not seen it but would like to.

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  2. "Seven in Darkness" was one of the best of the Movies of the Week. It reminded me very much of "The Poseidon Adventure" except that it was more tense because the passengers were blind. I vaguely recall the other movie as being silly fun.

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  3. Both of these sound like they're worth a watch! I'm definitely going to look up Seven in Darkness, that's a terrific twist on the "crash survivors" premise.

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  4. Like you, my family enjoyed seeing many Movies of the Week. Both of these entries sound interesting.

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  5. "Seven in Darkness" set the bar pretty high for the Movie of the Week. Too bad they weren't all that good. Love the closing scene.

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