Monday, May 4, 2015

MOTW: "Honeymoon With a Stranger" and "Along Came a Spider"

I never missed the Movie of the Week as a teen growing up in the 1970s. After all, each week the announcer reminded us that it was "the world premiere of an original motion picture produced especially for ABC." The Movie of the Week (fondly known as MOTW by its fans) featured entertaining films from all genres. Today, we take a look at two of its best suspense pictures.

Honeymoon With a Stranger (1969). Shortly after Ernesto and Sandra spend their wedding night in his Spanish villa, Sandra (Janet Leigh) reports his disappearance to the local police. When a man claiming to be Ernesto suddenly appears, Sandra claims he's not the man she married. However, his sister, a lifelong friend, and even an old servant from the villa all confirm Ernesto's identity. Is Sandra crazy? Is she the victim of an elaborate deception? Or is something else afoot?

Honeymoon With a Stranger is an appealing puzzler that steadily holds one's interest, though it never reaches the heights of, say, So Long at the Fair or Bunny Lake Is Missing. However, it does provide a doozy of a twist near the climax. And, with one minor exception, it plays fair with the viewer--which is essential for this kind of movie (i.e., at several points in the plot, I questioned the actions of one character--but all is explained later). 

Janet Leigh gives one of her best post-Manchurian Candidate performances. She gets solid support from Rossano Brazzi as a police inspector, Eric Braeden (before The Young and the Restless) as a devious attorney, and horror film favorite Barbara Steele as Ernesto's sister.

The teleplay is based on a French play called Piege Pour un Homme Seul (Trap for a Man Alone), which is typically described as a comedy! Its protagonist is a young man whose wife disappears while the couple is honeymooning in the Alps.

She deserved better roles!
Along Came a Spider (1970). I'll never know why Suzanne Pleshette didn't have a bigger movie career. She seemed to get stuck in a lot of underdeveloped supporting roles in films like The Power and Blackbeard's Ghost (both 1968). When she did get a good part--as in The Birds--she excelled at playing strong-willed women who masked their inner vulnerability.

In  Along Came a Spider, Pleshette portrays Anne Banning, the widow of a research physicist who poses as a student at a Berkeley university. She makes a strong impression on a physics professor (Ed Nelson), who finds her combination of beauty and brains irresistible. As their romance develops, the reason for Anne's deception gradually becomes clear--and that doesn't bode well for her new boyfriend.

In the hands of a filmmaker like Alfred Hitchcock, Along Came a Spider could have become a chilling examination of the depths that a person will go to for revenge. Pleshette hints at the complexities of her character, but I think Hitch would have allowed her to delve more deeply into Anne's inner turmoil and the cause and effects of her actions.

But this is a Movie of the Week and not Vertigo, so what we get is a clever suspense film that aims solely to entertain. It succeeds quite well on that level. Indeed, the film's only significant flaw is its length. When a big twist is resolved with 20 minutes remaining, it's indicative that there's still another revelation to follow.

Like Honeymoon With a StrangerAlong Came a Spider was based on a stage play. Leonard Lee wrote Sweet Poison in 1948. Lee was a prolific writer and also penned screenplays, such as the 1953 film noir The Glass Web starring Edward G. Robinson and John Forsythe. Pretty Poison was adapted previously for British television in 1959 on the ITV Play of the Week. That's not a movie of the week...but it's close.


  1. I used to watch these as well, and remember these two well. Honeymoon reminded me of Chase a Crooked Shadow. Some of these made-for-tv movies were pretty good. I recently obtained the equally fine House on Greenapple Road, which also featured Janet Leigh, and The Underground Man, from Modcinema.

  2. I really enjoyed this post featuring strong female performances in MOTW selections. Both stories were quite interesting. Like you, Rick, I can't understand why Suzanne Pleshette never achieved a higher level of stardom. She was very talented, gorgeous, and had a unique voice.

  3. Oh I LOVED the Movie of the Week! I have a vague memory of Honeymoon with a Stranger but I do remember Along Came a Spider very well. It seems it was a bit more popular than most because I distinctly remember it showing more then once. It would pop up on late night TV occasionally. It's not a great film but Suzanne is her usual superior self.

    I think the reason, at least partly, that she didn't have a larger impact on the big screen was because of the parallel successful career of Anne Bancroft. They were a very similar type, Suzanne even took over the Broadway production of The Miracle Worker when Bancroft left the show, and once Anne broke through in a big way the quality parts that they were both suited for went to her. Suzanne still had a fine career in TV but it's too bad she wasn't given more challenging roles.

    Speaking of the Movie of the Week one of my absolute favorites was Reflections of Murder, a remake of the Clouzot's Diabolique, with Joan Hackett and Tuesday Weld. It was a special production big deal at the time it came out, was released on a VCR tape though not unfortunately on DVD yet. I saw it again recently on Youtube and it holds up extremely well, certainly better then the indifferent Sharon Stone 90's version.

    1. Joel, I just added REFLECTIONS OF MURDER to my YouTube "watch later" list. Thanks for a great recommendation! My dream is that someone puts out a MOTW DVD set. The likelihood of that happening is slim as the movies were made by different production companies for ABC :(

  4. offers a lot of made-for-tv movies on dvd, the quality of which may be relative. However, I've purchased several--The Outsider pilot, The Killer Who Wouldn't Die, The Heist, The Golden Gate Murders-and found them satisfactory.

    1. Thanks, David! I'm off to check out the web site.