Thursday, October 20, 2016

ABC Movie of the Week: How Awful About Allan

Allan discovers the blaze...too late.
Allan (Anthony Perkins) has spent eight months in a state hospital, being treated for the trauma caused by a fire that killed his father and scarred his sister. You see, Allan left the paint cans and thinner by the heater that caused the inferno. Physically, there is nothing wrong with Allan, but he remains emotionally fragile--and partially blind. As he explains: "There is nothing organically wrong with my eyes. The blindness is all in my head."

Following his discharge, Allan (perhaps unwisely) returns to his home to live with his sister Katherine (Julie Harris). She informs her brother that they need to take in a lodger to afford the house payments. Allan hates the idea, but a room is quickly rented to a college student named Harold Dennis. When Allan begins to hear whispering voices at night, he becomes convinced that Harold is out to murder him.

This reminded me of Psycho.
Made in 1970, How Awful About Allan was originally broadcast on the ABC Movie of the Week. It boasts an exceptionally strong pedigree for a made-for-television film. In addition to major stars Perkins and Harris, the cast includes Joan Hackett (The Group) as Allan's former fiancee Olive. It was directed by Curtis Harrington, a once promising filmmaker that helmed the cult movie Night Tide (1961) and Games (1967), a semi-remake of the 1955 French suspense classic Les Diaboliques.

In fact, there are several similarities between Games and How Awful About Allan. Both films center on three major characters, two women (Katherine and Olive) and one man (Allan)--with the female characters being much stronger than the male. And, in each film, nothing is what it appears to be.

Julie Harris as Katherine.
The central mystery in How Awful About Allan is the identity of the mysterious lodger, whom the viewer sees only as a blurred image (as Allan sees him). Is Harold Dennis really Katherine or Olive in disguise? Could he be Eric, Katherine's former lover who was forced to leave town? Or is he really Harold Dennis, an innocent college student--meaning that the voices and fleeting shadows are all in Allan's mind?

A creepy shot of Allan.
It's an interesting premise, but it also makes for a thin plot. Fortunately, How Awful About Allan has a running time of only 73 minutes. Harrington also piles on the atmosphere, making Katherine and Allan's house one of those creepy abodes with dark hallways and weird noises. Even in daylight, it looks grim and uninviting--especially when viewed through Allan's eyes.

The suspense/mystery genre was a popular one on the ABC Movie of the Week. While How Awful About Allan doesn't rank with the best of them (Along Came a Spider, Isn't It Shocking?), it's still an above-average suspense tale with a fine cast.


The Metzinger Sisters said...

Sounds great! I love these 70s tv movies, and this cast makes it seem extra intriguing.

Anonymous said...

This movie is available on YouTube:

joel65913 said...

With a few exceptions the Movies of the Week were by their sheer number and demands of quick shots run of the mill affairs scriptwise and this one doesn't stand out from the pack in that aspect. But what makes them worth seeking out is that the majority of them had extraordinarily great casts. Usually the films are headed by two or three names of some repute as is the case here and then peppered with recognizable faces in support either on their way up or reliable character actors. So even if the stories are less than stellar the competence of the cast make them a pleasure to view.

Another instance of this also had Julie Harris in the cast "Home for the Holidays" which stretches credibility but with a cast that includes Eleanor Parker, Sally Field, Jessica Walter, Walter Brennan and Jill Haworth besides Julie who cares.

R. D. Finch said...

Some other good ones Harrington directed are "What's the Matter with Helen?" with Shelley Winters and Debbie Reynolds, "Who Slew Auntie Roo?" with Shelley Winters, Ralph Richardson, and a post-"Oliver" Mark Lester, and the TV movie "The Cat Creature" written by Robert Bloch and with cameos by Gale Sondergaard and Kent Smith ("The Cat People").