Movies ‘Till Dawn: Your Early Morning Programming

Midnight Kiss Me, Kill Me – Crime Drama

61UfIix8seL._SL1000_(1976, Sony Choice Collection) Intended as a series pilot, this ABC Movie of the Week stars Stella Stevens as an investigator for the L.A. district attorney’s office whose latest case – the murder of disabled schoolteacher Tisha Sterling – uncovers some salacious truths about both the victim and her large coterie of admirers. The script, by Oscar nominee Robert E. Thompson (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?) hews along standard issue cop/mystery lines, but injects an element of tawdry sex (all obliquely referenced, per network Standards and Practices) into the proceedings, most notably about Sterling’s proclivity for aggressive bedroom play and sniggering hints about chief suspect Robert Vaughn’s hush-hush dalliance with bisexual hustler Bruce Boxleitner (!). Depending on your tastes and tolerance, the subtext will either enhance or detract from the picture’s main appeal: as ‘70s-style crime story comfort food for midnight-to-dawn TV habitués. But the latter is strongly reinforced by straight-faced, no-nonsense turns from a supporting cast of familiar faces, including Dabney Coleman, Pat O’Brien and Claude Akins, and a few offbeat ringers like Bruce (father of Crispin) Glover and Steve Franken of Dobie Gillis fame. Not to be confused with Kiss Me Kill Me (1973), an American retitling for Baba Yaga, a hallucinatory live-action adaptation of the Guido Crepax comic.

1:30 a.m. Search  – “The Murrow Disappearance,” Action

(1972-1973, Warner Archives) Debut episode for this rarely seen espionage series from 71T494OjidL._SL1000_ Leslie Stevens (The Outer Limits) and Robert Justman (Star Trek: The Original Series) has suave superspy Hugh O’Brien on the trail of a missing State Department official, aided by irascible scientist Burgess Meredith and his team, who followed O’Brien’s progress with an array of gadgets synced up to his vitals. The show’s entertaining premise, which alternated O’Brien as leading man with Tony Franciosa and Doug McClure, is somewhat undone by the leaden “racy” dialogue – O’Brien’s aging predatory stud veneer plays more icky than cool, and there’s an uncomfortable notion that team member Angel Tompkins has earned top clearance by sleeping with her (elderly) boss – but as small-screen action goes, Search holds attention with its fascination for spy high tech. Warner Archives’ six-disc set complies the show’s complete brief network run. With: Maurice Evans, Capucine, David (Bewitched) White.

2 a.m The Beasts are on the Streets – Action/Thriller

(1978, Warner Archives) This live-action TV feature from Hanna-Barbera Productions takes its cues from the nature-gone-berserk movie cycle of the 1970s (see also Food of the Gods, Day of the Animals) by unleashing a horde of lions, elephants and bears from a Texas nature park upon the citizens of a nearby town. Carol Lynley (The Poseidon Adventure) is top-billed as a concerned veterinarian, but she’s saddled with the breech birth of an enormous camel for the majority of the picture, leaving most of the tranquilizing and recapturing action to sort-of boyfriend Dale Robinette (now an award-winning still photographer). Directed by Peter R. Hunt, who served as editor on many of the early James Bond titles, Beasts can’t deliver the real red meat of animal-on-human action, but settles instead for a number of highly disturbing scenes involving real animals in what appear to be genuine brawls (bear vs. tiger) or actual harm’s way (an obviously terrified lion surrounded by a ring of fire). These mondo moments land with an ugly thud next to scenes of wan romance or drama and bring a whiff of sleazoid vibes to an otherwise amiable and occasionally goofy effort. Also starring a fresh-faced Philip Michael Thomas (Miami Vice), Billy Green Bush (Five Easy Pieces) as a trigger-happy hunter, the venerable Anna Lee (How Green Was My Valley, General Hospital), the voice of prolific HB performer John Stephenson and burly Bill Thurman, a veteran Texas player featured in everything from The Sugarland Express to Mars Needs Women, as the tanker truck driver whose pep pill-fueled blackout frees the park animals. Hanna-Barbera’s live action division also oversaw KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park.

4 a.m. Monsters – “The Feverman,” Horror

(1988-1991, E1/CBS Home Video) David McCallum (NCIS) is top-billed as a dissolute faith healer charged with saving a dying young girl in this premier episode of this syndicated anthology series from Richard P. Rubinstein (Tales from the Darkside). To the surprise of the girl’s father and his doubting doctor friend, McCallum’s treatment not only draws out the fever, but gives it a loathsome, corpulent form – all the better to wrestle into remission. A solid opener for this late-night series, which featured an impressive pedigree of writers (Robert Bloch, Gahan Wilson, Michael McDowell) and directors (Allen Coulter, Debra Hill), as well as an offbeat array of actors (Troy Donahue, Meat Loaf, Abe Vigoda, Morton Downey, Jr.) that did much to camouflage the show’s budgetary shortcomings. The nine-disc E1/CBS box set includes all 72 episodes.

4:30 a.m. Cinerama Holiday – Travelogue

91OOIeQt+zL._SL1500_(1955, Flicker Alley) One of the earliest presentations of the sprawling Cinerama format – in which a single film was shown on a massive screen with three synchronized projects – Cinerama Holiday is a breezy postcard from a time gone by, when many of the world’s most impressive sights of the world remained unseen by the general public. The premise – a camera crew follows a couple from Kansas City as they visit France and Switzerland while also trailing a Swiss couple on their travels through America – gives way to a sweetly naïve tour of grand and decidedly plain places and things in both countries, from county fairs and ice dancing to bobsled riding and New Orleans funerals. Each event is elevated to spectacle status by the staggering Cinerama format, which is expertly reproduced by Flicker Alley’s “Smilebox” technology.  The Blu-ray/DVD presentation includes numerous extras, including a “breakdown” reel designed to keep audiences entertained in case the Cinerama projectors failed to work, new interviews with and photograph and home movie collections by the participating couples, and a terrific reproduction of the 28-page program given to patrons at the original roadshow presentations, complete with a recipe for Swiss cheese fondue. 

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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