TopBilled

Today's topic

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Coming up in December

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Out west with Fred MacMurray…MacMurray attempts to restore law and order in a quaint western town.

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Raft & Sidney seek glory in political romance…George Raft and Sylvia Sidney had already made two features when they paired up again.

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Naughty or nice…some characters like to keep us guessing.

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A Christmas to remember…certainly one Glenn Ford would never forget.

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Appreciating Elizabeth Montgomery…known as the TV movie queen after her long-running role on Bewitched.

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Thanks for reading...and have a happy new year!

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Join me in December!

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Out west with Fred MacMurray

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Recently I watched the Allied Artists western AT GUNPOINT (1955) on YouTube. It’s a modestly budgeted flick with a strong cast (Fred MacMurray, Skip Homeier, Dorothy Malone, Walter Brennan, Tommy Rettig and John Qualen). It has an effective score (by Carmen Dragon); striking photography; and an intriguing plot. It borrows a bit from HIGH NOON, but that’s okay.

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There’s a town afraid to stand up to a group of bullies; and MacMurray’s character is the only one who will do anything about it. But what makes it different from HIGH NOON is that he’s a lucky shot not an expert marksman. So he’s reluctant to defend himself and his family until his wife’s brother is brutally killed.

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Brennan plays a wise old sage who stands by him when everyone else would rather run off. Their scenes together are very well-played. Homeier does an outstanding job as a vengeful outlaw. At about 80 minutes we have plenty of time to get to know the people of Plainview before a climactic confrontation between MacMurray and Homeier. Fortunately the townsfolk come to their senses in the last few minutes to help MacMurray defeat their common enemy.

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AT GUNPOINT was released on Christmas Day in ’55, which seems like an interesting time of year for a new western to premiere. It made a tidy sum for the studio. There’s something very comforting about the values that are conveyed with this type of picture.

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We see a very specific way of life depicted here– a place where kids look forward to getting peppermint sticks at the local store; where men vote for a new sheriff while having a drink inside the saloon; and where the main street has its share of people (good and bad) blowing through town lik3 tumbleweeds. The minor cast and background players help provide atmosphere. Despite his limited screen time Harry Shannon stands out as a modest but doomed lawman.

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There are no surprises. With MacMurray front and center as a stalwart of justice, you know things will be set right. And after the film ends, you wish you could live in a place where Fred MacMurray is in charge. It doesn’t feel like 1880-whenever. It feels like 1955 populist views grafted on to the western genre; and I think that’s what the Hollywood community did so well in some of its most routine crowd-pleasing pictures. Life was held up to a certain kind of standard in those days even while people were being held

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On 12/23/2014 at 12:53 PM, NipkowDisc said:

the best technicolor film I 've seen photographed by Jack Cardiff is The Vikings (1958).
 

Speaking of Jack Cardiff, perhaps in the top five of all cinematographers in my book, I just purchased his directorial effort, "Girl on a Motorcycle" with French heartthrob, Alain Delon and Mick Jagger's old girlfriend, Marianne Faithfull. It's from 1965 I think and if I recall it correctly is an amazing time capsule of the time period. You should buy it, Nip!

 

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Raft & Sidney seek glory in political romance

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Margaret Wyndham Chase (Sylvia Sidney) intends to become the first woman elected governor of her home state. Her husband and a professor from her alma mater object to her plans. Mr. Ace (George Raft) objects, too, but for another reason. It doesn't matter to Margaret because she's determined to prove them all wrong and succeed anyway.

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Raft and Sidney had appeared in two films at Paramount in the 1930s. They share a very natural chemistry, and their scenes together come across easy and beautiful. I've watched the film several times and what I notice each time is how much respect Raft has for Sidney. It's like he appreciates working with a top-notch actress, and he treats her very well. It's Raft's film; he plays the title character and he had greater clout at the box office-- but he hands it to her every step of the way. And Sidney really shines and gives a very confident performance. We believe she can be a fully self-actualized woman because of him.

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Benedict Bogeaus, an independent producer, made this film. And the set design rivals anything you'd find in a large scale studio production from this era. The rooms in Sidney's hotel suite are elaborately furnished. Her country estate is as fine as any country estate in the movies. And then there's the other stuff. Sidney's clothes are fabulous. So are her jewels and her carefully formed hair.

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The dialogue is often coy. There's a scene when they're on the way home from a night out together and he steals a kiss when she's fallen in sleep in the back of the car. He says he had to see if there's any woman in her. After the smooch ends, she asks if there was any woman in her, and he says plenty.

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Mr. Ace is a political boss who runs the machinery in their city, usually determining who will or will not be elected. Despite their little romantic escapades, he doesn't offer to support her in the election. She ends up withdrawing because of a scandal involving her husband. Later she re-enters the race as an independent candidate and Ace then does support her, without her knowledge. They've both found heart and real purpose.

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She is elected at the end and tells him that she is going to clean up the political corruption, meaning her first act as governor will be to send him to prison. But she'll be there for him when he gets out. Not a typical Hollywood love story, but it worked for me. Also, I think this story succeeds where so many others failed during the studio era. Most women who espouse feminism end up surrendering everything, realizing they can't win in a man's world. But Sylvia Sidney's character does win, in more ways than one, and she does it because of the man she betrays but will always love. In her quest for glory, she learns many ironic truths; and so does he.

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Naughty or nice

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Jeanette MacDonald once played a girl named Marietta who was very naughty.

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Dick Powell learned Gale Page and Ann Sheridan were naughty, but that could be a rather nice thing.

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They could drop the question mark on this title. Nobody's nicer than Deanna Durbin.

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Russell Crowe & Ryan Gosling prove you don't have to finish last.

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Some westerns are a bit naughty. I mean knotty. But that's a whole other discussion.

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2 hours ago, TopBilled said:

Naughty or nice

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Jeanette MacDonald once played a girl named Marietta who was very naughty.

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Dick Powell learned Gale Page and Ann Sheridan were naughty, but that could be a rather nice thing.

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They could drop the question mark on this title. Nobody's nicer than Deanna Durbin.

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Russell Crowe & Ryan Gosling prove you don't have to finish last.

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Some westerns are a bit naughty. I mean knotty. But that's a whole other discussion.

Claude Jarman, Jr. had a memorable role in "Hangman's Knot".

In fact, at the end, he and Randolph Scott rode off together.

Subtext be damned!

hangmansknotclaudejarminjrrandolphscott.

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On ‎11‎/‎16‎/‎2017 at 8:31 AM, TopBilled said:

Another conversation piece part 1

Several months I ago I had the pleasure of chatting with a classic film fan who also admired Maureen O'Hara. Then I found out, she once worked with Maureen.

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Joan: I usually don’t talk about this ancient history but I was Judy Miniver in the TV version of 'Mrs. Miniver.' Maureen played the lead, and I played her daughter.

TopBilled: Oh that's very interesting, Joan. According to Maureen's filmography on the IMDb, it was produced in 1960. I clicked on the page for this production. A very young Keir Dullea was a German pilot in it, and I see your name listed as well.

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Joan: I saw Keir at the tribute to Kubrick at the Director’s Guild. It hadn’t started yet and he was standing in the audience by the stairs leading up to the stage. I walked over to him and said, “Hi. I’m Judy Miniver.” I’ll never forget his expression! He nearly feel over backwards. I told him what my mother used to say about him. “You Just play around with Peter (who played my brother and I had a huge crush on) and look at Keir, he just works all day long, rehearsing with his friend.” He laughed and told me that he only did that because he had to learn how to speak German so it sounded real.

TopBilled: I love Keir Dullea. He seems like an intense actor/performer. I notice Maureen did another TV project with the same director (Marc Daniels) that year.

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Joan: Really?  I know he really liked working with her. I was very impressed when he needed her to cry in one scene with us and he just said, "okay. turn on the onions." And boy did she ever...what bloody control she had. We were sitting "outside" and she was reading to us and our brother flew overhead and cut his engines three times to say hello...she continues reading through her tears...and there were many.

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TopBilled: Your anecdotes are so interesting. I love the phrase 'turn on the onions.' Wonder if a lot of other directors say that too. I agree she must have had amazing control as an actress, you can really see it in THE QUIET MAN and most of her other performances.

Coming up in part two: Joan talks about working with James Stewart on another production.

Never heard a negative word about 0'Hara

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Uh, since I have little respect for film critics, I totally ignore their beliefs about films, in the sense of the saying "Those who can do, those who can't become film critics."

Now there is one that posts here that I highly respect and think does a fabulous job, but I digress.

Really now, who cares what the majority of so-called "film critics" say. Many people here know more about films than a lot who are writing film criticism online or for newspapers. 

Now there are some film critics whose opinion I hold dearly...but they are mostly dead! I trust my own judgment and would never not watch a film based on another's ideas about its worth. I remember once a person who wrote film criticism for a local paper, said a Robert Altman film was not probably worth seeing because it was "very dark". I said to him "I like very dark films so thanks for the encouragement in seeing it."

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On ‎12‎/‎16‎/‎2017 at 2:42 PM, CaveGirl said:

Uh, since I have little respect for film critics, I totally ignore their beliefs about films, in the sense of the saying "Those who can do, those who can't become film critics."

 

Really now, who cares what the majority of so-called "film critics" say. Many people here know more about films than a lot who are writing film criticism online or for newspapers. 

 

When it came to critics like John Simon and Pauline Kael, I know that any movie those two would criticize mercilessly I am just going to end up enjoying tremendously.

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25 minutes ago, Bethluvsfilms said:

When it came to critics like John Simon and Pauline Kael, I know that any movie those two would criticize mercilessly I am just going to end up enjoying tremendously.

I can dig it!!!

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A Christmas to remember

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Since it's the holiday season I thought I'd look at Columbia's MR. SOFT TOUCH. It pairs Glenn Ford and Evelyn Keyes for the sixth and final time, and is probably their best film together. It's a film today's audiences might not have seen, though it made a lot of money for the studio in 1949.

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Currently there are only a half dozen IMDb reviews. None of them seem to get it right. This is a story that combines several genres. Each review is written by a person who expects it to only be a comedy, to only be a romance, to only be a gangster picture, to only be a holiday drama, etc. You get the idea. But it's not something that can be so easily classified. Anyone who thinks it should only please fans of one specific genre, or have a schmaltzy ending, will be very disappointed.

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MR. SOFT TOUCH exceeds my expectations as thoughtful entertainment. It's never dull. The story is scripted in such a way that we want to know more about the two lead characters and what makes them do what they do. In the story Keyes' father beat her as a child but said he loved her. Ford was a patriot who severed in the war. He's mistaken for a man who beat his wife, which resonates with Keyes (though Ford's character is not actually married, did not beat anyone, and is thus available for romance with Keyes).

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And so these two meet in a most unusual way and help each other during a fateful 36-hour holiday period. She sponsors his attempts to "reform" and he helps her at the settlement house where she works. He is not above blackmailing neighborhood crooks to also pitch in, or to buy things she needs with cash he stole from the mob that was his to begin with. Yes, this means the mob will reappear to get the dough back.

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There are several supporting characters who add charm to the proceedings. We have a teen gambler (Stanley Clements) and his buddies who get taught an expensive lesson by Ford who's better at dice than they are. There is a talkative carpenter (Percy Kilbride) who has politically-informed opinions about everything, and there are two spinster busybodies (Clara Blandick & Beulah Bondi) who work with Keyes. A mob boss is played by the great character actor Roman Bohnen who died shortly after filming wrapped. And then there's a tabloid reporter who pops in and functions as a Greek chorus-- he's played by John Ireland in what is a warm up for his reporter role in ALL THE KING'S MEN.

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What I love about MR. SOFT TOUCH is nobody is completely right, and nobody is completely wrong. There are no easy answers for any of them. Ford's past catches up to him in what is probably the most classic ending of all time. Yet he manages to do considerable good in the hours leading up to his last few moments in this life.

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It's a pensive character study that presents itself with humility. And what a gift that is.

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6 minutes ago, ChristineHoard said:

It is a good film.  TCM ran it last year or the year before.  Thanks for writing about it.

Yes...MR. SOFT TOUCH just works on so many levels. I can tell when I've written about a film I truly love, because I go in a lot of directions with the review. It has so much going for it. I think it's perfectly cast. They're all fantastic.

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T.B., I thought Beulah Bondi was in this film and she was, but just checked and noticed the film also has Clara Blandick. What a great duo!

This killed me...the credit for Maudie Prickett, way down in the cast list, said she played:

"The Ugly Old Maid Tenant"

Hilarious. Thanks for the nice write-up!

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1 hour ago, CaveGirl said:

T.B., I thought Beulah Bondi was in this film and she was, but just checked and noticed the film also has Clara Blandick. What a great duo!

This killed me...the credit for Maudie Prickett, way down in the cast list, said she played:

"The Ugly Old Maid Tenant"

Hilarious. Thanks for the nice write-up!

I'm a Maudie Prickett fan. I loved her as Shirley Booth's best friend on Hazel. She doesn't have much screen time but is still memorable in this film. 

Bondi and Blandick play do-gooder spinsters in MR. SOFT TOUCH. They're lonely gals who do charity work to fill their empty hours, and we might guess that Evelyn Keyes' character will end up like them until cute Glenn Ford comes along.

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18 hours ago, TopBilled said:

Yes...MR. SOFT TOUCH just works on so many levels. I can tell when I've written about a film I truly love, because I go in a lot of directions with the review. It has so much going for it. I think it's perfectly cast. They're all fantastic.

Yea,  fine film and a good one for people to watch during the holiday season.    With regards to that poster?  

Looks like the makers of that poster were trying to make Keyes look like Rita!   In the film she plays a rather formal type gal while in the poster she looks like she works in a nightclub.   

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15 minutes ago, jamesjazzguitar said:

Yea,  fine film and a good one for people to watch during the holiday season.    With regards to that poster?  

Looks like the makers of that poster were trying to make Keyes look like Rita!   In the film she plays a rather formal type gal while in the poster she looks like she works in a nightclub.   

Yes, sex sells...even back in 1949!

Keyes did play a few sirens at Columbia, but as you indicate, her character is much more wholesome in MR. SOFT TOUCH.

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Appreciating Elizabeth Montgomery

Recently I watched some of Elizabeth Montgomery's TV movies and had a great time. I will go more in depth with individual reviews on some of these titles in the Essentials forum. But I do want to provide a general overview and get things started:

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The Legend of Lizzie Borden has to be her most shocking and most memorable portrayal. It's actually more of an ensemble drama, because for lengthy sections, she just sits in court while others testify and we flashback to the various scenes in Lizzie's past. But she does so much with her eyes and facial expressions that we see a completely unhinged woman who somehow manages to evade justice and gain sympathy by the end of the story. It takes considerable skill to make a cold-blooded axe murderess "likable" or "pitiable" on some level. (This film can be purchased at Shop TCM.)

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She plays a much less pitiable character in Belle Starr, which was made five years later. Liz perfectly captures the evil outlaw ways of a woman who marauds with a ruthless gang and fits right in as one of them. The filmmakers try to show us more vulnerable aspects of the character in relationship to her two children. But she's much more unredeemable in this picture than she was as Lizzie. And the death scene at the end is a real shocker, which she does expertly. (This film can be purchased at Shop TCM.)

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The Victim was her first TV movie after Bewitched. She was 39, still more youthful in appearance and since it's a modern story where she plays a wealthy woman, she has nice clothes and a fancy foreign car to drive. This was a reworking of an earlier episode of the old Thriller anthology series which Boris Karloff hosted. They seem to be stretching the material out to fill an hour and a half running time. But she's so convincing as a woman trying to find out what happened to her sister that she carries it along by virtue of her star power. Despite the more routine horror elements of the plot the ending is very dramatic and satisfying. The production also benefits from Eileen Heckart in a supporting role as a strange housekeeper and George Maharis who plays a shady in-law.

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The next one I watched, Second Sight: A Love Story, is probably not her best TV movie. But I can see why she selected the script as she gets to play a blind woman who has the chance to recover her eyesight, but has to overcome more than a few obstacles along the way. It's based on a very popular book by a British writer who was also blind and regained her sight. It's obvious that Liz painstakingly researched how to play the scenes where she must rely on a guide dog. She makes the character so believable you would think she was blind in real life. She totally submerged herself in the part.

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The Black Widow Murders: The Blanche Taylor Moore Story was produced two years before her passing (and she made two more telefilms after this which shows she worked right up to the end). Blanche is another one of those villainous characters in the vein of Lizzie and Belle, and again Liz shows how brilliant she is at etching a portrait of real life women who do monstrous things. She was 60 when this one was filmed, and she's very sexy amping up the nymphomaniacal traits of a woman who seduced men, married them, bilked them and killed them. It's a scenery-chewing role but she doesn't exactly chew the scenery. She reigns it in, and during some of Blanche's most outrageous exploits we still manage to see a woman who conveys intelligence and a sort of strange common sense despite being a serial killer. (This film can be purchased at Shop TCM.)

*****

Elizabeth Montgomery really seems to understand what drives the women she plays. Her choice of roles in TV movies probably reflected her desire to work against type and disassociate herself on some level from the sitcom material she was so famous for playing (she never did another weekly series, not even as a guest star). Of course who doesn't love her as Samantha Stephens. But a deeper appreciation of her skill as a dramatic actress can be found in the dozens of telefilms she made from 1972 to 1995.

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I saw The Legend of Lizzie Borden many years ago and thought Elizabeth was great, a far cry from good-natured witch Samantha from Bewitched, and I am sure she relished playing against type.

There was another TV movie, I forgot the name of it, where she played a woman who had been in a comatose state for nearly 20 years, from when she was a teenager up to when she's going on 40, and finally snaps out of it to see how drastically life has changed since her younger years. Don't remember much about it though I recall I was impressed with her performance.

Understand that she never won an Emmy, not even for Bewitched. Which just goes to show that the Emmys can be just as neglectful to some worthy performers, just as much as the Oscars can be.

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18 minutes ago, Bethluvsfilms said:

I saw The Legend of Lizzie Borden many years ago and thought Elizabeth was great, a far cry from good-natured witch Samantha from Bewitched, and I am sure she relished playing against type.

There was another TV movie, I forgot the name of it, where she played a woman who had been in a comatose state for nearly 20 years, from when she was a teenager up to when she's going on 40, and finally snaps out of it to see how drastically life has changed since her younger years. Don't remember much about it though I recall I was impressed with her performance.

Understand that she never won an Emmy, not even for Bewitched. Which just goes to show that the Emmys can be just as neglectful to some worthy performers, just as much as the Oscars can be.

Yes, she was nominated an incredible 12 times and never given an Emmy. Unbelievable!

The TV movie you're thinking of is 1985's BETWEEN THE DARKNESS AND THE DAWN. It's on DVD.

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42 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

Yes, she was nominated an incredible 12 times and never given an Emmy. Unbelievable!

The TV movie you're thinking of is 1985's BETWEEN THE DARKNESS AND THE DAWN. It's on DVD.

Just like Angela Lansbury when it comes to Emmy nominations and wins.  I like that TCM is selling DVDs of some of Elizabeth's TV movies.

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11 hours ago, ChristineHoard said:

Just like Angela Lansbury when it comes to Emmy nominations and wins.  I like that TCM is selling DVDs of some of Elizabeth's TV movies.

I like the fact that she was able to extend her TV career beyond "Bewitched".

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15 minutes ago, rayban said:

I like the fact that she was able to extend her TV career beyond "Bewitched".

And for so long, over twenty years!

It surprised me when I looked up her credits on the IMDb that she had no guest-starring roles from 1972 to 1995 (only one voice-over on an animated series at the very end). Usually when they come off a long-running series, they pop up on other shows. But she largely left episodic television behind after Bewitched ended. She only focused on TV movies. Her husband Robert Foxworth was the opposite, he guest-starred on a million shows after he finished appearing on Falcon Crest.

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Okay, it's reached the point where I have to announce I won't be posting anymore columns in this thread, at least for awhile. (Gosh, I feel horrible just typing this. LOL)

I've dreaded having to do this and sincerely appreciate the readership and the feedback. This thread began just over three years ago and originally I was writing a new column every day (talk about exhausting!). That's why it was called 'Today's Topic.' But then it was scaled back to about five or six new ones per month, which was the right pace.

Most of you know this-- but the best topics come from watching and re-watching the films themselves. Like I will see something on screen, and say hey I don't think that's ever been discussed on the message boards before. Isn't that what everyone else does, too?

I will probably still do "special columns" and this thread might continue in a limited capacity. But even if it doesn't, I think there are some decent (and also some mediocre) writings in the thread that can be reread and enjoyed again. My little q-and-a interviews are my favorites. And I like the more humorous creative columns. Plus there was the series when I looked at studio contract players. Go back and read those and hopefully find those informative!

In the meantime my focus will be directed more to the reviews I am doing in the Essentials forum. So I will still be posting my lengthy reactions to what I see in classic films. 

Thank you everyone! And Happy 2018!

Jarrod

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