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The Bionic Woman 1.2 – Welcome Home, Jaime (part two)

It’s not possible, in today’s environment, to watch this episode and not be reminded of the Trumps. I’m not claiming it’s an exact metaphor, but in this story, Carlton Harris, ladykiller that he thinks he is, changes plans once Jaime and Oscar convince him that she’s unhappy with OSI pay and unwilling to work for the government anymore. (A sign of inflation: Jaime balks at the pay Oscar thinks is very, very reasonable for dangerous spy work: $19,000 a year.) He makes Jaime an offer that he thinks she can’t refuse.

The villain’s son, Donald Harris, has just graduated from Harvard Law and is learning first hand about his father’s villainy. He catches Jaime leaving messages for the OSI as she steals some government plans, but just can’t believe that his old man’s really a criminal and has had three agents killed already. The Harrises have a really good, well-acted scene where the young lawyer confronts his industrialist dad about the evidence that he’s left behind which will indict him. It’s almost sad, watching that youthful idealism come crashing into the reality of what Carlton Harris is actually doing, including finding foreign buyers for American military secrets.

Of course, our son is just here for the special effects and explosions, and even though this does veer pretty sharply into “counterfeiters in turtlenecks” territory – Carlton indeed wears a canary yellow turtleneck himself in one scene – the family drama kept my attention while he cheered the bionic stuff.

Also of note: Gordon Jump is here as one of Harris’s industrialist rivals, and ’70s child star Christian Juttner, who we’ve seen a couple of times in this blog, plays one of Jaime’s students.

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Return from Witch Mountain (1978)

There’s a churlish and contrary side of me that remains petulantly bothered by Disney’s 1978 film Return from Witch Mountain. My complaint is that Tony and Tia don’t get to do nearly enough together. Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann had such fun chemistry together in the original film, and they’re separated for nearly the entirety of the sequel.

On the other hand, they don’t waste time getting this story moving. I like the way this movie just takes off running. Ten minutes in, and we’ve met the villains, as played by Christopher Lee and Bette Davis. I don’t believe that either actor would have listed this movie among their ten best, but boy, are they ever fun. They’re properly evil, too. The only thing in this film that troubled our son was Christopher Lee knocking out Tony with an injection – could movie makers get away with anything like that today?! – but he recovered and enjoyed the daylights out of this.

I’ll tell you who else would enjoy the daylights out of this: anybody who grew up in Los Angeles in the mid-1970s. There’s a lot of location filming here as Tia meets up with a gang of truant kids called the Earthquakes and hides out with them looking for Tony. Bizarrely, she doesn’t think about going to the police for help. I get that identifying herself would be a huge issue, but the subject just doesn’t come up.

Speaking of police, I guess if I’m being honest, the only thing about the movie that actually aggravates me is the mammoth plot hole about Bette Davis’s station wagon. Once the baddies have stuck a mind control chip behind Tony’s ear, they’ve got an accomplice with telekinetic powers and she plans to heist a museum of $3,000,000 in gold. But she didn’t think it through, and her car is totaled by the giant stack of gold bricks. At no point do the police follow up on this. Of course, in Disney films, policemen are only ever present to either have their own cars wrecked, or lower their eyebrows, ticket pad in hand, when somebody else’s car gets wrecked, but seriously, nobody followed up on the destruction of the getaway car to see who owned it?

Anyway, with our heroes separated, the movie’s effectiveness comes down to the chemistry with their co-stars. Eisenmann has the totally thankless task of playing an emotionless slave for almost the whole film; he’s a blank slate for Lee and Davis to be simply evil. Richards is teamed with a kid gang played by young actors who are pretty entertaining, too. One of the gang is played by “Poindexter,” a child star who seemed to inevitably take roles in the seventies that Robbie Rist had turned down. The gang’s leader is Christian Juttner, who we’ve seen in Ark II and Wonder Woman, and who we’ll see again in a recurring part in the first season of The Bionic Woman in a couple of months. Grown-up support comes from the wonderful Richard Bakalyan as a jerk of a taxi driver who steals the kids’ luggage and deserves what he gets, and Barney Miller‘s Jack Soo as “Yoyo,” the truant officer trying to catch the Earthquakes.

With that in mind, it’s probable that, with its dated optical effects, rear-screen projection, obvious stunt doubles and wire-work, Return from Witch Mountain looked a little old-fashioned to audiences in 1978 as Star Wars and all of its imitators were showing up in theaters – more on that subject very soon – but our son probably enjoyed this even more than the original. The telekinetic chaos is genuinely fun to watch, even if Davis really should have tried her museum heist after dark, and the effects scenes are perfectly paced to keep children interested.

Our kid absolutely loved the really excellent car chase about halfway through the film, and when Tia telepathically sends a goat to fetch the Earthquakes, he was roaring. The animal ends up in a car while its driver is oblivious – we’ve seen that before from Disney – and then all the tough-guy kids end up hanging from pillars in their hideout’s big room while it brays and nips at their legs to get their attention. He was laughing so hard he nearly cried, and made up a “Chasing the Goat” song.

So yes, perhaps Davis and Lee might have done well to heed the old advice about not working with kids and animals, because for this six year-old, they were downright forgettable in the wake of the slapstick comedy. But the grown-ups appreciated seeing these giants at work. The film is flawed but entertaining, but they elevated it a little in my book. Plus, of course, whenever we will see Christopher Lee in any other film or show – and we certainly will – I can remind our son “He was Professor Garron in Return from Witch Mountain!”

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Wonder Woman 1.1 – Wonder Woman Meets Baroness Von Gunther

If Wonder Woman‘s pilot had been badly uneven, with all the guest characters twirling mustaches and playing comedy baddies, then this is much better, and far more toned down. It’s a simple, kid-friendly adventure with a script by Margaret Armen, and you have to be willing to accept secret passages out of federal prisons during wartime for this to work. For all of Batman‘s silliness, they never once pretended there were secret tunnels for the criminals to get out of Gotham State Prison.

Speaking of kid-friendly, this is the episode where Wonder Woman leaves her magic lasso in the care of a little boy whose dad is the prison’s warden. I was actually thinking this week about how I enjoyed the bit in the pilot movie where Wonder Woman didn’t understand much about American society, including money, and how the show would have been more entertaining if the character was still learning about everything. Instead, we got super-efficient Yeoman Diana Prince, with her Georgetown apartment.

Well, I say Georgetown, but that’s so California. There’s a bit at the “Old Virginia Stables,” and they were probably shooting M*A*S*H on the hill behind it and had the Dukes of Hazzard crew shooting there the next day.

Anyway, Wonder Woman is still naive enough to leave her lasso behind in a kid’s care for the Nazi saboteurs, led by Christine Belford and Bradford Dillman, to steal. Our son liked the kid, who was clearly there for the five year-olds in the audience. He said that he liked the beginning best, most likely meaning the two scenes where Wonder Woman rescues Steve from a couple of scrapes.

Casting note: this is the first episode with Richard Eastman as General Blankenship, and it pretends to introduce Beatrice Colen as Corporal Etta Candy. The character has exactly two lines and is not named, so we’ll call it a first appearance rather than an introduction.

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Ark II 1.5 – The Balloon

A part of me is enjoying this blog experience for the fun of noting the credits of actors that we might not otherwise really know about. Guy Stockwell I know of, of course. The late brother of Dean Stockwell, Guy was omnipresent in the 1970s, guest-starring on just about everything. But I might never have noticed Christopher Juttner, who was twelve years old when he made in this episode. Juttner also had small parts in several other shows and movies from the period that we’ll be watching in the future. Looks like he only worked in Hollywood for about nine years, but he stayed pretty busy. And I certainly wouldn’t have noticed Del Monroe, because I don’t know anything about Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea – he played Kowalski and was in almost every episode – and he’s wearing a mask here.

This installment is about an isolated village that’s run by a xenophobic leader (Stockwell) who doesn’t want any help from anybody, even if they’re like the Ark II team and have a vaccine to help with an epidemic that’s ravaging his community. It’s the sort of story that will end whenever somebody in charge comes to his senses, which will happen with about four minutes before the end of the episode. The most interesting thing, though, is that Hollingsworth Morse, after years of working for the Kroffts and Filmation, finally got to pull off a big special effect sequence when Ark II’s heavy-duty laser is used to clear “fifty tons” of rock from a mountain pass. It’s certainly dated, but it looks about as good as this effect would have looked on even a higher-budgeted prime-time program in 1976. I guess we’ll have to look at some prime-time shows at some point soon to make sure.

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