Thursday, January 26, 2012

R.I.P.: James Farentino

James Farentino
February 24, 1938 – January 24, 2012

To quote, "Actor James Farentino, a mainstay of television for decades who also appeared in films and on stage, died Tuesday [January 24, 2012] of heart failure in Los Angeles. He was 73." For those of us growing up in the 60s to the 80s, even if his name didn't ring bells he was a familiar guest face seen in TV series ranging from The Alfred Hitchcock Hour to Ironside to Night Gallery, and reoccurring roles on shows ranging from dramatic series like Dynasty (1982) or Melrose Place (1998) or Blue Thunder (1984) or ER (where he played George Clooney's daddy in 1996) to sitcoms like Mary (1985) and Julie (1992); TV movies were also a staple of his.
Born in Brooklyn, he studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Art and debuted on Broadway in 1961 in Tennessee Williams' The Night of the Iguana (which was made into a great film without him starring Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and Sue Lyon in 1964 [trailer]); he made his film debut in Richard Hillard's forgotten proto-giallo Violent Midnight in 1963. His last cinematic project of note was the Zalman King erotic thriller – has King ever made anything else? – Women of the Night in 2001. In-between, aside from all his acting turns, he had a lively life that included four marriages (Elizabeth Ashley [1962 – 1965], Michele Lee [1966 – 1982], Debrah Farentino [1985 – 1988] and Stella Farentino (1994 – his death]) and a few scandalous brushes with law: he was charged with stalking his ex-girlfriend Tina Sinatra in 1993, was busted in Canada for possessing cocaine while filming Miles From Nowhere (1992), and was booked on suspicion of misdemeanor battery in 2010.
Here at A Wasted Life, however, we remember primarily for his occasional participation in some rather memorable genre projects. A least one of them, Dead and Buried (1981), is an early classic of the 80s that alone makes him worthy of mention here at A Wasted Life. With easily over a 100 credits to his name, our review of his projects below is curtailed to only those we arbitrarily think worth mentioning.
James Farentino, in his prime a handsome and memorable face – may he rest in peace.

Violent Midnight
(1963, dir. Richard Hilliard)
Originally filmed as Black Autumn, aka Psychomania. The film debut of James Farentino (and Dick Van Patten, too), Violent Midnight is the first film produced by the infamous Del Tenney, the man who directed such fine films as I Eat Your Skin (1964 / trailer), The Horror of Party Beach (1964 / trailer), The Curse of the Living Corpse (1964 / trailer) and Descendant (2003 / trailer). Violent Midnight, however (and despite the credit on the Belgium poster above) was directed by the early and forgotten no-budget sleaze filmmaker Richard Hilliard – he's the man credited for the screenplay of The Horror of Party Beach – who began his career with the super-sleazy Ed Woodian The Lonely Sex (1959), the poster of which is here to the left, and disappeared from the film business after his last film, The Secret Files of Detective 'X' (1968), starring the attractive and naturally pneumatic Michelle Angello, the poster of which is to the right. Violent Midnight has been around for awhile on TV in a heavily edited version, but Dark Sky Films brought out an uncut one a few years ago, complete with brief nudity and blood. This Psycho (1960 / trailer) influenced independent production, which has an unknown black-gloved killer slicing and dicing long before the Italians ever made it a mainstay of their giallo films, is about a painter named Elliot (Lee Philips) who is suspected of killing his model Dolores (Kaye Elhardt); James Farentino – seen here all dour-faced in a photo with Sylvia Miles, who has a small part as a bar waitress – plays Charlie, Dolores's ex-boyfriend, also a suspect. Or is the murderer the local peeping tom, Professor Melbourne (Day Tuttle)? As Det. Parma (Van Patten) follows his leads, the young and sexy Alice (Lorraine Rogers) is killed soon after making the moves Elliot… as the killings mount, more and more people think Elliot is the guilty man. Can he prove otherwise?
A murder from Violent Midnight:

The Alfred Hitchcock Hour
Alfred Hitchcock Presents began broadcasting in 1955, but in 1962 it was expanded to an hour and became The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, which it remained until discontinued in 1965 (only to enjoy non-stop syndication and a brief revival with new episodes in the mid-80s). Over the ten years of the original run, Hitchcock may have introduced all episodes, but he only directed 18. Neither of the two episodes Farentino was in, The Black Curtain (1962) and Death Scene (1965), were done by Hitchcock, but the first of the two, which actually starred Richard Baseheart in the lead was an early directorial job of Sidney Pollack. It tells the tale of an amnesic man (Baseheart) who regains his memory only to remember that he is wanted by the police – and a hired killer – for murder. The episode is based on a book of the same name by the great noir author Cornell Woolrich, which had already been filmed before in 1942 by the forgotten Jack Hively as Street of Chance, starring Burgess Meredith as the man in trouble. We have never seen the version Farentino was in, but we do agree with the blog the skeins of thought, which calls Street of Chance, which we once caught at a revival house, "an all-but forgotten slice of classic psychological noir".
Death Scene in full:

The War Lord

James Farentino's first feature-film role after his second appearance on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour was as "Marc" in this Charlton Heston vehicle directed by Franklin J. Schaffner (who also did The Stripper [1965 / trailer] and the original Planet of the Apes [1968 / trailer]). Having never seen the film, we have no idea how important his presence was, but he made it on the poster. The film is known for presenting a somewhat less Hollywoodian version of feudal life, and for being one of Heston's better acting turns. He plays Chrysagon de la Cruex, a Norman knight who falls in love with a local lass Bronwyn (Rosemary Forsyth of What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? [1969 / trailer] and Black Eye [1974 / trailers]) and takes advantage of the tradition of "Droit de seigneur" – the right of the local lord to deflower the local virgin wife on her wedding night – to have her. But instead of returning to husband the next day, she chooses to stay with Chrysagon, which leads to social and familial conflicts amidst the background of a war against raiding Vikings. The trailer, in any event, looks like the film might offer a jolly good time.

The Pad and How to Use It

(1966, dir. Brian G. Hutton)
A year after feudal Normandy and being in small print on the poster, James Farentino is one of the three headlining unknowns in this (for the most part) comedy based on the one act play of the same name by Peter Shaffer. A young and totally hot Edy Williams also has a small part in this film, the second of director Brian G. Hutton, who went on to do a variety of way more interesting films, including the classics Where Eagles Dare (1968 / trailer), Kelly's Heroes (1970 / trailer) and the less well known X, Y and Zee (1972 / trailer). Farentino is Ted, the Casanova of two guys who share a walk up. His roommate, Bob (Brian Bedford), a lonely and socially inept classical music fan who meets the girl of his dreams, Doreen (Julie Sommars) at a classical concert. The two have less in common than he would like to believe, and Ted woos her away because, basically, he can.
Farentino & Edy Williams at the Whiskey in The Pad and How to Use It:

Ride to Hangman's Tree

(1967, dir. Alan Rafkin)
Ride to Hangman's Tree is one of the rare full-length films of Alan Rafkin, a director of TV sitcoms and comedies who did an occasional feature-film comedy like The Ghost and Mr. Chicken [1966 / trailer] or Ski Party [1965 / trailer], so you know not to go into this film with the expectations of a serious western. (True, sometimes you almost think Rafkin may have been trying to be serious – if so, he failed.) This one is for the kids – the very young kids. Farentino gets lead billing alongside Jack Lord (The Name of the Game Is Kill [1968 / trailer]), the unknown Melodie Johnson, and the forgotten Don Galloway – his last appearance was for a few seconds in The Doom Generation (1995 / trailer) – in this tale of a trio of young robbers whose paths keep crossing on alternating sides of the law; Melodie Johnson supplies the Babe factor and bad dancing.
An oddly edited fan-cut compilation:


(1967, dir. Ron Winston)
Leonard Maltin gives this film three stars and describes as an: "Entertaining soap about corruption and infidelity in and about a swank L.A. golf club." Robert Wagner is the golf pro framed for trying to throw a tour, Jill St. James is one of the babes he beds. Tiger Woods makes a guest appearance as a child caddy – Na, just kidding. But there is an early film appearance by Gene Hackman as Tommy Del Gaddo, a has-been pro that helps set Wagner up. Somewhere along the way in the film, Wagner's character beats the shit out of Chris Patton, James Farentino's character. We know no one who has ever heard of this movie, much less seen it, but the miserable theme song, The Eyes of Love – composed by the great Quincy Jones and sung by some dude named Bob Russell – was nominated for an Academy Award. It lost, not surprisingly.
The Eye of Love (snore):


(1967, dir. David Lowell Rich)
About the only reason why we even mention this film is because its director, David Lowell Rich, who generally specialized in TV movies and is known for having made some real great turkeys – The Concorde: Airport 1979 (trailer) anyone? – made two of our favorite trashy TV horror movies: the super-low-grade William Shatner project The Horror at 37,000 Feet (1973 / first 10 minutes) and that classic so-bad-it's-good flick Satan's School for Girls (1973 / full film); he also did another, feature-length horror film entitled Eye of the Cat (1969 / trailer), but we know nothing about it. As you can from the poster of Rosie!, the comedy drama also features a young Leslie Neilsen. The blogspot The Obscurity Factor rates the film a 10 on the obscurity scale, asking: "What do you get when you combine Rosalind Russell and King Lear? You get Rosie!" Russell is a rich matriarch who likes to have fun with her money doing anything she wants to do, something her granddaughter (Sandra Dee) fully supports but not her daughters (Audrey Meadows and Vanessa Brown) and son-in-law (Leslie Nielsen). They manage to get her locked away as being insane, so the film suddenly flips from the comedy of a zany lady to the darkness of a sane woman betrayed and locked up in an asylum. James Farentino is Sandra Dee's love interest, David Wheelwright. Rosie! is a mildly interesting oddity, but not even half as obscure and flat-out weird as the other Rosalind Russell vehicle of 1967, Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad (1967).
Credits and beginning of the film:

Me, Natalie
(1969, dir. Fred Coe)
A women's coming of age and finding herself flick of the kind we would normally never present were it not for the clip we present below: the first appearance ever of Al Pacino in a feature film, all 30 seconds of it, playing – Surprise! – an asshole. James Farentino has the main male lead as the artist David Harris in Patty Duke's first film after Valley of the Dolls (1967). She plays an ugly duckling that moves out of the family home for the Bohemian life of Greenwich Village after she finds out that her dad tried to buy her a husband. She finally finds a boyfriend – the previously named artist – but he turns out to be married, which leads her to contemplate suicide. The NY Times called it "an artificial mess of wisecracks and sentimentality"; we here at A Wasted Life have never seen the movie, but we are sure that it doesn't hold a candle to Patty Duke's best films, namely 4D Man (1959 / full movie), You'll Like My Mother (1972 / first ten minutes) and the cheesy TV movie Amityville: The Evil Escapes (1989 / trailer).
Al Pacino's feature film debut:

Story of a Woman
(1970, dir. Leonardo Bercovici)
One of Farentino's very rare excursions into Euro-film productions. Story of a Woman – or rather, Storia di una donna, its original Italian title – was the last of three films that Leonardo Bercovici directed between 1966 and 1970; he was much more active in general as a scriptwriter – at least, until he was blacklisted in the 50s – supplying the stories scripts for films such as Racket Busters (1938 / trailer), Prison Train (1938 / full film), The Lost Moment (1947 / clip), Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948 / trailer) and Portrait of Jennie (1948 / trailer); he was married to the beautiful and forgotten Swedish actress Märta Torén (Casbah [1948 / credits] and One Way Street [1950 / trailer]) who died much too young at the age of 31 from a brain hemorrhage, and ended his days as a respected teacher UCLA and the American Film Institute. Maltin calls the film a "turgid tale" and NY Times finds it a "routine melodrama", but then perhaps one should not expect more of a film that infers that a woman can only choose between being a wife or a mistress. Plot: In Rome, Karin (Bibi Andersson of Quintet [1979 / trailer] and The Seventh Seal [1957 / trailer]) meets the married Bruno (James Farentino), and the two begin a passionate affair. Bruno's wife (Annie Girardot of Shock Treatment [1973 / trailer]) hits the roof, so Karin returns to Sweden and eventually marries the American diplomat David (Robert Stack of The Strange and Deadly Occurrence [1974 / full film], House of Bamboo [1955 / trailer] and To Be or Not to Be [1942 / trailer]). David is eventually assigned to Rome, where Karin and Bruno meet again and resume their affair. Karin finally chooses to be a wife, and Bruno dies in an auto accident – so Karin now only has her husband, her young child, and her memories of Bruno. Boo-hoo.
Title track sung by Ornella Vanoni:


(1971, dir. Buzz Kulik)
The great William Shatner (of The Intruder [1961]) shares a scene with Farentino – in fact, the scene is embedded below. Based on the novel by Fletcher Knebel, Buzz Kulik's two-part TV film Vanished is virtually unavailable today: over 40 years after being televised for the first time, it still awaits an official DVD / video release, though bad-quality bootlegs can be found if one looks hard enough. On his website, the Australian film critic Peter Malone says that "Vanished was the first American telemovie to be shown in two parts – a preface to the era of the miniseries." As the blogspot William Shatner's Toupee points out, "Vanished is more than just a TV movie, it is a highly notable piece of televisual drama featuring an impressive and prestigious display of acting talent." Aside from being Richard Widmark TV debut, this prestige production of its time featured a star-studded cast including among others Tom Bosley, William Shatner, E.G. Marshall, Robert Young, Betty White, Sheree North, Larry Hagman, Eleanor Parker, Stephen McNally and Stacy Keach Sr. Peter Malone gives the plot as follows: "In this film, a presidential adviser (Arthur Hill) disappears. A secretary, played by James Farentino, decides to get to the bottom of the issue. However, he uncovers all kinds of secrets on Capitol Hill from blackmailing nuclear scientists, to interfering politicians, to arrogant southern senators, to homosexual relationships, all geared to affect national security." Director Buzz Kulik, who died in 1999 of heart failure, was a productive TV director; his most famous TV movies are probably the fun, cult horror flick Bad Ronald (1974 / trailer) – a film that taught us just how sexy a tennis dress can be when filmed at the right angle – and that tear-jerker Brian's Song (1971 / trailer). Supposedly he also did uncredited direction on another TV horror film that often gets confused with Bad Ronald, namely Crawlspace (1972 / full movie).
Shatner's Toupee & Farentino in a short scene from Vanished:

The Longest Night
(1972, dir. Jack Smight)
By now James Farentino was well-embedded in the world of TV moviedom. This film by director Jack Smight – among his most interesting non-TV projects are No Way to Treat a Lady (1968 / full film), The Illustrated Man (1969 / trailer), the classic bad film Damnation Alley (1977 / trailer) and the comedy Airport 1975 (1974 / trailer) – is based on the true story Barbara Jane Mackle, who was kidnapped in 1968 and buried alive for eighty-three hours in a wood-and-fiberglass capsule (the photo here shows her in her box). It was remade, again for TV, in 1990 as 83 Hours 'Til Dawn. Originally broadcast on ABC on September 12, 1972, Farentino is one of the bad guys – and what a scuzball he is! The quote Mod Cinema: "Karen Chambers (Sallie Shockley) is abducted from the home of her parents (David Janssen & Phyllis Thaxter) and held for ransom. Her captors (James Farentino & Skye Aubrey) entomb her in a homemade coffin buried several feet underground, with an air hose as her only conduit to the outside world. As the police close in on the kidnappers and search for the girl, she desperately tries to stave off hysteria and to prevent the cutting off of her air supply." Two years later, Phyllis Thaxter's real-life daughter Skye Aubrey went on to star in the cult TV movie fave, The Phantom of Hollywood (full film).

The Family Rico
(1972, dir. Paul Wendkos)
A forgotten and unavailable TV film by the prolific TV director Paul Wendkos, who began his career with a really good film, the forgotten noir starring a young Jayne Mansfield entitled The Burglar (1957). This TV movie, described by The BFI Companion to Crime as a "violence-punctuated, pasta-heavy" production, is based on the book The Brother Rico written by Georges Simenon, which was already filmed once in 1957 by director Phil Karlson, the man behind the great noir Kansas City Confidential (1952 / full film). Few people seem to have ever seen this TV film, as there is nothing to be found about it on the web. The BFI website, however, does offer the following terse description: "[A] TV film […] dealing with the responsibilities of Eddie Rico (Ben Gazzara), who is told to 'deal' with his brother Nick (Sal Mineo), who runs away from a Mafia contract." James Farentino plays the third brother, Gino Rico, while Mama Rico, not seen in the photo, is played by Jo Van Fleet (The Tenant [1976 / trailer]). Co-star Sal Mineo was killed four years later on 12 February, 1976, in West Hollywood; a drifter named Lionel Ray Williams was later arrested for the crime and, in 1979, convicted and sentenced to life for the murder.
Trailer to the 1957 film version of Georges Simenon's book:

Rod Serling's Night Gallery

Rod Serling's Night Gallery, his follow-up show to The Twilight Zone, was on the air from 1969 to 1973; James Farentino appeared on the show twice. The first time was in Since Aunt Ada Came to Stay, the first segment of a trilogy of tales that aired 29 September 1971. Directed by William Hale, the episode co-starred Farentino's then-wife Michelle Lee, who years later became the lead MILF of the never-ending evening soap Knot's Landing. Based on A.E. van Vogt's famous short story entitled The Witch, the episode is about a college instructor (Farentino) who realizes that the "aunt" (Jeanette Nolan) of his wife (Lee) is a witch looking to inhabit a new body – namely, that of his wife. The great Jonathan Harris drops in as Prof. Nicholas Porteus to add a brief pinch of campiness to a tale that does not end well.
Roughly four months later, on 10 January 1972, Farentino appeared in the full-length episode The Girl with the Hungry Eyes, which had nothing to do with William Rotsler's 1967 exploiter also entitled The Girl with the Hungry Eyes (and featuring the legendary Pat Barrington, seen here to the right from the film) but had everything to do with the 1949 short story of the same name by Fritz Leiber Jr. Directed by John Badham (who also did Saturday Night Fever [1977 / trailer], Dracula [1979 / trailer] and The Hard Way [1991 / trailer]), the relatively faithful adaption of Leiber's tale has a photographer (Farentino) realize that the beautiful and mysterious model (Joanna Pettet, of Welcome to Arrow Beach [1974 / trailer] and The Evil [1978 / trailer]) with strange eyes he has made a national success is vampire of souls. According to the blogspot Taliesin meets the Vampires: "This is a vampire representing the destructive nature of consumerism, a warning that the holy grail of capitalism is eating away our souls." Fritz Leiber Jr.'s story was remade less faithfully in 1995 by Jon Jacobs as the unknown, direct-to-video horror film entitled – what else? – The Girl with the Hungry Eyes.

The Elevator
(1974, dir. Jerry Jameson)
They sure made him look like Al Pacino on that VHS cover, didn't they? Great cast. We saw this one as a kid… and don't remember anything about it – rather unlike the TV movie director Jerry Jameson made the next year entitled The Deadly Tower, starring Kurt Russell as Charles Whitman. (Charles Whitman, if you don't already know it, was the inspiration for the sniper Bobby Thompson in Peter Bogdanovich's classic B film starring Boris Karloff, Targets [1968 / trailer].) The Elevator sports a great cast, in any event: Roddy McDowall, Myrna Loy, Carol Lynley, Jean Allison, Teresa Wright, Don Stroud, Craig Stevens and, of course, James Farentino. Broadcast February 9, 1974, on ABC, the plot – to quote Wikipedia – concerns "An elevator carrying a diverse group of people becomes stuck between floors in a high-rise office building. The tension inside the stalled elevator is exacerbated by one passenger: a claustrophobic armed robber (Farentino) trying to flee from his latest hit."
Credits sequence:

The Possessed
(1977, dir. Jerry Thorpe)
1977 was a religious year for the man. First, he played the apostle Peter in the TV mini-series Jesus of Nazareth (snore), and then he played an exorcist in this fun film, a made-for-TV horror flick "inspired" by The Exorcist (1973 / trailer) and directed by Jerry Thorpe, the man who brought us – well, to tell the truth, absolutely nothing else worth mentioning. Filmed in Oregon, it is set at the all-girls Helen Page School in Salem, Massachusetts, run by Joan Hackett (she sure gets nasty looking). Things start getting weird and fires start breaking out (and a few students burn) before priest-turned-exorcist (Farentino) shows up on a mission from God. With a very young and nubile sexy Ann Dusenberry (Basic Training [1985 / trailer]) in pivotal role and a lot of atmosphere. DVD Talk is on the mark when they say: "[The Possessed is an] extremely effective made-for-TV supernatural horror film. The script and direction take this familiar story of possession and evil and deliver it back to us head-on, with a straight face […]. Terrific cast, effective atmosphere, and a genuinely scary finale. The little-seen The Possessed comes highly, highly recommended." Nevertheless, for some odd reason this is a film Harrison Ford likes to pretend he didn't take part in.
Harrison Ford in The Possessed:

The Final Countdown
(1980, dir. Don Taylor)
Director Don Taylor is also responsible for such enjoyable trash as Damien: Omen II (1978 / trailer) and The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977 / full film) – the third remake of The Island of Lost Souls (1932 / trailer) – as well as the sub-standard and tacky Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971 / trailer). As mondo digital points out, "The Final Countdown features a great story hook straight out of the Twilight Zone manual and a staggering cast for an independent feature." Aside from Farentino in an important double role as Wing Commander Richard T. Owens / Richard Tideman, there's also Kirk Douglas, Martin Sheen (of Spawn [1997], Katharine Ross (of A Climate for Killing [1991]), Ron O'Neal (of Super Fly [1972 / trailer], Super Fly T.N.T. [1973 / soundtrack]) and Charles Durning (of The Rosary Murders [1987] and The Hudsucker Proxy [1994 / trailer]). The Final Countdown is a 1980 sci-fi film that very much has the feeling of the star-studded disaster flicks that were so popular at the time, and is much more an enjoyable guilty pleasure that makes a boring evening pass quickly than it is essential viewing. The basic plot involves a modern super carrier, the USS Nimitz, which gets sent back in time by a cheap light show, arriving on Dec. 6, 1941, just before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The quandary is: Do they or do they not try to stop the attack and change history? The film is a nice guilty pleasure that makes a boring evening pass quickly enough, but hardly essential viewing.

Dead & Buried
(1981, dir. Gary Sherman)
Director Gary Sherman also made Raw Meat (1973 / trailer), Vice Squad (1982 / trailer), Poltergeist III (1988 / trailer) and 39: A Film by Carroll McKane (2006 / trailer). Dead & Buried is the film that made us first even take notice of Farentino all those years ago when we caught this classic at a grindhouse theater in downtown San Diego in the now decidedly yuppified "Gaslamp Quarter"; once upon a time, it was a neighborhood in which you could actually have fun. Had he made only this film, we would probably still have honored him on A Wasted Life. Farentino holds his own as the likable lead, Sheriff Dan Gillis, sharing the screen with the beautiful but forgotten Melody Anderson (she starred in Flash Gordon [1980 / trailer], but retired from acting in the mid 1990s to become a substance-abuse counselor in New York City), Jack Albertson (of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory [1971 / trailer] and The Poseidon Adventure [1972 / trailer]), Lisa Blount (of Radioactive Dreams [1985 / full movie], What Waits Below [1985 / trailer] and Prince of Darkness [1987 / trailer]) and Robert Englund (of Zombie Strippers [2008 / trailer] and A Nightmare on Elm Street Part II: Freddy's Revenge [1985 / trailer]). The screenplay to the film, which was originally intended to be a black comedy but changed to focus on gore after the financers changed, is credited to Ronald Shusett and the great Dan O'Bannon (the man behind the scripts for Alien [1979 / trailer], The Return of the Living Dead [1985 / trailer], Total Recall [1990 / trailer] and Screamers [1995 / trailer]), but in a 1983 interview he disowned the film, saying that Shusett had written the script alone but needed O'Bannon's name on the project to get the film made. Final Girl supplies the plot as thus: "Strangers who happen through the quaint New England seaside town of Potter's Bluff would be well advised to keep right on drivin'. Should they linger too long, the unfortunate visitors can expect the ersatz Potter's Bluff Welcoming Committee to murder them but good! What's really weird, though, is that after dying a violent death, the strangers come back to life, get a new name, and join the community. Only Sheriff Gillis (James Farentino) seems to think this might be odd, and he decides to get to the bottom of the goings-on." She also rightly points out that "The plot twists and turns right up until the fantastic ending, which even M Night Shyamalan wouldn't see coming." Dead & Buried is a classic of the 80s that is well worth searching out and watching; you won't be disappointed. The scene seen in the lobby card below had the audiences groaning back when the film came out – as did its mirrored scene in the under-appreciated and forgotten film Strange Behavior (1981 / trailer).


The Cradle Will Fall

(1983, dir. John Llewellyn Moxey)
A TV movie based on Mary Higgins Clark's novel of the same name, directed by the man who, many generations ago, directed the great low budget horror film The City of the Dead / Horror Hotel (1960 / full film / trailer), which is probably the best thing he ever did. In an interesting nod to the soap opera The Guiding Light, this film was not only set in the hospital of the series but also had some of the soap opera actors appear in character. The movie, as explained on imdb by "The story revolves around Kathy (Lauren Hutton of Once Bitten (1985 / trailer), American Gigolo [1980 / trailer] and Zorro: The Gay Blade [1981 / trailer]), an assistant D.A.; Richard (Ben Murphy), her lover, who is also the chief medical examiner; and Dr. Highley (Farentino). Kathy's investigating the supposed suicide of a woman. It seems that she has been going to Dr. Highley for some kind of treatments but when side effects begin to surface, she plans to see another doctor but Dr. Highley kills her before she does. Presently, Kathy's working under the assumption that the woman's husband was the one who killed her […but] Dr. Highley suspects that she may have seen him on the night he killed the woman, because she was in the hospital but on medication therefore not certain of what she saw." The Cradle Will Fall was remade (again for TV) in 2004 – without the link to The Guiding Light.
Full film:

That Secret Sunday
(1986, dir. Richard A. Colla)
In all truth, we know nothing about this film directed by the TV director who brought you Burt Reynolds and Raquel Welch film Fuzz [1972 / trailer], but we liked the sleazy VHS cover above. But perhaps the cover doesn't live up to the film, about which "Hal Erickson" at says: "The word for That Secret Sunday would seem to be 'irresponsible.' Two party girls are horribly murdered, and the police handle the investigation irresponsibly. The reason is that the four investigating cops are guilty of the murder, which stemmed from their own irresponsible behavior. Investigative reporter James Farentino might have been able to nail the cops, but his newspaper behaves with irresponsibility. Made for television, That Secret Sunday was responsible only in prompting viewers to change the channel."
Ten dull minutes of the film:

The Secret of the Sahara
(1988, dir. Alberto Negrin)
A Euro-production that made it to the USA as a mini-series; James Farentino – seen here from the film – plays Khalif of Timbuktu. Brilliant Observations on 2120 Films says: "They test your credulity right away: Michael York is supposed to be an American. If you're willing to fall for it, they'll test you again and again, believe me. The secret of the Sahara appears to be that you can't take three steps without falling over at least five people on horseback, the place suffers major overpopulation […]. James Farentino, Miguel Bosé and David Soul (!) are pretty good as the tough guys, but I couldn't really buy Ben Kingsley as the local oasis pacifist. Andie MacDowell […] and Michael have to have several sets of the most ridiculous lines in the history of lines […]. I'm not gonna lie to you and say that it's great or that I didn't enjoy it." The Italian director Alberto Negrin once made a far more entertaining piece of Eurotrash entitled Virgin Killer (1978).
Opening credits:

Her Alibi

(1989, dir. Bruce Beresford)
A mid-career Tom Selleck vehicle. According to Roger Elbert, "This movie is desperately bankrupt of imagination and wit, and Tom Selleck looks adrift in it." Maybe, but he still looks sorta hunky. He plays a writer of detective novels suffering writer's block. He supplies an alibi for a beautiful Romanian woman named Nina (Paulina Porizkova) who was arrested for murder; initially, he thinks she is innocent, but as she some interesting abilities (such as knife throwing) and he has a few close calls, he begins to have his doubts – even as he falls in love with her. James Farentino plays Frank Polito, and is seen in the trailer below. Paulina Porizkova made bad better films, such as Dark Asylum (2001 / trailer) and Thursday (1998 / trailer), as has Selleck (Myra Breckinridge [1970 / trailer], The Seven Minutes [1971 / full film in ten minutes], Daughters of Satan [1972 / trailer], Terminal Island [1973 / trailer] and Runaway [1984 / trailer]).

Naked Lie
(1989, dir. Richard A. Colla)
A plodding "thriller" set in our second least favorite city, San Diego – Rotterdam wins first place in that regard, despite having coffee shops, better museums and a De Slegte bookstore – that we probably wouldn't include here were it not that by doing so, we have an excuse to include this pleasing photo of a young Victoria Principal, who both stars in and produced this TV movie by the director of That Secret Sunday. Glenn M. Benest, the man who supplied the story, did better with the underrated Wes Craven movie Deadly Blessing (1981 / trailer) – which, ironically enough, we saw in a pre-Gaslamp Quarter grindhouse theater in downtown SD. Victoria Principal is assistant DA Joanne Dawson, and James Farentino is Judge Jonathan Morris; Morris, a man with political aspirations who likes kinky sex, ends up killing a prostitute (Bonnie Burroughs) and manages to pin the murder on her pimp (Douglas Roberts). Dawson, a wanna-be cat lady, draws the card as the prosecutor and Morris gets assigned as the judge (coincidences that only happen in films). As the case proceeds, Dawson slowly but surely not only comes to realize that all is not right in the state of Denmark, but that her squeeze is the killer…
First ten minutes:

Honor Thy Father and Mother: The True Story of the Menendez Murders
(1994, dir. Paul Schneider)
A FOX TV movie in which James Farentino co-stars with Jill Clayburgh, a woman who's former popularity as an actress was forever beyond our comprehension (she even already had bad posture in her acting debut – which she shared with Al Pacino). Farentino & Clayburgh play Jose & Kitty Menendez, the parents of Lyle & Erik Menendez, the two spoiled losers (seen here to the left) who killed their parents so as to live the good life and then later tried to defend their actions using the ever-popular "we were molested children" defense; this film takes their side, though we at A Wasted Life wonder for one why the losers were still living at home as young adults – Lyle was 21, Erik 18 – if it was oh so horrific, and why they never let anyone know about it before they popped their parents on Aug. 20, 1989. In any event, they may have blew a million before finally going to jail, but now, although both have since married, they get to play five-finger romance for the rest of their lives (or take a walk on the wild side). The sons were played by Billy Warlock (as Lyle), who once made the flawed but almost classic Yuzna film Society (1989 / trailer) – a film that fails to become a classic due to do some misplaced comic characterizations – and the direct-to-video horror The Thing Below (2004 / trailer), and David Berón (as Erik), who later made the gay romance East Side Story (2006 / trailer) – all films of which are more interesting than Honor Thy Father and Mother: The True Story of the Menendez Murders.

(1996, dir. Ernest R. Dickerson)
Probably the only reason to even bother with this Damon Wayans (I'm Gonna Git You Sucka [1998 / trailer]) and Adam Sandler (Punch-Drunk Love [2002 / trailer]) vehicle is because of the director, Ernest R. Dickerson, a former cinematographer who has a variety of interesting genre film credits to his name, the best being the derivative but fun Surviving the Game (1994 / trailer), Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995 / trailer) and Bones (2001 / trailer). James Farentino, as Capt. Jensen, is far from being seen as an important enough actor to be put on the poster – though he is seen all of a half-second in the trailer below. Christian Spotlight on the Movies, a source A Wasted Life always checks before watching anything, says: "[T]his movie takes pot shots at everything Christian and the film's two stars themselves prove to be blanks. Damon Wayans stars as an undercover police cop who befriends car thief Adam Sandler in hopes he will help bust a big-time drug lord. [...] The story is lame, and basically amounts to these sorry buddies being reunited in an effort to put away car thief/drug dealer Frank Colton (James Caan). What it delivers is [...] a mindless, vulgar, and horribly made movie that is even bad by Hollywood standards. The duo of Wayans and Sandler lacks the interracial chemistry and humor [...]. I realize [...] as a Christian it was too offensive to enjoy with a clear conscience. [...] Parents be warned: this film contains strong violence, brief nudity, derisive gay references and jokes, implied illicit relations, multiple references to masturbation, a scene with a pornographic film in the background… the list goes on. [...] Even from a secular standpoint it is not worth seeing. As a Christian college student and a fellow human being, I strongly urge any and everybody to avoid wasting their money on this one."

Termination Man
(1998, dir. Fred Gallo)
Farentino must have been behind in car payments or something like that to have taken this job, playing co-fiddle to the perennial but better known second fiddle Steve Railsback (of, among others, Disturbing Behavior [1998] and Ed Gein [2000]) and some unknown never-been named Athena Massey. Director Gallo is a student of the Roger Corman later-day school of crappy direct-to-video films; his consistently non-noteworthy production of tax write offs include Dead Space (1991 / trailer), Dracula Rising (1993 / trailer), Star Quest II (1997 / trailer), and the surreally stupid The Don of 42nd Street (2009 / trailer). Termination Man, a K-Mart-level James Bond wannabe, was shot in Russia with a US/Russian cast/crew and no budget. To quote Movie House Commentary, the film, co-written by Charles Philip Moore, director of Angel of Destruction (1994 / trailer), Blackbelt (1992 / trailer), and Demon Wind (1990 / trailer), is "Wrong. So very, very wrong. It is one of the worst films I've ever seen." As DVD Cult explains: "[T]he action scenes don't have any bite, the special effects are ridiculously cheap, and the acting leaves a lot to be desired. [...] Railsback matches Bond in survival, seduction, and cultural sophistication. In one scene, he identifies the vintage and estate of a glass of wine from one sip – but fails to identify the fact that it is full of knockout drops!"

Scandalous Me: The Jacqueline Susann Story
(1998, dir. Bruce McDonald)
Farentino appears somewhere in this cable TV biography (as the publisher Bernard Geis) produced and starring his ex-wife Michele Lee as the famous trashy novelist Jacqueline Susann (seen here to the left). The most common synopsis found on the web (sometimes credited to a "Hal Erickson") says: "Michele Lee stars as Jacqueline Susann, a second-string actress and well-known party girl who turned to journalism after her marriage to producer Irving Mansfield (Peter Reigert). Though constantly surrounded by Show Business Glitterati, Susann would not achieve celebrity status herself until age 47, when she published the lurid best-seller Valley of the Dolls. Though outwardly giving the impression that she was tough as nails and utterly invulnerable, Susann in truth had her share of anguish and tragedy, coping with the challenge of raising an autistic son,* struggling against substance abuse, and ultimately waging a long, losing battle against breast cancer. [...] Largely based on the biography by Barbara Seaman, Scandalous Me: The Jacqueline Susann Story made its USA network debut on December 9, 1998, several months before Bette Midler's theatrically released spin on the Susann legend, Isn't She Great (trailer)." Canadian director Bruce McDonald has made better films, such as both the quirky Highway 61 (1991 / scene) and Pontypool (2008 / trailer).
*Actually, she just had him locked away in an asylum, where he still rots today.
Trailer to the 1967 Film version of Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls:

Murder in the Mirror
(2000, dir. James Keach)
Director James Keach – who once costarred with his brother Stacy Keach in the classic Walter Hill western The Long Riders (1980 / trailer) – is the husband of the film's lead, actress Jane Seymour; he is also the director of one of Leslie Neilsen's more interesting later-day flops, the comedy Camouflage (2001 / trailer). All over online, good ol' "Hal Erickson" explains the plot of Murder in the Mirror: "Newly married psychiatrist Mary (Jane Seymour) is identified as the murderer of her husband, Paul (Robert Desiderio), by an unimpeachable eyewitness. Detective Russo (James Farentino) is all for putting the cuffs on Mary, but she convinces him to wait until more evidence is gathered. Conducting her own personal investigation in some of the seamier districts of town, Mary learns that the likely killer is a woman who looks, acts, and dresses very much like her – and, more disturbingly, our heroine discovers that her husband was leading a most unsavory double life. Capped by a climax straight out of The Perils of Pauline, Murder in the Mirror [...] debuted January 19, 2000, on CBS." Farentino's name didn't make it onto the cover of the German DVD release, but his face sorta did.

Women of the Night
(2001, dir. Zalman King)
Zalman King is an acquired taste; most people either love him or hate him. Here at A Wasted Life, we hate the films he has directed, but tend to like the films he acted in a younger man – which include such fine Grindhouse fare like Galaxy of Terror (1981 / trailer) and Blue Sunshine (1978 / trailer) as well as forgotten oddities like The Passover Plot (1976 / trailer). The Cinematic Intelligence Agency, which says Women of the Night is "crap, dung, boring," explains the film's plot as: "Three stories – a lawyer, a comedienne and an heiress, woven seamlessly together. Stories of love, lust, danger and revenge." Our favorite comment about Women of the Night, however, comes from the truly dedicated Charles G. Wilkerson at, who says: "I have seen the DVD three times sober and once when I was not sober, and I did not understand the story line. Therefore, I cannot tell the readers what the film is about. Somehow Mr. King tried to incorporate a blind female radio announcer, a pirated [sic] radio station, and a South American murder into this film, and none it made since [sic]. [...] I gave it a single star because the women are beautiful." Women of the Night is Farentino's last film, but for the short film Drive II by "Peter Bonerz" – no, we did not make up the name – in 2006.

Trailer provided by Video Detective

No comments: