In the 1970s, TV was more adventurous than today.
ABC, which was always in third place, took plenty of chances to get out of the ratings cellar.
One of these things was the ABC Movie of the Week. It did some very memorable ones!
One of which was the 1972 Haunts of the Very Rich.
I hadn’t seen this since it first aired, I think, way back in 1972. But there it was, complete on YouTube to see again, for free! Would it hold up?
Supporting cast from end credits:
And back to the opening credits:
The story begins with a group of people already on a jet (revealed later to be a chartered 747):
We have the Charmer:
A fragile housewife played by Anne Francis and Cloris Leachman’s character is nearly a virgin:
A newlywed couple (bonus, the luscious Donna Mills!!):
And Ed Asner as the practical businessman:
They are all headed to a place called The Portals of Eden. Which has a very odd brochure: Each person got one that described it differently. Except for Asner, who never got one and wonders how the hell he wound up on the plane!
It lands and they disembark …
… into a breathtaking wilderness …
… and are greeted by their host, the white-clad Mr. Seacrist …
… and they are boated …
… to a posh resort …
… and if you are thinking, Fantasy Island, well now you know where series creator Gene Levitt got his “insoiration” for it. Except that TV series was dull one-dimensional crap compared to this movie.
Things quickly go downhill, with an overnight epic storm that kills the electricity and …
… all the fish in the water …
…. which not only limits their food supply but provides a pervasive stink in the humid tropical heat!
And that’s as much of the story I will tell.
Let’s take a look at the framing by Wendkos:
You don’t see shots like that today. Some of them are just classic TV (in a good way) — and Wendkos has a keen sense of what to use when and really ratchets up the tension as the story proceeds. And every shot works. It’s all brilliant.
And Dominic Frontiere‘s chilling score kicks in at around 44:30 and it’s just unforgettable.
Now a word about Paul Wendkos. He’s not a name I recall prominently from my jillions of hours of TV watching. He never stuck in my mind like, say, Jeannot Szwarc or Reza Badiyi. But it turns out he did one other memorable TV movie that stuck in my head: The Brotherhood of the Bell. He also did episodes of several series I saw and might have actually been the first American stylish TV director I ever encountered, so it’s a shame I don’t recall him more.
In this movie, he provided two of the iconic shots in all of TV:
I cannot tell you how that much that above shot freaks me the hell out, even today. The people behind Persons Unknown must have seen this movie!
And here is the overwhelming image:
Oh my god. I think this movie was so memorable that it went on to influence many people. It’s tragic that we’ll never know the full list of now-prominent people who saw it and had their lives moved by it. A movie like this deserves to be remembered (it’s not even listed in the Wikipedia entry for the ABC Movie of the Week!) and I hope this post goes a little way towards keeping it alive for others to see.
Here’s the YouTube video: