They’ve apparently 86’d the nipples.
By Paul Mavis
Mill Creek Entertainment (our favorite releasing company here at the shadowy offices of
international crime syndicate entertainment review site, Drunk TV) has released the super-cool, sparklingly-bright Blu-ray set, Charlie’s Angels: The Complete Series, a compact 20-disc collection of the ABC jiggle-thon that captivated the crotches of adolescent boys and even more immature fathers, back in the mid-to-late 1970s.
Click to order Charlie’s Angels: The Complete Series on Amazon.
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Now, in my first season review, I already made a prima facie case (I brook no rebuttals here) for the artistic and/or yanking merits of Charlie’s Angels. There’s no need for me to bog everyone down with rehashed beans on why Charlie’s Angels is necessary 70s pop culture TV viewing for any woman who wants to see gorgeous, well-mannered actresses sport several costume changes an episode, and for any man who wants to crank one out. Charlie’s Angels is a fact. It exists. And it is right and it is good (proof of this dialectic unity of opposites can be found in the latest—and gloriously failed—theatrical version of Charlie’s Angels, where the woke moviemakers apparently forgot one of Aaron Spelling’s “Golden Rules”: hire actual women for your female leads).
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So…in an effort to get maximum mileage out of Mill Creek’s sweet sweetback’s baadasssss Charlie’s Angels Blu-ray series collection, I’m going to review each subsequent season, once a month, until my editor and 4 loyal readers scream, “Uncle!” Or until I’ve reached Tanya Roberts (still not sure I can endure that). Ready? Let’s kick off this century’s soon-to-be madcap Twenties with a look at season two of Charlie’s Angels, originally airing from September 14, 1977 to May 10, 1978, and notable for the debut of insanely hot pint-sized sex shooter, Cheryl Ladd, as departed Farrah Fawcett-Majors’ kid sister replacement.
First, though, about that casting change: it’s totally okay. A little background, before we discuss the episodes. When Charlie’s Angels’ first season caused a major pop culture ruckus in 1976, it was difficult for a few months there not to see or hear about Fawcett-Majors. She was everywhere: TV, newspapers, magazines, billboards, toy stores, hair salons, your friend’s bedroom wall. She was an instant sensation, known all over the world by one name, and somehow, someway, she appeared to be much more important and larger, if you will, than the show that catapulted her into supermegastardom.
Sure she had astute handlers and a network promotional machine behind her dedicated to making her famous. But none of that would have worked to the degree that it did with Farrah…had it been directed at some other actress. Something about Farrah just…clicked with a lot of people, right at that moment in entertainment history.
And, foolishly, she believed that all of that attention would last, when it obviously couldn’t. She was the very definition of a “fad,” but clearer heads in her camp didn’t prevail, and Farrah did the unthinkable: at the end of season one, she quit Charlie’s Angels to become a “movie star,” breaking her contract (which she said she never really officially signed) with producers Aaron Spelling, Leonard Goldberg, and ABC. Everyone plotzed and started suing everyone else, and lucrative deals were dangled in front of Farrah to make peace and keep her in front of the cameras (a significant raise, as well as promised movie and miniseries roles). All to no avail. She walked in the summer of 1977 and ABC let her go…provided she come back to Charlie’s Angels for a handful of episodes at a later date.
And almost instantly, the air went out of the Farrah’s hair. It was never going to last, anyway, but something about the perception that she was cutting and running out on a show that “made her,” didn’t quite sit right with folks (or with the media that loves to tear down the false idols they first raise up). It was all too soon. Dues hadn’t been paid, maybe. It’s hard to say. What was concrete was the public’s utter rejection of her subsequent movie career: Somebody Killed Her Husband, Sunburn, and Saturn 3 all flopped. Badly. And not so secretly, Hollywood was overjoyed.
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Unlike, say…smart TV charmer Tom Selleck, who didn’t engender ill will by breaking his Magnum, P.I. contract to star in Speilberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, Farrah did the one thing you simply cannot do in Hollywood: stab people in the back and then fail. Had she just one major hit she could have called her own (The Cannonball Run doesn’t count—that was Burt’s movie), she would have been the king Hollywood ballbreaker of all time. However, she couldn’t seal the deal. Most of Selleck’s movies didn’t make a dime, either, but he had played ball. Farrah eventually “came back,” and had a reasonably successful run in TV movies after that, but she never again achieved the level of interest with the public that she had during that first season of Charlie’s Angels, and she certainly never again had major support from that company town called Hollywood.
Which brings us to cute, spunky, seriously fine Cheryl Ladd. How Cheryl Jean Stoppelmoor went from Huron, South Dakota and singing the part of Melody on Hanna-Barbera‘s animated Josie and the Pussycats, to trudging through a bunch of TV shows like Happy Days and The Partridge Family before landing Charlie’s Angels, is another story (which I will ghostwrite, pending dating arrangements and three contractual sleep-overs with Miss Ladd). What is pertinent is that ABC spent a lot of money promoting the sh*t out of her as Farrah’s replacement over the summer of 1977, and…it worked.
Ladd didn’t become “another Farrah” in terms of being an international pop culture sensation/fad, but she did successfully stop Charlie’s Angels from falling back into obscurity (which it certainly could have, considering the significance of the loss of Farrah).
Forgotten (even by me) is that Ladd not only stopped the show collapsing, she bettered its overall ratings from its premiere outing. Maybe it was jealous Kate “Where’s Waldo?” Jackson’s constant bitching about Ladd screwing the numbers that cemented that incorrect notion into my head, but if you look at the Nielsen’s, Charlie’s Angels’ second season was the fourth most popular show on television during the 1977-1978 season; its first season, it had been number 5 (yes…the share was slightly lower, but overall rankings are overall rankings). Not too shabby, considering Ladd was shouldering most of the series’ publicity burden at that time. At that point, in the most visible way to the public, it really was her series to make or break.
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Ladd made her debut on Charlie’s Angels in the special September 14th, 1977 2-hour season premiere, Angels in Paradise, an episode forever immortalized in the new opening show credits that feature 3 or 4 jaw-dropping seconds of a soaking wet, perfectly-proportioned Ladd in a painted-on brown-and-white striped bikini (we will now pause this review while your author suffers the vapors…). In a ridiculously simple and effective move, the producers dismiss the whole summertime Farrah p.r. nightmare with a swift stroke of the pen: the threatened new investigator at the Charles Townsend Agency, the one that vets Kelly Garrett (Jaclyn Smith) and Sabrina Duncan (Kate Jackson) utterly refuse to work with…turns out to be Ladd’s Kris Munroe, Jill’s kid sister! Instant acceptance by the team, with everyone immediately getting down to work. Voila: Farrah no longer exists (I love that wishful thinking, “Besides…[Jill]’ll be back before you know it!”).
Angels in Paradise is one of those “vacation” episodes the networks used to do with regularity, to reward the production team with a bit of fun while giving the Midwesterners plunked down in front of their tee-vees plenty of gee-gawing, what with the flora (the spectacular Hawaiian locales, which look particularly good here on Blu-ray) and fauna (the equally spectacular-looking cast). If you’re expecting Columbo-level mystery, forget it (who can seriously take the wonderfully gross Art Metrano as a villain?) …but there is a not-to-be-taken-seriously jauntiness that gives this souffle an airiness that’s most welcome.
Everyone seems in on the joke (penned by solid scripter, John D.F. Black), with Jaclyn Smith deadpanning, “There is no Charlie; Bosley made him up,” before the rather carefree crew sorta/kinda looks for Charlie (voice of John Forsythe, uncredited), inbetween hula lessons, mai tai sessions, and surfing. A sleepy, enervated Don Ho shows up for 5 seconds as an ersatz Polynesian Huggy Bear (he knows all the players….), while 38-year-old France Nuyen frankly puts the new set to shame, looking positively ripped in a series of ever-more revealing black bikinis and heels.
Speaking of the new set…why did Kate Jackson allow the costumers to outfit her like Greg Brady? I mean…Gilligan jeans and a striped shirt? One look at Ladd’s bodacious bod probably sealed the deal on Jackson hating her guts from then on. Titillation abounds in this episode, from the long, gratuitous close-ups of that one goddess hula dancer, to Smith (not ceding anything to Ladd), giving us a slo-mo view of her swiveling, hula-ing rear end (repeated sharp slaps to the face from the wife revived me…). In all honesty, by the time the finale rolled around, I was blissed out by all the sunshine and the bikinis; I have no idea how it ended. But I was roused by the fade-out luau, with David Doyle seizuring his hula, and everyone generally yukking it up. All in all, a most pleasant way to kick off the season, with spirited Ladd—game as hell and a fun physical comedienne—a most satisfying replacement for Farrah.
When I saw it was about figure skating, I groaned: what straight guy ever thought the Ice Capades were sexy, except maybe Morris “Mo” Wanchuk…and even he was critical (“They oughta cut the costumes up higher on the thigh, so you can see more ass!”). But almost immediately, I was enjoying—for probably the wrong reasons—the special 2-hour Angels on Ice. I was primed for a TV-grade noir outing when gruff, pretty skaters-obsessed James Gammon as low-functioning towel boy Billy came on, all set to let thieves into the sports arena. But then, literally crawling out of the bushes, came master comedic supporting actor Edward Andrews as an erudite wino, and I was gone, man. Gone. I mean…the bushes are right up against the building, in plain sight of anyone, and he just lives there? Security doesn’t care? He has no bags? No pillow? No shopping cart? No piece of cardboard, even? Screams.
Things get even more strange when Timothy Carey sneers his way on-camera (that guy was on a whole other plane, seriously), and the bizarre casting just keeps gliding by, with Phil Silvers as the ice show owner (watch the regular cast look on in stunned amazement at Silvers’ over-the-top line readings), and a sadly boring Jim Backus as his main fabricator. If you think the plot ridiculous, remember; this is when warring Arab factions settled their blood feuds sensibly: on the ice.
Let’s see: Charlie has one of those sweet Pong™ tables (rich bastard). Kris charms Harvey Jason (funny, as always, as the put-upon choreographer) by correctly sniffing out his cologne (“It’s Canoe, isn’t it?”). Jason correctly I.D.s the Angels’ overall appeal (“A je ne sais quois elegance into this world of ready-mades,”), and Kelly wears a sleeveless turtleneck skating tog that put me in a fugue state. Sabrina has a terrific sequence where she battles a guy in a gorilla suit, and then has to humorously explain it to the cops (she needed more scenes like this), and Kris has a spaghetti and meatballs dinner date with Billy. You have to give Billy credit; he has a unique dating style. First, with disarming bashfulness, he brags about how many meatballs he can stuff in his mouth, before he flips out in a psychotic rage, complete with spastic crying (true to form, Kris was putty in his hands).
Oh…and Jaclyn Smith does some belly dancing. She only has one hip-snaking move. That’s it. It was enough. I re-watched it 17 times.
In Pretty Angels All in a Row, one of my favorite episodes this season, Burton Gilliam and Richard Kelton are two less-than-bright cowpokes out to terrorize the contestants in the Miss Chrysanthemum Festival Beauty Pageant, in Freebairn, Iowa. Organizer and MC Jack Knight goes to L.A. looking for help before all his contestants quit on him, and he gets it, in the form of the Angels participating in his little pageant. Well…Sabrina won’t, but we expected that; she’s undercover as a news reporter, with Bosley helping out as her cameraman.
A nice little Smile takeoff from writer/director John D.F. Black, Pretty Angels All in a Row is a consistently witty outing, played strictly for laughs and satire. What starts off as a seemingly straight entry is tilted when the jokes start flying: since no one is dead, the Angels snort at the podunk assignment, which almost seems to be a lark deliberately embarked on so Charlie can pit the girls against each other in the beauty contest (Kelly cracks at the importance of the pageant, “It’s the stepping stone to the Miss Prune title,”). Later, when prospective candidate Kris burbles that she wants to study brain surgery, and that her favorite color is, “red, white, and blue,” you know this is going to be an enjoyable goof.
The cast is first rate. Gilliam and Kelton have a lot of fun pushing around feisty judge Patricia Barry (their fight in the elevator is hilarious; Kelton looks like he’s cracking up), before they wish they hadn’t snatched her (“the old biddy fell off her barrel,” they groan). Doyle gets more than a few snickers with his pained reactions to the contestants’ performances (my favorite is the one reciting The Merchant of Venice while twirling a baton), while Jack Knight scores as the singing MC scrambling to keep his event afloat (that theme song is priceless: “Could Shakespeare rhapsodize the virtue in their eyes, As we hear them each loftily moralize?”). Everyone looks like they had a lot of fun doing this one, and it translates to the viewer (and special mention of Doney Oatman–Edna Unger on The Odd Couple–who has a lovely singing voice).
Next up, Angel Flight is an acceptable Airport 1975/Skyjacked rip-off, written by Brian McKay. Someone is freaking out Sabrina’s old college roommate, airline hostess Fawne Harriman, by leaving black roses all over the place. Is it smarmy macho stud pilot Robert Gentry? How about disgusting peeping tom Phillip Roth, the assistant manager of Fawne’s “Singles Only” apartment complex?
And how does that new autopilot mechanism fit in here? The Angels become stews to find out. Angel Flight continues the Charlie’s Angels tradition of having the girls go undercover in a supposedly glamorous female-centric occupation—this time: airline hostesses. All in all…it looks pretty fun: free air travel, nice uniforms, karate chops to the windpipe. The dating scene at the singles-only apartment complex (you know what that means: bikini ping pong!) is amusing. Harriman, already upset for being a terrible actress, doesn’t need Gentry’s hassles, man (“We had some good times…let’s leave it at that,”). Roth couldn’t be more suspicious, constantly wiping into place that greasy comb-over, before delivering a series-best line, “I’m not as dumb as I look!” (Oh yeah?)
Kris naturally is immediately up for the job (“I guess we better get to the, ‘Coffee, Tea, or Me,’ lessons!”), while Sabrina checks out the tabs (“Wonder what Burt Reynolds is up to?” she muses, as Kelly answers, “From what I hear…anything you ask,”). At the last minute, Daktari’s Marshall Thompson crawls out of his grave to talk Kelly down from the skies (“You may have to land the plane,” to which Kelly quite sensibly yells, “Are you crazy!?”). Big laughs ensue. These TV mini-disaster episodes never fail.
A relatively chintzy production undermines the potential fun in Circus of Terror. The Barzak Circus is what…4 tents and elephant? And it looks like they shot this on a high school football field. Well, someone is terrorizing gypsy Ramon Bieri’s struggling circus, and son James Darren wants to find out who it is (he should be more concerned about the cold and flu season, considering his polyester shirt is unbuttoned to his navel). Is master mime Charles Tyner the culprit? How about knife thrower Denny Miller? (it sure as hell ain’t Patty Maloney’s “Tinker Belle,” or Marvin Kaplan’s “Zobar,” the apparently bodiless head that gets around quite nicely here….).
An unfortunately tired little outing, with very few of the expected “circus of horrors” cliches present (couldn’t afford them, apparently), Circus of Terror still ass-backward benefits from some goofy casting. Who in the world thought The Longest Yard’s odious villain Charles Tyner would be a believable clown? You keep waiting for him to torch some kid. Not so much fun as it is depressing, is seeing big, funny Denny “Tarzan” Miller reduced to such a boring nothing of a role (that guy should have had a much bigger career). Kelly gets to play Evel Knievel, at least; Kris models one of her hottest tops (it’s all scoops and ties or something), and Bree finally gets a serious romance with Darren (interestingly, the most ardent feminist of the three Angels admits that being pursued in an old-fashioned, sexist way by a traditional guy…is kinda nice). Too bad he proves his worthiness for the brainy, beautiful detective by making jokes like this: “I make a great Chicken Kieve—gypsy style.” “How do you do that?” “First, you steal a chicken…” Crickets. The season’s first outright clunker.
Much, much better is Angel in Love, written by Skip Webster and Jock MacKelvie. Carole Cook owns Utopia West, a “human potential enterprise” resort high in the mountains. Her nephew is shot dead in one of the cabins, and she wants the Angels—and Bosley—to come find out why. Potential suspects include testosterone-soaked ranch foreman Tom “The Yankee Cowboy” Simcox or writer Peter Haskell…who has a hankerin’ for Bree.
Before I look at this one, can I just say something? What the hell were they doing with Cheryl Ladd’s hair? I mean: who was her hairdresser—Mr. Magoo? She has beautiful, long blond hair, and so many times this season, she looks like “Low-Flow Flo.” What gives? I’m betting some Benjamins were passed by none other than Jackson…. Rant over.
A nice mix of comedy and romantic drama, Angel in Love is an effective showcase for Kate Jackson. Yes, she’s my least favorite Angel, but she’s still a very talented performer, and when she’s given good material, she runs with it. Here, she falls in love with D.B. Cooper-ish Peter Haskell (red jeans? Really?), and Jackson’s scenes with him—first stand-offish, then tentatively vulnerable…and then terribly hurt by his betrayal—are the best ones she has this season. You can see she’s been waiting for something like this, and you can understand why she might have been frustrated by the confines of the producers’ expectations as to how this show was going to play to its audiences. Still, they run the show and you’re an employee, so….
On the lighter side, Angel in Love has some fun with the whole EST/New Age silliness, where the Angels quickly find out that “anything goes” here, including your clothes, if you’re so inclined. Doyle has a zippy scene with Doris Martin, who apparently lost her “Vital Power,” but he gets the biggest laugh being pushed around like a big beach ball, floating in the lake, a look of complete relaxation and contentment on his face. Not from personal enlightenment, mind you…but from the ham he stole from the dining room. Classic. Good juggling act of competing tones from director Paul Stanley.
Continuing their lampooning of 70s California obsessions, Unidentified Flying Angels looks at scam artist Ross Martin (from The Wild, Wild West fame), who runs the phony Celestial Research Foundation. There, for a small entrance fee of $7500 (field trips are extra, he points out), anyone can see actual live aliens fly by in their ships, since Martin’s mansion in the desert is apparently some kind of midway base for the little green men. Adding gravitas to the shady enterprise is former astronaut Dennis Cole (Chuck Connors’ and Robert Redford’s love child), who falls for Kelly over a steak dinner (she’s lucky—knowing Cole it could have been a knuckle sandwich). When a missing dowager starts writing big checks to the Foundation, the Angels tele-transport in to find her.
Not as successful in mixing love and comedy as Angel in Love was, Unidentified Flying Angels does better with the Ross Martin sham alien shenanigans, rather than with Jaclyn Smith’s wooing of Dennis Cole. It’s not hard to tell this was filmed at the height of their romance (when their characters meet here, she states, “Are you the one?” as she positively lights up the screen). But for whatever reason, the performers have little chemistry in their scenes together (you can just tell that Cole was an angry, frustrated guy off-screen). Smith does much better in a humorous scene where she passes herself off as an alien (complete with knee-weakening silver lamé mini-dress and matching boots). I wish they had let ladylike Smith go more often into broader comedy like this scene; she has a flair for it, a wry twinkle to her line readings that’s delightful.
No such trouble for Ladd, who continues to impress as a light, even goofy-at-times comedienne, this time playing a literal space cadet, to more than a few laughs (when she pulls that sugar baby bit with Doyle, going, “Sweetheart…I want,” Doyle looks believably flabbergasted). Jackson doesn’t have much to do here (she should really ditch that Bowery Boys Brooklyn accent she uses far too often…without success), but it’s good to see old pro Ken Olfson (in a caftan, no less), score a funny scene with Bosley, as a nervous accountant (“Is there anything else I can do for you?” he trembles, as Doyle replies, “Yes…please don’t cry.”).
Angels on the Air has the girls going undercover at radio station KBEX, where a reporter was almost killed by an unseen assassin. With each Angel assigned a likely suspect, they must hurry and run down each lead before the killer strikes again. Written by William Froug, Angels on the Air continues the series’ tradition of poking at male stereotypes, easily done this time within a simple framework: which one of these three jerks tried to kill the KBEX reporter? Kelly’s suspect—a wife beater—doesn’t even get any screen time; he’s dead before she tracks him down (and no jokes are made about it, either). Instead, the episode focuses on Bree’s interaction with blustering macho ‘Nam chopper pilot Taylor Lacher, and “biker mama” Kris’ undercover shot at Manson Family-lite guru, Larry Gilman.
In the end, Lacher (an amiable lunkhead of a stuntman/actor) gets a pass for kidnapping Bree because of “what he’s seen in Vietnam,” causing him in the end to “live and let live.” (in late 70s TV, the bar was set pretty low: if a Vietnam vet wasn’t blowing someone up, he was considered good to go). More interesting is Gilman’s ex-biker commune leader, with his band of loyal Manson girls. I won’t comment on Ladd’s crimped hair (jesus…), but our initial expectations of the character—horn dog looking to score with as many women as possible—is nicely turned around by the end. Gilman, intoxicated with his own image, may relentlessly hit on Kris (“A hot-blooded woman on a cold-running bike…there ought to be a song in there somewhere,”), by the fade-out we discover he’s just another L.A. hustler: he’s doing all this to be in the movies (he whoops with glee when one of his followers announces that the documentary makers have arrived to talk about wardrobe). An interesting outing…and check out those hairy helicopter stunts they would never attempt today (passenger Jackson’s squeaky terror is pretty funny).
Nothing says “seventies television” like the phrase, “black market baby,” so why shouldn’t the Angels have gotten in on the dirty deal? The appropriately named Angel Baby finds Kelly helping out a former juvie hood (that Scott Baio clone from Caddyshack) by going undercover at a swank baby mill run by Edward Winter and Cissy Wellman, with nasty henchman John Karlen providing the muscle when the mothers prove soft about giving up their kids.
I’m sorry, but if I’m watching Charlie’s Angels, and the subject is “black market babies,” I want my exploitation thrills to come fast and cheap. Here…there’s no question the episode’s highlight is Winter suggesting Kris mate with three WASP studs for a fast $20k (deliciously crass). Unfortunately, scripters George R. Hodges and John D.F. Black want to say something about all this, so in order to satisfy the censors, Ladd is not serviced, more’s the pity…but we do have a fine scene where Ladd (extremely good here in a quiet, knowing…and steely way) shames pasteurized cheese food product Jimmy Caan into not going through with the mounting.
The rest of Angel Baby is a pretty predictable turn of events (the lowly henchman becomes the leader stuff) before things get dopey in the third reel. That Caddyshack kid (he’s super-annoying, you know?) shows up and gets Hai-Karate’d in the neck, with Kelly forced into OB-GYN service. The ending doesn’t work, either (Ladd overplays the shaking and crying after killing dirt bag Karlen—this ain’t supposed to be Police Story). All in all? Should have been smuttier.
What? Am I watching The Love Boat all of the sudden? Angels in the Wings sounds cool, with a jinxed Hollywood musical set where people get squished by falling lamps or by going over the side of flimsy railings, while a silent “phantom of the studio” keeps terrorizing those who dare to film there. Good enough. But someone thought they were making A Star is Born-like musical (or worse: a Star!-like musical), and the effect is stultifying. Ladd can sing, no doubt, and Gene Barry is always charming (they look like they enjoy each other), but the last thing I want in a Charlie’s Angels episode is one of those “showcase” outings where producers feature a cast member’s talent I didn’t know about.
A definite plus are the shots of the 20th Century-Fox backlot, with some of the remaining Hello Dolly fronts still intact, while a few of the song lyrics provide unintentional laughs, such as this one from Sweet Misery: “And when you hit your teens, Sweaters and faded jeans, So curvy, cute, and prancey…” “Would I strike your fancy?” (that’s Sweet Misery, folks, with lyrics by Jeffrey Epstein, and music by Harvey Weinstein). Oh, and when Nehemiah Persoff started silently wailing like a baboon in heat, I hit the floor. There’s a special thanks for dancer/director Gene Nelson in the end credits. If he was in any way responsible for what I saw in the musical numbers, “thanks” is not what should have been extended to him.
Oy. In Magic Fire, someone is going around torching Fashion City warehouses. Is it the legendary torch, “Magic Man,” who set some of the most famous arson-for-hire blazes? And is “Magic Man” actually E.J. Andre, a famous fire-throwing magician?
Here’s the answer to both: who cares! With the exception of some cool shots inside the famed Magic Castle (is that still around…or is it a parking lot?), Magic Fire is dire, with a sleepy, pokey script by Lee Sheldon, and half-assed execution by director Leon Carrere. Here’s a thought: do you think Aaron Spelling eventually fired Kate Jackson because of those lousy f****** accents she always employed? I wouldn’t be surprised. Here, it’s a French one, and I defy anyone to listen to it for more than 2 minutes before reaching for the remote. A truly awful episode.
Oh no…the Candy Man. Okay, so…The Sammy Davis, Jr. Kidnap Case is as bad as you might think it would be, considering that title (an admirer of Mr. Davis’ Quaker State 40 weight talents I am not). I’m not interested in seeing his real house used here, or meeting his real wife, or seeing his classic car collection. And I’m sure as hell not interested in hearing him strain through What Kind of Fool Am I? for the 578th time (if I want to hear it at all, I’ll take Newley’s). There’s an unctuousness and phony sincerity about him that always put me right off. However…I will admit to cracking up now and then when Davis portrayed his mouthy bantam rooster doppelganger, Herbert (“You prefer to be incognito,” “Don’t you talk no smut, girl!”). But those moments aren’t nearly enough to lift this below-standard kidnapping plot to an acceptable level. Considering the continued downward slope of these episodes…I’m beginning to fear for the season.
Ah…rebound. Angels on Horseback, a neat little noir thriller set at a dude ranch, begins with an intriguing premise: who killed a passenger on the dude ranch bus…when everyone was supposedly sleeping? One of the main complaints against Charlie’s Angels were the simplicity of many of the mysteries. Here, in a script by Edward J. Lakso, the revelations about the various characters roll out with sufficient puzzlement, and the viewer genuinely has to work a bit to solve this one (usually unheard of for this show). The supporting cast is first-rate, including William Phipps (excellent as a drunken, scared investigator/crook), James B. Sikking (always good playing watchful, thinking criminals), Ted Markland, and the marvelous Woodrow Parfrey as an adorably slow country sheriff who is exactly 10 steps behind the crime-solving Angels at every step of the way.
The only wrong note here is Angel Tompkins. I’m a huge fan of the sexy 70s B-queen (The Teacher is surely a desert island choice), but she’s woefully miscast in Angels on Horseback as an arch, tony femme fatale. Tomcat Tompkins needs to be low-down and dirty to score on-screen; here, she’s not erotic but merely brittle (and what the hell is wrong with her hair? All those curls?). When her promiscuous past is discovered by the gang, she stumbles, “Well…you can’t arrest a lady for being liberated,” a cultural excuse that ultimate Angel lady Kelly deftly bats back with, “I didn’t know we were talking about a lady.” Ka. Boom. And I could have done without the Abbott & Costello shenanigans on the horses at the end. Still, a solid return to form for the series.
Game, Set, Death (great title), finds the Angels going undercover at the La Hermosa Woman’s Tennis Tourney, after a player almost gets the steamed salmon treatment in the Shower Room of Death. Who is stalking all of these ladies?
The best things in Game, Set, Death—not including the ridiculous death scene of the Mexican national champion, who’s found sitting in the lotus position, eyes wide open…and clearly bobbing and breathing—are the flaky New Age ramblings of “Swedish National Champion” Helga Bourne, and the constant hustling patter of tennis racquet manufacturer, Arlo Spinner. Charlie’s Angels‘ self-reflexiveness reaches a peak when Bourne, played by smashing 70s B-babe Tiffany Bolling (Bonnie’s Kids is art), gets Smith to promise she won’t exploit her sexuality anymore for profit (hee hee!).
Spinner, played with consummate chutzpah by Larry Block (the furious umpire in Slap Shot), is a ball of nervous tension, attacking each of his scenes with eye-darting energy. Later, he slows things down and has a rather touching scene with Jackson (who responds in kind), discussing his hard-to-please father. They’re good together, with Jackson delivering another believably dramatic scene at the finale, when she has to talk Block down from shooting everyone. A sorta good/sorta dumb episode rescued by solid supporting turns.
Much more solid is Hours of Desperation, a snappy, nicely worked-out little caper that finds the Angels and Bosley held hostage to a bomb strapped to Bree. The plot? Psycho electronics expert Stanley Kamel helped avuncular, pipe-smoking Tom Clancy and vaguely Shazam! actor Jackson Bostwick-looking Edward Power rob a jewelry store. Only problem is: Power lammed it with the stones, and Kamel wants them back. He winged the escaping Power, so Kris and Kelly should have no trouble finding him in 10 hours…or it’s bye bye Townsend Agency headquarters.
Okay, okay…what’s with the producers and the in-jokes about Charlie not really giving a s*** about his clients? Or employees? I mean, the girls are calling him up, telling him about the situation; he’s supposedly scrambling to save Bree…and they show Charlie noodling at his desk, leisurely going through his mail. It’s so sickly funny.
After the blinding sight of Ladd in that suede vest, the highlight of Hours of Desperation is Kamel’s deliciously overwrought performance. A superlative 70s psycho, Kamel doesn’t just scream at the girls when he loses patience (“Hey, Bright Person” is a new Mavis family insult)…he bugs his red eyes out and bawls and mewls like a giant crazy baby. It’s hilariously over-the-top, precisely as it should be, and it’s a welcome jolt of energy (just like Larry Block in the previous episode) to the sometimes too-laid-back Angels outings.
Oh, dear…back to dire. Diamond in the Rough, with the wonderful Dan O’Herlihy in the central role, should be a real gem. It has a fun idea: Herlihy, a famous jewel thief, is for once innocent of a recent boost, so he and the Angels have to really steal the diamond to get some thugs off his back. And the cast is solid; in addition to O’Herlihy (his snitty, insulting English lord bit is withering), there’s courtly Rene Enriquez, the smooth Michael Evans, always crusty Bert Remsen, and B-movie icon Sid Haig, who actually gets to rumba with Jaclyn Smith (surely a mating of eagles!). So why doesn’t it work? The pacing is deadly dull; the dialogue frequently inane; the various accents annoying as hell; the romance between Kris and Robert Perault is coma-inducing; and there’s almost no action (except for the lame Rififi knock-off at the end). That about covers it.
I’d hate to think Angels in the Backfield was some sort of answer to the critics who said the women were always put in situations that were stereotypically female-centric (stews, models, beauty pageant contestants, etc.). If it was…it’s comical to see the Angels throwing like girls out there on the gridiron (hey, don’t give me any smack about that—watching Kate Jackson throw a football is hilarious. That’s not my problem. It’s hers). Check out the shot where they speed up the film when Kelly runs (it’s like the Keystone Kops).
If you can forget to laugh at these formidable football warriors, Angels in the Backfield is a not-too-hard-to-take little Asphalt Jungle-ish caper, with Jaclyn Smith again taking a liking to a guy she wouldn’t look twice at if she wasn’t paid to (another Jimmy Caan clone!). Of all the Angels, Smith’s take-outs are the most devastating; when her man, who limps from a previous football injury, proves yet again he’s not man enough for her, she coolly observes, “You are a cripple…in your head.” Saaaaa-lam. Another rat that breaks an Angel’s heart gets a smack-down to blow his brains out over. Special seedy shout-out to L.Q. Jones, who appears to have sauntered onto the Charlie’s Angels set, beer can in hand, to play a disapproving father who doesn’t believe in his kid one bit. You believe him.
Ah, yes…The Sandcastle Murders. Now this is a Charlie’s Angels classic. Down at the beach where Kris lives in her sister Jill’s rustically swank bungalow, there appears to be a serial killer who strangles and then buries his victims in the sand. Who could it be? Maybe “beach security guard” Alan Feinstein (jesus…the Jimmy Caan look was super-prevalent during this period, no? What is that, the third one this season? The fourth?), who’s soon to score beaucoup bucks when he divorces his rich wife? Maybe it’s spooky bodybuilder Steven Sandor, with the impossibly high-riding mom jeans and the tattoo? Or maybe it’s cosmetics executive Jason Evers, who never met a pretty girl he didn’t want to bed?
It’s almost impossible to screw up a serial killer episode, and The Sandcastle Murders bears that old adage out. What I like best about it, is the atmosphere. Often, it’s cold, and dark, and rainy here. The Angels aren’t running around in bikinis; the sun isn’t brilliant and shimmering. There’s a creepy, sullen vibe to the Santa Monica and Paradise Cove piers, and the Zuma and Westward beaches where this was filmed, and it agreeably suits the story. A perfect supporting cast of creeps helps; some humorous asides round out the fun (short order cook Bosley almost serving Sandor a burger he dropped on the diner floor is priceless), and the pace is nicely ramped up by director George McCowan. Solid, suspenseful entry.
Continuing on a high, Angel Blues, written by Edward J. Lakso and directed by The Rookies’ Georg Stanford Brown, has the Angels on a tense search for the killer of country and western singer Bess Gatewood (one of Charlie’s favorites). With the help of cabbie Gary Bisig, Kris and Kelly try to re-trace Bess’ last movements before she was iced with a “hot shot,” coming across all the cruds who used her and threw her away.
An excellent trackdown episode, made suspenseful by having the Angels staying relentlessly on the road while doing classic gumshoe investigation, Angel Blues is also effective as a sad little take on how people can screw up their lives and know it…but who can’t seem to make it right again (that opening sequence, with bruised Gatewood crying in Bisig’s cab, forlornly calling her weary, understanding father Bill Quinn, asking to come home again, is quite pathetic and emotionally resonant—a surprise for Charlie’s Angels). A solid gimmick of having drugs stored in a laundry dispenser (talk about Ivory Snow™…), tons of cool shots of L.A. streets in 1978…and apparently Bobbi, from Dressed to Kill, driving Kelly’s ‘stang (the stunt doubling in this episode is something awful). A series’ best.
A nice change of pace in Mother Goose is Running for His Life: the cutthroat world of toy making, believe it or not, is the setting for this enjoyable outing. Old-fashioned toy maker Murray Matheson is getting death threats: either sell out to a law firm’s unnamed client…or cash in your chips. Everyone believes mob boss Gilbert Green is behind the deal, but no one knows who’s the inside man at Matheson’s toy company. Maybe it’s screwy designer Clifford David? It’s time for the Angels to play…for keeps.
If I can get past the image of Ladd in a cropped tee and laced (front and back) hot pants, I noted that she was charmingly funny dressed as a giant Raggedy Ann doll, noisily snapping her gum whenever she didn’t think anyone could hear (why didn’t someone get her into a big screen comedy?). The supposedly innocent toy factory setting contrasts nicely with the deadly goings-on (that laser-sighted toy cannon would be home in any Avengers episode), while the skilled supporting cast was amusing; I particularly enjoyed Don Knight’s gruff, unhappy Limey assassin, drinking his black and tan at the Ye Olde King’s Head in Santa Monica (still going strong—I recommend the bangers and mash). A particularly bright, colorful production design is noted, as well. Another episode keeping the season trend line high.
Yes! Another serial killer episode! And what a screwed-up, perverse one it is…. In Little Angels of the Night, someone is going door to door at a seaside apartment complex, and killing the prostitutes that constitute many of the tenants there. Is it screwball love child of Starsky and Toma, waiter Jeffrey Druce? Or how about his hooker-obsessed boss, restaurant owner Paul Cavonis? It’s not too hard to guess, considering they both resemble the killer, who’s always shown from the back…looking like a psychotic Bert Convy unleashed!
There’s zero mystery in Little Angels of the Night, but again: these kinds of episodes rarely fail to entertain, so just sit back and watch Druce’s unique style of delivering a pizza: some sweet talk inbetween the inappropriate leering and pick-up lines, before insanely scrabbling at the chained door, shoving the pizza through the cracks and vowing to kill the customer (must have trained at Pizza Hut).
Kris’ brown bikini? Shivers. And I love the whole creepy attitude that everyone has about prostitution, like…they’re all cool with it, this apartment complex bordello, while the Angels smile and laugh about all that sex worker exploitation. Thank god Charlie and the gang stop the killer so’s them hoes ‘n’ bitches can git back to bidness. The lazy bicycle chase at the end doesn’t work (don’t care if it’s the boardwalk—the Creamsicle Pinto would fit right in there). And how funny is Cavonis’ restaurant owner, who simply can not stop sideways staring at the hookers, even when the cops are right in his face, asking what’s what (he may not have meant it that way, but it’s a very funny performance).
Oh, and the men in Charlie’s Angels? They’re either pathetic crazies who are obsessed with possessing and/or killing the women they can’t satisfy emotionally and sexually, or they’re love rats who can’t commit. You cannot win with these women.
In The Jade Trap, at the Seawave Residential Hotel, business is good for cat burglar Barry Bostwick. The residents are rich, the safes are fat, and his mother, Lurene Tuttle, doesn’t give a hoot that he steals, as long as he’s home for dinner at a decent hour. Only one problem: while robbing a wealthy widow’s apartment, he spies Dirk Benedict murdering her…and Benedict sees Bostwick. Meanwhile, the manager of the Seawave (Joan Leslie!) needs the Angels to stop the rash of safe crackings, so in they move, with Kris pretending to be a Swedish movie star target, and Kelly an insurance investigator.
Lots of laughs can be found in this outing, courtesy of marvelously chipper Tuttle, praising her thievin’ offspring (“You’re such a good son,”), and Ladd, whose hideously awful Swedish accent works because she sells it. Totally confident using it (and that’s always the key). Funny auction scene, where Bosley loses the plot and sells Charlie’s jade collection, but other than those points…a fairly blah affair (they should have either gone full Hitchcock spoof with Bostwick and his mother and their hijinks, or full Hitchcock suspense, with Benedict and Bostwick openly parring with each other as the Angels try and get the goods on both). And again…Charlie proves he’s completely indifferent to what’s going on with the latest case, when the most important issue he wants cleared up is whether or not it’s vulgar to dunk his crumpet in his tea (Bree says only if you leave it there…. And where were the ABC censors on that one?).
Edward J. Lakso delivers up another solid noir caper, Angels on the Run, that opens with a bang: a group of diamond thieves, trying to leave town, get into an auto accident. As the cops arrive, Craig T. Nelson ditches the stones in the back of very married/very cheating Don Reid’s dump truck. They kidnap him, but he passes out, so now it’s time to snatch his lounge singer wife, Belinda Balaski. Pity they grab Kelly, instead–the Angels are already on the case!
Like all good Charlie’s Angels episodes, this one mixes a reasonably recognizable genre framework with some amusing asides. Having the four physically large villains remain menacingly stoic grounds the suspense (I wish Bill Duke and Nelson had more to do…but I loved Art Garfunkel and Jimmy Caan love child Alex Courtney’s raspy, threatening voice). All the chasing down of Reid’s various paramours was amusing; it was nice seeing big, brassy Carole Mallory (The Killer Elite, The Stepford Wives) as Reid’s horny waitress, while Match Game favorite Elaine Joyce shocked me–not with those killer, for-days legs (I knew about those), but rather her totally different voice (it was deep and straight and kind of scary–not at all that bright, sexy little girl voice she always put on).
Ladd has a wonderfully sweet scene with noted acting guru Fred Kareman, who utterly charms her with his quick, funny (and frankly sexy) banter (“I’m looking for a man,” she states, to which he immediately responds, “I’ll join a gym, I’ll lose weight, I’ll dye my hair, I’ll stand on a box,”). Ladd is completely endearing with him. David Doyle has a differently-tuned but similiar scene with ditzy, sexy Judy Landers (her chest of course is hanging out), discussing his chicken lunch order (“Sorry, it says ‘legs’,” “Breasts!”). And to top-off the innuendo, Charlie wraps up the case with some thoughts on sitar-playing (“delicate fingering,”) as Kelly exclaims, “I think you’re finally grasping it, Charlie!”
And finally…Antique Angels, an overly-complicated story incongruously mixing space fuel and old cars, has the strangest vibe that I simply can’t put my finger on. Was there some kind of behind-the-scenes contretemps that put everyone off? Because you can literally feel it in how the actors look at each other, and respond to their line cues. And the endless shots of the actors looking at auto tires. Who thought that would work more than once or twice? Uninspired casting, too, for the supporting roles. And that verkakte gimcrack Mack Sennett chase at the end. Everybody looks like they’re just giving up. A particularly weak ending to the season.
PAUL MAVIS IS AN INTERNATIONALLY PUBLISHED MOVIE AND TELEVISION HISTORIAN, A MEMBER OF THE ONLINE FILM CRITICS SOCIETY, AND THE AUTHOR OF THE ESPIONAGE FILMOGRAPHY. Click to order.Read more of Paul’s TV reviews here. Read Paul’s film reviews at our sister website, Movies & Drinks.