Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Five Desperate Women (1971) (TV)

... aka: Cinco Mulheres Desesperadas
... aka: 5 Desperate Women
... aka: 5 kohtalon hetkeä (5 Moments of Destiny)

Directed by:
Ted Post

This drab, routine made-for-TV mystery / thriller centers around four attractive women, and Joan Hackett, who eventually clash with a fresh-from-the-nuthouse loony while on a weekend get together. Our heroines are a quintet of former Brindley College "friends" (who strangely seem to barely be able to stand one another) celebrating their five year graduation anniversary. Mary Grace (Julie Sommars) is a sweet baby-voiced blonde whose controlling, mentally-ill mother (Beatrice Manley) has prevented her from achieving any post-grad success. Lucy (Anjanette Comer) is the "funny" Southern belle who opted for marriage, motherhood and alcoholism. Joy (Denise Nicholas) hasn't found much to be joyous about as sexism (and likely racism) have crippled her chances at career advancement, forcing her to work as a high class prostitute in New York City. Gloria (Stefanie Powers) is basically terminally bitchy, while poor Dorian (Hackett) is needy, whiny and horribly insecure.

After meeting up at the pier, the five go to their boat, where Captain Jim Meeker (Bradford Dillman) will take them to their destination: Sunshine Island. The small, uninhabited island, an hour's trip away, was purchased from a developer and now functions as a vacation rental. Where they'll be staying is also the only home on the otherwise uninhabited island. Upon arrival, the ladies are briefly introduced to caretaker Michael Wylie (Robert Conrad), eat, get drunk, reminisce and then start bickering. A dog that Dorian takes a liking to ends up dead on the beach and Dorian herself is soon to follow when someone sneaks into her bedroom and strangles her to death. After discovering her body, the other ladies plot to steal the boat and take off later that night, but it's blown up, trapping them there.

The killer is Edward Fawcett, a former electronics engineer who strangled his fiancee to death the night before their wedding. He was then placed in the maximum security Stonehurst Asylum, where he stayed until killing a guard and managing to escape two days earlier. After killing a man on the beach, he was able to assume the identity of a Sunshine Isle Tours worker. In other words, Edward is now impersonating either Meeker the boat captain or Wylie the caretaker. In an effort to paint both men as suspects, they're both thin, dark-haired, behave strangely and secretively for no real reason and wear the same exact brown pants, brown belt and plain white shirt. Both are also in possession of a Sunshine Isle jacket that the killer is seen stealing in the first scene.

Seeing this Aaron Spelling-produced ABC Movie of the Week dubbed "classic" and "excellent" on certain genre sites when referring to it as merely serviceable is being all too kind is something I can only chalk up to nostalgia. There's not one element of this film that's especially good. There are no thrills, shocks or interesting twists to breath life into the tired plot, the characters are miserable, the Paul Glass score blatantly rips off Bernard Herrmann's familiar Psycho music, opting for only two real suspects seriously diminishes the suspense and the whole thing is just painfully predictable.

In addition to being utterly uninspiring, this is extremely talky and neither the dialogue nor the constant arguing / soap opera melodrama nor the broad characterizations are the least bit interesting. It's so dire that even the more talented cast members are unable to make any impression whatsoever here, with the lone exception perhaps being Comer, whose role allows her to camp it up a bit. And I'm still not quite sure how Hackett, pushing 40 at the time and looking it, ended up here playing a 20-something either. In an effort to try to make her look more youthful, it appears the make-up folks have hilariously smeared her cheeks with bright red blush, which only succeeds in making her look like she needs to invest in a higher SPF.

Director Post had a long (50-year) and prolific career that encompassed both TV and feature films. Among his more notable work is the Clint Eastwood western Hang 'Em High (1968), the memorably twisted THE BABY (1973), the critically lambasted though commercially successful The Harrad Experiment (1973) and the Dirty Harry sequel Magnum Force (1973). He also directed episodes of The Twilight Zone and Thriller and a couple of other genre films, including the theatrical feature Nightkill (1980) and the TV movies Night Slaves (1970) and Dr. Cook's Garden (1971).

There were VHS releases in the UK (Guild Home Video), Finland (as 5 kohtalon hetkeä / "5 Moments of Destiny" - Magnum Video), Brazil (as Cinco Mulheres Desesperadas - ABC Video) and in some other countries. IMDb states this was also released in the U.S. on the Worldvision label though I was unable to verify this elsewhere.

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