I am thankful for being around in the 1970’s as a teenager, WHY? I hear you say…..Well because I just loved wearing big flares, teardrop collar Brutus shirts and splashing on copious amounts of Brut and dancing to Tiger Feet by Mud….No not realy although the shirts were pretty cool. No, the reason being it was the time when the TV movie came into its own, we even had a mystery movie on Saturday evenings after the usual things like a game show or a variety programme (TV was certainly different then-not a reality show or Simon Cowell in sight). I can remember sitting watching some of these very good quality pieces of mini cinema on the small screen (sometimes in black and white) on cold and dark Saturday nights, some were on late because of the horror content and I also remember falling asleep during the evening in front of the telly box and waking up to scenes of vampires, axe murderers, monsters, ghosts and witches burning. Great stuff. But it was the quality of these movies that stayed with me even the scores were by top notch composers of the day or at least composers that were well known.
One programme which sticks with me is the 1977 adaptation of DRACULA which was filmed by the BBC, although theoretically not a TV movie, as if I remember rightly it was shown in episodic form, it was still a rather chilling re-telling of the Stoker classic Gothic Horror, I thought it was a brave thing for the BBC to do, especially at the time Hammer was still regarded as the unquestioned Masters of Horror, even though the studios formula and style were beginning to wain with audiences.
The role of the infamous Count was played by Louis Jordan, who brought an air of sophistication to the role, add to this credible and powerful performances from Frank Finlay as Van Helsing, Bosco Hogan as Johnathan Harker, Susan Penhaligon as Lucy and Judi Bowaker as Mina and a bevy of Brides of Dracula one of which was actress Sue Vanner.
Directed by Philip Saville this was an atmospheric and highly unsettling version of the story, which was adapted from the novel by writer Gerald Savory, but essentially kept to the original storyline and is said to be the most faithful adaptation of the story of Dracula. Filmed in Whitby, Northumberland and Hampstead, the production values were high, with the impressive images, classy acting, stylish direction and dialogue also benefitting from an impressive musical score by Welsh composer Kenyon Emrys Roberts, who was quite a prolific composer of television scores, these included POLDARK (1975-1977), TO SERVE THEM ALL MY DAYS ( 1981), MILL ON THE FLOSS (1978-1979) and THE LIFE AND TIMES OF DAVID Lloyd GEORGE (1981), plus many others including, ARMCHAIR THEATRE, BRASS and THE HAUNTING OF CASSIE PALMER. Roberts was born in 1923 and began his musical career in TV scoring during the mid-1970’s.
Although not a high-profile composer Roberts wrote the music for an array of shows and at some point, or another one must have heard his music if you watched TV during the 1970’s and 1980’s. He passed away in 1998, his last scoring assignments being ANIMATING ART a TV documentary in 1988 and the TV movie TERRA NOVA in 1984.So as I have said DRACULA all ‘a the BBC was not essentially a TV movie in fact more of a drama that they did so well back in the day, but I felt because of its standard and outstanding quality I had to begin with it, I fear some of the titles I highlight in the coming pages may not be quite to the standard of this production, but they still made a contribution and are part of the TV history of the 1970’s.
One production that was not failing or indeed below par in any department was the 1979 TV movie SALEMS LOT, originally broadcast as a two-part miniseries, this is probably one of the best horror movies produced for TV from the 1970.s. Directed by Tobe Hooper and starring David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin, Lew Ayres and Bonnie Bedelia, this was certainly one of the most chilling and scary things I saw on the television. Based upon the book by Stephen King, the film tells the story of a writer who returns to his home town to do some research for a book he is planning to write on an old house which stands in Salem. But as he begins his research he discovers that all is not quite right. Before I talk about the movie, what about the musical score. which was composed by Harry Sukman, the composer worked extensively in television and had written the music for several motion pictures.
Sukman is probably one of the many composers that was working in television during this period that went relatively un-noticed for their sterling work. SALEMS LOT contained a score that not only underlined the action and enhanced the various scenarios within the movie, but it also had a life of its own away from the images and although the music is not what we call a melodic sounding work it is still entertaining and somewhat alluring and haunting. Sukman, fashioned a mesmerising and what I think is a spidery and somewhat jagged score, which the director had wanted being a fan of Bernard Herrman, the soundtrack contained a number of surprises along the way, at times it would have the capacity to lure the listener or watching audience into a false sense of security and even radiate a calming atmosphere before a moment of shock or horror, thus the composer by utilising a downbeat approach or a style that was quieter would give more weight to any moment of violence or any heart stopping sequence, of which there were many.
Sukman was born in Chicago Illinois, in 1912, he began a career in music during the 1920’s as a young boy. He started to become interested in writing music for films and during a sixty year career he wrote film scores and music for TV series, he began to score movies in 1954 and continued to concentrate on motion pictures until 1962, when he started to focus more upon music for the small screen although he did occasionally step back into motion picture scoring on the odd occasion, he won the Oscar for best song score in 1960 for SONG WITHOUT END and also received nominations for his work on FANNY and THE SINGING NUN. He provided the musical scores for popular TV series such as THE VIRGINIAN, THE HIGH CHAPPARAL, BONANZA, DR. KILDARE and POLICE STORY among them. He passed away on December 2nd, 1984 he was 72.
The film opens in a church where we see a man and a boy filling bottles from the Church font, the water they are collecting is Holy water and as they fill one of the bottles begins to omit a strange blue glow. The man is Ben Mears (David Soul) and the boy who is with him is Mark Petrie (Lance Kerwin), the boy turns to the man and says, “They have found us again”. The pair knowing that there is an evil approaching them decide to stand their ground and fight it off. The film then goes back in time two years, when we see Ben Mears returning to his home town of Salem, he is a successful author and has returned to gather information for his next novel. He focuses upon an old mansion The Marsten house as it is known, the house is a fearsome looking place perched on top of a hill rather like the house in Psycho. It already has an infamous standing within the community as being haunted and the author attempts to rent it, but it soon becomes apparent that the property is not for rent as it has been purchased by Richard Straker who is an antiques specialist played by James Mason.
Mears hears that the new comer is planning to open a shop in the town and when he visits the premises Straker mentions he has a business partner, but this partner is never available. This makes Mears a little suspicious, he decides to check into a local boarding house and maybe do his research from there, whilst in Salem Mears meets Susan Norton (Bonnie Bedelia) and the couple become romantically involved. Mears becomes friends with Susan’s Father a Doctor (Ed Flanders) and finds his old school teacher Jason Burke (Lew Ayres). Mears is convinced that the Marsten house has an evil and frightening history and tells Burke about an experience he had as a child whilst exploring the building.
Straker: (James Mason). You’ll enjoy Mr. Barlow. And he’ll enjoy you.
After a crate is delivered to the house during the night, several inhabitants of the town start to disappear some dying in very suspect circumstances, as the story unfolds it becomes more apparent that these disappearances and deaths are all linked to the house and who ever resides there. The film is certainly unrelenting in the horror and the scares and there are some impressive moments throughout, the mysterious business partner of Straker being an ancient Master Vampire played by Reggie Nalder, who is fearsome looking in the wonderful make up that was created for the film by, Jack Young. Although the films script deviated away from King’s original novel and many of the graphic violent content was not included so that the film could be shown on TV, it remains a class act and a film that has stood the test of time, if shown now it would I think still be as unsettling and entertaining.
The films ending is too a cliff-hanger, and we see Mears and Mark returning to their hotel in Guatemala preparing to do battle with surviving bloodsuckers from Salem who have tracked them down to kill them. On their return to the hotel Mears finds Susan in bed but she is now a vampire and tries to bite him, Mears drives a stake through her heart and he and Mark collect their belongings and start to run, Mears is beside himself with grief having killed his lover, but they must move and move fast before they are caught, knowing that they will be hunted until they are in fact caught and killed. David Soul gave a very convincing performance and I think it was because of his performance in SALEMS LOT that attained the actor/singer a better standing within the acting/filmmaking community.
James Mason needs no introduction realy, he was a marvellous actor and was already well established with audiences old and young. The actor was a big box office draw in England and did become the top actor at the box office in 1944 to 1945, after his success in England with movies such as ODD MAN OUT, SEVENTH VEIL and THE WICKED LADY. Mason, began to make movies in Hollywood and from the 1950’s through to the 1980’s was in demand and starred or made appearances in films such as THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, THE DESERT FOX, JULIUS CAESAR, A STAR IS BORN, CHARADE, THE BLUE MAX, GEGHIS KHAN and LOLITA to name but a few. He died on July 27th, 1984 in Switzerland aged 75.
Four years before SALEMS LOT, THE LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN was released, the film caused something of a stir in many circles and came in for both criticism and applause from both critics and TV audiences.
Accused of the shocking murder of her parents, she must prove her innocence…or be hanged!
The film was based on true events that took place in Massachusetts in 1893. It told the story of Lizzie Borden who took an axe to both her Stepmother and Father. The movie starred Elizabeth Montgomery in the title role giving a very different performance from the many she gave as Samantha the amiable witch in the popular TV series BEWITCHED. The story tells of how she planned the murders and her cold-blooded calculating going as far to thinking of taking all her clothes off before carrying out the murders to avoid blood staining her garments. Montgomery gave an excellent performance and the directorial duties were undertaken by Paul Wendkos who was already an established film maker when he came to work on this. The director making contributions to many popular TV series such as THE INVADERS, PLAYHOUSE 90, DR. KILDARE, BEN CASEY, THE F.B.I., WILD WILD WEST, THE BIG VALLEY, I SPY, and A MAN CALLED SHENANDOAH plus others.
Wendkos, was also responsible for the tension filled TV movie THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BELL (1970) and made a few interesting motion pictures one being THE MEPHISTO WALTZ in 1971 which contained an edgy and highly original score by Jerry Goldsmith who also scored THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BELL. The music for THE LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN was by composer Billy Goldenberg who had been responsible for so many memorable TV themes and provided the scores for several popular television series from the 1960’s through to the 1980’s. Goldenberg was born on February 10th, 1936 in Brooklyn. Goldenberg was what many call a work horse of a composer being involved with more than two hundred assignments, two of his most memorable being his collaborations with Stephen Spielberg early in the director’s career, when he scored NIGHT GALLERY in 1969 and the directors breakout TV movie DUEL in 1971. Goldenberg was responsible for the scores to TV series such as COLUMBO, KOJAK, RHODA, BANACEK, CIRCLE OF FEAR, ALIAS SMITH AND JONES, and OUR HOUSE. As well as a composer Goldenberg was also a conductor, arranger, songwriter and accomplished pianist. He attended the Columbia College where he wrote the music and arranged songs etc for the varsity shows.
He undertook private tuition from Hal Overton and in 1961 became a member of ASCAP, as well as writing music for shows, films and TV Goldenberg wrote for the concert hall and has a brass quintet, string quartet and a woodwind quintet to his credit. He often would pen the scores for series which had themes written by other composers, such as KOJAK. The composers most recent work was for THE HOUSE OF SECRETS AND LIES which was a TV movie from 1992, but more recently his music has been utilised in films such as ABC’s 50TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATIONS in 2003 and SURPRISE, SURPRISE, MR CONOVY in 2011.
Can you see them, Sally … hiding in the shadows? They’re alive, Sally. They want you to be one of them when the lights go out.
That was just one of the tag lines for a TV movie that was released in 1973, DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, was the movie of the week on ABC TV in the States and was screened for the first time on October 10th of that year. The film starred Kim Darby who had come the attention of cinema audiences previously in TRUE GRIT. She plays Sally who with her husband Alex played by Jim Hutton move into her family house which is a run down rather uninviting Victorian mansion. When she begins to start re-decorating, she comes across a room which is locked, after having a disagreement with the handy man who tells her to leave it locked, she finally manages to get hold of a key for the door. It transpires that the room was her Fathers study and after she opens the room and removes the bricks from the fireplace, creepy things start to happen. After a while Sally begins to see small creatures in the house at first thinking she is seeing things but after a few sightings she confides in her husband who straight away thinks that maybe she is becoming neurotic, Sally also tells her friends, but they also assume that she could be losing her sanity. Events turn somewhat more sinister when the decorator trips at the top of the staircase and is killed in the fall, an accident? Sally finds a rope across the top of the staircase and bends down to pick it up, but it is snatched from her by a disagreeable little creature like the ones that she has seen before, Sally questions her own sanity but is convinced that maybe she has unleashed demons in the house.
Directed by John Newland, this was certainly a chilling and one felt uncomfortable watching it. Newman was a well-seasoned director and actor, and helmed many well-known series that were on TV during the 1960’s and 1970’s with his career extending into the 1980’s. These included episodes of STAR TREK, DANIEL BOONE, DR KILDARE (a series in which he also appeared), PEYTON PLACE,
THE MAN FROM UNCLE, POLICE WOMAN and WONDER WOMAN. Newman’s career began in 1947 when he had an uncredited part as a reporter in NORA PRENTISS and made his last contribution as a director in 1983 in a TV series entitled WHIZZ KIDS. Music for DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK was by Billy Goldenberg, again the composer created an atmospheric and suitably jumpy soundtrack which greatly aided the dark and shadowy appearance and atmosphere of the movie.
Staying in 1973 for a TV movie I felt was excellent, THE NORLISS TAPES was directed by Dan Curtis who had previously brought to the screen THE HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (1970), THE NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS (1971), and COUNT DRACULA, THE NIGHT STRANGLER also in 1973.
THE NORLISS TAPES is in my opinion was very slick and classy and gave us a new take on the tale of the vampire. The film starred Roy Thinnes (BLACK NOON, THE INVADERS) and Angie Dickinson (POLICE WOMAN), who were both already popular actors at the time of the films release. The story revolves around the first tape in a collection of we don’t know how many that have been left behind by missing occult investigator David Norliss, these are found by a friend who is looking for Norliss.
He finds the collection of tapes and places tape number 1 in the player and listens, he hears his friend telling the story of a widow whos dead husband, an artist has returned from the dead. The movie is filled to overflowing with tense and nervous situations and Director Curtis handles the proceedings well and contained an effective score by Curtis’s long-time composer collaborator Robert Colbert. The film was aired in February 1973, as a pilot with a view to a series being produced, sadly NBC were not impressed with the ratings that the pilot achieved which led to the series being cancelled. Which is such a pity because I think it could have been a successful series. Cutis was a prolific film maker and worked on TV productions and motion pictures, between 1970 and 1979 Curtis directed no less than 9 projects the majority of which were for television. The NORLISS TAPES is highly entertaining and leaves the audience hanging on a cliff edge when the tape finishes and the friend picks up tape two and inserts it into the player, only for the credits to roll, how frustrating is that.
Moving on I am going to take you to a movie I saw just once, and I know it is available on the internet but have not re-visited it as yet. Its not horror in the normal sense but more of a phycological thriller with horror undertones, it starred Michael Douglas and Ben Gazzara, WHEN MICHAEL CALLS was first screened in the early part of 1972.
And although it probably isn’t a great movie it certainly made an impression on me at the age of 17, because I remember it.
I also remember the music which was of a high quality for a TV movie, the composer credited was Lionel Newman although on further investigation recently I discovered that he only wrote a little original music, the remainder of the score being made up of stock music tracks by various composers. Newman was also credited as conductor which is probably more the case as this is what he was best remembered for. So that is probably why the music was of such a high quality, after all when you have at least five composer’s music in your movie at least one of them has to get it right, wouldn’t you say? Anyway, back to the film, directed by Philip Leacock the storyline dealt with a woman called Helen played by Elizabeth Ashley who starts to get phone calls from her nephew Michael, the problem is that Michael died some fifteen years prior to the calls. Soon after she receives the first call people start to die and she becomes paranoid and scared that she may the next victim. The caller speaks in a young boy’s voice which checks out with the age of Michael when he disappeared, after a while it transpires that Michael’s body was never found and everyone assumed that he had died of exposure the body maybe carried off by animals. This is a gripping storyline which contains some stalwart acting performances from the leading players and other members of the cast.
Certainly, one to check out or in my case re-visit. Ben Gazzara is excellent as he always was in everything, he had a natural acting talent and, in this case, certainly steals the show outclassing Douglas. I have always wondered why the soundtracks to TV movies from the 1970’s were never released, ok a few did receive LP releases, but considering the great wealth and the overall high quality of the music in these productions, surely studios would have benefitted from a soundtrack release? Maybe its me?
Moving away from the movies I thought I would spotlight just two composers who made a number of contributions to the world of the TV movie soundtrack, they both worked on a variety of genres and their music was always supportive as well as melodic in places, so may I begin with ROBERT DRASNIN, this underrated composer/musician worked on some of the more interesting TV movies and series that were around during the 1960’S and 1970, s. He contributed scores to already established shows as well as creating original works for new series.
These included, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, CUSTER, MANNIX, LOST IN SPACE, TIME TUNNEL, HAWAII FIVE 0, THE MAN FROM UNCLE, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, I SPY, WILD WILD WEST, PETROCELLI, CANON, POLICE STORY, THE ROOKIES, BARNABY JONES and CHIPS. His output was immense, and the quality was consistently of a high calibre, the composer having the ability to write quickly for the ever-looming schedules of popular TV.
Born on November 17th, 1927, in Charleston West Virginia, the composer began his career playing the clarinet and took an interest and lessons from an early age. His family moved to Los Angeles in 1938, where he continued to study the instrument, he attended the Franklin Avenue High School in Hollywood and then moved onto the Thomas Starr King High School and eventually settling at THE Los Angeles High School where he joined the American Federation of Musicians. After graduating he joined the army and served a tour of duty in the Korean war. He was not only responsible for writing music for TV and films but also released several music albums which in many ways were similar to the style of Les Baxter and Henry Mancini, mainly easy listening but Drasnin never found the wider audience as the other two did. He died on May 13th, 2015. His TV movie credits include, TASTE OF EVIL, THE OLD MAN WHO CRIED WOLF, CROWHAVEN FARM, A TATTERED WEB, JIGSAW, WHEELER and MURDOCH plus many more.
The next composer I want to spotlight is Paul Chihara, he wrote numerous TV movie scores and was particularly active during the 1970’s. I asked the composer,
What musical education did you receive and what musical instrument did you focus upon if any?
My first music teacher was a Catholic nun (Sister Virginia Marie) at the Immaculate Conception parochial school in Seattle in 1947, when I was nine. She gave me lessons in piano and violin. Other violin teachers included Francis Aranyi (who gave also gave me my first counterpoint lessons) and Emmanuel Zetlin at the University of Washington. I began composing music without any teachers while still in high school, and eventually received more formal composition lessons from John Verrall. But for the most part, I began composing without teachers, and have always considered myself basically self-taught. I majored in English Literature, History, and Classic Studies in college, and won a scholarship to Cornel University in 1960 in the English Department, where I completed my Master’s Degree majoring in Old English. My MA thesis was a linguistic study of the grammar in the original Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf.While at Cornell as an English Major in 1961, studying composition privately with Robert Palmer, the visiting teacher (the legendary Nadia Boulanger) invited me to study with her in Paris. While there (in 1961-2) I received the Lili Boulanger Memorial Award for my orchestral work “Four Pieces for Orchestra,” which was performed at Carnegie Hall in 1963 by the National Orchestral Association. In 1965, I completed my Doctorate in Music at Cornell University, then attended the Tanglewood Music Festival on a choral singing and conducting scholarship.
In September 1965, I travelled to Berlin on a Fulbright Scholarship where I studied composition with Ernst Pepping at the Hochschule für Musik (1965-6).
I studied on Fellowships at Tanglewood in 1966 and 1968 with Gunther Schuller.I was hired by the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1966, where I taught until 1971, when I resigned (just after receiving tenure) to begin my career as a free-lance composer. In 1971, I was hired by the newly founded Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra to be their first composer-in-residence, under the conductor Neville Marriner. I wrote my first movie score in 1975 “Death Race 2000.” Also, in 1975, Michael Smuin commissioned me to compose my first ballet score “Shinju” for the San Francisco Ballet, for which I was subsequently appointed their composer-in-residence. In 1979, Mercer Ellington (with the strong support of Gunther Schuller) hired me to orchestrate the music of his father (Duke Ellington) in the Broadway show “Sophisticated Ladies” which opened to great success at the Lunt Fontaine Theatre in 1980.
Is working in TV more demanding than writing for a feature film, by this I mean are the schedules tighter and the budgets lower?
Nothing is more demanding than working for a director who is not sure what he wants or changes his mind with each passing day of post-production.
Every composer has stories to tell of situations like that! (Though most of us would welcome that situation over not having any work at all!). TV can be more frantic than feature films in that the post-production schedule is often compromised (shortened) by delays in production. And series TV is like a roller coaster ride with scary ups and downs in the time given to compose and record a segment. Budgets are usually lower for TV than independent features, though some feature producers sometimes offer a package deal so small that the composer must create the score entirely digitally or in Europe. In recent years, the so-called “back-end” deal is becoming more common, where nothing is paid the composer up front for the creation of the score, though he is promised a certain amount or percentage of profits when the picture is sold. This is the most precarious of situations for the composer, though with so many now looking for work and willing to take risks, they are becoming more common.
Chihara has scored a vast amount of TV movies here is a list of just some of them from the 1970’s.
Act of Violence
Mind Over Murder
The Darker Side of Terror
A Fire in the Sky
Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery
These two composers I thought made interesting and original contributions to the TV movie market, as did all the composers who wrote for the small screen whether for made for TV films. Series or one-off dramas etc. Writing for television is demanding and often the composer is up against tight deadlines, but during the 1970’s in-particular the quality and high standard of music in TV was noticeable, it was the golden age for not only productions but also for music as well.