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BAFFLED! (1973)

"I was on a stretch, full out – and all of a sudden I wasn’t in Pennsylvania any more: I was on this gravel road, headed for the house.... After the crash – there was this woman, screaming her head off – and a little girl with this---I guess you’d call it a sly grin---smirking at her...."





  Director:
 
Philip Leacock

  Starring: 
Leonard Nimoy, Susan Hampshire, Rachel Roberts, Vera Miles, Jewel Blanch, Valerie Taylor, Mike Murray, Christopher Benjamin, Ray Brooks, Angharad Rees, Milton Johns

  Screenplay: 
Theodore Apstein

Synopsis:  During competition, professional racing-car driver Tom Kovack (Leonard Nimoy) begins to experience a series of short visions: a mansion-house, a country road, a hay-truck... Instinctively swerving to avoid the latter, Kovack sends his car plunging off the track, through a barrier, and into a tree. As he loses consciousness, he has more visions: himself falling, a woman screaming, a girl on a staircase, a voice saying, “It’s Wyndham in Devon, dear...” When the rescue team arrives, it is first feared that Novack is dead, but he recovers consciousness and is found to have suffered no serious injury. Interviewed later, Kovack is frank about his strange experience – which catches the attention of British rare-book dealer and expert in the occult Michelle Brent (Susan Hampshire). Meanwhile, successful actress Andrea Glenn (Vera Miles) is travelling to the airport with her daughter, Jennifer (Jewel Blanch). The two are heading for England, where they are to stay at Wyndham Manor, in Devon, and meet Duncan Sanford, Andrea’s ex-husband and Jennifer’s father. Jennifer has never met her father, and is excited at the prospect, wondering whether her parents might reunite. Michelle Brent tracks Kovack down in New York, where he lives, and tries to make him accept that he has a gift, and that the woman who screamed is in genuine danger. She persuades him to draw a sketch of the mansion from his vision, then shows him a photograph of the real building: Wyndham Manor in Devon. Michelle insists that Kovack must use his gift to fight evil forces, but is unable to convince him to take any action. At Wyndham Manor, Andrea and Jennifer are warmly greeted by Mrs Faraday (Rachel Roberts), but learn to their dismay that Duncan Sanford is not there, nor has he been in contact: Mrs Faraday explains that the reservations were made by a Louise Sanford, who lives in the village nearby. In New York, Tom Kovack has another strange experience when, instead of the city skyline, he sees from his window the same country mansion. Then he sees more: himself running, the doors of the mansion, an elevator, an attic room...and a deadly plunge from a balcony to the stormy seas below... Kovack comes to with a gasp to find himself lying on the floor of his apartment – soaking wet... This incident sends Kovack to London, and Michelle; they manage to get reservations at Wyndham, but agree to arrive separately and pretend not to know one another. Andrea and Jennifer call upon the wheelchair-bound Louise Sanford (Valerie Taylor), Duncan’s cousin, who tells them that she does not know where Duncan is, merely that he wrote and asked her to arrange the accommodation. While Andrea and Louise are talking, Jennifer finds the letter from her father, which has a wax seal of a wolf’s head, with the word “MARCHOSIUS” around the edge. Kovack arrives a Wyndham, and immediately recognises many scenes from his visions – the house itself, the staircase, the elevator – and Jennifer and Andrea, the latter of whom is the screaming woman; the woman Michelle insists is in deadly danger...

Comments:  The trouble with television executives is that they don’t have enough psychic flashes. Hence their failure to forecast a day when pop culture credibility would acquire critical mass - and a built-in audience.

This being the sad reality, however, we can only sigh and shake our heads over the might-have-been of Baffled!, a TV pilot starring a V-neck-sweater-and-flares-clad, cravat-favouring, fedora-wearing Leonard Nimoy as a racing-car driver-cum-smooth-talking ladies’ man who turns occult detective after developing psychic abilities.

If he's baffled by the front doors, what hope is there?

Still---on prima facie evidence, someone must have a good deal of faith in the potential of Baffled!, which was shot at the famous Pinewood Studios and features a surprisingly star-heavy cast. However, the people who mattered – the ITC higher-ups on both sides of the Atlantic – failed to warm up to the project. In an effort to re-coup some of the costs, the producers of Baffled! then arranged a UK cinema release (and, from indirect evidence, one in Italy) – but this, too, failed, possibly because the British critics, who were never very fond of genre fare, were absurdly harsh in their criticism of it...even complaining that Baffled!, “...looks more like a made-for-television movie than a proper cinema production.”

You have to get up pretty early in the morning to fool those British film critics.

Otherwise, indications are that, unlike many failed pilots, Baffled! did not get a TV broadcast in the US – if anyone knows different, please let me know – but I can tell you that it did get one in Australia in the mid-to-late eighties; though looking back, I’m not sure that, at the time, the presence of Susan Hampshire didn’t mean more to me than that of Leonard Nimoy. (What can I say? I grew up in a BBC drama family.)

These days we can only ponder what the network didn’t see in Baffled!, which if nothing else would have cost a lot less to produce than some of ITC’s other genre efforts – like Space: 1999, which went into production around the same time that Baffled! tanked. Perhaps its concept was just a little too weird, dealing as it does not just with a psychic turned detective, but with the overtly supernatural as well.

Of course, these days the sheer oddity of Baffled!’s premise is a large part of its appeal. More than one commentator has suggested that this failed pilot was an inspiration of sorts for The X-Files; though the earlier production actually has more complex set-up, with the possessor of the psychic abilities doubling as the show’s resident sceptic.

 

Adorable and adorabler.

However---while Baffled! certainly is entertaining, it must be admitted that, for modern audiences, a large part of that derives from factors quite other than its concept and story---namely, its exceedingly large Leonard Nimoy Entertainment Quotient, and its more-than-average Clunky Seventies Entertainment Quotient: the combination of which carries the production over a raft of painfully awkward dialogue, and some plot-holes you could drive a 1927 Bentley through. The production’s other main virtue is the unexpectedly effective pairing of Nimoy and Hampshire – the latter of whom must at this time have been trying just as desperately as her co-star to escape type-casting, and with little more success – who make a charming if not exactly credible couple.

Baffled! starts in medias res, with racing-driver Tom Kovack tearing up the track in the Pennsylvania 500, which he is leading comfortably and expected to win. The track announcer helpfully identifies him for us, further explicating that, “So far we’ve had four yellow lights, two minor wrecks, but no-one seriously hurt.” He sounds frankly disappointed about this outcome, so no doubt he enjoys what happens next.

Without warning, Kovack suddenly “sees” himself driving up a gravel road towards a country manor-house. The flash passes, and Kovack manages to drag himself back onto the track from which he briefly drifted. Moments later, however, Kovack finds himself on a narrow country road heading straight for a loaded hay-truck. He swerves to avoid it...which, back in reality, sends him spinning off the track. He smashes through a barrier and into a tree, and as he loses consciousness, experiences a whole series of images and voices...the screaming of a woman merging with the wailing siren of an approaching ambulance. When the rescue team does arrive, the worst is briefly feared – “This is one that Kovack couldn’t walk away from,” comments a paramedic grimly, only for Kovack to suddenly sit up and emerge more or less unscathed from his ordeal.

   

 

This year at the Pennsylvania 500, the track designers decided to liven things up a bit....

This seemingly inexplicable crash attracts a great deal of media attention, and while being interviewed on what we assume (from one particular viewer it attracts) is a general current-affairs show, Kovack is surprisingly frank about his strange experience: “Suddenly, I wasn’t in Pennsylvania any more.” His embarrassed but good-natured account of what he “saw” and “heard” rivets the attention of English rare-book dealer Michelle Brent, currently on assignment in the US. She is particularly interested in Kovack’s assertion that he heard a woman saying, “It’s Wyndham in Devon, dear.”

We cut directly from Kovack’s TV interview to successful actress Andrea Glenn, who is explaining to her daughter, Jennifer, that, “It’s Wyndham in Devon, dear” – “it” being their holiday destination, and where the two of them expect to meet Duncan Sanford, Jennifer’s actor-father and Andrea’s long-estranged ex-husband. In fact, Jennifer has never met her father, and is greatly excited at the prospect of doing so. She has also allowed herself to dream that her parents might reunite, and while Andrea damps down her daughter’s expectations, to prevent her being disappointed if things don’t work out, it is evident that she herself is not without certain hopes.

Jennifer reacts negatively to Andrea’s revelation that they will be spending a few nights in London before travelling to Devon, and Andrea adds a hurried promise that this will be a proper holiday, not a working one – which doesn’t stop her compelling Jennifer, who wears an expression of mingled dismay and resignation, to pose with her for several photographers waiting at the airport.

At this point we roll credits; and it can have done Baffled! no favours with anyone that it wears its made-for-TV credentials like a badge of honour: the yellow font! the freeze-frames! the slow motion! the bewildering give-away-the-best-bits scenes under the credits! And then there’s the theme music, which at certain points bears a delightful and hilarious resemblance to the theme from Rocky. We further learn that while Rachel Roberts and Jewel Blanch are “guest stars”, Vera Miles is a “special guest star”...which I guess is another way of saying “celebrity victim”.

"The cravat? My agent says it diverts attention from my eyebrow."

Post-credits, we find that Michelle has tracked Kovack down at his New York apartment, and is gravely quizzing him about his background, and his visions, while he schmoozes her and – what else? – mixes martinis (stirred, not shaken). Kovack is taken aback when she deflects his advances, alcoholic and otherwise, and even more so when Michelle asks him what he intends to do about “that poor woman” – that is, the screaming woman from his vision. Since Kovack’s intentions extend no further than convincing Michelle to have dinner with him, he has no satisfactory answer for her. (He does get points for trying to sweep her off to an Armenian restaurant, though.)

This exchange also kicks off a bit of business that will run jokingly through the story, as Kovack’s habit of calling himself “Kovack” prompts Michelle to try his name out and variously call him everything but simply “Tom”. She, in turn, emphasises the first syllable of her first name, which might be because, as she later reveals for no readily apparent reason – oh, okay, she’s about to be crushed by a descending elevator – she’s half-French.

But clunky-cute as all this is, it’s about to get much clunkier, as Michelle assures Kovack that she knows all about the occult: “I’ve studied for five years with Ramgat Singh, and then of course with Willie Smith for two.”

“Of course,” responds Kovack (and, likely, the viewer).

Michelle then persuades Kovack to sketch the manor house he saw in his vision, and although we would hardly consider the results as having any defining characteristics, fortunately we’re in Informed AttributeTM territory, so Michelle is able to proclaim, “That is absolutely fantastic!” She shows him a photograph in a book and announces it to be, “Wyndham in Devon!”

Convinced by this that Kovack’s powers are all she suspected, Michelle makes a concerted effort to convince him that, well, with great power comes great responsibility:

Michelle:  “Like it or not, you have rare and mysterious insight. Very seldom does someone intelligent, giving, and – why shouldn’t I use the word? – good acquire the strength to fight the force of evil. You have – and you have got to come with me!”

 

As an artist, Kovack makes a great---well, anything, really.

Kovack is made even more uncomfortable by this than the audience, if that’s possible, but remarkably manages to come up with an even more squirm-inducing response, as he tries to assure Michelle that he finds her attractive (which of course she must be dying to know) in spite of all her whacky ideas:

Kovack:  “I like you – honest! You’re warm, you’re enthusiastic, and why shouldn’t I use the words? – a great-lookin’ chick!”

And we’ll get another reminder presently that this was made in the sociological depths of 1973.

Over the pond in Devon, Andrea and Jennifer are being welcomed to Wyndham Manor by its owner, Mrs Faraday, who due to certain exigencies [*coughcoughtaxationcoughcough*] takes in paying guests over the summer months. She confuses the newcomers by denying all knowledge of Duncan Sanford, much to the disappointment of Jennifer in particular.

Back In New York, a restless Kovack throws open his windows on what radio announcer helpfully informs us is the back-end of a record hot day and prepares to – gasp! – take a shower....

Be still my heart! And whatever!

Kovack turns on the water and...pantpant....starts to get undressed---

---and then the phone rings. Dammit.

You see, this is what sucks about being a heterosexual female. Where are our gratuitous shower scenes? Huh?? WHERE ARE OUR GRATUITOUS SHOWER SCENES????

A little something for the ladies....

The phone-call is a message from Michelle – thanks a bunch, Michelle! – letting Kovack know that she’s left for England, and where he can find her there if he changes his mind. He’s still chuckling over her persistence when he turns back towards the bathroom – only to pull up in shock as he discovers that, outside his apartment windows, he no longer has the New York skyline, but a charming view of Wyndham Manor.

Here the flashes come thick and fast – including Kovack in a slow-motion running scene deliciously hinted at in the credit sequence – and if you can refrain from making twang-ang-ang-ang Six Million Dollar Man noises at this point, you’re clearly less of a child of the seventies than I am. We also get Kovack at Wyndham, glimpses of a staircase, an elevator, and an attic room – and then of a stone balcony crumbling, and Kovack plunging down a cliff-face and into the sea below.... Perhaps the best moment in Baffled! (or one of two) follows, as Kovack wakes up to find himself lying on the floor of his apartment. He struggles to his feet to discover that his view of New York is back where it should be, which is something....but all things considered, it fails to compensate for the fact that Kovack is soaking wet....

Next thing we know, Michelle has a visitor. Kovack is still mightily reluctant to accept the reality of his visions, coming up with a tortuous alternative explanation that involves slipping in the shower and crawling out half-conscious – while still dressed? – but even he recognises that this won’t, so to speak, hold water; and we get another great moment as he observes wryly, “My shower doesn’t normally run salt water.” (We get another of Baffled!’s little jokes here, with Kovack evincing terror at Michelle’s reckless driving.) The two of them agree to travel separately to Wyndham, and Kovack recovers himself sufficiently to speak jokily of “the evil forces” massing in Devon.

Meanwhile, Andrea having failed to track down her missing ex, she and Jennifer visit the cottage of the wheelchair-bound Louise Sanford, whom they have never heard of before, but whom Mrs Faraday claims made their arrangements. She turns out to be a cousin-by-marriage of Duncan’s, and a fan of Andrea’s. She denies knowing her cousin’s whereabouts, or having heard from him except for the letter asking her to book rooms at Wyndham; but speaks ominously about an old friend called John Parrish who, or so we gather from Andrea’s reaction, always was a bad influence on Duncan.

"You say you weren't expecting a mysterious stranger in a wheelchair with a dozen photographs of you on her mantle-piece? I take it you don't watch much television?"

While the two women are talking, Jennifer is turning over her own correspondence with her father, delighted to see he has kept every bit. She also finds his letter to Louise, which carries a wax seal of a wolf’s head that we would probably find ominous even if this revelation were not accompanied by a close-up and a dramatic musical sting.

Upon arrival at Wyndham, Kovack is confronted by the accuracy of his visions, recognising various points in his surroundings – and Andrea and Jennifer, too. When Michelle turns up, he offers to help with her bags to give them a chance to talk.

Elsewhere, we’ve been introduced to the rest of Wyndham’s conspirators red herrings guests: there’s Signor Berelli, an Italian highway engineer (and while I was pleased to see Christopher Benjamin, what, they couldn’t find a real Italian?), and a young married couple, George and Peggy Tracewell – the latter of whom is played by Angharad Rees in a throw-away bit-part that sits very oddly between (among other things) her wonderful performance in Hands Of The Ripper and her star-making turn in Poldark. Inside, Jennifer is browsing in the library and just happens to stumble over an old volume that just happens to have a marker in a chapter about “Marchosius the Wolf” that just happens to be illustrated by a familiar image....

(Cue dramatic musical sting for the benefit of the slow learners.)

That night the guests gather for an acutely uncomfortable group dinner: Kovack and Michelle keep trying to pump people without being obvious, or giving away that they know each other, a depressed Jennifer has no appetite and gets snappy with her mother, and Signor Berelli is driven to distraction by Mrs Faraday’s amateurish handling of the roast beef. Andrea is prompted to some reminiscences about her first meeting with Duncan Sanford, and her hopes of locating him through John Parrish; all of which Mrs Faraday seems to find disturbing.

Before this point, Jennifer excused herself. We now learn that instead of retiring as promised, she has slipped out to the summer-house across the lawn – where she meets her father. An ominous meeting it is, too, beginning with reasons why Jennifer can’t tell her mother, and ending with the girl being given a pendant featuring the stained-glass image of a wolf’s head....

"Mess with me, and I'll ruin your life! I have mysterious powers! And I'm a fifteen-year-old-girl!"

After this meeting with her father, Jennifer “grows up” all of a sudden – and not in a good way: she’s sullen, secretive, and rude to her mother; a normal teenager, in other words. She also discards her girly pigtails and lets her hair hang loose, and starts sporting a wardrobe that raises some eyebrows – particularly the mini-mini-skirt. “It took me three years to get from twelve to fifteen,” observes Michelle.

Actually, the casting of Jewel Blanch is one of Baffled!’s problems: she is clearly the age of Jennifer #2 rather than Jennifer #1, as the myriad of standard TV close-ups makes obvious, and her little-girl routine at the beginning is more uncomfortable than convincing. (Particularly her habit of carrying around a stuffed-toy-shoulder-purse; a kangaroo stuffed-toy-shoulder-purse.) We’re never quite sure is she’s as young as she seems to be, say, eleven or twelve, or whether perhaps she’s a bit “backwards”; though repeated references to her as “the child” seem to be trying to reinforce the former. Distressing as Jennifer’s instant growth spurt is to her mother, for the rest of us it’s cause for relief

One of Baffled!’s weirdest touches follows, as Andrea, while looking for Jennifer, hears the sound of clavichord music, and follows it to a room where Mrs Faraday is playing the instrument. Later, after searching for but failing to find Jennifer (though she does find the kangaroo-purse in the summer-house; a sign that Jennifer has “put away childish things”), Andrea returns to the house and enters the same room again, where she finds Mrs Faraday and the Tracewells having tea – with no clavichord in sight.

Andrea:  “There was a clavichord – you were playing a clavichord!”
Mrs Faraday
:  “What? A clavichord, did you say? We’ve never had a clavichord at Wyndham.”

Don’t ask me.

 

"There is no clavichord here, there is no clavichord here!"

Earlier, upon discovering that Kovack was a race-driver, Mrs Faraday made the mystifying assumption that he was at Wyndham “to see Girlie”, who she further described as, “the late Mr Faraday’s one true love”. We now get the promised introduction, as Michelle finds Kovack cleaning up a 1927 Bentley – “Girlie”:

Michelle:  “Interesting.”
Kovack
:  “Very interesting – a ’27 Bentley!”
Michelle
:  “I mean how men womanise any machine that serves them.”
Kovack
:  Ahhhhhh...! You’re one those, uhh....”
Michelle
:  “Women’s lib? No, no – I’m open to all views.”

Of course, it is Michelle’s remark which carries the more offensive implications.

Also, I think she means “feminise”. At least, I hope she means “feminise”.

The newly renovated Jennifer slouches past, putting an end to Baffled!’s attempt at searing social commentary. Michelle and Kovack follow her out the gates and towards the sea, but she has vanished. Kovack confesses that he has “a feeling” about Jennifer (really, Tom! – she hasn’t grown up that much!), but is nevertheless shocked when Michelle coolly asserts that she is going to do “something evil”. However, his protest is rudely interrupted by a vision of a girl’s hands squeezing the sap from an oleander-like leaf into a red glass....

The two rush back inside, where Andrea is just about to start drinking her orange-juice from a red glass, and stage a kerfuffle that allows them to “accidentally” knock the glass over. So far, so good....only then they see and hear the mysteriously all-grown-up Jennifer discussing “dances” and “boys” with Mrs Faraday....who come to think of it is looking a lot younger these days....

If some of Baffled!’s unexplained bits are just confusing, this implied connection between Jennifer and Mrs Faraday is one of its strengths; particularly the sense that Jennifer is being used in some secret but deadly way.

 

 

The four faces of Catherine.

Andrea describes to Jennifer the knocking over of her glass by Kovack, and the girl responds by implying that he and Michelle knew each other rather well long before they came to Wyndham, and that they’re involved in a plot of some sort. And then helpful Mrs Faraday shows up with another glass of juice.... Next thing we know, Andrea is bed-ridden, clutching at herself in pain. Michelle and Kovack have identified the plant from his vision, and when the doctor arrives Kovack pulls him aside and suggests what the problem might be – only to focus suspicion upon himself.

Louise Sanford comes to dinner in her extremely squeaky wheelchair, and another uncomfortable group scene follows: Kovack tries to pull some information about the Tracewells from Mrs Faraday, who basically tells him to butt out, while Louise loudly draws attention to Mrs Faraday’s “rejuvenation”. She also gives Jennifer John Parrish’s address in London, which makes Michelle prick up her ears. Michelle then distracts Berelli by asking his expert opinion of the port (the implication that, as an Italian, he is automatically a suspect in Andrea’s poisoning is something we could do without!), while Kovack sneaks off to the garage and snoops about the Tracewells’ car, which he finds full of pharmaceuticals. Or possibly “pharmaceuticals”.

Kovack then slips out to meet Michelle on the lawn, and after some back and forth they agree that she will go to London and try to find Parrish – first eliciting from Kovack a promise that he will be “very careful” while Michelle is gone. This leads to a clinch and almost to a kiss, only for a sudden downpour to intervene.

As they scuttle towards the house, Mrs Faraday emerges from another door, peering around with the help of a torch. From the darkness, a voice whispers, “Catherine!” – and Mrs Faraday throws herself into the arms of Duncan Sanford. She complains to him that every day is “an age” away from him, and he replies facetiously that she really doesn’t have anything to complain about, age-wise. “Oh, no!” she whispers. “Every day, younger and younger!” She begs him not to let it stop.

At yet another door, Jennifer emerges in her mini-mini-skirt (Jewel Blanch walking in that very careful way that actresses do in such a situation) and sets off across the lawn. Kovack is following her – of which, as it turns out, she is very well aware. She leads him deliberately off towards the cliffs, and a safe distance slips under a wooden railing and slides down the steep slope beyond it, hiding herself and calling for help. As he tries to get his bearings, Kovack stops and leans against the railing – which gives way under his weight and sends him plunging down towards the waters below, as Jennifer smiles to herself....

Fortunately, Len never left home without his jet-boots.

Ah, TV Land! – God love it! Baffled! never actually bothers to show us Kovack rescuing himself from this perilous situation, or even to tell us how he does it; all of a sudden he’s just there, hail and hearty – and stone-dry, for once.

Anyway, Michelle has her London odyssey, and tracks John Parrish from the Apollo Theatre to a certain shop....which has burned down. She pokes and pries in the ruins, identifying several objects which may well have had an occult application – including a wall-hanging bearing a pattern we’ve seen on the ring that Peggy Tracewell wears – only to be caught out by a bobby on patrol (he all but says to her, “What’s all this, then?”), who volunteers the information that the fellow who ran the shop died in the fire – and yes, now that Michelle mentions it, his name was Parrish.

Another weird touch: everyone in this film reads the Guardian. Michelle goes through this whole scene clutching a copy; Andrea was reading one earlier. I didn’t manage to read the headlines, but since they are clearly real copies, they’d probably be less entertaining than we’re used to seeing on screen.

And weirdness upon weirdness. As soon as Michelle gets back to Wyndham, she and Kovack set out in the newly tarted-up Girlie. (Kovack’s driving-hat must be seen to be disbelieved – as for that matter must Michelle’s beret.) An unusually complacent Mrs Faraday beams as she sees them go, commenting that she likes the way “young people” [sic.] take to one another so quickly these days. This prompts Andrea to repeat Jennifer’s gossip, to which Mrs Faraday reacts with almost comical outrage, declaring that she won’t have it – “Not in my home!”

So---if two “attractive young people” [sic.] hook up at first sight, that’s okay, but if they’re in something resembling a long-term relationship, it’s beyond the pale? Interesting.

Where did you get that hat?

Now, any classic car buffs out there had better brace themselves for what follows, because never will you see a ’27 Bentley more appallingly treated. Michelle and Kovack are trying to find a quiet spot to talk over their various adventures, but we’ve seen that they’re being followed by a black van. Our heroes argue over the degree of Jennifer’s culpability, and Michelle opines that the girl has powers rather like Kovack’s, Kovack counter-suggests that the “evil force” they’re looking for is Duncan Sanford, and that perhaps he and Parrish were in it together – whatever “it” is.

They are interrupted by a horrible grinding noise – Girlie has been driven or pushed off the road and into a tree, but we don’t see that immediately. Instead, Kovack and Michelle find Lurking Black Van, which is (as you would expect) Lurking. There’s no sign of a driver. Michelle then sees Girlie, and while Kovack hurries over to inspect the damage, Michelle continues snooping. She opens one of the van’s back doors, and is immediately struck down. Kovack hears the van driving away and manages to get Girlie moving – and the chase is on!

The entirely inappropriate theme-music kicks in, adding far too jolly an air to what is supposed to be a tense and suspenseful sequence. The pursuit goes cross-country, with much screeching of tyres, striking of branches and bouncing of suspension, the car keeping pace but never quite catching the van. (Actually, I’d’ve thought that a ’27 Bentley would do better than that against a van, although granted, cars aren’t really my thing.) Kovack pulls into a long, straight-ish stretch of road, and suddenly sees before him – a loaded hay-truck! He manages to swerve around it and regain the road, and is now (somehow) only yards behind the van. He tries to get close enough to force the van off the road (Bentley lovers, avert your eyes!), and succeeds in doing so; but by the time he comes to a somewhat leisurely stop and runs back, the driver is long gone. Michelle, meanwhile, is recovering consciousness in the back, and there is a quick, affirming clinch.

When Michelle and Kovack get back to Wyndham, Signor Berelli comes puffing up in a way that makes them suspect he may have been the unseen driver, only we know better. However, Kovack grabs Berelli by the arm and demands to know where he’s been. (Berelli’s official explanation - “The exercise - the jog” – does seem a trifle improbable.) Mrs Faraday intervenes, accusing Michelle and Kovack of “misrepresenting their relationship” and Kovack of assaulting another guest, and tells them that she wants them both gone A.S.A.P. Kovack starts to protest but stops short as he has a vision of Berelli, his hands covered in blood....

 

The French Connection, it ain't.

On what is apparently to be their last night at Wyndham, whether they like it or not, Michelle and Kovack hash over the situation and their various suspicions, including why Duncan Sanford would have sent for Andrea and Jennifer and then not shown up. Kovack suddenly realises that he’s been responsible for a little automatic writing: across his note-pad is written, Duncan Sanford is dead.

Maybe so – but this doesn’t stop Jennifer meeting her father in the summer-house. (I have to say it: from certain angles, Mike Murray looks far too much like a manic Michael Palin for anyone’s comfort.) A recovered Andrea discovers that Jennifer is missing, and follows a voice calling, “Mummy!” across the lawn to the small building, where she finds her daughter lying on the floor, to all appearances dead – and promptly faints.

Yes, very helpful.

However, when Andrea wakes up she is on a couch in the house surrounded by Mrs Faraday, and all the other guests, and being assured that everything is fine. A stony-faced Jennifer allows herself to be embraced by her hysterical mother.

More snooping, which leads to the Tracewells being more or less exonerated from suspicion, when it turns out that George’s “pharmaceuticals” are the cosmetics he sells for a living. On the other hand, when they go back into the body of the house, they overhear Signor Berelli and Mrs Faraday discussing the question of Jennifer’s custody, should anything happen to Andrea....

The next morning finds Mrs Faraday hustling her unwanted guests off the premises, and them dragging their heels. Michelle goes off to the village to call on Louise, while Kovack shadows Berelli, who is certainly behaving suspiciously – opening a secret door and descending into the depths of the house, no less – but it turns out that his object is simply Mrs Faraday’s wine-cellar. During this encounter, Kovack has another vision of Berelli covered in blood and announces that he knows his terrible secret – which is that Berelli is not a famous engineer at all, but a wholesale butcher. Kovack promises to keep this to himself.

"Ah! A toilet requisite-t-t-t-t-t-t-t!"

So, with red herrings dropping like flies – to mix a metaphor – it’s time for Michelle to discover something to the point. She calls at Louise Sanford’s cottage, and while she isn’t there, a garrulous char is, and she informs Michelle that she’s worked for Louise ever since she came to the village – two weeks ago. Furthermore, amongst Louise’s artefacts, Michelle finds a photograph of John Parrish, and while it means nothing to her, we recognise the man who has been introduced to us – and to Jennifer – as Duncan Sanford.

Back at the manor-house, Michelle and Kovack swap stories before Michelle is called to the phone. It’s a friend of hers in London, who has uncovered the fact that Duncan Sanford died eight months earlier – before Andrea started receiving from him the series of letters that convinced her to visit Wyndham.

A squeaking noise sends the two flying to the elevator, but Louise – if it was Louise – is already on her way to the cellar. They pursue her via the hidden door and secret staircase, but only succeed (via a series of improbable choices) in getting themselves trapped in the elevator shaft. As the elevator descends towards them, Michelle blurts out a potted history of herself on the grounds that she wants Kovack “to know all about me”, but then the elevator stops (between floors, it seems), and thankfully so does Michelle. Eventually, having tried and failed to escape by more conventional means, Michelle has Kovack focus his powers on the door, which he can “see” is locked and bolted. He continues to concentrate – albeit spoiling his effect with a hopeful, “Open, sesame!” – and the door swings open....

It’s Signor Berelli, poking around in the wine-cellar again.

Jennifer, meanwhile, has said just enough about her father to lure her mother up to the attic room of Kovack’s vision, where Mrs Faraday is waiting – and so is Louise. The other two depart, and Louise starts doing an evil, chuckly, bit-by-bit reveal of the whole Dastardly Scheme. She confirms that Jennifer does have certain powers, as Michelle deduced, and that the others have been using them for their own purposes. In the short term, however, this is a get-rich-quick scheme, all about driving Andrea to suicide, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, so that Jennifer inherits.

In the course of this Big Reveal, Louise also gets up out of her wheelchair. Naturally.

 

"You're surprised that I don't need a wheelchair? You really don't watch a lot of television!"

Louise tries to force Andrea to sign a paper, presumably appointing her Jennifer’s guardian. Andrea refuses, but then makes the mistake of backing out onto the balcony....

Downstairs, Jennifer and Mrs Faraday are all girlish giggles together – until Michelle, Kovack and Berelli emerge from the cellar. Mrs Faraday takes a powder, leaving Jennifer to glower at the others as they approach. Michelle gasps when she sees the wolf’s-head pendant, previously hidden under Jennifer’s clothing but now carelessly allowed to dangle in the open. She whispers hurriedly that it must be taken away from her, and shows Kovack the cross-wristed gesture he must use. For once he doesn’t argue. He approaches Jennifer as instructed, locking eyes with her; and although she backs away she is finally compelled to remove the pendant.

That done, however, she bolts, only to trip up the stairs – smashing the glass in the pendant in her fall, and being instantly transformed back into Jennifer #1.

At the same instant, Mrs Faraday is driving at high speed along one of the many winding coastal roads. Where is she going? Nowhere – she just needs to be in a car so she can catch a glimpse of her rapidly re-ageing face in the rear-view mirror, shriek in horror, and drive off a cliff. We presume. They’re not very explicit about it.

Back at Wyndham, Andrea then utters a decidedly belated scream of terror – nice of her to wait until the kerfuffle downstairs had resolved itself, though – as Louise shoves her towards the stone balcony. Kovack rushes upstairs and smashes his way through the locked door, and then---IT’S ON!! The greatest cinematic fight since Miriam Margolyes wiped the floor with Arnold Schwarzenegger!

Kovack grabs Louise but finds her unexpectedly muscular – and it is he who gets the worst of it, struggling with her but failing to gain any sort of advantage, before being hacked in the shins (the grunt of discomfort uttered here sounds amusingly unrehearsed) and then slammed backwards into a cane chair that falls over and deposits him roughly on the floor, where he blinks in bemusement as Louise starts throwing more furniture at him.

 

 

You may well look embarrassed.

However, while she’s lining him up, Kovack has a few moments to ponder having been knocked on his ass by a woman old enough to be his mother – and freshly out of a wheelchair, to boot – and has a Lightbulb MomentTM. He scrambles to his feet and closes with Louise again, only this time he concentrates on her hair, which comes off in his hand. As does her face.

While all this has been going on, Andrea - or possibly Vera Miles - has been standing to one side staring in disbelief, perhaps wondering why it is that she always seems to attract the attention of psychopaths in drag.

It is, of course, “Duncan Sanford” aka John Parrish under the skirts and wig – although only from this moment. For the rest of the film, Louise is wisely played by an actress, Valerie Taylor (although not, alas, THAT Valerie Taylor), even during most of the fight scene, which adds immeasurably to its hilarity.

Now that he’s sure “Louise” is a man, Kovack is less hesitant about hitting her – or at least, we assume that’s how he’s planning on explaining his earlier worse two out of three falls – but doesn’t do all that much better. Parrish manages to drive him out onto the balcony, and then lines him up with the wheelchair. But at the last moment, Kovack jumps aside, meaning that it is Parrish who takes that dive through the world’s crumbliest stone balcony.

Cut to the next day, and the various survivors departing as the local constabulary chains the doors of Wyndham Manor. In the cold light of day, Kovack has reverted to sceptic mode. He insists that it was really all about the money, while Michelle counters that it was about control of Jennifer’s powers. Kovack starts blathering about his immediate professional plans, until it suddenly dawns on him--- “Hey! I’m going to miss you!”

Michelle’s imminent departure prompts nothing more, however, and after a brief handshake she walks away....only for Kovack to freeze as another vision grips him.

"Highly illogical! There - I said it!"

An airport. A woman. A wolf’s head pendant. A blind man.

It’s Parrish, of course. What, you thought they were actually going to kill off the Evil Nemesis in the pilot? I guess you don't watch a lot of television.

A few bewildered blinks later, Kovack is calling for Michelle.

Kovack:  “We’re leaving for Paris. Someone’s in trouble. I don’t know who yet.”
Michelle
:  You will find out, Tom Kovack!”
Kovack
:  We will.”

Awww....

Damn television executives.

Not only do they not have enough psychic flashes, they also don’t have a romantic bone in their bodies.

 
Footnote: I’ve said it before, and no doubt I'll say it again - God bless those Italians:
 
 
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----posted 26/05/2012