Farrah Fawcett’s very public battle with cancer ended today, when the actress died in California at the age of 62.
Actually, I never got used to calling her Farrah Fawcett. To me, she was always Farrah Fawcett-Majors, the name she used when she became an American icon as the most popular star of CHARLIE’S ANGELS in 1976. She was, of course, until 1983, married to Lee Majors, the star of another major ABC success, THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, and did a handful of guest shots on her husband’s series.
When she left CHARLIE’S ANGELS after just a single season (though legal actions forced her to return for a few guest appearances), Farrah jumped to the big screen, Caruso-style. And, like David Caruso’s ill-fated effort at a film career, Farrah’s three pictures flopped big time. It wasn’t until her first Emmy nomination as the star of the downbeat made-for-TV movie THE BURNING BED in 1984 that people began to take her (somewhat) seriously as an actress.
I haven’t seen the first of those films, an allegedly breezy comic mystery with Jeff Bridges called SOMEBODY KILLED HER HUSBAND. But I have seen the follow-up, a similar film called SUNBURN, directed by Richard C. Sarafian (VANISHING POINT) and released in 1979.
Farrah and Charles Grodin (SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES) are an unlikely couple in this frothy adventure/comedy filmed in Acapulco. Insurance investigator Jake (Grodin) is sent to Mexico to investigate the death of a wealthy man with a $5 million life insurance policy. Teaming up with beautiful model Ellie (Fawcett-Majors)--undercover as Jake's wife--and grizzled ex-P.I. Marcus (Art Carney), Jake snoops into the lives of his rich neighbors, including philandering wife Joan Collins, and engages in a swashbuckling final-reel rescue.
SUNBURN’s story, co-written by TERMINATOR executive producer John Daly and actor James Booth (AVENGING FORCE), is a mess, bouncing from location to location with no sense of rhythm and introducing seemingly important characters only to drop them. However, Sarafian sets a breezy pace, and the actors look like they're having fun. They ought to--they're in Acapulco, for crying out loud!
The following year, the troubled SATURN 3 hit theater screens surrounded by buzz of Farrah’s first nude scene. As fleeting (and probably disappointing to the few teenage boys who saw it) as the shot of Farrah’s breasts is, it’s still one of the most notable elements of this dull, solidly British sci-fi movie.
Adam (Kirk Douglas) and Alex (Fawcett) are scientists working and living alone on Saturn 3, a lab located on Saturn's third moon, Titan. Their research ostensibly involves hydroponics and finding a solution to Earth's dwindling food supply, but all they really do is lounge around in their underwear and sometimes take showers.
Out of the blue, Captain James (Harvey Keitel, sporting a ponytail and a dubbed-in clipped English accent) pops in carrying a mysterious cylinder and claiming he's been sent by their employers to assist them in their work. He isn't really James though; his name is Benson, and for some reason that I never figured out, he killed the real James and took his place.
The cylinder contains a disassembled robot named Hector, which Benson puts together (how did he get all those pieces into that little-bitty cylinder?) and programs using his own brain and his own thoughts. Unfortunately, Benson is a psychopath, and, since he's attracted to Alex ("You have a beautiful body. May I use it?" he asks in one of screenwriter Martin Amis' more embarrassing moments), so is Hector, and soon both man and machine are competing for the right to "use" Alex's body, whether she likes it or not.
That really is about all there is to the plot, and it's a mystery why the film was made at all. Although the final third is nothing but a series of chases and gory confrontations, SATURN 3 is never exciting or suspenseful, and it's a real shame to see director Stanley Donen (Stanley Donen! My God, this is the guy who directed SINGIN IN THE RAIN, for Chrissakes!), Douglas and Keitel involved in such a tawdry enterprise.
Douglas is the only performer who shows any vitality (as well as his wrinkly ass); Keitel doesn't seem to be having any fun (although it's difficult to assess his performance fairly, given that his voice isn't heard at all), and Fawcett-Majors, despite her lead billing (over Kirk Douglas!), is never more than a black hole onscreen. In fact, her nipples display more pertness than her acting ever does, even in her most histrionic moment.
Thankfully, Farrah won’t be remembered for her brief stab at a silver screen career. Her legacy will be 29 episodes of CHARLIE’S ANGELS, a legendary wall poster (not the one seen above) that lined more bedroom walls during the 1970s than lead paint, and a long battle with cancer that played out before our eyes, probably more than we would have liked, including a ratings-grabbing NBC special that shocked and hopefully taught millions.