Monday, April 23, 2007

Ski Lift Of Blah

SKI LIFT TO DEATH is not just a silly title. It also makes a promise that the damn movie ultimately doesn't keep. For one thing, it takes almost an hour for this 1978 made-for-TV movie to show us a ski lift. And when our cast of hazily sketched characters finally climbs into it, it doesn't take us to Death or even anywhere near it. It takes us to a crummy blue screen and a suspenseless climax, but, nope, no Death. In fact, the movie's entire body count is a whopping zero. So much for ski lifting to Death, you bastard.

Now available on DVD as SNOWBLIND on a rotten print that's taken from a grimy VHS tape and missing the original opening titles, SKI LIFT TO DEATH is one of a zillion TV-movies that capitalized on the disaster-movie fad of the mid-1970s. It follows the same basic format: spend the first half or so introducing us to several disparate characters, plop them into soap-opera machinations, then bring them together in a potentially disastrous scenario where they'll have to work together to survive. It worked in THE TOWERING INFERNO and THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. It doesn't work here.

Deborah Raffin (DEATH WISH 3) leads the way as a world-champion skier who returns to her hometown lodge for a competition. She reunites with her old boyfriend, Charles Frank (YOUNG MAVERICK), a former champion skier who retired young to work the ski patrol back home. Others in the cast include Don Johnson (!) as a cowboy who shacks up with a 17-year-old hottie who wins the local "T-shirt dance" contest (network TV's tame version of a wet T-shirt contest); IRONSIDE's Don Galloway as a network sportscaster with the hots for local reporter Veronica Hamel (later on HILL STREET BLUES); the great character actor Clu Gulager (THE LAST PICTURE SHOW) as Raffin's new manager; Howard Duff as a swindler deciding whether or not to testify against the mob and Gail Strickland as his wife, who secretly works for the mob and arranges a hit against him; Pierre Jalbert (COMBAT) as the French hitman; and real-life gold medalist Suzy "Chapstick" Chaffee as a, er, champion skier.

After tons of subplotting, most of the cast finally gets on the titular ski lift, which gets blown about and stranded high above the mountain. It happens so late in the film that the denouement flies right by with barely anyone receiving so much as a scratch. It's comforting knowing that surviving a ski lift headed to Death is easier than you might expect, but it's not very good entertainment. Frankly, I expected much more from writer Laurence Heath, who served as MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE's story editor and producer for several seasons and was responsible for penning many of that series' best episodes. Director William Wiard directed tons of TV episodes, particularly for THE ROCKFORD FILES, and brings little to this table, though it undoubtedly would have helped if a better star than Charles Frank had headed the cast.

1 comment:

Robert said...

Others in the cast include Don Johnson (!) as a cowboy who shacks up with a 17-year-old hottie who wins the local "T-shirt dance" contest

Are you sure you weren't just watching THE DON JOHNSON story instead?

Bill Wiard also did one of Steve McQueen's final films, TOM HORN. It seems to me he may have been a last-minute replacement director but I can't recall this off hand.

The small screen brothers and sisters of the disaster cycle may have helped expedite its big screen box office burn out. That or else they were just running short on imaginative stories for putting a name cast in jeopardy. I remember many of the TV movie disaster flicks - FLOOD, FIRE, CAVE IN, THE LAST SURVIVOR< MEMORY OF EVA RYKER, WHERE HAVE ALL THE PEOPLE GONE?, THE NIGHT THE BRIDGE FELL DOWN, HANGING BY A THREAD, DEATH OF OCEAN VIEW PARK, HEAT WAVE, HURRICANE, SHORT WALK TO DAYLIGHT, THE TIME TRAVELLERS, THE DAY THE EARTH MOVED, A FIRE IN THE SKY, and so on....many seemingly also produced by the gentle hand of Irwin Allen.