Saturday, May 05, 2007

A Real Beller Full

Kathleen Beller was a cute, big-eyed actress who appeared frequently in films and television during the 1970s and 1980s, specializing in playing innocents and often much younger than she actually was (she was born in 1956). Through coincidence, due to two different cable networks airing them on different days, I managed to watch two made-for-TV movies in which she starred. Even though she was in her early 20s when she made them, she portrayed a 17-year-old in one and a 20-year-old in the other. Both make good use of her gentle beauty and vulnerability.

Despite the title, 1978's ARE YOU IN THE HOUSE ALONE? isn’t a horror movie. I’m not sure what it’s trying to be; it’s neither a thriller nor a procedural, and despite its subject matter, doesn’t have much to say about the subject of rape. The performances are good, but what’s the point director Walter Grauman (THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO) and writer Judith Parker are trying to make? Perhaps Richard Peck’s novel, from which this CBS movie was adapted, can answer that question. High-school student Gail (Beller with hair to her waist) is raped during the opening titles. The next hour is a flashback showing Gail’s life at school and her relationships with her parents (Blythe Danner, Tony Bill) and new boyfriend Steve (Scott Colomby). It also establishes a number of red herrings. When we discover the rapist’s identity, the film shifts gears and becomes a superficial examination of Gail and her family coming to grips with her attack and the fact that her attacker is known to her. It all wraps up (too) quickly and leaves some important questions unanswered. Grauman’s nimble visual style and Beller’s porcelain performance make the movie not a total loss. Of interest is an early role for Dennis Quaid, one year before BREAKING AWAY.

Much better and quite rewarding for mystery fans is 1981's NO PLACE TO HIDE. GASLIGHT goes two ways in this twisty made-for-TV thriller. Art student Amy (Beller) is being stalked by a mysterious masked man dressed in black who tells her “soon.” Nobody believes her, including her late father’s attorney (Arlen Dean Snyder) and her stepmother (top-billed Mariette Hartley), who suggests she visit her shrink friend. Dr. Cliff Letterman (Keir Dullea) thinks it’s a good idea for Amy to spend some alone time at the lake house where her father perished a year earlier in a boating accident. Is Amy going crazy or does someone just want her to think she is? Jimmy Sangster, who penned several similar psychological thrillers for Hammer during the 1960s, keeps the curves coming, particularly during the later reels when Amy appears to turn the tables on her tormentors. Much of it is implausible, but Sangster and director John Llewellyn Moxey (THE NIGHT STALKER) are skillful enough to slide the crazier stuff right past you without you noticing. Beller is perfectly cast as a vulnerable waif, and fits perfectly into the more suspenseful scenes that Moxey shoots like a slasher movie.

Beller went on to spice up 1982's THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER with a memorably oily nude scene and then to a regular role on DYNASTY, probably the project for which she's best remembered (except by those of us who were teenage boys when THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER came out). After leaving DYNASTY, Beller worked much less often. She married musician Thomas Dolby ("She Blinded Me with Science") in 1988, making it likely that she decided to retire and raise a family, which is not an uncommon decision for Hollywood actresses.


Robert said...

She also appears nude in both THE BETSY (1978) and SURFACING (1982) if you're keeping track of such things.

Anonymous said...

That's actually a body double in THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER. You'll notice that, in the nude shot, one of the women doing the rubdown is conveniently blocking Beller's face with her hands.

John Charles

Anonymous said...

I freakin' LOVED The Sword and the Sorcerer. Although I'm kinda bummed it was a body double now.