Saturday, February 22, 2014

Death Follows A Psycho

It used to be common for television studios to squeeze extra revenue out of their failed series by cutting together two disparate episodes and selling the new “movie” into syndication. Usually, the only overhead was a new title sequence, some clumsy inserts and voiceover to tie the episodes together, and an editor (who was probably already on salary) to do the splicing.

And that’s why the obscure DEATH FOLLOWS A PSYCHO doesn’t appear in film reference guides or the Internet Movie Database.

Just nine months after BONANZA aired its 430th and final episode, Lorne Greene returned to series television as the star of GRIFF, in which he played Wade Griffin, a veteran Los Angeles policeman who quit the force after thirty years to become a private eye. Ben Murphy, whose ALIAS SMITH AND JONES ended the same week as BONANZA, joined GRIFF as Griff’s partner and legman, young Mike Murdock.

At least one of DEATH FOLLOWS A PSYCHO’s creators was displeased with the film’s cobbled nature, as the writing is credited to Peter S. Fischer, Steven Bochco (who produced GRIFF), and Victor Laszlo—an obvious pseudonym, it being the name of Paul Henreid’s character in CASABLANCA. True to the “genre,” DEATH FOLLOWS A PSYCHO (great title, by the way) is typical 1970s cop-show fare interrupted by bonzo narration and editing that fails to disguise the fact that the stories don’t have anything to do with one another.

In “Elephant in a Cage,” Griff tries to clear an old friend, an honest but hot-headed cop named Aaron Steiner (Harold J. Stone), who is accused to murdering a crooked restaurant owner (Jack Donner). Usually these movies just bump one episode up against the other—one story ends, the next one begins—but the editor here got clever and wove the two plots together. So while Griff is working the Steiner case, he also goes up against a “Countdown to Terror,” in which terminally ill Aldo Karabian (Ricardo Montalban, great as usual) takes hostages in a bank vault and demands that Griff and Murdock bring him the man who killed his son six years earlier.

Vic Tayback (ALICE) co-stars as Captain Barney Marcus, Griff’s police contact, and Patricia Stich is Griff’s secretary Grace. GRIFF got killed on Saturday nights opposite THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW and was cancelled after twelve episodes. Murphy moved on to GEMINI MAN, and Greene soon returned to weekly TV on BATTLESTAR GALACTICA.


Mike Doran said...

Congratulations on finding another of Tatelman's Bargain Basement Bonanzas!

Harry Tatelman was an executive at Universal whose main job was "converting" episodes of TV series into "Feature films" for future syndication purposes.
Most of Harry's "conversions" were on episodes of short-running series (half a season or so), which were out of the running for station syndie once stripping (five-a-week or more) took hold.
Here are the easy ways to spot a TBBB!:
- more than one director credited.
- guest stars billed in orders not reflecting the pecking order in place at the time.
- most importantly, Harry Tatelman takes a producer credit - for a show(s) whose production he'd had nothing to do with in the first place.

I'm sure that if you look back at this "film" you'll find Harry Tatelman's credit right at the top - just before the two directors.

Have fun looking!

Marty McKee said...

He does. I remember it. It says "Produced by Steven Bochco." And then the next card says "And Harry Tatelman."

Grant said...

Mike Doran's comments are very interesting. I guess I never realized the cast lists were fiddled with because of later "pecking orders," but it makes sense, because of course later promos and VHS & DVD covers have always done that - taking the actor who's big at that moment and promoting them over the others, no matter how small a part they might have played. Has this ever been done with reruns in general, rearranging the credits that way? (I wouldn't be surprised.)

This practice of turning shows into TV movies was done occasionally with short-lived sitcoms instead of short-lived dramas (it just meant using three episodes instead of two). It's too bad THAT wasn't done more often.