Let’s Just Finish Up with These Hollywood TV Movies

Judy David plays Judy Garland in 2001 TV MovieOkay, I guess I’m on a personal roll here.  If you go back to my previous two posts, I’ve been talking about some feature films and TV movies about Hollywood subjects.  There are a few more interesting ones that classic movie lovers might want to keep an eye out for, and many of them are available on DVD also.  Not that you’ll necessarily learn anything from watching them — for that, stick to a book probably — but you might be surprised at some of the intriguing performances that you’ll find.

1980’s Marilyn: The Untold Story was one of the more successful and critically-praised movie-oriented TV movies.  Actress Catherine Hicks, who at the time was a relative TV newcomer with experience on ABC’s well-regarded daytime soap opera Ryan’s Hope, was tapped to play Marilyn Monroe in this adaptation of Norman Mailer’s book.  Team-directed by John Flynn,The Untold Story producer Lawrence Schiller and veteran helmer Jack Arnold (The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Mouse That Roared, and tons of TV), M:TUS chronicled Marilyn’s life and loves, with a talented selection of actors playing the various men in her life.  Richard Basehart was agent Johnny Hyde, Frank Converse was Joe DiMaggio, John Ireland was John Huston, Jason Miller as Arthur Miller, and others played Monroe acquaintances and co-stars including Montgomery Clift, Clark Gable, Tom Ewell, Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Billy Wilder, and others. 

Particular compliments went to Catherine Hicks, whose Marilyn departed from caricature and managed to capture her appeal and believe in it.  Hicks was nominated for an Emmy for her role, and the movie also was up for three others, and despite her not winning it this movie is well-regarded and primarily so for her vivacious and natural performance.  Hicks would of course go on to much success in TV and movies, including her charming role in the most enjoyable of the Star Trek original cast big screen features (Star Trek IV), and her decade-long run as the co-star of TV’s 7th Heaven.

Another entertaining movie-star TV movie came around in 1985, as dashing Canadian actor Duncan Regehr played dashing matinee idol Errol Flynn in My Wicked, Wicked Ways.  Based on Flynn’s memoir, and starting with his early days breaking into Hollywood, then his marriage to the fiery actress Lily Damita (played by Barbara Hershey), MWWW also recreates many Flynn roles and real-life acting partners, including Olivia deHavilland (actress Lee Purcell) and Bette Davis, along with movie studio moguls, with Duncan Regehr as Errol Flynn in My Wicked, Wicked WaysHal Linden playing Jack Warner and Michael Callan as Hal Wallis.  Directors like Michael Curtiz and Raoul Walsh, crucial to Flynn’s career, were also brought to life.  John Barrymore turned up too as a flamboyant friend, and the famous incident where Flynn’s drinking buddies stole Barrymore’s corpse from the mortuary and set it up in Flynn’s house is also recreated.  Some time is also spent dealing with Flynn’s quest for real life adventure, which led he and a buddy to dabble in the Spanish Civil War and other more political and controversial romps.  While this version of Flynn’s short but swashbuckling life was just deep enough to keep a casual audience interested, care was taken to attempt to faithfully capture Flynn’s Hollywood world.  Movie fans might especially enjoy spotting the inaccuracies but would also get a kick out of seeing one of Hollywood’s most charismatic stars respectfully and charmingly portrayed.

In 1983 former star of Charlie’s Angels Cheryl Ladd took a stab at playing Cheryl Ladd as Grace Kellycool and real-life regal Grace Kelly in the eponymous TV movie.  The real Princess of Monaco had authorized and cooperated with the producers of this love letter to the actress, but the production took a tragic turn in September of 1982 when the Princess was involved in the auto accident that took her life.  When the movie premiered in February 1983, audiences were ready for this kind and complimentary look at the late movie star who had become a princess, and in fact the TV movie ends at the point of her retiring from Hollywood at the time of her marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco.  Grace Kelly’s boisterous father Jack was played by Lloyd Bridges, with Diane Ladd as her mother, Alejandro Rey (The Flying Nun) as onetime Kelly boyfriend Oleg Cassini, and Ian McShane as Rainier.

The Elizabeth Taylor StoryOther TV movies about famous actresses have come along since then, including Sherilyn Fenn starring as Elizabeth Taylor in Liz: The Elizabeth Taylor Story in 1995, Ashley and Mira in/as Norma Jean & Marilynboth Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino interpreting Marilyn Monroe one more time in cable’s unusual Norma Jean & Marilyn (1996), Jennifer Love Hewitt in the title role of The Audrey Hepburn Story, and Justine Waddell in The Mystery of Natalie Wood in 2004.  Probably the best of the whole lot was actress Judy Davis in her multi-Jennifer Love Hewitt does Audrey Hepburnaward-winning performance as the legendary Judy Garland in Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows from 2001.  Current TV series sensation Hugh Laurie (House) portrayed Vincente Minnelli, and a just pre-Alias Victor Garber was Sid Luft.  This excellent two-part movie is a must-see andJudy Davis plays Judy Garland highly recommended.

You’ve got to at least love and admire the guts it requires to take on the job of turning oneself into a Hollywood movie legend.  If nothing else, it often proves that you can play at having charisma, but the real thing is as elusive as well…stardom itself.

12 Responses Let’s Just Finish Up with These Hollywood TV Movies
Posted By Jenni : December 15, 2007 3:25 pm

Thanks for the Bio-Movie reviews.  I did watch the one about Judy Garland, starring Judy Davis, and it was an excellent production.  Who was the actress that portrayed the young Judy Garland?  She did a phenomenal job at that role, in my opinion.

Posted By Jenni : December 15, 2007 3:25 pm

Thanks for the Bio-Movie reviews.  I did watch the one about Judy Garland, starring Judy Davis, and it was an excellent production.  Who was the actress that portrayed the young Judy Garland?  She did a phenomenal job at that role, in my opinion.

Posted By Medusa : December 15, 2007 5:25 pm

Hi Jenni!The young Judy was played by Tammy Blanchard who also won an Emmy for her role in the movie, which I should have mentioned, sorry about that!She had a big role in last year's The Good Shepherd with Matt Damon and also was the new Sybil in the remake of the Sally Field TV movie.I'd love to see these bios programmed next to movies with the real subjects.  There is, I think, something so crazy about seeing recreations of real movies in movies.  Even if it's badly done it's still interesting!Thanks for your comments! 

Posted By Medusa : December 15, 2007 5:25 pm

Hi Jenni!The young Judy was played by Tammy Blanchard who also won an Emmy for her role in the movie, which I should have mentioned, sorry about that!She had a big role in last year's The Good Shepherd with Matt Damon and also was the new Sybil in the remake of the Sally Field TV movie.I'd love to see these bios programmed next to movies with the real subjects.  There is, I think, something so crazy about seeing recreations of real movies in movies.  Even if it's badly done it's still interesting!Thanks for your comments! 

Posted By Richard Ekstedt : December 15, 2007 6:53 pm

Don't forget these great TV Films that most people have forgotten:"Longest Hundred Miles" about a US soldier trying to save a school from on coming Japanese soldiers in the Philipines in 1942. Doug McClure stars."Fear No Evil" 1969 from Universal and "Brotherhood Of The Bell' 1971. These two films were highly praised by both critics and viewers and both, sadly, seem to have been forgotten. Great direction by PAUL WENDKOS! Hope someday they will end up being released on DVD in nice transfers!

Posted By Richard Ekstedt : December 15, 2007 6:53 pm

Don't forget these great TV Films that most people have forgotten:"Longest Hundred Miles" about a US soldier trying to save a school from on coming Japanese soldiers in the Philipines in 1942. Doug McClure stars."Fear No Evil" 1969 from Universal and "Brotherhood Of The Bell' 1971. These two films were highly praised by both critics and viewers and both, sadly, seem to have been forgotten. Great direction by PAUL WENDKOS! Hope someday they will end up being released on DVD in nice transfers!

Posted By Medusa : December 16, 2007 10:40 am

I'm surprised that so many of the great TVMs haven't gotten the respect and viewing that they deserve.  I have seen a few more from that era once in a while on some of the Encore pay channels, and let's all hope for more coming out.  Many times when these played on TV they out-rated Hollywood blockbusters, and were a far cry from what we often think of TVMs of today, the woman-in-peril or my-baby-has-a-problem Lifetime network-type movies.  (Not that there's anything wrong with those….).For every Duel that does run, there are dozens more than don't get the exposure (and I see the original Night Gallery movie which also has a Spielberg segment, but haven't seen his other TVM Something Evil with Darren McGavin lately).  The time has come to revisit this great crop of movies!  TCM is probably not the place to do it, but there's gotta be somewhere! Thanks for your comment and I certainly do remember The Longest Hundred Miles especially.  When I programmed an independent station in Los Angeles we had several great Universal packages with that title and many other good TVMs, including one I've written about before, the Dark Victory remake with Elizabeth Montgomery. 

Posted By Medusa : December 16, 2007 10:40 am

I'm surprised that so many of the great TVMs haven't gotten the respect and viewing that they deserve.  I have seen a few more from that era once in a while on some of the Encore pay channels, and let's all hope for more coming out.  Many times when these played on TV they out-rated Hollywood blockbusters, and were a far cry from what we often think of TVMs of today, the woman-in-peril or my-baby-has-a-problem Lifetime network-type movies.  (Not that there's anything wrong with those….).For every Duel that does run, there are dozens more than don't get the exposure (and I see the original Night Gallery movie which also has a Spielberg segment, but haven't seen his other TVM Something Evil with Darren McGavin lately).  The time has come to revisit this great crop of movies!  TCM is probably not the place to do it, but there's gotta be somewhere! Thanks for your comment and I certainly do remember The Longest Hundred Miles especially.  When I programmed an independent station in Los Angeles we had several great Universal packages with that title and many other good TVMs, including one I've written about before, the Dark Victory remake with Elizabeth Montgomery. 

Posted By Dee : December 29, 2007 10:47 am

I totally agree that Judy Davis' performance as Judy Garland was the best of the lot of films that you mentioned.  I was stunned when I saw it the first time – and again the only other time I saw it.  I am so glad you named it – now I can hopefully find it on DVD and own it myself.  I really would like to share it with friends.  And – I love your idea about showing these films back to back with the real subjects.  Since you were also talking about other great TV films I have to mention one I think was called "Playing for Time".  It involved women in a Nazi prison camp who played in an orchestra.  Vanessa Redgrave starred.  Are you familiar with it?  I have been so surprised that it is never shown. Thanks so much for your comments.

Posted By Dee : December 29, 2007 10:47 am

I totally agree that Judy Davis' performance as Judy Garland was the best of the lot of films that you mentioned.  I was stunned when I saw it the first time – and again the only other time I saw it.  I am so glad you named it – now I can hopefully find it on DVD and own it myself.  I really would like to share it with friends.  And – I love your idea about showing these films back to back with the real subjects.  Since you were also talking about other great TV films I have to mention one I think was called "Playing for Time".  It involved women in a Nazi prison camp who played in an orchestra.  Vanessa Redgrave starred.  Are you familiar with it?  I have been so surprised that it is never shown. Thanks so much for your comments.

Posted By Medusa : December 29, 2007 12:09 pm

Judy Davis was amazing as Garland — mesmerizing!And I certainly remember "Playing for Time" — hard to believe it was made in 1980:  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0081344/And not available on DVD, either, which seems shocking.  There's a whole world of excellent material that hasn't made it to DVD yet, and let's hope that situation changes.  I haven't seen that movie listed anywhere for years, though it certainly would not have aged a bit and would be as powerful as ever.  I'd say that best bet is to scour the various pay movie networks, where I have seen some different titles starting to show up.  Let's hope we're in for a rediscovery of all this wonderful material.Thanks for your comments! 

Posted By Medusa : December 29, 2007 12:09 pm

Judy Davis was amazing as Garland — mesmerizing!And I certainly remember "Playing for Time" — hard to believe it was made in 1980:  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0081344/And not available on DVD, either, which seems shocking.  There's a whole world of excellent material that hasn't made it to DVD yet, and let's hope that situation changes.  I haven't seen that movie listed anywhere for years, though it certainly would not have aged a bit and would be as powerful as ever.  I'd say that best bet is to scour the various pay movie networks, where I have seen some different titles starting to show up.  Let's hope we're in for a rediscovery of all this wonderful material.Thanks for your comments! 

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