Spencer’s Sanctorum Presents:
BAFFLED (1973) – TV MOVIE
Review by Spencer Seams
Welcome to Spencer’s Sanctorum. This column is about old TV shows in the vein of Twilight Zone, One Step Beyond, and Kolchak the Night Stalker. I seek out the weird, goofy, and underrated episodes, the ones that nobody talks about.
What if Spock had psychic powers and…was a professional Formula 1 driver? I know, we’ve all thought that at some point in our lives. Thank the Great Ghastly Ghost of Gene Roddenberry! There is an answer.
In the early 1970s, Mr. Nimoy was post-Bilbo Baggins (his song, The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins, was released in 1968) and pre-3 MEN AND A BABY (which he directed in 1987), and ready for the next huge project. Spock was on the way to becoming a cultural icon, but that was not for another decade or so. Star Trek had concluded for the moment. Mr. Nimoy was a working actor and needed work. Luckily, a BBC writer, Theodore Apstein (BLOOD LINK, 1982), had a script. This was no ordinary teleplay. This teleplay was a secret TV pilot called BAFFLED.
On a Tuesday in 1973, January 30 to be precise, BAFFLED debuted. It baffled viewers and never made it past TV-movie status. But, at least we have this wonderful TV movie. Director Philip Leacock (WILD WOMEN OF CHASITY GULCH, 1982) managed to turn a stupid premise into something captivating and charming. I have not seen any STAR TREK besides the animated series and had no clue how magnetic Mr. Nimoy was.
Tom Kovack/Mr. Nimoy is a world-class race car driver at the top of his game. He’s their Tom Brady, except that one is charming and likeable and the other is Tom Brady. Mid-race, engines screaming their throats out, psychic visions strike Kovack. He spins off the track. Visions of an English manor (Windham Manor in Devin, England); a mysterious girl (Jewel Blanch, THE MORNING AFTER, 1974) with a mysterious necklace; a screaming woman (Vera Miles, PSYCHO, 1960); and a hay truck, flash before Kovack’s eyes. He later discusses the incident on a talk show in a very snazzy get-up. A young rare-occult-book collector (Susan Hampshire, MALPERTUIS 1971) sees it. She’s also a freelance ESP expert with no psychic powers. Kovack has a gift. She needs to meet him, strictly for the psychic powers (not to bone him down).
The mysterious girl, Jennifer Glenn, and the screaming woman—aka her famous actress mother, Andrea Glenn—are leaving Denver for England. Specifically, they are headed to Windham Manor in Devin. According to a great philosopher, it’s okay to reconnect on a friendly level with an ex. That philosopher…Ms. Jennifer Glenn. Windham belongs to Andrea’s divorced husband. Jennifer never met her father. One of them is excited to see him.
By a sheer stroke of luck, Kovack has a race in Jolly Olde England. He leaves with the ESP expert/rare book collector, Michelle, for Windham Manor (!). Prior to that, she convinced him to use his foresight for good. Also, he is an extremely charming flirt and trying real hard. She somehow doesn’t fully succumb to it. She is in it for pure reasons.
At the manor, everyone arrives on time. Kovack and Michelle create a cover, since it’s a private estate.
Now, things get convoluted. All you need to know is Jennifer has foresight and hampers Kovack. Mr. Glenn is dead, but there is something amiss. His mysterious friend, John Parish, who recently passed, may not be dead after all. Also, you see a wolf’s head emblem show up a lot. I won’t spoil it. Just watch it. It’s imperfect but a damn good delight.
A few months ago, I covered a great TV-movie called THE IMMORTAL (1969). At the time, I claimed it was the second-best TV-movie I’ve reviewed. That is a lie. I apologize for deceiving you. BAFFLED has topped it. But it doesn’t top THE NIGHT STALKER (1972) —the TV-movie that introduced Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) to the world—which is damn near perfect
I mentioned it before, but Nimoy is made of charisma and charm. Every scene he’s in becomes instantly captivating, just by him showing up. The only other actors I can think of that match his very high level of natural cool are Tilda Swinton and Rudy Ray Moore. Nimoy’s performance is slick. It is not the best in terms of pure technical ability. The role is not complex, it boils down to banter with Michelle, investigating the mystery, having a vision, and being heavily charming. It takes a special kind of actor to milk every drop out of this role. Nimoy is one of those. I don’t understand why he never had a full series of his own. Shatner had a few, but it’s clear who is the better lead.
The plot is a bit sloppy. It just never comes together in a completely satisfying way. Theodore Apstein threw in a couple of red herrings, but they take too long to develop and fall flat when they do. The different parts of the plot form a puzzle that mostly fits together. The reveal of Jennifer’s powers and John Parish’s storyline get thrust in way too late. It feels like a not-great Philip K. Dick book; there are just too many things going on. I like it, but it gets convoluted. Just like the PKD book, The Zap Gun, the storylines never fully conclude and it leaves room open for a sequel, or in the case of BAFFLED, a series. But PKD never wrote a sequel to The Zap Gun, and BAFFLED never became a series.
Thematically, it’s pretty light. It’s ultimately about reclaiming your past, but that only applies to the Glenn family. Kovack never changes. He stays the same sexy bachelor from start to finish, which I am perfectly fine with. The only difference is, he believes in the unknown by the end but that happens very quickly and without much work on his part. He just accepts it as is and hangs out with an equally hot babe. I can’t criticize it. Even the weaker elements are still enjoyable. Overall, the whole thing is just fine. It suffers when Nimoy isn’t on screen. I’m a sucker for British TV though, so it still works for me.
It’s not as brilliant as shows that did becomes series like KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER (1974 – 1975) or THE TWILIGHT ZONE (1959 – 1964), but not much is. BAFFLED is a damn good delight and was a pleasant surprise for me. This could have been a supernatural ROCKFORD FILES, but that only could have been. I want to believe there is another reality where BAFFLED was a successful TV show (possibly with a couple of failed, gritty reboots).
BAFFLED is on Youtube and on DVD. It is well worth your time and money.
© Copyright 2017 by Spencer Seams