Friday, October 5, 2012

An Old Man...A Teenage Boy...Get Your Mind Out of the Gutter: "No Place to Run" (1972)



Sit down, children, and let me tell you a story. Back in the 1970's there were only three networks on television, not counting you lucky high society types who got PBS or an independent station...quit crying, Billy, I'm not trying to scare you.

Where was I? Oh, yes, just three networks. When these networks weren't busy showing classic television fare like "Charlie's Angels" and "Good Times," or heavily edited theatrical films premiering years after their release...confound it, Billy, there was no Netflix! The networks would produce made-for-television movies. Some were very good, if not modern classics, like "Sybil" or the mini-series "Roots." Some were very average, much like the mediocre "No Place to Run." The end. Sweet dreams, kids...no, Billy, if I give you a glass of water, you'll wet the futon.

Hyam (Herschel Bernardi) is a 73 year old shop owner who enjoys smoking cigars, eating badly, overwork, and slowly wearing himself out. His doctor warns him to take better care of himself, but he doesn't listen. His teenage grandson, Douglas (Scott Jacoby), helps in the store and lives with Hyam. Douglas also steals letters sent to Hyam by Bonnie (Stefanie Powers), an adoption agency worker.

It seems Douglas was adopted by Hyam's son and daughter-in-law, with the couple later dying. Hyam took Douglas in, but the adoption agency feels Hyam's health and age are a detriment, and they want Douglas back. Hyam's attorney, Jay (Larry Hagman), can do nothing, so Hyam decides to flee to Canada with Douglas. Suddenly, we have a road movie with Hyam and Douglas evading the law while Jay and Bonnie help track them down.

What we also have here is an odd little film. The running time is only seventy-eight minutes, yet I found my interest in the characters lacking. Bernardi's performance is too mannered, with Hyam's personality swinging between sweet curmudgeon and bitter oldster so often, I thought he might be schizophrenic. Scott Jacoby's Douglas is awfully naive for a teenager, and Hagman and Powers bring so much intensity to their roles, it felt like their scenes belonged in a different movie. Tom Bosley and the criminally underrated Neville Brand do have nice turns in small roles.

James G. Hirsch's script swings as wildly as Hyam's moods. One scene has the traveling duo being pulled over by a motorcycle cop. While Hyam pretends to look for a driver's license he hasn't had since 1940, Douglas finds a giant knife in the back of their station wagon. Because of the film's uneven tone, I thought of four options for Douglas and the knife: he could slash the motorcycle's tires, shank the cop, cut his own throat after stabbing Hyam in a murder-suicide pact, or whittle a flute out of a stick. He cuts the motorcycle's gas line, instead. Academy Award winning director Delbert Mann does have a sure hand with the camera. The Venice Beach, California locale is nice, as are the road scenes (watch for a scary near-miss car collision, and the train scene).

In the end, "No Place to Run" winds up being a forgettable exercise in the early 1970's television movie of the week canon. It is hard to find, but on the other hand, you can lead a fulfilling life without ever seeing it...Billy, I swear to God, you will be sorry if I have to come up there! (* * *) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: No Place to Run [VHS]