Sunday, November 27, 2011

TV movies

The Fox Movie Channel from time to time shows some TV movies. One of them is coming up this evening: Karl Malden in Word of Honor at 6:00 PM. Malden plays a small-town reporter who gets an anonymous tip about the location of a woman who's disappeared, and it leads to the prosecution of one of the town's more prominent citizens on murder charges. The problem is, the prosecutor needs Malden's tip, and he refuses to reveal his source, who swore him to secrecy. This causes the typical legal problems for Malden, but Word of Honor goes a bit over the top in having it cause all sorts of other problems in Malden's personal life. Specifically, one of Malden's daughters is about to ger married, and the prosecution means that suddenly everybody in town wants not to go to the wedding.

I don't normally recommend TV movies. Partly it's because they don't show up very often, and partly it's because they're on the commercial cable channels nowadays. Back in the late 1970s and 1980s, however, when we were pretty much in a three-network world, it was a lot more common for the networks to produce original TV movies and show them with a lot of fanfare. It also wasn't uncommon for past stars to show up in these TV movies, such as Karl Malden in Word of Honor. (To be fair, he had become a TV star by the early 1980s as well after his long stint on Streets of San Francisco.) Word of Honor has some other interesting casting: Rue McClanahan, later of The Golden Girls, plays Malden's wife; Ron Silver (later of Reversal of Fortune) plays a big-city journalist covering the press freedom angle of the case; and a young John Malkovich shows up as the fiancé.

And to be honest, I wouldn't mind seeing some of the other old TV movies from back in the day wind up somewhere on TV. I distinctly recall one from my childhood called White Mama with an elderly Bette Davis supporting a black kid who wants to grow up to become a boxer. (I see it's directed by Jackie Cooper.) Davis would go on to make another TV movie about the right to die called Right of Way, which co-starred James Stewart.

I don't know that TV movies like this necessarily need to be on TCM, however. There are a number of nostalgia channels that you can probably get on the digits subchannels of your local broadcasters. I can get ThisTV and RTV for example; there are others out there too. Since these TV movies were originally conceived as having commercial breaks, these nostalgia channels would be a perfect place for the old TV movies. It's just a question of who has the broadcast rights to all these things.

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