Thursday, October 08, 2015

Small Screen Tales: Night Slaves (1970)

One of the benefits of the digital age is the flood of destined for obscurity 70s TV movies that have turned up on YouTube in decent to quite good uploads. They are some real gems among the crowd. And even on average they are solid, well told and made stories, done with a professionalism that now seems as alien to our age as the clothes.

"Night Slaves"  was directed by veteran TV director Ted Post ( who also handled the occasional feature like "The Harrad Experiment".) The script was by Everett Chambers ("Moon of the Wolf") and Robert Specht ("Ark II") based on a novel by Jerry Sohl who had written for the original "The Twilight Zone", "The Outer Limits", and the original "Start Trek"  (including the classic episode "The Corbomite Maneuver".)

It concerned the story of James Franciscus and Lee Grant as an unhappily married couple who go to the country after Franciscus suffers a catastrophic car accident that leaves him with a metal plate in his head. They make one of those fateful decisions to stop in a quite literally sleepy little town for the night. Franciscus wakes with a start to witness his wife and the townspeople walking in a trance to be loaded onto trucks and driven out of town. He barely has time to register this before he's startled by laughter coming from the corner of his room. An enigmatic young woman is sitting there, smiling. She leads him on a chase. She has a way of answering questions that seem to only raise more ones. The metal plate in his head is what's protecting him from whatever is affecting the rest, and he's drawn closer to her the more he struggles to find out what exactly is going on.

It's interesting to see the sixties counterculture start to affect the resolutely mainstream world of TV. There's talk of "drop outs" throughout, Franciscus proudly says he's becoming one as he ditches his cushy office job in the moments before his accident. The accident involved another car, and haunted by guilt he seeks escape. "Night Slaves" also shows a remarkable sympathy toward a marriage falling apart. Lee Grant is in love with another man, a mutual friend of the husband's. The movie is  non condemnatory, rather showing a weary acceptance that some people aren't meant to be together.

The condition of the upload strangely adds to the effect. The wan colors, save for Grant's fiery hair, give the effect of a faded paperback cover. One of those worn copies you'd see at the library or a thrift shop, take a chance on and be surprised by a surprisingly effective story. There are interesting shots peppered throughout, one of Lee Grant filmed through wildflowers in a meadow particularly staying with me. If you're looking for sci-fi off the beaten path, and have a weakness for hippie talk of leaving the physical shell behind for a higher consciousness, give this one a shot.

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