Air Date: Jan. 30, 1973 (ABC Tuesday Movie of the Week)
Production Companies: 20th Century Fox Television, ABC Circle Films, Spelling-Goldberg Productions
Running Time: 74 min.
Available on: YouTube
Written by: Christopher Knopf
Directed by: Jerrold Freedman
Cast: Robert Culp, Eli Wallach, Michel C. Gwynne
What are the chances that either screenwriter Bill Lancaster or director John Carpenter were inspired by a 1973 TV movie called, A Cold Night’s Death, when they made The Thing nine years later? Similarities between the two films are numerous, yet the small screen version lacks something very important that the big screen version has: suspense and thrills.
When it loses contact with Dr. Vogel at the Tower Mountain Research Station, home base sends doctors Robert Jones (Robert Culp) and Frank Enari (Eli Wallach) to complete the work, which has something to do with research for the space program. They arrive to find an open window and Dr. Vogel frozen to death at his desk.
This mystery both fuels the story (what little there is) and provides a point of difference between the two characters. Robert is obsessed with the cause of his death, not accepting that it was a heart attack. He loves a good mystery. Frank is focused on the work, not wanting to investigate the death. He lives in a world of facts.
If you can’t figure out these character differences, the script by Christopher Knopf will do it for you… repeatedly. It seems odd that they argue about these personality traits rather than specific things that either one of them do. Maybe they just don’t like to waste time and can automatically jump to the root cause of human behavior.
Director Jerrold Freedman does a good job of creating atmosphere. Robert shovels snow in minus-20-degree weather so they can make water, but with the wind whistling around the station, it seems just as cold inside (window open or not.) This is where A Cold Night’s Death may remind you of The Thing: its freezing, isolated setting with people dying.
The payoff, though, is so sudden and so slight, that I sat during the closing credits asking, “What?” At the same time it’s perplexing, it’s also so simple that it seems like a letdown. I guess I was in The Thing mode and expected something alien or supernatural. Nope, it’s fully grounded and, while maybe terrifying the more you think about it, it doesn’t play on screen like it is.
Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch A Cold Night’s Death as well as all the great movies from this series...