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TV Terror Guide: Five Desperate Women (1971)

Air Date: Sept. 28, 1971 (ABC)

Production Companies: Aaron Spelling Productions, American Broadcasting Company (ABC)

Running Time: 73 min.

Available on: YouTube

Written by: Marc Norman and Walter Black

Directed by: Ted Post

Cast: Robert Conrad, Anjanette Comer, Bradford Dillman, Joan Hackett, Denise Nicholas, Stefanie Powers, Julie Sommars


Out of five desperate women, I’d rate this one... three desperate women. Technically, they don’t become desperate until one of them is dead, leaving only four desperate women. Then, the volume of desperation in their situation is so low that I’d subtract one desperate woman. But, hey, it’s a great title for the next movie in our series about 1970’s television horror films!


Interestingly, I’d give the same star rating for the movie itself… three out of five (or, six out of ten.) Five Desperate Women (1971) is above average; however, it falls in that “just barely” category into which I’ve placed most of the other movies I’ve watched in this series. It’s light as a summer breeze and entertaining, but somewhat limited in what it can accomplish by the restraints of the format.


It’s biggest accomplishment is keeping us guessing about the identity of the bad guy. Somebody escapes from incarceration before the credits roll, then drowns a man on the beach as the credits roll, but is it boat captain Jim Meeker (Bradford Dillman) or handyman Michael Wylie (Robert Conrad?) Both men are at times charming, and at others… intense.


Even when they accuse each other and resort to fisticuffs, we’re unsure which one of them, in the third segment (about 30 minutes into the movie), crept upstairs and violently killed poor Dorian (Joan Hackett.) I changed my guess several times, landed on one, then was proven wrong, even though that very contradiction should have given me a clue about the final reveal.


Discovering their friend’s body, the other women, on an informal five-year college reunion, become desperate to survive within their isolated rental property. The strong cast of familiar faces includes: Anjanette Comer as Lucy, Denise Nicholas as Joy, Stefanie Powers as Gloria, and Julie Sommars as Mary Grace. Each brings emotional baggage of varying kinds with them, not enough to stereotype them, but just enough to make them distinct.


Five Desperate Women is mostly suspense thriller; however, director Ted Post (whom we’ve discussed at least twice in this series) uses camera trickery like POV that’s familiar for a slasher movie, and the score by Paul Glass resembles the screeching of a Psycho knife. The teleplay was written by TV veteran Walter Black and future Oscar-winner, Marc Norman for Shakespeare in Love (1998.)


Produced by Aaron Spelling, the movie occasionally evoked Charlie’s Angels for me. Besides obvious comparisons (beautiful women with big hair), scenes of the women sitting around reminiscing and giggling could very well have taken place in the office of Charles Townsend. There’s no Bosley, but there is a psychopath lurking nearby. And, if they're going to survive, they’re going to have to exercise some crime fighting skills.


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