Air Date: Oct. 2, 1973 (ABC)
Production Companies: ABC Circle Films
Running Time: 73 min.
Available on: YouTube
Written by: Lane Slate
Directed by: John Badham
Cast: Alan Alda, Louise Lasser, Edmond O’Brien, Lloyd Nolan, Will Geer, Ruth Gordon
This is a strange one, but wonderful. IMDb calls Isn’t It Shocking? a comedy-mystery. It’s certainly the latter; however, it’s the former due only to the fact that the characters are surprisingly well-written and developed in the movie’s 73-minute running time. I didn’t laugh at any events, but I laughed anytime Alan Alda expressed his own heartfelt reaction. I guess it’s a case of not laughing at the movie, but with it.
Alda plays Dan, a small… small town policeman, investigating a string of murders targeting the elderly. The killer, visible from the beginning, but identity unknown, uses a contraption he carries in a salesman’s briefcase to shock his victims to death while they’re sleeping. If said victims sleep in pajamas, he removes them, leaving Dan perplexed by both the means and the motive.
In a subtly handled subplot, Dan is being wooed by the nearby town of Horse Creek to be their sheriff. This is a good example of a situation that is built into the characters, like we’ve known them all along and are joining them at this moment in time. His job opportunity is mentioned in passing and no big deal is made of it. His relationships are matter of fact, as one fizzles out and another sparks… maybe.
Louise Lasser plays Blanche, who is, I guess, the administrative assistant for the police department. She and Dan are infinitely fun to watch together, whether they’re bird watching or collaborating on the case. A year later, Lasser would star in Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and, if you’ve ever seen that series, she sports her signature braided red hair here, as well. (Alda had just finished the first season of M*A*S*H.)
Ruth Gordon plays Marge Savage, the crazy/sweet old woman on the hill, who screeches her tires as she speeds around corners in her car… a taxi. Marge is ultimately a key character and any movie featuring a gun-toting Ruth Gordon can’t be bad. By process of elimination, Dan and Blanche determine she’ll be next, and he goes on a stakeout to catch the criminal. It all converges in the climax, which is pretty exciting.
Isn’t It Shocking? is as solid as solid comes. It was written by 70s TV movie veteran, Lane Slate (They Only Kill Their Masters, 1972; The Strange & Deadly Occurrence, 1974; The Tribe, 1974; as well as the 1977 theatrical release, The Car.) It was directed by pre-Saturday Night Fever (1977), Dracula (1979) and WarGames (1983) hit-maker, John Badham. This combination is terrific. I’d say the actors first, then the script, then the direction, makes this something special.
Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch Isn't It Shocking? as well as all the great movies from this series...