Air Date: Oct. 30, 1973 (ABC)
Production Companies: 20th Century Fox Television
Running Time: 90 min.
Available on: YouTube
Written by: Francis M. Cockrell and Leon Tokatyan
Directed by: Lee H. Katzin
Cast: Arthur Hill, Diana Muldaur, James Stacy, Macdonald Carey, Michael Ansara
Ordeal (1973) wastes no time getting started. Before we even know why Kay Damian (Diana Muldaur) is so eager to leave her husband, Richard (Arthur Hill), for dead when he’s thrown off his horse and tumbles over the edge of a small cliff while visiting a dude ranch, it happens. If you suspect that the hunky ranch hand, Andy Folsom (James Stacy), has anything to do with it, you’re right. He’s Kay’s lover.
What we have, then, is a predictable situation. What’s not predictable, though, is how it plays out. Granted, there aren’t really any twists or turns, but the revelations about the characters and their motivations act almost like them. We then have two stories unfolding side-by-side. Richard tries to survive in the desert with a broken leg while Kay and Andy pretend that he went missing and wait for news that the authorities have found his body.
As they wait, the lovers’ relationship crumbles. It becomes clear that Kay is using Andy to get what she wants. That makes her a despicable character, but is she more despicable than her husband? Richard was verbally abusive to her within the first two minutes of the film and subsequent conversations involving his attorney, Eliot Frost (Macdonald Carey), indicate he’s never been a pleasant man.
Here’s an example of some tasty dialogue from Ordeal:
Andy: He’s not going to die. Kay: What if he did? Suppose we didn’t go back for him. Andy: Do you want that? Kay: More than anything on earth. We could get away with it; I know we could. Andy: We?
Meanwhile, Richard makes an oath in the desert:
I’ll make it back. I’m stronger than they think. I will walk out just to look at your faces! I’ll crawl out and I’ll kill you both!
Ordeal is a remake of Inferno, a crime drama from 1953 starring Robert Ryan, Rhonda Fleming and William Lundigan. There’s some horror cred in that one: it was directed by Hammer and Amicus alum Roy Ward Baker and features Henry Hull, the Werewolf of London himself. After watching Ordeal, I’d really like to see Inferno. It must have offered a strong foundation on which director Lee H. Katzin could build.
Then again, Katzin is no stranger to the horror/sci-fi genre. He made What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?, The Stranger, Man from Atlantis, Terror Out of the Sky, and something called Death Ray 2000. Of course, Ordeal isn’t horror/sci-fi, but it does contain suspense and terror. I compare it to something like last week’s The President’s Plane is Missing, which had neither. The story itself doesn’t seem as exciting, but the execution is much better.
Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch Ordeal as well as all the great movies from this series...