Air Date: Dec. 29, 1972
Production Companies: 20th Century Fox Television, ABC Circle Films, American Broadcasting Company (ABC)
Running Time: 73 min.
Available on: Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)
Written by: Robert Dozier
From the novel, Binary, by Michael Crichton
Directed by: Michael Crichton
Cast: Ben Gazzara, E.G. Marshall, William Windom, Joseph Wiseman, Jim McMullan, Martin Sheen
Pursuit (1972) starts with a superimposed digital clock counting down from “zero minus 15 hours.” It doesn’t remain visible for the movie’s entire running time, but appears at key moments, especially before and after the black spaces originally filled by commercials. It’s like the gimmick of the TV series, 24 (2001-2010), minus the loud and clunky ticking sound.
Pursuit is based on a novel called, Binary, by Michael Crichton (Westworld, The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park), which was written under a pseudonym while he was still in medical school. Although the producers didn’t feel Crichton had enough experience to write the teleplay, they allowed him to direct it.
It has the familiar trappings of a Michael Crichton story, particularly the suspense; however, it doesn’t have the sci-fi element. Instead, James Wright (E.G. Marshall), the leader of a group called “Americans for Better Nations” plots to release deadly gas during a political party’s (I didn’t catch which one) national convention, to which the President is about to arrive.
It’s fun that we don’t know at first that this is his plot; we learn it along with government agent Steven Graves (Ben Gazzara.) Adding depth to the action is a relationship between these two characters. Wright has done research on Graves and incorporates his anticipated responses into his plan. Graves is a risk-taker who enjoys games. They feed off each other.
It’s an added layer of intrigue that isn’t necessary, but that causes me to rate this TV movie higher than most. So does the drama from Graves’s past that is mentioned, but never fully explained, by everyone that works with him, including Robert Phillips (William Windom), Dr. Nordman (Joseph Wiseman) and Lewis (Jim McMullan.)
The terrific cast includes Martin Sheen as one of Wright’s slimy co-conspirators, Timothy Drew. It also features a score by the great Jerry Goldsmith that is noticeable from the very first note as being above and beyond most generic music in a TV movie. It all adds up to a nearly theatrical experience, hampered only by Gazzara’s low key style that sometimes contradicts the urgency of the situation.