Air Date: Sept. 11, 1974 (ABC)
Production Companies: Spelling-Goldberg Productions
Running Time: 74 min.
Available on: YouTube
Written by: William Wood
From the novel Death Watch by Robb White
Directed by: Lee H. Katzin
Cast: Andy Griffith, Sam Bottoms, Noah Beery Jr., James Best
Rating: 7 Vintage Televisions (out of 10)
Although Robb White wrote the occasional Perry Mason television episode, we all know him as the writer of the late 1950s-early 1960s William Castle classics, Macabre, House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler, 13 Ghosts, and Homicidal. To be clear, he didn’t write today’s 1970s TV movie, Savages (1974), but it was based on his novel, Deathwatc
It’s a terrific thriller made even more effective by Andy Griffith’s role as the bad guy. Horton Madec (Griffith) hires Ben Campbell (Sam Bottoms) to be his guide on a hunting trip in the desert, but when he accidentally shoots and kills a man, he tries to frame Ben, then spends most of the movie hunting him in the desert.
Horton is a quick thinker, as if he’s planned his little game ahead of time. In fact, I question if killing the man was accidental at all. If not, it was certainly coincidental. Horton is the worst kind of villain: he’s a lawyer. He’s so confident of succeeding that if he does get caught, he’s certain he can talk his way out of it and flip culpability back to Ben.
To be fair, if Ben followed instructions, Horton may not have followed him and shot at him to keep him in line. He instructs Ben to strip to his shorts and walk toward the road, assuming he’ll die from exposure along the way. Again, the details of his motivations are unclear. His motivations themselves are not: he’s a bad, bad man.
However, Ben is a smart, smart boy, used to lying in the desert naked to observe the vultures. He’s not going to go away easily. Whether Horton anticipates this complication and likes the challenge or is really surprised that Ben puts up a fight, the cat and mouse game between the two is the heart of the movie.
This isn’t the entire story, though. They make it back to the gas station where Ben works and are both questioned by the sheriff about the death of the man in the desert. I became incredulous over these events. First, Sheriff Bert Hamilton (James Best) interrogates them in the same room, allowing them to hear what the other person has to say.
Then, he lets them both go and arranges an appointment to reconvene the next day. No, I don’t think Sheriff Hamilton is following the letter of the law here. Even more egregious is the fact that he pulls into Ben’s gas station with Horton in the car after they’ve accused each other of murder. Of course, Ben is working, conveniently placing them together for the climax.
The evidence missing that will supposedly solve the mystery and expose the real killer is the slingshot Ben used to defend himself. Talk about circumstantial evidence! If Savages had ended with a duel in the desert, evoking a true classic TV thriller, instead of spending the last third back in town, it would have been nearly perfect. In this case, though, I’ll take 2/3 perfect.
Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch Savages and other great movies from this series...