TV Terror Guide: Short Walk to Daylight (1972)
Air Date: Oct. 24, 1972 (ABC)
Production Companies: Universal Television
Running Time: 73 min.
Available on: YouTube
Written by: Philip H. Reisman Jr. and Gerald Di Pego
Story by: Edward Montagne
Directed by: Barry Shear
Cast: James Brolin, Don Mitchell, James McEachin, Abbey Lincoln, Brooke Bundy
Perhaps testing an idea for its future big screen spectacle, Earthquake (1974), Universal made a small screen precursor called, Short Walk to Daylight (1972.) It’s built on a compelling concept: late-night passengers on a subway train are trapped underground when an earthquake hits New York City. Not only must they survive continuing aftershocks, but there’s a race against time as the river above begins pouring in on top of them.
The realization of the concept is super-efficient and perfect for television. For artistic purposes, a small screen contributes to the claustrophobia of the situation. For financial purposes, depicting the results of an earthquake underground keeps the scope within budget. For viewing purposes, this leaves the wide scale disaster where it’s best realized: in the imagination. (Special effects never look cheap in our minds.)
I can’t believe I’m going to write this, but the peril is so involving in Short Walk to Daylight, that the characters don’t really matter. It’s interesting to me, then, that the focus, especially in a 1972 TV movie, is on the racial divide between cop Tom Phelan (James Brolin) and Alvin (Don Mitchell.) They have preconceived notions about each other that puts them at odds from the beginning. However, it's no surprise that they’ll eventually become allies.
This can all be a little dated and uncomfortable at times, but remember it’s 1972. When two friends take the subway after a night out in the big city, they’re going to instantly be uncomfortable when a black man joins them on the platform. One of the girls, either Dorella (Abbey Lincoln) or Joanne (Brooke Bundy), I don’t recall which, is visiting from Des Moines. Her fear of the big city is made real by the horrific events she must endure.
I must emphasize that I’m reading a lot into what is a threadbare script by Philip H. Reisman Jr. and Gerald Di Pego. Executed by director Barry Shear, though, Short Walk to Daylight is everything it needs to be to entertain. It actually reminds me more of The Poseidon Adventure (1972) than the aforementioned Earthquake. It’s just interesting to me that instead of capitalizing on a box office success, it was televised before either of those theatrical hits opened in theaters.
It isn’t exactly profound, but I got a kick out of the final moments of the film. While the outcome should not surprise anyone, I'll go ahead and issue a spoiler alert. As our heroes glimpse a sliver of daylight through the rubble, they wonder if there will be any survivors. In his sometimes annoying fake Brooklyn accent, Tom (Brolin) says, “There will be people… because we’ll be there.”
Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch Short Walk to Daylight, as well as all the great movies from this series...