Air Date: Oct. 24, 1977 (NBC)
Production Companies: La Rose Productions, Don Kirshner Productions
Running Time: 100 min.
Available on: YouTube
Written by: George Lefferts
Directed by: Robert Michael Lewis
Cast: Gary Collins, Chuck Connors, Henry Gibson, Peter Haskell, Karen Lamm, Sheree North, Victoria Principal, Gregory Sierra, Phil Silvers, Stella Stevens, Jonathan Banks, Marcia Lewis
Rating: 5 vintage televisions (out of 10)
At first evoking such previous 1970s TV-movies such as The President’s Plane is Missing (1973,) The Disappearance of Flight 412 (1974,) and Mayday at 40,000 Feet (1976,) The Night They Took Miss Beautiful (1977) doesn’t seem to offer much in the way of originality. However, by adding a layer of satire about beauty pageants, it almost achieves a modicum of uniqueness.
Indeed, with Henry Gibson playing an underpaid director, Rolly Royce, and Phil Silvers playing a ridiculous master of ceremonies, Marv Barker, the movie threatens to be an all-out comedy. Once the five finalists board a charter plane for the Bahamas, though, the subplots take dark turns for which laughing would be criminal.
First, the United States finalist, Cindy Lou Barrett (Karen Lamm,) is manipulated by her showbiz mom (Marcia Lewis) to do whatever it takes for them to survive, even if it includes letting one of the highjackers/kidnappers, Omar Welk (Gregory Sierra,) have his way with her. When making her case, she explains it’s no big deal; she had to do that with her husband for many years.
Then, their bored captors force the five women to compete in a beauty pageant. The stakes are a little murky, but I think the first to be eliminated will be the first to be killed if the authorities don’t meet their ransom demands. From dark to pathetic, we also get to see Victoria Principal (the Israeli finalist) perform an imitation of Groucho Marx. Huh?
Finally, the criminals are a despicable bunch with characterizations that run much deeper than any of the good guys. As Buck, Jonathan Banks adds sleazy looks and mannerisms to a stereotype, and as Layla Burden, Sheree North adds outright insanity. These two go above and beyond what is required to represent their characters. They almost… almost make the movie.
If all this isn’t enough, we learn that Paul Fabiani (Gary Collins) isn’t really an airline captain; he’s a government agent carrying a deadly virus in a cigar tube. This is why Damon Faulkner (Peter Haskell) is willing to sacrifice lives for the greater good while Miami airport security chief, Mike O’Toole (Chuck Conners) fights him every step of the way.
It all culminates during a Keystone Cops chase in the Florida Keys and concludes with a not-so-happy ending for the virus plot, but a happy ending for the beauty pageant plot. The Night They Took Miss Beautiful is not good by any means, but it's oddly fascinating. I’d never watch it again, but I’m not sorry I experienced it one time.
Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch The Night They Took Miss Beautiful as well as all the great movies from this series.