#1870 Tricks of the Trade (1988)

I had consciously decided to exclude made-for-TV movies from my reviews (partly because many of them lack posters), but this one inadvertently escaped my notice—and, surprisingly, I was quite content that it did.

Tricks of the Trade stands out as one of the superior made-for-TV movies, where the constraints of a limited budget aren’t glaringly obvious, presenting a film that holds its own among B-list ’80s comedies. The narrative also has compelling elements: a seemingly perfect Beverly Hills marriage comes to a shocking end when the husband is murdered while visiting his secret prostitute girlfriend. Now facing danger, the unlikely duo joins forces to unravel the mystery.

The plot cleverly twists the classic cop movie trope, pairing two vastly different characters forced to tolerate each other and collaborate to outsmart the villains. For the most part, this dynamic is effective. However, there was potential for this to be developed into a theatrical release with somewhat sharper writing and I felt the writers didn’t fully exploit the comedic opportunities presented by the contrasting backgrounds of the two leads. As a result, the humour only hit the mark half of the time for me.

80s-o-meter: 90%

Total: 75%

#1747 The Ratings Game (1984)

Danny DeVito stars in this little known made for TV with his wife Rhea Perlman, a fact I wasn’t aware in the time when I watched the movie. Their love relationship in the movie was kind of endearing, but would’ve have gone to another level had I known of their real life relationship.

The Ratings Game is one of those made for TV movies that punches way above its weight. First of all it’s always a delight seeing DeVito – one of my all time favourite actors – in action, but the story here is also pretty darn unique and interesting: we have a rich owner of a truck company moving to west coast and trying to make it big in Hollywood despite being atrocious writer, who then comes up with a cunning plan to exploit the ratings system for his advantage.

Supporting cast is also top notch here, making The Ratings Game a recommendable movie, and one that easily outperforms vast majority of theatrical comedy movies of 1984.

80s-o-meter: 85%

Total: 79%

#1727 Incident at Crestridge (1981)

Woman moving into a small town located in the Western region of the USA faces ineptitude and corruption of the local law enforcement system and campaigns to become the new sheriff with the mission of rooting out corruption and to provide a sense of safety and security to the community that had been missing for years.

As with made for TV movies the theme of the movie is a bit different from what you’d normally see in movies with a theatrical release, and here also her struggle against the powers that be is interesting to watch.

On the downside Incident at Crestridge suffers from being very much a made for TV movie, and in its style and pacing reminds more of a long episode of some TV series of the early 80s, rather than a cinematic experience you’d go to see from a big screen.

80s-o-meter: 71%

Total: 60%

#1726 The Scarlet and the Black (1983)

Over these years I’ve grown fond of underdog made for TV movies that punch far above their height in terms of telling an interesting story. In The Scarler and the Black that a real-life story is of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, an Irish Catholic priest who saved thousands of Jews and escaped Ally soldirs in Rome during WWII.

Seeing John Gielgud, Gregory Peck and Christopher Plummer work together in this movie is a treat, is capturing the essence of their characters perfectly, and adding that little flair of their own to keep things interesting.

Although the scarcer budget shows, for a made for TV movie The Scarlet and the Black is well made movie that doesn’t really give away its modest origins, other than fading out and pausing for the very apparent commercial breaks.

80s-o-meter: 43%

Total: 83%

#1682 Halloween 2022: The People Across the Lake (1988)

Funny how genre affects on how you view a name of a movie.I originally mistook The People Across the Lake as a made for TV drama, and my instant assumption was a tired costume drama, but upon learning that this is actually a horror movie the name became much more interesting one. In fact, I quite like it!

Many made for TV horror movies of the 80s have been positive surprises, quite unexpectedly so. Generally they have the courage to try out something a little different and rely on eery feeling instead of excessive gore, and the same goes with The People Across the Lake.

I was super pleased to see Barry Corbin in one of the main roles in the movie, but given how I’ve learned to perceive him, the role seemed bit of a misfit for him in the end, but it’s no deal breaker by any means. The movie could have built up much more suspense towards the end, but takes a bit too easy path in the end making The People Across the Lake entertaining – but not exceptional.

80s-o-meter: 87%

Total: 72%

#1630 A Man for All Seasons (1988)

Apparently Charlton Heston would have wanted to star in the 1966 version of A Man for All Seasons that took home six Oscars in that year’s Academy Awards.

To the extend that to rectify this wrongdoing he would go on to direct his own made-for-TV version some 20 years later where he this time around stars in. Based on a play by Robert Bolt of the life of Sir Thomas More, this newer version of A Man for All Seasons still maintains the great wit and charm of the original.

Historical dramas – especially the made for TV ones – aren’t my cup of tea, but in this genre A Man for All Season definitely holds its own, thanks to its strong manuscript.

80s-o-meter: 2%

Total: 70%

#1618 Popeye Doyle (1986)

Popeye Doyle is not actually a movie, but a movie length pilot for a TV series based on early 70s The French Connection starring Gene Hackman.

Like most people, I watched Popeye Doyle due to Ed O’Neill playing the lead part, but O’Neill really does not bring anything of himself into the role, like he famously did with Married With Kids, and multiple other comedies that followed. There’s nothing really that bad about the pilot, but it’s just so uninspired and average that it never manages to capture the attention.

The series was never picked up by broadcasting companies, which in hindsight was a blessing in disguise, especially for O’Neill himself.

80s-o-meter: 61%

Total: 30%

#1593 Halloween 2021: Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes aka Amityville Horror IV (1989)

..and Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes is where the series gets stupid again. The evil has escaped from the Amityville house in a form of a brass floor lamp(!) and is now tormenting a new place.

Other than that the movie plays heavily with typical the genre clichés, like priests teaming up against the evil.

Amityville 4 is the first movie in the series to be made for TV – and frankly that should’ve been a cue for the team to leave skip the project and dedicate their time on something else.

80s-o-meter: 81%

Total: 35%

#1567 The Last Fling (1987)

John Ritter and Connie Sellecca, both seasoned TV and made for TV movie actors star in this TV movie made by ABC. As far as made for TV movies go, this one fares very well, resembling your quite average feature film made with a modest budget, and actually got distributed widely as a rental movie as well.

Ritter plays a popular playboy grown tired of one night stands, while Sellecca portrays a role of a fiancée who goes out to try to match her groom’s wild stag party – with dire consequences.

The story is nothing to write to home about, but solid acting work of both leads and good production quality make The Last Fling an a-ok time passer.

80s-o-meter: 90%

Total: 72%

#1542 High School U.S.A. aka The Race (1983)

Look, I’m not 100% sure if High School U.S.A. really exists, or if I’m trapped in a matrix, comatose or in some kind of psychosis. It’s just that seeing Michael J. Fox and Crispin Glover together in a high school movie in roles not too different to those seen in Back to the Future, and coupling that with some random 80s names such as Anthony Edwards as the rich kid and Michael Zorek in his typical slob role feels like something I could’ve very well cooked up in my sleep.

Other than that, this is your very basic high school comedy with the typical characters and events that go with the territory. There’ the rich, the jocks, the nerds, and the brainiacs and High School U.S.A. does not even aim to do things differently; it mostly just wants to be a TV movie passable for a theatrical release, and in that aspect it does no worse than most of the similar movies of the era you’d watch in a theatre.

Michael J. Fox already shows likeable traits straight out of his forthcoming teen star roles, but does not leverage this movie up that much. The real star of the show is Crispin Glover whose perfect timing and laconic replies got me laughing aloud quite a few times.

80s-o-meter: 83%

Total: 74%

#1529 The Burning Bed (1984)

One of the most hard to watch movies I’ve seen to date, The Burning Bed is a gruesome depiction of a domestic abuse downward spiral.

Being based on actual events, the movie does a terrific job in putting into concrete how the abuse starts in small, almost innocent baby steps that are easy to put aside. It also depicts exceptionally well the manipulative side as the abuser always finds a justification and forgiveness for their acts.

This is one of the rare cases where it doesn’t make much sense mentioning the made-for-TV origin of the movie was it easily bests the vast majority of theatrical dramas in its genre. Farrah Fawcett’s performance is flawless, and my hat is off to Paul Le Mat for his courage of accepting such a role. The events of the movie cut so deep that I might never look him the same way again.

80s-o-meter: 54%

Total: 92%

#1479 Resting Place (1986)

Another made-for-TV movie with a super interesting premise, Resting Place takes place in early 70s as an US Army Major (John Lithgow) arrives to a small souther town to with a body of young deceased African-American sergeant and soon finds out the family is denied of his burial on the graveyard reserved for whites.

When everything else fails, the major turns out to officials, local newspapers and finally his team, who to his surprise seem to keep shush about the actual events leading to the sergeant’s death.

Resting Place is one of those made for tv movies that manages to better 90% of the movies out there, and easily earns my recommendations for watching.

80s-o-meter: 72%

Total: 87%

#1474 Death of a Salesman (1985)

I’m not quite sure what to do with all these made for TV movies of the 80s. On the other hand, watching through all of them is not at all what I signed up for, but with gems like Death of a Salesman how could I possibly pass them up?

Based on the brilliant 1949 play of the same name by Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman transfers nicely to the TV format thanks to great casting including Dustin Hoffman, John Malkovich and Charles Durning – and in this case specifically to the TV as the production values themselves are a far cry from a feature film.

If you’re new to the play, Death of a Salesman is one of the better ways to get acquainted with the story and its timeless themes of the (false sense of) pride, delusion, American dream – and falling short of it.

80s-o-meter: 5%

Total: 85%

#1420 Xmas 2020: Roots The Gift (1988)

Roots was a TV historical miniseries written by Alex Haley depicting the story of his family as they were brought as slaves to America from Africa, originally released in 1977 and a continuum in 1979 as another miniseries.

Almost a decade later a made for TV Christmas special entitled Roots: The Gift was made and premiered on ABC on December 11, 1988. Here we see young Kunta Kinte taking his first rebellious steps as a slave, not accepting the western name and his new status, and starts plotting on escape.

Although labeled as one, the movie does not rate high as a Christmas movie – many ordinary movies not titled as Christmas movies have a much bigger amount of the festivities present. But it does fare fairly well as a movie dealing with themes of empowering slaves who have never experienced freedom, as well as depicting the inner conflicts of the slave owners, some of who have started question of the ethics of enslaving men.

80s-o-meter: 0%

Total: 38%

#1419 Xmas 2020: Christmas Eve (1986)

An elder aristocrat woman looks forward to uniting her family for the Christmas while fighting his son on the court over the control of the family company and assets in Christmas Eve, a made for TV movie that premiered on NBC on December 22, 1986.

Christmas Eve is everything you’d expect a made for TV movie to be; you would not be happy to go to the cinemas to watch this one, but would probably not mind having stuck in front of a telly during the Holidays to spend the 90 minutes with it while sipping some eggnog.

80s-o-meter: 60%

Total: 56%

#1337 The Trouble with Spies (1987)

The Trouble with Spies was originally shot in 1984 as a made for TV movie but released three years later as a theatrical release. But make no mistake, this spy comedy looks and feels very much like your average early 80s TV movie.

Special Agent comedies have been already done to death by 1984, and The Trouble with Spies is really nothing more but yet another poor man’s Pink Panther copy. There was two upsides seeing this movie, first one being seeing Lucy Gutteridge (who ended up mostly in made for TV movies) starring in another movie besides Top Secret! – a movie I’ve seen about gazillion times as a kid.

Another upside? That adorable guard dog towards the end of the movie.

80s-o-meter: 40%

Total: 38%

#1183 Halloween 2019: Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

The prize for the most positive surprise of this Halloween goes once again to a made-for-TV movie.

Unlike the contemporary slashers, being a TV movie Dark Night of the Scarecrow can’t rely on gore or nudity so it has to make up for it with smart editing, suspense and atmosphere.

Dark Night of the Scarecrow is not particularly 80s horror movie, owing much more the classic black and white scary stories – but it stands out in a positive way for that very reason.

80s-o-meter: 55%

Total: 83%

#988 The Executioner’s Song (1982)

Tommy Lee Jones stars in The Executioner’s Song, a solid made for TV movie documenting the life and ultimate death of Gary Gilmore who was executed in 1977 upon his own request.

Unlike many other crime movies, The Executioner’s Song doesn’t go out to glamourise the killer or the criminal life style and handles its subject in a way that seems semi-documentary at times. Gilmore is pictured as a complex, short-tempered man who often resorts in violence and even in the passing moments of regret he still maintains his ominous, possessive and obsessive presence.

Tommy Lee Jones makes the best out of the role, easily outperforming the movie itself.

80s-o-meter: 72%

Total: 64%

#923 The Day After (1983)

The Day After portrays a nuclear war between the two cold-war giants USA and Soviet Union, and the effects there after. The initial setup establishing a Kansas site of nuclear weapons works and the movie escalates in an interesting way to its nuclear holocaust peak, but the events after that – as horrid and graphic as they may seem – just feel much too staged and phoney.

Set design is pretty impressive for a made for TV movie and could’ve partially passed for an actual feature film. The same cannot be said about the special effects and the make-up where the lack of budget really shines through. There’s an impressive array of actors involved for a made for TV movie, but here they don’t really add up any additional value to the movie compared of going with some no name actors. The movie is also too long at 120 minutes of which a good 40 minutes could’ve been left in the cutting room floor to save us from many of the scenes that drag on for much too long.

The Day After is a movie made to touch and to shock, but its melodramatic, soap opera feel to it plain prevented me to get really emotionally involved in it. The grim and hopeless Testament, released the same year, portrays the devastating effects of a nuclear war in a more subtle but realistic and powerful way.

80s-o-meter: 78%

Total: 46%

#816 My Name Is Bill W. (1989)

Part of the Hallmark Hall of Fame series that began running already in 1951, My Name Is Bill W. is a dramatisation of the William Griffith Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Based on the real life events, the movie is an interesting look into the life of an addict, and still as topical as it was back in the 1920. Production quality wise the movie is definitely one of the better made for tv movies, and the era is well established. James Woods – whom I’ve really grown to like only recently – plays the lead convincingly, but remains a far too distant character to the viewer to adapt to. JoBeth Williams thankfully provides a much more natural object to identify with in her role as the loving, caring and mentally exhausted wife at the end of her tether.

Like the most made for tv movies, this is no roller coaster ride, but if the slow pacing doesn’t scare you, My Name Is Bill W. definitely rates as one of those rare watchable period pictures.

80s-o-meter: 43%

Total: 62%