I foresee there’s trouble and not just with the Mills…
It’s five days until the Superbowl and there’s foul play at large with a killer on the loose.
The ABC Monday Night Movie – “Superdome” (Opening & Break, 1978), The Museum of Classic Chicago Television (www.FuzzyMemories.TV)
A criminally underused Van Johnson is literally seen and heard in a handful of scenes in Superdome (1978), a whodunnit, oh.. theydunnit TV Movie. This murder mystery is from ABC, the TV home of Aaron Spelling. In a nutshell, the plot countdowns from five days to go until the time the Cougars – sadly not an all-girl team headed by Joan Collins – meet the Rangers – not coached by Chuck Norris – at the Superbowl. There is drama, Drama, DRAMA!!! And a killer on the loose.
In the longer version… in those opening credits, you hear the band, and then see a Superbowl ticket being printed in a cut scene from Play School (1964-88). Then the movie starts after the American football team, The Cougars fly into New Orleans for the Superbowl final. A mysterious looking man with a moustache (not Tom Selleck) watches them, as he drinks a coffee at the airport gate…
On the plane, the Cougars’ prized player McCaulay (the actual Tom Selleck) gives his heartfelt thanks to an air hostess for her support during the flight. This thanks is given with that Selleck charismatic smile, dulcet Tom talk and that tache that made your mother fangirl in his then near future TV role as Magnum PI.
McCaulay invites this woman to a team party, after all, she did distract him from his flying fears… I imagine this “support” loosely translates as the pair joined the Mile High Club. Then their torrid lovemaking scene in the plane loo was then cut as seen to be unsuitable for the scheduled time for this TV movie.
After disembarking the plane, the Cougars team manager Mike Shelley (Janssen) heads off with his trusted secretary Joyce (Edie Adams) to a meeting. En route, they stop off for some catfish, as you apparently do when you are in New Orleans. In the restaurant, Joyce tells him that the team governors and board want him to cut some black players from the team (and this film was made in the “progressive 70s”!). Also that his ex-wife called.
Minutes later, a (self-confessed) pretty blonde Lainie Wiley (Donna Mills) rushes into the restaurant and makes a beeline for Shelley. She tells him of her “car trouble” as she plays the damsel in distress. Wiley then admits to following him, and then after spouting everything she knows about him, tells him that she’s a journalist. She tells him – in between pouting and heavy lust-filled breathing – about her dilemma, as she wants to report on the Superbowl game, but can’t get a ticket. What’s a girl to do?
Shelley, his male ego flattered, tells her to “swing” past his office for a ticket. Wiley has got eyes only for him. He knows it, even though he is about 20 years older than her and looks a hell of a lot older. His secretary – full of women’s intuition / and who has loved her boss for years in an unrequited way – also knows it and gives her that venomous look… that only women give…
Meanwhile, it’s a scene
from on a Showboat, accountant Chip Green (Van Johnson) has been asked by his boss to offer some big bucks to snare McCaulay for their team. Apparently, McCaulay is “the hottest in town” and “bigger than OJ Simpson”. Therefore in 70s translate, a must-have team member. The heat is on for Green, and sadly this doesn’t lead – like it should – to loads of scenes with Selleck and Johnson, in a bromance montage etc etc. But there is a throwaway scene for the pair much later in this film, which resolves everything… but was set in the wrong time and place.
At the hotel, the players have checked in and are hanging out in the lobby. Player Dave Walecki (Ken Howard) asks if his wife Nancy (Susan Howard, no apparent relation) has checked in, she hasn’t and he looks troubled. So do I after learning she’s played by a woman who appeared not long after this as the most irritating Dallas character ever, Donna Culver Krebbs.
Wiley’s there too and she’s now schmoozing with the young players. One of the players, Pete (Shelly Novack) gives her a red carnation and tries to win her over telling her she’s been nominated as the rep for the guys. I silently scream “Good luck buddy! This fox is after your boss” at the screen.
At the same time, somewhere else in the hotel, one time Cougars player PK Jackson (Clifton Davis) is getting some loving from his wife Sonny (Vonetta McGee). He’s also arranging a party at a neighbouring hotel, for the Cougars and tells the hotel’s boss – where he is staying – that he wants them to arrange security.
It is revealed that he’s also getting pressure from a mysterious caller to do a job, or he’ll be killed… This job which will pay off all his debts is revealed later. This gig appears to be from “the management” who want the Cougars to lose, to win big on a superbig money bet… so they want something to happen to McCaulay.
That night that guy with the tache – that isn’t Selleck, but was seen drinking coffee earlier, the film doesn’t give him a name hence the vague description – is observing the Cougars’ party with binoculars. He sees that Wiley and the whole cast are present… and he spots McCaulay is about to show his best moves in the bedroom with the air hostess.
Walecki’s wife has turned up. Nancy gives a full-on aggressive attack on Dave, who already has a sore knee and now has a sore head as she gives him the “you love the game more than me” dramatic spiel in a squeaky uptight voice… and it seems he does. But more on the murders, drama and Wiley and Shelley’s romantic picnic first date can be seen in the usual ways as Day 4 beckons…
I had been optimistic about this film after I first read the title. Hearing the title Superdome and seeing the plot it vaguely reminded me of the excellent Chuck Heston goes after sniper at Superbowl feature film, Two Minute Warning (1976). The only things in common – that I know of – with this Charlton Heston film are the use of an all-star cast, the Superbowl setting and their joint cast member, David Janssen.
This TV Movie was 1 hour and 40 minutes long – the equivalent of a Primetime soap double bill – and it managed to add a huge whole load of twists and turns into the drama. In Superdome’s later scenes, do pay attention when things go full tilt Domino effect. And don’t go to the toilet, as for some crazy reason the plot tells you who did the murders halfway through the film. Even though it’s made obvious if you pay attention to their telltale appearance in their lead up scenes…
Perhaps this big reveal was so that this perpetrator could relish in their glory and go full tilt bitch / bastard. I did enjoy this film for this great writing and the plot based around and after this movie’s most significant twist. I hope to do a rewatch just to see my Darlin Husband riff it… especially those scenes with the Howard stars.
Superdome has got a more star-studded cast than your average TV Agatha Christie movie. It is similar to this genre, in that as the murdered bodies add up these are solely from the lesser stars in this movie, as the more famous names remain as suspects. Yet the prized American footballer, Jim McCauley is all the man they all want and will kill for. And we don’t even get to see him show his prowess on the pitch, only off it.
David Jenssen is good, but he’s unconvincing as he zooms about in what appears to be a dodgem car to go after the bad guy in later scenes. Thus saving his energy for when he has to take the stairs to get this villain in scenes that go on for at least five minutes of screen time.
Donna Mills plays all her more significant roles in one movie… and she really doesn’t get better than this… But together her role seemed to outline her on-screen career. And for Donna Mills doing this role at her second best, go for a damsel in distress role with Night of Terror (1972), picnic lover with love interest see Play Misty for Me (1971) and then Bitch from Hell go to Knots Landing (1979-93).
Ken Howard and Susan Howard audition brilliantly for their respective future soaps, in the 1980’s Dynasty (and The Colbys (1985-87)) and Dallas (1978-91) respectively in their Howards’ way. (Sorry couldn’t resist that pun). Susan’s character Nancy is as self-righteous and indignant as her Dallas character Donna Culver Krebbs. I am sure her performance in this TV movie got her this Dallas role, as the Waleckis relationship scenes felt like the dialogue was from a Dynasty early draft…
Tom Selleck does get a lot better than this, as here, he gives little more than the often shirtless man eye candy in this movie. This is for us, who like a bit of 70s pre-Magnum (1980-1988) Selleck… As this film is a Spelling production, shirtless Selleck is balanced out with a scantily clad girl – that is Spelling’s notorious jiggle factor – here in her undies and on a swing shouting “come and get it” in what seems like a New Orleans publicity montage from their tourist board. A few big cast names, including Ed Nelson, Edie Adams, M Emmet Walsh and Bubba Smith pop in and out of the film to make this seem more like a murder mystery than it really is.
As for Van Johnson, he only appears in a few scenes, where he is usually propping up the bar. But he does have a chance to shine in the way only he can. In one reference, that you will get after seeing this film… in some later hospital scenes after someone accidentally drugs his on-screen daughter, he gets a chance to upstage everyone. This with some less cliched plot and a hell of a lot more convincing non hammed up acting. Like that suitcase – which is seen in a few pivotal scenes in this movie, yet never mentioned in the plot – Johnson has packed everything he’s got, into his short but solid appearance.
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦😦/10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
Hulk Rating: / 10
The Fifth Annual Van Johnson Blogathon 2021 No 23
This film was added to Love Letters to Old Hollywood’s 5th Van Johnson Blogathon. Clifton Davis in The Love Boat. Donna Mills in Night of Terror, Knots Landing and Play Misty for Me. Ed Nelson in Hotel, Charlies Angels, The Screaming Woman and The Streets of San Francisco. Edie Adams in The Apartment and Fantasy Island. Ken Howard in The Colbys and Dynasty. M Emmet Walsh in Blade Runner and Airport 77. Susan Howard in Dallas, Star Trek and Columbo. Tom Selleck in Magnum and Murder She Wrote. Van Johnson in The Kidnapping of the President, Divorce American Style and McMillan and Wife. Vonetta McGee in Magnum. Bubba Smith stars in many Police Academy films.