Thirty-eight years is a long time. That’s how long I’ve gone between viewings of this Ted Post directed thriller that made it’s television debut in December of 1980 after what apparently amounted to an aborted attempt at a theatrical release. Just as well because it really does play like a TV movie of the era or a couple years later could have been a made for cable TV feature. If not, then it would have been most suitable as a direct to home video release.
On to the movie that was meant to feature ex-Charlie’s Angel, Jaclyn Smith in her first big screen starring effort surrounded by three very well known leading men getting on in years. Two from the land of television and one a bona fide screen icon. The trio in question are Mike Connors of Mannix fame, James Franciscus of Mr. Novak and other short lived series and finally Robert Mitchum who should need no introduction to classic movie fans.
Bordering on the Giallo efforts from Europe, this features Jaclyn as the unhappy well kept wife of the wealthy Connors. He’s both verbally and physically abusive and a drunk to boot. The business he operates has Franciscus as his chief of operations and he’s the one who’s in an adulterous relationship with Smith behind Connor’s back. When the trio are left alone at the Arizona ranch house belonging to Smith and Connors there is murder in the air.
“I just killed the bastard.”
Franciscus sees his opportunity and slips a little something into Connors’ drink leaving him dead on the living room floor. Miss Jaclyn didn’t see it coming and will have to choose sides very quickly. It’s either call the cops and send her lover to prison for life or join him in a near double indemnity tale where they’ll need to dispose of the body and make off with the suitcase full of cash amounting to over a million dollars that Connors has stashed away in an airport locker.
I guess it’s time to tuck poor Mannix away in the freezer till they can get rid of the body. Franciscus is going to do a quick bit of work with his passport assuming Connors’ identity and board a plane that the now dead man was scheduled for later in the evening. Then they’ll simply make their getaway and no one will be the wiser till it’s too late. Sounds reasonable I guess if we’re plotting how to get away with a murder once we’ve jumped in.
With Connors dead and Franciscus out of town doing the cover up flight, Smith is caught off guard when our old gumshoe Robert Mitchum turns up at her door flashing a badge. He’s here to check on the whereabouts of her husband after receiving a call from Connor’s secretary that he didn’t check in the previous night from his intended location. A little pressure from the calm and cool Mitch and Jaclyn’s getting nervous. No worries just yet as Mitch backs away and Jaclyn figures she’d better dump her dear dead hubby down the old mine shaft outside of town.
She heads down and opens the freezer and BANG! It isn’t Connors in the deepfreeze but Franciscus with an obvious bullet hole in the side of his head.
The mystery just got a whole lot deeper and we’ve still got about 45 minutes of screen time that will see our leading lady being stalked and terrified at the thought that Connors isn’t dead at all but has come back from the grave to seek his vengeance.
Mitch is going to come and go in and out of our story as he pushes for the truth and now he’s wondering where Franciscus has gotten to as well. Also showing up to ruin Smith’s day is Fritz Weaver as the family lawyer who is all hands when her hubby isn’t around. I mean she’s having a real bad day. Weaver is one of those faces we all know instantly from countless TV shows from the 1960’s onward. Here he’s chasing around Smith while Sybil Danning stars as his onscreen wife back at home! Gentlemen somethings wrong with this whole setup.
Someone is out to get Miss Smith but who?
Overall this would have been better served as an outright Giallo thriller with a 1980 Dario Argento behind the camera who at this point was still at the height of his powers. He’d already worked with Franciscus once before and could have turned this into an outright thriller as opposed to a lackluster affair from Ted Post. The ingredients are all here for a good scare but it comes off as another one that misses the intended mark. Dare I say a better actress at the heart of the story might have helped? Sorry Jaclyn.
No secret my interest in revisiting this is Robert Mitchum who never raises a hand or eyebrow throughout the proceedings. He’s just too cool to get caught acting beyond his sleepy eyed approach. Director Post had a lengthy career behind him including working with Franciscus on a trio of other titles. Good Guys Wear Black, a nifty TV thriller titled Night Slaves and of course Franciscus’ most recognizable big screen role as Brent in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. One year following Nightkill, Franciscus would reteam with Jaclyn as they took up the roles of JFK and his wife in the TV bio, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy.
So while Nightkill might not be the best film on anyone of our star’s resumes, it does feature Mitchum so that’s good enough for me making it a must have here in the movie room and thanks to a blu ray release from Kino Lorber it’s another Mitchum title I can check off on my want list.