Friday, March 04, 2016

SANDCASTLES (1972)

Plotline #1: We see young, pretty orchestra member Bonnie Bedelia moping around, bemoaning her loneliness. Her music is the most important thing in her life, but she does seem to want to be with someone. Plotline #2: Good-natured Herschel Bernardi runs a popular beachside diner called Papa Bear's but needs $20,000 for his mortgage and if he can't pay, he'll lose the place. So he invites his regulars for a free crowd-sourcing dinner, asking them to contribute to a fund to save the diner. They come through and Bernardi sends his bartender (Jan-Michael Vincent) to the bank with the money. Vincent is a blond, laid-back surfer-type dude who spends his off-time building sandcastles on the beach near the diner, and both Bernardi and his partner (Mariette Hartley) are like parental figures to him, but on a whim, Vincent decides to take the cash for himself and take off. He immediately regrets this, calls Bernardi and confesses, then says he'll hitchhike back with the money that night. He gets a ride with a drunk and obnoxious salesman (Gary Crosby).

On the highway near Papa Bear's, Crosby veers wildly to avoid hitting a car, driven by Bonnie Bedelia of plotline #1. Vincent is thrown from the car and Crosby speeds away. Bedelia comes to Vincent's aid, but, covered in mud and unrecognizable, he dies in her arms. She is taken in by Bernardi and Hartley, who don't realize that Vincent was killed and are waiting for him to show up with the money, which is still in his backpack, now in Crosby's possession. The next day, wandering the beach, Bedelia sees Vincent working on his elaborate sandcastles and, not recognizing him as the dead boy from the night before, she falls for him. But it's not long before she realizes he's a ghost on a mission: get the money back from Crosby to give to Bernardi.

I don't typically review made-for-TV movies here, but this is one from the "golden age" of TV movies, one which had quite a bit of buzz in its day, and one I never saw as a teenager but which many of my friends did. Perhaps the most interesting thing about it now is that it was shot on videotape, giving it the visual feel of a play or a soap opera. For a 75 minute movie, it has a lot of narrative, much of it difficult to buy. Of course, you have to accept the whole ghost thing, but why would Vincent say he's been brought back to find the money but also say that he can't leave the beach? Why did he take the money in the first place? He's not a terribly rounded character, but the theft feels wrong and is completely unmotivated. Why is Bedelia, who is attractive and pleasant, alone? And what the hell is Crosby's motivation? He finds the money, starts to give it back, then decides he's being treated shabbily by Bernardi and keeps it, only to ultimately give it up—prodded by his (long-suffering) wife. He is a thoroughly slimy character with Crosby doing almost too good a job at making him unlikable. The two people who make this worth seeing are Bernardi and Hartley; their characters aren't really fleshed out any more than the others, but the actors bring them to life and make us care about them. This film has been hard to find, but I ran across it on Fox Movie Channel in a very good videotape print. [FXM]

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