Monday, August 01, 2016

Man from Atlantis IV: The Disappearances (June 20, 1977)

Dr. Elizabeth Merrill (Belinda J. Montgomery) is abducted and taken to the “Island of Blessings” in the Pacific.

There, she is brainwashed into compliance (thanks to an apparently magical spa bath…) to work with renegade scientist Dr. Mary Smith (Darleen Carr) on a top-secret project.

Mark (Patrick Duffy), C.W. Crawford (Alan Fudge) and Dr. Simon (Kenneth Tigar) track their missing friend to the faraway island, but Dr. Smith is not glad to see them. She launches a deadly torpedo to destroy the ship but Mark is able to detach it before it explodes.

Mark heads to the island, and discovers that Mary has kidnapped 20 of the world’s finest scientists, and has built a space ark, called Ararat.  

She intends to leave behind the “failed” Earth and start life on a new green planet with only the best of the best at her side.

She offers Mark a berth on the ark…

The Disappearances is a ninety minute movie, not two hours, and as a result of the abbreviated length moves a whole lot more efficiently than either The Deadly Scouts or Killer Spores did.  There are fewer distractions here, the characters are more crisply drawn, and the story stays on point well. 

After the pilot, this might be the best of the Man from Atlantis telefilms if for no other reason than the improved pace.  In terms of artistry this telefilm also plays as a book-end to Mayo Simon’s original teleplay.  

There, as you recall, Buono’s Mr. Schubert exhibited that “Burn it all down” mentality.  He was going to destroy the world to save it; to start over. He had to nuke the world to save it.

Instead of contending with alien life forms (like the previous two telefilms), The Disappearances introduces another scientist who has lost faith in the world as it is: Dr. Mary Smith. 

But she doesn’t want to burn it all down. She wants to “tune out,” essentially, with the world’s greatest minds. She wants to recreate Noah’s Ark and leave the corrupt Earth behind forever.  Dr. Smith claims Terra will be destroyed either through pollution or greed, and the best of the best have a responsibility to take “the seed” of life to another planet.

Once more, a veritable innocent, Mark Harris, is asked to combat this brand of cynicism. He is asked to stand up and defend mankind, even though he is an outsider. But, in that coveted spot of outsider he can see not just the “bad” of mankind but the good as Mary’s sister, Jane, who helps him free Elizabeth.

Again, I must note how much I enjoy the character of Mark Harris, and Patrick Duffy's portrayal. Not for a second is Mark tempted to join Dr. Smith on her odyssey to the stars.  There is too much to see and learn, right here on terra firma.

The Disappearances moves at a brisk pace and features a suspenseful set-piece involving a guided torpedo stalking the Cetacean.  There is some real tension here as Mark uses another one of his “water breather” powers (the ability to detect minerals and know what they are...) to figure out how to de-tach the torpedo from the sub’s hull.

The Disappearances is not without some camp-like touches. 

All of Mary’s male bodyguards/security guards go topless around the underground compound, for instance.  

And the lighting in the psychedelic spa suggests a seedy swinger’s party from the seventies. The scenes set there -- with bodybuilder men stripped down to their chests and women bathers in the pool -- suggest a disco orgy about to start. 

Tomorrow, I’ll begin my look at Man from Atlantis as it transitioned to regular hour-long series.

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