This is was the second of two feature-length TV Movies that ultimately served to launch the short-lived private eye series Harry O (1974-76) starring David Janssen, which in its first season may have got as good as this genre ever got on the small screen.
Harry is hired to help solve a murder but gets tangled up in a case involving a stalker, a photographer obsessed with the wife of an older and powerful man.
The following review is offered as part of Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme hosted by Todd Mason over at his Sweet Freedom blog.
Writer Howard Rodman’s unlikely inspiration for this TV-Movie’s protagonist was Harry Greener, the aged ex-vaudevillian in Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust reduced to peddling ‘Miracle Solvent’ silver polish door-to-door until he finally keels over and dies. That book’s feeling for California’s alienated and disenfranchised also comes through in the romantic and mytho-poetic undercurrent to this vehicle for David Janssen. He plays Harry Orwell, an ex-policeman invalided out of the force after being shot in the back, the bullet lodged too near his spine for it to be removed. He lives on the beach making repairs (that will never be finished) on a sailboat called ‘The Answer’ and the story begins when one morning he finds a stray kid named Liberty (Jodie Foster) sleeping on it’s deck. He shoos her away, but soon takes her in while also trying to track down a psycho killer photographer (played by Zalman King, in his days before becoming Hollywood arch purveyor of glossy soft porn), investigating the death of the son-in-law of an old friend, though the focus is the man’s wife, the eponymous Jenny (the luminous Andrea Marcovicci).
This tender and melancholic private eye yarn ably sidesteps the clichés of the genre without sacrificing plot or character. It was the second attempt to launch a TV series and proved successful though Harry O, after endless tinkering (including the replacement of Henry Darrow with Anthony Zerbe, both excellent actors), was cancelled after just two seasons, much to the dismay of Janssen, Rodman and the fans.
DVD Availability: Part of the Warner Manufactured-On-Demand range, this transfer is a little dull but serviceable. There are no extras.
Director: Jerry Thorpe
Producer: Jerry Thorpe
Screenplay: Howard Rodman
Cinematography: Jack Woolf
Art Direction: Walter Herndon
Music: Billy Goldenberg
Cast: David Janssen, Andrea Marcovicci, Clu Gulager, Zalman King, Jodie Foster, Howard Da Silva, John Anderson, Barbara Leigh