HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Sunday, February 7, 2010

DYING ROOM ONLY -- DVD review by porfle

Here's a fun little flick for fans of made-for-TV movies from the 70s and especially the "ABC Movie of the Week." DYING ROOM ONLY (1973) is one of those low-budget thrillers that used to have the family glued to the TV and provided fodder for playground talk the next day.

Cloris Leachman and Dabney Coleman play Jean and Bob, a vacationing couple on their way home to L.A. who stop off at a secluded diner with an adjoining motel in the middle of the desert. Ross Martin is Jim, the surly fry cook who seems to begrudge them the slightest attention, and Ned Beatty is Tom, a fat redneck in a cowboy hat who simply exudes ill intent as he guzzles beer at the counter. When Jean goes to the ladies' room to wash her face, she returns to find that Bob has vanished without a trace.

Jim and Tom claim to have no idea where he went, growing more hostile and dismissive as the increasingly frantic Jean continues to press them. A visit from the local sheriff (Dana Elcar) is no help since he believes Bob simply took off and left her there. Finally, Jean gets a room at the motel and starts snooping around on her own, which leads to a night of terror and death.

"Simple but effective" would be a good way to describe this movie, which takes place entirely in and around the diner and motel (except for one brief scene near the end) and depends on the skills of the filmmakers and the cast to pull it off. Prolific television director Philip Leacock keeps Richard Matheson's lean, mean story on track from beginning to end, creating a growing sense of tension and dread that keeps us on edge. While 1997's BREAKDOWN would tell a very similar story on a much grander, action-oriented scale, this one unwinds like a page-turning short story. We're caught up in Jean's predicament from the start and are carried along with her frantic efforts to find her husband as the situation gets scarier and more desperate every minute.

As Jean, Cloris Leachman demonstrates what a great actress she is with a convincing performance that carries the film. No matter what she's required to do in each scene, she always plays it just right and never goes over the top. Ross Martin (best known as Artemis Gordon of TV's "The Wild, Wild West") is wonderfully hostile as Jim, the mysteriously uncooperative fry cook, while Ned Beatty makes the most of his chance to be the threatening hillbilly for a change. Louise Latham is effective as a creepy motel clerk, as is Dana Elcar in the role of the sheriff. Naturally, we don't see much of Dabney Coleman since his character disappears about ten minutes into the movie, but he's his usual rascally self.

The DVD is in full-screen and Dolby English mono, with no subtitles or extras. As a no-frills burn-on-demand entry in the Warner Brothers Archive Collection, the print hasn't been restored or remastered in any way. But despite some speckles and a rough patch here and there, it looks fine to me. More discerning videophiles may disagree.

Once again, the WB Archive has dusted off a nostalgic relic from those great TV-movie days of the 70s, and I especially enjoyed watching this one since I somehow missed it the first time around. DYING ROOM ONLY may not be a classic, and it certainly isn't an epic, but as a low-key suspense thriller it's definitely a keeper.

Buy it at


No comments: