Trapped , 1973.
(AKA Doberman Patrol)
Frank De Felitta, Director.
This made for television film from 1973 certainly has an inviting premise. Divorced father Chuck Brenner, played by James Brolin, is at a department store buying a doll as a going away present for his daughter. Her recently remarried mother is taking her to a new home in Mexico City that very night. The specific doll that his daughter wants has to be brought up from the warehouse, so Chuck has to wait around for a while. Poor Chuck gets mugged while visiting the store's bathroom to have a smoke (sign of the times, eh?) and is knocked unconscious. He is overlooked by the store staff when they lock up for the night and left behind. This is particularly bad news for Chuck, as the store uses some exceptionally aggressive guard dogs to patrol the store at night.
For the full length of the film, Chuck is stuck in this department store dealing with these dogs. And when I say that these dogs are exceptionally aggressive, I'm not kidding. The security team wears face guards and padding when dealing with the dogs and put up temporary barricades between areas of the store so that the dogs don't attack each other during the night. On the couple of occasions that two of the dobermans are in the same space as each other, sure enough, they start fighting. All of the writings on this film that I was able to dig up mention that he's having to deal with dobermans, but there are at were at least three German shepards involved as well. Chuck is wounded in his first encounter with the dogs, one of the German shepards actually, and his movement is slowed down right from the start. (Somewhat amusingly, he feels the need to tourniquet the dog bite on his calf even though it clearly doesn't look very life threatening.)
Frank De Felitta had a moment of sheer genius, either intentional or not when he wrote this film. He gives viewers this amazing scapegoat that allows them to throw logic out the window when dealing with a big part of this story. You may be asking yourself what this genius idea was, right? He gives the protagonist a head injury. During the mugging, Chuck gets his head cracked on the tile floor in the bathroom, which presumably gives him a concussion or something. James Brolin does a decent job of portraying this in the film by staggering around a lot holding his head as he navigates through the department store. It provides a great way for the writer to avoid using logical solutions to situations that arise in the store. Why doesn't he just pull a fire alarm and wait for rescue? He didn't think of it, he's got a head injury. Why does he insist on continuing to fight his way out of the department store when he's got himself in a safe place that he could just hang out and wait for the store to open after the weekend? He has to get out to get help because his head injury is getting worse. Why does he wander around the department store making a huge mess everywhere he goes even when the dogs aren't around? Is he just a prick? No, he's got a head injury, he can't think straight.
But we don't spend the entire film only seeing Chuck deal with his plight. There is also a side plot involving his ex-wife, played by Susan Clark, and her new husband as they attempt to find Chuck so that he can say goodbye to his daughter since their flight has been conveniently delayed. We learn that Chuck likes to drink, and his ex-wife Elaine expresses her cynicism about him throughout the film. In a wonderful moment of irony she delivers one of my favorite lines of the film. In this scene, she talks about how he's likely in any bar in the city and her new husband David, played by Earl Holliman tells her that Chuck is likely to be in a bar near the department store. Elaine looks at him and says “Terrific! Now that you've solved the mystery, can I have another drink?” I chuckled. There is also an unnecessary subplot about the tension that Chuck's disappearance brings into Elaine and David's relationship.
There are several tender scenes involving the daughter Carrie, played by Tammy Harrington, a child actress who appeared in only seven things between 1973 and 1976. She continues to hope that her father will show up to say goodbye and this is what spurs David to try to find Chuck regardless of what his wife Elaine says about Chuck's irresponsible nature. This is an interesting aspect of the film to me because it touches on the difficulty of being a stepfather, and how their actions are perceived by the children involved. David does not want to be perceived by the little girl as the man who took her away from her father.
There are lots of great little details about this film that make it an interesting watch. For one thing, the people look like real people. They don't look like the “brand name” big star people who populate so many American Hollywood productions these days. Like many films from the 1970s, these actors look like your neighbors, the folks from the grocery store, the kid you see waiting for the school bus in the morning. Except for the questionable hair styles, and clothing, of course. This one of the things that I really like about films from the 1970s.
Other interesting details that pop up come from interactions between characters. In one scene a stewardess at an airport is talking to the little girl and asks if she'd like to go lay down in the back for a little while instead of sitting out in the noisy waiting room because her flight is delayed. When have you seen that happen? In today litigious world, no employee of any business would invite a child to go lay down in the back room. Ever. Well, a particularly brave pervert may try such a move, but certainly not a well meaning upstanding employee of a business who doesn't want to be fired or sued when the child gets into mischief.
Frank De Felitta has directed six films, according to IMDb, and all but one of them were made for TV films, including one of the ones that haunted my memories as a child in the form of Dark Night of the Scarecrow. (Yeah, I know, in retrospect, even I think I was a little wuss. Let's move on, eh?) He also wrote the screenplay for 1982's The Entity, starring Barbara Hershey and Ron Silver. A strange looking little tidbit I found on his IMDb page is that he also wrote a film in 1974 called The Savage Is Loose starring George C. Scott about a father, wife, and son that find themselves stranded on a remote island together and the situations that arise as the son begins to mature sexually and wants the only woman that's around. Yeah, that looks like it could be a strange and controversial piece of film.
It's no secret that I'm a big fan of animal attack films. Jaws rip-offs are my favorite sub-variety. Something about the man versus some creature (that really exists) larger and more ferocious than he out in the wilderness just appeals to me. Horror film fans are a masochistic lot. We sit through bad horror film after bad horror film, hoping for that gem that will rock our world the way some classic piece of cinema did when we were kids. (In my case, this would be Jaws and Dawn of the Dead.) The animal attack sub-genre is no different. Let's be honest, a lot of animal attack movies, especially the shark films, are really, really bad films. I've even ranted about how awful and lazy some of these films can be in the past. While not perfect, this is a pretty good made for TV thriller, and certainly worth taking a look at. I know I enjoyed it quite a bit more than I expected to. Sadly, this film isn't on DVD yet. Special thanks to Rupert, who helped me find this film. Check out his blog at http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.blogspot.com.
I couldn't find a trailer for this one, sorry guys.
Comments are always welcome! =)