Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Mysterious Two (1982)

Director-Writer: Gary Sherman
Producers: Gary Credle, Sonny Fox, Alan Landsburg
Music: Joe Renzetti
Cinematographer: Steven Poster
Original Air Date: May 31, 1982 on NBC (Alan Landsburg - Executive Producer); 96 min

John Forsythe (He), Priscilla Pointer (She), Noah Beery Jr. (Sheriff Virgil Molloy), Vic Tayback (Ted Randall), James Stephens (Tim Armstrong), Karen Werner (Natalie), Robert Englund (Boone)

Many made-for-TV movies served as feature-length pilots for series that never materialized. Surely among the most unusual of these is Mysterious Two, which was filmed under the working title Follow Us If You Dare. John Forsythe and Priscilla Pointer star as two white-robed individuals who merely go by the names of He and She, claiming to be part of an extraterrestrial race known as "The People of Tomorrow", who convince disenchanted Earthlings to join them on their home planet, and live in harmony. But are He and She truly who they claim to be?

This pilot was shot in 1979, and sat on the shelf for three years before finally being released to network television- perhaps due to the success of John Forsythe in Dynasty? However, despite the 1982 premiere, this film definitely belongs in the 1970s, as it combines two pervasive, yet different, mindsets of the decade: the Utopian aspirations of counterculture, and the disillusionment of blue-collar people being screwed by the system. It also screams 70s in its rack-focus shots of sunsets, and flute music. Oh yes- the narrative eventually reveals its central character as Tim, a hippie-dippie flute player: a convert to the "People of Tomorrow" who begins to question the authenticity of He and She.

"Faith in He and She; that's the only commodity we need now."

Mysterious Two was produced with the images of the Jonestown Massacre still fresh in the minds of the public consciousness. One elaborate shot, consisting of a man searching for his "converted" wife amidst a field of bodies, is at first, shocking and exploitative, until we see that these people are merely unconscious and begin to awake from their mysterious slumber. However, the personages of He and She more recall the leaders of the Heaven's Gate cult. (This religious group would commit mass suicide nearly two decades after this film was made.) While the believers relinquish their material possessions and their wealth, and sever bonds with family and friends, they don't however transfer their property to He and She.

The first-billed Forsythe and Pointer appear only sporadically, at pivotal points in the narrative to help believers further on their journey to "tomorrow". Vic Tayback, best known as Mel Sharples in TV's Alice, plays a reporter who hopes that this story will give him a Pulitzer.  Noah Beery (as Rocky in The Rockford Files; and soon to be in the short-lived series The Yellow Rose) is the investigating sheriff (pre-"Freddy Krueger" Robert Englund plays his deputy!), who is powerless to do anything because in theory He and She have committed no crimes, as the adults have relinquished their material wealth of their own free will. (Interestingly, He and She do not allow children on the voyage, as they are not mature enough to think for themselves.)

There is a mosaic of several characters in different walks of life who convert to the "People of Tomorrow" (a white-collar exec; a dirt farmer; and various blue-collar workers), all for some spiritual fulfillment that is otherwise lacking in their lives. Witnessing these people blindly giving up their properties and abandoning their families, all for the sake of what may be a big scam, is suspenseful and heartbreaking. It is creepy to see flesh and blood humans become robots who say "Everything will be fine," owing a bit of inspiration to those overcome by the pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  (In fact, the happiest non-converted Earthling in the film is the slimy used-car salesman who manages to buy automobiles from the converted ones for peanuts.)

This narrative by writer-director Gary Sherman (more known for bigscreen genre fare like Wanted Dead or AliveVice Squad and Raw Meat) is ambitious in scope, even if the execution is uneven. The attempt at having several threads revolving around this cosmic event is admirable, but ultimately, for the longest time, people have little more to do than to sit on the hill at the agreed-upon rendezvous spot and wait for the Mysterious Two to arrive. We could have used a bit more characterization to help in these moments. The movie also has some voiceovers by Tim, thus suggesting that this character is "leading" the narrative: as such, this film makes the often-committed mistake of showing us incidents that he couldn't possibly have known. (But, since voiceover is a lazy cinematic device to begin with, they could have disposed of it without any serious harm to the story.)

"He and She will provide."

There is enough imagery to suggest that implicitly this film works as an indictment of cult leaders (He and She exemplify the dangers of blind faith), but Mysterious Two is perhaps more interesting as a snapshot of the 1970s, whether by design or not. Many movies become studies of the culture that produced them, especially when viewed well after the time in which they were made. The mosaic of the people on the hillside is a neat microcosm of post-Watergate Americana, featuring people (on the left, right and center) whose dreams have been deflated, and simply look for a greater value system to believe in. Is it any wonder that psychoanalysis and a fascination with paranormal activity were so prevalent back then?

Tim seeks to discredit He and She as the film unfolds, however, there are a few moments that are simply too fantastic to be written off as a gimmick or elaborate hoax committed by He and She. (In those moments, one can believe that these are celestial beings- part of the fun is in trying to figure out these two people.) A good supernatural story blurs our judgment as to what is real and fantastic: despite its lofty intentions, Mysterious Two does a pretty good job treading the line between the physical and metaphysical.

Because this is a feature-length pilot, several moments remain unresolved when the end credits roll. Presumably, as the prospective series unfolded with Tim further investigating He and She as they appear in other areas to recruit new converts, we would begin to learn more about their backstory (which is hinted at in the pilot). A lot of fun could have been had in learning that these two were who they claim to be, or an equal amount of amusement would in be watching the writers explaining how these He and She pulled off some of the more fantastic moments if they really were hucksters. The mystery of the Mysterious Two will remain unsolved, but what currently exists provides some interesting theories for both interpretations.

Mysterious Two was released on VHS by the USA Home Video and Star Classics labels, on DVD by Direct Source. The transfer on the latter is dark and murky, making many nighttime scenes hard to view- indirectly supporting the film's enigmatic feel.

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