Sunday, October 9, 2022

‘Revenge!’ Shelley Winters Style! 1971

Shelley Winters made her TV movie debut in 1971, with the suspense tale "Revenge!"

As a '70s child, I lived for these lurid "grown-up" TV movies!

Revenge! was Shelley Winters first TV movie, which ABC aired Nov. 6, 1971. However, Winters was on a roll with her manic mama roles by then, what with Wild in the Streets, The Mad Room, Bloody Mama, and What's the Matter With Helen? And there would be much more “crazy” to come! 

As Amanda Hilton, a deranged mother who seeks retribution for her daughter’s suicide, Winters is mostly restrained in the early scenes, until her character becomes completely unhinged when her plane for revenge goes awry. I wonder if the premise inspired Stephen King with Misery: A middle-aged woman holds an urban man captive for a perceived wrong and unless he recants, she's going to do increasing bodily harm to him. 

In this case, Winters' maniac mama is convinced that business man Frank Klaner (Bradford Dillman) seduced her daughter at a convention. She later became pregnant and the mother claims he rejected her, leading to her suicide. Now, she wants him to confess his sins to her... or else.

Imagine being shackled in a basement cell, with nobody but a bonkers Shelley Winters
 for company! That's Bradford Dillman's plight in "Revenge!"

While Klaner's missing, his wife Dianne (Carol Rossen) recruits psychic Mark Hembric (Stuart Whitman) to help find him. Also, the wife has a bit of a psychic gift herself. While they team up, the clock is ticking, as Shelley's increasingly crazed mama is plotting not so sweet revenge!

Joseph Stefano’s (Psycho) screenplay has an intriguingly ambiguous feel to the story and characters. Is the businessman innocent? How strong is the Klaners’ marriage? The psychic claims to be a con, but is he? And is Shelley's Amanda looking for revenge or just someone to assign blame?

Bradford Dillman, as the businessman whose briefcase has been swiped and swapped, has convincingly played both good and bad guys in his career. Here, he seems quite earnest that it was some kind of mix up, blaming his fellow business buddy, who has a reputation as a practical joker and player. Did the pal swap names when he met this girl at the convention or not? Dillman gives an intense, naturalistic performance as the man on trial by fury with Judge Shelley. Bradford stands out as a contrast to Shelley's histrionics.

Bradford Dillman and Carol Rossen play a husband and wife separated when
Shelley Winters mad mama holds him hostage in "Revenge!"

Stuart Whitman is the psychic and he's his usual laconic, gruff self. There is an element of dry humor to his character’s possibly being a con man. I was surprised to read that Whitman was only 43 here. He looks quite shaggy, weathered, and raspy in Revenge! 

Stuart Whitman is the cynical psychic who could use a haircut, in "Revenge!"

Carol Rossen was not your typical Hollywood actress, especially for TV, but more like the type that was briefly in vogue in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, realistic looking and acting. As the concerned wife Dianne, Rossen seems like a real person in this traumatic situation, than acting as a personality or type. She makes the situation here more intriguing, no typical noble or hysterical TV movie wife here. 

Carol Rossen is the wife of the hostage husband in "Revenge!"
Here, Dianne gets a psychic ping from her husband's pen.

Then there’s Shelley Winters. While there are tip-offs that Shelley's Amanda is “off,” like her giving him the wrong address to her home, offering lurid details of the family manse, or wearing a hat suitable for a witch, yet Dillman’s Frank still enters her house. When she tries to stall him with instant coffee that will instantly knock him out, he gets impatient, so Winters gives him two lumps with a fire poker, instead. Their adversarial back and forth, once he's shackled in her basement, is the highlight of the movie.

Shelley Winters gives it her considerable all as the bereaved and disturbed mother in
1971's "Revenge!"

As the businessman and the bereaved mother become increasingly at odds, Winters character becomes ever-more agitated, giving Shelley some over-the-top moments that were her mid-career specialty. As the movie heads into the finale, Winters is so wound up, you’d think she was having an asthma attack!

A testament to Shelley Winters strength as an actress is that she makes you believe the far-fetched plotting. And despite the mother’s obvious insanity, you empathize with her character’s sorrow. The ending is a bit ambiguous, showing both Frank and his prankster pal in a photo with Winters’ daughter, on her fireplace mantel.

Bradford Dillman's businessman rescued in a nick of time, while Stuart Whitman
gets Shelley Winters under control, in "Revenge!" Carol Rossen is Dillman's wife.

The score, by Dominic Frontiere, is typical of its time, with its mix of dirge-like music and distorted choral voices, and still creepy. Some great camera work by John Alonzo, who worked both in film and television, is framed well. Alonzo lensed Harold and Maude the same year! Jud Taylor was an extremely prolific TV director, including multiple episodes of Star Trek, Then Came Bronson, and Love, American Style. That’s just to name a few.

TV movies like "Revenge!" were a perfect fit for reruns on the
afternoon movie shows I watched as a '70s teen.

Revenge! was one of those early ‘70s TV movies of the week that were pretty down and dirty, both in budget and running time. Still, these TV flicks offered veteran familiar faces and then-fresh ones, as well. And the more memorable small screen movies contained scenes that stuck in many baby boomers minds for decades after!

The image of Shelley Winters readying to ship her victim out creeped me out!
1971's "Revenge!"


  1. Great write up as always. Shelley Winters was a great character actress.