Color, 1973, 96/90m.
Directed by Philip Leacock
Starring Leonard Nimoy, Susan Hampshire, Rachel Roberts, Vera Miles
Scorpion (DVD) (US R0 NTSC), Network (UK R2 PAL)
After Star Trek went off the air at the end of the '60s, star Leonard Nimoy kept busy with plenty of other TV projects, many of them centered around the paranormal. The most of famous of these came later with his lengthy stint hosting the show In Search of..., but in the interim he also appeared on Night Gallery and starred in Baffled!, a British/American co-production for Arena, the same folks behind such shows as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Dr. Kildare. Here Nimoy plays Tom Kovack, an American race car driver who spins out during a race thanks to a bizarre psychic vision involving a screaming Vera Miles and a strange little girl in an English manor. He goes on TV to tell his story and attracts the attention of ESP devotee Michele Brent (Hampshire), who talks him into accompanying her to what she thinks might be the same location from his vision. Kovack has further premonitions as they soon find themselves embroiled in a mystery involving car chases, attempted murder, inexplicable musical instruments, and other spooky shenanigans.
Though not really a horror film, Baffled! definitely trades in the fascination with the occult that was so in vogue at the time; it's surprising the fetching Hampshire (a veteran of such films as The Three Lives of Thomasina and Malpertuis) doesn't whip out a Ouija board during one of her flirtatious sessions with the weirdly androgynous Nimoy, who's prone to wearing unappealing sweaters and hats. Miles is a trouper as always despite her fairly limited screen time, and some other recognizable faces pop up along the way like Rachel Roberts (about to hit career highs after this with Murder on the Orient Express and Picnic at Hanging Rock) and the unforgettable star of Hands of the Ripper, Angharad Rees. If that weren't enough, there's also a fantastically dated AM-friendly music score that serves as the aural equivalent of Nimoy's fashion choices.
In a practice that wasn't exactly uncommon in the '70s, Baffled! was originally conceived as a TV pilot, then got the red carpet treatment as a Movie of the Week on NBC while Europeans got to pay to see it in theaters. Some of the more familiar variations on this approach included Steven Spielberg's Duel (first a TV film, then an expanded feature), the Valerie Harper shocker Night Drive (ditto), and the movie pilot for Battlestar Gallactica, though in this case the closest point of comparison might be Spectre, a 1977 Gene Roddenberry made-for-TV film with Robert Culp investigating the occult in England. That one was spiced up with extra nudity for UK audiences, but in the case of Baffled!, the opposite approach was taken; the film was shorn down by nearly six minutes (basically lopping off the heads and tails of some scenes and cutting down exposition).
That shorter cut premiered on DVD in the UK from Network and was then released as a streaming title in America. (The longer edition was available on VHS for years from Fox, with the shorter variant strangely popping up as a bargain bin VHS reissue.) The best option on home video by a long shot would be the 2014 DVD release from Scorpion. Here you get two options, the 90-minute U.K. version (from what appears to be the same master as the Network release) and the 96-minute U.S. television one. Interestingly, the latter so-called U.S. version is from an older, slightly harsher-looking master, but it sports stronger detail and features far more picture information on the right and upper sides; overall you're really better off sticking with the U.S. one. (To add insult to injury, the U.K. version is also slathered with pretty severe noise reduction.) Just to compare, look at this shot from the UK version and the same shot from the US one. (For the record, the other frame grabs seen here are from the US transfer.) The sole extra is a batch of bonus trailers for Wombling Free, Paper Mask, Saint Jack, and Go Tell the Spartans.
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Reviewed on February 25, 2014.