Thursday, January 18, 2018

Retro Review: BEYOND REASON (1985)

(US - 1985)

Written and directed by Telly Savalas. Cast: Telly Savalas, Diana Muldaur, Laura Johnson, Marvin Laird, Bob Basso, Walter Brooke, Barney Phillips, Douglas Dirkson, Tony Burton, Biff Elliot, Rita Marie Carr, Jason Ronard, Lilyan Chauvin, Toni Lawrence, Susan Myers, Kathy Bendett, Paul Gale, Lee Terri, Debra Feuer, Melissa Prophet, Denise DuBarry, Priscilla Barnes. (PG, 88 mins)

After over a decade of being a jobbing character actor in the US and in Europe (and getting a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for 1962's BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ), Telly Savalas became a pop culture phenemenon with the success of the CBS cop series KOJAK in 1973. KOJAK ran for five seasons, during which time Savalas was everywhere, appearing on talk shows, awards shows, variety shows, CIRCUS OF THE STARS, Dean Martin's celebrity roasts, you name it. Kojak's lollipops became synonymous with Savalas, and the detective's "Who loves ya, baby?" was one of the most iconic catchphrases of its day. Savalas had the clout to do whatever he wanted and nobody stopped him. He released two albums, 1974's Telly and 1976's Who Loves Ya, Baby? and had a minor hit single with a novelty spoken word cover of  Bread's "If," and, a few years later, a cover of Don Williams' "Some Broken Hearts Never Mend" topped the charts in Switzerland. He wanted to direct a few episodes of KOJAK, so CBS let him direct a few episodes of KOJAK. He had a lavish lifestyle, gambled all over the world, traveled with an entourage, and with his shaved head and macho demeanor, he became an unlikely sex symbol and one of the most instantly recognizable celebrities on the planet. That image made him the perfect pitchman for Player's Club in the '80s and '90s. It wasn't just a role: for a brief window in time, Telly Savalas was the ultimate player.

As can be the case when someone becomes a phenomenal success, no one in that person's inner circle is willing to step forward and tell them no. By all accounts, Savalas knew he was the fucking man and always enjoyed it, but he was loyal to his friends and didn't let his newfound stratospheric fame turn him into an asshole. During his downtime between the fourth and fifth--and ultimately final--season of KOJAK, Savalas decided he wanted to become an auteur. With the backing of his longtime friend, producer Howard Koch, Savalas wrote, directed, and starred in BEYOND REASON. Filmed in 1977 under the title MATI ("Mati" is the Greek term for "evil eye"---symbolism!), BEYOND REASON was Savalas' shot at becoming a serious, respected filmmaker. He stars as Dr. Nicholas Mati, an unconventional psychiatrist who gambles with his patients, believes "love" is the cure for all, and allows a certain degree of freedom in both the ward of patients he's treating and in the class he teaches. He's happily married to Elaine (Diana Muldaur, saddled with a thankless role), and they have a teenage daughter named Penelope (Susan Myers, best known for the 1977 made-for-TV CARRIE ripoff THE SPELL). But Mati's life soon begins to unravel after a heated conversation over treatment philosophies with med student Leslie Valentine (future DALLAS and FALCON CREST co-star Laura Johnson). He's called up to the roof of the hospital where a stranger (Paul Gale) takes a dive off the building right in front of him, and shortly after, he starts seeing things that aren't there, and his disorientation escalates to the point where he breaks into Leslie's apartment and is almost shot by her roommate Ann (Rita Marie Carr). He begins to think Leslie is trying to drive him insane, especially when he sees a framed photo on her wall showing her with the roof jumper. He keeps telling the police that Leslie witnessed the suicide but no one can recall seeing her. Bizarre hallucinations and cryptic clues ("You're the courier of love...but it's not that simple!") haunt him, until nothing makes sense anymore. That goes for Dr. Mati as well as the viewer.

It's obvious Savalas was trying to fashion his own ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST with all the psych ward shenanigans and his attempt to be a "fun" version of Nurse Ratched, and work it into an ill-advised Hitchcockian setting, but adding to the confusion is an uncredited and then-unknown Priscilla Barnes replacing Johnson as Leslie for a few fleeting shots. Barnes was originally cast as Leslie before being replaced by Johnson at some point, but it's never quite clear why Barnes is still clearly visible in several shots, other than Savalas might've seen Luis Bunuel's THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE right before filming and thought the "two women alternating playing the same character" would be pretentious enough for him to be taken seriously, or (more likely) he just fucked up and left her in the movie. It's almost like a psychological thriller or maybe even a horror film is trying to break out with BEYOND REASON, but Savalas never pulls the film's seemingly random plot elements together. It's assembled in an almost stream-of-consciousness fashion, so much so that I'm not really sure if the twist ending really is a twist ending, with the end result possibly being a precursor to SHUTTER ISLAND but the climax is so confusingly presented that it's impossible to tell. To Savalas' credit, there's a few interesting shot compositions where it shows he might've been paying attention to directors like Mario Bava (LISA AND THE DEVIL) and Alberto De Martino (SCENES FROM A MURDER) during his early '70s Italian sojourn. There's also one very striking dissolve from the guy diving off the roof to an eerie, atmospheric shot of Mati's colleague Vincent (Marvin Laird) walking in silhouette down a dimly lit corridor toward the camera, but beyond those fleeting moments of inspiration and style, BEYOND REASON is an almost unwatchable train wreck for about 87 of its 88 interminable minutes.

Savalas' 1974 debut album Telly.

late-night on June 24, 1986
It's the worst kind of vanity project, with no one on the set pulling Savalas aside and telling him what isn't working. Savalas the filmmaker is so concerned with directing Savalas the actor to an Oscar that he lets him just run wild. Savalas could ham it up like the best of them, especially in his European films, as anyone who' seen his third act hijacking of the Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing cult classic HORROR EXPRESS or his truly insane performance in the profoundly uncomfortable REDNECK can attest. But in BEYOND REASON, his mannered performance is just bizarre. He keeps grabbing people to talk and walk arm in arm, has his co-stars put his coat on him and button it for him, he wears a large-brimmed pimp hat in some scenes, is shown in one scene doing an early mannequin challenge while wearing a chef's hat, he pats nurses on the butt ("Oh, doctor!" they giggle), and he improvs nonsense, like meeting with a patient named Phyllis (Kathy Bendett) and bellowing "Phyllis! Philos! Philanthropy! Philosophy! Philadelphia! I'm going to talk to you and you are going to shut up and listen!" BEYOND REASON is a tedious exercise in waiting for a payoff that never comes. When he's having a breakdown late in the film, sporting a bowtie and looking around wondering what's happened to him, he resembles a befuddled Irving R. Levine and the film starts to look like a textbook case of a director who's bitten off more than he can chew. Despite Savalas' cultural omnipresence in 1977-78, MATI, as it was then called, found no interest from any studios or indie distributors (even with a ludicrously misleading two-page ad in Variety desperately trying to sell it as an EXORCIST/OMEN ripoff). It sat on the shelf for five years, and in 1982, Savalas retitled it BEYOND REASON and tried to shop it around again but found that nobody loved it, baby. Media Home Entertainment quietly released BEYOND REASON straight to video in 1985, and it aired on THE CBS LATE MOVIE on June 24, 1986, presumably allowing night-owl viewers at least a one-night respite from their chronic insomnia. KOJAK was cancelled in 1978 and Savalas remained busy in a few movies and in his Player's Club TV spots (he was also commissioned to kick off the 1982 rollout of Diet Coke in a commercial with Bob Hope and Linda Evans), but spent the bulk of his remaining years on TV--including several KOJAK TV-movies--before his death in 1994. He never directed another film.

Incredibly misleading two-page ad in Variety desperately
trying to pass BEYOND REASON off as a supernatural horror film


  1. I remember the Variety ad well. At the time I was so excited at the prospect of a Savalas/Exorcist movie. Alas ...it was fooled. For years I wondered what had happen to MATI, then in thelate 80's I stumbled across BEYOND REASON and was sorely disappointed. Cool ad though.

  2. Interesting to see it airing against Noel Edmonds' show. Edmonds, one of the most successful TV hosts in Britains for decades, initially on Saturday morning magazine wraparound Swap Shop and then on various nightly shows such as the Late Late Breakfast Show. Noel was given a week's run on ABC, but wasn't successful and after that week, returned home, and returned Late Late, where a tragic accident occurred. During prep for a stunt, a volunteer, Michael Lush was killed in a bungee jumping accident. Edmonds was in the wilderness for abit, then came back in the early 90s, hosted until 1999, the massively succesful Saturday night chat/variety series Noel's House Party. Then, after a few years not in TV, he returned with a daytime five times a week version of Deal or No Deal as unlike the US version as anything, but though that revived him, he had become eccentric. Now, after a failure last year with a gameshow/sitcom hybrid - Cheap! Cheap! Cheap, he earlier this week unveiled an extraordinary folly - noel.world, Positively Noel, a radio station where in between playing songs financially themed or about lies, Mack the Knife, Money (That's What I Want), Money Makes the World Go Round, Sweet Little Lies, Lyin' Lies, Honesty, has bizarre rants about Lloyd's bank and interviews with an interviewer, clearly himself with a pitch-modulated voice. Listen to hear one man's descent into madness. https://tunein.com/radio/Positively-Noel-s279467/