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Smile Jenny, You’re Dead


A compelling crime drama, even decades later

Rod Lott May 13th, 2011

How ironic for this made-for-TV movie to sport “Smile” in its (incorrectly punctuated) title, because for network television — especially in 1974 — it’s remarkably morose.

smilejenny

How ironic for this made-for-TV movie to sport “Smile” in its (incorrectly punctuated) title, because for network television — especially in 1974 — it’s remarkably morose. But it’s a crime drama, so that’s a good thing.
“The Fugitive” fugitive David Janssen headlines as Harry Orwell, a former California cop who left the force after taking a bullet in his back. His lives off his pension on the beach, moonlights as a P.I. to pay more bills, and longs for the day he can live on his boat — out in the ocean, far away from the kind of troubles that get people killed, or almost killed.

Like Jennifer (Andrea Marcovicci, “The Hand”), a beautiful model and police lieutenant’s daughter whose life Harry enters when her ex-husband is suddenly murdered. Is it her new beau (John Anderson, “Psycho”)? Or that creepy young guy who’s been taking photos of her from afar? My money’s on the creepy guy, and even more so because he’s played by Zalman King, future director of many an erotic thriller, from “Two Moon Junction” and “Wild Orchid” to the “Red Shoe Diaries” cable series.

Speaking of series, “Smile Jenny, You’re Dead” — available on demand from Warner Archive — is notable for being the second in a pair of films that birthed the “Harry-O” weekly show later that year. It’s also notable for a subplot involving Harry reluctantly forging a friendship with an apparently homeless girl named Liberty who hangs around ... because she’s played by Jodie Foster, then all of 11 years old and supremely confident in a way no other child actor has been before or since. (I wonder how many male viewers back then didn’t notice her performance because they were too distracted by “Terminal Island” star Barbara Leigh’s bikini-clad appearance in the same frame. She plays Harry’s lady friend with a name as nerdy as she is foxy: Mildred.)

Janssen is wonderfully gruff as a flawed, unhappy hero clearly past his prime, which is rather novel to base a show around, which is why it’s compelling decades later. Oklahoma native Clu Gulager (“The Return of the Living Dead”) entertains as a detective who gets visibly frustrated by Harry’s constant appearances. We see him a lot because the body count is surprisingly high for 1970s’ prime-time programming. —Rod Lott


 
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