BOOTLEG FILES 403: “Haunts of the Very Rich” (1972 made-for-television film starring Lloyd Bridges, Edward Asner and Cloris Leachman).
LAST SEEN: The film can be found on YouTube.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: There was a VHS video release.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: This one fell through the cracks.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: That would be great!
If you were watching American television in the 1970s, you probably remember an ABC movie called “Haunts of the Very Rich.” But if you weren’t around during the decade that good taste forgot, it is possible that you never heard of this production.
Writing about “Haunts of the Very Rich” is somewhat problematic, because the film’s power rests upon a very significant plot twist. Since I hate spoilers, I must offer this warning: do not read any other website article about this film until you finish reading this column and see the film first.
“Haunts of the Very Rich” opens on a chartered jet populated by a group of vacationers heading to a mysterious resort called the Portals of Eden. The party consists of an aging Lothario (Lloyd Bridges), a fragile housewife who is on holiday away from her husband and kids (Anne Francis), an emotionally needy single woman who is more than a little vain (Cloris Leachman), honeymooners who cannot keep their hands off each other (Donna Mills and Tony Bill) and a priest who seems to be undergoing a crisis of faith (Robert Reed). Each received a brochure about the Portals of Eden, but during conversation they realize that no two brochures are the same.
Also on the airplane is a crotchety businessman (Edward Asner) who never received a brochure and is uncertain why he is on the flight – he was supposed to be on an airplane to Dallas, where he was going to close a business deal. However, a perky flight attendant confirms that he was booked on the flight by his business partner.
The location of the Portals of Eden is not identified, and the travelers are not able to guess during the flight because their airplane’s windows have been blacked out. When they arrive at their destination, they assume from the tropical weather and topography that they are either in the Caribbean or Central America.
A dapper man in a white suit (Moses Gunn) greets the travelers. He identifies himself as Seacrist and takes them by boat to a lush, old-style resort hotel. At first, everything goes wonderfully – the respectful members of the resort staff pamper the guests, the accommodations are splendid and there is even a hint of romance between Bridges and Leachman.
But then, things start to go badly. The honeymooners find a snake in their bed – Seacrist assures them it is not poisonous, but the serpent doesn’t quite put the lovers in the right mood. Then, during the first night at the resort, a violent storm knocks out the electrical power and telephone service. The businessman discovers a ham radio on the premises and tries to call for assistance, but his transmissions are not picked up – other radio operators complain of static during his attempted broadcasts. When a member of the resort staff abruptly dies from contaminated food, the rest of the staff runs off, leaving the travelers isolated with a dwindling supply of food and fresh water and no way to contact the outside world for help. But, then…
Okay, that’s all of the plot that I will share. Like I said before, you will need to watch the film to see what happens next.
And I sincerely hope that you can see the film, because it is quite provocative and very entertaining. Indeed, the real surprise of “Haunts of the Very Rich” comes in watching very familiar B-list and TV actors turn in unusually deep performances. My favorite moment comes with a moving soliloquy from Robert Reed on religious faith. Reed delivers his lines with such an astonishing degree of subtlety that one can only rue that this actor was wasted on “The Brady Bunch” – he certainly had the chops for serious drama.
Equally fine is Anne Francis as the housewife trying to maintain her stability. As someone who was better known for her glamour girl roles, Francis was more than capable of holding her own in character work. Another surprise turn from a glamour girl is young Donna Mills – her magic moment comes in a chilling scene when her character quietly recognizes a serious problem long before the other travelers are cognizant of their situation. Her reaction to her knowledge and the manner in which she relays the information confirms that she possessed talent to go with her beauty.
“Haunts of the Very Rich” was directed by Paul Wendkos, a prolific filmmaker who worked mostly in television, where he helmed the classic series “The Untouchables” and “I Spy” and the classic 1975 TV movie “The Legend of Lizzie Borden.” However, he earned pieces of cinematic infamy as the director of the 1959 comedy flick “Gidget” and the 1971 cult favorite “The Mephisto Waltz.”
By contemporary standards, “Haunts of the Very Rich” has a few creaky moments, including a Muzak-style score during its first part of the film and a couple of politically incorrect comments aimed by Edward Asner at Moses Gunn. But these problems do not spoil the fun.
“Haunts of the Very Rich” was first broadcast on ABC in September 1972, and it was later a frequent offering on the late night programming schedules of many local TV stations in the pre-cable era. It was released on VHS video, but it has never been made available on DVD.
However, the film is on YouTube in its entirety. Here is the link to the film – and please remember what I said earlier about not reading any other website article until you watch the film from start to finish. Seriously, if you are coming to “Haunts of the Very Rich” for the first time with advance knowledge of what transpires, it will ruin your enjoyment of this funky endeavor.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free s***s and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg material, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg DVDs is perfectly legal. Go figure!