By Phil Hall | February 11, 2011

BOOTLEG FILES 362: “Trapped” (1973 made-for-television film starring James Brolin).

LAST SEEN: The full film is available on YouTube.


REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: No official home entertainment release.


Today, most people know James Brolin as Barbra Streisand’s husband and Josh Brolin’s father. Back in the 1970s, however, Brolin was a star in his own right – or, at least, he was poised to become a major star. While the actor enjoyed a degree of success as the second lead on the popular TV drama “Marcus Welby, M.D.,” he never quite found the right vehicle to help him enjoy full-throttled A-list stardom. Indeed, Brolin went through a number of theatrical and made-for-television projects that could have launched him to the next level of success – yet fate (or, perhaps, poor choices in scripts) never intended him to go further.

Perhaps the most famous James Brolin vehicle is the most outlandish: the 1973 made-for-television feature “Trapped.” But its success had less to do with the star’s performance (which was pretty bad – we’ll address that shortly) and more to do with its amazing conception.

“Trapped” takes place in Los Angeles at Noonan’s Department Store. Brolin’s character is an advertising executive who went through a nasty divorce. As a result, he is strictly a weekend father to his adorable little girl. The kid loves the big ol’ guy, but his ex-wife (Susan Clark) cannot stand the sight of him. In fact, she remarried and is relocating with the kid to Mexico City.

Brolin’s kid wants a “Billy Jo” doll with jet-black hair, but the store’s inventory is depleted. Brolin agrees to wait for a doll to be sent over via messenger from the store’s downtown warehouse location.  He also agrees to meet his ex-wife, her new husband and the little girl at the airport for dinner before they take off to Mexico City.  Clearly, there was a time when airports had real restaurants that served decent food.

So far, there is nothing uncommon with “Trapped” – divorce rates were skyrocketing in the early 1970s and weekend fathers proliferated across the U.S., so the film is clearly in touch with its times. At this point, however, all logic flies out the window and the film becomes a truly nutty thriller.

Brolin winds up getting mugged in the men’s room of the department store. Despite the knockdown action of the assault, no one on the floor hears what happens.  The muggers leave the unconscious Brolin in a stall, taking his wallet and watch.

At this point, the store closes for the night – and no one bothered to check the bathroom to see if anyone was still in there.  Once the store’s power is shut off, a security company arrives with six ferocious guard dogs.  The canines are placed on different floors and in the main stairway of th store, and the security company locks the building while posting exterior signs to would-be intruders that the premises are being patrolled by attack dogs.

Meanwhile, Brolin’s daughter, ex-wife, and the ex’s new husband (Earl Holliman) are waiting for him to join their airport restaurant dinner. When he never shows up, the ex-wife assumes that he is out getting drunk. But her new husband is worried that something happened: after all, why would he stand up his precious little girl?  When their flight to Mexico City is delayed because of airplane engine problems, the new husband takes it upon himself to go looking for Brolin. The ex-wife, who would clearly rather drink Mexican tap water than find her former mate, reluctantly agrees to join the search – which mostly consists of visiting a number of bars where Brolin’s character was known to raise a glass.

Brolin emerges from the bathroom with a concussion.  He staggers around and is surprised to discover that the department store is dark and no one is around. No one, of course, except those vicious dogs.  One of the doggies takes a bite of his leg (obviously, this mutt has a taste for ham).

And this, good readers, is where “Trapped” spends the rest of its running time: Brolin gets chased around the department store by the barking dogs while Clark and Holliman hit the local bars looking for him. How their very different paths intersect results in one of those inane coincidences that could only possibly take place in made-for-television movies.

Even if one overlooks the sheer absurdity of the Clark-Holliman search (especially having the search instigated by Holliman’s character), the Brolin-versus-dogs scenario is riddled with areas where the danger could have easily been avoided. First, Brolin has the opportunity to hide in a locked corporate office – granted, the phones don’t work (this was back in the day when human-powered switchboards ran the internal telephonic communications), but at least he could have been safe from getting another dog bite.  Second, he could have easily dialed for help on a pay phone that he walks by twice – even though he was robbed from his money, the old pay phones allowed you to call the operator for free, who would then patch him through to the police. Third, all department stores have fire alarms and (if sanity reigned in this film) he could have easily pulled one. However, late in the film, he tries to set off the sprinkler system with a match (don’t ask), but that doesn’t help.

Beyond the lapses in logic, “Trapped” really falls apart because of the absence of a strong central performance. Brolin displays absolutely no charisma or personality at any point in the film. In his pre-trapped situation, his acting is so amateurish that it appears as if he is doing a raw reading of his lines from a cue card. After he gets banged up, he has relatively little dialogue (which is charitable for the viewers), but he wobbles around in a manner that suggests a post-New Year’s hangover.  With his furrowed eyebrows, shuffling gait and absent gaze, he fails to generate any audience support. Indeed, it is easier to root for the dogs – at least they’re giving a real performance!

“Trapped” was directed by Frank De Felitta, a veteran TV writer and occasional producer/director. His best-known works as a director include “The Two Worlds of Jennie Logan” (1979) and “Dark Night of the Scarecrow” (1981).

Incredibly, audiences back in 1973 were turned on by “Trapped.” Maybe it was the riff on dangerous dogs (a popular movie called “The Doberman Gang” was released a year earlier), or maybe there was nothing else to watch on TV back then. In any event, the film was the highest-rated movie-of-the-week for ABC in its 1973-74 season. Universal Pictures, which produced “Trapped,” released in theatrically in other countries under the title “Doberman Patrol.” Brolin used the success of the production to move to theatrical film work, but even low-wattage films like “Gable and Lombard” (1976), “Capricorn One” (1978) and “The Amityville Horror” (1979) showed his limits as an actor. He had a good run on the TV show “Hotel” during the 1980s before his star faded.

“Trapped” has never been commercially released in any U.S. home entertainment format. Bootleg copies are easy to find, and the full film is available via an unauthorized posting on YouTube. However, this should not be a priority search for anyone except die-hard James Brolin fans. As they say in the Deep South, this dog don’t hunt!

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 videos and DVDs, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg videos is perfectly legal. Go figure!

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  1. Gwyndalyn says:

    When this was first released back in the day, it was panned as a “BASED ON TRUE STORY” Does someone have information attesting to the legitimacy of this rumor?

  2. Ken Williams says:

    I just watched this ‘dog’ of a film and would advise others to sit and roll over just like this waste of celluloid.
    At a certain point you do wish the dogs would tear into Brolin, just for being so stupid. I downloaded it off he net, but i will be deleteing it henceforth.

  3. Matt Sorrento says:

    Nice piece, Phil — sounds like a case of budget trumping anything else, with much of the action limited to a night-time department store.

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