On February 27, at the age of 83, the science fiction community suffered a major loss with the death of Leonard Nimoy. Since 1952 and his role in Zombies of the Stratosphere, Nimoy was a key player in the world of sci-fi and fantasy entertainment. With his death, it’s time now to reflect on career that played a huge role in the childhoods of many, including this monster movie kid.
Leonard Nimoy is best known for his role as the Vulcan science officer Mr. Spock on the classic Star Trek. However, he had already entered into the world of the fantastic several times before playing that role in 1964. In 1952s Zombies of the Stratosphere, he played the Martian Narab. Two years later, in 1954, he was an Army sergeant in Them! and then a college professor in The Brain Eaters (1958). Amongst countless other television roles, he entered The Twilight Zone in the episode “A Quality of Mercy” and The Outer Limits twice. In 1964, he first played the Vulcan Spock in the original pilot for a new series called Star Trek, returning to the role again for the second pilot and eventual television series in 1966. From that moment, he was guaranteed a fan following that would never leave his side.
In 1969, after the cancellation of Star Trek, Leonard Nimoy immediately went to work on Mission: Impossible, joining that show in its’ fourth season as Paris. But in 1971, Hollywood was calling and he left TV for the popular western Catlow. However, he quickly returned to the small screen fantastic roles for two guest appearances on Night Gallery. From there, he would star in the first movie of our three-film tribute, Baffled!
Baffled! was a made-for-television movie that was intended to be a pilot for a potential series. Centered on the occult and psychic powers, it was tapping into a very popular genre of the early 1970s. Nimoy stars as race car driver Tom Kovack. In the opening moments, and before the credits even roll, Tom has visions of a mansion and a young girl, which causes him to crash. Surviving the incident relatively unharmed, he is seen on a talk show discussing his experience as Michelle Brent (Susan Hampshire, The Time Tunnel, The Three Lives of Thomasina). Michelle is an expert on the paranormal and believes he has psychic abilities. She meets him but fails to persuade him to go to England and help the people he saw in his visions. However, after another very convincing experience, which left him nearly drowned in salt water in his apartment, Tom tells Michelle he’ll travel to England for some answers.
Meanwhile, we are introduced to actress Andrea Glenn (Vera Miles, Psycho) and her daughter Jennifer (Jewel Blanch), who are on their way to England to meet up with Andrea’s estranged husband. As they and other guests stay in the English countryside, a tale of mystery slowly untwines with twists involving more psychic experiences and the occult. Michelle and Tom slowly become a team against the dark forces, giving a glimpse of what we would have seen had the pilot made it to series. By the end, they have a great chemistry and the door is clearly open for more adventures. Sadly, that never happened.
Why Baffled! never made to series remains a mystery. Apparently, European television passed on it before NBC acquired the rights, ultimately turning it down as well. Perhaps the most logical reason was that a similar idea had already been attempted with The Sixth Sense on ABC. That series, which featured Gary Collins as parapsychologist Dr. Michael Rhodes, ended in December 1972 after two short seasons and 25 episodes. The movie plays a little slow at movie length and would have been better in a more truncated version. But the potential was clearly there and it would have been fun to see Nimoy take his character of Tom Novack to more and exciting adventures. And you just have to love that early 70s Euro music! Sure, there are the usual made-for-TV flaws but, in my opinion, that just adds to the charm of this often forgotten film.
Baffled! made the syndicated rounds in the late 70 and early 80s before getting lost in the archives. There was a VHS release but, with it being long out-of-print, Baffled! was often found circulating in the gray market. However, with the January 21 DVD release from Scorpion Entertainment, the movie is now available for a new audience to discover. Check out the trailer on YouTube and be sure to listen to Vince Rotolo and the gang, who reviewed the flick on episode 325 of the B Movie Cast podcast.
Next time, in part two of our Leonard Nimoy tribute, we take a look at Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)!