One of the greatest joys of film watching is seeing an actor break away from the persona that they’re most well known for, and I have no doubt they’re elated at the prospect; who wants to be known as the same character for your whole career? Such is the case with Baffled!, a thriller pilot episode that had a British theatrical release in late ’72 before hopping the pond in late January of ’73 to land on NBC. That actor thrilled to branch out? Leonard Nimoy, Mr. Spock himself.
Airing Tuesday, January 30th as part of the NBC Tuesday Night at the Movies, Baffled! would have to battle it out with the likes of CBS’ Maude/Hawaii Five-O and the ABC Tuesday Movie of the Week, of which they would invariably lose to. The Baffled! pilot was never picked up, which is a shame; the thought of Nimoy playing a psychic race car driver who prevents murders for a few seasons certainly revs my engine. But alas, folks never glommed to Spock as a horny rich bachelor, instead choosing the emotionless icon of future numerous films. Their loss, I say.
Let’s pick up our dog-eared TV GUIDE and see what trouble Leonard gets himself into:
BAFFLED! (Tuesday, 8pm, NBC)
A wealthy race car driving playboy begins to have visions of death, so he teams up with a psychic expert to stop a murder before it happens. Leonard Nimoy, Vera Miles star.
Formula One superstar Tom Kovack (Nimoy) is about to win yet another race when he has sudden visions while driving—of a manor, of someone falling, and of himself being pushed off a cliff—and crashes his car. While giving a TV interview, Tom is seen by psychic phenomena expert Michele Brent (Susan Hampshire – The Exorcism of Hugh), and she convinces him to trust what he sees. Once Michele establishes the where of his sights, they’re off to England to a manor converted into a hotel.
Meanwhile, at said resort, actress Andrea Glenn (Vera Miles – Psycho) and her daughter Jennifer (Jewel Blanch – Night Gallery) have arrived to meet Jennifer’s long-lost dad, Duncan. The only problem is, no one has seen him in ages—until he meets Jennifer in the garden after hours, and has her wear an occult amulet. Jennifer then starts to exhibit strange behavior, including trying to poison her mother. Is there a cult behind Andrea’s attempted murder? Are the innkeepers involved somehow? How many turtlenecks does Nimoy own?
Actually, I can’t even remember if Nimoy is wearing turtlenecks in Baffled!, but it sure fits the character. Tom is a laid-back playboy who ogles every female of legal age (and then some) in his quest to live the ultimate bachelor life; that he doesn’t follow through just adds to his don’t-give-a-f--k attitude. And Nimoy seems to love it; Kovack is solar systems removed from Spock, and while he isn’t the most relaxed actor around (William Devane would have killed this), Nimoy has a lot of fun with a character rooted in emotion over logic.
This is good news, because the plot of Baffled! contains little in the way of logic and reasoning; the denouement is borrowed from Scooby-Doo, and while the motive makes sense, how they arrive there is convoluted to say the least. That’s okay, though; it’s not often you see a TV film stuff too much in—in fact, it’s usually the other way around.
While director Phillip Leacock started on the big screen in the late ’40s, by the ’60s he had become a TV staple, helming episodes of everything from Route 66 up to Falcon Crest and every big show in between. It shows, too, as Baffled! is as smooth as any other TV movie out at the time, with decent performances, a few suspenseful moments, and a solid pace even when things slow down. A special shout-out to Vera Miles, looking as lovely as ever as the put-upon Andrea. I’m assuming that if Baffled! had been picked up, we would have had many stars being saved from peril by Kovacks and Brent; and knowing the caliber of old Hollywood talent around at the time, it would have been a blast.
Okay, I haven’t mentioned much horror so far, but Baffled! does hint at an occult connection, one that is implied would have been a through line through the series. Plus, it does lean quite heavily on its psychic activity (but no mind melding, sorry), a big staple of ’70s TV terror. Regardless, it’s a gas to see Nimoy cut loose and chase around possible specters and deconstruct his hazy apparitions; and if you don’t like him here, well, the next visions he would see would involve dollar signs and pointed ears. Some people prefer their Leonard reserved.Next: It Came From The Tube: Wes Craven’s INVITATION TO HELL (1984)