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THE SECRET NIGHT CALLER (1975).

Made-for-TV movies provided the Big Three networks with some of their highest Neilsen ratings in the 1970's, and execs were always searching for provocative subject matter. Rape. Homosexuality. Prostitution. Or, in this gritty 73-minute outing, obscene phone calls. And who better to personify this deviant hobby than Mr. Brady himself, Robert Reed! (Hmmm, an all-American family man hiding an unseemly sexual secret? Gosh, what could've possibly attracted Reed to this role?) Backed up by a roster of recognizable co-stars, this portrait of an average, middle-aged guy who's despondent about his life and indulges in kinky fantasies is far less campy than it might sound... Reed stars as husband, father and IRS tax agent Fred Durant, who looks like just another boring suburbanite but is actually plagued by "disgusting thoughts." Driving to work, he daydreams about ravishing a hot chick in a passing convertible and in the evening, gets his kicks by anonymously phoning women and unleashing his perverse inner demons. '60s/'70s sitcom-staple Arlene Golonka co-stars as Charlotte, who works in Fred's office and gets so freaked out by his filthy late-night calls (which we never actually hear, this being network-TV) that she winds up hospitalized after a car accident. Other cast members include two-time Emmy winner Hope Lange as Fred's sexually-cold wife and Sylvia Sidney as his overbearing mother. Although Fred is seen confessing his sordid desires to a psychiatrist (Michael Constantine) and the script preaches against these tawdry antics, the filmmakers also happily pander to lascivious male viewers, including Fred's cute teenage daughter (Robin Mattson, CANDY STRIPE NURSES) showing off her skimpy new bikini and a strip club visit that leads to one of the dancers (Elaine Giftos, THE STUDENT NURSES) attempting blackmail. The finale is a mess of bad decisions and violence, as Fred's actions finally kick him in the ass, but also leaves open a shot at redemption. Tightly directed by Jerry Jameson (AIRPORT '77), with cinematography by Matthew F. Leonetti (who later shot such iconic '80s films as FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, POLTERGEIST and COMMANDO), the script's psychology is all too simplistic. You see, after being emasculated by his pushy wife and mother, Fred empowers himself with obscene phone calls. Yep, it's nonsense, but Reed truly gives it his all. For a while, you almost begin to sympathize with this disturbed schmuck, particularly when Fred loses it in the final act -- drunkenly babbling about life's regrets and his sexless marriage, then exploding with rage. Damn, I didn't think Reed had it in him! Also look for typically-repugnant Thayer David as a tax client willing to pay for a favor, long-haired Danny Goldman (YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN) as a suspect and burly Pepper Martin as a bouncer.

© 2011 by Steven Puchalski.