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THE WAVE (1981).

Initially produced as an AfterSchool Special, but ultimately premiering in early-primetime as an "ABC Theatre for Young Americans" presentation, this 46-minute made-for-TV drama is deadly serious yet often unbelievably heavyhanded. Based on an article by Ron Jones that appeared in the Spring 1976 edition of The CoEvolution Quarterly (entitled "Take as Directed"), it chronicled his unique 1967 experience while teaching at Cubberley High School in Palo Alto, CA, when Jones tested out some radical theories in mob psychology on a group of impressionable teens... History teacher Ben Ross (Bruce Davison) is surprised by his students' reactions while studying the Nazi concentration camps -- they can't believe that 10 million people could be exterminated without anyone around them caring -- and, in response, he comes up with a particularly twisted lesson plan. The next day, Ross suddenly begins lecturing his class about silent obedience, proper posture, precise diction, and "strength through discipline," and these young lemmings lap up his 'cool' new curriculum. Of course, these kids must be incredibly dim -- one day they're being taught about the blind allegiance of the German people under Hitler, and 48 hours later they're gleefully saluting to a new symbol of solidarity and change: The Wave! Self-important Ross doesn't feel at all guilty about turning his students into unsuspecting guinea pigs, but where's the fun if his flaky idea doesn't go horribly wrong? Soon the kids have membership cards and a recruitment drive, begin snitching on others and using intimidation, while proudly boasting that The Wave has made them feel "born again." But when this simple little experiment goes one step too far, Ross decides to pull the plug during a mass rally that gives these easily-led morons a much-needed jolt of reality... Davison (who, at the time, was starring on PBS in THE LATHE OF HEAVEN and on Broadway as THE ELEPHANT MAN) keeps the story grounded in reality, and he's a vast improvement over the young supporting cast and their cliched characters. Dorothy-Hamill-haired school-brain Laurie (Lori Lethin, BLOODY BIRTHDAY) is creeped out by this fast-growing fad and finds herself in deep shit after penning an anti-Wave article for the school paper. There's also her unlikely jock-boyfriend (Jean Stapleton's son, John Putch) and class-nerd Robert (Johnny Doran), who becomes one of The Wave's most rabid followers, only to end up emotionally crushed. Plus look for CHOPPER CHICKS IN ZOMBIETOWN's Jamie Rose as student Andrea. Its technical aspects are uniformly mediocre, from the direction by Alex Grasshoff (WACKY TAXI) to the cinematography by Hanania Baer (BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO). The basic premise was also recently turned into a successful 2008 German feature.

© 2009 by Steven Puchalski.