Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dead Man's Island - a toupological analysis.

Dead Man's Island is a 1996 TV movie starring Barbara Eden (of I Dream Of Jeanie fame) and William Shatner. Also along for the ride are a host of relatively well-known faces including Roddy McDowell (Cornelius in the Planet of the Apes film series) and Don Most (Ralph Malph in Happy Days). The TV movie is an adaptation by (Columbo writer) Peter S. Fischer of an eponymous book by mystery writer Carolyn Hart.

Ralph Malph himself, alias Don Most.

Henrietta O'Dwyer Collins (Barbara Eden), known simply as "Henrie O.", is a renowned investigative journalist turned biographer. She is summoned to a mysterious island, home to the reclusive millionaire Chase Prescott (William Shatner).

But even before she arrives, a local Native American Indian warns that "Dead Man's Island" is cursed - all who go there are in great danger.

Chase is the head of a huge communications empire. Henrie O. is a former lover of his and tensions remain between the two - but he has set that aside to ask for her help. Someone, he says, is trying to kill him.

Recently, he claims he discovered some of his food was laced with cyanide. One of the small group of people living with him on the island must be the culprit.

Henrie O., pretending to research a new biography of Chase sets about trying to figure out who the guilty party might be. No-one on the island appears to have any nice worlds to say about Chase.

Not long after, and now in Henrie O.'s presence, someone apparently tries to take a shot at the businessman.

After the shots are fired, the investigation takes on a far less covert nature.

A slew of characters, in typical Agatha Christie-like fashion...

...are stuck on the island, from the butler and maid, to a young son and stepson of Chase's, to an actress promised a role by Shatner's character (Valerie St. Vincent, played by Morgan Fairchild), to a young lover, to various employees of the company. All are potential suspects.

Morgan Fairchild

Chase's luxury yacht then explodes...

...with accusations flying even more fervently about who the culprit may be.

[Minor SPOILER warning for this paragraph] Not long after, Chase is electrocuted while swimming. The would-be murderer has evidently succeeded.

Henrie O. interviews everyone on the island learning of inheritances, business dealings and all manner of potentially suspicious affairs.

Meanwhile, a storm is gathering and with the yacht destroyed, there's no way for anyone to leave. And that's where we'll leave it.

So what to make of all this? Having previously seen a rather tacky-looking [minor SPOILER warning for link and below image] "death scene" clip of Dead Man's Island up on YouTube, we, quite frankly, expected this movie to be an amateurish disaster, barely acceptable production values and all the rest of it.

But we found the sample to be mis-representative. Dead Man's Island was indeed a properly-budgeted professional production, shot on 35mm film (not video), properly lit, with decent camera-work, sound and all other technical matters up to standard.

Is the director subtly using the toupee in the shot to suggest that beneath the surface, all is not as it seems?

The writing is OK (not great, but not too bad either). It's a standard whodunit with a twist or two - nothing amazing, but passable. The acting, from a varied ensemble, is pretty good with the most credit undoubtedly due to star Barbara Eden. Her disarming, warm and eminently lovely Southern charm radiates through this entire production; it really is impossible not to like this woman - and that is worth an entire review point in our view!

Barbara Eden

Bill Shatner gives a decent enough performance, and the entire film flows along in reasonably entertaining fashion.

But...something happened in post-production! Something that someone (probably a network "suit") evidently thought was a good idea. It wasn't. It was a disastrously ill-conceived act of poor judgment: the addition of a relentless, annoying, redundant and counter-dramatic voice-over by Henrie. O. at every possible opportunity from the beginning to the end of the movie.

The most inane voice-over ever recorded.

There's no way something like this could have been in the script. The telegraphing of each and every event and motivation that the director is supposed to visualize rendered utterly meaningless by having it said rather than (or usually as well as) shown to the audience via the oldest cheat in the book. After a while, the viewer can't help but feel both patronized and numbed. Almost nothing is revealed in these voice-overs that is of any consequence (one paraphrased example: Chase seemed angry - Deanna Troi would be proud!). Thus, without them, Dead Man's Island might actually be a half-decent film. With them, unfortunately, the same cannot be said.

Add to that a pretty awful, cheap-sounding synthesizer music score, and post-production, which is meant to improve filmed material, has actually ended up almost destroying it. A shame.

Let's move swiftly to the hair...

Bill Shatner is wearing a typical-for-the-time "TJ Curly"; by 1996, this particular style was slowly ebbing towards the end of an era. Yet, Bill Shatner's hair arguably looks very slightly better here than it did in 1994's Star Trek: Generations.

Perhaps this is because Bill Shatner looks in better shape in Dead Man's Island than he looked in Generations. The correlation between weight and toupee believability is something we'll look into in a more detailed post in the future...

Dead Man's Island is indeed replete with moments of toupological note. Interestingly, they are usually bunched up together:

In the above segment, we have a head scratch...

We also have a slightly misshapen toup, unusually rectangular on top, with the hairline also not quite right...

And we also have Bill Shatner's character revealing his suspicions about Henrie O.'s son: "He' got my eyes; my coloring..." Wouldn't the normal thing to say be: " eyes, my hair"? The "my eyes" surely makes the "my coloring" part redundant if the character is talking about eye, not hair color. We're not sure what to make of this, but in the clip, after he has said "my coloring", Bill Shatner drops his eyes, as if to suggest the original "my hair" line might have been changed - no-one has Bill Shatner's hair!

My eyes, my coloring...

There are also considerable underwater antics in the movie, with Bill Shatner setting out to top his previous toupological underwater special-effects extravaganza from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (see above link in this paragraph).

In the above scene, Bill Shatner dives, head first towards the camera:

His toupee, Jaws-like, moving closer and closer...

And the actor's toupological confidence doesn't end there. He does some laps too:

We also get to see Bill Shatner's toupee wet outside of the water:

And we even get to see something rather unusual - the actor's hair in a semi-wet, slowly drying state, with harsh hairlines reappearing:

Was the strange swimming costume a distraction from the toupee, or was it deliberately combined with the toupee for an increased "wow" factor?

Dead Man's Island, though replete with poor choices, is still pretty far from a complete disaster. Worth watching? On the whole, we'd say yes.

To paraphrase John Lennon: Above us only toupee...

Unfortunately, Dead Man's Island is not available to buy commercially, though it probably airs from time to time on CBS-affiliated networks in the US. Other than that, it can be found online [note: we did some rather severe hiss reduction on a heavily sound-degraded home video copy we obtained for this review, lest the material would have been almost inaudible. Despite our best efforts, some residual electrical hum remains in the above clips].


  1. i wonder if Shatner asked for water scenes in Trek IV, this and a few others in order to throw doubt onto the whole Toup thing as it did kind of make me and others question it at the time of Trek IV

    Shat looks in ok shape in this - i wonder why he didnt lose more weight for Trek Generations? youd have thought hed have wanted to look really great in his final Trek movie...maybe even toned enough to have a ripped shirt in the final fight. He could have slimmed down to Wrath of Khan level.

  2. "hes got my coluring...are you going to deny hes wearing my TJ Curly?'

  3. oh wait ive just seen the swimsuit death scene on Utube. i take back what i said about Shatner being in ok shape in this LOL

    'tell so and so to whip me up some steak and Famished!'

    oh shat...was the paycheck THAT important to you?!

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  5. Bill Shatner, Don Most, Barbara Eden, Roddy McDowell, Morgan Fairchild... in the same movie..
    OK, you made this up...

    1. It's a deliciously campy cast!

  6. Dr. Clayton ForresterJanuary 21, 2011 at 2:31 AM

    That death scene is epic, and almost reminiscent of his "Lost Years" projects. Why was Shats taking work like this in 1996??

    Another notable wet-hair scene was in National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon (1993):

    (The hair-dryer gag shot has appeared on this site before.)

  7. This swimming costume is ahn...unusual. Borat would be proud.

  8. "Why was Shats taking work like this in 1996??"

    yeah exactly - The Lost Years i can understand but 96?!

    its a shame they finished making the star trek movies with the original cast when they did. Shats and nimoy were only in their 60s in the 1990s and they could have done a couple more with Uhura, Chekov and Sulu more prominant with Bones/Scotty in cameos (due to age/illness).

    they could have easily done a *proper* Trek VII (not Generations) in 94 and even an VIII (final one) in 1996 (with the next generation cast in a movie better than Generations and more like 'Yesterdays Enterprise'....after having giving TNG a much needed rest after 7 years on tv)

    then shatner wouldny have had to appear in turds like this!

  9. oh and a Trek 'VIII' with both casts released in '96 would have been in the 30th anniversary...why didnt they work all that out at the time?!

  10. "Why was Shats taking work like this in 1996??"

    Umm, maybe cause it was the only thing being offered to him?

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  12. If my name were Chase Prescott I would use a toupee too

  13. The swimming costume is indeed more scary than the toup here. Good toupological stills of the submarinaltoup in action. You can see the toup scalp is much darker than his real skin (should be lighter if anything to be natural) that's the givaway!!

  14. Damnit Shats shouldve been making more Trek movies instead of pap like this.

    Damn TNG - if it hadnt been for them Paramount wouldve kept going with Shatner and Co


  15. that death scene could have been Kirks death scene at the end of Star Trek VIII:

    "Spock..tell Scotty to whip me up some steak and Katarian famished!!'"

    *steps into sonic shower*


  16. Anonymous, I am somewhat familiar to the history of the first six Star Trek movies. I don't know how old you are but, as a reference, I'm 40. I remember an interview in a 1986 Starlog magazine where George Takei talks about Paramount's original plan of making 10 Star Trek films. Keep in mind this is before TNG had even been announced, and right around the time of Star Trek IV's release.
    Shat wanted to do a Star Trek VII after the success of VI. One idea was to get Kirk and Spock to have a disagreement of some sort and 'spend the movie battling each other'. Another was to have Kirk's body in cryogenic freeze, to be thawed out in Picard's time, and have Picard and an evil Kirk battling each other.
    In the end, Paramount's greed took over and they felt they had to rush the seventh film out, so the script was hastilly written, Nimoy and De Kelly didn't like their parts and dropped out, and only Chekov and Scotty were welcomed back for cameos. What we have now is "Generations"

  17. it pains me to think there could have been more 'proper' star trek movies with the original cast.

    if there had been 2 more than id have liked to have seen something along the lines of Shatners 'Ashes of Eden' for VII (directed by N Meyer) and a "Yesterdays Enterprise" style time travel movie with the two crews for VIII (directed by Meyer or Nimoy)

    Shatner and Nimoy would have only been 65 if there had been by 1996. the same age H Ford was in the last Indy!

    then TNG (who wouldve been introduced to the big screen in VIII) could have done their movies. (which would suck like they did)

  18. Hi and briefly back to the original topic; just to say thanks for the full toupological analysis. I requested this a while back and I'm so pleased you guys were good enough to give it the treatment! Thanks!

  19. What on earth is he wearing and I don't mean the toup? Every part of me that is woman is screaming out in agony, horror and and utter amazement! It is too scary even for Halloween. Gents: no, nada, NEVER will any reason make that male black moomoo bathing suit ok.

    Signed, Woman

    1. Apparently I jumped the gun, however it is worse than I thought. That is not a moomoo bathing suit, it is girth and lots of it. This underwater stealth outfit might look good on a Klingon (highly doubtful) working for a Japanese trawler in the middle of a hurricane, however it does not pass muster in the light of day when I have not had my medication yet.

      Signed, Woman

  20. I enjoyed this film and had my laughs when it first aired back in '96. I think I even taped it. I especially like Roddy Mc Dowall's demise in the film too!

  21. In regards to that one piece is obvious that Shat here have gotten now too heavy to pull off a he used to on Battle of the Network Stars..he would parade around poolside even if hes not in the swimming event. Hell...he even sits around in his speedo during the baseball dunk....but I noticed he NEVER gets picked to be the dunkee. Hell by this point you can't put him in trunks either without the belly hanging out. The suit basically slims down his body.

  22. It also stars Olivia Hussey, best known as Juliet in Franco Zefferelli's "Romeo and Juliet". So basically, we have Capt. Kirk, Jeannie, Cornelius, Juliet and Ralph Malph.