A Cold Night's Death poster

I believe my all-time favorite in the ABC Movie Of The Week series is A Cold Night’s Death from 1973. I don’t pretend that it deserves a place in history with Duel or Brian’s Song. It’s just my favorite.

The plot brings together elements of science fiction, horror, adventure, and mystery. At the same time, it is a character study that makes full use of props and location. If this short plot summary sounds familiar, you may have seen the film re-aired as “Chill Factor.”

Robert Culp and Eli Wallach star as virtually the only actors in the 74-minute film. They are research scientists sent to a remote mountaintop laboratory to study the impact of high altitude on primates, in support of space exploration. Leaders of the program have lost contact with the scientist on site, and part of the mystery is resolving what happened to him.

The plot kept me guessing and on the edge of my seat at age 8. That is less true now, and not because I remembered the story. It is an excellent example of the journey being more important than the destination.

Culp was the star on the TV series “I Spy” and would later appear regularly on “The Greatest American Hero.” He’s never been better than this 1973 movie of the week, though. It’s harder to make the same claim for Wallach, who will always be remembered for roles in films like 12 Angry Men, The Magnificent Seven, and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

A small cast helped control costs on a tiny TV budget. This is not a Hollywood film, in the purest sense, and it is even lower in budget than most independent films today. Still, A Cold Night’s Death was shot on 35mm film rather than videotape and several scenes are on location in the White Mountains of California.

More than anything else, this 47-year-old movie shows what can be done with limited resources when characters and actors are given room to drive a story. On re-watching, some moments reminded me of The Shining (1980) and The Thing (1982) and the earlier film pales in comparison to those classic thrillers. It is noteworthy that A Cold Night’s Death came earlier.

I believe there are several films in the ABC Movie Of The Week series that are worth a second look today. It aggravates me to think of how few are available either in re-run, videotape or DVD.

For all the better-known examples in the series, though, A Cold Night’s Death is my favorite. Yes, over Steven Spielberg’s Duel or pilots for future TV shows like “The Night Stalker” and “Starsky And Hutch.”

 

Made For TV Program Direction is a Facebook group focusing on recollections of old TV movies and shows like this one.


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