Monday, February 20, 2017


In 1968, the creator of I Dream of Jeannie predicted what may yet occur in 2017...
...with a tv-movie that aired on network only once, yet had an enormous impact on those who saw it!
In 2016, as in 1968...
We were engaged in an unpopular military action that spawned an ongoing protest movement!
Race relations were cratering!
The economy was doing well, but individuals thought, because they weren't personally doing well, the whole economy was collapsing!
The current President (a Democrat) was not on the ballot for the Presidental election!
With an less than popular Democratic candidate, a Republican who promised "law and order" and to "protect America from potential invaders" won the White House!
Sidney Sheldon, creator/producer of lightweight escapist entertainment like I Dream of Jeannie, Hart to Hart, and The Patty Duke Show, looked at what was going on around him and took a chance.
Screen Gems gave him carte blanche, probably expecting something in a similar vein.
He greenlighted a story by Nedrick Young, who had scripted The Defiant Ones (1958) and the screenplay adaptation of Inherit the Wind (1960).
Sheldon then selected an experenced, versatile director, Richard C Sarafian, with credits ranging from Dr Kildare to Batman!

The cast used both established pros like John Forsythe (against type as the villainous General Bruce, the Leader's trusted military commander) and Jackie Cooper (as the heroic, but doomed, Lt Col Davis), as well as up-and-comers like Gene Hackman and Carol Lynley in supporting roles.
(Trivia Note: one of the supporting characters, Lt Allen, is played by Jonathan Lippe/Jonathan Goldsmith, known today as "the Most Interesting Man in the World" in Dos Equis beer commercials!)
The protaganist, rebel leader Major McCloud, was played by Marc Strange in his only leading role.

The tv-movie, using concepts from both Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here and George Orwell's 1984, portrayed a near-future America where the President declared a national emergency and imposed martial law...but the undefined "emergency" never ended, and martial law quickly mutated into fascist repression!
But the Society of Man, an organized resistance group with people placed within the government, fights back as best it can against the overwheming military and technological might of the fascists.
Left open-ended, the movie practically begs to be continued as a mini-series, if not an ongoing series!

Airing on ABC during the Christmas season (December 4, 1968), it failed to garner decent ratings, and the potential series died quietly.

(Trivia Note: Kenneth Johnson proposed a similar concept called Storm Warnings to NBC in the early 1980s.
They turned it down, and Johnson, following in the steps of Rod Serling and Gene Roddenberry, revamped the concept with science fiction elements, making the fascists into reptilian aliens, and sold the concept as V, which ran as two mini-series and a brief ongoing series in the 80s and a two-season reboot in 2009-10.)

Never available on VHS, DVD or BluRay, the only way to see it is right here.
I'd say "enjoy, but, it's really more frightening than enjoyable...
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  1. I don't think I've seen this one since its original broadcast. I was a kid then and the thought of the United States falling under the control of a president-turned-dictator was frightening. I doubt if the premise has lost its potency today. It's so surprising that this telefilm was shown on a commercial broadcast network, but Sidney Sheldon was likely a powerful producer back then. Nice pick for this blogathon and I was pleased to discover SHADOW ON THE LAND on YouTube.

    1. I own a 16mm black and white copy of this film. An old Army Department of Defense film. And i have the second draft script from August 1967. I'm not sure why the Army would have had a copy of it other then to review it probably. With Vietnam in full swing this film was more then likely viewed as being subversive. With the current feelings running the way they are in the United States I can imagine if i started showing this film publicly i very well may have some internal security people monitor if not ask me questions. Also the t.v. release s in color so i am unsure why the army may have had a black and white one except for maybe to review before public release. I haven't watched my film copy yet but it's stored safely in it's film canister.

    2. This films original title was "The Teeth of the Dragon". I own a copy of the second draft script for this film written in August 1967 by Nedrick Young and a 16mm black and white copy of the film. It's an old Army Department of Defense owned film. The t.v. movie was released in color so i imagine that the army had a black and white copy for review purposes. With the Vietnam conflict in full swing this movie may very well been viewed as subversive by the military. I haven't watched the copy i own. It's just sitting safe in it's film canister. If i started showing the film and having discussions on it maybe someone would monitor me. The film isn't really know about today and i imagine if shown on t.v. would more then likely be viewed as unpatriotic which in it's self a very dangerous developing attitude in the United States with the press and dissent starting to be talked about as fake news and dishonesty.

  2. Chilling, isn't it, how we must learn the same lessons generation by generation. I'll definitely be watching this movie.

  3. Wow. I'd never heard of this, Britt. Sounds especially prescient considering what we're facing now in this country. Maybe I'll watch it, but I have to think about it. Reality is already frightening enough these days. But thanks for a really intriguing review.

  4. From what I've been able to learn, Shadow On The Land was made sometime in 1967, and sat on ABC's shelf for a year before the network burned it off during Christmastime (viewing levels were usually down anyway).
    This was a pet project of Jackie Cooper, who was running Screen Gems (later Columbia Pictures Television) at the time; thus his appearance in the movie, signifying his commitment.
    At one point, the working title was It Can't Happen Here; since there was no real connection to the Sinclair Lewis novel, this was dropped.
    I've got this one on a 'collector' DVD (OK, bootleg).
    When I tell people who are younger than I am about it (these days, that's almost everybody), I get tares of disbelief - or at least, I used to ...

    1. Thanks for the additonal background info.
      Didn't know Cooper was running Screen Gems at the time!

    2. In his autobiography, Jackie Cooper devotes a surprisingly brief chapter to his stint running Screen Gems.
      Cooper had considerable success selling series to all the networks (one of them, believe it or not, is still on the air - Days Of Our Lives), but almost all his stories are about how Columbia Pictures's New York-based management frustrated him at every turn.
      Cooper doesn't mention Shadow On The Land at all in the book (Please Don't Shoot My Dog, out of print but worth the search); I recall his appearing on Dick Cavett's daytime show circa 1969, speaking of the show as though he thought he might still sell it, but nothing came of it.

    3. IT's original title was "Teeth of the Dragon". I have a second draft of the script and a 16mm Black and white copy of the film.

    4. SCHRUBBE1966:

      Your comments here set me to wondering:

      Today, who exactly owns the rights to Shadow On The Land, under whatever title?

      The logical answer would seem to be Sony, the current owner of Columbia Pictures and its various assets.
      Since Sony/Columbia has its own MOD/DVD line, a restored DVD would seem at least a possibility.
      Most of the people at the production level seem to have passed on in the intervening years, including Sidney Sheldon, Nedrick Young, and Richard Sarafian (if anybody at that level is still around, I'm not aware of it; any correction welcomed).
      In the on-camera cast, only Carol Lynley and Gene Hackman are still around (that I know of; as above, any correction welcomed).
      ABC's top management of that time - well, back then the networks kept their politics close to the vest, so what role political pressure played in stopping the sale of a series is probably lost in time.
      My crummy bootleg DVD of SOTL is watchable - barely.
      Somewhere down the line, you ought to try and take a look at that B/W 16mm; maybe your luck will be better.
      Someone ought to write a book about this whole affair.
      Who knows - there might even be a movie in it ...

  5. Compelling and even suspenseful review! I could imagine Serling narrating it. This is one I never heard of before but plan to watch as soon as I can.

    I wonder if Woody Allen saw this movie, since his 1973 film SLEEPER is almost a spoof of the concepts put forth in SHADOW ON THE LAND, from the fascistic president (or what's left of him) to the organized resistance to the future setting.

    Definitely a movie deserving of the overused appellation "ahead of its time." And one ripe for rediscovery. Your review is helping that happen. Thanks!

    1. Yes i like this film and have a 16mm black and white copy of it. An old Department of Defense copy {lol)

  6. I like the parallels you drew between the late 1960s and today. Sounds like this film is as relevant now as it was then. :)