Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Welcome Home, Johnny Bristol

(1972)(TV movie)
Directed by
George McCowan
Written by Stanley R. Greenberg
Starring Martin Landau, Jane Alexander, Brock Peters, Martin Sheen, Pat O'Brien, Forrest Tucker

In the 60s and 70s, most made for TV movies were crappy.  This was before the miniseries, and the networks, desperate for content and seeing how well theatrical movies did for them, started making their own. But without the budget and talent. Every once in awhile, someone thing might reach the level of not half bad (e.g., The Questor Tapes), but most had a long way to go to reach mediocre (e.g., Genesis II, Planet Earth).

It may be faint praise to say that Welcome Home, Johnny Bristol was one of the best, but it was a pretty good movie on its own merits.

Johnny Bristol (Martin Landau) was a released Vietnam war POW, who had managed to stay sane by remembering his life before the war in his home town of Charles, Vermont.  When released, he heads home.

Only there is no Charles, Vermont. Bristol has reason to believe that the government has done something to hide the town and all records of its existence.  Of course, they portray him as a psycho Vietnam vet, but he refuses to accept their story and goes to find the truth. Anne Palmer (Jane Alexander) is a nurse who begins to believe he may be on to something.

The story was one of the first to focus on returning Vietnam veterans. And while it seems to fit in with the "crazy Vietnam vet" cliche, it transcends this by Martin Landau's fine performance. His Bristol is like Fox Muldur, who knows the truth is out there, but is frustrated in his attempts to find it.  Landau was best known for this point as being Rollin Hand from the original Mission: Impossible (as a guest star in each episode due to contract considerations), and this was one of his first roles after that.

It also had some things to say about the difficulties transitioning to life after Vietnam.  I've seen it compared to The Best Years of Our Lives in that respect (though I can't be sure the person who called it such ever actually saw Johnny Bristol).  The story is ultimately about Bristol's readjustment and the mystery of Charles, Vermont, though solved in the end, it less important than Bristol's learning to cope with life after being a POW.

CBS aired the show in January of 1972.  Like most TV movies, it got very little notice and was quickly forgotten (I couldn't find an image of it on the Internet).  There may be DVDs, but they're scarce, too.

Few made for TV movies reached this level, so it's a shame that it's so hard to find. If you can see it, by all means give it a shot.

15 comments:

Zokko said...

I remember this very well. Martin Landau was magnificent in the main role. What I liked about this was that it kept you guessing until the very end. I would love to see it again.

I'm Jon, just a guy. I try to smell good. said...

I gotta see this! My name is Johnny Bristol!!!

Chuck Rothman said...

As far as I know, it's not available anywhere. I don't think there's a lot of interest in putting in on DVD, but maybe it'll show up on cable somewhere.

Anonymous said...

thank you for your review. i saw this a couple, maybe three times as a kid (it seems like it played the cbs late show once) and it has haunted me ever since. it is now (evidently) impossible to see and near impossible to find anything about it on the internet. if i ever meet martin landau i know just what i will say to him...

Anonymous said...

I agree. This movie haunted me as a young teenager and I wish I could see it again. It was far, far better than most made-for-TV movies.

Anonymous said...

Old Army Mr. Bill saw this when it first came out and thought is was outstanding. Haunting, clever outstanding cast, kept you guessing till the end and made perfect sense when it was wrapped up. Should have received awards for cast, writing and show . Would love to see it again.

Anonymous said...

Old Army Mr. Bill saw this when it first came out and thought is was outstanding. Haunting, clever outstanding cast, kept you guessing till the end and made perfect sense when it was wrapped up. Should have received awards for cast, writing and show . Would love to see it again.

Anonymous said...

The movie was very much in the Twilight Zone style. Martin Landaus' character has memories of childhood to help himself cope with his ordeal--only the memories turn out to be false ones. Nice twists and turns in the film and a good tv movie. Probably only ever saw the movie one time but it left an impression.

Anonymous said...

For nearly forty years I have been plagued with the memory of two names - Charles and Vermont. All I remembered was that they were from a film and were on a street corner in SF; there was some mystery about it. Today after trawling the net, I finally discovered what it alluded to. Would love to see the end again.

Stretch said...

Thank you! I saw the film when originally aired. Has stuck with me ever since. One of the best "made for TV films ever.
And the ending still moves me these 40 years later.

Anonymous said...

I saw it just once, when I was a kid and it first aired, and never forgot it. Whenever I find out something is so different than what I thought I remembered, I think of it.

Btw, I think the previous comments that contain blatant spoilers should be removed, for those who haven't seen the movie and may in the future.

Anonymous said...

10When this film was on TV I was in Vietnam. I have only heard about it. Never did see it, but would like to!

Lacey said...

I tend to disagree with you on the quality of made of TV movies in the late 1960s and early 1970s. There were many very good films made in this time and the comments you have received show that many were very memorable. It is a shame that "TV Nostalgia" networks that have sprung up of late do not mine this vein of all but forgotten silver (though not always gold).

Anonymous said...
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Dan M said...

this movie and two star trek episodes, the one where kirk was split in half and where bones changed history explain reality, this movie explains how one's mind determines one's reality.