The Top Ten Robert Culp TV Movies (MOTW)

According to the IMDB, Robert Culp, who would have turned 85 last month (8/16), did as many TV films (35) as he did theatrical releases (34). I’m still on the hunt for many of his MOTW, but awhile back I polled fans on Facebook as to their favorites. I think I have a respectable Top Ten list of TV movies that, in many cases, are still remembered by viewers to this day.

In order of air date:

The Hanged Man (1964) – Directed by Don Siegel (Dirty Harry, The Shootist) this was the second TV movie to air and was an adaptation of the 1947 film Ride the Pink Horse. Set in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, Culp is Harry Pace who arrives to find out why a friend was killed and finds himself embroiled in shady union politics. Edmond O’Brien is the union boss with dirty hands, Norman Fell is the cop trying to find out why Pace’s friend was murdered and Vera Miles is the love interest whose allegiance to any man is questionable. Culp’s performance is dark and brooding and through the lies and deceit, the truth he seeks turns out to be more than he bargained for.


See the Man Run (1971) – Also known as The Second Face, the suspense in this one starts from the get-go and doesn’t let up. Culp is Ben Taylor, an alcoholic out of work actor who has recently moved into a new cheapie apartment with his wife Joanne (Angie Dickinson). Their phone number, previously issued to a Dr. Thomas Spencer (Eddie Albert), is the number a couple of kidnappers dial to say they have his daughter and demand a $50,000 ransom. Culp has no chance to tell them they have the wrong number and after he calls Dr. Spencer and tries to explain what happened, the doctor thinks he is the kidnapper. Caught in the middle and egged on by his wife, Culp runs the dangerous game of go between with the doctor and the real kidnappers for the chance at $150,000. Watching Culp switch roles from cool, threatening kidnapper to trembling victim to mere actor trying keep his wits about him is enough to induce schizophrenia. Angie Dickinson is great as she gets consumed with greed and the twist ending – you’ll never see it coming.


A Cold Night’s Death (1973) – I’m including this one because it seems to be on other people’s top list but here’s the thing: I haven’t watched it yet. I got as far into it as when the helicopter pilot is showing Culp and Eli Wallach around the lab, which is located on some godforsaken frozen mountain, and he shows them the part of the lab with the big vats that hold snow to melt to use for drinking water and I had this awful vision. I won’t share it but since I live in a place that has winters that look like where this laboratory was located, I haven’t had the hot foot to go back to it.


Outrage (1973) – Apparently based on true events, Culp is Dr. Jim Kiler, a veterinarian and family man, living in a gated community somewhere in California. The spoiled rich kids in the neighborhood enjoy raising a ruckus and go hot rodding around in their cars, risking life and limb to anyone who is out on the sidewalk or in the street. Kiler petitions to have speed bumps put in the neighborhood and after becomes the target of the punks and their escalating antics. The basic story line of the gentle man pushed too far, anyone who has seen Culp in his Columbo episodes will recognize the contained simmering anger in this one that builds up to a violent and, let’s face it, satisfying vigilante outburst at the end.



Strange Homecoming (1974) – Culp plays Jack Halsey, who left his small town 18 years earlier and sends postcards back home to his brother, Bill (Glen Campbell), from all these exotic locations all over the world where he does “business.” His business, however, is that of a jewel thief and while in Hawaii Jack adds murder to his resume. On the run from the law, he returns home to the surprise of his family and old friends, who are oblivious to his true trade. Campbell, who’s also sheriff of the town, starts to become suspicious of his brother. Culp is cool yet wild eyed and creepy in this one, having an especially awkward moment involving a pair of ladies nylon stockings (causing him to flashback to the murder in Hawaii). When the brothers finally clash, only one will win and the ending may surprise you a little.


A Cry for Help (1975) – Culp channels his inner Don Imus in this one as a caustic talk radio host, Harry Freeman, who indulges in diatribes and insults his listeners for sport during the morning commute. When a young girl phones in saying she’s going to commit suicide, he blows her off, jokingly asking where she was and that he would join her. When his listeners start phoning in and taking him to point, including a psychologist, Culp scrambles to try to locate the girl via his listeners to stop her from going through with it. The best part of this is watching Culp turn from caustic to caring and seeing the humanity in the character come through…even though he masks it and denies it.


Flood! (1976) – Master of Disaster Irwin Allen (The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno) brings big screen disaster to the small screen with the story of a rain swollen lake, an earthen dam that can’t hold it back much longer and the small town of Brownsville that stands to be washed away when the dam breaks. Culp is helicopter pilot Steve Brannigan who ferries high paying clients back and forth to fishing cabins at the lake. After seeing the water level at the dam, along with a fresh leak, he tells fellow pilot and friend Paul Burke (Martin Milner) who tries to get the mayor and town council to consent to opening the dam to relieve the pressure. They won’t because it will ruin the fishing, thus ruin the tourism…which apparently is more important than, say, preventing the whole town from wiped out by the flood from the busted dam, which is exactly what happens (how’s the fishing now?!). Culp assists in rescue efforts with his bird and looks really good doing it, just saying!


Spectre (1977) – Originally pitched as a pilot for a potential series created by Gene Roddenberry, Culp plays William Sebastian a renowned criminologist and dabbler in the occult. With his partner, Dr. Hamilton (Gig Young), the two are a modern day Holmes and Watson. They travel to England at the request of Anitra Cyon, who believes her brother Jeffrey has come under the influence of some kind of evil. All the Culp coolness you love is here along with a good mystery and very well done production.


Last of the Good Guys (1978) – Culp once said in an interview that the earliest incarnation of “Maxwell” was in this, where he plays a tough, calcified, by-the-book (sound familiar?) police sergeant named Nichols that oversees a misfit squad of cops (including Dennis Dugan, Ji-tu Cumbuka, James Hong and Hampton Francher). When veteran cop Frank O’Malley (Larry Hagman) dies just days from retirement, the younger cops plot to manipulate Nichols by covering for O’Malley at roll call until his retirement date, so that his widow and kids can receive his pension. Nichols catches on to the ploy and after Officer Lucas (Dugan) attempts a last minute desperate shakedown on Nichols involving a “breach of promise” with a young blind girl, it comes down to whether the tough as nails Nichols sticks with the book regarding O’Malley’s pension or not.


Killjoy (1981) – A murder mystery so damn convoluted you’re not sure who really died and who really did it until the very end. Culp is Lou Corbin, a cop and also a suspicious character in his own right, who knew the victim, Joy Morgan, and is trying to find out who killed her. A tip of the hat to Columbo with a touch of Maxwell with a bent, Corbin shows up on people’s door steps, pops in on them when they least expect it (especially when they go rummaging through the victim’s house) and essentially pesters everybody (just like Columbo!) but never lets on that he’s a cop until the end.


Honorable Mentions:

Houston, We’ve Got a Problem (1974) – Dramatization of the 1970 Apollo 13 crisis, only this one focused on the lives of the men who were on the ground at Houston Mission Control, having to work to figure out how to get the crippled space craft back to Earth and back to safety. Culp is Retro Officer Steve Bell, who suffers from a deteriorating heart condition that will essentially end his career if not his life before Apollo 13 makes it back to earth. Not knowing if the lunar module itself is damaged, Culp must figure a point of re-entry and calculate coordinates to bring the module safely back through Earth’s atmosphere. The other story lines run more melodramatic and the film was criticized at the time for being so (and for being overly fictionalized) but if you’re a Culp fan his performance alone is worth the watch.


The Blue LightningThe Blue Lightning (1986) – Although he opens the movie, there’s not enough of Culp in this one, plain and simple. Culp is ex-IRA bomber and cutthroat criminal Lester McInally (complete with Irish brogue) operating in the Australian outback when he goes up against private investigator Harry Wingate (Sam Elliot) who is attempting to retrieve a priceless opal from him. The film is non-stop action and only slows down enough when Elliot takes a bullet in the lung from Culp (ha!). Character development is sparse but the Australian scenery is magnificent. I would have liked to have seen a scene showing Culp overseeing his den of debauchery at McInally’s Casino, ordering thugs around and all but, alas.


Combat High (aka, Combat Academy) (1986) – Military academy version of “Police Academy” (produced by the same people) Culp is in the Commandant Lassard role here (although not as air headed), as the head of a military academy. When two punk kids (Keith Gordon, Wallace Langham) are sent to his school, they turn it and him upside down. Culp suffers the typical sophomoric indignities in this one, including the entire dining table being upended on him in the mess hall dumping just about everything all over his uniform and his office is sabotaged six ways from Sunday. A young George Clooney plays Culp’s son and there’s a subplot involving the strained father/son relationship. The film is loaded with noted guest stars including Jamie Farr (actually in a uniform as opposed to his typical “dress” on MASH), Bernie Koppell, John Ratzenburger, Richard Moll, Dick Van Patten and Sherman Hemsley.

Is there a MOTW you think should have been on this list? Let me know in the comments below!

~Lisa Philbrick



The Blue Lightning

The Blue Lightning

The Blue LightningCBS Movie of the Week

Originally broadcast May 7, 1986

Prior to watching the dreadful National Lampoon’s Movie Madness I had discovered that the TV movie The Blue Lightning from 1986 was given a proper DVD release earlier this year (2013). I had seen a few clips of Culp from this one on YouTube and, of course, loved the aviators, the Irish accent and the riding boots. I hoped to find the movie to see the whole thing some day.

I was very glad to find it on DVD and had watched it just before seeing the National Lampoon movie. To set things right in my world I figured to go back and wipe the memory of National Lampoon from my mind and take a look at The Blue Lightning again.

Besides, I needed to do some screen caps y’know…

The Blue Lightning The Blue Lightning The Blue Lightning The Blue Lightning The Blue Lightning

The movie opens in Opal Ridge, Australia where Quinton McQueen is tied to a tree and is about to be left for dead by Lester McInally (Culp). (Lester’s last name, to note, is pronounced two different ways in this movie; the Australian pronunciation sounds like “McKinley” while the American way is like it’s spelled, Mac-In-Ally.)  Quinton pleads to not be left tied to the tree where the wild dogs would get to him and eat him alive. One of McInally’s thugs, Mr. Words, asks for McInally to show some mercy. After some thought, McInally agrees and as Mr. Words starts for the tree to untie McQueen, McInally pulls his gun and shoots McQueen, killing him. “There,” he says to Words, “we’ve saved him from the dingos…”

(Clip courtesy of FedKidCounselor)

Hell of an intro for Culp’s character! And he’s just as merciless through the rest of the movie.

Continue reading more of The Blue Lightning…

Mardi Gras with Robert Culp

Happy Fat Tuesday! If you can’t get to New Orleans, here’s a chance to bring a bit of New Orleans to you by way of this great 1964 TV movie “The Hanged Man” starring Robert Culp and Vera Miles.  A little dirty labor union politics, murder, lies, extortion, double crossing….it’s all here. With Mardi Gras as the backdrop. Culp is FANTASTIC in this. Check it out! (Thanks Amaryllis!). The TV Movie as we would know it by the 70s and 80s was just coming into being by 1964 with this, the second such film aired.


And in This Corner…

When George Foreman and Muhammad Ali were preparing for their World Heavyweight Championship match in Zaire, Africa in 1974, (the historic “Rumble in the Jungle”), they ran into a bit of a snag. Foreman ended up with a cut over his eye during a training session which put the fight off for nearly a month. The two fighters remained in Africa, however, training, doing road work, holding sparring sessions and basically keeping in shape for the big fight until Foreman’s cut healed up.

Of course, all that work and no play can be no fun. I mean, really, you can only dance with a punching bag for so long.

Well, ABC Sports and ABC Entertainment came to the rescue and shipped off a few movies to Africa for the fighters to watch during some well-deserved down time. The movies included theatrical releases, such as “Straw Dogs” and “Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came?” and made-for-tv films, such as Darren McGavin’s “The Night Stalker,” Andy Griffith’s “Pray for the Wildcats” and…

…Robert Culp’s “Outrage.”

According to the Rock Hill (S.C.) Herald, the ratings system was simple. If either fighter’s camp asked to see a movie for a second time, the film was a hit. Of course, as with most things I find in the Google news archive, I found no follow up on the films and how they were received. I can’t help but wonder though what critique the two fighters might have had for the scene where Culp takes Mark Leonard down with a good ole fashioned right cross.

Foreman: “Of course that fight was fixed. Culp fixed it with his right hand!”

 Ali: “He’s a baaaad man!”



ABC Movie of the Week

Original Airdate: November 28, 1973

Back in 2008, when I found the I Spy episodes, Greatest American Hero video, the Get Smartclip and a couple other gems on YouTube, I found a “trailer” of sorts for this 1973 made-for-tv movie. The video has since been removed from YouTube, but it was a collection of scenes from the movie, including parts of the ending where Culp goes “calmly ballistic” and smashes the hell out of whatever he can with his pickup truck and baseball bat. After seeing the clip and reading a little bit more about the movie, I knew I had to find it just so I could watch him go berserk and cheer him on. I love old/classic cars but the kids in this film looked like a bunch of real pieces of —-.

Turns out, I was right.

I eventually did find the film at a wonderful website called, which specializes in rare and hard to find 60s and 70s feature films and made-for-tv movies. The copy is good, but the viewer should be aware that it is not a remastered film. Capping this thing proved challenging and there were some shots I could not get that were very clear.

The events in this movie were based on an actual incident that occurred. Culp plays Dr. Jim Kiler, a veterinarian, who lives with his wife and children in an affluent gated community called “Oak Meadows” in California. Unfortunately, some of the residents of the community include some spoiled and bored rich kids who have nothing better to do with their time than tear around in their hotrods harassing the neighborhood. The movie opens with the boys dumping a truck full of junk and garbage into the swimming pool of an older woman who lives in the neighborhood.

When the kids’s drag racing spooks the horses Jim and his family are riding, Jim and his wife, Muriel (Marlyn Mason) decide to start a petition to install speed bumps and stop signs in the neighborhood. And things begin to escalate from there.

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Continue reading more of Outrage…