Welcome to 4:3 & Forgotten — a weekly column in which Rob Hunter and I get to look back at TV terrors that scared adults (and the kids they let watch) across the limited airwaves of the ’70s. This time we’re going where no man has gone before and checking out one of Leonard Nimoy’s forays into the supernatural with Baffled!
Leonard Nimoy will forever be associated with the role of Spock in Star Trek. That’s not a knock against his other roles by any means as he had an impressive career, but the reality is that he captured lightning in a bottle as the valiant Vulcan and helped change the landscape of pop culture. That’s no small feat.
In the 1970s, however, Nimoy was tired of always being remembered as Spock. He even wrote an autobiography called I Am Not Spock that chronicled the man behind the makeup and pointy ears. The book was lambasted by Trekkies who viewed it as a rejection of the character, but you can understand why the actor was frustrated. He had a career outside of Star Trek, after all.
The ’70s also saw Nimoy try to launch another hit TV show called Baffled!, in which he would play a psychic race car driver-turned-occult detective who travels around solving supernatural mysteries. That show ultimately never came to fruition as no network was interested, and the filmed pilot was subsequently released to British theaters in an effort to recoup some money. After that, it made its way to the small screen in the United States and the rest is history. Let’s talk about this forgotten little oddity.
When: January 30, 1973
It’s clear from the outset that Baffled! was intended as a TV series. The opening credits theme music is pure jazzy funk that was made for the sole purpose of getting viewers hyped for a weekly adventure. It does the job, too. The accompanying footage, meanwhile, is a collection of random clips of Nimoy and co-star randomly Susan Hampshire driving around. You really get the sense of a show that would have been full of mystery, adventure, and camaraderie, even though the opening credits don’t really explain anything.
The story centers around Tom Kovack (Nimoy), a Formula One driver who experiences spooky premonitions during a race. He learns that the horrific visions took place in a bed and breakfast in Devon, which prompts him to team up with Michele (Hampshire), a paranormal and occult expert, to track down the people in his premonition and warn them about the danger they’re in.
The endangered people are Andrea (Vera Miles) and her daughter Jennifer (Jewel Blanch) who’ve been summoned to the inn by Andrea’s ex-husband after 11 years of separation. Upon arrival, however, they discover that Duncan hasn’t been around for quite some time. But then he shows up and gives Jennifer a pendant, which turns her into a possessed brat. But is it really him? Something is afoot.
While the movie’s plot is centered around an occult conspiracy, Baffled! will also appeal to fans of Agatha Christie-esque mysteries. The location, countryside backdrop, and suggestion that most characters are hiding something are reminiscent of those stories. This movie just so happens to throw in cults, possessions, and Formula One racing for good measure.
Baffled! is more lighthearted than your average ‘70s fright flick, but this element works in its favor. The final scenes are gloriously preposterous, with a revelation that wouldn’t feel out of place in an episode of Scooby-Doo. While the film tries to throw too many ideas into the pot at times, you can’t fault its ambition. But just know that the end reveal is an absolute peach, and you’ll never look at elderly women the same way again.
There are some suspenseful moments, especially during the early premonition scenes. Director Philip Leacock treats the horror elements with enough care to ensure that the general lightheartedness is peppered with some darkness. The best way to describe it is just under over the top. The film was produced by the same company that made The Prisoner series, and it’s tonally similar to that cult favorite.
Of course, the show was also intended as a vehicle for reinvention for Nimoy. His performance is very devil may care and fun, especially considering that his character is supposed to be somewhat of a ladies man. Much of the movie is about his character honing his abilities, but he’s relaxed in the face of danger and in control of the outlandish situations. Tom is very much of the smooth detective mold, and he rocks some groovy outfits.
Hampshire also plays off him perfectly, and both actors show great chemistry together. She’s essentially the brains of their operation and the necessary counterpoint to her partner’s instinctual characteristics. If the planned show got the green light, I imagine Tom and Michele would have solved many mysteries together and gained a small cult fan base in the process.
Baffled! is well worth hunting down, but it’s also a frustrating viewing experience as it will leave you wanting more. While the film does have a satisfying conclusion to its mystery, it was made with a long-term future in mind. So, in a way, it will go down in history as a project that never realized its full potential. Prepare to have a lot of fun and feel a little bit sad afterward.