Leonard Nimoy is so not Spock in “Baffled,” a movie that probably should have a spoiler tag on its opening credits. And it does have opening credits. That’s because “Baffled” was actually a failed TV pilot, and why it failed, I’ll never know. A paranormal mystery show starring Leonard Nimoy paired with a smart blonde and medium-high sexual tension? Nothing on TV in the 70s was as good as that, not even when they were drunk on “Match Game.” Plus the opening theme is just so rockin’.
Nimoy’s star turn here is as Tom Kovack, a charismatic Indy race car driver who discovers he has psychic visions when one abruptly sends him skidding into a near-fatal accident on the track. The vision itself just consists of tracking shots of an imposing English estate, slo-mo Vera Miles screaming, a hay wagon, a girl walking down stairs, and a woman’s voice repeating, “It’s Wyndham in Devon, dear.” Sadly, Peter Cushing is not in his pit crew.
The next day, Tom reluctantly tells a TV interviewer about his vision, because they didn’t know about pre-interviews in the 1970s the same way they didn’t know about colors other than brown and orange. Rare book dealer and out-of-his-league blonde Michelle Brent catches the interview on telly and is intrigued. Destined to be the Mulder to his Scully, the Giles to his Buffy, and the Diane to his Sam, she visits Tom and suggests that they go fight the forces of Vague Menace from his vision together. Skeptical Tom refuses the call to adventure, although not before trying to hit on her a couple times, so he’s still clearly Not Spock.
Adventure is at telemarketer levels of persistence though and zings Tom with another vision, this time leaving him drenched in saltwater in the middle of his hotel room – a little something for the ladies. He follows up with Michelle and the two of them take a sabbatical from gainful employment and real lives to go Scooby it up at the manor house, also a vacation spot, Wyndham in Devon.
The manor house entertains several guests apart from our heroes, but the focus of mystery and the girls of Tom’s dreams, so to speak, are film star Andrea Glenn (“special guest star Vera Miles” ) and her daughter Jennifer. Andrea and Jennifer have arrived at Wyndham to meet with Andrea’s estranged husband and Jennifer’s dad, English actor Duncan Sanford. Now of all the things this movie presents as weird or uncanny, this is the only disturbing part to me, and it’s something we’re expected to just sort of roll with. The actress playing Jennifer is clearly old enough to drive, if not vote, but she’s playing a 12-year-old. That’s not the weird part. She’s also a 12-year-old who wears pigtails and carries around a stuffed animal and calls her mother “Mommy.” But that’s still not the weird part.
The weird part is this: Andrea has not seen Duncan in all that time, her daughter’s entire life, and Jennifer claims never to have met her – sigh – “Daddy.” I get that Andrea and Duncan are split up and she’s in America and he’s in England, but for a world-famous actress, hopping across the pond to visit the father of your child shouldn’t be that big a deal, should it? At least once? And if Duncan is such an ogre that he doesn’t want to meet his own daughter, why does Jennifer glowingly idealize him? She doesn’t even know what he looks like. How is that possible in the 20th century? And Andrea doesn’t seem to be protecting Jennifer from any other details of her rocky relationship with Duncan. Am I giving too much thought to this? Yes. Yes, I am. But it’s weird, right?
Then after all that, Duncan fails to show up to greet Andrea and Jennifer as planned anyway. Jerk.
As soon as he arrives, Tom of course recognizes Andrea and her daughter from his visions. He and Michelle then set about digging up information on them and the other guests, since the evil at Wyndham is still pretty ill-defined. All they’ve got is Tom’s vision of Andrea screaming. I mean, Andrea could have been screaming at anything – a spider, the minibar bill, a lunatic dressed as his mother with a butcher knife, anything. Could the vague menace be the groovy young newlyweds? Or maybe it’s the Italian guy? The standard issue English butler? And what’s up with the diffidently bitchy owner of the manor house, Mrs. Farraday? She’s de-aging like so much Cher. That’s not right.
Meanwhile, Jennifer secretly meets with her Dad, who insists Jennifer wear a gaudy medallion with a wolf’s head on it, but not tell her mother about it or him until he says so. So clearly nothing going on there.
Poor, stood-up Andrea tries to locate her husband, fails, and soon suffers the onset of Sudden Gothic Heroine Syndrome, with the usual hallucinations, gauzy nightgown-clad fleeing, and sudden, debilitating illnesses that keep you from grabbing your daughter and getting the hell out. Jennifer goes from Cindy on the Brady Bunch to the 70s equivalent of Miley twerking in the course of a couple days. Tom and Michelle Scooby hard, but the red herrings keep throwing up false positives for Tom’s untested psychic gifts. Plus they find themselves on the wrong side of the Vague Menace and have to save themselves over and over, although I do have to say having seen this, it’s less them saving themselves and more the Vague Menace not following through on its evil plans. You’ve got Michelle alone in the back of a truck and unconscious. Finish it! What, is this your first insidious Satanic plot?
The movie goes on, probably for about 15 minutes and 2 red herrings too long. It would have been a great TV episode though. I envision Roddy McDowall and Donald Pleasance as evil cultists in later episodes. Sadly, the only “Baffled” we got was this one, which is both too much and not enough, thanks to the meandering plot and extremely Vague Menace. It may still be worth your time with caveats: basically if you love Leonard Nimoy or you just want something on in the background to fall asleep to.
Watch the trailer to “Baffled”