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Nevada police take into custody drifter Mark Jonah, although he claims he was an innocent hitchhiker, after the crash of a stolen car in which hoodlum Jerry Taggart is killed. Mark escapes and, while sleeping in a field two days later, is awakened when an eight-year-old blind girl, Nina, stumbles over him. Nina leads Mark to three other blind children---Kim, Little Joe and Cathy. The youngster's, sensing Mark's gentleness, take him to their summer camp for blind children. There, he meets Tracy, a girl his own age who is also blind. He is mistaken for the camp's new handyman by Tracy's housekeeper, Nonna, who views him with suspicion, and also meets the other children, Richard, Velma and Pepe. The children learn to love Mark, whom they follow everywhere, as their Pied Piper figure. Led by tough Barney Glover, the police finally catch up to Jonah. But a well-known local character, Wilfred Bashford, clears Mark, who returns to Tracy and his new "family." Written by
Les Adams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In Nevada, chubby singer Wayne Newton (as Mark Jonah Winters) is arrested for manslaughter, following a car accident. Considering the opening crash, Mr. Newton is amazingly agile. He escapes from the police and takes refuge at a home for blind children, obtaining the place of an anticipated handyman (who never appears). Blind camp counselor and budding sculptress Diana Ewing (as Tracy) is attracted to Newton and sculpts his bust. The young blind children become attached to Newton. They plant a garden, sing songs and trot together. There is also a dog, who is put under a doghouse when the cameras are turned away...
Meanwhile, investigators search the area...
Presently known for his Las Vegas appearances, Newton has been a successful entertainer for 50 years. Considering this film, you'd be hard-pressed to explain his long-lasting appeal. A TV and recording star prompted to "youth" but always more popular with their parents, Newton is most unconvincing. Possibly, this would have looked better on television...
Apparently, the effort was to fashion Newton as a feature film star. Otherwise, it's difficult to explain why Gerd Oswald and the filmmakers didn't simply offer Sal Mineo the leading role. Billed as a "special guest star," Mr. Mineo drives the 1969 Charger in the opening. Mineo's main scene is later, in a flashback. As usual, he's excellent. The other "special guest star" is Mickey Rooney. Also appearing later (in one scene, with Mineo), Mr. Rooney can overplay at times and does so here as a wildly drunk driver...
The kids are alright. The stand-out role is given to Erin Moran (as Kim), who makes an memorable impression. Previously a regular on the adventure series "Daktari!", she will go on to greater TV glory on the nostalgic "Happy Days" series. There isn't much for the other children to do, although young veteran Butch Patrick (as Brian) has a good scene pretending to be blind; he's the kids' sighted helper. Newton is given an accomplished supporting cast, with Jo Van Fleet (as Nonna) getting the most screen time. The cast is probably the best reason to take "80 Steps to Jonah", today.
*** 80 Steps to Jonah (11/17/69) Gerd Oswald ~ Wayne Newton, Diana Ewing, Jo Van Fleet, Erin Moran
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