The Big Black Pill (TV Movie 1981) Poster

(1981 TV Movie)

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One long Bogart impression
bob the moo10 December 2001
Joe dancer is a private detective working in LA. He's given a big money case by Tiffany Farinpour, one of the Farinpour family who include powerful politicians. Tiffany needs Joe to find her younger brother David who has left the family under a cloud. However in trying to find David Joe is warned off by several thugs before finally finding David in a small town just trying to live a quiet life. Seconds later David is killed by a hidden assassin and Joe finds all evidence of his life in the town has been erased and Joe is facing a murder charge. With the clock ticking Joe must find the killer in a plot that involves danger and deep family secrets.

The story here wants to be really shady and deep, but it doesn't totally make it. There's some mystery along the way but the final twists are clear once the plot starts to come together. The sense of deep family secrets isn't convincing - this is a TV movie after all, how dark can it be? However, even when the plot is being a good crime thriller it becomes lazy in it's solutions. At some points I was grabbed by the plot - who was the killer? who wanted David dead? but then at key moments the answers come too easy - the killer cleans up all bullet casings and remove David's possessions but leaves his prescription glasses at the scene, in another Joe walks for miles only to find the exact spot a gunman had stood. Things like this (and there's several) let the whole film down and make you forget the build-up and only remember the rubbish answers.

Another problem is Robert Blake he so clearly wants to Humphrey Bogart that he created this character to let him get close to those hard-boiled detective roles that Bogart played so well (Dancer even points out that he has all Bogart's films on tape at home). At one point in the film one character says "we don't have to say anything stupid like in the movies do we?", but the problem is we do - the whole film consists of poor dialogue, mostly delivered by Blake. The worst element of his Bogart impression is his voice over/narration - it's terrible. While Bogart's voiceovers usually gave an insight into his mind and feelings, Blake's treats us like children, walking us through the plot and the clues, not allowing us to work things out for ourselves. In some cases whole scenes are narrated with the action happening silently underneath. It makes this feel cheap with the Bogart-isms forced to breaking point.

The performances are not great - no one really stands out. The only actor that caught my eye was Bubba Smith but only because he later found "fame" as Hightower in the Police Academy films. Overall the performances were as good as the material required.

Overall a good plot that is spoilt by some lazy solutions and a terrible Bogart impression by Robert Blake.
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Terrible but fun to watch
tomgnel15 July 2014
Robert Blake obviously created this story with "China Town" as its inspiration. His character, Joe Dancer, is entangled with a rich and powerful family with deep roots in LA. He is enticed and misled by a beautiful heiress. Other members of the family try to hire him away. There are some embarrassing secrets that are at the bottom of the plot as well as some political intrigue. Does this sound familiar?

The plot is helped along with some incredible "jump cuts" and implausible action scenes. Blake jumps off a water tower onto a moving train while carrying the body of a full grown adult! When he lands, no attempt is made to disguise the fact that the "body" is actually a poorly constructed dummy. Later, Blake handily disposes of a thug played by the towering Bubba Smith in a train yard fight. How the diminutive Joe Dancer achieves this feat is neatly obscured in darkness.

Unlike Jake Giddes, Jack Nicholson's flawed character in "China Town," Joe Dancer comes across as almost superhuman. I personally believe that this film reveals its star and creator, Robert Blake, to be an egomaniac of unusual proportions, even for Hollywood.

This is one of those films that is so bad, it is fun to watch. It is a testament to how a famous actor with a bad idea and a lot of influence can spin a flimsy plot into a Hollywood production.
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Your despicable excuse for a human being!
sol121813 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
(There are Spoilers) Your usual private eye fear with the hard as nails Joe Dancer on the trail of a missing man who holds the key to his family's, the very politically active and successful Farinpours, dark past. That past if reviled will put an end to councilman Farinpour's bid for not only getting elected Governor of the state California but later on President of the United States!

Contcted by Tiffany Farinpour to find her missing brother David PI Dancer tracks him down in his trailer home on the California Mexican border. Trying to convince David to came back home, to Tiffany, with him David is shot dead on the steps of his trailer. With him now the prime suspect in David's murder Dancer, after putting Davd's body safely on ice, is on the run both from the law and the thugs who were hired to murder David.

If you researched the family history of a now very prominent US political family you can't help noticing the very striking similarities of the fictional Farinpours and themselves! Two far more striking things about those similarities is that the real political family in question was not only engaged, like the fictional Farinpours, in having business with Nazi Germany before the US was at war with that country but even during wartime! The second and even more striking fact is that the the family, the real one not the Farinpours, was practically unknown to the American pubic when the movie "The Big Black Pill" was being filmed back in 1980!

Private eye Dancer goes through the ringer with him being worked over by the two hired thugs Little Al & Big Foot who are two brawny professional NFL football players, Robert Phillips & Bubba Smith, in real life. Dancer finally gets to the truth to what all these secrets that the Farinpour family desperately want's to keep hidden, to the point of contract murder, from the American public really are. This all comes to life from the mouth of the murdered David Farinpour himself!

David knowing that he's marked for death had secretly made a video tape revealing the truth about his family history which was to be made public in the event of his death! Dancer finding, on the dead and frozen David Farinpour's body, the key to the private mail box where the tape was hidden now had the goods on who not only who had David done in but why? The only question now is if Dancer can get this explosive information out to the public before David's hired killers,or or the police, get to him first!

P.S Look for Robert Blake's, who played PI Joe Dancer, wife Sondra in the movie as Dancer's wheelchair bound Girl Friday Charlie.
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Workable but leaves a bit to be desired
udar5524 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Private Detective Joe Dancer (Robert Blake) accepts a case for Tiffany Farinpour (JoBeth Williams), the daughter of a powerful California family who wants to tell her missing brother David that he was right for leaving the family. Naturally, Dancer locates the young man and David is shot dead within minutes. Can you guess where this one is going? This was the pilot of a prospective detective series Blake did for NBC and obviously a chance for him to jump start his career post-BARETTA. It didn't work. By the time of the early 80s, most of the detective stuff used here had become cliché. In fact, this almost feels like a POLICE SQUAD parody at times with the voice overs and lines like, "I kept finding out more and didn't like what I was finding" and "Quit dancing around Dancer!"

The film is interesting for two reasons though. First, you have a great cast that includes the aforementioned Williams, Veronica Cartwright, Wilford Brimley, James Gammon, Kenneth Tigar, Carol Wayne, and Bubba Smith. Second, the wealthy family's big secret (granddad got rich by dealing with the Nazis in the late 30s and they fear it will ruin the son's bid for the California Governorship and White House) is culled from a prominent, real life political family and it looks like that skeleton didn't harm them too much. Of course, they didn't have Joe Dancer on their case!
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Really awful
darth767 December 2001
At first I thought that I was watching a parody of a police movie, as neither the actor could be taken seriously as a tough private investigator, nor the dialogues were natural (often, there were quite illogical, as well). If you see the scene with the nun praying to God to save the good detective from drowning and him replying "Don't thank God, thank the water that was not cold and these old bones", you certainly believe that you are dealing with a parody. Then I realised that this movie was serious and that was based in a TV series. Everything here is incredibly pathetic: low-budget directory without fantasy, a script that brings into mind a soap opera and, last but not least, bad acting.
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