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Throwback: Tight Turtlenecks, Smooth Psychics and Bad Brainwashing in Leonard Nimoy’s Baffling Pilot

Aaron Yap channels a psychic race car driver in Baffled!, Leonard Nimoy’s bizarre failed pilot with a premise more implausible than anything Star Trek could have offered.

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 Of all the TV work that Leonard Nimoy did in the early ‘70s, Baffled! may be the most, yes, baffling.

After the original series of Star Trek ended in 1969, Nimoy didn’t have trouble finding a myriad of roles, appearing in the likes of Mission: Impossible, Columbo and Rod Serling’s anthology series Night Gallery. But Baffled!, a 1973 TV movie pilot for a series that was never made, was easily his strangest and most awkward attempt to break out of his Spock image

Produced by The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’s Norman Felton, the movie tried to repackage Nimoy as a smooth-talking psychic race car driver. A PSYCHIC RACE CAR DRIVER. He plays Tom Kovack, whom we first see hooning down a Formula One track – complete with bad rear projection – and getting random flashes of images from the future: a screaming woman, an English manor, a young girl walking down the stairs. He also hears a voice saying, “It’s Wyndham in Devon, dear”.

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With the help of perky ESP expert and books dealer Michelle Brent (Susan Hampshire), Kovack flies to Devon to decipher what it all means, sensing that the people in his visions – actress Andrea Glenn (“Special Guest Star” Vera Miles) and her daughter Jennifer (Jewel Blanch) – are in imminent danger. Satanic wolf-head medallions, brainwashing, wine poisoning, de-aging and a ‘27 Bentley named “Girly” all somehow figure into the master plot.

It’s not too hard to see why a full series of Baffled! never went to air. The movie’s combination of spooky occult trappings and tongue-in-cheek humour makes for an uneasy mix, matters not helped by the middling, suspense-free execution given by veteran TV director Philip Leacock. The pilot is far too padded out at 99 minutes – any interest in the incoherent mystery fizzles out long before it pulls a laughable Scooby Doo-style mask-ripping “twist” on us.

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However, as with many oddball TV movies of its era, it does exude a particularly daffy quality that can be entertaining in the right frame of mind. Where else are you going to see Nimoy in such a dopey, ill-fitting part as Kovack? He’s forced to wear awful turtle necks and fedoras while sleuthing indifferently and exchanging cutesy, dreadfully unfunny dialogue with Brent. “I like you, honest,” he tells her at one point. “You’re warm, you’re enthusiastic. And why shouldn’t I use the words? You’re… a great lookin’ chick!”.

Adding to the goofy factor is Richard Hill’s sunny, horn-blaring rock score, often heard blasting at inopportune moments and effectively obliterating the atmosphere of foreboding Kovack’s premonitions seem to be going for.

A no-brainer for Nimoy completists; others may want to have a few beers first.


Available on DVD now from Madman Entertainment.

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