Say “Cheese” 004 – Intimate Agony (1983)

This past Christmas my son got me a Mill Creek box set called Awesomely Cheesy Movies. 100 movies on 24 disks, it’s actually a combination of two of their earlier released sets, “The Swinging Seventies”, and “The Excellent Eighties”.

For those of you who may not be familiar with these Mill Creek sets, they are generally comprised of  public domain or made-for-television movies that are reproduced without embellishment, enhancement, or extras and are sold in large collections for very low prices. This means that the quality on them can be quite variable, and they often show signs of age and wear. Nonetheless, there are often hidden gems amongst what can be large swaths of dross.

Anyway, I’ve decided to wend my way through this collection, starting with the first movie on the first disk of the 70s collection, then the first movie in the 80s set, then back to the 70s, and so on, and see just what turns up. If nothing else, it should be interesting. Come along, won’t you?

Okay, confession time: Back in the early eighties, I was a huge fan of General Hospital. For those of you who were not around at the time, it might be surprising to know the cultural impact that a daytime soap opera had.

For some reason, the romance between Luke Spenser and Laura Webber (the main characters in the show at the time, played by Anthony Geary and Genie Francis) had caught something in the cultural zeitgeist and led to the show expanding beyond the typical soap opera audience. Their marriage ocurred on the show on November 17, 1981; and was watched by 30 million viewers. To this day it remains the highest-rated hour in American soap opera history.

Of course it didn’t hurt that at the time the show also moved away from its focus on the day-to-day goings on at the hospital and the typical storylines that followed from that and instead became more of an adventure.spy show featuring the couple and various other characters fighting villains intent on taking over the world.

All of which is to say that it’s easy to see why Anthony Geary was chosen to play Dr. Kyle Richards in the TV movie Intimate Agony. He certainly had enough of a background in delivering the necessary medical information to play the role while at the same time being well qualified to handle the more melodramatic aspects of the film.

And trust me, the melodrama abounds. Fortunately, Geary is not alone in having to shoulder that burden. Judith Light, best known from TV’s Who’s The Boss? is Geary’s love interest. The Man From Uncle himself, Robert Vaughn, is an unscrupulous real estate developer who doesn’t want word of the spreading infection getting out lest it compromise his new condo plans. Of course once his daughter Katy (Cindy Fisher) finds herself infected, he may have to change his point of view. Or not.

The movie also prominently features Mark Harmon and his terrific 80s porn ‘stache as the island’s resident tennis pro and womanizer who, upon finding out that he, too has the dreaded disease, wonders just what the future may hold for him since he feels reduced to, as he puts it, an overpaid tennis shoe salesman.

Even more melodrama is heaped on when a young man named Nick finds out that he, too, has herpes. The problem here is that Nick’s wife is pregnant, and she doesn’t understand why he suddenly won’t make love to her. Is it because of her pregnancy or is there some deeper problem?  Rather than admit to her what the real problem is (thereby also admitting that he’d been unfaithful to her, Nick eventually acquiesces, a decision which he will live to regret as he also infects her, and they lose their baby due to it picking up the disease during childbirth,

 

I mentioned at the start that Anthony Geary was particularly suited for this role because of his role as a doctor on General Hospital. This is especially true because throughout the film he is required to lecture his patients (and anyone else he can get to give him an ear) about not only the angers of the disease, but also possible treatments and the best way to get on with living a “relatively normal lifestyle”.

Because herpes is a virus, we learn, there is no cure, and those who are infected are subject to recurring outbreaks. The trick, we are told, is to be aware of the potential dangers and to inform any potential sexual partner of the problem. Of course, this movie came out just before the HIV epidemic became a national concern and would turn things like herpes into relatively minor concerns.

In the end, Intimate Agony is not exactly a bad film, but it does come across as something of an Afterschool Special for grown-ups. With Geary’s frequent lectures on the disease (culminating in a community-wide meeting for those suffering from the disease an/or wanting to learn more) it works overtime to get its message across. Still, there is enough going on in the community and enough good character work that it is not completely bogged down by its subject matter.

Of course, there is one question that the movie left me with and never quite answers: Should Mark Harmon’s mustache also be considered an infection, an if so, is it in any way related to whatever caused Anthony Geary’s epic white-guy-fro mullet?

Up Next: The Swinging 70  Disk 1 Movie 3: The  Last of the Belles – F. Scott Fitzgerald writes a story! Woo hoo!

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