TV movies usually are not very good, but ABC’s Movie of the Week was an exception to the rule. To complement the other films from this series I have recommended, let me endorse the entry that kicked it off in 1969: Seven in Darkness.
The plot is at one level entirely stale: A group of disparate characters (each with their own dramatic back story, natch) are in peril and must work together to survive. But the movie enlivens the old chestnut by making all of the characters blind! After surviving a plane crash on the way to a convention of blind people, seven people realize that the pilots are dead and therefore no one can guide them out of the wilderness to safety.
Terrifying new possibilities emerge within this genre when no one is sighted, making trivial challenges harrowing: Crossing a rotted railway trestle, evading wolves, climbing steep hillsides and determining who in the band of seven has been secretly stealing food. The most effective twist comes as viewers watch in agony as the characters take enormous risks to cross a river because they can’t see that there is a serviceable bridge right over their heads (As your heart sinks watching their struggle, you might find yourself yelling advice). There is also a nice cinematic virtue to the plot set-up: Instead of needing night shoots that are hard to do well and sometimes leave viewers unsure as to what is happening, the film could be shot entirely in daylight because to the characters, it of course might as well be dark out.
Human drama is also woven into the story, some of which works well (e.g., The complex motives of Barry Nelson’s psychotherapist character) and some of which falls flat (e.g., Lesley Ann Warren’s hysterics). But the cast generally does a fine job, and fans of Milton Berle will enjoy him as a cranky, selfish man who dreams of having his sight restored by a new medical procedure.
It’s a TV movie, so there are no big stars or fancy special effects, and much of it looks like it was shot on a sound stage. But as in another of my recommendations, Devil in a Blue Dress, the filmmakers got the most from adding a novel element to old tropes. The result is 70 minutes of suspense and entertainment which deservedly encouraged ABC to continue with this format for an extended series of above-average made-for-TV movies.