3/15/12

You Don't Know Shat !?! : Secrets of a Married Man (1984)

Over the last few weeks of the Shatner celebration, we've seen the Shat as a crusading father rescuing his daughter from gang life in Broken Angel and talking turkey about the birds and the bees is The Explosive Generation. This week finds Shatner on the other side of the ethical coin as a cad gone mad in Secrets of a Married Man. This made for TV film feels like prehistoric version of a Lifetime offering, but spun on it's head in a fever of Iron John induced melodrama. It becomes a tale of middle class male ennui where Shatner, playing for sympathy, comes up well short. Secrets of a Married Man  is a slice of of 80s yuppsterism that shows off just how flawed the free love generation became as they moved into the self centered, costumer driven decade. Plus, you get to see Captain Kirk picking up hookers on the corner.


The Shat stars here as Chris Jordan, an aeronautics engineer who is tired of the hum drum wife with his wife and three kids. He doesn't want to have an affair, but that doesn't preclude him from thinking about getting some strange on the side. When his work sends him off to a trade show, he orders a call girl to his hotel room and captures a brief moment of passion. When next he tries to be intimate with his wife (Michelle Phillips), she won't even let him keep the lights on while they're doing the vertical Watusi. Thus begins a cycle of Chris frequenting prostitutes unto he finally works his way up to high class hooker Elaine (Cybil Shepherd) who picks him up in a lingerie store. Elaine captures Chris' imagination (after all she's working her way through nursing school), and soon he's taking her out to Andy dinners and buying her presents. Ultimately, he tries to break it off, but that's when Elaine's pimp Jesse (Glynn Turman) starts to blackmail the engineer for cash.  Drawing his family into danger due to his monetarily driven affair, Chris must make some dangerous choices to set things right.

The problem with Secrets of a Married Man is twofold. One, Shatner's Chris decides to start frequenting prostitutes due to the encouragement of an old cowboy in a bar. Now I fully understand how mystical cowboys are an all, but for every Sam Elliot watching the Dude abide, there's a dozen pseudo cowpokes ready to advise city slickers that getting a hooker is not the same as cheating. Surely they sometimes branch out into other ill advice, but it's an old cowboy tradition to lead dummies away from their women. After all, who would't want to rustle up some Michelle Phillips with the lights on or off. Secondly, the movie fails to ever put Chris in the midst of any real danger. Even at the movie's climax when Shatner had a knife held to is throat, I felt no kind of tension to speak of at all. Glynn Turman's pimp is so sanitized for television consumption all the bite is gone from the much needed heavy.  The real conflict in he film, of course, goes on inside of Chris. However, the lesson he learns is somewhat middling. Sure, he eventually, and reluctantly, tries to stop seeing Elaine, but without the threat of danger to his family, he planned to go back to his everyday life.

Shatner has never played such an unlikable, slimy little weasel for my money, and Shatner's typical broad style only played into his smarmy demeanor. If Shatner intended for Chris to come off as a troubled industrialist, he missed the mark and instead shows a sad little man looking for a fantasy world for his escape. Cybil Shepard, who was always a beauty, strikes an impressive allure as the object of Chris' affections, and she really plays the con scenes perfectly, her innocent disposition hiding the steady vacuum of funds from Chris' wallet. Turman, as I mentioned earlier, had no chance as the tame, tan suited pimp, but he did what he could with fangless material. Michelle Phillips was the most underused cast member as the story really only looked at how one man's transgressions effected himself and glossed over the impact on the family unit.

Director William A. Graham was a television stalwart with a career than spanned back to an episode of Pond's Theater in 1956. In the late 60s and early 70s, he became one of the kings of the TV movie with titles like Guyana Tragedy: The  Story of Jim Jones, Return to Blue Lagoon, Calendar Girl Murders, and The Last Ninja. Based on a screenplay by Dennis Nemec, whose telling last screenplay was called Secret Cutting (2000), Secrets of a Married Man runs too wildly into the melodramatic to be that much fun to watch. Even Shatner, usually able to elevate any material with gleeful hamminess, is so downright miserable that it made me want to leave this movie and go pay another to let me watch it. For hardcore Shatner-ites like myself who are going to watch anything and everything he's been in, then this is a movie you're going to watch..... For everyone else, take it from this married man who wishes he had kept Secrets of a Married Man a secret, some things are better left unknown.   

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