|Directed by||Michael Landon|
|Produced by||Kent McCray|
|Screenplay by||Michael Landon|
Timothy Patrick Murphy
|Music by||David Rose|
|Edited by||John Loeffler|
Michael Landon Productions
|Distributed by||Invictus Entertainment|
Sam's Son is a 1984 American semi-autobiographical coming-of-age drama film written and directed by Michael Landon loosely based on his early life and is also the only feature film ever made by him. The film stars Eli Wallach, Anne Jackson, Timothy Patrick Murphy, Hallie Todd, Jonna Lee, James Karen, and even Landon in a cameo at the beginning and the end. The film was produced independently by Landon himself and released by Utah-based distributor Invictus Entertainment.
The film begins when a private jet descends on a runway of a small airport in Collingswood, New Jersey. Famous movie director Gene Orman (Landon) has visited the town to attend the premiere of his latest film, Sam's Son. On the way to the theater, he orders his driver to have the limo stop across the street from his childhood home where he grew up. He gets out and looks at the house, while tearfully saying, "We did it, Sam." We are then transported back to the year 1953 when Gene was still known as Eugene Orowitz, an ordinary, shy teenager struggling with his identity. He has a father Sam (Wallach), a movie theater manager who is constantly bullied and his sharp-tongue mother Harriet (Jackson) who has no patience for Eugene's privacy in the bathroom. Eugene also has a girlfriend Bonnie (Lee) who grows increasingly disdained when with him, especially when the new transfer student and resident bully Bob Woods (Hayes) begins to take a liking to Bonnie. One night, when Eugene and Bonnie are at the movies, they are constantly harassed by Woods in the theater until Sam firmly escorts him out. To get revenge, he challenges Eugene to a fight when he takes Bonnie home, but Eugene doesn't back down and Woods calls him a wimp for chickening out. While running home, Eugene is met up with classmates who drag a reluctant Eugene to a rowdy neighborhood bar where they eventually get into a fight with a loutish patron, but they escape before the cops are called.
At the same time, the high school track coach Sutter William Boyett is impressed with Eugene's work on throwing the javelin and he offers to help him compete in future track meets, providing his grades doesn't suffer because of it. That night, at the theater, Eugene watches Samson and Delilah and he quietly discovers if he can grow his hair, he can be strong enough to win the track meets. The next day, fellow schoolmate Cathy Stanton (Todd), who had been witnessing Eugene's work for several weeks, offers to help him with tutoring to make sure his grades don't fail if he wins a scholarship to USC. However, soon after, the unsympathetic principal Mr. Collins (Karen) discovers Eugene hasn't cut his hair for quite some time and he orders him to or he will be barred from future track meets, even after Eugene tries to convince Collins he has to let his hair grow so he doesn't lose his strength.
Even though Harriet disapproves of Eugene's actions, Sam secretly takes him to his brother, a famous doctor, to wrap his head in bandages so no one will get suspicious and Sam demands Eugene to keep it a secret from everybody. As weeks go by, Eugene wins meet after meet and one night, he and Cathy go on a date to the local drive-in, until it gets ruined by Woods, who slams his car into Eugene's. Again, he challenges him to a fight, but since Eugene has the upper hand in strength, he knocks Woods out cold. The next day, a determined Bonnie decides to reconcile her relationship with Eugene, but to no avail as he's already seeing Cathy.
As a subplot, Sam understands about Eugene getting bullied all the time as he has a jerk of a boss, Mr. Bellow (Harvey Gold) who constantly berates Sam. One day, he finally stands up to him saying he will quit his job unless he's allowed to go to Eugene's track meet. Bellow reluctantly agrees to let him have a couple hours off, to Sam's delight. However, on the day of the event, Sam is forced to help deliver a slate of film prints after the delivery truck breaks down. The heavy lifting and carrying sadly takes a toll on Sam, who collapses on the stairs from a heart attack. At the track meet, Eugene and Cathy are patiently waiting for Sam when a policeman comes over and tells them the bad news. Angry and distraught, he unwraps the bandages from his head, revealing a full head of long hair. He takes his javelin and throws over 200 feet in the air, landing next to a distance cone.
Eugene and Cathy immediately rush to the hospital to an emotional Harriet. She tells Eugene to tell Sam they will be all right on their own without him. When he goes into his room, the doctor informs him Sam will need a new heart, but are unable to give it to him due to money and the technology. At Sam's bedside, he apologizes to Eugene for not showing up and tells him to look at a script at their house he has been working on for weeks. The life support system flatlines and Eugene rushes to get help. However, it's too late.
We then travel back to the present day, where we see Gene's friend Cy Martin (Howard Bassett) is seen explaining to someone on the limo's phone asking why they're not at the theater yet. After hanging up, Cy informs Gene they have to get there before the movie starts. When they arrive, he is greeted by a swarm of excited fans, his wife Cathy, and even Mr. Bellow, who obviously changed his ways, attitude-wise, tells Gene that it is an honor to have him at his theater. To put him in his place, Gene orders Bellow to fix five letters out on the marquee. As Gene and Cathy enter the theater, Bellow informs him it will be done. Before the fade to black, Bellow looks up at the marquee and nods his head sarcastically at the title.
- Eli Wallach as Sam Orowitz
- Anne Jackson as Harriet Orowitz
- Timothy Patrick Murphy as Gene Orowitz
- Hallie Todd as Cathy Stanton
- Alan Hayes as Robert Woods
- Jonna Lee as Bonnie Barnes
- Michael Landon as Gene Orman
- Howard Witt as Cy Martin
- James Karen as Mr. Collins
Michael Landon originally wrote the film's script in the summer of 1982 while his television series Little House on the Prairie was taking a break for the next season. He pitched the idea to NBC, who were interested to have it as a movie of the week, but Landon had wanted it to be a feature film instead. The revised draft had to be rewritten for the actual film with some minor adult language and a pretty violent bar room fight.
Production began in the summer of 1983 in southern California, substituting it for New Jersey. Timothy Patrick Murphy was cast as Eugene Orowitz, because Landon thought he looked exactly like he did when he was younger and had also seen him on Dallas as Charlene Tilton's boyfriend, Mickey Trotter. Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson were immediately cast as Eugene's parents because Landon knew their real-life marriage would blend in with their characters. Hallie Todd, another newcomer in show business, was cast after she appeared in the made-for-TV film Who Will Love My Children? For the film, Landon used most of his TV crew from Little House on the Prairie.