Human Feelings is a made-for-TV movie — actually, it was intended as a pilot for a TV series that never got picked up — which aired in 1978. You’d think by now I’d learn to take that as a big warning sign, that made-for-TV movies — especially older ones, which usually had proportionately lower budgets compared to today — have a tendency to not turn out as good as their high concept. But I figured I had an hour and a half to kill, so this might be worth a shot.
In my defense, it stars Billy Crystal, and Billy Crystal is usually good for a few laughs. Usually.
In Human Feelings, Crystal plays Miles, an angel dissatisfied with his lot in Heaven. He’s stuck in a cubicle in Heaven’s bureaucracy, and would rather compose music. While paying a visit to God, played here by Nancy Walker, to complain, he gets a direct reminder that he’s not the only one with problems. His fellow angel Garcia (Richard Dimitri) has just, with great reluctance, sent “Mrs. G” the numbers on one of the towns in his jurisdiction — Las Vegas. And lo, God saw the report, and it was not good. God makes a deal with Miles: if he can find six righteous people in Las Vegas before the New Year (one week away), she’ll spare the city and give him any job in Heaven that he wants; otherwise, fire, floods, and frogs will raze the city to the ground.
Most real-life bookies put the over/under at 2015 for Vegas to receive the Sodom and Gomorrah treatment.
Miles finds that finding good people in Las Vegas is harder than he might expect. He’s new to the human experience, and often misreads peoples’ intentions. And somebody nosing around a Las Vegas hotel, spending money like it doesn’t matter, and asking questions of everybody is met by the hotel owner Johnny Turner (Armand Assante) with deep suspicion. Of course, Turner’s a mob boss, so he probably greets everyone with suspicion. Turner has one of his employees, a would-be singer who is in debt for $10,000 to him and works in the coffee shop, try to hook up with Miles and find out who he is. Of course, Verna (Pamela Sue Martin) finds herself falling in love with Miles instead.
Verna’s boss berates her, insults her, lies to her, and harasses her. On the plus side, she doesn’t have to wear any pieces of flair.
The movie is ostensibly a comedy, but negotiating a balance between comedy and sentimentality is a tricky thing. This film lost the balance, and wound up being sappy and formulaic. Miles tends to luck into his righteous people, such as a pair of strangers (Squire Fridell and Donna Pescow) who meet while having a lucky streak of gambling together, fall in love, and then stay together when they lose all their money because they really have fallen in love. Granted, a certain amount of deus ex-machina resolutions are acceptable when God is literally on your side, but that’s how nearly all of it goes. And the movie doesn’t have enough comedic moments to outweigh the weak execution on the premise; probably the funniest bit is when a hotel waiter played by Pat Morita starts in on an evangelical fire-and-brimstone speech to Miles that is uncannily accurate to what is actually in store for Vegas if Miles fails. But even that’s only worth a smile, not a laugh.
The pilot wasn’t irredeemable, any more than its portrayal of Vegas was. The actors ranged from reasonably competent to fairly skilled; Crystal and Walker particularly showed that they could have put a lot of life in this film had it just had a better script. But the film simply lacked energy. It wasn’t witty enough, it wasn’t exciting enough, and the characters weren’t developed enough. This human’s feeling is that it needed a better writer on the script.