January 21, 2023

That '70s Sci-fi TV Movie, Part One: The Love War

Home video cover art - The Love War (TV movie, 1970)
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The Love War (TV movie, 1970)

Pros: The two leads give it their all despite a weak script and cut-rate production values
Cons: Like I said, weak script and cut-rate production values

Back in November of last year, Barry at Cinematic Catharsis accepted a challenge from a fellow blogger to write about his five favorite movies from 1978. At the end of that post, he issued new challenges to several bloggers, including yours truly. Picking up the baton, I decided to go with my top five underrated/overlooked ‘70s sci-fi TV movies.

At first I intended to just devote a single post to the five, but of course, being congenitally verbose (and a little masochistic), I found myself regurgitating paragraphs and paragraphs on the first movie, so I decided to turn the single post into a five-part series. I’ll pass on the challenge to a new set of bloggers in part five, but until then, on with the show!

This Aaron Spelling-produced TV movie is as bare bones as they come, even for an era known for its low-budget TV productions. Lloyd Bridges plays an alien operative from the planet Argon who has traveled to earth along with two colleagues to fight a team from a rival planet for control of the planet. All the aliens have assumed human appearances and identities, and we eventually learn that the contest is strictly regulated by an interplanetary “War Arbitration Control” board - each side gets three representatives, and the team with the last man/alien standing wins. However, as we also soon learn, that doesn’t preclude one side or the other from cheating.

The movie starts out with Bridges tracking down a rival alien at the Los Angeles train station. For the mission, he’s outfitted with an energy gun that looks like a wand candle lighter, a communicator that is nothing more than a translucent plastic stick, a tracking device that looks like a small pill box with red and white flashing lights, and weird wrap around glasses that he uses to see his rivals in their real form (shades of They Live!) Again, it doesn’t get any more basic than that, and probably cost Spelling all of $20 to outfit the whole cast.

Screenshot - Lloyd Bridges wearing alien-detector glasses in The Love War (TV movie, 1970)
The clerk at Sunglass Hut assured Kyle that this was the latest style.

The biggest effect is quickly trotted out. Bridges somehow manages to blast the enemy operative without attracting any attention, and then attaches a small detonator to the body, which within seconds causes it to glow green, then disintegrate in a ball of orange fire.

But that’s only the preliminaries. For some obscure reason, the final battle is to take place in a small California town south of Fresno (!). Bridges must get there pronto, but has missed the only train of the day, so he takes the bus… (Okay, he travels light years to fight in a battle for the earth, and he has to take the bus to get to his appointment? Really?) Enter Angie Dickinson/Sandy, who provides the love interest in The Love War. She hops on the bus enroute to Fresno, plops down in the seat next to Bridges, and (apologies in advance) chats him up like a call girl at an aluminum siding salesmen's convention.

Not used to interacting with earth women, Bridges (who introduces himself as Kyle) is very awkward at first, but then quickly warms up to the beautiful woman who has such an avid interest in him. Subsequent developments require an entire suspension bridge of disbelief on the part of the viewer.

Bridges allows Sandy to follow him to an old hotel at his destination, where he sedates her and reveals his true form and mission as she struggles to stay awake. Apparently the stakes are ultra-high: If the Argons win, they will invite humanity to join their interplanetary federation; if the other side wins, they will eliminate human beings and take over the planet. Enamored with Sandy to the point of imbecility, Bridges takes her with him to the final battle over the objections of his Argon teammate (Daniel J. Travanti of Hill Street Blues fame).

Screenshot - Angie Dickinson and Lloyd Bridges in The Love War (TV movie, 1970)
Kyle takes a break with Sandy before trying to save humanity from complete annihilation.

The Love War goes into action movie mode with shoot-outs, car chases and even a Wild West-style showdown in a ghost town. Along the way, Sandy remains an enigma -- will she be a help or hindrance in the battle for the earth? (Also, if Kyle somehow wins, will he be called to account for being a love-struck idiot who needlessly endangered the supremely important mission?)

The best thing going for The Love War is that Bridges and Dickinson keep absolutely straight faces throughout, even as they’re throwing off lines like “I haven’t felt this way in 150 years” or “I’ve never felt so alive -- kiss me Kyle!”

I remember as a teenager being intrigued with The Love War when it first aired, and somehow the “magician’s act” of the bodies disappearing in a puff of flame and smoke made a particular impression on me. (And yes, I was old enough to be impressed by Angie as well!) I also recall thinking the idea of pitting small teams of soldiers against each other to decide the fate of a planet, versus fighting a war that would get a lot of people killed was a cool one (especially living at the height of the Vietnam war).

Seeing it 50+ years later, it’s hard not to smirk at the hackneyed premise (even for its time; see below), the bare bones production, the clunky dialog, the logic lapses, and the indifferently staged action scenes. Still, there’s something endearing about these old TV movies that, due to limited budgets, had to be more about ideas and characters than effects, even if they ultimately fell flat.

Screenshot - The showdown scene in The Love War (TV movie, 1970)
The final showdown at the Not-OK Corral.

Lloyd Bridges would go on to appear in a number of notable sci-fi, fantasy and suspense TV movies during the decade, including The Deadly Dream (1971), Haunts of the Very Rich (1972), and The Force of Evil (1977), among others. Angie Dickinson appeared in The Resurrection of Zachary Wheeler (1971), the short-lived supernatural anthology series Circle of Fear (1972), and the Dan Curtis TV movie/pilot The Norliss Tapes (1972), before reaching the zenith of her fame as the star of Police Woman (1974-78).

Where to find it: An okay streaming copy can be found here.

A short, select list of ‘60s & ‘70s sci-fi TV dealing with hand-picked combatants squaring off in battles to the death:

The Outer Limits, “Fun and Games” (1964). For amusement purposes, an all-powerful alien pits two earth people against two creatures from another galaxy in a deathmatch to determine whose planet will be destroyed and whose will be saved.

Screenshot - An alien combatant in "Fun and Games," The Outer Limits (1964)
A deadly boomerang is part of the fun and games in this Outer Limits episode.

Star Trek, “Arena” (1967). The advanced space civilization the Metrons intercede in a clash between the Enterprise and a Gorn ship, dispatching the two captains to a deserted planet to settle their differences in hand-to-claw combat.

Screenshot - Captain Kirk and the Gorn struggle in "Arena," Star Trek, 1967
Kirk and the Gorn captain rehearse for Dancing with the Stars.

The Challenge (TV movie, 1970). To avoid an all-out war over a crashed nuclear-powered satellite, the U.S. and an unnamed Asian country send one commando each to a deserted Pacific island to battle it out to the death. Directed by George McCowan (credited as “Alan Smithee”) who also directed The Love War.


  1. Thanks for pointing me toward a good movie. I'm pretty sure I saw at least some of this in 1970. Dominic Frontiere's score often made me feel like I was watching an Outer Limits episode (in color).

  2. Thanks for catching that Frontiere scored the movie, which is yet another plus in its favor. It does play like an extended Outer Limits episode.

  3. This is a movie I managed to miss, but I'd love to see it. I'm a big fan of Lloyd Bridges and Angie Dickinson, although I never saw a single episode of Police Woman! But I do own the entire Sea Hunt series! Fun fact: I met the guy who played the Gorn at a Star Trek convention in Las Vegas. his name was Bobby Clark and he was one of the coolest guys there.

    1. Hi Mike! I too am a big fan of Bridges and Dickinson. The YouTube copy of The Love War is not the greatest, but it's at least watchable. I've done a few Star Trek conventions, but can't say I've ever run across Bobby Clark. I love the old TV commercial for Star Trek the Video Game in which Shatner and the Gorn mix it up all over again in Shatner's living room. Pure gold.

  4. Thanks for the link! As a fan of scifi and of Star Trek and the Outer Limits in particular, I'm really looking forward to seeing this telefilm!

    1. Thanks for visiting! The '70s was the golden age of made-for-TV movies, and the sci-fi, horror and suspense ones were the most interesting (I'm not biased or anything!) Thanks to loyal fans, many of them can be found on YouTube.

  5. Excellent post, Brian, about a TV movie that has faded into obscurity (hey, it was new to me)! I agree that the fun thing about '70s TV movies was that they were often big on ideas, even if the budgets weren't quite up to the task. I'm impressed that you decided to make this challenge a 5-part series, and I can't wait to see what you come up with next!

    1. Thanks Barry! I love these old made-for-TV movies, especially from the '70s, and it's always a joy when one of them surfaces on YouTube or some other platform. Your challenge was very welcome, and I couldn't help turning it into a bigger deal than it needed to be. :-)

  6. Fun review, brian!
    I am still chuckling how he had to t take a bus to get to the battle after traveling light years! Lol

    I am more familiar with made for TV horror films, so the love war is new to me it sounds both entertaining and painful!

  7. Hi John! The Love War's charm is that it takes itself very seriously. Plus, it's an interesting "time capsule" sort of experience, watching something that cost virtually nothing to make, and compare it to contemporary sci-fi, which is in a whole other universe in terms of costs and resources.

  8. This does sound like one to watch, what a fabulous cast. And always good to see a fun 1970S TV movie. Been trying to track down Hurricane from 1974, have you seen it?

    1. Hi Gill! I've never seen the 1974 Hurricane, but I see that it tried to imitate the blockbuster disaster movies of the day by getting as many name actors as possible. Unfortunately the full movie doesn't appear to be streaming anywhere; looks like the last home video release was in the early 2000s.

  9. I haven't heard of this film but it sounds VERY weird, which no doubt adds to its cult appeal. Some of it would probably set off trigger warnings today -- she follows him to his hotel room, where he then 'sedates' her? It sounds as if Angie's character was meant to be seen as a free spirit, not restrained by conventions, in keeping with the era when the film was made. In terms of the plot, of sending out a small force to fight a major war, thereby protecting the population: I have a vague memory of seeing a TV commercial/PSA (late 60s, early 70s?), in which 2 old men in suits and ties are seen fighting on what looks like a desert landscape, while a narrator says something about how this is how wars should be fought in future--let the leaders/presidents/prime ministers do the fighting and leave the rest of us out of it. No doubt it was an antiwar message due to Vietnam at the time, but it still sounds like a good idea.

    1. I find the idea in that old commercial very satisfying - "okay World Leader, you want to go to war, you fight it yourself!" On the other hand, countries would be tempted to elect characters from the rosters of special forces, wrestling and extreme fighting, who might be suboptimal in peacetime. Oh well, nothing's perfect. ;-)

    2. You're right, they'd probably do that - but that wouldn't be following the rules! Oh, well...