If you’re one of those oddball cinephiles like myself, who enjoys unearthing forgotten network TV movies from a bygone era, you simply cannot pass up the opportunity to see the ordinarily straight-laced Dennis Weaver go from passed-over real estate agent to rabid coke-fiend over the course of 95 minutes.
Cocaine: One Man’s Seduction was an NBC original movie in February 1983, directed by Paul Wendkos, famous for the original Gidget trilogy. As one can assume from the title, it’s a parable on the horrors of cocaine addiction, although it’s not conducted in typical fashion. There’s no phone number flashed before the end credits, nor is it a feature-length adaptation of a “This is Your Brain on Drugs” commercial. It tells the very realistic story of a family-man, whose loosening grip on his family and career leads him to experimenting with the white devil, eventually to the point of crippling addiction.
That family-man is Eddie Gant, played by the consummate professional Dennis Weaver, valiantly taking on a deceptively challenging role despite the constraints. Eddie was once a successful real estate agent; number one for over ten years, he’ll tell ya. But he’s fallen into a slump, struggling to sell houses to the notoriously picky yet cash-strapped family demographic. When his boss (Richard Venture) doesn’t make him a partner as he originally promised, Eddie is incensed.
Enter cocaine, which he’s first offered by his coworker Robin (Pamela Bellwood). Eddie can’t bring himself to do it that time. But with his wife, Barbara (Karen Grassle), at a party with like-minded business types, it’s his coworker/part-time dealer, Bruce (David Ackroyd), who finally gets him to try it. In the blink-of-an-eye, Eddie finds himself less reticent and more outgoing. He uses the highs to be productive, and not only starts acting but also performing like the #1 salesman he once was. What Eddie doesn’t know is his future is staring back at himself in the form of his dentist friend Mort (Jeffrey Tambor). With a much-younger girlfriend and a toot here and there, Mort feels on top of the world. Until the addiction sets in and he can’t function without the nose candy.
I never enjoy praising a movie for what it doesn’t do, but when it comes to Cocaine: One Man’s Seduction, the real pleasure is its absence of excessive moralizing. It skirts apprehensions of being a feature-length presentation for the eyeroll-inducing Reagan-era “Just Say No” campaign, and instead presents a true-to-life scenario about why someone, especially in Eddie’s position, would even consider snorting in the first place. Caught in the crosshairs of Eddie’s midlife crisis/career frustrations is his son Buddy (James Spader), who is dreading telling his father he wants to take a gap-year between high school and college as opposed to going to his father’s dream-school, Stanford.
While there is the fog of inevitability with this story — Wendkos’ direction doesn’t opt for much experimentation, save for when things get too lucid for Eddie and the perspective shifts to first-person — Cocaine: One Man’s Seduction is a uniformly well-made TV movie. It doesn’t surprise you with its content so much as it narrowly avoids pitfalls, all while its network-format inhibits it from showing the true horrors of the titular drug. But as someone who has ventured down this path of digging up bones in the past, I take a small win wherever I can get it.
NOTE: As of this writing, Cocaine: One Man’s Seduction is now available to watch on YouTube and Pluto TV, both free of charge.
Starring: Dennis Weaver, Karen Grassle, James Spader, Pamela Bellwood, David Ackroyd, Jeffrey Tambor, and Richard Venture. Directed by: Paul Wendkos.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!