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  • This made for TV movie is gruesome to watch, but it is a factual depiction of the escape of killers Gary Tison and Randy Greenawalt in 1978, from the Arizona State Prison, and was aided by Tison's 3 sons. It was filmed on location in Southern Utah in 1983, and because I collect films made in that area, I have collected a video copy of this film as well.

    After collecting this film, I researched and obtained news clippings of the escape and subsequent murders to determine the accuracy of "A Killer In The Family". As a result, I believe the film which was made by a Utah production company, does indeed follow the events with what I believe is relevant and true accuracy.

    The murders of the family, I found very hard to imagine and to view, but it was true unfortunately, with even more gruesome results than were depicted in the film. The final outcome of the ending of the film appears to also follow the true story.
  • bkoganbing16 November 2012
    Robert Mitchum stars in this fine made for TV film, A Killer In The Family as true life serial killer Gary Tison. This one should have been given theatrical release. Mitchum really pushes himself in the acting department playing Tison, a man who made killing a family project.

    I did a bit of checking on Gary Tison and Randy Greenawalt played here by Stuart Margolin and their escape from state prison in Arizona and the subsequent crime spree they indulged in and the facts are pretty accurate in this prison. But an actor of Mitchum's ability and charisma are needed to put over a part where a guy who is in prison persuades his three teen sons to leave the straight life and help him escape from the correctional facility which Mitchum is incarcerated in.

    You can see it in the family picnic atmosphere where Lynn Carlin brings her three boys to visit dear old dad who acts like a concerned father, even proud of his eldest James Spader who is in college and thinking about a career in law. The other two are nothing special except to their parents, the middle child Eric Stoltz is none too bright and Lance Kerwin is one mixed up teen, but nothing if not normal.

    But the two younger ones feel a sense of duty to a father whom they think due to Mitchum's stories is a man wrongly put upon by society. And Spader in the end goes along with the younger ones out of a sense of duty to them as well as his father. But he knows better.

    It's quite a jailbreak they pull off, of course planned by Mitchum and Margolin. Once out in society it doesn't take long for both these guys to reveal the kind of amoral sociopaths they are. And the kids are now trapped in Daddy's web of killing.

    For a made for TV film it's quite graphically violent, but over 30 years later it still is a powerful film with a powerful performance by Mitchum.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I just finished watching this film which is now available on DVD-R from Warner Brothers. It is part of their Warner Archive Collection. I would advise you to watch the film without knowing anything about its background. It is worth it. The movie stands on its own. So don't read any more unless you want some more back-round on it and some opinions!

    It is indeed based upon real events that took place in the summer of 1978 when Gary Tison serving two consecutive life sentences, at the Arizona State Prison, for murder broke out with the help of his three teenage sons. You can read a deeper story about Tison and the sociopathic nature of his control over his sons as well as his inherited lawlessness which is not explained in this TV drama by obtaining the book "Last Rampage: The Escape of Gary Tison" by James W. Clarke (University of Arizona Press). Clarke actually slept near Tison's group one night at a Colorado camp site and not knowing who he was just felt evil present and picked up his family and left. The book also indicts the corruption in the Arizona prison system.

    James Spader plays Donny the eldest of the sons who evidently had a good future studying law (to be used years later on Boston Legal) in college which he threw away to help supervise the breakout. The breakout is a tense almost unbelievable event. And according to news reports it became an embarrassment to the Arizona State Prison system for quite some time. Mitchum almost has a "heart attack" (joking here) when they first change cars. I actually laughed out loud at his reaction. You'll have to see it in context.

    When the five are on the road in a different car speeding away everything seems fine because they are on their way to Mexico. After they have a flat tire in the desert things start to spiral out of control and they boys begin to question who and what their father really is.

    My main complaint about this TV drama is that Mitchum's character was never revealed as being a former murderer. The viewer is led to believe he was in prison for a much lesser crime and was a normal inmate and father, not the sociopath he really was. And it seems the sons never knew this either though this seems to be impossible to believe.

    The epilogue can now be updated to read:

    After 19 years of litigation waiting on death row, Randy Greenawalt was executed: Jan. 23, 1997

    Ricky and Raymond Tison, who were under 20 years old at the time of the shootings, were also sentenced to death. On appeal, their sentences were reduced to life in prison.
  • windhook20 October 2006
    Warning: Spoilers
    I recall seeing this TV Movie and it being one of the first True Crime TV movies that I recall seeing. A very matter of fact presentation of the escape of the convict father (Robert Mitchum), and the tragic measures he took...sometimes, that means leaving no witnesses.

    The shooting at the car, late in the film, was very chilling to the blood! The tragedy of the case is apparent, and affected all involved, including the sons of the escaping convict and innocent bystanders alike. Innocents who are guilty of nothing but finding themselves in the path of the desperate 'outlaw' family. The outcome will not satisfy those who want a happy ending. Resolution was a bleak epitaph in this film, where one must accept the unintended consequences of one's actions.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    A terrific TV movie with Robert Mitchum, and as his sons- James Spader, and Eric Stolz. Based on a true story, this was a very famous case in Utah, as the sons were conned by their Father into breaking them out (this is not really a spoiler) and then paid heavily for it. Fine performances, including a very young Arliss Howard. Lots of great supporting actors as well, including Amanda Wyss, who was in Fast Times at Ridgemont High in a small but memorable role. Stuart Margolin is funny and odd as Mitchums nervous sidekick, creepy and possibly in love with Mitchum! But the show belongs to Mitchum, a towering figure, and his sons played by Spader, Stolz and Lance Kerwin. It explores the power a father can have over his sons, a dangerous power and how it can break a family apart if the children don't listen to their own common sense. A harrowing TV film that is worth finding some night on cable.
  • This wasn't Robert Mitchum's best work. The movie based on a true story is well worth watching if you should see it listed. It was a TV movie and not available on VHS or anything. Both Robert Mitchum and Stuart Margolin (Angel - Rockford Files) give good performances in their roles.
  • Remember when American TV movies were decent? It's been 30 years now since those days, but occasionally they'll show up on DVD or on the TV and you'll remember just how compelling and, well, adult they were back then. Certainly not watered down to avoid upsetting anybody, like the ones since then have been.

    A KILLER IN THE FAMILY is a great little movie, a wonderful thriller with some truly memorable moments. It's based on a true story too, showing how a murderer's three teenage boys help him to escape from prison, before joining him on what becomes a journey of horror. There are some shocking moments in this, all the more surprising because they come totally out of the blue.

    The cast is excellent. Robert Mitchum is still completely menacing as a bad guy, decades after he excelled in the likes of NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, but the actors playing the children are just as good. James Spader is the voice of conscience, Eric Stoltz the go-along, and Lance Kerwin (SALEM'S LOT) the youngster who's completely out of his depth. To say too much about this film would be to spoil it, other than to say it's completely compelling and well worth tracking down.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This is a really great movie, based on a true story. This movie is based on a true story of a two prison escapees and one of the escapees sons, traveling around the SW part of the United States, brutally murdering people from Arizona to Colorado, and traveling through New Mexico and parts of Texas before being killed in the desert of Arizona by Arizona Law Enforcement Officers. I highly recommend watching this movie if a chance arises for you to do so. I believe the last time this was on tv, it was on TBS or TNT tv. If you get a chance to tape it off of television, I suggest you do so, since a VHS or DVD copy is not available at the present time.
  • This comment may contain a few spoilers for people who are not aware of the events on which this movie is based.

    Though it has been a number of years since I've seen this movie, I know it is based on a true story, the Tison family's murderous rampage through the Arizona desert, accompanied by the psychopathic Randy Greenwalt, in the summer of 1978.

    Reminiscent of his portrayal as the heavy in "Cape Fear", Mitchum is at his "worst", so to speak (that's actually a compliment), as the brutal psychopath, Gary Tison. I was troubled, though, at the movie's apparent attempt to exonerate the Tison boys of any real culpability beyond the prison escape. Some observers who have seen the surviving sons after their capture say they hardly conveyed an image of otherwise decent boys who only wanted to save their father from a prison bully, and then live in peace. They were more like willing accomplices to the six murders committed during the rampage, even if they didn't do the actual killings. The climactic scene where the gang attempts to run a roadblock, during which oldest son Donald Tison is seen trying to kill his father, was utterly implausible. Donald Tison was in fact killed during an attempt to run a roadblock, but the rest, come on!

    Watch it to be entertained, and perhaps even informed, but don't take it all at face value. Check other sources if you want facts.
  • rmax30482312 February 2016
    Warning: Spoilers
    Mitchum gives a typical laid-back performance as a loving father and a ruthless murderer. He really cares about passing on his value to his three sons. "Judge not, lest you be judged yourself. That's in the Bible." He's given better performances, as in "Farewell, My Lovely," but at least he's not drunk, as he was in "Anzio." It begins in an effortless manner, with Mitchum and a sidekick, Stuart Margolin, as a couple of inmates in a Western prison, both doing a stretch for murder. They enlist the help of the three teenaged boys, David Spader, Eric Stoltz, and Lance Kerwin, in a non-violent escape from the slams. Now they're all out on the road, five of them, and Spader is the least anxious to continue. But Mitchum commands their respect. His goal is to reach a shack on an abandoned rail spur, steal the hand car, and work their way across the Mexican border.

    Despite the leisurely beginning, this is already beginning to sound weird. Roll a railroad hand car into Mexico? But it does sound like the sort of balmy plan an unstable personality might dream up. This is based on a true story. Usually that doesn't mean much but it requires the director and the screenwriter to stick somewhat closely to historical fact. For example, it couldn't be "based on a true story" if they turned Mitchum into a cross-dresser or something. Since it does stick to facts, the five fugitives run into obstacles not usually encountered in fictional films. They reach the railroad spur all right, but the tracks have been neglected over the years and are unusable.

    With Mitchum striding confidently around, oozing reassurance that everything is hunky-dory, they set out for the house of Margolin's reluctant girl friend but their car breaks down in the desert and they must hijack another passing vehicle. In an very tense and nicely directed scene, Mitchum orders everyone off on a side road to switch cars. But it's unclear what he and Margolin have in mind for the innocent passenger -- a man, his wife and baby, and a young girl. Clearly they pose no danger but Mitchum's intentions are problematic. "Dad's acting weird," remarks one of the kids. Then the four terrified passengers are executed by shotgun, for no particular reason. No gore is shown. None is needed.

    There's a gap in continuity after this incident. We're suddenly at Margolin's girl friend's single-wide trashy mobile home, the sort of cheap place in which its easy to kick down the shabby and ill-fitting doors. It's a lot like mine. Margolis' girl friend is Salome Gens, a convincing actress. She doesn't want any trouble but if she doesn't cooperate, something might happen to her grandchildren. Again, without adumbration, the sheriff's office has determined somehow that the gang is holding up at Gens' house and they surround it, managing to rescue Gens and her kids but finding the place otherwise empty.

    Mitchum does a B Plus job of capturing the psychopath's charm and his moral idiocy. I'm not sure that Mitchum quite KNOWS that he's doing it, but he does do it. Lie convincingly. Appeal to principal though you have none yourself. Never worry about tomorrow. When things go wrong, blame someone else. He's just blown away four people and Gens has informed the police, who set a trap for him. He avoids the trap but is angry that he was betrayed. "You see how rotten some people are? You can't trust anybody anymore." That's a multiple murderer talking about rotten people.

    I'd like to emphasize how efficiently psychopaths can scan you. I interviewed one in a Minnesota clinic who had been charged multiple times for forging a truck driver's license. He was persuasive in his indignation. "The government has no right to take a man's job away from him." There's a shoot out at the end.

    The most interesting features of the film are its presentation of two old-fashioned psychopaths and it's emphasis on family dynamics. The kids love Mitchum, and one of them persists in his filial loyalty even when it becomes clearer that Mitchum sends two of them on errands but always keeps one of his kids close by, the unspoken threat being that he will murder the remaining son if the other two desert him.

    The kids have no acting chops, but Mitchum, Margolis, and Gens carry the film well enough to keep it gripping.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    It is a great true crime movie that shows the escape of Gary Tison . The movie is based on a true event, but doesn't show all necessary information about Gary's Tyson past. The movie doesn't show why he is in prison, what crime did he commit that led him to be imprisoned. The beginning of the movie shows him as a father that is loving and caring about his family, but the end of the movie shows a selfish egoistic father, who takes advantage of his own kids. The movie mainly is focused on the crime committed during the escape and doesn't show details and terrible childhood of the kids who are raised only by their mother because the father is in prison. The movie doesn't show psychological issue that led the kids to help their father in escape. The father is in prison for 15 years and is able to control the kids to help him in escape. What kind of power is he using to control the kids? Why were the kids not able to think for themselves? The movie would be even more interesting if it shows these issues. The viewers would understand the kids' actions. Viewers would be more sympathetic towards the kids. It is obvious that the kids are brain washed not only by father but by their mother too. Both parents are failures in raising their kids. Both parents are responsible for the kid's action, but mainly only the killer father is shown in the movie. I would recommend to watch the movie not only for the crime, but also to show that sometimes parents could be manipulative, so kids should develop their own conscience and be able to see the difference between right and wrong.
  • This thing is certainly no masterpiece but worth a look to see a young James Spader give a truly sympathetic performance. Mitchum is a true legend but here he is just walking through. However, Spader (as always) gives it his all. His character was trying to make something of himself and was just looking out for his brothers. He is disgusted by his father and effortlessly matches him wit for wit, throwing in some verbal zingers - I just wish his character physically outsmarted him as well. I don't want to spoil the ending but have to say his fate was cruel and unfair.

    This was on tv all the time? Really? I never see it. I had to track down a bootleg from a collector - quality is OK but it sure would be nice to have this thing commercially released on video and dvd. It's a must for Spader fans - it's his best early pre-stardom performance.
  • Robert Mitchum does an excellent job of manipulating his three sons into breaking him out of prison. Along with another murderer, Stuart Margolin, they follow their escape plan of sneaking into Mexico, using a hand car, on a long forgotten railway. Unfortunately for the fleeing five criminals, it turns out the tracks were long ago torn up for scrap. What follows is a prolonged desert road trip, with constantly changing cars, and constantly changing destinations. A cold blooded murder that is the consequence of one of these car swaps shows the siblings that Mitchum is nothing more than an escaped killer, and they realize their horrifying predicament. Because the sons are presented as sympathetic characters, despite their felonies, the film generates tremendous tension, and is recommended viewing. - MERK
  • I was afraid to see a sort of tongue in cheek and cool family drama. The directing is not so good after all, on the contrary of the screenplay and acting. But how hell was mysurprise to see a very brutal and startling - for the audience - topic, and with the scee of Mitchum killing the whole family in cold blood. Yes, I would have seen the trailer, I would have never seen this film. But it was released in France.
  • ablondmoment11 April 2019
    I remember when all this went on. We live not to far from the prison when it happened. I remember the manhunt going on. This was a made for tv movie its good should of been a big screen. Has some big name actors in it. Its very much worth a watch.
  • IF this is the movie I have been searching for then I am a happy vegemite (Australian) I watched it years ago and Loved it. I have always remembered Robert Mitchum character saying to his sons "every man for himself" and I really want to watch it again. They never seem to play movies I'd love to rewatch on t.v. or Netflix or Stan but they really should look for the great classics! I could watch this a few times cause I discover new things each time ....
  • juanmuscle19 June 2018
    Warning: Spoilers
    The reason why Robert Mitchum's in Killer in the Family worked so well is Robert's eyes, the shape, the dilation in the pupils set against a face made of stone, in this stolid almost turgid performance , we get stoic reactions against the most horrifying evil doings ever and that is why its so creepy, it stays with the anyone who has experienced it forever for it its the vast contradistinction between Mitchum's undertones as he downplays these incredibly heinous acts that ring only in our darkliest fancies as some raving lunatic runs about half crazed with wild eyes committing them, not someone who looks like your everyday father with indifference in his mien that appears to have come home after a hard day of work in a 9-5 office or farming job it would be the same to watch Mitchum milk a cow all day or kill a bunch of people , his reaction would not change, that is what is so eerie and echoes hauntingly into the offing scarily, verily...
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This is an extremely high-quality made-for-TV movie that's as good as any theatrical film. Research revealed that this story stuck very closely to the facts and was as true-to-life as a movie can get. Robert Mitchum has an undeserved reputation for sometimes being indifferent about a movie after he cashes his paycheck, but I can guarantee that he has in fact given this movie and this part his full attention. His Gary Tison is an extremely scary psychopath who only sees other people as tools to be manipulated for his own benefit. Nobody else trusts him anymore, so he uses his three sons to help him escape prison, and to throw their own lives away in the process. Mitchum is my favorite actor, and this role is as good as anything I've ever seen him do. He's very creepy in a real-life way. I saw this film when it was shown back in 1983, and I've never forgotten it. The entire cast is also top-notch. Stuart Margolin usually supplies comic relief in his roles, but watch for him as Tison's co-conspirator in this one. He and Mitchum perfectly embody prison lifers, and it's not a pretty sight. It's a horrible, tragic story but the acting is unparalleled.
  • Based on true events surrounding a devoted group of brothers who band together to break their dad out of jail; he has convinced the boys he's innocent of murder, but once freed quickly reverts to his wicked ways. After the ever-menacing Robert Mitchum (and partner Stuart Margolin) are loose, they kill an entire family trapped in their car (including a baby!). I was ready to bail right then and there, but the technical aspects of the film are gripping, the acting forceful, and so I stayed through to the end. What a mistake! This is just a vicious little piece of modern pulp, with no point and absolutely no entertainment value whatsoever. I learned nothing about what made these killers tick, or why the brothers were so easily bamboozled. I did keep remembering that family massacred in their car, and it is this ugly image I recall whenever I see "A Killer In The Family" is once again on television.
  • A convicted murderer is serving a sentence in prison, and is visited by his wife and 3 sons in the opening scene. A scene of the family having a picnic on the prison grounds makes an impression of a normal family

    Later, the 3 sons assist the escape of the father, played by Mitchum, from prison. What follows is a wild ride across 3 states in the southwest leaving a trail of murder and death.

    It is an action movie.

    It ignores any serious questions of crime, criminal justice, trial, conviction and imprisonment. Family loyalty is touched briefly, in the premise of the story, but not developed.

    It ends in violent death of the escapee and his accomplice sons.

    If you like mindless action, this is your movie. If not, watch something else, if you have a choice
  • Having made quite a study of Robert Mitchum's filmography, I wanted to rent a few movies he made in the later part of his career. Too often, a fantastic leading actor gets older and finds the only roles available to him or her are five-minute parts playing a grandparent, or character that make fun of themselves or elderly people in general. I find it sad to watch movies, and thankfully, Robert Mitchum's career didn't take that turn. Yes, in his sixties and seventies, he wasn't playing sex symbols anymore, but he still got first billing and leading, meaty roles.

    Now, with that grand introduction, you probably think I'm going to recommend A Killer in the Family, don't you? I'm not. In fact, I'm going to tell you to stay very far away from it. As much as I love Robert Mitchum, and as wonderfully chilling as his performance is, I'm sorry I watched it. He plays a convicted murderer who plans a jailbreak with his three teenage sons, James Spader, Eric Stoltz, and Lance Kerwin. The three boys not only look and act like they came from the same family, but they give wonderfully layered performances. Loyalty, betrayal, confusion, fear, trust, disgust, and denial, are just a few emotions they all deal with, giving the audience very realistic performances. Usually when the entire cast does a good job, I give credit to the director, so hats off to Richard T. Heffron; if you want to see more of his work, rent the epic miniseries North and South!

    This movie is extremely upsetting to watch, even more so because it's based on a true story. Unless you really like eerie, disturbing true crime stories like Alpha Dog, I wouldn't recommend you watch it. Even if you're a Robert Mitchum fan like I am, you can imagine him as a trustworthy, cold killer who uses warmth and loyalty to get what he wants without actually seeing him do it. Just rent The Night of the Hunter again instead. It's not nearly as upsetting, and it didn't really happen.

    Kiddy Warning: Obviously, you have control over your own children. However, due to upsetting scenes involving children, I wouldn't let my kids watch it.
  • positive12 January 2002
    What I saw of this movie was so disgustingly bad that I had to take the time to comment on it. I'd expect this kind of contempt for art and life from a Grade C horror or action flick, but this thing was on regular television and loaded with supposedly intelligent actors such as Eric Stoltz and James Spader. Obviously this was back when they desperately needed a paycheck although I don't know what Mitchum's excuse is. Maybe back then they thought this kind of thing was gritty realism, an unflinching look at crime, or some other such nonsense. The sad thing is that this movie is just a small fraction of unnecessary and despicable violence that is created every day in Hollywood. Why this was replayed on TV recently, I'll never know. If you ever doubt that Hollywood is a bunch of hypocritical hacks, take a look at this the next time it's on.