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Souvenirs of Death (1948)
Still Relevant Cautionary Tale About Gun Safety
I first saw this short film in the mid-1960s on WPIX-Channel 11 in New York, and it had a profound effect on me. I was always respectful of guns, to the degree that I had any contact with them (which was not at all), but this movie really woke me up as a kid to the dangers of irresponsible gun ownership. Seeing it again in the twenty-first century, it still packs a wallop, although obviously the issues have changed as gun ownership -- far beyond the ranks of nostalgia-laden veterans -- has exploded in most parts of the United States.
Time Bomb (1953)
Crackerjack Thriller -- Neat and Compact, But With Lots of Moving Part
I first saw this movie on July 2, 2019, and I was riveted to my seat from the opening sequence. Director Ted Tetzlaff, working in the UK with Glenn Ford (whose presence was the raison d'etre for the movie as an MGM British production), never lets up the tension from the opening confrontation between a uniformed police constable (John Horsley) and a seeming vagrant (Victor Maddern) in a railway yard. The script and story, by Kem Bennett, interweave several stories that end up interlocking, and watching it the other morning, I had to wonder if Arthur Hailey didn't see this movie on original release, because the interaction of human elements and suspense seem to point the way very much to books such as Airport (and yes, I know that Hailey had lots of inspirations along the way). Glenn Ford's marital difficulties with unhappy wife Anne Vernon are given just the right amount of play, when one takes into account her role in the subsequent plot, and his low-key acting is perfectly balanced by the presence of Maurice Denham as the coolly efficient (but quietly scared-to-death) police official in charge on the ground. And then there are the wonderful little uniquely British touches, such as Herbert C. Walton's performance as Charlie, a man who likes trains. There is only one plot flaw and a slight structural flaw in the run-up to the double-barreled finale, but I won't go into those here, as they're not that serious and talking about them would spoil the movie. This is one that I heartily wish were available as a mechanically manufactured DVD, rather than a Warner Archives DVD-R, because it rates the better treatment.
A Serious Sixth Season Episode -- With an Acting GIANT in the Cast
When I used to see "The Atomic Captive" as a kid, growing up in the early/middle 1960s, its tone was always a bit more dour and no-nonsense than a lot of the surrounding episodes of Adventures of Superman. The whole story, of an Eastern Bloc expatriate scientist, doomed by his exposure to atomic radiation in the course of his work, was a lot more attention grabbing than stories of lumbering robots and eccentric scientists, telepathic burros etc. And the earnestness of all of the performances here recalls those years before the cynicism about the Cold War (caused by the Vietnam War) overtook any serious broaching of the subject. One outstanding aspect of this episode is the presence of Raikin Ben-Ari (1897-1968) as Dr. Ladislav, the doomed scientist -- Ben-Ari was the co-founder of the Moscow Habima Theatre, a Hebrew-language institution, in the immediate wake of the Russian Revolution, and later brought the play The Dybbuk to he United States -- Ben-Ari remained in the US, and became a noted drama teacher on the both coasts, eventually gravitating toward California, where his students included Marlon Brando and Lucille Ball, among other notables. He was far better known in theater than film circles, and his screen appearances were very infrequent.
The Town (1944)
An America -- and Elements of American Character -- That May Be Lost To Us
Having just watched The Town in a movie theater -- which was how it was meant to be seen -- I have to say that it is an overpowering experience in 2019, capturing the essence of the best sides of the American character as it was understood up thru the 1940s. The elements of freedom and tolerance, and acceptance that seem to come so easy to the individuals being shown and profiled seem part of a long-departed reality, and may make this film feel even more idealized than it was intended to be 75 years ago. Adding to the soothing nature of the picture is the music, uncredited but almost certainly derived from Max Steiner's score for The Adventures of Mark Twain, with numerous instances of a repeat of the "Mark Twain" motif throughout. As handed down to us, this is a haunting artifact of our best impulses as a nation from World War II, and perhaps to an America that is now mostly lost to us.
Riot on Sunset Strip (1967)
Topical Exploitation Movie That's Still a Lot of Fun 50+ Years Later
There may well have been a movie or two built around the emerging youth "counter-culture" before RIOT ON SUNSET STRIP, but none of them seems to have left quite the impression that Arthur Dreifuss's movie did. Between its line-up of musical contributors (The Standells, The Chocolate Watchband . . . .) and exploitation plot featuring Mimsy Farmer and a put-upon-looking Aldo Ray, plus relentless late-night showings on local stations for decades after its theatrical run rendered RIOT ON SUNSET STRIP, along with Richard Rush's PSYCH-OUT (1968), the two most oft-quoted and cited cinematic touchstones of 1960s counter-culture (along with concert documentaries such as MONTEREY POP and WOODSTOCK). As it happens, RIOT ON SUNSET STRIP was a case of art capitalizing on real-life, released just a few months after the actual events referred to in the plot (making this an even faster turn-around off of real-life than Phil Karlson's fact-based THE PHENIX CITY STORY, or Roger Corman's Sputnik-inspired sci-fi thriller WAR OF THE SATELLITES). Stephen Stills' "For What It's Worth," recorded by the Buffalo Springfield, was built around the same events, and one early episode of Dragnet, "The LSD Story," was also set against the backdrop of the Sunset Strip's youth explosion.
Top Secret Affair (1957)
Fitfully Funny At Best, and a Scathing Comment on the Press and Post-War America
I first saw this picture on television around 1970, in the middle of the Vietnam War, and found it confusing to my early teen sensibilities. Here were Kirk Douglas and Susan Hayward playing everything straight, yet it was supposed to be a "comedy," and a romantic comedy at that -- instead the plot lurched back and forth, mostly built around the Hayward character's alternating hate-love-hate-love feelings toward ramrod straight two-star general Kirk Douglas (who was specifically depicted as no desk-jockey, but a highly decorated combat officer, now moving on to a prominent administrative post). There are some strained attempts at humor involving the two leads, but what humor there is comes mostly courtesy of Jim Backus as a put-upon colonel in public relations and Paul Stewart as Hayward's one almost co-equal confidante. And if that were all there were to this movie (which started out as a vehicle for Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall), if would be a mildly amusing feature. But woven into the story is an absolutely savage look at the nature of the post-war press corps -- and publishers who think they can influence presidents and Congress -- and a tacit widespread suspicion of (if not outright hatred for) the military, doubly so from the members of the US Senate who are depicted (principally a fatuous, headline-hunting committee chairman played by Roland Winters). It was all difficult for me to understand in 1970, and having seen it again in 2018, I still can't figure out what the writers and producers had in mind for "entertainment," or if they were onto something about our society, or they were just telling a story with no relationship to reality. And if this is an accurate portrayal of where we were in this country in the second half of the 1950s, then perhaps we almost deserved the rot that would set in during the 1960s.
77 Sunset Strip: 5: Part 4 (1963)
Mystery Threads Pulled Together -- A Little Unevenly
One really wants to give executive producer Jack Webb, associate producer James Lydon, and director/producer William Conrad a lot of credit for their effort with this five-part story arc. Part Four adds flesh-and-blood to a series of clues and directions revealed in Part Three, including some vicious flashbacks set in Italy during the Second World War, and has some good acting vignettes by Telly Savalas and Jacques Bergerac, plus another scene-stealing sequence with Walter Slezak. The only weak point is the appearance, in a straight acting role, by Tony Bennett -- at this writing in July of 2018, Mr. Bennett is a national treasure as a singer and personality, but his performance here is, if anything, even worse than his notoriously bad work in the movie The Oscar, and it throws off the balance of the entire second half of the episode; why, beyond his well-recognized name the makers would have picked him to participate in the episode in this way is as big a mystery as anything in this script. It's not enough to ruin the episode, but it is six minutes of viewing that will add nothing to anyone's life or experience thereof.
The only other major flaw, more evident here than in the preceding episode, is the decision by the producers to ignore the history of the Stuart Bailey character. It was well established in the prior seasons of the series that Stu Bailey had, at some point before becoming a private investigator, worked in some security capacity or other for the United States government, and was employed in that capacity anew on at least one occasion in the series itself. We realize that it creates more dramatic tension if the US Army colonel (Lloyd Nolan) in charge of the government's interest in this case has doubts and questions about Bailey's motives, but longtime viewers would have to wonder way the officer couldn't make a few calls to settle his doubts.
Otherwise, this is still a good entry in a uniquely ambitious dramatic/adventure effort of its time, for American television.
77 Sunset Strip: 5: Part 3 (1963)
A Fine Episode, With One Piece of Even Finer Acting
"5" was an unprecedented five-episode prime-time story chain, and needless to say little would likely be resolved in episode three -- but a lot of links and seeming loose-ends and red-herrings start to get sifted near their proper places, here, as private investigator Stuart Bailey (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.) begins to uncover what's really at stake behind the seemingly simple job he started with. And not only is the mystery suddenly a lot more serious than was usual for this series in prior seasons. but the acting takes a giant leap upward in one scene.
When Bailey looks into the death of Eva Stehlik (Patricia Rainier, seen in flashbacks), he goes to see her father, who has been left to care for her one-year-old child. Joseph Schildkraut, in the third-to-last screen appearance of his career, gives a performance in this scene of such quiet dignity and tragedy that it risks overwhelming the rest of the episode and the story, as relatively well-played as those are. But it's this scene that makes the whole five-episode arc worth watching, even for non-fans of either the series or mysteries in general, just to savor the performance that they're seeing.
The rest is great, although Gene Nelson's portrayal of what seems to be the writer's idea of what a "flamboyant" Greenwich Village eccentric with a penchant for dancing, can get on the viewer's nerves as much as it does on Bailey's. But those five minutes with Schildkraut are golden, and ought to be screened in every acting class.
77 Sunset Strip: 88 Bars (1963)
Who Would Want To Kill This Man?
DeForest Kelley may be far down in the credits, but he's the key guest star here, along with Cloris Leachman and, to a lesser degree, Joanna Barnes, as three members of an immensely wealthy family.
It seems that someone took a well-aimed rifle shot at ne'er-do-well playboy/socialite Phil Wingate (Kelley), the brother of family head Connie Wingate (Leachman), one of the wealthiest women in the world. She hires Stu Bailey to investigate the attempt, but Bailey quickly discovers that getting honest, direct answers from either of them about possible motives or suspects is trickier than it looks; the one person involved who seems sincere, Lisa Cabot (Barnes), is a poor relation who serves as Connie's social secretary and is genuinely attracted to Bailey, whose aloof, off-handed manner she finds refreshing.
While he's wading through the half-truths and disinformation provided by his clients, about possible jealous husbands and a five-figure gambling debt to a Vegas heavy-weight, the private detective discovers that there's more than a little resentment between Phil and Connie's intended husband, lounge pianist Vic Connors (Bobby Troup), who may be after her money. And then Bailey is attacked by a would-be burglar in his office, who promptly takes a death-dive over a railing, so now it's a potential homicide case, with the cops looking for someone to hang the rap on. The case gets stickier from there, with more murder attempts and enough personal complications to make Bailey want to throw up his hand in frustration. Eventually, however, he works out what's going on and who's behind it by sticking to that old investigator's adage: Follow the money.
Kelley is excellent in one of his better pre-STAR TREK roles, as a seeming upper-class twit, completely cavalier about the attempt on his life, and Leachman is outstanding as the reluctant matriarch of a family with too much time and money on its collective hands, while Barnes turns in the best work of all of them, as the poor-relation hanger-on who is a kind of libidinous cynic -- she could have done wonders with the role of the nymphomaniac younger sister in The Big Sleep, if she'd been born at the right time. And I haven't even gotten to Lee Van Cleef's second-act appearance, which adds to the violence quotient as a crooked ex-private investigator (who has a special dislike of Bailey). It may be 77 Sunset Strip, but the story is something right out of Philip Marlowe.
77 Sunset Strip: Flight 307 (1963)
An Episode That Echoes The Books of Arthur Hailey
I'm guessing that five seasons in, the makers of 77 Sunset Strip were hard-put to find new approaches to episodes that would hold viewers' interest -- they'd done well over 150 episodes, a few of them very off-beat and even daring (i.e. "The Silent Caper"), and so they were open to anything that seemed different at that late date (the 6th season being the most "different" approach of all). "Flight 307" plays more like an Arthur Hailey book (specifically Hotel and Airport, which hadn't even been written yet), with lots of interlocking plot elements and only one character (Bill Williams' airport manager) whose role touches on most of those elements. Series principal character Stu Bailey plays a key (if slightly subdued) role in the progression and resolution of the plot, whose various strings get drawn together in the last 15 minutes, and the whole thing seems a bit rushed (there's enough exposition and character development here for a 90 minute movie), but it is entertaining and it is fascinating to see how the various plot strands do get woven into a coherent whole by the end.
Hogan's Heroes: Heil Klink (1967)
A Wonderfully Absurd, Goofy Plot -- And a Comedic Scream, And a New Recurring Character Makes His Bow
There is so much going on in this episode, that it's almost impossible to take it all in without missing some key elements, both on the screen and in the context of the series. For starters, there's the dual role for John Banner, as Schultz and the high-ranking German defector -- and in the latter role, Banner excels in portraying ambiguity; he's a rat to his compatriots in Berlin, but he's also a coward who isn't sure if doing the right thing by defecting to the Allies is what's best for him, in terms of personal survival, and doesn't mind letting the people who would enable this course of action know it. And he's a completely transactional character, without a lot of moral fiber; he's only thinking about whatever is in front of him frightening him most at that moment. That covers the dramatic side of the episode.
And then you've got Hogan's plot to get the defector out, by first getting him into Stalag 13, disguised as . . . Adolf Hitler. And the layers of absurdity grow on from there, as Hogan first convinces Klink that this is, indeed, the Fuhrer, and then, with Carter's mimicking skills impersonating the latter's voice, and some conveniently awkward security measures, they pull that off. And then out of the blue arrives Major Hochstetter of the Gestapo, in pursuit of the defector, and he immediately gets tangled up in Hogan's subterfuge, aided and abetted by an unknowing Klink. Howard Caine, who had previously portrayed other hard-nosed German officers, finally found his niche as the excitable, anger-soaked Hochstetter and would return time and time again from here to heighten the comedy quotient for the remainder of the series' run.
And then, when the ridiculousness of the plot has already scaled Everest-like heights, comes the kicker -- the notion the Hitler is to name a successor, and that successor is . . . Klink. Apart from the absurdity of it -- I laughed typing it -- the notion is a wonderfully savage comment on the banality of the Nazi regime, that the failed art-student and paper-hanger, whose military career consisted mostly of being a messenger and a low-level spy, would find his most trusted ally in the guise of the obsequious, toadying third-rate bookkeeper-turned-officer Wilhelm Klink! The writers outdid themselves, and the cast, from Crane, Klemperer, Banner, and Caine on down, ran with it, for all it was worth. A prime episode!
Ride Beyond Vengeance (1966)
A Violent Western With Some Great Ideas And Lots of Unfulfilled Potential
I finally caught this film in its entirety on the Fox MOVIES!!! channel (or whatever they call it), and it has more than its share of compelling moments. Given the personnel and the people behind the production, one might suspect that this was a project aimed at television, except that A) it is apparently intended to be shown in 1.85-to-1 aspect ratio (irrelevant to TV in 1966) and B) it is so violent that it is difficult to believe that it could have gotten on the air without some serious cuts, and there is no way that the makers wouldn't have known this in 1966. But the director and producers were the same people behind the series BRANDED, starring Chuck Connors, which went out of production at just about the time that this movie was released.
Chuck Connors plays Jonas Trapp, a proud but poor laborer in a small western town who -- as we learn from the backstory unfolded in a string of flashbacks -- married the wealthiest young woman in town (Kathryn Hays). Unable to abide the ease of their life together, or to persuade her to join him in building up a fortune of their own, he lights out for the frontier to become a buffalo hunter, and, as the movie opens (following an introductory section set in 1966), he is returning home after 11 years, carrying over a decade's worth of hard-earned cash. Alas, he has the bad luck to chance on a small encampment, seemingly abandoned, and is accused by three riders of trying to rustle the calf that is found bound nearby. The leader of this trio, Coates (Claude Akins), is drunk and a little crazy to start with, and wants to hang Trapp as a rustler; the banker Durham (Michael Rennie), talks him out of that, despite the egging on off sleazy, fancy-dan hanger-on "Johnnsy" (Bill Bixby). So instead, they put a large branded "T" on his chest and leave him for dead, and one of the trio takes Trapp's money before abandoning him. He doesn't die, however, partly through the intervention of seemingly kindly farmer Hanley (Paul Fix), who chances along to find him.
Realizing what has happened to him, and seething with rage, Trapp goes into town, where all three of his attackers live. His own wife, not knowing who he is after 11 years absence, rejects him violently. But he manages to track down his attackers, one by one, over the next 24 hours, and takes revenge on each of them. But more difficult than vengeance will be any possibility of putting his life back together, not only in the wake of his maiming but also the 11 years dividing him from his wife. And complicating matters further is the fact that she was preparing to marry Durham.
There's a pretty good pacing to this picture, despite having at least one foot in old-style Hollywood story-telling. And the violence, when it comes, is rather startling to see, given the vintage of this picture (could it have been intended for overseas distribution?). And director Andre Fennady has a good handle on action and narrative, so that not a huge amount of time is wasted.
But -- and this is a big caveat -- the movie falls short in many ways. It's all well and good to have startling images and convincingly nasty villains of all types. But this is still a fairly flat western compared either to the Italian-financed oaters that were making their way across the Atlantic (most notably those made by Sergio Leone starring Clint Eastwood, natch). Fennady has no sense of the over-the-top dramatic nuance that made not only Leone's westerns, but also those of Sergio Sollima and other filmmakers of the era, so indelible to the viewer. The action here is just that, action, with no dramatic artistry. And Richard Markowitz, try and he might, never does come up with a sufficiently memorable soundtrack to underscore that action.
This is a good try at something different in the genre -- and kind of remarkable, coming from Goodson-Todman Productions (yes, the game show guys) -- but I'd rather watch A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS or THE BIG GUNDOWN. On a more positive note, it is entertaining to see these actors in something this jarring in its viciousness, and the supporting players populating the screen: Joan Blondell, Gloria Grahame (in too short an appearance), Gary Merrill, Frank Gorshin, and Buddy Baer, along with a youngish Jamie Farr; and, in the framing sequences, James MacArthur and Arthur O'Connell.
An Odd Hitchcock Show, With An Odder Score
I must admit that I haven't seen every installment of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS -- a fact made obvious from the admission that this particular show was new to me in 2016. And I do realize that a lot of movie music was "libraried" and used elsewhere, especially the scores done on the cheap, which was certainly the case with the score to which I'm about to refer. But amid the criticisms of the writing, the structure, and the overall tone of this particular show, did anyone ever notice that "Shopping For Death" makes use of Elmer Bernstein's inimitable music for Phil Tucker's oft-maligned 1953 science fiction film ROBOT MONSTER? It's definitely in the final section of the story, and not just the central "Ro-Man Theme" either. Obviously, Bernstein's publisher or whoever wanted to maximize the money to be made from his efforts, and Universal music director Stanley Wilson decided to take advantage of a suitable (and, most likely, very inexpensive) sting-like body of music to underscore the denouement.
Richard LaSalle score plagiarism -- nonsensical plot
Before anyone praises Richard LaSalle's score for this episode too much, let it be said that the opening segment -- especially over the flight of the "space pod" or whatever it is called here, quotes quite liberally and directly from Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Sinfonia Antartica" (Symphony No. 7), composed in the late 1940s and still very much under copyright, then and now. As to the episode itself, the plot is loonier and loopier than the worst ideas that Irwin Allen permitted to be foisted on VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, with time travel and alien omniscience making most of what's gone on not much more comprehensible to us than it is -- which is not at all -- to the stranded Earth travelers. It's stories and episodes like this that helped bring LOST IN SPACE (which had worse, I agree) to a premature end, and killed this series after only two seasons (well, LAND OF THE GIANTS did have higher production costs, too . . . .)
Behind Locked Doors (1948)
Re-Used In a Peter Gunn episode . . . .
For anyone who cares . . . . the basic plot here, and especially the denouement of this movie, involving the wrestler-turned-actor Tor Johnson, was repeated in part in the Peter Gunn episode "See No Evil," complete with Johnson's reprise of essentially the same part, in the same setting, and practically the same set-up. There's no doubt that writer/creator Blake Edwards had seen this picture at some point, and the most compelling part obviously stuck in his mind. Both are extremely violent sequences in which Johnson is absolutely riveting and terrifying -- as well as tragic -- in his screen presence, and neither would work as well with any other actor in the role; no wonder Ed Wood was inspired to add him to his stock company.
Playhouse 90: Forbidden Area (1956)
Beautifully done Cold War drama
I've seen this production, and it was outstanding, as much for what it doesn't show as what it does -- Tab Hunter is chilling in the role of the spy/saboteur, and Charlton Heston is intensity personified as the spark-plug of the cast and cast-of-characters, all of whom are first- rate. And there's an off-screen moment that still haunts me, which I'll say no more about. The drama itself stems from a time when there was wide-spread fear on the right and center-right that we were too soft in dealing with and containing the Communist threat, and one reason that I believe more people don't know about this early John Frankenheimer- directed effort is that its underlying politics were out of fashion in the 1960s and beyond. Oh, and that basic plot . . . it was later re- used for an excellent episode of the series 12 O'Clock High entitled "R/X For a Sick Bird."
The Saint: The Organisation Man (1968)
For the James Bond Fan -- A Fleming-style Adventure
The Saint may not have been budgeted like Eon Productions' James Bond movies, but toward the later part of the series it seemed like Roger Moore's suave adventurer/hero was immersed in the kind of stories that Ian Fleming could have written as novels or short stories. "The Organisation Man" is one of the best of them, a crackerjack thriller of a story in which Simon Templar infiltrates a private army being organized for some nefarious purpose by a man far less scrupulous than the "notorious" Templar. Without giving away too much, there's vital secret information involved, a very important compromised spy, and lots of characters acting out various levels of paranoia and desperation concerning their respective careers and goals. A James Bond movie (or story) would have had more violence and sex, but there are some interesting sparks, of the cold, admiring kind, visible here in the latter department between Roger Moore and female lead Caroline Mortimer.
Key Witness (1960)
MGM Takes A Walk On the Wild Side, Circa 1960
KEY WITNESS, based on Frank Kane's novel of the same name, is sort of the successor to MGM's 1955 BLACKBOARD JUNGLE, but with more acting flourishes (mostly by the supporting cast) and realistic settings. By 1960, delinquency and gang violence were recognized as an unpleasant reality outside of "old" urban centers such as New York -- but also not always (or often) involving such well-scrubbed suburbanites as those depicted in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. Though its script stumbles in some notable places (a few involving basic logic -- except that this was a new world for many of the people who would have been watching in 1960), KEY WITNESS is a good depiction of the law abiding running up against the sociopathic lawless, with horrendous consequences for all concerned. The movie also plays, in somewhat naive fashion, on a racial angle in its plot and characterizations -- this is an odd touch, considering that the entire gang in Kane's book, if memory serves, was African-American. (Additionally, the book is more violent and also a lot more raunchy in terms of the Ruby character, who alludes to the idea of explaining her assault on the witness's wife because of a (rejected) lesbian overture in a courthouse ladies' room). The movie ends a little too squeaky clean and optimistically, not that differently from THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE, but is more harrowing along the way. Along with releases such as THE SUBTERRANEANS, which was done around the same time, it was all a really interesting venture by MGM into territory far from its roots in high art and Americana, and an admission that the 1940s were long-gone. And anyone who likes the movie should check out the novel.
Not So Shameless . . . .
WARNING: THERE IS A SPOILER AT THE VERY END OF THIS ARTICLE The earlier criticism of this episode as a "shameless" rip of the original feature film is a bit unfair on a couple of levels. For starters, LAND OF THE GIANTS was hardly taking up Irwin Allen's attention as yet, as this is an early 1966 episode of VOYAGE, obviously shot in 1965 . . . . For another matter, the series had yet to go completely nuts with its plots (we hadn't yet seen the plethora of aliens, and not too many monsters from the deep, either, and the werewolf episode(s?) had yet to air.
As to it being a blatant remake of the movie, Irwin Allen's stock-in-trade since the end of the 1950s had been, essentially, remaking movies (or, at least, doing his own "takes" on the plots of various movies) of all kinds, whether it was DeMille's THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH transmuted into THE BIG CIRCUS, or Mike Todd's AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS spawning FIVE WEEKS IN A BALLOON. Now given that history, how (and why?) would, or could he not remake his own creations, such as they were, with a burgeoning work load of on-going series stretching the talents of his best writers, and the switch to color filming stretching his budgets? Additionally, as a remake/reconsideration of the original film's story, this is not a bad effort, and with a cast that's not quite as threadbare as one might expect -- there was no room (or budget) for the likes of Joan Fontaine, Peter Lorre et al, but Robert H. Harris was an established New York stage actor, as was David J. Stewart, and he made a much more sinister presence than Henry Daniell in the latter's limited appearance in the original film.
As a side note, I should point out that I seem to remember from somewhere that in the original script, this was to have been Chief Sharkey's swansong, as Terry Becker's initial tenure on the show had not worked out as planned.
Beauty and the Bandit (1946)
Issues on the names and dubbing
The TV prints of BEAUTY AND THE BANDIT did, indeed, have all references to the Cisco Kid and related matters (even in the credits) dubbed or blacked out. This was because at the time that these films were made available to TV, Gene Autry's Flying A Productions had the exclusive television rights to the Cisco Kid character. The movies could be shown on the home-screen, but not presented or marketed as being Cisco Kid stories or movies. Something similar happened with the TV show CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT when it went into syndication -- he suddenly became "Jet Jackson," because the original sponsor owned the Captain Midnight name and all rights therein.
Naked City: Burst of Passion (1959)
Explosive opening -- wrenching middle and ending
This episode of NAKED CITY haunted me for almost 50 years, in between the time I first saw it in reruns (around 1965) and my next viewing of it, on ME-TV in 2013. It scared the hell out of me at age 9, and in preparing to see it anew, I wondered if it would hold up.
It's a quiet morning in the neighborhood where detective Jimmy Halloran (James Franciscus) lives -- his wife and daughter say hello to a neighbor, Andrew Eisert (Woodrow Parfrey) who wanders past them, oblivious to both. Eisert suddenly pulls out a pistol, walks into a small neighborhood shop, and faces an older woman behind the counter, who greets him. And he shoots her dead. He leaves the store, walks to another store-front where he confronts a shopkeeper on his way into the store, and shoots him. He walks into another store, gun drawn, and confronts a man behind the counter -- who knows him -- and shoots him. A milkman making a delivery sees what is happening and runs to his truck as he realizes that the man with the gun is focused on him, but Eisert runs down the sidewalk and shoots the milkman dead in the cab of his truck as he tries to turn a corner away from him. Next, he tries to shoot his way into a shop where people are huddled in fear, when the sound of approaching police sirens causes him to break off the attack and flee.
The episode holds up. The brutal violence of that opening sequence seems even more striking today, and what follows is even better. Woodrow Parfrey's performance is amazing, effectively conveying madness without a word of dialogue until 23 or 24 minutes into the half-hour episode. His Andrew Eisert and Franciscus's Jimmy Halloran are on a collision course from the moment that Halloran goes searching for him in a nearly-deserted Coney Island; and in this episode producer Herbert Leonard's mid-episode narration was almost completely unnecessary, and distracting. This was one of the first season episodes that might have been seriously considered for another go-around in the hour-long series that followed -- there was enough depth to the dialogue between Halloran and the priest, and enough unexplored about the Parfrey character's history and possible motivations, just touched upon fragmentarily in his little sliver of dialogue.
Watching it in 2013, there are too many resonances to recent real-life mass-shootings (something almost unknown in the 1950s). But the program also has some points that stretch credibility -- as per NYPD policy in place long before the 1960s, no squad commander would ever assign a detective to find an armed and dangerous suspect (in a case of multiple homicide, no less) by themselves. This episode mostly belongs to Franciscus and Parfrey (John McIntire has relatively little to do as Lt. Muldoon), and the lonely landscape of Coney Island in winter time.
Where We (and Beaver) All Figure Out EXACTLY How "Goofy" Beaver Is . . . .
All through the earlier seasons of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, we saw Jerry Mathers' Beaver Cleaver tricked and goaded into all kinds of silly situations by the challenges, dares, and bragging of his friends (and even, occasionally accidentally, by his own father -- the pedometer episode . . . .). But the show did depict Beaver as maturing or, at least, getting older if not always wiser. Here the writers throw us right back to the much earlier story-line of the episode (from three or four seasons before) with those gross, monster-oriented shirts, and how all of the boys promise to wear them to school, and -- of course -- Beaver is the only one silly enough to actually do it.
Except that here, because of his age, you start to realize that Beaver may just be a little . . . what we used to politely call "slow". Abandoning what little common sense he has, plus the best advice of his brother Wally (Tony Dow), and the orders and advice of his own father (Hugh Beaumont), he dresses in his ordinary school clothes for a really important award ceremony at the school, all because of the bragging of his team's star-player (Kim Charney) -- and, naturally, Beaver is the only one to actually do what the swell-headed "star" says he's going to do (i.e. not wear a suit to the ceremony). And all of a sudden, it all falls into place in terms of the vision of the producer/creators of the show -- Beaver is, indeed, a little "slow," although this is the episode where HE begins to realize this and overcome that handicap.
Naked City: No More Rumbles (1958)
Gritty and among Beaudine's best, and Leonard Bernstein Fans Will Love It
The half-hour format of the series at this point in its history gives us too little time for dramatic development, or learning much about the characters, but director William Beaudine makes up for that shortcoming with non-stop action. David Winters, who was an alumnus of WEST SIDE STORY on Broadway (and later in the movie) gives a charismatic portrayal of a gang member who wants something more out of life than violence and revenge, but has no clue how to get it. The rest of the cast doesn't get to do too much. And talking of WEST SIDE STORY, more generalized fans of Leonard Bernstein's music may want to see this episode to hear the composer's music for ON THE WATERFRONT tracked in through most of the show.
Naked City: Man Without a Skin (1963)
As a morality tale and a comment on human nature this episode is fine, but in terms of credibility, it lost me as soon as Adam Flint failed to carry out a direct order to keep Lt. Parker informed of the movements of the loose-cannon Detective Jerry Costell, who he's supposed to be watching -- and it flew away from reality as soon as Parker proposed going in with Costell to capture the armed and dangerous suspect. Anyone familiar with the NYPD knows that you can't even make sergeant, much less lieutenant, or stay in any position of authority with those ranks, without sticking to procedure, and procedure is what Parker first proposes to do, call ESU and arrange for tear gas and more back-up. When Parker goes in with Costell and no additional back-up, it was over for me. All of that, plus the fact that none of the detectives was going to the funeral in uniform -- a given at a funeral for an officer -- made this somewhat less than stellar, despite some good performances and scenes.
12 O'Clock High: Decoy (1966)
Good Thriller -- Major Flaw
This is a well-constructed thriller, populated by nicely defined characters, all well played. But it has one or two major flaws in its central premise -- the first is that U-Boats were not supposed to primarily engage enemy warships, but were normally assigned to disrupt supply lines (i.e. tankers, supply ships etc.); the second is that no U-Boat commander on any mission would ever have wasted a torpedo (much less two torpedoes) on a fishing boat -- torpedoes were too valuable to use for such targets. They'd have surfaced and used their deck gun. On the basis of pure character study, however, the episode is well-written, and no better or worse than most of the second season episodes of this series, which is better than I remember it from the time in which it was on.