Aug 302014
 
LOST AND FOUND AT YOU TUBE: SHOESTRING
by Michael Shonk


“Mocking Bird.” An episode of SHOESTRING. BBC/BBC1, UK, 19 October 1980. Cast: Trevor Eve as PI Eddie Shoestring, Michael Medwin as Don Satchley, Doran Goodwin as Erica Bayliss and Liz Crowther as Sonia. Guest Cast: Frederick Jaeger, John J. Carney, Patti Love, David Sibley. Created by Richard Harris and Robert Banks Stewart. Written by William Hood. Theme by George Fenton. Directed by Ben Bolt. Produced by Robert Banks Stewart.

   SHOESTRING is perhaps as fondly remembered overseas as THE ROCKFORD FILES remains here in the States. And it is easy to see why as both are blessed with clever writing, likeable characters and a talented lead actor.

   SHOESTRING is on DVD but has never been released on the American format NTSC region 1 so you will need a multi-format DVD player if you wish to buy the DVD.

   While there are more episodes of the series on YouTube, I have chosen a special program, SHAW TAYLOR’S CRIME FILES where British celebrity Shaw Taylor MBE takes a quick look at the series. A complete episode of SHOESTRING from its second season “Mocking Bird” begins around the 3:19 point.

   SHOESTRING was still popular when Trevor Eve decided to leave due to his fear of being type-casted. Here is an excerpt from a popular British TV series CULT OF… that looked at various cult TV favorites, in this case THE CULT OF SHOESTRING.

   For even more information about SHOESTRING, you can read this page from the BFI site.

 Posted by at 3:04 am
Aug 072014
 
REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


“Undercover.” From the COLUMBO series. ABC/Universal TV, 2 May 1994. Starring Peter Falk as Columbo. Teleplay by Gerry Day. Based on story by Ed McBain. Produced and Directed by Vincent McEveety. Created by Richard Levinson and William Link. Executive Producer: Peter Falk. Producer: Christopher Seiter. Guest Cast: Ed Begley Jr, Burt Young, Harrison Page, Shera Danese, Tyne Daly.

   Sorry for the commercial interruptions on this YouTube video.

   OK, who is this character posing as Columbo? Where is the inverted mystery? The real Columbo, one properly dressed in his car with his dog does not arrive on screen until the final scene. Until then this imposter works in a police station where he shares a desk with his partner, needs his Captain’s approval to take the case, goes undercover, carries a gun and gets knocked out by the bad guy in this average TV mystery.

   And the most unforgiving flaw with this cop show posing as a Columbo episode, was I knew who the killer was while Columbo believed it was another suspect. We expect more from Columbo.

   After a man is murdered by someone searching for a piece of a photograph, the alleged Columbo goes undercover searching for the killer and the photograph that would lead to the location of the missing four million dollars from a botched bank robbery.

   The acting, directing and production values were up to usual Columbo standards. The script by Gerry Day (Wagon Train, Dennis the Menace, Murder She Wrote) had its moments such as when one character described Burt Young’s character as looking like that guy from Rocky. But there was nothing about this episode that made it special enough to abandon the series premise of the inverted mystery or the main character’s methods.

   Columbo does a story by Ed McBain, master of the police procedurals! There are so many things wrong with that sentence.

   The McBain book adapted here was Jigsaw (1970). This and the episode “No Time to Die” (adapted from McBain’s book So Long As You Both Shall Live (1976) and was the only COLUMBO episode without a murder) were the only Columbo episodes not originally written for the series. Both books were from McBain’s 87th Precinct book series.

   This episode is also available on DVD (Mystery Movie Collection: 1994-2003).

SOURCE: The Ultimate Columbo Site.

 Posted by at 10:59 pm
Jul 282014
 

ROGUE. DirecTV, Season One (10 episodes), April-May 2013. Thandie Newton, Marton Csokas, Sarah Jeffery, Joshua Sasse, Kavan Smith, Leah Gibson, Jarod Joseph, Ian Tracey, Ian Hart.

   I don’t have a hookup with DirecTV, so I had to wait for the series to come out on DVD to be able to watch it, that and a span of a couple of weeks to find the time. For me, it started slowly but gradually caught my attention, and I ended up watching the last two episodes in one evening (last night).

   The star of the series is without a doubt Thandie Newton, who plays Grace Travis, a black police officer from the San Jose Police Department who has been working undercover for the Oakland police to get the goods on Jimmy Laszlo (Marton Csokas), a local crime boss controlling the waterfront area. But obsessed with finding out who killed her young son in what was written off as a tragic but accidental drive-by shooting, she finds herself getting deeper and deeper into a complicated plot of greed, revenge, mob killings and more, alienating her own family while getting closer and closer to the man she is supposed to be bringing down.

   It takes all ten episodes for the entire story line to work its way through, and naturally there is plenty of violence to go along with it, some of shockingly graphic. And perhaps equally naturally not everyone in the cast survives to the end, some a lot sooner than viewers might expect, including this one. There is also, given the freedom of not being seen on broadcast TV, quite a few almost as graphic sex scenes.

   The setting, mostly in around the Oakland waterfront (but probably filmed in Canada) and the seedier sections of that particular town, is beautifully filmed, and the plot has enough twists and turns to keep everyone’s minds constantly in high gear.

   The largest downside is the level of the actors’ performances. I found them uneven, to say it mildly, from actor and actor, and even in the case of some of the players, from scene to scene. Some of the dialogue is awkward and clunky, though, and tough to bring off convincingly, so the actors don’t deserve all of the blame.

   Thandie Newton carries the show well, however. The character she plays is both tough and vulnerable, and she is placed in any number of situations in which she can show off how she tries to deal with them, and believe me, she gets into quite a few scrapes and narrow escapes. It would be a strenuous role for anyone, especially the vulnerability Newton’s character has to display, as mentioned above, and I think she nails it. I can’t imagine anyone else playing the part.

   The series deserved a second season, and it got one. It’s playing now but will end its run this week.




 Posted by at 3:26 am
Jul 172014
 

LOST AND FOUND AT YOUTUBE
by Michael Shonk:


PETROCELLI. NBC, 1974-1976. Paramount Television / Miller-Milkis Production. Cast: Barry Newman as Anthony “Tony” Petrocelli, Susan Howard as Maggie Petrocelli, and Albert Salmi as Pete Ritter. Created by Sidney J. Furie and Harold Buchman. Developed for television by E. Jack Neuman. Executive Producers: Thomas L. Miller and Edward K. Milkis. Producer: Leonard Katzman. Executive Story Consultant: Jackson Gillis. Story Editor: Dan Ullman. Music by Lalo Schifrin.

“The Golden Cage.” 11 September 1974. Teleplay by Dan Ullman. Story by Leonard Bercovici. Directed by Joseph Pevney.

Guest Cast: Joseph Campanella, Rosemary Forsyth, Morgan Woodward and William Windom.

   This was the series first episode and aired opposite two other new series, ABC’s Get Christie Love and CBS’s The Manhunter. (See my review of The Manhunter here.)

   The series featured Anthony Petrocelli, a Harvard-educated lawyer and proud Italian, who decides to leave New York for the small community of San Remo, Arizona, to help the powerless and innocent. The first case involved the abused wife of the richest most powerful man in the county.

   Petrocelli would last two seasons.

   One note of warning, shows can come and go fast on YouTube and others remain there for years. This is one you might want to hurry to check out.

 Posted by at 1:29 pm
Jul 152014
 
REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


COUNTERSPY and DAVID HARDING, COUNTERSPY. TV episodes, 1958 and 1959. Bernard L. Schuberg Presentation / Telestar. Executive Producer: Herbert E. Stewart. Based on the radio series Counterspy (1942-1950).

COUNTERSPY. (1958) Written by Jack Anson Fink. Directed by Ralph Francis Murphy. Cast: Don Megowan as David Harding. Guest Cast: Brad Johnson, Gerald Milton and Phyllis Stanley *** A former WWII British Navy frogman puts the fins back on to help Unit C uncover the new advance by the Russians in ship navigation.

   The story is weak with unbelievable characters and plot. No Russian Admiral would treat a top-secret device so carelessly while ignoring the head of security. Slow paced with a writer’s trick needed to supply tension and a lackluster soundtrack add to the episode’s flaws.

   The episode has been posted on YouTube many times including here.

   This is the most commonly seen episode of COUNTERSPY (this is from Alpha Video DVD collection) and may be the only surviving episode left to watch. It is commonly believed to be an unsold pilot, but the episode ends with Don Megowan (THE BEACHCOMER) doing a tease about “next week’s” episode. That seems unlikely for a pilot. Reliable TV spy historian Craig Henderson wrote at his website For Your Eyes Only (*) — a must visit for spy fans — there was a series with Megowan.

   According to “Broadcasting” magazine (April 14, 1958) filming of COUNTERSPY had begun the week of April 7, 1958. The half-hour TV-film series would shoot in Hollywood and in 26 different locations throughout the world. Producer Bernard Schubert had budgeted 39 episodes at more than $35,000 for each TV-Film episode. It would be syndicated through Schubert’s company Telestar.

   From “Broadcasting” (June 16,1958), “Telestar Films, New York, announced last week it is releasing three new half-hour tv (sic) film series for syndication to stations. They are COUNTERSPY, an adventure-suspense series filmed on location through out the world…”

   For the curious the other two were PAROLE and yet to be titled country music show. PAROLE would become a series. TV series YOUR MUSICAL JAMBOREE was probably the country music show mentioned. According to the article, COUNTERSPY was to be released in fall of 1958.

   Bernard L. Schubert was a minor player in the TV-film syndicated market that played a major role in television during the 1950s. Schubert produced such TV series as ADVENTURES OF THE FALCON, AMAZING MR MALONE, MR AND MRS NORTH, TOPPER, CROSSROADS, TV READER’S DIGEST, and WHITE HUNTER.

   Craig Henderson’s website mentions a remake of COUNTERSPY. Thanks to YouTube, I was able to find the pilot remake done by Schubert with Reed Hadley (RACKET SQUAD, PUBLIC DEFENDER) as David Harding.

DAVID HARDING, COUNTERSPY. 1959). Written by Stanley Kapner. Directed by Justin Addiss. Cast: Reed Hadley as David Harding. Guest cast: Christopher Dark, Lilyan Chauvin, Ross Elliott and Vito Scotti. *** A man in a small French village risks everything to help David Harding find two missing American agents.

   An improvement over Mcgowan’s version of COUNTERSPY, this was better produced featuring good use of a (now cliché) soundtrack, with a story full of tension, violence, mystery and even a spy gadget. The opening with Hadley as Harding giving a pledge perfectly fits the period’s reaction to the Cold War and is an improvement over the written scroll of the earlier version.

   In January 26, 1959 issue of “Broadcasting” producer Bernard Schubert announced a new half- hour TV series COUNTERSPY would be released in May.

   Why remake COUNTERSPY less than a year later? Commie-fighting heroes was one of the most popular sub-genres on TV during the fifties. One can understand Schubert’s reluctance to give up on David Harding. COUNTERSPY was not the only remake on his schedule that year.

   In “Broadcasting” (February 2,1959) Schubert’s Telestar announced the filming of the pilots for two possible series, COUNTERSPY and THE NEW ADVENTURES OF MR. AND MRS. NORTH.

   The June 15, 1959 issue of “Broadcasting” reported Telestar had three series about to start filming in Hollywood. They were COUNTERSPY, ALEXANDER THE GREAT, and THE NEW ADVENTURES OF MR. AND MRS. NORTH. For the curious ALEXANDER THE GREAT was to be based on the “Saturday Evening Post” short stories about an earthworm tractor salesman.

   “Broadcasting” (September 7, 1959), reported 39 episodes of DAVID HARDING, COUNTERSPY starring Reed Hadley would be available for national syndication but no date was given.

   September 28, 1959 “Broadcasting” had an odd item about Schubert’s plans to sneak preview episodes from Telestar’s three forthcoming TV-film series. The three series would be DAVID HARDING COUNTERSPY, ALEXANDER THE GREAT, and DAVID HARUM (another attempt by Schubert to adapt a movie turn radio series for TV, Chill Wills was to star as Harum). Plans were to feature as many as six episodes from each series.

   The previews would take place in TV station studios or local movie theatres in six key U.S. regions. The audience would fill out “comment cards” that would influence the series still in production. The first sneaks were planned for late September. Does anyone know if this happened?

   David Harding began as the main character in the radio series COUNTERSPY (1942-50 Blue/ABC, 1950-53 NBC, 1953-57 Mutual) and was created by Phillip H. Lord (SETH PARKER, GANGBUSTERS).

   COUNTERSPY was also adapted for two films, an attempted film series by Columbia Studios. The films were DAVID HARDING COUNTERSPY (1950) and COUNTERSPY MEETS SCOTLAND YARD (1950).

   While I believe the Reed Hadley pilot never went to a full series, I do believe there was a short-lived Megowan series. Are there episodes of the series still out there? This is too common a question for those of us interested in early television.

   There are too many forgotten TV series, especially those syndicated, and too much misinformation in the books and databases devoted to the subject. Thanks to TV-Film collectors we continue to find the shows themselves but despite what we see and learn, common knowledge continues to rule over facts (not unusual in today’s world).

   IMDb does its best, but its episode indexes are near worthless, and the site is riddled with errors such as the Reed Hadley version of COUNTERSPY being listed at IMDb under DAVID HARTMAN, COUNTERSPY (1955) instead of DAVID HARDING, COUNTERSPY (1959). The Hadley bio on IMDb has him playing the character David Harding on DAVID HARTMAN, COUNTERSPY.

   One can only hope someday one of the TV archives such as Museum of Broadcasting, Paley Center and UCLA Film-TV library will index for the Internet (with episodes’ credits, plots and dates if available) the TV shows they are storing. While legally they can’t put the shows on the Internet, they should do an Internet database and end the mysteries, get rid of the accepted misinformation, and fill in the blanks of TV’s past.

   (*) FULL DISCLOSURE: Back in 1973-74 I wrote for two issues of Craig Henderson’s FYEO (FOR YOUR EYES ONLY) fanzine.

 Posted by at 10:22 pm
Jul 132014
 
IT IS PURELY MY OPINION
Reviews by L. J. Roberts


  ANN CLEEVES – Silent Voices. Thomas Dunne/Minotaur Books, hardcover, May 2013. Trade paperback, July 2014. First published in the UK, 2011. Police procedural; Det. Inspector Vera Stanhope #1 [#4 in the UK]. Dramatized for TV as an episode of Vera, UK, ITV, with Brenda Blethyn in the title role [Series 2, Episode 2.]

First Sentence: Vera swam slowly.

   It’s not every day a police inspector finds a dead body sharing a sauna with her in a hotel health club, especially when that body is of a murder victim. Vera and her team work to find a killer in a village filled with people, and their secrets.

   From the very first paragraph, one is caught up in the author’s voice; her dry humor and the character. By the end of the first chapter, one is also caught up in the story.

   There is so much one could say about the characters, particularly Vera. How nice it is to have a female protagonist such as Vera. She’s a mature woman, overweight and unconcerned about her appearance — except, not totally unconcerned. She does care about being fair to her team, knows what motivates each of them, and is a very good leader; even though she drives them hard.

   She’s respected by her colleagues, even when they frustrate her. The relationship she has with Joe, her sergeant, is an interesting one… “Sometimes Vera though he represented her feminine side. He had the empathy, she had the muscle. Well, the bulk.” Even with the suspects, she doesn’t just investigate clues, but motivations; what makes people do what they do, what drives them.

   Cleeves has a very interesting style. Although the story is told in third person, when she focuses on Vera, it switches somewhat to first person as we gain insight on her life and character through an internal monologue and her observations… “These days, people expected senior female officers to walk straight out of Prime Suspect.”

   There is a very strong sense of place and wonderful descriptions. Particularly appealing is the contrast between the town and the desolation of Vera’s home. It’s very much part of her character.

   Although the story is character driven, it certainly doesn’t lack for plot or suspense. We’re given plenty of characters with motives, nice red herrings and plot twists. Vera is currently a television series done by British ITV, and very well done it is. The only way I knew the villain in the book was having seen the episode. Otherwise, it really wasn’t obvious.

Rating: VG Plus.

      The Vera Stanhope series –

The Crow Trap (1999)
Telling Tales (2005)
Hidden Depths (2007)
Silent Voices (2011)
The Glass Room (2012)
Harbour Street (2014)

       Vera [TV series] –

Series 1 Episode 1: Hidden Depths
Series 1 Episode 2: Telling Tales
Series 1 Episode 3: The Crow Trap
Series 1 Episode 4: Little Lazarus

Series 2 Episode 1: The Ghost Position
Series 2 Episode 2: Silent Voices
Series 2 Episode 3: Sandancers
Series 2 Episode 4: A Certain Samaritan

Series 3, Episode 1: Castles in the Air
Series 3, Episode 2: Poster Child
Series 3, Episode 3: Young Gods
Series 3 Episode 4: Prodigal Son

 Posted by at 1:16 am
Jul 022014
 
FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
by Francis M. Nevins


   Anyone who’s read Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer novels — by which I mean the early ones, dating from 1947 to 1952, the ones in which Spillane overturned the whole Hammett-Chandler PI tradition by portraying Hammer as a sadistic psycho — has his own idea who should have played the character on screen.

   There’s a consensus that the actors cast in the part were inadequate except perhaps for Ralph Meeker in director Robert Aldrich’s subversive version of KISS ME, DEADLY (1955), where Hammer is not the Cold War jihadi Spillane imagined but a cheap punk. It may not be coincidence that Meeker bore a certain physical resemblance to Spillane.

   For my money the ideal screen Hammer would need to be a big bruiser, and of the actors from the period who are familiar to me the one I see as most like the character Spillane created was Lawrence Tierney (1919-2002). I challenge anyone to watch Tierney in that fine film noir BORN TO KILL (1947) and tell me he isn’t Hammer to the life. And judging from what I read on the Web, he was also a raging bull in the real world, serving several jail terms for beating people up in bars.

   The years of the early Spillane novels coincided with the dawn years of television, but the medium’s antipathy to sex and strong violence seemed to rule out Hammer as a star of the small screen. Then in the late 1950s the character invaded America’s living rooms in the person of Darren McGavin (1922-2006), who went on to star in several other series including RIVERBOAT, THE OUTSIDER and KOLCHAK, THE NIGHT STALKER.

   According to an interview McGavin gave decades later (Scarlet Street, Fall 1994), “Universal had made a contract with Spillane, and they made three pilots, one with Brian Keith. They couldn’t show them because they were all too violent.”

   The Keith pilot was written and directed by soon-to-be-superstar Blake Edwards (1922-2010). I’m told on the Web that it’s out there, and someday I’d love to see it. Keith as he looked in the Fifties strikes me as an excellent choice for the part, certainly more so than McGavin, who like Ralph Meeker resembled Spillane more than the Mick’s most famous character.

   “I was doing a play in New York,” McGavin recalled, “and they called me to come out and do this series. I read the script…[and] said, ‘This is ridiculous! I mean, you can’t take this shit seriously….[T]his is satire. It’s gotta be satirical.’ [The producers] said, ‘No, no, no—this is really very deadly, straight-on, dead-on serious.’”

   McGavin insisted on playing the part his way, and Universal bigwig Lou Wasserman came down to the set and told him, “You can’t make fun of this material.” McGavin said, “I’m not making fun of it, I’m just treating it in a lighter manner…. We have a contract for me to say the words that are put on the paper. I don’t want anybody telling me how to do it.” What the hell did he think a director was for? Amazingly, McGavin wasn’t fired, and according to him, the episodes “were instantly successful. People thought they were funny.”

   Spillane couldn’t have cared less how the character was portrayed, telling TV Guide “I just took the money and went home.” That magazine’s reviewer declared that HAMMER “could easily be the worst show on TV.” I have yet to find anyone who considered the program a laugh riot but it certainly was successful, running for two seasons of 39 episodes each. All 78 can be accessed on YouTube and are also available on a DVD set.

   If the series wasn’t like the Hammer novels and wasn’t a comic parody of Spillane either, how can we describe it? I suggest we think of it as a sort of visual counterpart of Manhunt, the digest-sized crime magazine that debuted in 1953, at the height of Spillane’s popularity, and printed tons of tales by those hardboiled writers who were clients of the Scott Meredith literary agency. I don’t think it was by chance that later in the decade several of those writers got to crank out Hammer scripts, or have their Manhunt stories adapted for the Hammer series, or both.

   To take the latter situation first, let’s look at Evan Hunter (1926-2005). By the time Hammer made it to the small screen, Hunter was writing mainstream bestsellers under his official name and the 87th Precinct police procedurals as Ed McBain. Earlier in his career he’d been writing tons of short stories for the hardboiled mags.

   It was in Manhunt that readers of the Red Menace era first encountered an edgy alcoholic PI named Matt Cordell. Although originally published as by Evan Hunter, the byline and the protagonist magically changed their names to Curt Cannon when the stories were collected as the paperback original I LIKE ‘EM TOUGH (Gold Medal pb #743, 1958), soon to be accompanied by the novel I’M CANNON—FOR HIRE (Gold Medal pb #814, 1958).

   Hunter’s career had skyrocketed so far into the stratosphere that he wasn’t interested in writing for the Hammer TV series, but three of his six Cordell stories from Manhunt were adapted by others into Hammer scripts. Hunter, needless to add, was a Scott Meredith client. So was Henry Kane (1908-1988), who found one of his Manhunt tales about PI Peter Chambers reconfigured as a Hammer exploit.

   So was Robert Turner (1915-1980), who devoted a chapter of his memoir SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS ARE WRITERS BUT I WOULDN’T WANT MY DAUGHTER TO MARRY ONE! (Sherbourne Press, 1970) to his experiences working on the Hammer series. As Turner tells it, a whole pile of Scott Meredith clients got flown out to La-La Land and tried their hands at writing for the program but only a few succeeded.

   First and by far the most successful was Frank Kane (1912-1968), who was credited with 14 original scripts, 5 more written with a co-author, and 6 Manhunt tales (three of them about his own PI Johnny Liddell) Hammerized either by himself or somebody else. Kane had a habit of using gallows-humor titles for his novels and stories, and both he himself and others tended to use the same type of title for their HAMMER episodes.

   Witness the following lists:

      KANE NOVEL OR STORY

Bare Trap
Gory Hallelujah!
Lead Ache
Morgue-Star Final
Poisons Unknown
Slay Ride
Slay Upon Delivery
Trigger Mortis

      HAMMER SCRIPT BY KANE

Crepe for Suzette
A Detective Tail
A Grave Undertaking
Lead Ache (based on Kane’s short story)
Skinned Deep
Slay Upon Delivery (not based on Kane’s short story)

      HAMMER SCRIPT BY SOMEBODY ELSE

Bride and Doom
The High Cost of Dying
Just Around the Coroner
Merchant of Menace
My Fair Deadly
Stocks and Blondes
Swing Low, Sweet Harriet

   Robert Turner described Kane as “a big, bluff, hearty guy with a sometimes bawdy but always lively sense of humor… He drove [the producers] crazy, because he steadfastly refused to make carbon copies of his scripts.” He “could turn out a first draft in one or two days. He never gave it to [the producers] right away, though. Not after the first time, when they told him it couldn’t possibly be any good if he’d written it that fast. From then on he just threw the thing in a drawer for two or three days and visited around the lot.”

   He “would come to Hollywood for a month, write four or five scripts, and as soon as the last one was finished and okayed wouldn’t even wait for his check, but would head back to his family in New York….He always took the train….”

   Another well-known crime novelist turning out Hammer exploits was Bill S. Ballinger (1912-1980), who under his B. X. Sanborn byline wrote about a dozen scripts for the series. Most of what didn’t come from East Coast hardboilers was the work of four men who over the years turned out a small army of scripts for Revue Productions’ syndicated TV programs: Fenton Earnshaw, Lawrence Kimble, Barry Shipman and, most prolific of all, Steven Thornley (reportedly a byline of prime-time teleplaywright Ken Pettus).

   How about the guys who called the shots? The busiest of the Revue contract directors who worked on HAMMER was Ukraine-born Boris Sagal (1923-1981), who signed 20 of the initial 39 episodes plus 5 from the second season. Sagal soon became one of the top TV directors but his career came to a messy end: while filming the mini-series WORLD WAR III, he walked into the tail rotor blades of a helicopter and was partially decapitated.

   Also noteworthy among the first season’s directors was John English (1903-1969), one of the great action specialists who spent much of his creative life helming B Westerns and cliffhanger serials at the legendary Republic Pictures. English moved into television when the new medium displaced theatrical B features and spent several years at Revue.

   He directed only five segments of HAMMER but “Peace Bond” boasts perhaps the most exciting climax of any of the 78 episodes. McGavin’s mano a mano with an evil lawyer (Edmon Ryan) represents Republic-style action at its no-prop-left-unsmashed finest, every moment perfectly choreographed and complemented by the background music of Republic veteran Raoul Kraushaar.

   English’s best bud at Republic was my own best friend in Hollywood, William Witney (1915-2002), the Spielberg of his generation, a wunderkind who at the start of his career was the youngest director in the business. Between 1937 and 1941 the two co-directed 17 consecutive Republic serials, their visual styles so much alike that they often got into arguments about who had shot what.

   In the late Fifties, after Republic folded, Witney wound up at Revue, directing episodes of many of the same series English was working on, including MIKE HAMMER. During its second season Bill helmed 13 segments, far more than anyone else except Boris Sagal.

   His HAMMER work benefits from innovations like devising L-shaped sets, with the camera positioned at the right angle of the L so he could have it point east and shoot one scene while the technicians were preparing the north arm of the L for the next sequence, then have it swing around, point north and shoot that scene while the crewmen were tearing down the furnishings from Bill’s first shot and setting up what was needed for his third.

   If you watch only one of his 13 HAMMER segments, make it “Wedding Mourning” — the last episode filmed, he told me — in which Hammer for once is portrayed as something very close to the brutal psycho Spillane all unwittingly had created. Mike falls for a woman and is about to get married and change his life when his love is murdered and he runs amok, shooting and beating a swath through New York’s lowlifes. If any of the 78 HAMMER episodes qualifies as telefilm noir, this is it.

   In the cast lists of any Fifties series you’re likely to find a number of men and women who were prominent in movies from earlier decades and others who were to become famous on TV in the Sixties or later. Among those once better known who appeared in HAMMER episodes were Neil Hamilton, Allan “Rocky” Lane, Keye Luke, Alan Mowbray, Tom Neal and Anna May Wong. The first three also enjoyed later TV fame, respectively as BATMAN’s Commissioner Gordon, the voice of the titular horse on MR. ED, and KUNG FU’S Master Po.

   The actors who weren’t all that well known at the time of their HAMMER roles but made their marks later include Herschel Bernardi, Barrie Chase, Michael Connors, Angie Dickinson, Robert Fuller, Lorne Greene, DeForest Kelley, Dorothy Provine and Robert Vaughn. Anyone who can identify all these folks’ claims to fame either is a telefreak of the first water or has the DVD set.

   While cobbling this column together I was presented with a copy of the set and have begun watching the episodes. Some of them I haven’t seen in many years, others — mainly those directed by Bill Witney or Jack English — I taped when the series was broadcast on the Encore Mystery Channel.

   Will I make it through all 78? Dunno. Will I find anything interesting enough for another column? No idea. But if McGavin’s later PI series THE OUTSIDER ever comes out on DVD it might be worth exploring.

 Posted by at 5:50 pm
Jun 152014
 
Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


“A DEATH OF PRINCES.” An episode of Naked City, ABC, 12 October 1960 (Season 2, Episode 1). Paul Burke, Horace McMahon, Nancy Malone, with Eli Wallach, George Maharis, Jan Miner. Teleplay: Stirling Silliphant. Directed by John Brahm.

    “A Death of Princes” is the second season opener of Naked City, the ABC police procedural starring Paul Burke as Detective Adam Flint and Horace McMahon as his crusty but amicable boss, Lt. Mike Parker. Guest starring is Eli Wallach portraying Detective Bane, a cynical rogue cop involved in blackmail, robbery, and murder.

    In this taut, action-packed episode, Wallach’s Brooklyn-accented character is quite similar to the sociopathic hit man, Dancer (portrayed by Wallach in a great film noir role), in Don Siegel’s The Lineup, which I reviewed here.

    The episode begins with church bells and gunfire. It’s Sunday. Adam (Burke) and Bane (Wallach), partners for the time being, are chasing an armed thug through an industrial district and to the top of a building overlooking the river. The criminal doesn’t have much luck. His gun jams and he cowers helplessly on the ground. That’s when Bane plugs him.

    Adam realizes what just happened and is shocked his partner just killed defenseless suspect in cold blood. Bane tells Adam he saw things wrong. But he doesn’t seem to care much anyways. Of the dead man, Bane says: “Look at him, a pile of nowhere. He came, he went, and who cares.” These criminally poetic words let us know from the get-go exactly what type of character Bane is going to be.

    Back in the precinct headquarters, Adam tells Mike he wants out. He no longer wants to work with Bane. Mike originally won’t hear of it, but he gradually changes his mind, allowing Adam to trail Bane to figure out what sort of criminal activity the rogue lawman is up to.

    As it turns out, Bane is blackmailing three people into working for him on a job. His objective is to steal money raised during a charity prizefight. Among the people Bane is blackmailing is the boxer, Tony Bacallas (George Maharis), who turns out to be the only redeemable criminal among the bunch.

    Bane, the most corrupt of the four, hates the fact that he has to rely upon what he perceives as scum, common criminals, to achieve his goals, telling them: “I despise myself because I need you.” It’s so dark, so cynical, and so very noir.

    And as in many noir stories, the criminal ends up down a path that lead to his doom. “A Death of Princes” is no exception. Adam, who was originally shocked by Bane’s capacity for violence, eventually shoots and kills Bane, leaving him dying alone on the carpet. But how can we feel sorry for the guy? As Mike tells Adam: “You don’t need to eat an egg to know it’s bad.”

    Naked City, of course, wasn’t just about characters and plotting. It was also known for its on location setting. This particular episode does not disappoint. There’s a great scene in the Central Park Zoo in which, if you watch carefully, you can get a glimpse of the famous Essex House sign in the background. There are some good subway scenes and a great shot of the old Yankee Stadium.

    And if you like neon, there are a couple of great moments shot at night in which we see Manhattan nightspots lit up. We also learn that sometimes, at night, a car may go crashing through a building entrance, a criminal mastermind may have his plans foiled by a man with a conscience, and a good cop may have to use his gun to get rid of a bad one.

    “A Death of Princes” is a very good episode with solid writing. Best of all, it features a great performance by Wallach, who seems to be the master of using his eyes to convey mood and meaning. Watch his eyes throughout the episode and you’ll see what I mean. (The entire episode can be seen on Hulu online here.)

 Posted by at 8:01 pm
Apr 242014
 
REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


CAIN’S HUNDRED. NBC, 1961-1962. Vanadas Production Inc in association with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Television. Cast: Mark Richman as Nicholas “Nick” Cain. Theme by Jerrald Goldsmith (aka Jerry Goldsmith). Creator and executive producer: Paul Monash. Produced by Charles Russell.

CANI'S HUNDRED

   CAIN’S HUNDRED was a weekly hour-long series on NBC. Mark Richman (later to become known as Peter Mark Richman) played Nick Cain, a former criminal lawyer who had represented the mob until he retired and decided to get married. When “The Organization” hit man missed Nick and killed his fiancee, Nick decided to join the law and go after one hundred of the top mobsters, one bad guy an episode. It is enlightening to see how different this premise was handled in the 1960s compared to today’s THE BLACKLIST. It was a simpler black and white world then.

   The series aired during a time when how television was made was changing. TV continued to settle in Hollywood leaving New York (except for the networks and advertising agencies) behind. The time when advertisers produced the shows was nearly gone and more series were supported by the system we still use, what “Broadcasting” called the “magazine” system, where advertisers buy some time on various series instead of all the time on just one.

   As the networks and studios took over the producing of more programs such as CAIN’S HUNDRED, they and not the advertisers were making the decisions over content and personnel. CAIN’S HUNDRED was also among the growing number of dramas to replace the half-hour format with the longer hour format.

CANI'S HUNDRED

   The April 17, 1961 issue of “Broadcasting” had an article that went into great detail about the pre-production history of CAIN’S HUNDRED. According to Robert Weitman, vice president in charge of programming for MGM, CAIN’S HUNDRED was in pre-production (before filming began) for nearly a year.

   “The idea of retired criminal lawyer who once represented the ‘big crime’ syndicate but now has agreed to help top level government officials stop crime before it happens was developed at MGM-TV and presented to David Levy, NBC-TV’s program vice president, and later to NBC’s president Robert Kintner. They liked it, so we got Paul Monash, who wrote the original two-part UNTOUCHABLES script, to do a first script for us and when he had a rough draft we sent it to NBC and they said go ahead and polish it. When they got the finished script, they said go ahead and shoot it. That was Dec.15. I set March 1 as a deadline and went to work.”

   A director for the pilot was hired, stages were built and casting began. January 19, 1961 the filming of the pilot began. It took eight days to film the pilot. A rough cut was ready for viewing on February 15th. On February 28, MGM executive Weitman left Los Angeles and headed to NBC in New York.

   NBC liked the pilot and scheduled the crime drama series to air in the fall on Tuesday at 10pm. Producer Charles Russell was hired and with Paul Monash began to hire the staff of writers and directors. At this point filming was to begin May 7th. However, production did not begin until June 5th (according to “Broadcasting” June 12, 1961 issue).

   The series usually aired opposite ABC’s ALCOA PRESENTS and CBS’s hit GARRY MOORE SHOW. Ratings were not good, and CAIN’S HUNDRED was rumored to be facing early cancellation but surprised many by surviving through the entire season.

CANI'S HUNDRED

   According to “Broadcasting” (December 18, 1961), thirteen episodes of CAIN’S HUNDRED was the original order, than an additional seven episode were added, and finally another ten, making a total of thirty episodes.

   Beyond being opposite of the hit series THE GARRY MOORE SHOW, the series faced an additional ratings challenge with clearances. According to “Broadcasting” (February 5, 1962) CAIN’S HUNDRED aired in its NBC time slot (Tuesday, 10pm) on 126 stations while 25 stations delayed it and aired it in another time period.

   I have seen two episodes of CAIN’S HUNDRED, “Blues For the Junkman” and “The Plush Jungle.”

   “Blues For A Junkman – Arthur Troy” (February 20.1962). Written by Mel Goldberg. Directed by Robert Gist. GUEST CAST: Dorothy Dandridge, James Coburn, and Ivan Dixon. *** Nick tries to help old friend jazz singer Norma Sherman who is just out of prison for drug use. Norma finds her husband had left her for another woman. Nick and nightclub owner Arthur Troy try to help get her a license to perform in nightclubs, but problems arise. “The Organization” forces drug-hating Arthur to handle a drug shipment gone wrong. Nick is working this week with a Lieutenant in narcotics who wants Nick to use Norma to find the drug shipment.

   This was a quality production for the era. The music numbers by Dandridge highlight the episode but never got in the way of the story. The characters were as complex as their problems and no easy answers were offered except for the flawed predictable ending.

   The other episode I have seen, “The Plush Jungle” is available at the moment on YouTube.

   “The Plush Jungle – Benjamin Riker” (January 2, 1962). Written by Franklin Barton. Directed by Alvin Ganzer. GUEST CAST: Robert Culp, Larry Gates, and John Larch. *** One of the top men in “The Organization,” Benjamin Riker decides to take over a major corporation traded on the stock exchange. First, Riker uses usual organized crime strong-arm methods to intimate the company’s suppliers to drop the targeted company then he took advantage of the stock market and dropping stock prices and finally the growing conflict between the company’s President and his ambitious young son.

   Production values behind and in front of the camera were better than the average TV series of the time, but the series was faced with impossible challenges to overcome. CAIN’S HUNDRED, as all television dramas at the time, was dealing with the outcry over TV violence and THE UNTOUCHABLES.

CANI'S HUNDRED

   While “Blues For A Junkman” had a brief shoot-out, “The Plush Jungle” avoided showing any action or violence, instead using dialogue to imply the threat of violence. This left only the emotional conflict between father and son to supply the story’s drama and tension.

   Despite the handicaps, writer Franklin Barton’s script developed the conflict well and used the hour-long format to the drama’s advantage. Director Alvin Ganzer did a fine job capturing the emotional tension without letting the all dialogue story get too dull. But I have never seen any TV series treat its lead with such lack of respect as Cain was in “The Plush Jungle.” Unlike the episode “Blues For a Junkman,” Cain is pointless to this story. He can’t understand why everyone refuses to accept just his word that Riker is a bad guy. In one odd scene, one of the characters demands Cain show him proof that Riker was as dangerous as Cain claims, but Cain is unable to do so. After the series hero is told off, Cain exits in defeat, forcing the story to find its hero and protagonist in the guest cast.

   In Archives of American Television, Robert Culp discusses his time on CAIN’S HUNDRED and the script he wrote for the other episode (“The Swinger”) he appeared in on the series. (Follow the link.)

CANI'S HUNDRED

   While during the era of the anthology series, it was not uncommon for a strong guest cast to be featured over the weaker regular lead, but Culp understood the dramatic and long-term needs for any series hero to be the primary star, for him to be in most scenes and be the reason the problem is solved.

   Culp’s script for “The Swinger” failed to feature Cain in that way, and despite Culp’s willingness to fix the script, executive producer (“showrunner”) Paul Monash told him not to bother. Culp explained he later learned Monash blamed Richman for the show’s problems. That could explain why the character Cain was virtually emasculated in “The Plush Jungle.”

   CAIN’S HUNDRED ended with thirty episodes completed and was offered in syndication for the fall of 1962.

   The series featured some interesting tie-ins such as the soundtrack album, a paperback, and a comic book series. The soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith (with some music by Morton Stevens) was released and reviewed here.

   The comic book series lasted two issues, was released by Dell Comics and reviewed here. Popular Library released a mass-market paperback tie-in in 1961, written by Evan Lee Heyman (pen name for Joy Ann Blackwood and Evelyne Hayworth). From the cover blurb it appears the book was based on the origin story.

CANI'S HUNDRED

   Peter Mark Richman has continue to have a successful acting career that has lasted over fifty years including supporting roles in LONGSTREET and DYNASTY, numerous guest starring roles in TV, roles in films such as NAKED GUN 2 ½, and voice over work.

   Award winning writer-producer Paul Monash would create JUDD FOR THE DEFENSE, develop PEYTON PLACE, and produce the original film version of CARRIE. The Writers Guild of America gave him its Life Achievement award in 2000.

   The guest cast featured such talent as David Janssen, Leonard Nimoy, Beverly Garland, Jack Klugman, Robert Duvall, Jack Lord, Robert Vaughan, and Charles Bronson.

   Behind the line talent featured writers Daniel Mainwaring, Jim Thompson, David Karp and E. Jack Neuman. Directors included Robert Altman, Sydney Pollack, Irvin Kershner, Buzz Kulik and Boris Segal.

   The series was a respectable attempt at doing a quality crime drama such as THE UNTOUCHABLES, but failed due to too many challenges to overcome, from the anti-violence groups to THE GARRY MOORE SHOW to the relationship between star and showrunner.

 Posted by at 6:12 pm
Apr 162012
 
Reviewed by Michael Shonk


CITY OF ANGELS. NBC / Universal, 1976. Roy Huggins Public Art Production. Cast: Wayne Rogers as Jake Axminster, Elaine Joyce as Marsha Finch, Philip Sterling as Michael Brimm, Clifton James as Lt. Quint. Created by Stephen Cannell and Roy Huggins. Executive Producer: Jo Swerling Jr.

CITY OF ANGELS Wayne Rogers

    From the opening theme to the star and the writing, City of Angels tried to give us a believable 30’s hardboiled PI and occasionally succeeded, as in “The November Plan,” but more often failed.

    For example, listen to Oscar winner Nelson Riddle’s theme here.

    A nice theme but it fails to establish the 1930’s setting or mood. The soundtrack made heavy use of the Universal sound library, so far too often we heard generic background music that also failed to fit the time period. Though in a couple of episodes such as “Say Goodbye to Yesterday” the background music was a positive asset to the story.

CITY OF ANGELS Wayne Rogers

    The writers tried to take advantage of the volatile period of American history that was the 1930s. To establish setting the series often name-dropped (Harry Cohn of Superior Pictures aka Columbia Pictures) and used the politics of the period as the backdrop for the drama. But in the end the episodes were typical TV mysteries, rushed from lack of production time with clunky dialog, plot holes and often lacking in logic.

    Much like Philip Marlowe, Jake spent much of his time dealing with the problems of the rich. Jake began as a mercenary Sam Spade wannabe who enjoyed the thrill of fighting the system, then during the series changed into a hard luck James Rockford type.

    Jake had only two friends in the world. Marsha, who he let use his outer office rent-free for her switchboard service used by prostitutes, and Mike, his attorney with an office across the hall. He either was beat up by or bribed his police contact Lt. Quint.

CITY OF ANGELS Wayne Rogers

    To be a hardboiled PI, a character that is often unlikable, you need an actor with certain type of appeal. Actors such as Bogart, Mitchum, Garner and Janssen could make you like the character no matter how the character behaved. Wayne Rogers never pulled it off despite coming close in “The November Plan.”

    The costumes, transportation, and locations were generally a plus, but by the end of the series it seemed as if they were running out of 1930s-like exterior locations.

    From the beginning, Roy Huggins was credited as producer with Philip DeGuere, Jr. as executive story consultant until the episode “A Sudden Silence.” The credits for the rest of the series episodes changed to Philip DeGuere, Jr. and William F. Phillips as the producers instead of Huggins. Perhaps it is time to consider the influence of the late Philip DeGuere, Jr. (Simon and Simon) on the series.

    City of Angels aired Tuesday at 10pm opposite ABC’s Marcus Welby (or Family in March/April) and CBS’s Switch. The ratings began well but faded fast.

        EPISODE GUIDE:

“The November Plan.” Part 1 (2/3/76), Part Two (2/10/76), Part Three (2/17/76). Teleplay by Stephen J. Cannell. Story by Roy Huggins and Stephen J. Cannell. Directed by Don Medford. Guest Cast: Diane Ladd, Meredith Baxter Birney, Laurence Luckinbill, Lloyd Nolan, Dorothy Malone, Jack Kruschen, Steve Kanaly * Jake’s client has been framed for murder of her boyfriend after they witness a fight at a formal party. Jake discovers the disappearance of a Pulitzer prized reporter ties into the murder and involves some of the most powerful corrupt people in Los Angeles. Very loosely based on a real event.

“The Parting Shot.” (2/24/76). Teleplay by Philip DeGuere Jr. Story by John Thomas James (Roy Huggins). Directed by Sigmund Neufeld Jr. Guest Cast: Donna Mills, Corinne Michaels, Stefan Gerasch * Rich man hires Jake to discover if his wife is cheating on him. Before Jake finds out anything his client is shot and in a coma. The man assumed to be the wife’s lover is arrested. The daughter who hates her step-mom likes Jake. The solution to the shooting reminds one of John Dickson Carr.

“A Lonely Way To Die.” (3/2/76). Written and Directed by Douglas Heyes. Guest Cast: Belinda J. Montgomery, William Smith, Lynn Carlin * A predictable mystery features a popular ex-governor who wants to be President but has a secret. His rebellious daughter blames him for her mother’s mental problems. Jake gets involved when a girl he was trying to help turns up dead. The ending wants to be cynical but instead was a lame cop out.

“The House on Orange Grove Avenue.” (3/16/76). Teleplay by Stephen & Elinor Karpf. Story by John Thomas James. Directed by Robert Douglas. Guest Cast: Susan Howard, Susan Sullivan, Lara Parker * Jake is hired by two sisters publicly believed to have murdered one’s husband and his mistress seven years ago. The episode drowns in false cynicism with a weak pointless ending.

“Palm Springs Answer.” (3/23/76). Teleplay by Merwin Gerard. Story by John Thomas James. Directed by Allen Reisner. Guest Cast: Signe Hasso, Terry Kiser, George Gaynes * Sweet naïve mother hires Jake to find her good girl daughter, who is really a dancer with information about a murder with mob connections.

“The Losers.” (4/6/76). Teleplay by Gloryette Clark & John Thomas James. Story by John Thomas James. Directed by Barry Shear. Guest Cast: Marcia Strassman, Brett Halsey, Broderick Crawford * Loyal remake of Roy Huggins’ script for the TV Movie The Outsider minus the LSD subplot and visits to the L.A. nightclub scene (reviewed here on this blog). Jake is hired by a rich businessman to follow a girl he claims may be stealing from him.

“A Sudden Silence.” (4/13/76). Teleplay by Douglas Heyes. Story by Roy Huggins (not John Thomas James). Directed by Douglas Heyes. Guest Cast: Darleen Carr, Joel Fabian, Edward Winter * Young headstrong daughter of a rich conservative is involved with the anti-fascist movement growing on her college campus. She hires Jake to discover who is following her. Her boyfriend is murdered and the politics of the 30s plays a major role in the plot.

“The Castle of Dreams.” (4/20/76). Teleplay by Stephen J. Cannell. Story By Stephen J. Cannell and Philip DeGuere Jr. Directed by Robert Douglas. Guest Cast: James Luisi Veronica Hamel, Jack Kruschen * Marsha witnesses the kidnapping of one of her call girls who had just witnessed a murder. Jake goes nuts when Marsha is arrested and Quint hides her from lawyer Mike Brimm and Jake. This episode was more interested in establishing the relationship between the regulars than the mystery.

“Say Goodbye To Yesterday.”(5/4/76). Teleplay by Gloryette Clark. Story by John Thomas James. Directed by Jerry London. Guest Cast: G.D. Spradlin, Cassie Yates, Jack Colvin * A rich oil tycoon and his wife are in love. When she disappears, Jake is hired to find her. The trail leads to a Chinese Madame in Portland, a nightclub singer, a nun, and a murder Jake will solve for Quint.

“The Bloodshot Eye.” (5/11/76). Written by Philip DeGuere, Jr. Directed by Hy Averback. Guest Cast: Geoffrey Lewis, Charles Tyner, Robert Donner * Insurance agency hires Jake to confirm the reports of a death of a man in New Mexico. Jake ends up caught up in the corruption of a small New Mexico town.

“Match Point.” (5/18/76). Written by Richard Boeth. Directed by Ralph Senensky. Guest Cast: Dana Wynter, Renee Jarrett, Victor Holchak * A man is killed during a tennis tournament where Jake provided security. The political changes in Europe play an important role.

    The series is currently not available on official DVD or download. Source of episodes: Thomas Film Classics

 Posted by at 7:33 pm