REVEAL SHOT

A SOPHISTICATED LOOK AT FILM AND TELEVISION

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And You Don’t Mess Around With Jim: A review of “The Split” (1968)

Reviewed: “The Split” (MGM, 1968)
Warner Archive, $16.95 (as of Dec. 26)

On Christmas night, I decided to watch “The Split” (1968), because nothing says Yuletide like Jim Brown leading a heist of the L.A. Coliseum during a Rams game.

Among other things, “The Split” is famous as the first film to receive an “R” rating from the Motion Picture Association of America, which at that time meant that no one under 16 could see the film if not accompanied by a parent or guardian. There is some mild swearing — “son of a bitch” is used a couple of times — and the movie is among the first to use squibs to depict the impact of a bullet on a human body. There is also brief nudity.

My guess is that the macho sexuality of Jim Brown, who clearly appeals to white women as well as black in the film, was another thing that earned “The Split” its rating. He beats up several white men, too, and that didn’t go unnoticed.

Jim Brown’s role as McClain in “The Split” is one that might easily have been tailored for Steve McQueen, Lee Marvin or, given some of the more serious portrayals he was essaying during this period, James Garner. Of all the black actors in Hollywood, Brown is the only bankable player who could have been credible in the part. 1 At a time when Sidney Poitier was justly celebrated as the first truly transcendent African-American screen presence, only Brown was allowed to be a badass because he had so capably performed on the football field — and seemed to maintain such a tough guy reputation off it — that people believed him in such roles.

As the film begins, appropriately enough with split-screen images of Brown on his way to a Southern California motel, composer Quincy Jones makes his mark. After some ominous brass chords from the full orchestra, Billy Preston begins the soulful title song, telling us that McClain is trying to escape “miles and miles of mass confusion..gotta get away, gotta get away..”

After a brief meeting with Gladys (Julie Harris), who suggests the Coliseum as a possible target and agrees to finance the operation, McClain reunites with his estranged wife Ellie (Diahann Carroll). Ellie is the archetypal action hero’s lover, complaining about the fact that he’s never around, but happy to make love to him when he does show up.

Now satisfied sexually, McClain begins to test the group of criminals who will be his partners in the heist, in one of the film’s most entertaining sequences. He needs a muscle man, so he attacks Bert Clinger (Ernest Borgnine) at his gym, setting up a vicious fight scene. He has to have a wheel man, so he tries to run a limousine driver, Harry Kifka (Jack Klugman) off the road. He devises similar methods to reassure himself about hitman Dave Negli (Donald Sutherland) and burglary expert Marty Gough (Warren Oates).

With a potential haul of $500,000 — split six ways at $85,000 for each participant — just about everyone is happy to join the plot, except Gough, a Southerner who doesn’t want to work with a “smart-ass nigger.” Negli persuades him, however. “The last man I killed for $5,000; for $85,000 I’d kill you 17 times.”

From there, the team moves ahead with the heist itself. I won’t spoil the rest; the title of the film gives some indication of where the plot is headed. Suffice to say that it is very well done, offering, for me at least, one genuine surprise and a pretty effective wrap-up.

It seems to me that Jim Brown was at his best before the actual Blaxploitation era got underway. In the context of a mainstream film, he seemed to stand out more. Production values were very high on movies like “The Dirty Dozen,” “The Split,” “Ice Station Zebra” and “100 Rifles,” in a way that could not be described of “Three the Hard Way” or “Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off.” It’s a shame he couldn’t have continued in his pre-1970 vein for another 10 years.

Among the other actors in “The Split,” Borgnine, Klugman and Oates do sterling work, with Carroll and Harris just a notch below them. Sutherland seems an odd choice to play a hitman; this role needed another one of the reliable character actors of this era, like Robert Drivas. Admittedly, I’m biased toward people who did a lot of television at the time, as Drivas did.

Looking at the contemporary reaction from critics, Roger Ebert’s review reads like a film that deserved more than 2.5 stars out of 4, but he’s on target about the racial overtones2. The New York Times’ Renata Adler, who also comments on “The Split’s” racial intentions, reveals a big spoiler and raves about Sutherland’s performance. Otherwise, she’s right about the acting in the film3.

— David B. Wilkerson

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‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’: still one of the more underrated ‘Peanuts’ specials

My MarketWatch story on “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” written last year.

” ‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’ defines holiday TV”

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

— David B. Wilkerson

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‘Many Loves of Dobie Gillis’ cast was golden, as seen on new DVD box set (Part II)

Shout Factory’s deluxe DVD box set The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis: The Complete Series” (CBS, 1959-1963). The suggested retail price is $118.99, but Amazon has it for $91.99. The 21-disc offering includes bonus episodes from “Love That Bob” and “The Stu Erwin Show.”

Following Shout Factory’s recent release of “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” in a complete-series DVD box set, Reveal Shot presents Part II of an interview with television historians Harry Castleman and Walter Podrazik, authors of “Watching TV: Six Decades of American Television” (expanded 2nd ed., 2011). Castleman is an attorney at Boston law firm Michienzie & Sawin LLC, while Podrazik is the curator of the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago.

Read the first part of the interview here.

Reveal Shot: I wanted to zero in on Dwayne Hickman, briefly, in terms of what he brought to this role. Certainly it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing Dobie Gillis.

Castleman: One of the things I liked about him is that — and again, up to this point, teenagers were usually portrayed as goofy, crazy kids — Dwayne Hickman portrayed Dobie as an intelligent guy. Level-headed, if you will. And I admired that. It gave him some gravitas, in the sense that he made you feel like you would feel in a given situation. You don’t feel like a goofball; you feel like you’re a serious guy who’s trying to make his way.

Podrazik: Everyone likes to find the character that’s an everyman, that’s identifiable. Dwayne Hickman managed to be a very accessible, sensible, believable, sympathetic character. You knew he was never going to win, but he didn’t come across as a mope. He came across as someone who picked himself up, dusted himself off, and would start all over again.

Castleman: And even though he had that burning ambition, to be successful, to be rich, to have the girl, to have the car, it wasn’t over the top. He wasn’t like Thalia Menninger. He was still, at heart, a good guy.

Podrazik: Just the timbre of his voice helped. He was not Walter Denton from “Our Miss Brooks,” with a squeaky voice [imitates Richard Crenna’s high voice as the character] like that. He was someone you’d want to have a conversation with. You mentioned breaking the fourth wall; when he did that, he would be saying, this is what’s on my mind. This is what I’m trying to do, this is my scheme this week to have all my dreams come true. Uh oh, here comes Maynard to puncture my balloon again.

Reveal Shot: Turning to Bob Denver. One of the things I noticed in your reviews of his subsequent roles is that when Denver was in a supporting role, as he is here, it’s fine, but when he had to carry a series, as in “Gilligan’s Island,” he wasn’t as effective. What made him successful in this supporting role?

Castleman: Well, just his great quirkiness. Again, thinking of the time frame, he would’ve appeared far more quirky back then. I always loved how he would literally be allergic to the word “work.” It was really funny, and it certainly went against what would’ve been considered the correct concept of American society. Goodness knows where that specific thing came from — it might’ve been Denver or the writers or some collaboration, but it’s a great thing. He’s a wonderful sidekick, and again I think the analogy to Art Carney/Ed Norton and “The Honeymooners” is apt, and you can say that in effect that Norton is a more interesting character than Ralph Kramden, and Maynard is a more interesting character than Dobie, but could there be an “Ed Norton Show?” I don’t know.

Podrazik: … One of my favorite episodes was the “Time Capsule” episode, in which Maynard was really distressed at the state of the world.4 Why bother with a time capsule when everything’s going to be blown up? Maynard could credibly say what might have been niggling in the back of the minds of more proper folks, like, boy, this really is a scary time. But he would actually say it. And that really worked well in contrast to everyone else.

When Bob Denver turned around and became the lead, in something like “Gilligan’s Island” or some of his other roles — and maybe I’ve softened a little on this as time has gone by — as long as some of the other characters took the lead on a particular story, he was good popping in with his “Gilliganisms,” but if it’s all Gilligan all the time (or if it had been all Maynard, all the time), that could be a bit wearying. And that’s why comic relief characters are such golden opportunities, because you can make so much without having that character carry the whole story.

Reveal Shot: I wanted to talk about Frank Faylen, because years ago, when we discussed “Leave It To Beaver,” you both talked about how, while the kids on the show were pretty realistic, the adults were not. So I wanted to address how good Faylen was here, playing this sarcastic and always exasperated father.

Castleman: I would like to compare him favorably to one of my least favorite characters of the ’50s, which was Chester Riley, at least the William Bendix version. I always hated Bendix’s version, because he seemed like such a bag of hot air.

Frank Faylen played what Chester Riley should have been. He’s a very believable dad, a very believable small business operator, a very believable World War II vet who’s in complete conflict with a new generation that he doesn’t understand and makes no sense to him. He’s exasperated, but he’s able to stay human at the same time.

Podrazik: And the marriage between Herbert and Winnie Gillis (Florida Friebus) is credible. They’re basically running a small business together.  And Faylen was absolutely someone you could see putting in the long hours. There are people who look back at their youth and say, “I walked 27 miles to school.” I believe Herbert really would have. He was the type that would work hard, who had a strong belief in the American ethic — that was the character as written. And Faylen pulled it off so well.

And yes, while you definitely followed the teens on the show, as a viewer you could say, I don’t mind going to the adult subplots here, because they’re really good subplots.

Cover of "Watching TV: Six Decades of Ame...Reveal Shot: What about Sheila James? There was a character (Zelda Gilroy) who could have been really annoying, and yet she seemed to find a way to straddle the line between that and bringing out the more endearing aspects of that character.

Castleman: One of the things I’ve been thinking about her, with all the attention these days on “The Big Bang Theory,” that show has always spotlighted the nerdy guys that we’re familiar with, but it now finally has some nerdy girls, too. They deserve equal time. You’re used to just seeing the gorgeous sexpot, who may be funny, but is going to be gorgeous. But let the other side have a say, too. And I think that’s the case with Sheila James as Zelda.

Zelda Gilroy certainly is a believable type. Yes, certainly it’s bordering on slapstick a little bit, with the mannerisms and so forth, but I always enjoyed her, and found her really interesting to watch.

Podrazik: And, not that they constructed series back then to have these grand story arcs, but you knew that’s who Dobie should be with. Despite all of his illusions, and his pursuit of the most gorgeous girl on campus, it was Zelda that would ground him.5 And also, that was staying within his social class; she was not only who he should be with, but she was also who it was appropriate for him to be with, in the eyes of society. So of course when they did the reunion movie [“Bring Me The Head of Dobie Gillis” (1988)]6, they were married.

Reveal Shot: As far as some of the other supporting actors, I’ll just let you comment on anybody else you like — Tuesday Weld, Stephen Franken, and so on.

Castleman: Well, once you get to that level, you’re talking more about characters that more border on caricature. And that’s okay. I love Stephen Franken. Again, I focused on him far more than Warren Beatty during his brief time there. I thought he was very funny, I loved the way his character made fun of the wealthy — which is certainly a long-standing tradition — but they did it very well. I got a big kick out of it. He and the woman who played his mother, Doris Packer, who was also perfect.

Podrazik: I would underscore that of the rich folks, I very much enjoyed Chatsworth’s mom, because she did have her moments of insight. In one episode, she managed to get the Gillis family into the rich circles, because she wanted to demonstrate [to Chatsworth] that there wasn’t something inherently better about [the Gillises], that if they were exposed to, and had, “oodles and oodles of money,” as Thalia might say, they wouldn’t act all that differently from the way the Osbornes act.7

Reveal Shot: Well, I guess I’ll close with my “what if” question: Given that CBS greenlighted “Dobie Gillis” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” what kind of trajectory do you think their sitcom development would have taken if they hadn’t been sidetracked by the success of the rural shows like “The Beverly Hillbilies,” “Petticoat Junction” and “Green Acres?”

Castleman: Sure — you look back on it now, and you say, geez: “Dobie Gillis.” “Dick Van Dyke.” What a great string here — if two makes a string.

I mean, look — that stuff was cutting edge, and it takes time to percolate. Obviously tapping into that rural stream, although you look back at “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Petticoat Junction” now and kind of shudder and sigh and say, oh my — that kind of thing was far more mainstream, and it certainly did well for CBS’s bottom line for most of the ’60s. So I can’t really fault them on that level.

Podrazik: I started looking at the schedule grids to see what else was on, and you know, “Dobie Gillis” wasn’t entirely alone on the CBS schedule as a non-rural comedy. They had “The Danny Thomas Show” — hardly rural, and depending on how you want to start characterizing them, there’s “My Favorite Martian” (starting in 1963-64) and others…

And I think the difference, if you’re looking at “Dick Van Dyke” and “Dobie Gillis,” since you’re coupling those two, you have to remember that “Dick Van Dyke” came from Carl Reiner basically sitting down and writing the first season (1961-62)8. So this was something that was very rich, in disciplined text, before they had filmed one moment of the show. And again, “Dobie Gillis” comes from someone [Max Shulman] who was a short story writer, who wrote for feature films, so it had a richer literary pedigree than shows that started out — and shamelessly so — as cartoons.

 *******

In its second season, “Dobie Gillis,” squaring off against ABC’s “Wyatt Earp” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” on NBC 9, continued to be a solid Tuesday night performer for CBS, and was an easy choice for renewal as the network made plans for 1961-62. That fall, ABC tried its own comedy in the Tuesday 8:30 p.m. time slot — a cartoon version of “Amos n’ Andy” (from that show’s creators, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll) in the form of a fox and a bear. It flopped, while  “Dobie Gillis” usually finished in a comfortable second place against “Hitchcock.” By March 1962, however, CBS was already reported to be contemplating a revamp that would include moving “Dobie” to Wednesday nights.

For its fourth and final season (1962-63), “Dobie Gillis” was seen on Wednesdays at 8:30, against the last half-hour of “The Virginian” on NBC and ABC’s TV version of the Bing Crosby film “Going My Way,” starring Gene Kelly.10  By this time, “Dobie Gillis” was the only television series being produced by Twentieth Century-Fox, which was still reeling from the millions of dollars that had been swallowed up by its feature film “Cleopatra.”

In February 1963, press reports indicated that the “Dobie” had been marked for cancellation by CBS. Though the ratings had declined to some degree, Chicago Tribune TV critic Larry Wolters also reported in his April 28, 1963 column that a number of half-hour series were axed across all of the networks because “some cost-savings could be effected by replacing them with hour-long entries.” He noted that 12 new shows already slated for 1963-64 were 60 minutes long.11

The show immediately became one of the most prized offerings in syndication, and eventually gained a new legion of fans during a long run as part of Nickelodeon’s Nick At Nite schedule.

— David B. Wilkerson

 

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‘The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis’: DVD set is reminder of sitcom’s special legacy (Part I)

Shout Factory’s deluxe DVD box set The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis: The Complete Series” (CBS, 1959-1963). The suggested retail price is $118.99, but Amazon has it for $91.99. The 21-disc offering includes bonus episodes from “Love That Bob” and “The Stu Erwin Show.”

Following Shout Factory’s recent release of “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” in a complete-series DVD box set, Reveal Shot presents Part I of an interview with television historians Harry Castleman and Walter Podrazik, authors of “Watching TV: Six Decades of American Television” (expanded 2nd ed., 2011). Castleman is an attorney at Boston law firm Michienzie & Sawin LLC, while Podrazik is the curator of the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago.

If you’ve followed this blog (or my work at MarketWatch), you know that Harry and Wally have had a profound influence on the way I view the history of TV. In addition to “Watching TV,” I also find their books “The TV Schedule Book” (1984) and “Harry and Wally’s Favorite TV Shows” (1989) to be invaluable reference resources.

“Dobie Gillis” sprang from the mind of humorist Max Shulman in a series of 1945 short stories. Despite two popular books and a movie based on the character, Shulman told Variety in 1960 that it took him six years to bring the show to television.

“So he fought the TV battle until “Dobie” was finally accepted for network display and became one of last season’s sleepers,” Variety columnist Jack Hellman wrote in the trade magazine’s Aug. 15, 1960 edition. “What made it catch on? Says Shulman, “the point of view, an anti-togetherness approach and the separation of the kids from the parents.” ”

“Dobie Gillis” premiered on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 1959 at 8:30 Eastern time on CBS, opposite the western saga “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp” on ABC and a video version of the long-running radio series “Fibber McGee and Molly” on NBC. By midseason, NBC had given up on “Fibber,” and moved its variety show “Ford Star Time” (which had been getting clobbered by CBS’s “Garry Moore Show at 10)  into the 8:30 slot.12“Dobie Gillis” would battle “Wyatt Earp” for two seasons, never becoming a huge hit in the Nielsens, but was always a solid performer among teenagers and children. Toward the end of its second season, in May 1961, “Dobie’s” TvQ score among teens 12-17 years old was 60, tying it for fourth with NBC’s “Thriller.”13 The show’s TvQ was tied for No. 10, with “My Three Sons” (then on ABC) among children 6-11 years old.14 More on the show’s broadcast history in Part II.

I spoke to Harry Castleman and Wally Podrazik in a telephone interview earlier this month.

Reveal Shot: So, “Dobie Gillis.” What made it stand out in the sitcom universe of that period, aside from Dobie breaking the fourth wall all the time?

Castleman: … Even as we were growing up … we were just consumed with teen culture, and so we just assumed that was the way it always was — that the teenager was always the culture that was always focused upon and doted on.

But that was actually a relatively recent thing, when we were kids watching the reruns in the ’60s. For a convenient point on the timeline, you could choose the rise of Elvis Presley in the mid-’50s as the start of it. Elvis Presley, when he was coming along, admired Dean Martin. When you think of that, you kind of laugh, and say, “‘They were so different.” But that was someone he admired as a great singer, as someone who put a lot of emotion into his songs. Because the focus up to that time was on people who were already out of school, who were “grown-ups.”

…  Dwayne Hickman came over from “Love That Bob.” As a kid, “Love That Bob” never made any sense to me. Why are they focusing on this old geezer, Bob Cummings, who’s running around after pretty girls. He’s much too old! The idea of an older swinger-playboy type seemed incompatible with the teen culture we were used to.

This is a long lead-in to the fact that “Dobie Gillis” is the beginning of that on American television. It’s the first American sitcom to really focus on the teenager. Granted, it comes three years after Elvis had become big, but it takes a while for television to respond to cultural trends. That’s really to be the importance of “Dobie Gillis.”

Cover of "Watching TV: Six Decades of Ame...Podrazik: And just to follow up on that, there had obviously been shows that focused on kids — “Leave It To Beaver,” etc. — and frankly you had shows like “Our Miss Brooks,” in which she taught at a high school. But the title says it all — “Our Miss Brooks.”  The kids were there, but that was not the main focus.

With “Dobie Gillis,” you had this wonderful [premise] in which Dobie did not yet know his place in the world, and he kept trying to figure it out. I don’t want to press the class issue too hard, but he was dreaming of connecting with the rich and powerful, or being  one of the rich and powerful. Having the pretty girl, having the fancy car. And based on what we saw of the Herbert T. Gillis Grocery, that was not what he came from …

And what was fascinating, was that, while you could say, well — all he was doing was thinking about girls — but the show was about what he was doing to reach those marks that society had set up, but society — specifically the girls — kept moving the line.  And so he might accomplish one thing, but then Milton Armitage (Warren Beatty) or Chatsworth Osborne Jr. (Stephen Franken) would just dance in and say, “Yeah, but I have the nice car, and I’ve got the money, and I’ve got the connections, and I’ve got the girl. Goodbye.”

So it was really a chance to consider, what does a teen in this 1950s-1960s world do to grow up, basically? That’s also a set-up for talking about Maynard, too.

Castleman: And of course Maynard, famously, is the first beatnik, or proto-hippie, in American television. You can go on about Maynard for a while, but at first he’s presented as kind of a comic foil. They’re making fun of him, in effect. But as the show progressed, it’s like Maynard becomes a voice of wisdom.

Podrazik: Yeah, in fact, he’s always the one that punctures Dobie’s self-delusion. That doesn’t mean he’s dismissive of his “good buddy” — just the opposite. “I’ve got to tell you — you’re about to do something really dumb.”

Castleman: You can really analogize that as the role Ed Norton serves for Ralph Kramden on “The Honeymooners.”

Podrazik: And when you think about the “Dobie Gillis” setting, which was Doby’s encounters with Chatsworth Osborne and his mom. Everyone likes to reference Warren Beatty as Milton Armitage, because it’s Warren Beatty —

Castleman: But he wasn’t there that long.

Podrazik: But he wasn’t there that long. But, the thing is that because they were in high school together, they had proximity to each other that would never happen again once they left the school environment.

If you will, it’s the template that we see decades later on [“Beverly Hills] 90210.” The poor kids, or the less well-off kids, are in that school environment side by side with the well-heeled side of town …

I want to say one more thing about how working-class [the Gillises] are. We’ve been talking about how the emphasis is on teens. But I loved the authenticity of Mr. G. and Mrs. G.

You walk into that grocery store — and we’re accustomed to the supermarkets, the Safeways of today — but that was a neighborhood grocery store. It felt like a neighborhood grocery store. You just looked at the cans of fruit and vegetables and all, just stacked up there, and said “I know that.” It looked authentic.

Castleman: I can remember, as a kid right around the time that show was airing, going to a similar type of local grocery store, that was still the rule at that time, as supermarkets were beginning to pick up in some places.

Podrazik: I wanted to transition into story arcs. One thing about the show was that — my goodness — Dobie graduated from high school! He didn’t spend six years stuck in high school.

And again, going to the theme of, where does a young man fit in? One of the weirdest [storylines] of the series was when they [Dobie and Maynard, and, later, Chatsworth] joined the military, very briefly. 15 And it feels strange, and you think, what’s he doing? But as someone of that era trying to figure out what to do next, it might occur to someone. And then their thought was, no — that’s not going to work. Let’s go to junior college instead. So there was some believability in that story arc.

Castleman: The Army part always struck me as very weird. Looking back, of course, to that era, that’s a normal thing for a guy that age to be doing. But in terms of constructing a successful TV series, pulling Dobie — and Maynard, of all people [Podrazik laughs] out of the setting where the show originated — high school, teens, romances, parents — and sticking them in the Army, it’s like, hello? It’s completely changing the entire series. It didn’t work, and they, wisely I think, moved on.

Podrazik: And then, in talking about the strength of the high school setting, but also, in general, the character-driven storytelling, you have to make a reference to Max Shulman. Because he comes to this series as the chief writer, having created the character in short stories. Before the series started, he had published two collections of Dobie short stories.16

Castleman: There had been a movie, too, back in ’53.17

Podrazik: Right. And Dwayne Hickman and Tuesday Weld had been in another movie based on another Max Shulman property, “Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys” (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1958). So the people on the writing side and the people on the performing side came into it kind of primed to do their best work.

Coming up in Part II of Reveal Shot’s look at “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” with “Watching TV” authors Harry Castleman and Walter Podrazik, the television historians consider the show’s main cast members, and where “Dobie”  fit among the situation comedies CBS developed during the late ’50s and early ’60s.

 

— David B. Wilkerson

 

 

 

 

 

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The original Ironside (Part VII): Cy Chermak remembers (conclusion)

Cy Chermak.

Reveal Shot presents the conclusion of a multi-part interview with Cy Chermak, the executive producer of “Ironside” from 1968-1974. Here, he discusses his final years with the series, and offers his views on the upcoming NBC remake starring Blair Underwood, debuting Oct. 2.

Read the first installment here.
Read the second installment here.
Read the third installment here.

Ironside” sailed through Season 3 (1969-70) as the No. 15-ranked show of the year according to the Nielsen ratings, finally topping time-period nemesis “Bewitched,” before jumping all the way to No. 4 in its fourth season (1970-71), with a 25.7 rating and 39 share, bolstered by its new lead-in, “The Flip Wilson Show,” the second-most watched program on the air (trailing only ABC’s “Marcus Welby, M.D.“)

Barbara Anderson decided to leave the show after Season 4. In Season 5 (1971-72), NBC moved “Ironside” to Tuesday nights at 7:30 p.m. Eastern against ABC’s “The Mod Squad” and “The Glen Campbell Show” on CBS. In “Ironside’s” fifth new episode, “The Gambling Game,” which aired Oct. 5,  Elizabeth Baur was introduced  as Officer Fran Belding, who helped Ironside’s team to nail the gamblers who murdered her father — a cop accused of having worked with the gang. Baur would remain with the series for its remaining three seasons.

The main cast of “Ironside” from Seasons 5-8 (clockwise from left): Don Galloway, Raymond Burr, Don Mitchell, Elizabeth Baur.

Chermak recalls:  I loved Elizabeth, but Ironside used to beat her up a little on the screen. I finally had to take her aside and coach her on how she should react to his sarcasm and intimidation. I did it in two sentences. What I said remains between the two of us. You might ask her. 18

During this period, Chermak was also the executive producer of “The New Doctors” segment of “The Bold Ones,” starring E.G. Marshall, John Saxon and David Hartman. To begin Season 6 of “Ironside,” he produced a two-part crossover episode called “Five Days In the Death of Sergeant Brown.” In Part 1 (aired Sept. 14, 1972), Ed Brown (Don Galloway) is shot in the back by a sniper, naturally triggering painful memories and special concerns for Ironside. Part 2 aired Sept. 19 as a “Bold Ones” episode, with the doctors debating the merits of a dangerous operation that could either save or kill Ed. (For some reason, although Hulu generally only makes the first three seasons of “Ironside” available, it offers both parts of “Five Days In the Death Of Sergeant Brown” — but it calls them “Ironside Pilot, Parts 1 and 2.” Since Seasons 5-8 are not available on DVD in North America (at least as Region 1 releases), it’s a nice, if odd, video opportunity for fans of the show, at least until someone at Hulu realizes the error.)19

Chermak’s schedule became even more hectic when he took on the development of a third show, “Amy Prentiss,” a spin-off from “Ironside” created by his wife, Francine Carroll, who had written scripts for a number of shows including “Ironside.”

The unsold two-hour pilot, “Amy Prentiss, AKA The Chief,” from a story by Carroll and teleplay writers William Gordon and James Doherty, aired during “Ironside’s” seventh season, on May 23, 1974. Jessica Walter guest starred as Prentiss, a police investigator who becomes chief of detectives in the San Francisco police department by having the highest score on a test. Boris Sagal directed. The episode got a very positive review in Variety, which said Walter was “ideally cast,” and that the script provided a “fine showcase” for her talents. It also generated a solid 22.3 rating and 39 share, encouraging NBC to add it to the “NBC Mystery Movie” wheel for the 1974-75 season.

Season 7 would be Chermak’s last on “Ironside.” 20

He recalls: By then Raymond and I had pretty much burned out our relationship, and Frank [Price, head of Universal Television] had a wildfire burning on another stage by the name of “Kolchak, The Night Stalker.” The turmoil on that show has been pretty well documented.21

Joel Rogosin returned to the series as executive producer for the eighth and final season (1974-75).

I had forgotten this when I asked Chermak for his reaction when the show was canceled, abruptly, by NBC in November 1974. The last episode aired on Jan. 16, 1975. Three additional episodes were completed but did not air until the show entered syndication.

Chermak: I was off the show at the time, and this is the first I heard that there were three unaired episodes. I wouldn’t have known because I never saw even one of the episodes [in that final season]. All I ever heard about them was that they didn’t have “my touch.” Which gives me an opportunity to allow my narcissism and egotism to get in a little pitch. On several occasions in my career, I had such a well-oiled machinery going that some untrained executives thought the man at the top didn’t matter. They thought if the machinery is that well-oiled, and running that smoothly, that anyone could do it. Especially someone who thought they knew me well. Surprise!

Reveal Shot: What are your thoughts on the upcoming remake of “Ironside?”
Chermak: I have no problems with them re-making the show, or the star [Blair Underwood]. Based on what I have seen recently, I think it will be more of a shoot-em-up than a cerebral family hour. Remember that the role has [essentially] been played at least once in a feature with Denzel [Washington, who played quadriplegic police forensics expert Lincoln Rhyme in Universal’s “The Bone Collector” in 1999] . Now it will be coming back to TV.

I will leave you with the story that Borden Chase’s son Frank used to love to tell.

Borden’s fame came as the writer of “Red River,” and he freely acknowledged that it was a rip-off of “Mutiny On The Bounty.” The fun started when some people tried to rip-off “Red River” and to get as far away from the cattle drive as possible they set the scene at sea! Then, even though the people doing the second generation rip-off were copying “Red River,” they were sued by the people who controlled “Mutiny on The Bounty.”

 — David B. Wilkerson   

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The original Ironside (Part VI): Cy Chermak remembers

Cy Chermak

Presenting the third installment of a Reveal Shot exclusive: an interview with former “Ironside” Executive Producer Cy Chermak. Through e-mail correspondence, Chermak offered his fascinating recollections of working on the show, and the ups and downs of being a television producer during the 1960s and ’70s.

Read the first part of the interview here.
See the second installment here.

Other outstanding Season 2 episodes included:
An Obvious Case of Guilt,” (aired Nov. 14, 1968) by Brad Radnitz and directed by Abner Biberman, in which Anne Baxter plays one of Ironside’s old flames, who is accused of killing her husband. Throughout most of the episode, Ironside uses his powers of deduction to find reasons to exonerate her, while Ed, Eve, Mark, and the D.A. (Warren Stevens) insist that she’s guilty, and that she’s using Ironside as a shield. Radnitz throws us a curve at the finale, which has fascinating dialogue.

Puzzlelock,” (aired March 13, 1969) by B.W. Sandefur and directed by Allen Reisner, Simon Oakland plays a former cop who kills his wife and creates an alibi so foolproof that Ironside, who knows he did it, cannot prove his guilt. By all appearances, Oakland was having dinner with Ironside at the time of the murder. Ironside must use any means — fair or foul — to trap him.

“Reprise,” (aired Nov. 21, 1968), by Albert Aley and directed by Don McDougall.  Eve is shot, and everyone reminisces about their early encounters with her. It’s a nice reference to what Eve describes in the pilot, about Ironside noticing her powers of observation when she’s a witness to a robbery. We also see, not for the last time, Ed Brown’s mean streak, when he seeks cold-blooded revenge (at least at first) for Eve’s shooting. Douglas Benton produced.

Mark and Ed get spotlight episodes, as well.

In “Rundown On a Bum Rap” (aired Jan. 30, 1969), directed by Allen Reisner from a Sy Salkowitz script, law student Mark takes a real-life dilemma to his class when he tries to prove this former boxing coach is innocent of a murder he is alleged to have committed, and has to overcome the resistance of his attractive African American professor (Janet McLachlan).

Ed isn’t sure what to believe when he tries to exonerate a cop buddy (Linden Chiles) accused of involvement in a drug ring and murder, in “Moonlight Means Money” (aired Feb. 27, 1969), written by Sy Salkowitz and directed by directed by Don Weis.

Reveal Shot: What were the pros and cons of using freelance writers?
Chermak: There are no cons to using freelance writers. I used them exclusively. They are some of the best we have. The main reason freelancing died was because young writers were made low paid producers and either wanted the writing money for themselves, or the studios / networks mistakenly thought or insisted the new Writer/ Producer could do it all.

Additionally, no one is willing to walk into the boss’ office and tell him that his script stinks.  It just doesn’t happen. So the new producer shoots his first draft. And good scripts aren’t written, they are re-written.  But it takes a real pro to be able to re-write himself, and to understand how to get the best out of another writer and still protect the concept of the show.

I think I mentioned earlier that if you didn’t ride close herd on the writers and directors they would unconsciously think of their episode as if it were an entity of its own, standing alone, without a thought of keeping the show on Frank Price’s tracks.

Actors hated me because they spent time learning their lines only to come to the set at 6:00 AM and find new pages with new thoughts and new words. I felt we had to work to improve the script right up until the director said “action.”

Without Frank or me or the others maintaining eternal vigilance the show would not have lasted half a season. That having been said, if I had a show today I would still use that vast store of talent that is going to waste. Not knowing how to use the writing talent available is the great disgrace of the current crop of execs.

Reveal Shot: Can you discuss some of the ways you worked to keep Ed Brown and Eve Whitfield interesting when their story arcs were not as inherently dramatic as those of Robert Ironside and Mark Sanger?

Chermak: Not really. Frankly, all three characters were second bananas.  We tried to dramatize their roles every once in a while, and Ray was the star, so he got most of the good stuff.

Reveal Shot: You had the Academy Award-winning cinematographer Lionel Lindon working on the show. What were the advantages of having someone of that caliber handling those duties? (Also, I understand he was kind of a character. Are there any amusing anecdotes that come to mind?)

Chermak: Curly Lindon and Bud Thackery were both characters, but they knew their business. Lindon hated working with inexperienced directors, and Bud hated working with everyone. I remember once that Bud shot a close-up of a beautiful actress and there was a black triangular shadow on her cheek. I took a clip down to the set and I told him I would like it re-shot. Bud looked and the clip, looked at me, and said there was nothing wrong with that shot. (He didn’t add “sonny-boy” but his tone implied it.)

“Don’t you see the black triangular shadow on her cheek?” I asked. Very patiently, he explained that the source was coming from her profile, and the shadow was of her nose. A perfectly acceptable shot. I asked if he could do a shot with the light coming from the same source, but without the shadow. “Oh well,” he sighed. “Now you are asking for feature film photography. I can do it but you won’t like the time it will take.” “Re-shoot it,” I said. “I’ll give you the extra time to make my stars beautiful and give you back the time somewhere else.” He said we had a deal. Right then was the beginning of our relationship.

 

Ironside (TV series)

Here is an interesting UPI wire story from Nov. 5, 1968 about the atmosphere on the set during the second season.

Season 2 brought improvement for “Ironside” in the Nielsen ratings. The series ranked No. 16 for the 1968-69 season, with a 22.3 rating and 34 share. ABC’s “Bewitched,” airing opposite the Raymond Burr show in the 8:30 time slot, finished 13th — but “Ironside” was the clear winner among network programs during its second half hour, starting at 9:00, outgunning the CBS movie. 222324

Early in Season 3, “Ironside” presented another two-hour episode, “Goodbye To Yesterday,” (aired Sept. 25, 1969) by Sy Salkowitz and directed by Barry Shear. In the first season, Vera Miles, had guested as Barbara Jones, a former love interest of Ironside’s who turns out to be an amnesia victim who has forgotten her husband (Phillip Carey) and children, but finally reconnects with them.

In “Goodbye to Yesterday,” Barbara’s daughter is kidnapped, and she calls on Ironside for help.

Chermak remembers: Wasn’t “Goodbye To Yesterday” a great title?

You know, rumors were always swirling around Raymond’s sexual orientation so I thought it was a good idea to have him involved with a woman whenever possible. I thought he played that role to the hilt.

It was like the rumors that started swirling about him really being paralyzed. People looked me in the eye and told me that they knew for sure that he was paralyzed. So I did an episode [the aforementioned “Reprise”] in which his thoughts flashed back to days when he could walk, and we showed him walking. You know what? That didn’t even help to squelch the rumors.

Barry Shear was one of my favorites. His work on live TV with Ernie Kovacs remains classic.

Next: The final installment in Reveal Shot’s interview with Cy Chermak.

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The original Ironside (Part IV): An interview with former executive producer Cy Chermak

Cy Chermak

I’m pleased to announce a Reveal Shot exclusive: an interview with former “IronsideExecutive Producer Cy Chermak. Through e-mail correspondence, Chermak offered his fascinating recollections of working on the show, and the ups and downs of being a television producer during the 1960s and ’70s.

After working in the business as an actor and writer, Chermak joined Universal Studios in 1963. Universal was the last of the majors to maintain the old system, in which actors, writers, directors, producers and crew members were under contract to the studio.

When he became a story editor on Universal’s 90-minute Western series “The Virginian,” Chermak reported to Frank Price, that show’s executive producer. He soon became one of Price’s producers on “The Virginian,” as well as the short-lived 1965 World War II drama “Convoy,” one of the last shows to air on NBC in black-and-white.

Lionel Lindon, A.S.C.

Lionel “Curly” Lindon, A.S.C. (1905-1971), who won an Academy Award for his work on “Around The World In Eighty Days.” (1956) He worked on many Universal productions during the 1960s, including “Ironside.”

Chermak on learning production at Universal, writing Westerns as a kid from Brooklyn, and working with Frank  Price: When I came out from New York I had nary a thought about writing or producing a Western. The real reason it took me so long to make a mark in Hollywood was that the people in charge saw me as a hot young writer from Brooklyn who didn’t know anything about Westerns, which were the TV rage. I was a New York writer.

Well, I broke in with a few Warner Bros. Westerns, and then went to “The Virginian.” After a short time, I was a Western writer, and people wondered if I could do a straight drama.

Story about how I got into production: Frank Price was looking for a story editor — sometimes known as a rewrite man. He called a colleague, Anthony Spinner, for whom I had just written an episode of “The Dakotas.” Spinner told Price that he had this new writer who just got finished doing a brilliant re-write on a “Whitey” Parsons script. Frank asked his name, but Tony Spinner wouldn’t tell him He said he had this writer chained to a desk in the basement, and no one will ever know who he is. So Frank hung up. And what did he do? He called “Whitey” Parsons and asked “How are things going?”

” Terrible, “Whitey” said. “I just had my script butchered by some kid from new York named Cy Chermak.”

Frank called me the next day and offered me a job.

… I don’t think [the studio system] meant much to writers, except to confuse them every once in a while about who is talking to them. It was great for young writers the studio wanted to turn into low-paid producers. I found myself in a highly protected learning environment. They caught my mistakes and helped me correct them. Production experts like [“Virginian” producer] George Santoro and [unit manager] Abby Singer helped me to understand budgeting. Then it became my job to make sure that the money we spent was going to show up on the screen.

(Once Abby Singer, famous for ” just this shot and one more,” warned me that we were about to go into Golden Time. I said “Abby, just what is Golden Time?” He said “I don’t know, but it’s terrible.”)

Department heads like Richard Belding in Editorial ran interference between myself and more experienced editors, and so it went all the way down the line…through the music department, sound, wardrobe. These department heads knew their workers knew more than I did, but they also realized their job was to help me understand the process so that I could fully utilize my own talents. [Cinematographers Lionel] “Curly” Lindon and Bud Thackery could have ignored me but they didn’t. If I asked for things they just couldn’t do in the time we had to make a show, they were patient and generous with their time. In that regard, the studio system was great. That’s why sports franchises have farm teams. You can’t learn the business in film school.

The major drawback was that it engendered split loyalties. The A.D. is not really the director’s assistant. He works for, and reports to, the production department. That’s true of every crew member and department head. In my first year as a producer, I asked a hell of a lot more questions than I gave orders. But when my crew realized my ideas were sound and my intentions were only to make the show better, the split loyalties became a “non factor.”

How would I characterize Frank Price as an exec? Quite simply the best. I don’t know about others under his aegis, but he allowed me a great deal of latitude, and he had the best story mind I had ever seen.

A cute example concerned a writer who shall remain nameless … who was late bringing us a story for “The Virginian” when I was the story editor. [He] said the story got lost when he had to make a wheels up landing in his Beechcraft Bonanza. We all knew [this writer] was fudging the truth a bit, and that he had nothing on paper, or even in his head.

Frank called in his secretary, myself, and Joel Rogosin who was slated to produce the episode. Frank then led [the writer-pilot] and the rest of us through the story from the opening to the ending. The secretary transcribed the story and [the writer] went home and wrote the script.

The cuteness was when I (also a pilot) asked him how he could have made a wheels-up landing. Didn’t he have a warning horn on the plane that told him his gear was not down? [He] said “Yeah, but the damned thing was making so much noise I couldn’t concentrate.”

With the successful “Ironside” TV movie in Nielsen’s ratings books as a hit, Universal Television ordered work on the first six regular episodes. On Thursday Sept. 14, 1967, the first series installment Americans saw was “A Message From Beyond,” which was seventh in production order. NBC slotted the series at 8:30 Eastern time, opposite the popular ABC sitcom “Bewitched” and the final half hour of CBS’s Western drama “Cimarron Strip.” The new show would also face the first half hour, at 9:00, of “The CBS Thursday Night Movies.”

NBC was less than thrilled with the first batch of shows, and creator and executive producer Collier Young took the  blame.

When Young was fired six shows into the first season’s production schedule, he was replaced by Frank Price.  Price brought Chermak over from “The Virginian” as one of his producers.

Chermak: Frank didn’t tell me what he wanted [when I came to “Ironside.” ] He knew that I knew. He wanted it honest. He wanted it truthful. It is the same thing he brought to “The Virginian.”

Let us be very clear about one thing. I ran “Ironside” [after being promoted to executive producer in July 1968]. But the genius behind the Stanislavsky-esque concept of honesty and truth belonged to Frank. He changed “The Virginian” from a musical Western like “Oklahoma” into something that became copied. No black hats. No bad guys simply for the needs of the script. People behave like decent human beings with sincere differences. You bump into a guy, you don’t go for your gun. You say excuse me and move on.

He did the same thing for “Ironside.” I think it interesting that Robert Butler acknowledged that dressing Vince Gardenia up like a “Batman” villain 25 made a viewer have to suspend his disbelief. Frank knew it instinctively. He didn’t want Ironside to become a comic strip.

I did it his way for many years because he was the boss. Then I started doing it his way because I realized Frank was right. He brought Stanislavsky to television writing. And yes, perhaps Frank did tell me what he wanted of me. Honesty and Truth. I think I gave it to him.

Later in the season, Chermak’s colleague Paul Mason produced “All In A Day’s Work,” [airdate Feb. 15, 1968] written by storied crime novelist Ed McBain (Evan Hunter), best known for his 87th Precinct police procedurals. In this episode, Eve has to kill an armed robber who turns out to have been a teenager, and is plagued by guilt.

Chermak: Here is a story you won’t believe. Ed McBain/Evan was probably my favorite fiction writer at the time — excepting only Norman Corwin — and I can’t for the life of me figure out why he chose to do a television episode … I believe the show was written for Raymond. He said he was tired and needed a rest and we should give it to Ed Brown (Don Galloway). We re-did it for Barbara instead. And yes, it was the episode I submitted to the Emmys on her behalf. And yes, she did win.

Sometimes, a very good writer might only work on the show once. This proved to be the case with Luther Davis,  a highly respected TV writer who penned the script for Season 1’s “A Very Cool Hot Car” (aired Nov. 30, 1967), with Chermak producing.

There are a couple of situations that are handled with some finesse. An embittered ex-cop played by Jay C. Flippen  has been forced into retirement after failing to solve one case, the burglary ring of the plot. When he talks to Ironside about it, he can’t help but refer to the black man who replaced him on the case (Bernie Hamilton) as a “college boy from Africa.” The point isn’t dwelt upon, aside from a look of general disdain from Ironside. It’s just a realistic aside that someone his age at that time, in that situation, might have said.

Also, although Mark is concerned that Hamilton is being unfairly maligned — for racial reasons — by the police department for not stopping the burglaries, Hamilton treats Mark as an outsider until he happens to prove himself in the heat of battle. Other shows might have shown portrayed the two of them as fast friends, doing “soul shakes” and the like.

Chermak: I remember the Luther Davis script very well. I don’t believe I was the exec at that time, but I was thrilled to have a writer of Luther Davis’ caliber on the show. Sadly, Luther didn’t like being re-written, even to the smallest extent, so he gracefully and graciously bowed out of future commitments.

“Ironside” finished its first season as the No. 26 program on the air in 1967-68, according to Nielsen, with a 20.5 household rating, a very strong showing considering its formidable competition. “Bewitched” ended the year at No. 11 with a 23.5 rating. Though “Cimarron Strip” finished out of the top 30, and was not renewed, “The CBS Thursday Night Movies” finished No. 23, with a rating of 21.1.

In July 1968, Frank Price was promoted, becoming the head of current programming at Universal, reporting to Sid Sheinberg, then senior vice-president in charge of television production. Chermak became the executive producer of “Ironside.”

Chermak: It was Sid who announced to me that he was making the choice, and I’m sure it was tough for him because he and Paul [Mason] were close personal friends. But I’m sure Frank made the suggestion. Why? You would have to ask him.

But I had been his story editor and then his producer on “The Virginian.”  Then when he went to “Convoy” he took me with him. I am guessing that he had seen enough of my work to think I would stick closest to his framework and give him the least trouble. He was only right about the first part of that sentence. I know that Sid had to, or chose to, run it by Raymond before firming up the decision.

One Thursday after shooting, Raymond asked me to his dressing room for a drink. We sat on opposite sides of a coffee table and Ray opened a bottle of Courvoisier, dramatically threw the cork over his shoulder, put the bottle in the middle of the table and sat down. I looked at the bottle, then at Ray and said, “That is all very well and good, but what are you going to drink?”

“Oho,” responded Raymond. He got up, took a fresh bottle, threw that cork over his shoulder, and placed the bottle in front of himself. Now we each had our own bottle, and we rolled out of the studio at about three in the morning.

The next night Sid called me and told me I was the new exec on “Ironside.”

In the next Reveal Shot post, Chermak remembers the two-hour “Split Second To An Epitaph” and other Season 2 episodes; the series’ 1968 NAACP Image Award, and speaks more broadly about how producers were assigned to each show, which writers could be counted upon when the chips were down, and working with Milton Berle on a dramatic role.

— David B. Wilkerson

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25 Great Warner Bros. films on DVD/Blu-ray, 1926-1967

Cover of "The Adventures of Robin Hood [B...

Here are my picks for 25 must-own Warner Bros. films on DVD and Blu-ray, in chronological order. Films were eligible from 1923 to 1969, when Jack L. Warner stepped down from the studio to become an independent producer. Let the debate begin.

I’ve denoted cases in which I’ve reviewed the films mentioned here in earlier entries. Sometimes a film is listed without further comment; this is not meant to diminish them in any way. I will probably deal with them in more detail in future posts, or update this one.

All films are available separately or in boxed sets  from Warner Bros. Home Video or its Warner Archive unit unless otherwise noted.

1. “Don Juan” (1926)
Available at Warner Archive
John Barrymore stars as the titular lothario in this silent film, the first to have a synchronized music score and sound effects on disc, using Warner’s Vitaphone system. Possibly an ideal entry point for someone new to silent drama, with memorable characterizations by Barrymore, Estelle Taylor as Lucrezia Borgia, and a very young Mary Astor as Adriana della Varnese, the woman who finally captures Don Juan’s heart. Great sword fight at the end.

2. “Little Caesar” (1930)

3. “The Public Enemy” (1931)
See Part I and Part II of Reveal Shot‘s Warner Bros. Gangster series for analysis of these two films. They are available separately or as part of the Ultimate Gangster Collection: Classics on Blu-ray, along with “White Heat” (see below).

4. “I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang” (1932)
See Part III of the WB Gangster series.

5. “The Mystery Of The Wax Museum” (1933)
The 3-D remake of this film, ‘House Of Wax” (1953) would certainly be a big draw at the TCM festival after the popular screenings of 3-D classics “Hondo” and “Dial M For Murder” this year, but I prefer the original. Lionel Atwill stars as the wax museum sculptor disfigured in a fire who goes insane and begins to tomb living women in wax. Glenda Farrell is the archetypal wisecracking female reporter who uncovers the horrific facts.

6. “G-Men” (1935)
Warner Bros. does an effective reversal of its gangland dramas, showing one of the roughest of them from the side of law enforcement. Cagney plays a hood who goes straight, first as a lawyer, and then, when a friend is murdered, as an FBI agent. Features strong supporting work from Barton MacLane as the main bad guy, and Ann Dvorak as Cagney’s one-time girlfriend who can’t escape the criminal milieu. One of the most brutal movies of this period.

7. “The Charge Of The Light Brigade” (1936)
In Errol Flynn Signature Collection, Vol. 2. Also available separately.
I’m mysteriously drawn to tales of British colonial rule of India and other areas in that part of the world. No serious attempt was made to explain the rationale for the infamous charge at Balaclava; it’s set up here as the by-product of sibling rivalry, unrequited love and revenge. Max Steiner’s score plays an unusually big part in the film’s success, and the titular charge is very well done by director Michael Curtiz, despite the deaths of several horses and a stunt man.

8. “The Adventures Of Robin Hood” (1938)
2-Disc Special Edition
The definitive swashbuckler, just ahead of some of Twentieth Century-Fox’s Tyrone Power classics. Flynn vs. Basil Rathbone’s Sir Guy of Gisbourne can hardly be topped as a screen duel. An eye-opener to anyone you encounter who is skeptical about the glories of three-strip Technicolor  (though I guess that would have to be someone who hasn’t seen “The Wizard Of Oz” in a while).

9. “Angels With Dirty Faces” (1938)
See Part IV of the Warner Gangster series.

10. “The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse” (1938)
A stellar adaptation of a clever play, featuring Edward G. Robinson as a doctor who is fascinated by crime, and decides to join a group of thieves on a series of jewel robberies to test his theories. When there is mutual attraction between he and the female member of the gang (Claire Trevor), her erstwhile boyfriend (Humphrey Bogart) starts trouble. See this review at Pretty Clever Films.

11. “The Roaring Twenties” (1939)
See Part V of the Warner Gangster posts.

12. “The Sea Hawk” (1940)
The best of Flynn’s pirate movies. Here he’s Capt. Geoffrey Thorpe, leader of “The Sea Hawks,” a group of English pirates who seize Spanish ships during a time when Queen Elizabeth is ostensibly trying to avoid war with Spain. Thorpe ends up having to fight the Spaniards and a traitor on the Queen’s court. If Rathbone had played the traitor, rather than Henry Daniell, the film would have been even better. As it is, only Fox’s “The Black Swan” ranks as a better pirate saga.

13. “The Letter” (1940)
You can’t have a list of great Warner classics without including Bette Davis. In “The Letter,” set on a British rubber plantation, Davis plays Leslie Crosbie, a married woman who shoots her lover to death. She claims self-defense, but that testimony is jeopardized by an incriminating letter she wrote to the dead man that same day, inviting him to her home. When that letter falls into the hands of the victim’s wife, Leslie must somehow get it back. The melodrama sometimes seems to be veering out of control, but director William Wyler manages to rein it in, abetted by James Stephenson as Leslie’s suspicious lawyer and Herbert Marshall as the cuckolded husband. Davis is fascinating, as usual.

14. “The Maltese Falcon” (1941)
See my entry on this hard-boiled detective story.

15. “Casablanca” (1942)
I can’t imagine the trouble I’d be in if I left out this one.  Rather than try to summarize its importance here, I defer to this essay from Bright Lights Film Journal.

16. “Mildred Pierce” (1945)
Ann Blyth, who appears here as the title character’s evil daughter Veda, was interviewed by Robert Osborne during the TCM Film Festival this year. Raquel Stecher at the Out Of The Past blog covered the event here.

17. “Key Largo” (1948)
18. “The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre” (1948)
19. “White Heat” (1949)
20. “Strangers On A Train” (1951)

21. “Giant” (1956)
I wrote up my review of this one after a screening at the TCM Film Festival, and spoke to Warner Home Video’s George Feltenstein about the film’s restoration.

22. “Rio Bravo” (1959)

23. “The Great Race” (1965)
One of my suggestions for next year’s TCM Film Fest.

24. “Up The Down Staircase” (1967)

Along with “The Blackboard Jungle,” one of the best movies about teaching. This adaptation of Bel Kaufman’s 1965 best-seller about the experiences of young Sylvia Barrett (Sandy Dennis), whose first teaching assignment out of grad school lands her at a tough New York City high school. There are lots of intriguing story threads: A fellow English teacher (Patrick Bedford) is brilliant but unable to connect emotionally with a shy girl who has a crush on him; Sylvia gets anonymous notes from an admirer in the class suggestion box; a black kid wants to drop out because he feels overwhelmed by racist attitudes; a gang member interprets Sylvia’s kindness to be some kind of sexual proposition. The location photography by the unheralded Joseph Coffey is very good, truly creating the sense of time and place that makes older films so fascinating for audiences decades later. Fred Karlin’s music score is contemporary and yet, in pointing to Sylvia’s idealism, takes on a baroque sensibility at times.

25. “Cool Hand Luke” (1967)

— David B. Wilkerson

 

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The original ‘Ironside’ — Part II of a Reveal Shot series (NBC Tuesday Night at The Movies, March 28, 1967)

[With the Blair Underwood remake officially slated for NBC’s 2013-14 lineup, Reveal Shot continues with Part II of a series on the original “Ironside” with more on the two-hour made-for-TV movie that served as the pilot, as well as a wrap-up of the 1966-67 network ratings race. SPOILERS are present in this installment.]

Read A look back at NBC’s original ‘Ironside’ — the pilot (NBC Tuesday Night At The Movies, March 28, 1967) —  Part I.

With Ironside’s three assistants Ed Brown (Don Galloway), Eve Whitfield (Barbara Anderson) and Mark Sanger (Don Mitchell) established as characters, Don Mankiewicz‘s teleplay gets to the nuts and bolts of the investigation.

Ironside goes back to Commissioner Randall’s farm, where he was shot. It seems that the shell casings used in firing six rifle shots were never recovered. When the detective notes that six acorns have been spotted in the immediate vicinity, he deduces that a pack rat must have taken the shells and replaced them with the acorns. (Sigh.) In a rather lengthy sequence involving Wally Cox as the head of a Boy Scout troop, the rat’s lair is found — along with the casings. Apparently someone suggested that comedy relief was needed here, and alas, Mankiewicz ends up hanging one of the main plot threads on this development.

The shell casings are traced to a troubled Metropolitan Military Academy student named Tony Emmons (naturally, an expert marksman) who threatened to kill Ironside for arresting him after he fired a rifle shot into the window of a moving train. He was placed into a psychiatric hospital for juvenile offenders, but was released just days before Ironside was shot, by doctors who assumed he had been cured. Here, it seems, is our villain.

Throughout the pilot, director James Goldstone uses frequent, rapid-fire cuts. As the heroes look at slides of Tony’s mug shots projected onto a screen, Goldstone keeps cutting back to them, from the front, from the side, every time Ironside gets to a crucial part of the boy’s story.

Ironside finds out that Tony has a girlfriend, another former patient at the hospital named Ellen Wells (Kim Darby). He was very close to an art instructor at the academy, an attractive woman more than 10 years his senior, Honor Thompson (Geraldine Brooks).

The increasingly irritable detective is most anxious to speak to Ellen, but Ed has a hard time locating her. Ironside rides him about it until Ed, in Don Galloway’s most important scene in the film, has had enough. Read More

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A look back at NBC’s original ‘Ironside’ — the pilot (‘NBC Tuesday Night At The Movies,’ March 28, 1967) Part I

[With the Blair Underwood remake officially slated for NBC’s 2013-14 lineup, Reveal Shot begins a series on the original “Ironside” with a look at the network landscape as it existed when the pilot aired, and examines the two-hour made-for-TV movie itself. No spoilers in this entry.]

In March of 1967, NBC, for the 12th year in a row, as network affiliates gathered for their annual meeting, was trying to figure out a way to catch CBS, the perennial ratings leader. It almost happened, partly on the strength of made-for-TV movies such as “Ironside.”

NBC President Don Durgin told the station owners that NBC was the only network to have increased its audience in each of the last five years26.

He unveiled a 1967-68 schedule that Broadcasting magazine found remarkable in its relative lack of half-hour situation comedies — and 30-minute shows in general. “There are only six half -hours of any kind on next season’s [NBC] schedule, compared to 16 hour series, two two-hour movie nights and one 90- minute program [‘The Virginian’],” the magazine reported27.

By the time of the affiliate meeting, NBC had aired 18 of the top 40 movies shown in primetime that season, including four that had been made for television by partner Universal. “Doomsday Flight,” the story of a plane in jeopardy written by Rod Serling, got the best ratings among the TV flicks, with a 27.5 rating and 48 share, followed by “Fame Is The Name of The Game” — which later morphed into the series “The Name Of The Game — at 26.7 and 4428.

At midseason, the network found a new hit in a revival of Jack Webb’s “Dragnet,” made distinct from the ’50s original by its color photography, a new partner for Joe Friday in Frank Gannon (Harry Morgan) and the decision to place the year in the title as “Dragnet 1967.”

‘Ironside’ debuts

Just over a week after the Broadcasting item appeared, on March 28, 1967, “NBC Tuesday Night At The Movies” featured the made-for-TV “Ironside.” The network hoped that viewers would be intrigued to see Raymond Burr, who had just completed a nine-year run as Perry Mason, in a different role.

San Francisco Chief of Detectives Robert T. Ironside (Burr) is vacationing at Commissioner Randall’s remote farm. We see him in the opening scene, complaining about some bothersome chickens. “I don’t even like eggs,” he says. As he prepares a stiff drink for himself, shots ring out, hitting Ironside, who drops out of camera range. As the credits roll, Ironside is on his way to the hospital in an ambulance, as Quincy Jones’ rather hysterical first version of his famous theme blares. The trumpeters on the track seem to be using their tongues to get a kind of trilling effect.

Gradually we get reactions from co-workers and others, who have been led to believe that the chief is probably going to die from his wounds. Sgt. Ed Brown (Don Galloway) is seen in a police locker room, chatting with a colleague. “You know what he told me? He said the only excuse for a policeman taking a day off is death — his own,” Ed says, slamming his locker. Read More