Thursday, March 31, 2016

Caftan Woman's Choice: One for April on TCM

Jim Wilson is a big city cop at the end of his rope. We meet Jim and his two partners on night patrol. The Force has been under a lot of pressure since a cop killing of two weeks standing. Wilson, however, has been a walking exposed nerve for longer than the past two weeks. He is a lit fuse waiting to explode.

Detectives Santos, Wilson and Daly
Anthony Ross, Robert Ryan and Charles Kemper

Pete Santos:  "Hey, what's the matter with Jim? I tell ya' he's sore or somethin'."

Pop Daly:  "He's sore alright. All we ever see is crooks, murderers, winos, stoolies, dames - all with an angle. You get so you think everybody is like that. Until you find out different it's kind of a lonely life. I've had to put up with it, so did you. Jim just takes it harder than the rest of us."

Pete:  "He's getting harder to work with all the time."

Mad With Much Heart is the evocative title of Gerald Butler's novel which is the basis of 1952s On Dangerous Ground. A.I. Bezzerides (Thieves' Highway) and director Nicholas Ray (Johnny Guitar) adapted the screenplay for the story of Jim Wilson's redemption.

Jim's reputation as a tough man precedes him and proves true as he roughs up suspects and places tipsters in danger. He gets the job done, but pays a heavy psychological price and faces disciplinary action as well.

Jim Wilson:  "What kind of a job is this anyway? Garbage! That's all we handle, garbage.  ...  How do you do it? How do you live with yourself?"

Pop Daly:  "I don't. I live with other people. To get anything out of this life you gotta put something in it - from the heart."

Captain Brawley played by Ed Begley (12 Angry Men, Odds Against Tomorrow) has tried talking to Wilson, but now tries a temporary measure to pull him back from the edge of the cliff. A girl has been murdered upstate and Jim is sent out of town to assist in the case. It is not much of a mystery as the suspect has been identified and there is manpower for the search. Whether Jim's help is actually needed by the rural authorities is one matter. The other matter is Jim Wilson, the man, and he just may find himself in this foreign environment.

It is a long journey from the dark city streets to the open unknown. Tall pines replace skyscrapers and isolation replaces crowded humanity. Jim is suddenly and unexpectedly teamed with the father of the victim in the manhunt. Ward Bond plays Walter Brent, a man filled with grief and rage, and a need for vengeance. This simple family man embodies all the turmoil that Jim Wilson has been living with for years.

Ward Bond and Robert Ryan

From his earliest pictures such as The Big Trail through The Long Voyage Home to It's a Wonderful Life and TVs Wagon Train, in close to 300 bits and film roles, Ward Bond fit a variety of roles as if that were the one he was born to play. It was never going to happen, but if the Academy had ever deemed to recognize one of his performances, I think that of Walter Brent would be that one. The bereaved parent travels his own heartbreaking journey that mirrors and amplifies that of Detective Wilson.

Walter Brent and Jim Wilson
Ward Bond and Robert Ryan

Robert Ryan's one Academy Award nomination was for playing an unrepentant killer in Crossfire. He played outstanding villains, but that craggy face could also portray a kindly soul as in The Boy with Green Hair. As Jim Wilson, Ryan gives us the depravity of a lost soul and his latent hope.

The emotional journey of our character is also a very physical one as Wilson and Brent's chase includes running through snow and over difficult terrain. Hate motivates a lot of the chase, but hate is being pounded out of them. The chase leads them to the farmhouse of Mary Malden and her brother Danny. Danny, a young man "not quite right", is the murderer they seek and Mary must find a way to protect her brother by giving him up. Mary is played by Ida Lupino (They Drive by Night). Ms. Lupino, the director of four films by this time, took on directing duties during an illness experienced by Nicholas Ray during the shoot.

Bernard Herrmann's score for On Dangerous Ground uses the same insistent motif that characterizes his score for North by Northwest. I find it fascinating that it is equally effective for an adventure film and for the overwrought emotions of this tale.

Jim Wilson and Mary Malden
Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino

Mary's blindness complicates the search for Danny. Brent is confused and frustrated by Mary and by Jim's reaction to the woman. Mary has spent much time alone and time examining her own loneliness which she senses in Jim. For Jim Wilson, the dam which has been holding back his emotions is beginning to shatter.

Mary Malden:  "Tell me, how is it to be a cop?"

Jim Wilson:  "You get so you don't trust anybody."

Mary:  "You're lucky. You don't have to trust anyone. I have to trust everybody."

One Dangerous Ground epitomizes the tough film-noir in the gritty telling of the first part of the story. What had been our focus sets up the change in setting and mood as the story wears its emotional heart on its sleeve in the second act. At the very least I think you will find On Dangerous Ground an interesting film, at the most you may find it enriching.

TCM is screening On Dangerous Ground on Thursday, April 7th at 11:15 am on a day exploring the creative phenomenon that was Miss Ida Lupino.

Friday, March 25, 2016

THE 2ND ANNUAL FAVOURITE TV SHOW EPISODE BLOGATHON: Maverick, Shady Deal at Sunny Acres (1958)

Now in its glorious second annual presentation, Terence Towles Canote of A Shroud of Thoughts hosts the Favourite Television Episode blogathon running from March 25 to 27. Click HERE for the contributors.

In its glorious second season Maverick (1957-1962) received a Primetime Emmy Award for Best Western Series, the first and only time the Television Academy presented that award in an era where westerns glutted the small screen landscape. Writer and producer Roy Huggins created Maverick to be the snide opposite of his successful and more traditional western Cheyenne starring Clint Walker. Whether the Academy got the joke or not is up for debate.

Jack Kelly as Bart and James Garner as Bret

Legends of the West, Bret and Bart Maverick roamed the TV west with a deck of cards and a ready wit; conning con men, romancing pretty Warner's contractees, and being generally adventurous. In a tight spot ,they would quote the larcenous philosophy passed down by their "old pappy". James Garner starred as Bret, and when the demanding schedule of the enormously popular program proved too much for one actor, Jack Kelly was signed as Bart.

Both actors of charm and skill, fans were most delighted when a script called for the two sharing the spotlight in an episode. Such an episode is Shady Deal at Sunny Acres written by Roy Huggins for that award winning second season and directed by Les Martinson, who turned 101 this past January. Martinson's career in television dates back to General Electric Theatre in the 1950s through The Roy Rogers Show, Conflict, all of the Warners programs of the 50s and 60s including 18 episodes of Maverick, Ironside, Mannix, The Six Million Dollar Man, Barnaby Jones and practically anything you ever watched.

John Dehner as John Bates
"If you can't trust your banker, who can you trust?"

Fate and the friendly laws of probability have been kind to Bret Maverick. In a crowded saloon on a warm evening, his pocket is $15,000 richer than when he entered the establishment. Overcome with a sudden case of discretion, Bret prevails upon a local banker, one Mr. Bates, to open his premises for the safe storage of his funds. Bret sleeps well that night with Mr. Bates' receipt tucked in the Maverick wallet.

The next day Bret's request at the bank for a portion of his funds is met with a blank stare from Mr. Bates who claims never to have seen the gambler before. The signature on the receipt is an obvious forgery, as attested to by the honest banking partner, Mr. Granville. That Maverick fellow is up to something. Yes, he is. Bret pays for two weeks rent on his hotel room and announces that when he leaves town he will have his purloined $15,000. He then perches comfortably in a rocking chair on the front porch of the hotel and whittles. When townspeople, who find the whole affair rather amusing, ask how he will get his money back Bret smiles and says that he is "working on it".

If, in the usual course of a Sunday evening (Maverick's original air date), it was a treat to have both Maverick brothers on hand, imagine the delight the first time this episode aired with a plethora of recurring characters audiences had become familiar with all coming together (Avengers Assemble!) for a perfect sting.

Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Dandy Jim Buckley

Diane Brewster as Samantha Crawford

Richard Long as Gentleman Jack Darby

Leo V. Gordon as Big Mike McComb

Arlene Howell as Cindy Lou Brown
with John Dehner and Jack Kelly

Bart Maverick arrives in town under the name of Bartley J. Mansfield III, representative of British investors and a private stock speculator. Thus Bart gains the confidence of the greedy John Bates, and with expert and willing performances from the slickest con artists this side of the Rockies, Bret does indeed leave town with his $15,000. The honest banker becomes the only banker in town, Bates sits in the hoosegow contemplating his downfall, and Bret rarely got up out of that rocker.

Fans of classic character actors are treated with more familiar faces than they can shake a stick at in this episode. Along with the great John Dehner as Bates ,we have Regis Toomey, Karl Swenson, J. Pat O'Malley, Irving Bacon, Syd Salor, Jonathan Hole and Earle Hodgins. A genuine treat from beginning to end.

As my old pappy used to say, "You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, and those are very good odds."

Sunday, March 6, 2016

THE TV SIDEKICK BLOGATHON: Della Street and Paul Drake of "Perry Mason" (1957-1966)

Perry Mason: Noted criminal lawyer - intrepid, dramatic, elusive fighter, whose cause is never lost.
- The Case of the Perjured Parrot, 1939

The sign on the office door is a comfort to clients found at the wrong place at the wrong time; clients with secrets and clients who lie, innocent clients accused of murder.  In over 80 novels written by lawyer/author Erle Stanley Gardner and 271 television episodes from 1957-1966, Perry Mason,  and his Emmy winning portrayer (1959 and 1961) Raymond Burr, won the day.   

Della Street:  As much Perry Mason's right arm as his secretary.
- The Case of the Waylaid Wolf, 1960

Perry, however, was not in the fight for justice on his own.  Those clients would be languishing in cells to this day, or worse, if the entire team hadn't pulled together.  A lawyer like Perry is only as good as his confidential secretary and Della Street is the gold standard.  Competent, intuitive and fearless Della Street was played on the series by Barbara Hale.

A star attorney such as Perry must be armed with the truth when he enters the courtroom and that information requires legwork.  The legwork for Mason's cases is provided by the Paul Drake Detective Agency.  Paul, played by William Hopper, knows his job, even though at times he is baffled by Perry and the risks his friend is willing to take for often less than forthcoming clients.

Barbara Hale

Barbara Hale was born in DeKalb, Illinois in 1922.  As an art student she turned to modeling as a means of making money which led to being signed by RKO Studios.  A featured player and sometimes leading lady, a few of Barbara's pictures include The Falcon Out West, The Falcon in Hollywood with Tom Conway and Higher and Higher with Frank Sinatra.  RKO teamed her with her husband Bill Williams (married 1946-1992) in The Clay Pigeon, A Likely Story and West of the Pecos.  Barbara played the title character in Lorna Doone, leading lady to Larry Parks in Jolson Sings Again, to James Stewart in The Jackpot, to Randolph Scott in 7th Cavalry and to James Cagney in A Lion is in the Streets.  Barbara is a sympathetic teacher in The Boy with Green Hair, a harried mother in the film-noir classic The Window and a bombshell entertainer in the nifty noir The Houston Story.

Della Street:  Mason's confidential secretary with an intuitive flair for the feminine angle.
- The Case of the Cautious Coquette, 1949

In the 1950s Barbara was devoting most of her energies to raising her young family.  On interview extras included with the television series 50th anniversary DVD release Barbara relates that she was speaking with Gail Patrick Jackson about an idea for customizing costumes for dolls to be sold in specialty boutiques.  Gail, as executive producer of a new TV program based on Erle Stanley Gardner's popular Perry Mason novels, had other ideas.  She wanted Barbara for Della Street.  Previous secretaries to the crime busting attorney included Claire Dodd to Warren William, June Travis to Ricardo Cortez and Ann Dvorak to Donald Woods.

Barbara Hale won the Primetime Emmy in 1959 for Best Supporting Actress (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series.  She was nominated for Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role by an Actor or Actress in a Series in 1961.  Don't you just love the way the Emmy folks play around with their categories?!  There were three nominees in the category that season including Barbara as Della, Abby Dalton as Lt. Hale in Hennessy and the winner, Don Knotts as Barney Fife in The Andy Griffith Show.  Don't you just love the way the Emmy folks put that mix together?!

This coming April 18th Barbara Hale, a great-grandmother, turns 94.  Barbara's attendance at fan conventions in recent years affirm how beloved she is among generations of Barbara and Della watchers. 

 Della Street:  She was a one-way street and the way was always Perry Mason's.
The Case of the Beautiful Beggar, 1965

Della was more than the gatekeeper to Perry Mason's inner sanctum.  Perry relied on her instincts when sizing up clients and on her legal secretarial skills to keep the office and trials running smoothly.  Della could be counted on giving more than one hundred percent to any cause of Perry's.  She was not afraid to get her hands dirty in the field as a decoy or to hiding clients at her apartment.  When forced into court, she was unflappable in the face of cross-examinations.  This is not to say that Della wouldn't offer a word of caution to her foolhardy boss upon occasion, but there was never any doubt of her total support.  On a personal level, while it was more apparent in Gardner's page turners that Perry and Della's closeness extended beyond business (all those late night dinners), there was never any doubt among TV fans of the depth of feeling between the two.

Paul Drake:  Detective, long, laconic, and loyal, willing to toss his natural caution to the winds in the service of Perry Mason.
- The Case of the Perjured Parrot, 1939

Perry's most frequent combatant, District Attorney Hamilton Burger played by William Talman could call upon the services of the police department in the form of Ray Collins as Lt. Tragg, Wesley Lau as Lt. Anderson, Richard Anderson as Steve Drumm and Lee Miller as Sgt. Brice.  Who's Perry gonna call?  Paul Drake!  The Paul Drake Detective Agency had a seemingly inexhaustible supply of operatives on call around the clock and contacts in cities far and wide.  Paul may have dreamed of keeping regular business hours, but Perry knew he could call any time during the 24 hours allotted to us and Paul Drake would be on the case.  

William Hopper
(1915 - 1970)

William Hopper's parents were the actor DeWolfe Hopper Sr. and actress turned influential gossip columnist Hedda Hopper.  It was at his mother's urging that the young man entered the acting profession with no genuine sense of a calling.  Signed by Warner Brothers in the mid-30s you will see in such pictures as The Footloose Heiress, The Adventurous Blonde and Public Wedding a handsome and pleasant actor of potential.

William Hopper was a Navy frogman during WWII, the stress of which left him with his striking white hair and a drinking problem.  Resuming his acting career he played leads in Bs and solid supporting roles in prestigious features.  The sci-fi fave 20 Million Miles to Earth stars Harryhausen effects and Hopper.  He is Natalie Wood's distant father in Rebel Without a Cause and Patty McCormack's too normal father in The Bad Seed.  I think his best roles in this period are for director William Wellman as Jan Sterling's fiance in The High and the Mighty, the good brother in Track of the Cat, and especially as a sympathetic dog trainer in Goodbye, My Lady.

William Hopper was one of the many actors who auditioned for the role of Perry Mason and the clip  below is one of his screen tests to play the attorney.  It may seem strange as we are so used to Raymond Burr as Perry, but I think Bill Hopper gives a credible characterization.  Nonetheless, things worked out as they should.  Nothing tops the breezy way Paul greets Della with "Hello, Beautiful" as he enters the Mason offices ready for the next adventure.

In 1959 William Hopper was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for Best Supporting Actor (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series.  The season featured the Drake-centric episode The Case of Paul Drake's Dilemma, giving our favourite P.I. a chance to shine.  The other nominees included Herschel Bernardi as Lt. Jacoby in Peter Gunn, Johnny Crawford as Mark McCain in The Rifleman and the winner, Dennis Weaver as Chester Goode in Gunsmoke.

Paul Drake:  Detective with a lot of explanations to make and sleep to catch up on.
The Case of the Empty Tin, 1941

Paul Drake had a phone in his car!  When I was a kid I thought that was the coolest thing ever!  Nowadays people of far less importance in my eyes walk around with little phones as if it is commonplace.  Are they on a case?

Paul's favourite cases seem to be anytime he gets to interrogate a pretty girl.  On more than one occasion Paul has put his private investigator's license on the line backing up one of Perry's convoluted schemes.  Paul Drake seems to have the respect of the police and the loyalty of his employees and I certainly would have tuned in for a spin-off series focused on the Paul Drake Detective Agency.  The imagination takes flight.  

Barbara Hale and William Hopper

Loyal and hard-working, Della Street and Paul Drake are the support Perry Mason needs to get his clients acquitted.  However, the brilliant attorney's mind races so that by the end of the episode, and for our benefit, there is usually some little bit of information that must be explained to the team before celebrations can begin.  Above we see our stalwarts in the only colour episode of the original series, The Case of the Twice Told Twist from 1966.  "My, how he does blather on" seems to be in back of Della's expression.  Paul has the confused puppy dog look of "I never get it when he talks like this, but he pays his bills on time"

Rick at the Classic Film and TV Cafe is hosting THE TV SIDEKICK BLOGATHON which runs from March 6 - 8.  Click HERE to spend time with our favourite folks from our favourite classic TV shows.  


Terence Towles Canote at A Shroud of Thoughts is hosting The 8th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon . The popular blogathon is runn...