As the fiercely dedicated general practitioner who tries to help the sick, the poor and the unfortunate in his decrepit neighborhood, Paul Muni is the testy old man who faces life without compromise and David Wayne is the troubled television executive fighting to preserve his career. Written by
Paul Muni is "The Last Angry Man" in this 1959 film directed by Daniel Mann and also starring Luther Adler, David Wayne, Betsy Palmer and Billy Dee Williams. This has the look and feel of a TV show, and evidently it may have been on Playhouse 90 before being done as a feature film.
The movie is interesting for a few reasons. First of all, it concerns reality television, which is very timely. A producer (David Wayne) takes an interest in an old doctor (Muni) working in a depressed neighborhood and wants to feature him on television. He's a little hard to pin down because he's always running off to take care of one of his patients. Of special concern is a black man (Williams) who has a brain tumor.
The other reason it was interesting to me is that the producer says that 30 million people would see the TV show. He's right - back then, 30 million people could tune in to a television show. A top TV show today can garner 8-10 million viewers.
Paul Muni was an interesting actor - in the 1930s, he basically hid himself in disguises, heavy makeup and costumes in order to create a role; as he proved in films like Scarface and I Was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, he didn't need to resort to all of that. He was, however, like Luther Adler, a stage actor from another time, and also like Adler, a graduate of the Yiddish theatre, and some of the acting here by the two of them is bigger than what we're used to seeing today, so it comes off as hammy. In one of her classes, Stella Adler said, "You don't know any great actors." That was probably a quote from the 1970s. If we didn't know any great actors in the 1970s, we sure wouldn't know any today if they whacked us over the head. What is great changes; television was one of the big reasons that acting styles changed. Also, many of the characters are overtly Jewish in a way that today may seem stereotypical. It's also fascinating to see a very young Billy Dee Williams in an early role, along with Godfrey Cambridge and Cecily Tyson in smaller parts. Again, some of the depictions here of urban problems come off as overwrought. This is the kind of movie one needs to see in light of the time it was made and not by today's standards to be better appreciated.
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