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Writer Howard Rodman was asked by Warner Brothers to create a TV
version of Dirty Harry Callahan, and Harry Orwell is what he came up
with! Rodman based Harry on a bit character in Nathaniel West's "Day of
the Locust". The West character was a tired middle-aged salesman
walking up a city hill on a hot afternoon with his jacket thrown over
his shoulder and his sleeves rolled up. Harry O was written with Telly
Savalas in mind, but Savalas became the peerless Theo Kojak instead.
David Janssen reinvented himself as Harry Orwell, giving a superb performance unlike any he had given before. The forty-two year old Janssen's Orwell was completely different from the brash lady-killer private detective Richard Diamond he had played at 26. Janssen's Harry Orwell was as different from his Richard Diamond as Bogart's Philip Marlowe was from his Sam Spade. And Janssen had completely left behind his great signature role of Dr. Richard Kimble.
Howard Rodman created a fine character, and Janssen played him to perfection (and made you forget it was created with the great Savalas in mind). This was far different from "O'Hara, U.S. Treasury" (which he had done two years earlier) where Jack Webb apparently asked Janssen to play some version of himself to stultifying effect. (Howard Rodman had co-written two episodes of "Naked City" that Janssen had guest starred on in the early 60's.)
The best visual images in the series were Janssen riding on a bus at night (shades of "The Fugitive") and Janssen running on the beach in his bathing suit with his halting, distinctive gait. Janssen created a very appealing classic private eye hero using his great voice for the narration, a unique shambling walk and a brilliantly chosen shabby wardrobe.
This second pilot for "Harry O" started the show promisingly. Producer/director Jerry Thorpe ("Kung Fu") did a beautiful job with this movie, hiring a very cool supporting cast including Martin Gabel, Tim McIntire, Zalman King, John Anderson, Clu Gulager, Ellen Weston and Howard Da Silva. But the best casting was of the two women who played opposite Janssen: lovely Andrea Marcovicci in the main plot and young Jodie Foster in the subplot. Both actresses were perfect, and their relationships with Janssen gave this movie an emotional weight that the resulting series didn't have. The scenes between Janssen and Marcovicci and Janssen and Foster were golden.
The resulting series was good, but not as great as it should have been. The show started the same year as "The Rockford Files". "Harry O" had a much stronger central character, but the series wasn't as shrewdly done as "Rockford". Harry O should have been set in Los Angeles from the beginning, not in San Diego. The Hollywood connection should have been played up. Harry's "friends on the force" detracted from the show, even though they were good actors. Maybe his friend on the force should have been a woman (Salome Jens). The series needed better recurring characters for Harry to play off of like Roy Huggins/Stephen Cannell gave Rockford. Perhaps Harry should have had two or three ex-wives (Colleen Dewhurst, Diana Muldaur, Julie Sommars) and maybe a cop father (Kent Taylor) and a former show girl/actress mother (Larraine Day or Gypsy Rose Lee). The character of Les, who hero-worshiped Harry, was very good and should have been used more. And they should have found excuses to bring back Marcovicci and Foster. Maybe Marcovicci's character became a lounge singer who the infatuated Orwell stayed in touch with. Maybe Harry should have adopted Jodie.
It was apparent that a lot of effort and talent went into this series. But they weren't quite able to find stories to tell that were as compelling as their superb hero.
Man, do I miss "Harry O". I used to love seeing this detective series
with David Janssen's gravelly charm as a cynical PI who has to take
public transit to solve mysteries! It is completely antithetical to the
"Magnum PI" slick cars, slick everything that now permeates the
standard TV detective format. This is partially why I love the 1970's
era of cop shows. They portrayed the heroes as overworked, underpaid,
world-weary, blue-collar joes who are always swimming upstream. There
are no super heroics here. In fact, the Harry Orwell character pushed
the detective archetype back a rung or two. He shows us that being a PI
isn't so bloody marvelous.
It's been a long time since "Harry O" disappeared even from filling in a time slot on the late late show, and almost as long since this TV movie (the second pilot to the series, if you will) used to fill programming on lazy Saturday afternoons on my local bands.
This time Harry O is after an obsessive nut job photographer played by Zalman King. Since BLUE SUNSHINE is one of my favourite cult movies, I have a soft spot for this interesting actor, even though he isn't the greatest thespian the world has known. Before he went behind the camera to produce the soft core fantasies of TWO MOON JUNCTION or the "Red Shoes Diaries" series, he nonetheless had his share of weird roles. Case in point, this psycho goes around with this huge bow-tie- he more resembles Bozo the clown than a stalker, but King's "edgy" acting gives the character the danger beneath the sheep's clothing.
This TV-movie also features an early performance by Jodie Foster in her "tomboy" stage (think ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE) as an urchin who sets up home on Harry O's beach property.
In all, SMILE JENNY YOU'RE DEAD is a satisfying thriller with an unusual climax. It is another nice memory of TV-films of the day. Video, please?
"Smile Jenny.." was the second pilot for the "Harry-O" TV series (the first pilot, shown almost a year earlier was "Harry-O: Such Dust as Dreams are Made On"), and convinced ABC to pick up Harry-O as weekly show. A lot of economies were taken on this 2nd outing; less location shooting at the north Santa Monica (its funny the producers then set the show for most of the first season in San Diego, and then moved it back to LA for the last 6 first season episodes, and all of the second season) beach hut, fewer "name" guest stars, save Clu Gallagher (who seemed to pop up everywhere in the 70's), and a simple plot: keeping a young woman alive. This 2nd pilot was far inferior to the first, as it really doesn't delve into Harry's character (he was a likeable curmundgeon in the first pilot, as well as the show) to the degree of the first movie. This is more of a simple good guy-bad guy story. That being said, it must have done something to change the minds of ABC exec's, who then green-lited the show (truely the best TV PI show ever) which appeared in the fall of '74, and ran until August '76.
As a beach-front living private investigator with a bullet still lodged in his back, David Janssen made a terrific, hard-bitten crime-fighter of the Old School (not quite Bogie, maybe a latter-day Dana Andrews). This pilot for his very successful TV series "Harry O" is mostly memorable though for young Jodie Foster, playing a pre-teen street urchin waiting for her shoplifting mother to get out of jail (the movie opens with a beautiful shot of Foster asleep on Janssen's boat, The Answer). Foster has all the best lines in the movie, and she reads them straight--without a hint of precociousness. As a murder-mystery, the film lags a bit and as a film it certainly doesn't benefit from future-director Zalman King's unpleasant presence (he's like a second-rate Marjoe Gortner). But for Foster-philes it's a goldmine, and students of cinematography should study that amazing first shot. 'The Answer' indeed!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Harry Orwell (David Janssen) acts world-weary but isn't. A cop retired
due to an injury, he's really involved enough to assist a wandering
little girl (Jodie Foster) in an unconnected subplot and get her mother
released for shoplifting. He seems to be playing around with a shapely
neighbor, but when he sees Andrea Marcovicci, daughter of a fellow cop
(veteran actor Howard da Silva), he falls quite hard.
The movie takes risks up and down the line, with every character, and they pay off. Although structured as a thriller, it's actually a series of character studies and the characters are quirky. It's also actually a love story. Older man meets younger woman, older man and younger woman come together (but not sexually), younger woman separates from older man. This is NOT the usual formula! Also unusual is the demise of the killer, who has two personalities. Rather than the usual physical confrontation or some clever shooting, the young man (Zalman King) tries to show that he's Superman and can fly.
Along the way, character actor Martin Gabel has a part, not quite meaty enough. But John Anderson has a superb monologue and delivers it in a subdued manner that's poles apart from many of his other roles.
Andrea Marcovicci was cast exceptionally well. Her character has lines that sound like Andrea the person today, judging from a long quotation in wiki attributed to her. This is very remarkable. She plays a beautiful woman who is like a butterfly that cannot be captured. Who can truly win her heart on any long-lasting basis? Perhaps her children. She may be made to be more mother than wife.
Somewhere along the way as I watched, it occurred to me that Harry Orwell was too good to be true. Then it struck me that those are the roles that Janssen tended to get and play. He was at once paternal, vulnerable, smart, skilled, romantic, having things go wrong, and in danger. He had a terrific voice for it. He had the looks for it. I'm sure he made it all happen and that it did not come easy. His first film part was at the ripe old age of 13.
So what is this story about? It's about the highly twisted King secretly tracking and photographing Marcovicci. He graduates to murder by killing her husband and then John Anderson, Andrea's companion. Da Silva brings in Janssen, who is now a private detective.
My appetite is whetted to revisit the Harry O series. Failing that, I have lots of old Fugitive episodes on videotape. Janssen is like an old friend. If he can survive the slings and arrows of his misfortunes, we feel more like facing our own. When he doesn't get the girl as in this movie, we're thankful if we have a mate.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I was interested in "Smile Jenny, You're Dead" because I saw that it
featured a young Jodie Foster in a supporting role. I was surprised to
learn that the movie was a pilot for a TV series. I thought that most
of the movie seemed pretty routine, with David Janssen of "The
Fugitive" playing a private detective trying to protect a model (Andrea
Marcovicci) from a maniac. Jodie Foster plays a homeless girl whom the
I really liked Zalman King's character. He brings a sort of coolness to the obsessive psychopath. His photography equipment looks primitive by today's standards. I sure didn't predict what he did at the end of the movie! Watching the movie, I could see that LA wasn't so built up back then. All in all, it's not any kind of great movie, but innocuous. I figure that I'll try to check out the TV series "The Fugitive" (I've only seen the movie) as well as "Harry O", which is based on this movie.
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