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Pretty much a waste of Tony Franciosa's great talent
10 September 2006
Anthony Franciosa got off to dazzling start as a film actor with "A
Hatful of Rain" (recreating his Broadway role and getting an Oscar
nomination), "A Face in the Crowd", "The Long, Hot Summer", and
"Career". At times Franciosa was almost capable of a Brando-like
intensity. He could have been a great Sonny or Michael in "The
Godfather", if he had been a few years younger.
Like Ben Gazzara (who co-starred with him on Broadway in "A Hatful of
Rain"), Franciosa's film career petered out quickly and he turned to
television, first with "Valentine's Day" (1964) and then with "Name of
the Game" (1968-71). "Name of the Game" was a series with enormous
potential but the execution was only slightly above average. Franciosa
fought with the producers to improve the quality and eventually quit or
Ben Gazzara wisely didn't do any more series after the fine "Run For
Your Life", but Franciosa returned for a third try with "Search" (1972)
and a fourth time with "Matt Helm" (1975).
Matt Helm is a spy in a series of admired novels by Donald Hamilton,
and in a series of unadmired movies starring Dean Martin.
For the series they turned Helm into a Los Angeles private detective,
which seems reasonable enough. Helm worked for a beautiful blond
attorney named Kronski (played by Laraine Stephens of "Bracken's
World"). Helm and Kronsksi were in love. Gene Evans ("My Friend
Flicka", "The Steel Helmet") played Matt's friend on the force.
The show was developed for television by Sam Rolfe ("The Man From
UNCLE", "Have Gun, Will Travel"). The executive producer was David
Gerber ("Police Story"), who was lucky enough to be married to Laraine
Helm was somewhat reminiscent of Richard Diamond. Helm had a phone
service operator named Gertrude, similar to Diamond's Sam. Helm was a
brash, playboy type who lived the high life and didn't take anything
seriously. Helm lived in a beautiful California house with lots of wall
to wall glass. He drove a cool convertible.
The most memorable scene of the series had a gangster's girl friend
suggestively licking an ice cream cone while Matt tried with difficulty
to concentrate on talking to the gangster. Matt later went and had an
ice cream cone of his own.
This show had no ambition to be anything but light-weight
entertainment, and it was modestly successful at that. But Franciosa
was an actor with greatness in him, and this seemed like a waste of his
talent. If he was frustrated with the quality of "Name of the Game", he
must have been very depressed with this effort. Franciosa got into a
fist fight with episode director Richard Benedict, which must have been
an indication of the tension on the set and Francisosa's general
unhappiness with the direction of his career.
Doing good work in drama series in the 1970's seemed almost impossible.
The only truly good drama series I remember from the 70's are "Lou
Grant" and "Police Story".
Nine years later Franciosa came back for one more series: "Finder of
Lost Loves" (1984). Even in mediocre material, Franciosa was always a
watchable, lively presence. He never stopped trying.
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