High-profile attorney Solomon Bradshaw is desperate for a defense of his wealthy client Jessica Winthrop who is charged with murdering her husband. Bradshaw is utterly convinced of her ...
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High-profile attorney Solomon Bradshaw is desperate for a defense of his wealthy client Jessica Winthrop who is charged with murdering her husband. Bradshaw is utterly convinced of her innocence, yet Mrs. Winthrop refuses to answer any questions in her own defense, maintaining that it would violate her self-avowed pacifist ideals. Bradshaw intends to hire private detective Johnny Staccato to commit perjury in court and provide an alibi for Mrs. Winthrop. Johnny agrees on the condition that he is given the opportunity to meet Mrs. Winthrop first. In her holding cell, Johnny interrogates her and many shocking revelations are exposed. Written by
Completely different approach by director/star J.C.
Cassavetes invented a form of semi-improvised acting and direction for cinema, resulting in several classic films including "Faces" and "Shadows", but the segment "Solomon" of his fondly remembered TV series takes an approach diametrically opposed to his signature style. It's somewhat experimental in that regard, and mesmerizing.
Pretentious script by Stanford Whitmore, a journeyman scripter who did the original "The Fugitive" pilot among many TV assignments, unfolds like a one-act play, the sort popular in TV's Golden Age on series like "Alcoa Theater" or "Playhouse 90". First half of the show is a two- hander dominated by Elisha Cook Jr., cast way way against type as a brilliant defense attorney (of Perry Mason caliber) giving John an over- the-top performance clearly encouraged by the director. He's defending a woman charged with murdering her husband brutally with a knife, and demonstrates violently how one imagines the crime was committed.
Second half brings the woman into the show for interrogation, with the three protagonists in an abstract room purporting to be at a prison on Randall's Island. The show is claustrophobic, set entirely indoors on this set as well as Cook's place, with brief second unit footage to establish J.C. in a NYC setting.
Benjamin Kline, a cinematographer from the Silent Era who made innumerable B movies and all sorts of TV shows, provides chiaroscuro film noir style lighting, especially effective for the close-up entrance of Cloris Leachman as the femme fatale of the story.
There's no action, chasing around or even jazz and night club atmosphere in this segment, just dialectic conversation among the 3 players. Whitmore's dialog is artificial, nothing like the colloquial approach favored by J.C. as movie director. But the sparks fly, particularly in a dramatic face-slap applied by Cassavetes to Leachman at a key moment as he questions her.
Drawback here is murky thematics in Whitmore's script: he's going after some big game, as Leachman is posited as a pacifist (at first I thought she was going to be tagged a Communist, but that was likely too controversial for broadcast TV), properly defined by J.C. as a devout believer in non-violence. But the story & dramatics turn on a point that is contradictory: supposedly Leachman will not defend herself as she does not want to "war" with the prosecution/State, and won't reveal to Cook or J.C. her whereabouts on the night of the murder. The idea that a non-violent pacifist would refuse to defend his or herself and fight against the State is ridiculous and to my mind defines a "Passivist" to coin a term, not a pacifist.
The show plays well otherwise, and has a rather wimpy voice-over moral summation by J.C. at the end that it could do without. But as a counterpoint to the typical Cassavetes loosey-goosey realistic approach I found the heightened dramatics engrossing, and Leachman's precise performance amazing.
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