Playhouse 90: Season 1, Episode 1

Forbidden Area (4 Oct. 1956)

TV Episode  -   -  Comedy | Crime | Drama
6.3
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Title: Forbidden Area (04 Oct 1956)

Forbidden Area (04 Oct 1956) on IMDb 6.3/10

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Cast

Episode credited cast:
Richard Joy ...
Himself - Announcer (as Dick Joy)
...
Major Jesse Price
...
Clark Simmons
...
Catherine Hume
...
Stanley Smith
...
Sgt. Ciocci
...
General Clumb
...
Gen. Keaton
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Arthur Batanides
Harold Dyrenforth
Joel Fluellen
Gil Frye
Richard Gaines
John Gallaudet
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4 October 1956 (USA)  »

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1.33 : 1
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PLAYHOUSE 90: FORBIDDEN AREA (TV) (John Frankenheimer, 1956) ***1/2
11 May 2011 | by (Naxxar, Malta) – See all my reviews

This is a superb drama that offers a typical "What If" scenario of the Cold War era; with this in mind, it can be somewhat heavy-going and decidedly paranoid – but the intelligent script (by Rod Serling), taut direction and all-round fine performances by a star-studded cast make this a gem, as well as a sure-fire example of the quality (often eclipsing the cinema work of many of those involved!) of TV productions during the medium's Golden Age.

The narrative revolves around the decision-making or, rather, theoretical suppositions emanating from a special branch within the U.S. Joint Chiefs Of Staff offices, bringing together experts from various Departments involved in the nation's security. They are led by a typically supercilious Vincent Price and, apart from Secretary Diana Lynn, include among its members Victor Jory and, the youngest, one-eyed former pilot Charlton Heston; the latter is really in his element here (his customary larger-than-life figure, especially with the added facial make-up, complementing the 'big theme' being treated) and I would venture to say that it is one of the best – albeit unsung – roles he ever had!

Anyway, here we have a number of futuristic planes mysteriously crashing, so that the rest are grounded to be inspected; earlier models are intended to replace them for the duration but require maintenance to be fully operational and, therefore, the U.S. suddenly finds itself without an Air Force – which would make the current time ideal for enemy invasion! And that is just what Heston envisions, especially since Christmastime is approaching and no-one will be expecting it!; of course, while he manages to persuade most of his colleagues, he cannot get past Price (incidentally, the two would clash again that same year on the big screen in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS). Our hero then finds solace in Lynn's arms (after he had initially been apprehensive of her role), also because her own kid brother had been one of the 'sabotage' victims.

The film actually opens with Tab Hunter and another man sipping drinks and being grilled by a barman about American baseball stars of a previous generation. An apparently everyday occurrence, the scene then takes a sudden detour into fantasy as, while Hunter does well in the test and is asked to go 'higher up', his companion does not and takes it very badly! It transpires that Hunter is a Communist indoctrinated in American culture so as to convincingly take his place at a military base and carry out the enemy's nefarious and insidious plan! Incidentally, the notion of booby-trapped coffee-flasks (Hunter assumes the job of kitchen aide, with the blabbering cook being played by Jackie Coogan!) comes off as rather amusing but one would certainly never have thought of it…and, in fact, the revelation occurs through a veritable fluke!; when Hunter is ultimately exposed, Heston has to detain his men from tearing him apart. Another notable character is that of Charles Bickford, Heston's ex-Commandant, to whom he turns for support in presenting his 'wild' theory to the Washington big-wigs (their relationship actually anticipates that in William Wyler's epic Western THE BIG COUNTRY {1958}); eventually, since he is directly responsible for the planes, Bickford takes to the air himself to discern what he thinks is the mechanical flaw that is destroying his crafts – little does he know that it is upon craving coffee that his doom is spelled!

While it may not retain the immediacy it must have had at the time, the film makes for a gripping 77 minutes: being the inaugurating "Playhouse 90" episode (introduced by Jack Palance!) and the first of Frankenheimer's TV efforts that I have watched, I can see how he honed his artistry on them and would expand on some of their topics in his cinematic oeuvre (in fact, he would re-unite with Serling on the similarly fanta-political SEVEN DAYS IN MAY {1964}). Incidentally, this predates the three most famous Cold War movies – DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1963), FAIL-SAFE (1964) and THE BEDFORD INCIDENT (1965) – by almost a decade (though the ending eschews the nihilism of later efforts for an optimistic/pacifist outlook), while reminding me of another impressive and star-studded 'Depressing Yuletide' show i.e. Joseph L. Mankiewicz' CAROL FOR ANOTHER Christmas (1964; also scripted by Serling and which I watched during that festive season last year).


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