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Man from Del Rio (1956)
Watchable Western Set In a Troubled Town
Man From Del Rio (1956) is one of a large number of well directed, nicely written and acted westerns from the 50s, a decade rich in quality westerns, from the small scale, epic and everything in-between. The film's director, Harry Horner, was an old Hollywood hand, used some odd camera angles and made the visual and spatial aspects of this modest production interesting, pleasing to look at, even as the film is itself low budget and in black and white.
Anthony Quinn is the Hispanic sheriff of a small western town where he is needed, due to his skill with handguns, but not liked or wanted due to his ethnic background. Even Katy Jurado's token Hispanic woman, playing somewhat against type, would rather Quinn would simply disappear. The supporting cast is outstanding for a film of this sort, with such familiar players as Whit Bissell and Douglas Fowley in roles in which each would seem be a better fit for the the other's.
It helps to be a western fan to enjoy this picture. This is not a movie for everyone. The story itself is by the numbers, but it works some nice variations on its familiar themes; and star Anthony Quinn is excellent in the lead. He was on the verge of major stardom when he appeared in the film, and on the basis of his performance it's easy to see why. The film was released the same year as Lust For Life, in which Quinn's supporting performance won him an Academy award. It's difficult for me to imagine two more different films for this actor to have appeared in during the same year.
Thriller: Dark Legacy (1961)
That Old Black Magic
Dark Legacy is a well above average episode of the Thriller TV series that could have been a classic of its kind with a better script and one major change in the casting. The opening is one of the best of the entire series. It's a dark night at the castle, with distinguished players Richard Hale, Doris Lloyd, Harry Townes as guests, and spectral Milton Parsons on hand as the butler. Magician Radan Asparos (also played by Harry Townes) is preparing to die, summons up unholy spirits to help him to prepare for death and make some last minute decisions as to what to give the members of his family.
The episode never gets better than the first act. Radan wills a book of black magic to nephew Mario, a second rate magician who truly has no new tricks up his sleeve. We even get to see part of his nightclub act, and it's terrible. It's no wonder that his boss is threatening to let him go. As things turn out the book teaches Mario how to really put on a show, but at a price, by dancing with the devil, called Astaroth in the story, which changes Mario's personality considerably, inspiring him to conjure up tricks that appear to defy not only God but the laws of physics, and of nature in general.
Mario is having problems with his wife, who wants no part of her husband's increasingly bizarre magic act; and an old friend of the couple a former magician himself, who knows the tricks of the trade and doesn't like what he sees, is also involved, and he urges Mario to turn his back on his newly acquired powers. By this time, in the episode's second half, it begins to veer away from horror toward soap opera; and yet the horror is still there, alive and well, returns in full hurricane force, in the final scenes. Director John Brahm works wonders with the story; and the production values are superb, especially early on. The mixture of seedy nightclub antics and Gothic horror is in itself novel, and this adds to the story's effectiveness.
Sadly, those wonderful players whom we see early in the episode do not turn up later. Harry Townes, an excellent actor, is miscast as Mario. He was too refined as a type to play such a seedy character; and he lacked the larger than life quality to convincingly play a magician. Of the actress who plays his wife, the less said the better. Henry Silva, in the ex-magician turned psychology student (!) part, also seems miscast. His somewhat diabolical presence would have made him better casting as Mario, but no matter. As a mood piece, Dark Legacy works wonders. The Lovecraftian premise is an intriguing one, and the elder gods makes their presence felt.
Poor Martin Balsam was once a big shot, but he was brought down by others, two to be specific, one of them, Gavin McLeod, a former friend of his. When McLeod, who's fair to medium high in the rackets, appears to be getting too big for his britches, top guy Tom Drake doesn't like what he sees and hears. McLeod is in trouble now, is nearly killed by Mike "Moose" Mazurki, asks old buddy Balsam to help an old pal out, and Balsam obliges,--or does he?
The screws are turned on both guys by Drake, who now holds all the high cards. Balsam was once bigger than McLeod, but McLeod and Drake cut down erstwhile top man Marty, who on the surface seems to bear no ill will toward anybody; and he does seems to love his blowzy, aspiring singer wife, Cloris Leachman, who'd rather her hubby bought her nice things, like a new hat once in a while. Slot machines figure prominently in this episode, which deals with the various ways they can be tampered with.
For all the business about slot machines, which are thrown out windows, taken apart, then replaced by newer, better ones, they're really only a symbol of a larger corruption. As Untouchables episodes go, this one isn't all that violent. It's more of a series of character studies, of how big men are brought down, become middle men, and are then trapped due to what's expected of him by those higher in the food chain. This is a deceptively quiet and cruel episode. In the days when gangs ruled the streets of Chicago, it seems that you just couldn't win. Solid performances all around; and no hamming this time.
End Of The Season
Death Of A Cop was the final episode of the first season of Alfred Hitchcock's newly expanded hour long anthology series. Its first season wasn't as good as it might of been but it went out with a winner, a no-nonsense crime story, well written by frequent Howard Hawks collaborator Leigh Brackett, expertly directed by Hollywood veteran Joseph Newman, whose work on the series was consistently good, often outstanding.
The title tells us pretty much where the simple story is going; and while the story may be simple the characters feel real, and the father-son relationship is touching. Victor Jory and Peter Brown are fine in the roles. Once things get rolling and we see the consequences of being an honest a cop the episode builds a head of steam, and while it plays almost as if it could be an entry in any number of other anthology shows of its era, this does not detract from it quality.
The production values make the episode feel a bit cramped, as if the producers were trying to save money, but this doesn't detract from the story, which moves along at a good pace, and the ending, while sad, feels just about right.
The Untouchables: Loophole (1961)
A solid third season entry of The Untouchables, Loophole tells the story of a lawyer named Halas. played by Jack Klugman who works mostly for the mob but who also has a soft heart for the underdog, and a penchant for candy that goes back to his childhood.
This is a man who came up poor, still feels that his hands are dirty even though he makes around 200 large a year. He doesn't like his cocky new upstart client and actually feels more of an affinity with Eliot Ness except that they're on the opposite side of the fence.
This episode is far more character driven than most, with a flashy performance from a very young looking Martin Landau playing a ruthless up and coming mobster (is there any other kind?) who, for various reasons, some of them ethical, Klugman the lawyer would rather not be working for; but once in he cannot seem to extricate himself from his predicament.
What makes this episode so good is guest star Jack Klugman, lower key in style than he would be later in his career, he gives a performance of depth and sincerity, showing the innate decency of a man who has lived for the most part a not very decent life.
It's difficult to not like his character, to want him to win, get out of the rackets altogether, do something better with his life, his brains, his heart (and he clearly has one). The odds are against him, and they get worse as the episode approaches its climax. This entry in the series is way above average.
Butterflies Are Free
To Catch a Butterfly had all the makings of something top notch, one of the best of the series Hitchcock hours; and even as it is it's a well above average episode. There is a brief reference to a butterfly on but the episode isn't about flying insects at all. It's about a disturbed child and how his bad, often very bad behavior affects the young couple that just moved next door in the suburban community he and his no-nonsense, plain speaking father reside in.
As a study of a troubled child, the episode doesn't delve as deeply as it might have; and the script presents the young couple next door with almost too many issues of their own. Nor is the family of the boy presented with much insight. There's a generic by the numbers quality to the script that continually drags down what might have been either a gripping psychological thriller or an ahead of its time presentation of dysfunctional suburban family life circa 1962.
For all it's flaws, most of them minor, the episode has some powerful moments; and that the boy himself clearly shows the makings of a psychopath holds the viewer's interest. It's the grownups who are plain, with the usual general issue problems that middle class suburbanites faced back in the pre-JFK assassination (fifty years ago this day, as I write,--and it was a Friday also) early 1960s. The acting of the adult actors is decent but unexceptional, with Bradford Dillman a tad too Ivy League seeming for the character he portrays.
It's young Mickey Sholdar's performance as the bad boy that shines. He was a gifted child actor, excellent at playing troubled kids, and To Catch a Butterfly was a good showcase for him. Somewhat ironically, a few months earlier, he played the son of troubled alcoholic father in a Route 66 episode, Hey Moth, Come Eat the Flame, in which he gave an exceptional performance, far better than the one he gives here. Young Sholdar went from a TV episode with a moth in the title to one that used a butterfly. Coincidence? Probably.
The Guilty Party
Day Of Reckoning is an at times confusing first season entry of the Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and while not dreadful it doesn't live up to its intriguing premise, which is what's a man to do his beautiful young wife, who has just told him that she's leaving him for (an unnamed)other man impulsively pushes her off his yacht and she drowns? As he is rather an "accidental perp", and none of his bridge playing friends down below saw anything, the man can get off scot free if he behaves himself (he's not really under suspicion) and plays his cards right.
Lawman Claude Akins asks an awful lot of questions, which makes the perp feel guiltier than he actually is and paranoid that he's being singled out. He isn't. The cop's just doing his job. The man's friends, professional country club types, rally round the troubled, grieving widower, but to no avail. A ghastly looking Barry Sullivan plays the accidental murderer, and his unsympathetic performance, while in keeping with his character's self-absorbed nature, make him seem more evil than he is. There was always a seedy dandy quality to Sullivan, even when he was young, which made him a hard sell as a hero. He was best when cast as ambiguous characters: urbane, good seeming bad guys or shady types who turn out to be decent sorts after all. Sullivan should have been good casting for the lead but his near catatonic performance is alienating and, quite frankly, boring.
The supporting cast is, marginally, more lively, if only because they're not Barry Sullivan; and especially not in the predicament Sullivan's character is in. Akins, K.T. Stevens and Hugh Marlowe seem well at ease in their roles, as does an ashen but still game Louis Hayward, erstwhile costume picture star who appeared in all kinds of movies but, like Sullivan, fell short of major stardom that seemed, for a brief period, within his grasp. Hayward's casting as a judge reminds me of his role as one of the many suspects in the 1945 Rene Clair film And Then There Were None, from an Agatha Christie story, in which a judge featured more prominently in the film than one might have initially expected. It's the same in Day Of Reckoning, but with a very different outcome. Hayward gives a charming performance, seems to enjoy playing his role.
The ending, which I gather was intended to be shockingly ironic, was easy to see coming by the half-way point. Still, the episode featured some good acting, was well written, yet I rank it as just barely above average due to its trying to do too many things at once. It's as if the writers and director couldn't settle for a tone, an attitude. A little dark humor might have helped. Also, more things for the secondary characters to do.
A typically well mounted Kraft suspense episode, nicely shot and well acted, it deals with gangsters and good guys at odds with one another in what appears to be a thinly disguised Reno. Macdonald Carey plays a seemingly honest casino owner with issues ,--but what are they? Leslie Nielsen is a former DA who's trying to get to the bottom of things, never easy to do in a city whose primary business is gambling and where personal loyalties often interfere with professional conduct.
The story has many twists and turns, a little romance, some tough stuff, some nice glimpses into the life in a city where gambling is legal. There are some good small character part for good actors, notably Michael Pate; and the leading players are both outstanding. That the ending is more tragic and therefore dramatic rather than, as one might have guessed, melodramatic, lends this episode a touch of clause. The color is beautiful, much better than the brighter hues used in color shows from a few years later.
It's an above average episode that should hold the interest of most viewers.
Peter Gunn: The Long, Long Ride (1960)
Down Memory Lane
The Long, Long Ride episode from the second season of Peter Gunn is a treat for nostalgia buffs, as it evokes the gangster films of the past in its storyline of a mob boss, just released from prison, who seems to be on someone's hit list. There are echoes of the then popular The Untouchables TV series in this one; and it's fun to see veteran movie bad guy Robert Wilkie has the plum role of the Mr. Big, and he plays it well.
Also in the cast is Elisha Cook, Jr., an actor for whose personality the word furtive might have been invented. He plays a member of what looks like a knockoff of a Salvation Army band, and his character is crucial to the story, not just his usual little guy on the sidelines. He even gets to sing a little. The dialog in this one is quite good, and the atmosphere is, as usual for this series, dark. The L.A. of Peter Gunn was nearly always a city of night.
Route 66: Shadows of an Afternoon (1963)
The Dog Wags The Tale
Shadows Of An Afternoon is one of the better entries of the third season of Route 66. It begins almost blandly, in a sleepy Florida town, and soon the drama escalates, as a wounded dog, slashed by something or another, is cared for by Linc, while an older woman who lives across the street claims that he slashed the dog himself.
The circumstantial evidence against Linc works against him, and he's soon in jail. Since he was merely house-sitting for a local woman who was away for an extended period abroad, he's viewed with suspicion by the citizens of the town, and before long his case becomes a media circus.
The plot thickens in the second half of the episode, as the top lawyer in town, apathetic at first, agrees to take on the case. Meanwhile, the woman who claims to have witnessed the crime has issues of her own. She's eccentric, lives alone, claims her husband died heroically at sea. The story unfolds at a rather leisurely pace, but then it's not like Linc is up on charges of first degree murder. In the end it's more a character study than a crime story, as was easy to guess early on.
Glenn Corbett's Linc dominates the episode, with Martin Milner playing second fiddle. Corbett gives a good, disciplined performance, and he never overacts. Ralph Meeker is forceful as the lawyer who, with some prodding from his secretary, rises to the occasion. The best performance however comes from stage and screen veteran Miriam Hopkins, who captures the pathos of a lonely older woman who has kept so many secrets for so long that her judgment has become impaired. She's not a bad person, just a wounded one.