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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What a treat this 1963-64 season premiere must have been for fans of
WAGON TRAIN, returning in color and expanded to a whopping 90-minutes
(taking a page from THE VIRGINIAN playbook). And this opening episode
proved itself a worthy addition to the annals of WAGON TRAIN.
Taking center stage is Carolyn Jones a year before landing her iconic role on THE ADDAMS FAMILY. She's outstanding as Molly Kincaid, the embittered wife of Ray Danton's Robert Kincaid, the man who thirteen years earlier panicked and ran out on her when Comanche Indians stormed their cabin. Molly is unforgiving and has been nursing a grudge all those nightmarish years (one harrowing scene shows Molly laying in a tent about to be gang raped by three lusty braves who come in while the aged medicine man stands by aloof shaking a rattle). Her sole reason for coming to the bustling town of Kincaid is to murder its founder and namesake, Robert.
As Robert, Ray Danton proves his range playing against type as a mild-mannered and emotional businessman, a far cry from his usual roles as suave playboys and tough guys like Legs Diamond and George Raft. When he first appears with his hair colored gray, I knew flashbacks were afoot, and they show exactly what took place that fateful day neither he nor Molly has been able to forget. Robert is branded a coward, but what he lacks in testicular fortitude, he makes up for with other virtues, ones not often held in high regard in the wild West--business savvy, sentimentality, generosity, and a skill for single parenting his daughter Martha, who, unbeknownst to Molly, survived that Indian raid thirteen years earlier.
Molly is at first a loathsome character, stealing, feigning ignorance of English, lying, and of course attempting to bushwhack her hapless husband. Consumed with hate, bitterness, and vanity--resenting the fact her once-beautiful face is ringed with ugly, raised Comanche tribal "tattoos," Molly is initially difficult to warm up to. But she too is revealed to have her virtues, such as her love for her adopted son, Rome, a white boy the Comanches kidnapped from a wagon train when he was about four. Molly raises Rome as her own, lavishing love and learning upon him, ensuring he knows English. In the story, Rome is about 16 when he escapes captivity with his 32-year-old adopted mother, but in real life the actor--Fabian--was 23 and Carolyn Jones 33, which led me originally to think they were a couple instead of mother and son.
Rome is soon relegated to the sidelines. Molly early on expresses concern and an interest in seeing him, but seems to forget him once she becomes embroiled in the domestic drama of reuniting with her husband and thought-dead daughter Martha. Rome becomes comic relief--resisting a bath, getting a haircut, and in a cross-cultural communications fail even attempts a Comanche marriage to the flirty Merrybell.
Playing a pivotal role is "special guest star" Barbara Stanwyck as Kate Crawley, a brassy whip-cracking supplier to the wagon train. She's gritty and hard-edged, but reveals a softer side as well, easing and facilitating Molly's reversion from Comanche squaw to civilized white woman, wife, and mother. I was especially impressed by Kate's encouraging Molly to seek God, religious faith being not only a key component of civilization but also something Molly needed to reembrace personally in order to move forward in life. Kate deserves credit for bringing Molly from cynically remarking she forgot how to pray while a prisoner of the Comanches to the humbled and forgiving woman ascending arm-in-arm with her repentant husband the steps of the church he built in her honor.
Stanwyck and Danton will return later in this season headlining separate stories. But this would prove to be Fabian's sole appearance, which was disappointing since Rome joined the wagon train at the end. What ever became of his romance with Merrybell? Did Chris, Charlie, Coop and Company ever smooth down Rome's rough edges? I thought Rome being written off at the end was a weakness of the story. He and Molly both seemed too quick to separate after all the years they persevered through together. But perhaps it was necessary if Molly was to forget the past and return to her former life and for Rome to begin a new life of his own. Their moments together at the end were a heartbreaker and never was parting such sweet sorrow.
Adding to my enjoyment was the fact I watched this episode on Easter Eve as the story's themes are forgiveness, reconciliation, and new life. A promising start to the seventh season.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I think I know why so many reviews and write-ups about this picture
focus on the off-screen clash of the titanic egos and the taboo-defying
love scene between black lawman and Indian squaw--it's not a very good
The premise was good. It's 1912 and Burt Reynolds' half-breed Yaqui Joe robbed a Phoenix bank of $6,000 to buy 100 rifles to arm the Yaqui Indians of Sonora, Mexico, who are woefully outmatched in their conflict with the Mexican army led by General Verdugo. Meanwhile, into town rides Big Jim Brown as Sheriff Lydecker determined to capture and bring back the outlaw. But to General Verdugo, one meddling gringo is the same as any other, and Yaqui Joe and Lydecker soon find themselves chained together and destined to face the firing squad.
Raquel Welch lends glamour to the proceedings as Sarita, but is incidental to the plot, relegated to eye-candy: luring a soldier to his death by unbuttoning her shirt, taking a shower, and playing the eminently seducible soldada.
The movie belongs to Burt, whose charisma and smile steal every scene from the ponderous and lumbering Brown. Yaqui Joe is no hero, however, welshing on paying his whore, slapping her around, then dragging her topless onto the hotel balcony in a vain effort to distract the soldiers long enough to allow the Yaqui prisoners to escape. Brown's Lydecker, a lawman eager to bring in Yaqui Joe for the $200 reward and job security, is a 15-year U.S. Cavalry veteran of the Indian Wars and openly declares his dislike for Indians. He rebuffs Yaqui Joe and Sarita when they implore him to join in their fight, but his attitude changes once he befriends a young Yaqui boy who is later abducted by the military--now it's personal.
To its credit, the film never descends into schmaltz with everyone forsaking their prejudices and joining in a group hug. Yaqui Joe and Lydecker work together, but don't necessarily like or trust each other. They are no Culp and Cosby and 100 RIFLES never becomes a buddy movie. In fact, I don't think anyone in this picture really liked anyone else. It's a cynical story, with each of the featured characters coming to Sonora for his own gain.
Railroad man Grimes, for example, represents American interests in Mexico. Played with disarming charm by Dan O'Herlihy, Grimes initially appears as a dandy in his white suit and weak stomach for killing, but in the end he's confident and poised to pull the strings of reluctant leader Yaqui Joe. It's telling that Joe parrots to Lydecker the stirring speech he just heard from Grimes, indicating he's already fallen under the American's persuasive spell.
And in a rather ham-fisted foreshadowing of World War II, there is Lt. Franz von Klemme. As a fan of director Tom Gries' 1966-68 series RAT PATROL, I was delighted to see Eric Braeden--still billed as Hans Gudegast--playing--what else?--a German military adviser to General Verdugo. Braeden has a gravitas that contrasted sharply with Verdugo's bombast and decadence, evident in the scene where Verdugo lolls in a tub being scrubbed by a couple senoritas while von Klemme scowls in disgust. Of course, von Klemme's sound counsel falls on deaf ears. Verdugo is more interested in salving his bruised ego by settling personal scores with Yaqui Joe and Lydecker than in the military objective of retrieving the 100 rifles. (And of course proto-Nazi von Klemme advised Verdugo to exterminate all the Yaqui in a too-obvious and ominous allusion to what the future held.) I sympathized with von Klemme and this fool's errand he was dispatched to in Sonora and was glad to see him survive and make a strategic retreat in the end, just as he did in dozens of RAT PATROL episodes.
The names of the villains each evoke strong associations: Verdugo - vertigo, unsteady and liable to fall. Von Klemme - clammy, unpleasantly slimy, sticky, and moist--yuck! Grimes - grimy, oily and dirty (in contrast with his white suit). I'm confident these names were not chosen by accident.
In another of the film's strong points, the Yaqui Indians are not romanticized as virtuous underdogs. When they conquer Verdugo's compound, they immediately get drunk and trash all the trappings of civilization they can find, eventually burning it all to the ground in the grand sacking tradition of the European barbarians, Mongols, and Huns. It was the Yaqui's tearing up the railroad tracks that sparked the conflict with the Mexican military in the first place, signifying this war is at its heart a war on civilization, modernity, and progress.
100 RIFLES is an ambitious Western that stumbles as entertainment, though it dutifully delivers action, excitement, and gunplay. The titles and Jerry Goldsmith soundtrack were excellent, as were the locations (the ruined cathedral especially). The acting is very good, with Burt Reynolds standing out, ably backed by Brown and the three principal baddies--Fernando Lamas, Dan O'Herlihy, and Eric Braeden.
The shortcomings include the tropes that traditionally plague Westerns--people falling forward after being shot (and practically diving over the sandbags near the end), Welch arriving just in time to hear a dying man's last words before he shudders and dies in her arms, and Welch and her "cavalry" coming over the wall a split-second before the firing squad executed our heroes. These weren't mortal wounds, but they added up over the 110-minute run time that could have been trimmed by twenty minutes. Worth watching once.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One of the least-known of the numerous series spawned by the success of
THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., which is ironic because JERICHO was an MGM
Arena Production executive produced by Norman Felton, developer of
U.N.C.L.E. Co-creator credits go to the esteemed team of Levinson and
Link, just a year or so shy of premiering their most enduring creation,
The premise, judging by this episode alone, appears to be U.N.C.L.E. set in World War II. Don Francks plays American Franklin Sheppard, John Leyton plays British Nicholas Gage, and thoroughly Italian actor Marino Mase plays Frenchman Jean-Gaston Andre. Francks is the Napoleon Soloesque leader of the trio, Leyton the poor man's Ilya, a pretty boy with an anachronistic Beatles mop top, and Mase the bombastic risk taking hot dog. The team works well together and the actors enjoyed an easy chemistry right out of the gate.
Broadcast as the third episode, this was actually the pilot. And if an international cast fighting Nazis stirs up memories of THE RAT PATROL, they will only be heightened by the welcome guest appearance of Eric Braedon (still billed as Hans Gudegast) as Major Richter. He steals every scene he's in.
The setting is Occupied France, and Jericho--codename for our trio--is assigned to put the kibosh on a propaganda Bastille Day concert of Wagner music. Jericho initially balks at the unimportance of the mission, but morale and a renowned conductor and his orchestra being used as pawns by the Nazis warrants a table-turning.
Jericho plots not only to quash the concert, but to sneak conductor Paul Marchand and all 101 members of his orchestra across the Channel to England! Jericho's plotting and playing out the mission is similar to that seen on MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, which premiered this same 1966-67 season. Adding to that vibe is the Lalo Schifrin score, with cues strikingly similar to those on MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, martial drums and all. No complaints--I loved it!
One thing I didn't love was the mass slaughter of Nazis over the course of the episode. Yeah, they're the bad guys, but Jericho, with machine guns and grenades, kill wantonly and relentlessly. A couple Nazis, investigating oboe music emanating from a manhole, get machine-gunned in the face. Attempts at humor inserted into the carnage--a woman bringing her birdcage into the house while bullets fly--failed to lighten the mood.
The guest cast is good, though never used to its full potential. Even Braedon seems to be hovering in the background instead of front and center. I wanted him to have a larger, more commanding role. Nehemiah Persoff plays Paul Marchand, and gets a couple good scenes, but nothing like he would enjoy a month later in the outstanding "Odds on Evil" episode of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. Ben Wright plays Mallory, Jericho's contact who gave them this assignment and presumably another at the conclusion. He appeared poised to play this show's answer to Mr. Waverly, but he vanished after this one appearance.
What will keep me tuning in, so to speak, will be Don Francks as team leader Sheppard. He has a determined, weather-beaten face that testifies to a hard-knock life with many missions behind him. He just commands attention and respect. Leyton was a lightweight, and ugh--that ridiculous hair. I'm a stickler for period dress and styles, and I wish the producers had insisted on it, but it's obvious Leyton was the most David McCallumesque actor they could contract. Andre has charisma, but he lost me with his turn as the hot dog frog who disobeys orders to rescue a countryman, an amateur stunt that jeopardized the lives of over 100 people. He'll need reining in.
Alas, Francks will never get the chance to whip these whelps into seasoned fighting men since the series was torpedoed after a mere sixteen episodes (blame Batmania, which turned out to be a more indomitable foe than the Nazi hordes). This was a good even if flawed opening salvo in a series that's ripe for rediscovery, especially for my fellow fans of spy shows of the Sixties. Can't wait to see 'em all!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This 73-minute TV Movie pilot for the 1975-78 series SWITCH was a real
treat, especially for a longtime fan of both Eddie Albert and Robert
Wagner. Back in the 1960s, who would have imagined Oliver Wendell
Douglas and Alexander Mundy would prove a popular pair and enjoy such
an easy chemistry? Television impresario Glen Larson did, and paired
them for a fun few years. And it all started here.
This pilot, which I saw under the title LAS VEGAS ROUNDABOUT, establishes the premise inventively. Crooked cop Lt. Phil Beckman engineers an elaborate frame-up of reformed safecracker Chuck Powell. We see Beckman planting a couple diamonds in Powell's car before arresting Powell at his little kid's birthday party. In jail, Powell's lawyer Murray Franklin wants Powell to plea bargain, but Powell insists he's innocent so convincingly that Franklin decides to bring in the only two investigators who can break the frame: Frank "Mac" MacBride and Pete Ryan. In a voice-over, Franklin narrates the improbable origin story of how a retired bunco cop teamed up with his greatest nemesis--now reformed--to open a private investigation office.
Yeah, it does smack a little of IT TAKES A THIEF. But what's wrong with that? Robert Wagner again plays the reformed criminal whose talents he now turns to good. And like Malachi Throne's older, wiser Noah Bain, Eddie Albert's Mac is the seasoned voice of wisdom and experience. A big difference, however, is that Mac and Pete are equal partners. Gone are the pulling rank and threats of returning Al to prison that made Bain and Mundy's partnership uneasy at best. In SWITCH it appears Mac and Pete sincerely enjoy working together.
In this pilot episode, Mac and Pete conspire to con the con man at his own game. They know Beckman pulled that jewel heist to cover his gambling debts. The only way to catch him in the act is to dig him another hole and push him into it. Pete impersonates a CIA agent and Mac plays the retired cop hired to assist him on a special assignment. Mac acts like a bumbling old cop treating this federal gig as a lark and spills confidential details to Beckman, leading to Pete's wanting to fire him and find a capable replacement. Beckman presents himself and into the carefully laid trap he steps.
Next stop: Las Vegas, where the goal is to trick Beckman into believing he lost a whopping $25,000, forcing him to steal again. There are bumps in the road and of course the best laid plans go awry. Glen Larson keeps things suspenseful and the action moving swiftly to the inevitable denouement.
TV fans will spot many familiar faces among the guest cast. Charles Durning is featured as Lt. Beckman and does an excellent job, going from deferential second banana to confidently taking charge. He was well cast as the bad guy. Ken Swofford is on hand as the police captain. Blink and you'll miss Ken Lynch's one scene and couple lines at the very beginning. Two younger stars paying their dues were series regular Sharon Gless as put-upon secretary Maggie and Roger E. Mosley in a small but key role as a fence. Fame on CAGNEY AND LACEY and MAGNUM P.I. was awaiting just across the '80s Rubicon.
Also in a small role was Marc Lawrence as Franks, the casino manager. James Bond fans will fondly recall his minor but memorable parts in both DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER and THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN. Interestingly, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER was set primarily in Vegas and James Bond's cover name was Franks. (And that film's leading lady--Jill St. John--has been Mrs. Robert Wagner since 1990.)
And speaking of beautiful women, bringing the glamour to this episode was Jaclyn Smith as Ally McGuinness, a freelance operative Mac and Pete called in to slip a mickey to Beckman. Smith appeared poised to be a regular player, but disappeared after only two more episodes (shades of Susan Saint James' Charlie Brown on IT TAKES A THIEF). And of course the next year Smith was snapped up by Aaron Spelling, slipped into that white bikini, and was propelled to iconic status on CHARLIE'S ANGELS.
SWITCH series creator and writer Glen Larson specialized in striking the balance between suspenseful and lighthearted adventure, and he struck it again here. The banter between Mac and Pete bring smiles, while the violent intensity of Beckman raises the threat menace to red, especially in the end when the audience doesn't know whether he looked into that file revealing Mac and Pete as private investigators. Like on COLUMBO, we know who the bad guy is, so the fun is watching the good guys draw the noose tighter. And they do it with style and verve.
LAS VEGAS ROUNDABOUT is the series pilot, but it can be enjoyed on its own as a lighthearted and entertaining movie. Eddie Albert and Robert Wagner make engaging leads and they left me eager to track down episodes of the series and to dream of a DVD release.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A longtime favorite episode of the series. Everybody contributes to the
laughs, and there are so many of them! Like giggling at Chuckles'
funeral, it seems inappropriate to laugh at Mary getting
burglarized--twice!--but it's just hilarious.
All the elements that make the special are here, from Mary's plaintive cry of help, to Rhoda's call to the police, to Phyllis' rivalry with Rhoda. At the office, everyone gets good lines and the camaraderie among them was strengthened by everyone pitching in to help Mary (even Ted with a manual ice-crusher).
Every line in the episode was a winner except for the forced and awkward scene where Phyllis pathetically tries to coerce Mary into coming to Lars' SCARD meeting. That fell flat with a thud. Another misstep was the dangling plot thread of Mary's aunt coming into town that served no real purpose in the plot and set the audience up for a never-delivered payoff.
The breakout star in this episode was Bob Dishy as Officer Tully, the number two cop who's trying harder. Why didn't this affable and abundantly talented actor enjoy greater success? He struck a perfect balance between being overeager without ever becoming a buffoon. He was sincere and somebody I thought could be a serious romance for Mary. I loved how Rhoda called him a coward after he chickened out from putting his comforting arms around Mary. I thought he coulda been a contender, but alas, it was not to be.
Also excellent was Vic Tayback, playing a good guy for a change, albeit a gruff one (paving the way to playing Mel on ALICE). I loved the scene where these two cops step aside for some petty squabbling. You didn't see that on ADAM 12! And speaking of Seventies cop shows, every time I enjoy this episode I think of how Dishy would have been a wonderful addition to the cast of BARNEY MILLER, where Wojo took up Dishy's indefatigable drive to make detective. Dishy never returned to MTM, but he did the next year play a strikingly similar character on an early episode of COLUMBO: "The Greenhouse Jungle."
"Second Story Story" is an all-around excellent episode featuring the entire ensemble cast, a pair of standout guest stars, and Burt Mustin to boot! Not even twenty episodes in and the series was already steady on its feet and building its reputation as a classic.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A typically excellent early episode of the iconic series. Death is the
sacred cow that gets tipped this time around. Archie's cousin Oscar has
been enjoying an extended stay with the Bunkers, drinking brandy,
eating steak, and smoking cigars all on Archie's dime. Enough is
finally enough and when Archie finally musters the courage to throw the
bum out, he dispatches Mike to drop the axe on the old guy. But the
Grim Reaper beat him to it--Oscar's dead.
The satire really kicks in once word gets out. The funeral director--don't call him an undertaker--is trying to sell Archie a deluxe package funeral while neighbors and a distant relative (a hilarious Peggy Rea) drop in. A nice touch was Louise Jefferson coming by with a cake. Even the Reverend Felcher--don't call him Fletcher (whatever!)--makes a personal appearance. This series often had such small casts, many times just the four stars and maybe Lionel, that it's overwhelming to see the set filled with people, which reflects what Archie was feeling at the time.
Yeah, Archie's cheap, and he has no compunction about Cousin Oscar being buried in Potter's Field. And why should he? Cousin Oscar was a thorn in Archie's side (and face) since childhood, and a shameless freeloader in his waning days. The Bunker Bunch in Detroit and Cicero raised a whopping $73 to help with expenses, evidencing what low esteem Oscar enjoyed in his own family.
Mr. Whitehead, a slick salesman first and a lodge brother a distant second (i.e. expect no breaks from him) knows people and what they've been acculturated to expect when death strikes. How can Archie tell his family and friends he'll have his cousin Oscar dumped in Potter's Field? Mr. Whitehead knows he'll seal a deal and he does.
This episode really allowed Archie to shine. He's in near constant motion throughout the entire episode, enjoying a cigar and a rest in his chair only at the conclusion. He interacts nimbly with so many characters and--look out Bob Newhart!--displays his deftness at the one-sided telephone call. Only Archie could cuss out a little kid on her birthday and make it a laugh line!
In the end, Archie is a sympathetic figure, beaten down by forces he can't understand. His principles--such as they were--waver in the faces of the bereaved, who expect the funeral with its pomp and pageantry and of course the accompanying luncheon. Archie does in the end snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, basking in the success of the funeral and bragging of his E. F. Huttonesque abilities to draw a crowd.
Unexplained in the end are comments by Mike and Gloria, who called the funeral a travesty and barbaric. Exactly what were they describing? The hordes who turned out for a funeral for a man they didn't know? Or just how Mr. Whitehead and his ilk make death a commodity? "The Saga of Cousin Oscar" and many other episodes--especially the early ones--strike this perfect balance between leaving you laughing and thinking.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I don't know about you, but even lo after fifty years I'm still keeping
a wary eye peeled for people with extended pinkies. And I still suspect
the whole Walton family is an alien sleeper cell! Today being the
fiftieth anniversary of the broadcast of the first episode "Beachhead,"
I pulled down the DVD set and rewatched it as a celebration. Sadly, I
saw absolutely nothing marking the anniversary, a sharp contrast to the
all the ballyhoo that surrounded STAR TREK's last September. I'm a
Trekkie, of course, so don't begrudge that classic its deserved
plaudits. THE INVADERS is an under-appreciated classic.
This pilot episode does a masterful job establishing the premise and the protagonist, as well as leaving the audience with a sense of impending dread. The series was both a contrast and a complement to the idealism of STAR TREK and the candy-colored optimism of LOST IN SPACE. Its being earthbound lent it a realism the other series lacked. As thought-provoking as STAR TREK could be, it was also escapist fun in taking us to strange new worlds. THE INVADERS offered no such escape.
James Daly, who would later guest star as Flint in a particularly thoughtful episode of STAR TREK--"Requiem of Methuseleh"--is excellent here as architect David Vincent's business partner Alan Landers. He is also Vincent's first convert from skeptic to believer, though sadly Vincent never learns that.
I liked how we got only a glimpse into David Vincent's former life. It establishes that there was one, and the story demonstrates how there can be no going back to it. Landers' death, coupled with the burning of Vincent's apartment, closed that door for good. I was reminded of the prophet Elisha, who when called to a new mission in life slaughtered his oxen and burned the ox plow, putting to death the old life and dedicating himself fully to the new one. Ironically, it was the aliens themselves who left Vincent no way back, and setting him on this new path.
Quinn Martin Productions never lack for great guest stars, and this opening salvo in the war for humanity boasts a bevy of the era's stalwarts. J.D. Cannon, warming up for his future role on McCLOUD, plays a hardnosed Lt. Ben Holman. I suspected he was an alien, especially because he was chummy with Sheriff Lou Carver, played with malicious aplomb by perennial bad guy John Milford.
We know right from when she wheels into the frame that Aunt Sara is an alien, extending two pinkies to leave the audience no doubt. Ellen Corby plays her with relish, sliding sidelong into the frame and filling it with menace. Corby never was a warm grandmotherly type, and I think the menace would have been heightened had the producers cast someone like Ruth McDevitt or Marjorie Bennett. Nonetheless, Corby was effective.
I missed it on my first viewing years ago, but Kathy Adams referring to her Aunt Sara, whom we know is an alien, was a tipoff to her own otherworldly origins. Diane Baker plays Kathy so unassumingly and kind I can see why Vincent was duped. And Kathy also gives the series nuance: "We're not all like that" is a profound statement. And as the series progresses we see how complicated things can be, calling for critical discernment as opposed to killing them all.
One weakness in the story, albeit one necessary for the plot, was Vincent allowing Kathy to convince him to wait in the café instead of the hotel, where Vincent told Landers to meet him.
Speaking of the café, I laugh thinking of Vaughn Taylor, who usually plays stuffy, serious, and upstanding characters, in the role of an dirty old man staring unashamedly at the swaying posteriors of the Ackerman sisters. Were they all aliens too? I'm telling you, this show fosters paranoia. I think they would have to have been aliens, certainly no earthlings could be living in Kinney by this time.
An excellent series that has stood the test of time for fifty years. Now is the time for the series' cult of fans to convince an unbelieving world--or at least one that associates science-fiction with special effects--that THE INVADERS is a series worth discovering or rediscovering. In the meantime, watch out for extended pinkies! How long had they been in Kinney? And Santa Barbara and Bakersfield? By the time Vincent
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What better way to celebrate what would have been Elvis Presley's 82nd
birthday than by enjoying his final film? It was an admirable end to
his acting career and an appealing overture to THE MARY TYLER MOORE
SHOW, boasting as it does both MTM and Ed Asner. It's as if the baton
were being passed from the 1960s to the 1970s.
Co-stars Mary Tyler Moore, Jane Elliot, and Barbara McNair were all good, with MTM really surprising me in a role far from Laura Petrie and Mary Richards. Jane Elliot was the breakout star for me, very impressive as the idealistic Barbara. Soon after this movie she was cast as Daphne in "The Guru" episode of THE MOD SQUAD where she actually played a Velma-like character who nonetheless steals the show. Barbara McNair was the weak link, never clicking with the others, partly because her character was dispatched to house calls. Her acting was wooden, her face a stone mask rarely brightened with a smile or any expression. I found forced and unconvincing her big scene announcing amnesty on debts to The Banker.
Speaking of whom, Robert Emhardt, who played the kindly cook in Elvis' 1962 movie KID GALAHAD, was very effective as the neighborhood kingpin. More than just a loan shark, he implies to the naïve and oblivious Sister Barbara that she shouldn't be prostituting in his turf. It was a testimony to the film's commitment to harsh reality that The Banker, while bruised, isn't broken, and will be back shaking down the locals the next day.
The film was unflinching in its portrayal of ghetto idleness (and how that is indeed the devil's workshop), fatherlessness and abandonment, exploitation, mental illness, and violence. The attempted rape scene, for example, was especially harrowing for a G-rated movie! And no easy solutions are offered, just a little light in the darkness provided by Carpenter and company.
Also realistic and controversial was the film's portrayal of the Roman Catholic Church, caught between its past and its post-Vatican II future. I don't see the Church recommending this movie to boost vocations! Regis Toomey was very good in his thankless role of curmudgeonly Fr. Gibbons, an old school priest who simply locks the church's doors against the outside world. Sister Michelle's suggesting people-pleasing reforms like a folk mass seem innovative and idealistic, but almost fifty years later the erosion of tradition, politicization, and balkanization within the Church in the wake of Vatican II make her suggestions appear like an invitation to step out onto a slippery slope. Sister Barbara's peace signs and grocery store sit-in aptly reflect the real world agitation of rogue priests like the Berrigan Brothers.
Another actor in a thankless, blink-and-you'll-miss-him role was Richard Carlson as Bishop Finley. A decade earlier Carlson was headlining feature films like THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and starring in his own series, MACKENZIE'S RAIDERS. Now he was reduced to one measly scene. Fame is fleeting. And certainly Elvis knew this and perhaps he feared it would be his fate as well, since his screen time was reduced in both this film and its predecessor, THE TROUBLE WITH GIRLS.
Some reviewers have challenged the believability of Tennessee-native Dr. John Carpenter coming to the ghetto of New York City to practice medicine in a free clinic. But Carpenter explains the reason to Michelle after the football game, saying he had a war buddy from Washington Street who saved his life and later died half a world away (presumably Vietnam). Carpenter felt it only right to dedicate a few years of his life to paying back a debt to his friend. I liked that reason, and I also liked the subtle religious symbolism implied by it. Carpenter isn't planning on serving there indefinitely, but--like that other Carpenter--would minister among the poor only for a season.
What I challenge is the believability of the nuns taking a vow of silence not to reveal they are nuns while on this assignment, especially as it necessarily results in deception and dishonesty (and to his credit Carpenter calls out Michelle for that). It makes no sense except as an obvious plot device to set up the star-crossed romance and the big reveal at the end. And speaking of revealing, what was with the gratuitous and unseemly stripping scene near the beginning? That was a savory bone tossed to nun fetishists but a turn-off to anyone with any respect for the cloth. And why would these nuns on a short assignment order an upright piano for their apartment? Again, just to set up the jam session of "pagan music" with Elvis that outraged the distaff Statler and Waldorf leaning out of their windows to weigh in on the passing scene.
Sisters Michelle, Barbara, and Irene were chosen for this experimental assignment, sent into the mixed-up world with the hope they wouldn't be mixed-up by that world. Since all three end up suffering some degree of confusion and crisis, I suspected they were selected for the assignment because they were determined to be at-risk for staying in the Church. And in the end one has quit and it's strongly implied Michelle will be leaving as well, with Mother Joseph's blessing (judging by her knowing smile when John comes to call at the convent). The closing scene says it all, with Michelle sitting in the folk mass looking from John to Jesus to... mother and child.
This was a fine movie for Elvis to close out his acting career. He again showed his abundant abilities and evidenced enduring appeal. And the music was uniformly excellent, from the under-appreciated title song (an upbeat complement to "In the Ghetto") to "Have a Happy" (which atones for the treacly "Confidence" of CLAMBAKE), and on through the rousing closing number "Let Us Pray." Elvis went out on the proverbial high note.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The spotlight is on Peggy in this episode, playing amateur sleuth,
playing love-struck widow, playing dedicated mother, playing
heartbroken widow. Unfortunately, the episode doesn't work well as a
showcase for Gail Fisher.
The plot concerns a heist of morphine from a pharmaceutical plant. A brave young black man--Floyd Brown--attempted to foil the heist and was shot. While he's recovering in the hospital from his minor wound, Peggy brings him his glasses, which were knocked off his face during the struggle. An attraction is sparked and soon Floyd is pursuing Peggy aggressively and stepping up as a surrogate father to six-year-old Toby.
Some blue paint on her new outfit sets Peggy down the path of amateur sleuthing. She comes up with a theory that the morphine has been stashed in a blue panel truck at the airport. But Mannix--uncharacteristically chauvinistic and condescending--tells Peggy secretaries should focus on telephones and typewriters.
But it turns out Peggy was right! But when Mannix goes to investigate, the truck is moved, and just when Mannix gets the scent again the morphine is gone. It's as if someone is forewarning the bad guys of Mannix's next step. But who would be privy to the details of the investigation? When Mannix presents to Peggy incontrovertible evidence that Floyd is the inside man, her mask slips and she plays the race card, accusing Mannix of targeting Floyd because he's black. It was an ugly moment uncharacteristic of Peggy. She redeems herself later, refusing to buy into Floyd's racist rhetoric about it being "us against them" and how he was passed up for promotions because of his color. Peggy knows racism--real or imagined--is no excuse for participating in a drug heist. In desperation, Floyd suggests they run off and get married that very night. But Peggy's eyes have been opened. She realizes she's been a dupe, used by Floyd so he could keep tabs on the investigation. He doesn't love her, at least not nearly as much as his $100,000 cut of the drug loot.
Gail Fisher shows her range as an actress in these scenes, getting to run the gamut from elation to utter deflation. She's a good actress, but this particular story doesn't do her talents justice.
So what went wrong? I blame the writers--Albert Beich and William H. Wright, best known as the creator and producer of KENTUCKY JONES, the 1964-65 family drama that lured Dennis Weaver away from GUNSMOKE. This is Beich and Wright's first script for MANNIX, and their unfamiliarity with the characters is evident. They won't write another script for the series until 1973. This second season of MANNIX has been flailing because script chores seem to be falling to writers insufficiently familiar with these nuanced characters. That posed a problem as the series was shifting the emphasis to character development and away from plot-driven p.i. stories.
In what was virtually a co-starring role, Robert Hooks was very appealing and compelling as Floyd. I didn't want him to be the bad guy either and I really sympathized with Peggy's hoping against hope he wasn't in on the heist. But, alas, he was. Hooks was just coming off his 49-episode run playing Detective Jeff Ward on N.Y.P.D. (1967-69), and I suspect fans of that series were shocked to see him play against type, a move that added to the episode's punch for contemporary audiences.
Also memorable in small roles were old hands Dabbs Greer, Ron Randell, and especially Rhys Williams as a drug-dealing doctor from Georgia whose charming southern accent belied his canniness and corruption. This episode proved to be one of Williams' final performances; he died in May 1969, just two months after this program was broadcast. Criminally underutilized in this episode's cast was Julian Burton, the chemist who has one line near the end. In 1959 Burton co-starred as beat poet Maxwell H. Brock in the Roger Corman cult classic A BUCKET OF BLOOD. It was a shame to see Burton reduced to such a small role with no opportunity to show his talents.
A good even if undistinguished episode that suffered from characterization problems. Mannix a male-chauvinist pig? Peggy a racist? No way.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Bull Roarer" is yet another excellent episode in this fledgling
series, one that stands out from the rest in its addressing a still
vital and deceptively simple question: What is a man? When pressed for
an answer by Dr. McKinley Thompson, young and confused Paul Knopf lists
off wince-worthy descriptions like being strong, tough, able to fight,
and to "move in fast on a girl." Paul's model for masculinity has been
his loutish big brother Murray, a construction worker who spends his
off hours fighting and picking up cheap whores in dive bars.
It's the old story. A fatherless home with a mother struggling to raise a 16-year-old and his 10-year-old brother. When Murray moves out after a fight with his mother, she smothers young Paul, crippling him emotionally and robbing him of a healthy home and healthy image of masculinity. Paul later gets bounced from the Army on a nuero-psych discharge and is sent to a mental hospital. Paul is encouraged to continue psychiatric care, but Murray discourages it: "You don't need any lace-handkerchiefed psychologist to cry to. You need to act like a man!"
Murray lands his kid brother a job on the construction gang, where thuggish behavior like fistfights, wolf calls and other displays of bravado are standard operating procedure. Is this what being a man is all about? Murray is the antagonist of the story, but not the villain of the piece. Everything Murray does--and he does a lot--is with the wholehearted intention of helping Paul fit in and enjoy life like he does. There's no malice on Murray's part; he simply is what he is. Conversely, Paul is sensitive and thoughtful, eager to learn. But Paul can't reconcile his instinctive kindness and consideration with the brash boorishness of his big brother. With Murray as the standard, Paul falls short, and by default fears he must be a homosexual, a self-diagnosis debunked by Dr. Thompson.
Onto the stage steps beautiful Betty Lorimer. Murray's groping of her is sharply contrasted with Paul's treating her with deference. That is until Betty's complimenting Paul on being different than the men on the construction gang is mistaken as an insult, spurring Paul to behave in a shockingly ugly and perverse parody of Murray. It's a heartbreaking scene.
Things come to a head in a session when Paul expresses regret at not being able to show Murray he was a man. Dr. Thompson loses it on Paul, frustrated that Paul just isn't getting it, and shouts: "We've been kicking this around for weeks, so let's get it out on the table, shall we?" I've never seen the imperturbable Dr. Thompson so perturbed. Following an outburst from Paul that I suspect Dr. Thompson deliberately provoked, the psychiatrist takes an exotic implement from his wall, a wall which for this episode is inexplicably full of exotic implements. He takes his now primed-for-a-breakthrough patient to the rec room and begins the work of exorcising Paul's misconceptions about masculinity.
The exotic implement is the bull roarer of the title, a gift from an anthropologist friend who got it from a primitive tribe in New Guinea. It's a wooden box on a length of rope. Dr. Thompson has Paul whirl the bull roarer while he launches into his monologue about masculinity, tribal rites, and how men mask their doubts and fears. The bull roarer makes a racket, but it's only air whistling through wood. It was a climactic scene, even if rather stagy in its presentation. But the object lesson worked! Paul, disabused of bad beliefs, armed with insight, and emboldened with a newfound self-confidence, heads to work at the construction site.
It hadda happen: Murray and Paul play out their inevitable conflict. There's no villain here, just irreconcilable worldviews in collision. It's telling that Murray's default solution to what he can't understand is to punch it, as he does to Paul's mouth when its voicing increasingly uncomfortable truths. Murray tried to be a good brother to Paul, and is understandably confused by Paul's rejection, and I'm sure it pained Paul to have to make the break. But with Betty tending to his wounds--physical and emotional--we know Paul is going to be better than he ever was.
The acting in this episode was the best thus far in the series, with the underrated Lou Antonio doing the heavy lifting and carrying the episode as Paul. I'm embarrassed to admit that for too long a time I only knew him from his cheesy appearance in STAR TREK's "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield." But my impression of Antonio changed completely after he awed me in THE FUGITIVE episode "See Hollywood and Die," which aired just a few weeks after this episode of BREAKING POINT. He played a very different character in THE FUGITIVE, a testimony to his range. As great as that performance was, however, I'm now considering "The Bull Roarer" to be Antonio's tour de force.
Ralph Meeker always gives a strong performance, and usually as the heavy. Here he got to play a more nuanced heavy, one well intentioned in his own ignorant and buffoonish way. I liked Murray as much as I was repulsed by him. Mariette Hartley as Betty had a smaller role, but an all-important one as the woman who showed Paul a more excellent way, a life of learning and of books and of love. I'm an unrepentant Trekkie and yes, Hartley will always conjure up Zarabeth in my mind, but I've seen her in so many other things now, including her standout role in RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY, and appreciate her acting abilities as much as I do her beauty.
Speaking of science-fiction, as a longtime fan of the 1950's radio drama X MINUS ONE I enjoyed seeing two of its greatest writers reunited for this episode of BREAKING POINT. George Lefferts was the series producer and Ernest Kinoy provided the script for this outstanding episode. Bravo to all involved!
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