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The Defenders: Killer Instinct (1961)
Anti-death penalty tract.
Shatner plays the squeaky-cleanest defendant ever to face a murder rap. He's an upper class, super clean cut young WASP stock broker, fairly screaming respectability. His strange encounter with a completely unsympathetic, big ugly, poorly dressed creep that starts fights at random, even in Manhattan's crowded morning streets, leaves viewers with no other interpretation other than Shatner's complete innocence and the bully had it coming when he was killed in the scuffle.
After making up these unreal characters and unreal situation, we get to the propaganda freight, also, steeped in unreality. It seems our hero has irrational guilt anyway, and protected himself using combat training from his Korean War service. Why is he guilty? Enough to demand he be found thusly at his hearing. he has an oh-so-high minded speech about the morality of killing and how he wants to take on responsibility for war itself. This self-righteous social-political pomposity is reminiscent of Chaplin's Cri de Coeur about war in Monsieur Verdoux, and just as fake.
Wallace asks various questions about Sanger's attitudes on topics associated with her, including what she thought about those that opposed her pro-abortion work, especially the Roman Catholic church. However, not much progress is made as she dodges, disavows and feigns ignorance of quoted letters she wrote, newspaper interviews she gave and even comments she made to Wallace's staff earlier that week. Perhaps by avoiding answering questions about her own words tells us more about her than she thought she was concealing. She comes off very arrogant and slippery. In a strange twist at the end, I guess to put some kind of light note to the proceedings, she tells Wallace after he does his live pitch for Phillip Morris cigarettes, that though she doesn't smoke, she cheerfully intends to start now, with Phillip Morris.
Wallace had a reputation for being a hard-nosed interrogator with his one-on-one interview on the dark set technique pioneered on "Night Beat". Here, his initial offering in this new series featured film star Gloria Swanson, once a top star in the 1920's, and then making a comeback as a character actress. Somehow, Wallace never gets around to discussing her nightmarish marriage to Wallace Beery, her scandalous relationship with Joseph Kennedy, or the controversial production of "Queen Kelly"(1929) with Eric von Stroheim. Instead, bland conversation about "Hollywood Boulevard"(1950)and her recent work are featured. Also, she brings up a Mexican cancer medicine she's invested in. About the most hard-hitting question asked of her is about her age.
Yet another lesson about those dastardly conservatives.
First, I'll add my sentiments here that though "Burke's Law" could sometimes get a little on the tongue-in-cheek side, accommodating the many guest cameos, it made a wrong turn when they changed it to a humourless, undistinguished secret agent story. It's no wonder that this incarnation was cancelled in mid-season. Perhaps they felt they could stir up interest or maybe controversy with this two-parter. It's about a seemingly thriving American town with upscale, content people. Turns out they're all mind controlled dupes being fed hateful conservative lies via subliminal radio messages. Anybody exposed to TV in the last half century knows what that entails- bigotry and paranoia for anyone "Different". In 1966 you wouldn't go full bore racist, so the lead pipe subtlety here is focused on mere out-of-towners, though unusual for it's time, especially in a silly show like this, at one point in part two "commies" are named. The town boss's goal is that of all those who show right wing tendencies on TV-He has a mad scheme to take over the country. If it weren't for the oppressive "Fairness Doctrine" in effect then, I'm sure they'd just come out and call these power crazed villains Republicans. Another easy show of bravery in the one-sided war against straw men.
Cool and Lam (1958)
Better reading than filming.
When they put this together, they were banking on Gardner's huge success with Perry Mason could be transferred to his other literary creations, private detectives Cool & Lam, they being the stars of a dozen or so successful books.
But the actual execution is problematic. Cool is a big wide matron with white hair who deals with clients and Lam is a very short man who does the detective work, and getting all the lumps. They look comical together, which runs against the overall material because you must take the crime solvers seriously for it to work. These two are more suitable for a burlesque routine. They have little charisma. It's as if they take it for granted you know these characters well already. She's supposed to be a cheapskate. okay, but she says a "cheap" thing, even when it's unnecessary-again and again, like an excuse for a personality.
But there isn't enough time to really develop any chemistry between the leads or for that matter, the story either. There's far too many clues and details to remember for a less than half hour story. If this had been in an hour format, it would flow better and been less confusing. Gardner himself (sitting in the Perry Mason office set on the sound stage at Paisano productions) makes the pitch for sponsors at the opening, but even he seems in a hurry.
Maybe this pair work out in reading their stories, but they're too cutsey and fake to be taken seriously enough here, even if the intention was to deliver a lightweight, Runyonesque farce.
Less than powerful.
Contains spoilers. This installment relied on two tired cliché tropes of crime shows- spoiled monster rich folks and psychotic behavior. Said monsters trap a garage mechanic and later a boozy waitress in their secluded mansion, but there's so many odd things about it- they have a room full of toys they play with- but they're all extremely old, museum type things easily from the nineteenth century, all in fine, working order. Why?
How come, though the baddies are brother and sister, he's got a lower class British accent? And again- why did they trap these two people? The helpless prisoners are bound and gagged back-to-back, cartoon style, and nothing has happened to them. Their hair isn't even mussed when they get rescued. No sexual advances are even hinted at.
It started out looking like a possibly interesting thriller in the style of THE COLLECTOR, but it got tepid and too restrained to be good. Maybe in 1968 they were, at least on this show, extra cautious about offending anyone.
Superficial early Documentary.
Though you might give credit to this series for being among the few prime-time efforts at movie documentaries, it was made in the usual shallow style of Wolper productions. The information may or may not be completely accurate, but they never bothered too much with chancing the audience's attention.
In this one, a lot of use is made of the Nazi documentary "TRIUMPH DES WILENS"(1935) which covered the huge Nürnberg rally of 1934. This is not, as the narration describes, the first Nazi party congress, nor was it staged specifically for the making of this film.
Apparently, Wolper was especially taken with the Paul Muni film, "I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG"(1933)or maybe they just had a copy to use. They tell us this film launched his career, which is not so, nor did it launch the cycle of prison pictures. Either they didn't care to do any research, or more likely, they've written more-interesting-than-facts commentary. The 1960's is pretty much the dawn of film research, and all the docs and the reference books of the time are nearly useless now. Even if they had a somewhat scholarly approach, the subject was only semi-serious. After all, how comprehensive can a topic like all advocational propaganda films of Hollywood and Europe made up to 1963 be in less than a half hour? It was good enough then, but disappointingly inadequate today.
O.K. Crackerby! (1965)
Supposedly creators Abe Burrows and TV Guide critic Cleveland Amory contrived to scientifically design a situation comedy that would be perfect, but their calculations were way off the mark.
Often the characters Burl Ives played were of the friendly bumbling sort that Edgar Buchanan might play, but clearly here he is coming from the "Big Daddy" persona from "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof" He's supposedly the richest man in the world, an Oklahoma Oil baron. He's not a lovable, masculine version of Auntie Mame, more like an arrogant, intimidating ignoramus like Donald Trump. He buys a supposedly super luxury hotel to live in and the series pretty much never leaves the woefully unluxurious sets representing it. He purportedly has just left the oil patch to now break into high society, but it seems more like he wants to break high society, using money to buy in, or to destroy anyone who disagrees with him. He has a far off location with a computer that knows who owns what, and how he might take it from them, like a comic book supervillian. He's devoid of a sense of humor. He's scary. He's stupid, too. The worst part is, most all the time, his tactics pay off- The bully wins. I don't know what it's supposed to say, unless it's that self-made capitalists are immoral. No wonder it was killed off in mid season.
Suspenseful moments, but weak
I saw this same story on a live 1952 Philco-Goodyear Playhouse. This time with more formidable actors, but the flaw is in the production. The story was about a man who suffers all his married life by his miserable, ever-nagging and demeaning wife. While visiting a hotel, she pushes too hard by threatening to reveal to his daughter her real birth status. He smashes a mirror and takes a long sword-like "segment" of broken glass and holds it to her throat, determined to murder her after he finishes his long list of unforgotten trespasses on his dignity.
Police monitor his movements with a remote TV camera with a Zoomar. A sniper nicks his shoulder and they break in to save the woman. Then, after all this insanity and terror, not to mention property destruction, she apologizes very very much, and he does too, AND THEY LET HIM GO! the wife and daughter promise how nice it'll be when they return home and they'll convert a room for his den, etc. Then, without thinking, she starts with small nagging again. The man (William Bendix) looks at us as we fade out. A second longer and he would have given us Chester Riley's payoff line, "What a revoltin' development THIS is!". And he'd be right. The Philco version was so much better, but this is the problem with Ford Theatre in general- They hate real drama and insist on happy endings, no matter what it does to the story. A classic Screen Gems treatment.
Miami Undercover: The Thrush (1961)
Strange lack of competence.
Contains Spoilers...... This show is obviously one of ZIV's lesser titles, and it's obvious why, and that's because it lacks the usual slick professionalism one gets in their productions. One things is the clumsy dialogue that seems like a kid's interpretation of crime story. The funny bits and masculine kidding around with Graziano are awkward and forced. The worst aspect is the illogical plot points like for instance, if you were a gangster trying to force a DJ to play a record, would you not only approach him ON AIR, but shoot him down ON AIR when he refuses? If you were said DJ, would you boldly yell into the mike that the crooks were there and say, as they draw guns, that he wants to "alert the Miami police department, I'm now going to give a description of these men..." and they chop him down. Another insane disconnect from logic and human nature comes as the crime boss, knowing that his two henchman believe he betrayed them, willingly goes alone to a secluded beach to explain himself, unarmed.