TV mysteries


LOST AND FOUND AT YOU TUBE: SHOESTRING
by Michael Shonk


“Mocking Bird.” An episode of SHOESTRING. BBC/BBC1, UK, 19 October 1980. Cast: Trevor Eve as PI Eddie Shoestring, Michael Medwin as Don Satchley, Doran Goodwin as Erica Bayliss and Liz Crowther as Sonia. Guest Cast: Frederick Jaeger, John J. Carney, Patti Love, David Sibley. Created by Richard Harris and Robert Banks Stewart. Written by William Hood. Theme by George Fenton. Directed by Ben Bolt. Produced by Robert Banks Stewart.

   SHOESTRING is perhaps as fondly remembered overseas as THE ROCKFORD FILES remains here in the States. And it is easy to see why as both are blessed with clever writing, likeable characters and a talented lead actor.

   SHOESTRING is on DVD but has never been released on the American format NTSC region 1 so you will need a multi-format DVD player if you wish to buy the DVD.

   While there are more episodes of the series on YouTube, I have chosen a special program, SHAW TAYLOR’S CRIME FILES where British celebrity Shaw Taylor MBE takes a quick look at the series. A complete episode of SHOESTRING from its second season “Mocking Bird” begins around the 3:19 point.

   SHOESTRING was still popular when Trevor Eve decided to leave due to his fear of being type-casted. Here is an excerpt from a popular British TV series CULT OF… that looked at various cult TV favorites, in this case THE CULT OF SHOESTRING.

   For even more information about SHOESTRING, you can read this page from the BFI site.

REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


“Undercover.” From the COLUMBO series. ABC/Universal TV, 2 May 1994. Starring Peter Falk as Columbo. Teleplay by Gerry Day. Based on story by Ed McBain. Produced and Directed by Vincent McEveety. Created by Richard Levinson and William Link. Executive Producer: Peter Falk. Producer: Christopher Seiter. Guest Cast: Ed Begley Jr, Burt Young, Harrison Page, Shera Danese, Tyne Daly.

   Sorry for the commercial interruptions on this YouTube video.

   OK, who is this character posing as Columbo? Where is the inverted mystery? The real Columbo, one properly dressed in his car with his dog does not arrive on screen until the final scene. Until then this imposter works in a police station where he shares a desk with his partner, needs his Captain’s approval to take the case, goes undercover, carries a gun and gets knocked out by the bad guy in this average TV mystery.

   And the most unforgiving flaw with this cop show posing as a Columbo episode, was I knew who the killer was while Columbo believed it was another suspect. We expect more from Columbo.

   After a man is murdered by someone searching for a piece of a photograph, the alleged Columbo goes undercover searching for the killer and the photograph that would lead to the location of the missing four million dollars from a botched bank robbery.

   The acting, directing and production values were up to usual Columbo standards. The script by Gerry Day (Wagon Train, Dennis the Menace, Murder She Wrote) had its moments such as when one character described Burt Young’s character as looking like that guy from Rocky. But there was nothing about this episode that made it special enough to abandon the series premise of the inverted mystery or the main character’s methods.

   Columbo does a story by Ed McBain, master of the police procedurals! There are so many things wrong with that sentence.

   The McBain book adapted here was Jigsaw (1970). This and the episode “No Time to Die” (adapted from McBain’s book So Long As You Both Shall Live (1976) and was the only COLUMBO episode without a murder) were the only Columbo episodes not originally written for the series. Both books were from McBain’s 87th Precinct book series.

   This episode is also available on DVD (Mystery Movie Collection: 1994-2003).

SOURCE: The Ultimate Columbo Site.

ROGUE. DirecTV, Season One (10 episodes), April-May 2013. Thandie Newton, Marton Csokas, Sarah Jeffery, Joshua Sasse, Kavan Smith, Leah Gibson, Jarod Joseph, Ian Tracey, Ian Hart.

   I don’t have a hookup with DirecTV, so I had to wait for the series to come out on DVD to be able to watch it, that and a span of a couple of weeks to find the time. For me, it started slowly but gradually caught my attention, and I ended up watching the last two episodes in one evening (last night).

   The star of the series is without a doubt Thandie Newton, who plays Grace Travis, a black police officer from the San Jose Police Department who has been working undercover for the Oakland police to get the goods on Jimmy Laszlo (Marton Csokas), a local crime boss controlling the waterfront area. But obsessed with finding out who killed her young son in what was written off as a tragic but accidental drive-by shooting, she finds herself getting deeper and deeper into a complicated plot of greed, revenge, mob killings and more, alienating her own family while getting closer and closer to the man she is supposed to be bringing down.

   It takes all ten episodes for the entire story line to work its way through, and naturally there is plenty of violence to go along with it, some of shockingly graphic. And perhaps equally naturally not everyone in the cast survives to the end, some a lot sooner than viewers might expect, including this one. There is also, given the freedom of not being seen on broadcast TV, quite a few almost as graphic sex scenes.

   The setting, mostly in around the Oakland waterfront (but probably filmed in Canada) and the seedier sections of that particular town, is beautifully filmed, and the plot has enough twists and turns to keep everyone’s minds constantly in high gear.

   The largest downside is the level of the actors’ performances. I found them uneven, to say it mildly, from actor and actor, and even in the case of some of the players, from scene to scene. Some of the dialogue is awkward and clunky, though, and tough to bring off convincingly, so the actors don’t deserve all of the blame.

   Thandie Newton carries the show well, however. The character she plays is both tough and vulnerable, and she is placed in any number of situations in which she can show off how she tries to deal with them, and believe me, she gets into quite a few scrapes and narrow escapes. It would be a strenuous role for anyone, especially the vulnerability Newton’s character has to display, as mentioned above, and I think she nails it. I can’t imagine anyone else playing the part.

   The series deserved a second season, and it got one. It’s playing now but will end its run this week.





LOST AND FOUND AT YOUTUBE
by Michael Shonk:


PETROCELLI. NBC, 1974-1976. Paramount Television / Miller-Milkis Production. Cast: Barry Newman as Anthony “Tony” Petrocelli, Susan Howard as Maggie Petrocelli, and Albert Salmi as Pete Ritter. Created by Sidney J. Furie and Harold Buchman. Developed for television by E. Jack Neuman. Executive Producers: Thomas L. Miller and Edward K. Milkis. Producer: Leonard Katzman. Executive Story Consultant: Jackson Gillis. Story Editor: Dan Ullman. Music by Lalo Schifrin.

“The Golden Cage.” 11 September 1974. Teleplay by Dan Ullman. Story by Leonard Bercovici. Directed by Joseph Pevney.

Guest Cast: Joseph Campanella, Rosemary Forsyth, Morgan Woodward and William Windom.

   This was the series first episode and aired opposite two other new series, ABC’s Get Christie Love and CBS’s The Manhunter. (See my review of The Manhunter here.)

   The series featured Anthony Petrocelli, a Harvard-educated lawyer and proud Italian, who decides to leave New York for the small community of San Remo, Arizona, to help the powerless and innocent. The first case involved the abused wife of the richest most powerful man in the county.

   Petrocelli would last two seasons.

   One note of warning, shows can come and go fast on YouTube and others remain there for years. This is one you might want to hurry to check out.

REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


COUNTERSPY and DAVID HARDING, COUNTERSPY. TV episodes, 1958 and 1959. Bernard L. Schuberg Presentation / Telestar. Executive Producer: Herbert E. Stewart. Based on the radio series Counterspy (1942-1950).

COUNTERSPY. (1958) Written by Jack Anson Fink. Directed by Ralph Francis Murphy. Cast: Don Megowan as David Harding. Guest Cast: Brad Johnson, Gerald Milton and Phyllis Stanley *** A former WWII British Navy frogman puts the fins back on to help Unit C uncover the new advance by the Russians in ship navigation.

   The story is weak with unbelievable characters and plot. No Russian Admiral would treat a top-secret device so carelessly while ignoring the head of security. Slow paced with a writer’s trick needed to supply tension and a lackluster soundtrack add to the episode’s flaws.

   The episode has been posted on YouTube many times including here.

   This is the most commonly seen episode of COUNTERSPY (this is from Alpha Video DVD collection) and may be the only surviving episode left to watch. It is commonly believed to be an unsold pilot, but the episode ends with Don Megowan (THE BEACHCOMER) doing a tease about “next week’s” episode. That seems unlikely for a pilot. Reliable TV spy historian Craig Henderson wrote at his website For Your Eyes Only (*) — a must visit for spy fans — there was a series with Megowan.

   According to “Broadcasting” magazine (April 14, 1958) filming of COUNTERSPY had begun the week of April 7, 1958. The half-hour TV-film series would shoot in Hollywood and in 26 different locations throughout the world. Producer Bernard Schubert had budgeted 39 episodes at more than $35,000 for each TV-Film episode. It would be syndicated through Schubert’s company Telestar.

   From “Broadcasting” (June 16,1958), “Telestar Films, New York, announced last week it is releasing three new half-hour tv (sic) film series for syndication to stations. They are COUNTERSPY, an adventure-suspense series filmed on location through out the world…”

   For the curious the other two were PAROLE and yet to be titled country music show. PAROLE would become a series. TV series YOUR MUSICAL JAMBOREE was probably the country music show mentioned. According to the article, COUNTERSPY was to be released in fall of 1958.

   Bernard L. Schubert was a minor player in the TV-film syndicated market that played a major role in television during the 1950s. Schubert produced such TV series as ADVENTURES OF THE FALCON, AMAZING MR MALONE, MR AND MRS NORTH, TOPPER, CROSSROADS, TV READER’S DIGEST, and WHITE HUNTER.

   Craig Henderson’s website mentions a remake of COUNTERSPY. Thanks to YouTube, I was able to find the pilot remake done by Schubert with Reed Hadley (RACKET SQUAD, PUBLIC DEFENDER) as David Harding.

DAVID HARDING, COUNTERSPY. 1959). Written by Stanley Kapner. Directed by Justin Addiss. Cast: Reed Hadley as David Harding. Guest cast: Christopher Dark, Lilyan Chauvin, Ross Elliott and Vito Scotti. *** A man in a small French village risks everything to help David Harding find two missing American agents.

   An improvement over Mcgowan’s version of COUNTERSPY, this was better produced featuring good use of a (now cliché) soundtrack, with a story full of tension, violence, mystery and even a spy gadget. The opening with Hadley as Harding giving a pledge perfectly fits the period’s reaction to the Cold War and is an improvement over the written scroll of the earlier version.

   In January 26, 1959 issue of “Broadcasting” producer Bernard Schubert announced a new half- hour TV series COUNTERSPY would be released in May.

   Why remake COUNTERSPY less than a year later? Commie-fighting heroes was one of the most popular sub-genres on TV during the fifties. One can understand Schubert’s reluctance to give up on David Harding. COUNTERSPY was not the only remake on his schedule that year.

   In “Broadcasting” (February 2,1959) Schubert’s Telestar announced the filming of the pilots for two possible series, COUNTERSPY and THE NEW ADVENTURES OF MR. AND MRS. NORTH.

   The June 15, 1959 issue of “Broadcasting” reported Telestar had three series about to start filming in Hollywood. They were COUNTERSPY, ALEXANDER THE GREAT, and THE NEW ADVENTURES OF MR. AND MRS. NORTH. For the curious ALEXANDER THE GREAT was to be based on the “Saturday Evening Post” short stories about an earthworm tractor salesman.

   “Broadcasting” (September 7, 1959), reported 39 episodes of DAVID HARDING, COUNTERSPY starring Reed Hadley would be available for national syndication but no date was given.

   September 28, 1959 “Broadcasting” had an odd item about Schubert’s plans to sneak preview episodes from Telestar’s three forthcoming TV-film series. The three series would be DAVID HARDING COUNTERSPY, ALEXANDER THE GREAT, and DAVID HARUM (another attempt by Schubert to adapt a movie turn radio series for TV, Chill Wills was to star as Harum). Plans were to feature as many as six episodes from each series.

   The previews would take place in TV station studios or local movie theatres in six key U.S. regions. The audience would fill out “comment cards” that would influence the series still in production. The first sneaks were planned for late September. Does anyone know if this happened?

   David Harding began as the main character in the radio series COUNTERSPY (1942-50 Blue/ABC, 1950-53 NBC, 1953-57 Mutual) and was created by Phillip H. Lord (SETH PARKER, GANGBUSTERS).

   COUNTERSPY was also adapted for two films, an attempted film series by Columbia Studios. The films were DAVID HARDING COUNTERSPY (1950) and COUNTERSPY MEETS SCOTLAND YARD (1950).

   While I believe the Reed Hadley pilot never went to a full series, I do believe there was a short-lived Megowan series. Are there episodes of the series still out there? This is too common a question for those of us interested in early television.

   There are too many forgotten TV series, especially those syndicated, and too much misinformation in the books and databases devoted to the subject. Thanks to TV-Film collectors we continue to find the shows themselves but despite what we see and learn, common knowledge continues to rule over facts (not unusual in today’s world).

   IMDb does its best, but its episode indexes are near worthless, and the site is riddled with errors such as the Reed Hadley version of COUNTERSPY being listed at IMDb under DAVID HARTMAN, COUNTERSPY (1955) instead of DAVID HARDING, COUNTERSPY (1959). The Hadley bio on IMDb has him playing the character David Harding on DAVID HARTMAN, COUNTERSPY.

   One can only hope someday one of the TV archives such as Museum of Broadcasting, Paley Center and UCLA Film-TV library will index for the Internet (with episodes’ credits, plots and dates if available) the TV shows they are storing. While legally they can’t put the shows on the Internet, they should do an Internet database and end the mysteries, get rid of the accepted misinformation, and fill in the blanks of TV’s past.

   (*) FULL DISCLOSURE: Back in 1973-74 I wrote for two issues of Craig Henderson’s FYEO (FOR YOUR EYES ONLY) fanzine.

IT IS PURELY MY OPINION
Reviews by L. J. Roberts


  ANN CLEEVES – Silent Voices. Thomas Dunne/Minotaur Books, hardcover, May 2013. Trade paperback, July 2014. First published in the UK, 2011. Police procedural; Det. Inspector Vera Stanhope #1 [#4 in the UK]. Dramatized for TV as an episode of Vera, UK, ITV, with Brenda Blethyn in the title role [Series 2, Episode 2.]

First Sentence: Vera swam slowly.

   It’s not every day a police inspector finds a dead body sharing a sauna with her in a hotel health club, especially when that body is of a murder victim. Vera and her team work to find a killer in a village filled with people, and their secrets.

   From the very first paragraph, one is caught up in the author’s voice; her dry humor and the character. By the end of the first chapter, one is also caught up in the story.

   There is so much one could say about the characters, particularly Vera. How nice it is to have a female protagonist such as Vera. She’s a mature woman, overweight and unconcerned about her appearance — except, not totally unconcerned. She does care about being fair to her team, knows what motivates each of them, and is a very good leader; even though she drives them hard.

   She’s respected by her colleagues, even when they frustrate her. The relationship she has with Joe, her sergeant, is an interesting one… “Sometimes Vera though he represented her feminine side. He had the empathy, she had the muscle. Well, the bulk.” Even with the suspects, she doesn’t just investigate clues, but motivations; what makes people do what they do, what drives them.

   Cleeves has a very interesting style. Although the story is told in third person, when she focuses on Vera, it switches somewhat to first person as we gain insight on her life and character through an internal monologue and her observations… “These days, people expected senior female officers to walk straight out of Prime Suspect.”

   There is a very strong sense of place and wonderful descriptions. Particularly appealing is the contrast between the town and the desolation of Vera’s home. It’s very much part of her character.

   Although the story is character driven, it certainly doesn’t lack for plot or suspense. We’re given plenty of characters with motives, nice red herrings and plot twists. Vera is currently a television series done by British ITV, and very well done it is. The only way I knew the villain in the book was having seen the episode. Otherwise, it really wasn’t obvious.

Rating: VG Plus.

      The Vera Stanhope series –

The Crow Trap (1999)
Telling Tales (2005)
Hidden Depths (2007)
Silent Voices (2011)
The Glass Room (2012)
Harbour Street (2014)

       Vera [TV series] –

Series 1 Episode 1: Hidden Depths
Series 1 Episode 2: Telling Tales
Series 1 Episode 3: The Crow Trap
Series 1 Episode 4: Little Lazarus

Series 2 Episode 1: The Ghost Position
Series 2 Episode 2: Silent Voices
Series 2 Episode 3: Sandancers
Series 2 Episode 4: A Certain Samaritan

Series 3, Episode 1: Castles in the Air
Series 3, Episode 2: Poster Child
Series 3, Episode 3: Young Gods
Series 3 Episode 4: Prodigal Son

FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
by Francis M. Nevins


   Anyone who’s read Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer novels — by which I mean the early ones, dating from 1947 to 1952, the ones in which Spillane overturned the whole Hammett-Chandler PI tradition by portraying Hammer as a sadistic psycho — has his own idea who should have played the character on screen.

   There’s a consensus that the actors cast in the part were inadequate except perhaps for Ralph Meeker in director Robert Aldrich’s subversive version of KISS ME, DEADLY (1955), where Hammer is not the Cold War jihadi Spillane imagined but a cheap punk. It may not be coincidence that Meeker bore a certain physical resemblance to Spillane.

   For my money the ideal screen Hammer would need to be a big bruiser, and of the actors from the period who are familiar to me the one I see as most like the character Spillane created was Lawrence Tierney (1919-2002). I challenge anyone to watch Tierney in that fine film noir BORN TO KILL (1947) and tell me he isn’t Hammer to the life. And judging from what I read on the Web, he was also a raging bull in the real world, serving several jail terms for beating people up in bars.

   The years of the early Spillane novels coincided with the dawn years of television, but the medium’s antipathy to sex and strong violence seemed to rule out Hammer as a star of the small screen. Then in the late 1950s the character invaded America’s living rooms in the person of Darren McGavin (1922-2006), who went on to star in several other series including RIVERBOAT, THE OUTSIDER and KOLCHAK, THE NIGHT STALKER.

   According to an interview McGavin gave decades later (Scarlet Street, Fall 1994), “Universal had made a contract with Spillane, and they made three pilots, one with Brian Keith. They couldn’t show them because they were all too violent.”

   The Keith pilot was written and directed by soon-to-be-superstar Blake Edwards (1922-2010). I’m told on the Web that it’s out there, and someday I’d love to see it. Keith as he looked in the Fifties strikes me as an excellent choice for the part, certainly more so than McGavin, who like Ralph Meeker resembled Spillane more than the Mick’s most famous character.

   “I was doing a play in New York,” McGavin recalled, “and they called me to come out and do this series. I read the script…[and] said, ‘This is ridiculous! I mean, you can’t take this shit seriously….[T]his is satire. It’s gotta be satirical.’ [The producers] said, ‘No, no, no—this is really very deadly, straight-on, dead-on serious.’”

   McGavin insisted on playing the part his way, and Universal bigwig Lou Wasserman came down to the set and told him, “You can’t make fun of this material.” McGavin said, “I’m not making fun of it, I’m just treating it in a lighter manner…. We have a contract for me to say the words that are put on the paper. I don’t want anybody telling me how to do it.” What the hell did he think a director was for? Amazingly, McGavin wasn’t fired, and according to him, the episodes “were instantly successful. People thought they were funny.”

   Spillane couldn’t have cared less how the character was portrayed, telling TV Guide “I just took the money and went home.” That magazine’s reviewer declared that HAMMER “could easily be the worst show on TV.” I have yet to find anyone who considered the program a laugh riot but it certainly was successful, running for two seasons of 39 episodes each. All 78 can be accessed on YouTube and are also available on a DVD set.

   If the series wasn’t like the Hammer novels and wasn’t a comic parody of Spillane either, how can we describe it? I suggest we think of it as a sort of visual counterpart of Manhunt, the digest-sized crime magazine that debuted in 1953, at the height of Spillane’s popularity, and printed tons of tales by those hardboiled writers who were clients of the Scott Meredith literary agency. I don’t think it was by chance that later in the decade several of those writers got to crank out Hammer scripts, or have their Manhunt stories adapted for the Hammer series, or both.

   To take the latter situation first, let’s look at Evan Hunter (1926-2005). By the time Hammer made it to the small screen, Hunter was writing mainstream bestsellers under his official name and the 87th Precinct police procedurals as Ed McBain. Earlier in his career he’d been writing tons of short stories for the hardboiled mags.

   It was in Manhunt that readers of the Red Menace era first encountered an edgy alcoholic PI named Matt Cordell. Although originally published as by Evan Hunter, the byline and the protagonist magically changed their names to Curt Cannon when the stories were collected as the paperback original I LIKE ‘EM TOUGH (Gold Medal pb #743, 1958), soon to be accompanied by the novel I’M CANNON—FOR HIRE (Gold Medal pb #814, 1958).

   Hunter’s career had skyrocketed so far into the stratosphere that he wasn’t interested in writing for the Hammer TV series, but three of his six Cordell stories from Manhunt were adapted by others into Hammer scripts. Hunter, needless to add, was a Scott Meredith client. So was Henry Kane (1908-1988), who found one of his Manhunt tales about PI Peter Chambers reconfigured as a Hammer exploit.

   So was Robert Turner (1915-1980), who devoted a chapter of his memoir SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS ARE WRITERS BUT I WOULDN’T WANT MY DAUGHTER TO MARRY ONE! (Sherbourne Press, 1970) to his experiences working on the Hammer series. As Turner tells it, a whole pile of Scott Meredith clients got flown out to La-La Land and tried their hands at writing for the program but only a few succeeded.

   First and by far the most successful was Frank Kane (1912-1968), who was credited with 14 original scripts, 5 more written with a co-author, and 6 Manhunt tales (three of them about his own PI Johnny Liddell) Hammerized either by himself or somebody else. Kane had a habit of using gallows-humor titles for his novels and stories, and both he himself and others tended to use the same type of title for their HAMMER episodes.

   Witness the following lists:

      KANE NOVEL OR STORY

Bare Trap
Gory Hallelujah!
Lead Ache
Morgue-Star Final
Poisons Unknown
Slay Ride
Slay Upon Delivery
Trigger Mortis

      HAMMER SCRIPT BY KANE

Crepe for Suzette
A Detective Tail
A Grave Undertaking
Lead Ache (based on Kane’s short story)
Skinned Deep
Slay Upon Delivery (not based on Kane’s short story)

      HAMMER SCRIPT BY SOMEBODY ELSE

Bride and Doom
The High Cost of Dying
Just Around the Coroner
Merchant of Menace
My Fair Deadly
Stocks and Blondes
Swing Low, Sweet Harriet

   Robert Turner described Kane as “a big, bluff, hearty guy with a sometimes bawdy but always lively sense of humor… He drove [the producers] crazy, because he steadfastly refused to make carbon copies of his scripts.” He “could turn out a first draft in one or two days. He never gave it to [the producers] right away, though. Not after the first time, when they told him it couldn’t possibly be any good if he’d written it that fast. From then on he just threw the thing in a drawer for two or three days and visited around the lot.”

   He “would come to Hollywood for a month, write four or five scripts, and as soon as the last one was finished and okayed wouldn’t even wait for his check, but would head back to his family in New York….He always took the train….”

   Another well-known crime novelist turning out Hammer exploits was Bill S. Ballinger (1912-1980), who under his B. X. Sanborn byline wrote about a dozen scripts for the series. Most of what didn’t come from East Coast hardboilers was the work of four men who over the years turned out a small army of scripts for Revue Productions’ syndicated TV programs: Fenton Earnshaw, Lawrence Kimble, Barry Shipman and, most prolific of all, Steven Thornley (reportedly a byline of prime-time teleplaywright Ken Pettus).

   How about the guys who called the shots? The busiest of the Revue contract directors who worked on HAMMER was Ukraine-born Boris Sagal (1923-1981), who signed 20 of the initial 39 episodes plus 5 from the second season. Sagal soon became one of the top TV directors but his career came to a messy end: while filming the mini-series WORLD WAR III, he walked into the tail rotor blades of a helicopter and was partially decapitated.

   Also noteworthy among the first season’s directors was John English (1903-1969), one of the great action specialists who spent much of his creative life helming B Westerns and cliffhanger serials at the legendary Republic Pictures. English moved into television when the new medium displaced theatrical B features and spent several years at Revue.

   He directed only five segments of HAMMER but “Peace Bond” boasts perhaps the most exciting climax of any of the 78 episodes. McGavin’s mano a mano with an evil lawyer (Edmon Ryan) represents Republic-style action at its no-prop-left-unsmashed finest, every moment perfectly choreographed and complemented by the background music of Republic veteran Raoul Kraushaar.

   English’s best bud at Republic was my own best friend in Hollywood, William Witney (1915-2002), the Spielberg of his generation, a wunderkind who at the start of his career was the youngest director in the business. Between 1937 and 1941 the two co-directed 17 consecutive Republic serials, their visual styles so much alike that they often got into arguments about who had shot what.

   In the late Fifties, after Republic folded, Witney wound up at Revue, directing episodes of many of the same series English was working on, including MIKE HAMMER. During its second season Bill helmed 13 segments, far more than anyone else except Boris Sagal.

   His HAMMER work benefits from innovations like devising L-shaped sets, with the camera positioned at the right angle of the L so he could have it point east and shoot one scene while the technicians were preparing the north arm of the L for the next sequence, then have it swing around, point north and shoot that scene while the crewmen were tearing down the furnishings from Bill’s first shot and setting up what was needed for his third.

   If you watch only one of his 13 HAMMER segments, make it “Wedding Mourning” — the last episode filmed, he told me — in which Hammer for once is portrayed as something very close to the brutal psycho Spillane all unwittingly had created. Mike falls for a woman and is about to get married and change his life when his love is murdered and he runs amok, shooting and beating a swath through New York’s lowlifes. If any of the 78 HAMMER episodes qualifies as telefilm noir, this is it.

   In the cast lists of any Fifties series you’re likely to find a number of men and women who were prominent in movies from earlier decades and others who were to become famous on TV in the Sixties or later. Among those once better known who appeared in HAMMER episodes were Neil Hamilton, Allan “Rocky” Lane, Keye Luke, Alan Mowbray, Tom Neal and Anna May Wong. The first three also enjoyed later TV fame, respectively as BATMAN’s Commissioner Gordon, the voice of the titular horse on MR. ED, and KUNG FU’S Master Po.

   The actors who weren’t all that well known at the time of their HAMMER roles but made their marks later include Herschel Bernardi, Barrie Chase, Michael Connors, Angie Dickinson, Robert Fuller, Lorne Greene, DeForest Kelley, Dorothy Provine and Robert Vaughn. Anyone who can identify all these folks’ claims to fame either is a telefreak of the first water or has the DVD set.

   While cobbling this column together I was presented with a copy of the set and have begun watching the episodes. Some of them I haven’t seen in many years, others — mainly those directed by Bill Witney or Jack English — I taped when the series was broadcast on the Encore Mystery Channel.

   Will I make it through all 78? Dunno. Will I find anything interesting enough for another column? No idea. But if McGavin’s later PI series THE OUTSIDER ever comes out on DVD it might be worth exploring.

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