TV Drama


THE EDGE OF NIGHT. CBS, 16 October 1958. Cast and crew unknown.

   The recent HBO production of Perry Mason may be all the rage, but besides the books by Erle Stanley Gardner it was purportedly based on, most people are aware of the long-running TV series starring Raymond Burr. (There was a later and very short-lived series starring Monte Markham that no one remembers and even fewer saw.)

   Quite forgotten altogether was that Perry Mason was also a radio program that ran as a 15 minute soap opera on CBS radio from 1943 to 1955. When it became time to convert the radio serial to TV, Gardner did not care for the format and refused permission for the project.

   So some changes were made, and the producers of the would-be TV serial changed the title and all of the characters’ name and came up with The Edge of Night. As a soap opera with a harder edge than the competition at the time, it ended its 30 year run in 1984, there being over 7000 episodes before its finish.

   Being telecast live, most of the early episodes have vanished. Here’s one of the earliest ones I’ve discovered. You can watch it here.

   By watching it you can write your own review. Coming the middle of a couple of different stories, with no beginning or end to either, there’s little point in going over the story line, nor even to point out the fact that in the course of a 30 minute format, including commercials (not included), very little seems to happen. What are interesting are the quite inventive camera angles, the sometimes over-the-top acting (but not always) and the fact that everyone seems to smoke!

TECH DAVIS

GOODYEAR THEATER. “The Victim.” 06 Jan 1958 (Season 1, Episode 8). Jack Lemmon, Doe Avedon, Lana Wood, Ross Elliott, John Eldredge, John Gallaudet. Writer: Marc Brandel. Director: Robert Florey. Currently available on YouTube here.

   A minor, moody semi-crime thriller. A man who has recently lost his wife is on the verge of losing his daughter as well, leaving her in the custody of his sister while struggling to find meaning in life once again. He keeps making promises to her but can’t follow though, and when she asks when she can come back home so they can live together, all he can summon up are the vaguest of promises.

TECH DAVIS

   But then he finds himself being followed by two men, no matter where he goes. He has no idea why, and there’s nothing to take to the police. The mystery does give him some purpose in living, though, and although the plot gets really creaky at the end, all ends well.

   Jack Lemmon, one of my favorite actors, plays the “everyman” almost perfectly, as he did throughout his career. Lana Wood was only twelve at time this was filmed, and unfortunately has little to do – nothing to indicate that she had a long career on TV and the movies ahead of her. The rest of cast are old pros in the business, and it shows.

   

LONE STAR. “Pilot.” Fox, 20 September 2010 (Season 1, Episode 1). James Wolk as Robert “Bob” Allen, a Texas con man married to Cat, the daughter of one of his marks in Houston, while simultaneously maintaining a relationship with Lindsay in Midland, Texas. He is in love with both women and begins to wish for a normal life; Adrianne Palicki as Cat Thatcher, Clint’s daughter; Eloise Mumford as Lindsay, Robert Allen’s unsuspecting girlfriend in Midland; David Keith as John Allen, Robert Allen’s father, who raised his son to be a con man; Jon Voight as Clint Thatcher, a Texas oil tycoon and father of Cat and her two brothers. Written by Kyle Killen. Director: Marc Webb. Currently available on YouTube here.

   Thanks again to Wikipedia for the scorecard of players and their roles, somewhat condensed. If you were one of people who watched this show back in 2010, you are one of a very few, relatively speaking. An estimated 4.06 million watched this first episode, and only 3.2 the following week. Six episodes were filmed but only two were actually aired.

   This sort of TV drama with just a tinge of crooked activity at heart isn’t my usual watching fare, but I enjoyed this. The players are all personable, especially James Wolk (Mad Men, Zoo), the leading man, and that always helps. You can easily believe him as a smooth-talking con man who can separate investors in Texas-based oil wells from their life savings as slick and easily as an eel in a fresh water pond. You can also easily believe him as a man with both a wife and a girl friend, neither of which knows anything about the other. And when offered a chance at a honest life, and he tells his father he’s going to take it, you can easily believe that too.

   I don’t know why this didn’t catch on. It was heavily promoted ahead of time, but obviously no one paid any attention. Perhaps the shows it was on opposite had something to do with that. I’d surely like to know where the story was going to go from here, but I’ve resigned myself to the fact that the chances I ever will are very, very slim, if not outright none.

FOUR STAR PLAYHOUSE “Bourbon Street.” CBS, 09 December 1954 (Season 3, Episode 11). Dick Powell, Beverly Garland, William Leicester, Clarence Muse, Ed Platt. Writer: Richard Carr. Director: Roy Kellino.

   In many ways this noirish 25 minute play has more going for it than many a shoot ’em up, ultra violent neo-noir two-hour extravaganza in full color does today. Dick Powell is in full hard-boiled tough guy mode in this one, as a piano player who has managed to make his way out of the quicksand life of New Orleans, only to return when he learns that the girl he loved has committed suicide.

   He blames the young hoodlum who stole the girl from him, and the only thing on his mind is revenge. Along the way he meets another girl (Beverly Garland) who pleads with him to give it up and take her along with him. Does he? Not a chance. He walks out, closing (but not slamming) the door behind him.

   Right into an out-and-out beating and a twist that maybe you will see coming, but I didn’t. It’s beautifully set up, though, and if you decide to watch it (video clip provided), I hope you agree. I liked this one.

   

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:

   

THE FUGITIVE “The Other Side of the Mountain.” ABC, 01 October 1963 (Season 1, Episode 3). David Janssen. Guest Cast: Sandy Dennis, Frank Sutton, Ruth White. R.G. Armstrong, Barry Morse, Bruce Dern. Narrator: William Conrad. Screenwriters: Alan Caillou & Harry Kronman. Director: James Sheldon.

   A few nights ago, I watched “The Other Side of the Mountain,” a season one episode of The Fugitive. In this episode, Richard Kimble aka The Fugitive (David Janssen) runs afoul of the local authorities in a dying West Virginia coal mining town. The sheriff is portrayed by R.G. Armstrong, while his deputy is played by a youthful Bruce Dern who, as of the time, had not yet appeared on the big screen. The episode is a fairly strong one, bolstered by the presence of stage actress Sandy Dennis, who plays a local girl who provides sanctuary to Kimble. She also, not surprisingly, falls in love with him and all but begs him to take her with him.

   I enjoyed the episode quite a bit. Seeing Dern as a smarmy lawman eager to pick a fight with Kimble was something else. Dern, unlike Armstrong, Dennis, and two others, was not given guest star status. He really was a supporting TV character looking for bit parts at the time.

   Fast forward six years. Or, in my case, one day. And I sit down for an episode of Lancer (“A Person Unknown”), the CBS oater recently brought back into public consciousness for its “appearance” in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019). In this episode, Johnny Madrid Lancer (James Stacy) runs afoul of a powerful man and his son. He not only is wounded in a fight. But is falsely accused of murdering his Mexican friend. A crime he did not commit. As it turns out, the injured Johnny has to hide out in an out of the way farmhouse in which he is provided succor by a young girl (Quentin Dean in her final acting role). Sound somewhat familiar?

   One more thing you should know. The person hot on his trail, the very same person who is the real murderer is portrayed by none other than Bruce Dern. One could not help but compared Dern’s performance in the 1963 episode of The Fugitive with that from this Lancer episode from 1969. Dern had, by this point, definitely come into his own as an actor. Here he had all but perfected the sneering, quasi-psychotic villainy that was so disturbingly effective in The Cycle Savages (1969) which I reviewed here.

   His scenes with Quentin Dean, who had appeared with Charlton Heston in Tom Gries’s excellent Will Penny (1967) which I reviewed here are just as effective as his first scene in which he taunts Johnny’s Mexican friend before killing him. All told, it’s a solid episode from a Western TV series that did not last very long, but benefited immensely from having some of the best character actors from its era as guest stars.
   

NOTE: Dern makes his first appearance in the video above at roughly the 7:00 mark.

   

ROUTE 66. “Black November.” CBS, 60m, 07 Oct 1960 (Season 1, Episode 1). Martin Milner (Tod Stiles), George Maharis (Buz Murdock). Guest Cast: Everett Sloane, Patty McCormack, Keir Dullea, Whit Bissell, George Kennedy. Musical theme: Nelson Riddle. Screenwriter: Stirling Silliphant. Director: Philip Leacock. Currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

   Chronicling the adventures of two roving buddies making their way across the width and breath of the United States, this was arguably the iconic TV shows of the early 1960s. Of its kind, while I personally missed it entirely, it was certainly the most successful. I was off in college at the time, and I think I had time to watch television at most two or three, with the choice limited to one TV channel.

   I knew about it, of course, even without access to our family’s subscription to TV Guide, which I was addicted to all though high school. (Who in the early 60s did not?) So when I learned that Amazon Prime was streaming it free to subscribers, I thought it high past time to catch up on a serious lack in my cultural heritage.

   I’m glad I did. This first episode’s a good one. The two buddies with a brand new car and two pair of restless feet to drive it find themselves in quite a predicament – at one time with ropes around their necks waiting to be lynched. This is not anything the Mississippi Tourist Bureau would want anyone to see! I suppose that in 1960, backward places such as the small town of Garth might exist, just like the most secluded rural parts of England, where strangers never come, and when they do, they are looked on by residents as Demons from Hell.

   One man rules the town with a iron thumb, and his name is Garth (Everett Sloane). The town also has a secret, but absolutely no one will talk about it. The daughter (Patty McCormack) of the local storekeeper is the only one who offers them a timid, shy smile. Everyone else has dark sullen faces, constantly staring at the pair with dark hostility. There is also, of all things, but it fits in perfectly, a creepy scene in which the townsfolk storm the grocery store with torches blazing away in the darkness.

   As the pilot episode, this certainly is an effective one. It starts, however, after they’ve already been on the road for a while, and it’s only in their conversation that we get hints of who they are and what set them on their way. If you are puzzled why they were heading for Biloxi before they got lost, a town nowhere near Route 66, I have often wondered that about the series myself. They ended up all over the US during the four years the program was on the air. I have finally assumed that the cross-country Route 66 was only a metaphor for anyone traveling here and there at whim and will, with no particular destination in mind.

OZARK  “Sugarwood,” Netflix, 21 July 2017. Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Sofia Hublitz, Skylar Gaertner, Esai Morales. Director: Jason Bateman.

   As a pilot for this series that’s now in its third season on Netflix, it does its job exceedingly well. Due to some serious lapses on the part of his fellow members in a plan to skim off a potion of the profits in a money-laundering scheme they are working on for a Mexican drug cartel, Marty Byrde, his wife and two children must pack up their bags overnight and leave Chicago behind so he can start anew in the area around the Lake of the Ozarks.

   I did not know that the shoreline of the lake is longer than hat of the entire state of California, did you? With tourists and other visitors from all over the world, it seems as though the area wold be a great spot to start business up again, or so Byrde manages to convince Camino “Del” Del Rio (Esai Morales) in a desperate attempt to save his life.

   It takes the full hour to set up the premise. It is assumed that things are Not Going to Go Well. Other than that, though, there is, however, no indication of where the story line will go from here. In fact I should not even pretend that I am reviewing the series at all, based on this first episode, which is well enough done that watching the second one is a must before passing judgment, so I won’t.

   I will say this, however. I found nothing interesting to say so far about the newly exiled father, who as a crook and not a very good one at that, is very nearly a cipher, even at episode’s end; nor his wife, who has been cheating on him; nor his daughter, a whiny teen-aged girl; nor his nebbish younger son.

   No, the standout at this point is Esai Morales, a loyal lieutenant in the drug cartel and a man who knows his job and does it well. He also knows the answer to the question he poses to Byrde and his associates when he first finds them out: If a loyal female clerk in a family business for many years is found taking the cash from the till, should she be fired, or should she be forgiven?

   I knew the answer, the crime boss knows, and by the end of this first episode, Marty Byrde has figured it out as well.

   

WIR£D “The Beginning.” ITV, UK, 13 October 2008. 60m. Part one of a three-part mini-series. Jodie Whittaker, Laurence Fox, Toby Stephens. Screenplay: Kate Brooke. Director: Kenny Gleenan.

   A single mother (Louise Evans, played to perfection by Jodie Whittaker) who has just been promoted at the bank where she works is surprised to learn that her new position was not earned on her own resume and what’s worse, it comes with some very nasty strings attached. It seems that she has a back story involving criminal activity she doesn’t want known now, but it engenders a little blackmail and a threat to her young girl, either of which on their own are enough incentive for her to comply when she’s asked to do a “favor” to he crummy boy friend (Laurence Fox) of a lady “friend” she has at work.

   The favor seems minor, but what do I know about banking? Enough to know that she’s up to her ears in deep stuff. There is already an undercover police officer (Toby Stephens) snooping around, threatening audits. Episode one is just the set up. Yet to come are two more episodes: “The Middle” and “The End.”

   As is often the case these days, it is the heroine of the tale that receives the most attention, but Jody Whitaker, the future Doctor Who, is more than up to the task. Which is not to suggest that the rest of the cast, most of whom I’ve left uncredited above, is not doing their job too. Somehow the British seem to do short series such as this a quantum level higher than most of those in the US. This is one series I know I’ll finish.

      

THE GOOD WIFE “Pilot.” 22 September 2009. Julianna Margulies, Chris Noth, Christine Baranski, Archie Panjabi, Matt Czuchry. Guest Cast: Katie Walder. Created and written by Robert King) & Michelle King. Director: Charles McDougall.

   I remember when the series started and I thought it sounded interesting — but not interesting enough for it to last more than the usual three months or so that new shows are almost always gone by. Why invest any time in it, when it will history by Christmas?

   It was on for seven years.

   You were probably way ahead of me. You also probably know the premise of the show. Just in case not, however, it begins with a scene seen all too often in this country. A man, a former State’s Attorney in Illinois, has been forced to resign because of corruption and a sex scandal. His wife, Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) is forced to stand on the stage next to hm as he apologizes but promises to keep fighting the charges.

   Six months later, Alicia, forced to go out and work for a living, is the new lady hiree at a prestigious law firm. Her first case is a pro bono one: a young woman is accused of shooting and killing her ex-husband in a parking garage. She claims that it was done by someone in a drive-by pickup truck, but neither the security guard nor a surveillance camera saw or shows such a truck anywhere in the vicinity.

   An impossible crime, in a way, except that the ex-wife was there, and the police have no interest in pursuing their investigation any further.

   Truthfully I liked the mystery more than I did the background story, and apparently (from looking at the plot lines on Wikipedia) the background story goes on and on through the whole run, almost soap opera style, except that it was done with a lot more production values and style.

   Which is not to put down soap operas. The people who work on them do yeoman work, under tough conditions, lower budgets and awfully tight time constraints.

   As for The Good Wife, I’m enough intrigued that I’ll watch another episode or so, but I can’t imagine, now that I’m so far behind, that I’ll ever find the time to go the whole seven yards. How far I go, I think will depend on whether the next few episodes have completed stories or not, as well as the ongoing drama.

THE SCAPEGOAT. ITV, UK, 09 September 2012. Made for TV movie. Matthew Rhys, Eileen Atkins, Alice Orr-Ewing, Andrew Scott, heridan Smith, Jodhi May, Eloise Webb, Sylvie Testud, Pip Torrens, Phoebe Nicholls. Based on the novel by Dapne du Maurier. Written and directed by Charles Sturridge. Previous filmed in 1959, starring Alec Guinness.

   You have to watch this one with a serious sense of willing disbelief, but if you can, you will enjoy this one as much as I did. Two men, one a schoolmaster who’s just been let go, and another who is outwardly a man of some wealth and power, discover that they are exact lookalikes. So much so, that the latter of the two swaps clothes and belongings, and heads out to parts unknown.

   Leaving the former no choice but to take the other’s place, complete withe family mansion, wife and daughter, a bedridden mother, a younger brother and sister, the brother’s wife (who he has been dallying with), a mistress (who he has obviously also been dallying with) and the usual assortment of servants.

   Not one of them notices that he is not he, if you see what I mean, even though he is at an obvious disadvantage. He doesn’t know any of them, no the house, the room, his responsibilities as the male head of the family. He catches on very quickly, though, even faster than I would — or in fact, faster than I did.

   What’s also remarkable he comes to care, if not love, all of them, and he soon settles in to handle their affairs for them far better than the man he is posing as ever did. Set at the time of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, this is a film filled with not only fine acting, but charm and heart. (The ending , I am told, differs from that of the book. If so, I think the ending of the movie is better.)

   There is a small but crucial bit of a murder plot involved as well. When the absentee owner of the house sneaks back in and sees how well his imposter has worked his way into his home, he decides to take advantage of it in a most deadly fashion, a plot however, that is most capably foiled.


Next Page »