Sun 15 Jun 2014
“A DEATH OF PRINCES.” An episode of Naked City, ABC, 12 October 1960 (Season 2, Episode 1). Paul Burke, Horace McMahon, Nancy Malone, with Eli Wallach, George Maharis, Jan Miner. Teleplay: Stirling Silliphant. Directed by John Brahm.
“A Death of Princes” is the second season opener of Naked City, the ABC police procedural starring Paul Burke as Detective Adam Flint and Horace McMahon as his crusty but amicable boss, Lt. Mike Parker. Guest starring is Eli Wallach portraying Detective Bane, a cynical rogue cop involved in blackmail, robbery, and murder.
In this taut, action-packed episode, Wallach’s Brooklyn-accented character is quite similar to the sociopathic hit man, Dancer (portrayed by Wallach in a great film noir role), in Don Siegel’s The Lineup, which I reviewed here.
The episode begins with church bells and gunfire. It’s Sunday. Adam (Burke) and Bane (Wallach), partners for the time being, are chasing an armed thug through an industrial district and to the top of a building overlooking the river. The criminal doesn’t have much luck. His gun jams and he cowers helplessly on the ground. That’s when Bane plugs him.
Adam realizes what just happened and is shocked his partner just killed defenseless suspect in cold blood. Bane tells Adam he saw things wrong. But he doesn’t seem to care much anyways. Of the dead man, Bane says: “Look at him, a pile of nowhere. He came, he went, and who cares.” These criminally poetic words let us know from the get-go exactly what type of character Bane is going to be.
Back in the precinct headquarters, Adam tells Mike he wants out. He no longer wants to work with Bane. Mike originally won’t hear of it, but he gradually changes his mind, allowing Adam to trail Bane to figure out what sort of criminal activity the rogue lawman is up to.
As it turns out, Bane is blackmailing three people into working for him on a job. His objective is to steal money raised during a charity prizefight. Among the people Bane is blackmailing is the boxer, Tony Bacallas (George Maharis), who turns out to be the only redeemable criminal among the bunch.
Bane, the most corrupt of the four, hates the fact that he has to rely upon what he perceives as scum, common criminals, to achieve his goals, telling them: “I despise myself because I need you.” It’s so dark, so cynical, and so very noir.
And as in many noir stories, the criminal ends up down a path that lead to his doom. “A Death of Princes” is no exception. Adam, who was originally shocked by Bane’s capacity for violence, eventually shoots and kills Bane, leaving him dying alone on the carpet. But how can we feel sorry for the guy? As Mike tells Adam: “You don’t need to eat an egg to know it’s bad.”
Naked City, of course, wasn’t just about characters and plotting. It was also known for its on location setting. This particular episode does not disappoint. There’s a great scene in the Central Park Zoo in which, if you watch carefully, you can get a glimpse of the famous Essex House sign in the background. There are some good subway scenes and a great shot of the old Yankee Stadium.
And if you like neon, there are a couple of great moments shot at night in which we see Manhattan nightspots lit up. We also learn that sometimes, at night, a car may go crashing through a building entrance, a criminal mastermind may have his plans foiled by a man with a conscience, and a good cop may have to use his gun to get rid of a bad one.
“A Death of Princes” is a very good episode with solid writing. Best of all, it features a great performance by Wallach, who seems to be the master of using his eyes to convey mood and meaning. Watch his eyes throughout the episode and you’ll see what I mean. (The entire episode can be seen on Hulu online here.)