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Posts Tagged ‘John Frankenheimer’

Goodbye, Sidney

Statements of the “a giant has left us” nature are all too common, but I’m afraid Sidney Lumet’s death today at 86 in his beloved Manhattan—the setting for so many of his films—merits no less.  Like The GREAT John Frankenheimer, he was one of the most notable directors to emerge from the Golden Age of live television, working on such series as Danger, You Are There, The United States Steel Hour, The Alcoa Hour, and Goodyear Playhouse.  Each man made his feature-film debut with a remake of one of his television dramas, but unlike TGJF, Lumet knocked it out of the park his first time at bat in the gripping courtroom (jury room?) drama 12 Angry Men (1957).

The auspicious nature of 12 Angry Men cannot be overstressed, starting with its to-die-for cast, headed by Henry Fonda as the sole juror who questions the defendant’s guilt.  Arrayed against him in this lonely quest are Martin Balsam, Ed Begley, Edward Binns, Lee J. Cobb, John Fiedler (in his film debut), Jack Klugman, E.G. Marshall, Joseph Sweeney (the only one I couldn’t have identified by name), George Voskovec, Jack Warden, and Robert Webber.  Klugman spoofed it on The Odd Couple, in the episode explaining how Oscar met Felix, and Fiedler not only guest-starred in two episodes of the series (as other characters), but also had played Vinnie in the film.

I’m not going to devote as much space to every film Lumet made, nor will I enumerate them all, but damn, he had a lot of amazing credits in a filmography that is characterized by an impressive diversity of style and subject matter, as well as his top-notch collaborators.  For example, Fonda, who reportedly requested Lumet for Men based on the TV version, rejoined him for Stage Struck (1958), the remake of Katharine Hepburn’s classic Morning Glory (1933), and Fail-Safe (1964), the straight-faced mirror image of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1964).  Lumet even tried his hand at documentary features with King: A Filmed Record…Montgomery to Memphis (1970).

Stage Struck  was but the first of several stage adaptations, e.g., The Fugitive Kind (1960), which I’ve yet to see, starring Marlon Brando and co-adapted by Tennessee Williams from his Orpheus Descending.  Kate herself signed up for Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night (1962), opposite theatrical mainstays Ralph Richardson and Jason Robards, while Lumet gave Chekhov a whirl in The Sea Gull (1968), featuring James Mason and Vanessa Redgrave.  Less successful, in my book, were his adaptations of more modern Broadway hits the likes of The Wiz (1978) and Deathtrap (1982), although I’ve never seen Lumet’s Equus (1977), so I cannot comment on that.

Known as an actor’s director, Lumet got an Oscar-nominated performance out of Rod Steiger in The Pawnbroker (1964), although Steiger didn’t win until Norman Jewison’s outstanding In the Heat of the Night (1967).  Lumet had to settle for a 2005 Honorary Oscar despite nominations for 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon (1975), the Paddy Chayefsky-scripted masterpiece Network (1976), Prince of the City (1981), and The Verdict (1982).  Like Serpico (1973), which had first teamed Lumet with Dog star Al Pacino, Prince was about corrupt cops, while lead Paul Newman and screenwriter David Mamet helped The Verdict far outshine its source novel by Barry Reed.

One of Lumet’s most enduring collaborations was with Sean Connery, who repeatedly turned to him in an effort to shed his James Bond persona in such films as The Hill (1965), The Anderson Tapes (1971)—based on the novel by Lawrence Sanders—and The Offence (1972).  My favorite is the lavish Agatha Christie whodunit Murder on the Orient Express (1974), with Albert Finney heading an all-star cast in his uncanny embodiment of Hercule Poirot, plus a standout score by Richard Rodney Bennett.  Family Business (1989) seemed promising, but I just couldn’t buy the casting of Connery, Dustin Hoffman, and Matthew Broderick as three generations of criminals.

Other points of interest include The Deadly Affair (1966), based on the literary debut of John le Carré’s George Smiley, Call for the Dead; both that and Child’s Play (1972) starred Mason, who also appeared in The Verdict.  Lumet returned to the big-city-corruption beat in Q&A (1990) and Night Falls on Manhattan (1996), in between which he made a pair of duds:  A Stranger Among Us (1992), with Melanie Griffith improbably cast as a cop going undercover among the Hasidim, and Guilty as Sin (1933), which as I recall was way too similar to Jagged Edge (1985).  I’m less familiar with Lumet’s recent work, finishing with Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007).

My mother, who likes movies but is far less immersed in them than her crazy youngest son, used to ask me, “What’s the difference between a producer and a director?”  I used to fall back on the explanation (whose attribution I forget) that the director is responsible for what happens in front of the camera, and the producer for what happens behind it, until I read Lumet’s wonderful little book Making Movies and gave that to her as my answer.  Learning about the magic behind some of my favorite films from the guy who made them was a rare treat, so I urge readers to seek out said book, and let it stand alongside his cinematic oeuvre as the legacy of an irreplaceable artist.

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The life part is easy, because it being the wee hours of Christmas Day as I write this, we’re now celebrating the birth of J.C., despite being the least prepared for this holiday we have ever been.  Kicking off a ten-day vacation, I slept until 10:00, finished writing a Matheson post for Tor.com, and availed myself of the last opportunity for some, uh, “quality time” with the wife before our daughter and her boyfriend fly in from Oregon.  Then we gorged ourselves on corned beef (an unusual gift from the senior Mrs. B., who sent us a Box o’ Ruben Fixin’s from Zabar’s in New York) and I slipped in a nap, with Mina sleeping on my lap, and a workout on my exercise bike, while embarking on Kurosawa’s The Idiot (1951), before I had to shower and change for church.

Although I’m technically an agnostic, Madame BOF and I attend a local Congregational church and are in the choir, singing on Christmas Eve at 7:30 and 11:00.  In addition to the traditional carols for which we join the congregation (e.g., “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Joy to the World,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Silent Night, Holy Night”), this year we did a pretty French carol, “Saw You Never, in the Twilight,” and a rousing English one, “Masters in This Hall.”  In between the two services, we repair to the home of a fellow choir member for potluck food and drink—albeit hopefully not too much of the latter—and a nicer bunch of people to sing or socialize with cannot be imagined.

The death part is a little trickier, and I’ll state at the outset that this is going to be one of those I’m-not-really-crazy-about-So-and-So-but-feel-I-must-acknowledge-their-passing posts, in this case (belatedly) that of writer-director Blake Edwards, who left us on the 15th at 88.  Without wishing to speak ill of the dead, especially on Christmas, it’s become a running gag among the Movie Knights that our Host with the Most will not allow any Edwards films to be shown, yet he takes his Hostly duties seriously enough that more than once he’s made exceptions for a Knight to see his favorite Pink Panther film.  Gilbert loves A Shot in the Dark (1964), I favor The Return of… (1975), and the mighty Turafish comes down squarely on the side of …Strikes Again (1976).

I’m sure part of Gil’s fondness for Shot is due to the fact that William Peter Blatty, whom people forget worked in comedy before he struck gold with The Exorcist (we’re still waiting to receive the new issue of Cinema Retro featuring our interview with Bill), co-wrote that and three other films with Edwards.  Yet I’ve seen two more, What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966) and Darling Lili (1970)—the latter starring Julie Andrews, who married Edwards the year before—and didn’t care for either of them.  I haven’t seen Gunn (1967) or the Edwards-created private-eye TV series that spawned it, although I absolutely adore the driving theme song (especially the Art of Noise version) by Henry Mancini, his longtime, and perhaps most valuable, collaborator.

Interestingly, as much as I admire Peter Sellers (TCM’s star of the month for January), I also saw the only non-Inspector Clouseau movie he made with Edwards, The Party (1968), and found that painfully unfunny.  This suggests that Clouseau created a special alchemy among Sellers, Blatty and/or Edwards that may not have existed elsewhere, just as director Jack Arnold and producer William Alland seemed to do better work together than apart.  And because the Edwards/Sellers relationship was a fractious one, it also calls to mind a milder version of the almost murderous love-hate bond between director Werner Herzog and star Klaus Kinski, which was documented in Herzog’s My Best Fiend (1999), and nonetheless produced some brilliant work…but I digress.

Edwards worked as an actor and screenwriter before graduating to director, making several films with Tony Curtis:  Mister Cory (1957), The Perfect Furlough (1958), and Operation Petticoat (1959); in spite of Cary Grant’s presence in the latter, I think that as an undiscriminating teen, I actually preferred the TV spin-off.  Now, I’m not dumb enough to say that I think Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) isn’t a good movie, but I will say it wasn’t my cup of tea, nor was I crazy about his other pre-Panther successes such as Experiment in Terror or Days of Wine and Roses (both 1962).  I’ll also freely admit that my feelings toward Days have since been colored by my loyalty to John Frankenheimer, who directed the Playhouse 90 version and was passed over for the film.

The Pink Panther (1963) changed everything, giving Mancini his second immortal theme, and if the scenes involving top-billed David Niven and his aspiring jewel-thief nephew Robert Wagner have aged less well, Sellers steals the film with no less aplomb.  The eponymous diamond did not appear in many of the sequels, but as with The Thin Man (1934), the inaccurate name stuck, eventually becoming synonymous with Clouseau himself.  It’s clear from his contemporaneous work with Stanley Kubrick on Lolita (1962) and Dr. Strangelove (1964) that when Sellers was on, nobody could touch him as a comic genius, and the early Clouseau films bear this out, but I would agree with Hostly that they—selectively, at that—are the only Edwards movies to watch.

Although I seem to recall that a case could be made for Victor Victoria (1982), my impression is that most of his subsequent non-Panther films—although, God knows, I didn’t subject myself to all of them—relied overmuch on slapstick, toilet humor, mean-spiritedness, or some combination thereof.  I’m thinking particularly of 10 (1979), despite the frenzy over cornrowed Bo Derek, and S.O.B. (1981), for which he persuaded wholesome spouse Julie to bear her breasts.  But his worst sin was milking the Panther series beyond Hollywood’s most avaricious dreams, descending into first a patchwork quilt utilizing outtakes of Sellers from …Strikes Again (Trail of…, 1982), and then a pair of films in which Clouseau does not even appear (Curse of…, 1983; Son of…, 1993).

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Believe it or not, it’s been almost fifty years since Swiss goddess Ursula Andress arose from the sea, clad only in a white bikini with a knife at her hip, and set the standard unbelievably high for all future Bond girls in 007’s first big-screen adventure, Dr. No (1962).  That’s only tangentially related to the subject of my post, but since a more attention-grabbing piece of pulchritude could scarcely be imagined, she can certainly serve the same purpose here.  Robert Aldrich wisely built up to another memorable Andress entrance in 4 for Texas (1963) as she directs a fusillade of rifle shots at Dean Martin from offscreen, before realizing he is her new partner and revealing herself.

Aldrich’s film is one of a quartet with Martin, Frank Sinatra and, in some cases, other members of the Rat Pack such as Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop, each of which has a numeral as part of the title.  The others are Lewis Milestone’s Ocean’s 11 (1960), on which our very own George Clayton Johnson shared story credit with Jack Golden Russell; John Sturges’s Sergeants 3 (1962); and Gordon Douglas’s Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964).  I’m no numerologist, but I noticed, back when they used to air some of them on The 4:30 Movie during my youth, that the numbers added up in several ways (e.g., 3 + 4 = 7, 4 + 7 = 11); maybe it’s a gambling thing?

I’m also no expert on Aldrich—I’d love to read a good book on him, if there’s one out there—yet knowing what I do, I had trouble imagining such a strong personality getting on with the notoriously volatile Sinatra.  Then I read on the IMDb that he “intensely disliked Frank Sinatra’s non-professional attitude and tried unsuccessfully to have him dismissed from the film” (since it was produced by The SAM Company, as in Sinatra And Martin, it’s a wonder it wasn’t the other way around).  It’s certainly interesting that each film had a different director, although Douglas did work with Sinatra on Tony Rome (1967), The Detective (1968), and several others.

It’s also interesting, in light of the lounge-lizard personae of the Rat Pack (epitomized by Oceans 11), that two of the films were Westerns made by masters of the form.  Sergeants 3 transplanted Gunga Din (1939) to the West, and featured Martin, Sinatra, and Lawford in the roles created by Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., with Davis as the Din analog.  Sturges made Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), its underrated sequel, Hour of the Gun (1967), and The Magnificent Seven (1960)—itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954)—while Aldrich directed Burt Lancaster in Apache, Vera Cruz (both 1954), and Ulzana’s Raid (1972).

Although by no means a classic, 4 for Texas has several things going for it, including Andress (who, in my view, completely eclipses co-star Anita Ekberg) and Charles Bronson as Matson, the killer hired by crooked banker Harvey Burden (Victor Buono).  Both men appeared in other Aldrich films—most notably The Dirty Dozen (1967) and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), respectively—as did Martin’s right-hand man, Nick Dennis, who essayed a similar role in Kiss Me Deadly (1955).  But along with The Choirboys (1977), disowned by original author Joseph Wambaugh, and The Frisco Kid (1979), it showed that comedy was not Aldrich’s forte.

Fortunately, 4 for Texas is more of an adventure film than a comedy; such inanities as Martin’s mugging and double takes (including his reaction to a walk-on by Arthur Godfrey), plus a cameo by the Three Stooges, take a back seat to the action.  Bronson gets to kill Jack Elam in an early scene, as in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1969), and is gunned down twice by our boys, finally succumbing to a head shot on the paddle wheel of a riverboat that is central to Frank and Dino’s rivalry as would-be gambling bosses of Galveston.  I seem to recall reading somewhere that Bronson later sued somebody for promoting this as a starring vehicle for him.

I’ve been wanting to write something about Aldrich here for a long time, something a little more substantive than including several of his films in the B100, and this post is a roundabout excuse to do so.  I can’t think of a single filmmaker, alive or dead, who could do no wrong, be it Bava, Hitchcock, or Kubrick, and Aldrich is certainly no exception, but he had more than his fair share of noteworthy credits in his oeuvre.  Among other things, he worked with Lancaster, a big BOF favorite, on four films—more than any other director except The GREAT John Frankenheimer—which in addition to those aforementioned Westerns included Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977).

At his best when prefiguring or subverting entire genres and subgenres, Aldrich made heroes of a sympathetic Indian in Apache, at a time when few would do so, and unsympathetic—but weirdly compelling—p.i. Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) in Kiss Me DeadlyThe Flight of the Phoenix (1965) anticipated the wave of all-star disaster films launched, as it were, by Airport (1970), and Ulzana’s Raid used a Western setting to make a statement about the war then raging in Vietnam.  In The Dirty Dozen, he turned the star-studded WW II epic on its head twice, first by making a bunch of convicted criminals his main characters, and then by making us really care about them.

With Baby Jane, Aldrich could lay claim to creating an entire subgenre of his own, unleashing a torrent of “dotty old lady” thrillers, which he perpetuated as both a director (Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte [1964]) and a producer (What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? [1969]).  In fact, he often produced his own films and, like Dino De Laurentiis, used his early success to establish his own production company, only to have it shuttered by a series of flops.  Among his directorial efforts, he’s credited as a writer on only three (Ten Seconds to Hell [1959], 4 for Texas, and Too Late the Hero [1970]) and, perhaps predictably, was never so much as nominated for an Academy Award.

Clearly, Aldrich inspired loyalty among his actors, many of whom worked with him repeatedly, from stars like Lancaster to such supporting players as Richard Jaeckel.  Lee Marvin appeared with Jaeckel in the anti-war film Attack (1956) and The Dirty Dozen, also starring in the Tom Flynn fave Emperor of the North opposite Aldrich regular Ernest Borgnine, while Jack Palance toplined the Hollywood exposé The Big Knife (1955), Attack, and Ten Seconds to Hell.  Other familiar faces include Cliff Robertson (Autumn Leaves [1956], Too Late the Hero), Bette Davis (Baby Jane, Sweet Charlotte), and Burt Reynolds (The Longest Yard [1974]; Hustle [1975]).

I won’t keep you from your DVD player much longer, but I can’t resist closing with a couple of quotes, courtesy of the IMDb.  On Davis:  “[She] is a tough old broad and you fight.  But when you see what she puts on the screen you know it was worth taking all the bull.”  On Lancaster:  “He has matured gracefully, plays men his own age and understands the need not to win the girl.  He is much more tolerant of other people’s point of view.”  On Marvin:  “Look, this feller is a pretty good boozer, he’s got a short fuse, but he can be handled okay.”  And, finally, on Sinatra:  “Unpleasant man.  No one has yet worked out what really makes him tick.  But he sings well.”

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The Grim Reaper was unusually busy in the entertainment world this past week, claiming Arthur Penn, director of Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Little Big Man (1970), on Tuesday and Stephen J. Cannell, creator of The Rockford Files and The A-Team, on Thursday.  But Tony Curtis’s passing in between was a little unnerving, because he had already been much in my mind as I planned to mark today’s sixth anniversary of Janet Leigh’s death.  During their marriage from 1951 to 1962, Tony and Janet co-starred in several films, including George Pal’s Houdini (1953) and Richard Fleischer’s The Vikings (1958), as well as producing the genetic miracle that is Jamie Lee Curtis.

It would be polite but disingenuous of me to call Curtis one of my favorite actors, yet this has a lot to do with the fact that many of his films were comedies, a genre on which I am very tough, although as always, I’ll gladly make an exception for Billy Wilder.  Seeing Tony woo the plotz-inducing Marilyn Monroe with a Cary Grant accent in Wilder’s Some Like It Hot (1959), joining Jack Lemmon as fugitive jazz musicians in drag, is a rare treat.  For trivia fans, its setting of the Hotel del Coronado figured prominently in Richard Matheson’s Bid Time Return, but could not be used for the movie, Somewhere in Time (1980), as it looked too modern for the period scenes.

I don’t know if this constitutes a guilty pleasure, or how I’d feel about it if I saw it now, but I did love Curtis’s admittedly silly comedy Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969).  At least, that’s the title under which I stumbled across it on the beloved Late Show in my youth, immediately pegging it as the late Ken Annakin’s follow-up to his own Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965), but back in Britain it was the more manageable Monte Carlo or Bust!  Interestingly, Blake Edwards’s similar The Great Race (1965) left me cold; Edwards also directed Curtis in Operation Petticoat (1959), teaming him up with none other than Grant.

Those who have checked out my “Bradley’s Hundred” list and/or reviews know that Curtis did appear in one of my all-time favorite dramas, chained to Sidney Poitier as convicts on the run in Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones (1958).  There’s not a trace of the grinning pretty-boy here, and Curtis earned a richly deserved Oscar nomination for the role.  Due to less familiarity, I have less distinct memories of his dramatic work opposite BOF fave Burt Lancaster in Carol Reed’s Trapeze (1956) and Sweet Smell of Success (1957); in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960); or as Ira Hayes, the ill-fated Native American WW II flag-raiser of Iwo Jima, in The Outsider (1961).

As for Leigh, I wouldn’t have placed her in the pantheon either until I had one of those forehead-smacking moments when I suddenly say, “My God, So-and-So starred in [fill in number] of my favorite films!”  In her case, the four are Touch of Evil (1958), Psycho (1960), The Manchurian Candidate (1960), and The Fog (1980), all but one of which (Candidate, cancelled out by other John Frankenheimer films) is also in the B100.  And let’s not forget The Naked Spur (1953), one of the Westerns in which Anthony Mann—who was replaced by Kubrick on Spartacus—directed James Stewart, with a terrific supporting cast including Leigh, Robert Ryan, and Ralph Meeker.

In preparation for this post, I finally read Janet’s book Psycho: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller (written with celebrity biographer Christopher Nickens), which nicely details the making and after-effects of the film, including interviews with Hitchcock’s assistant, Hilton Green, and screenwriter Joseph Stefano.  She offers a unique perspective on how her character of Marion Crane pulls off that Third Man/Exorcist trick of dominating the film despite limited screen time.  We were lucky enough to meet Leigh and have her sign a copy at a convention some years ago, as well as having her autograph a photo for my mother-in-law, whose name is also Marion.

Robert Bloch, whose contribution to the film’s gigantic success as the original author of Psycho sometimes goes underappreciated, paid Leigh perhaps the ultimate compliment when he said, “I wish I had written the character as well as she played her.”  Simply put, she is not only gorgeous (Hitch wasn’t dumb enough not to promote the film with photos of Leigh in her undies), but also immensely appealing; viewers care about her and are devastated by her abrupt death.  Marion is an indelible creation, of the type that any actor would be lucky to create once in a lifetime, so let us hope that Tony and Janet, though long since divorced, are now sharing some happy memories.

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Seconds

Honoring the twenty-fifth anniversary of Rock Hudson’s death, we revisit this article written for the original Scifipedia website.

Directed by the late, great John Frankenheimer (1930-2002), this faithful 1966 adaptation of David Ely’s novel was scripted by Lewis John Carlino.  Along with The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and Seven Days in May (1964), it continued Frankenheimer’s examination of the public and private misuses of modern technology, although he did not consider that a unifying theme.

“It was never conscious on my part as any kind of a trilogy or anything like that,” he told me in an interview for Filmfax.  “To me, they were just three totally divergent subject matters that I did.  It’s been pointed out to me that that similarity exists, and I say, ‘Oh, yeah?  I never thought about that.’”  A box-office disappointment at the time of its release, Seconds has since been hailed as a classic.

Frankenheimer was one of a generation of filmmakers to emerge from the Golden Age of television.  Between 1954 and 1960, he directed 152 live dramas (including forty-two episodes of the anthology series Playhouse 90, many of which were written by Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling), averaging one every two weeks and earning six consecutive Emmy Award nominations.

After his theatrical debut, The Young Stranger (1957), Frankenheimer switched to feature films full time with The Young Savages (1961; see “Savage Tales”).  A period of personal disillusionment followed the assassination of his close friend, Robert F. Kennedy, in 1968, but he bounced back with the spectacular back-to-back successes of French Connection II (1975) and Black Sunday (1976).

When several films failed to catch fire at the box office, he returned triumphantly to TV, winning Emmys for Against the Wall (1994), The Burning Season (1995), Andersonville (1996), and George Wallace (1997).  Proving he still had the old magic, Frankenheimer directed the theatrical thriller Ronin (1998), and earned another Emmy nomination for Path to War (2002).

This was one of Frankenheimer’s few out-and-out SF films, along with Prophecy (1979), which was profitable despite its critical drubbing, and The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996), a fiasco on which he replaced another director.  Its central conceit is a process whereby, through surgery, aging and wealthy people can buy themselves not only a new identity, but also a youthful body.

Along with the unnerving strings of Jerry Goldsmith’s superb score, the title sequence by Saul Bass sets a discomforting tone from the start, as putty-like facial flesh is shown apparently twisting in extreme close-up.  The film is breathtakingly photographed in black and white, with distortion lenses, by James Wong Howe, whose work was justly nominated for an Oscar.

Himself a sometime actor, Frankenheimer was an actor’s director, with many performers also nominated for his films, and here elicited what may have been the best performance of Rock Hudson’s career.  Frankenheimer also had a fondness for using actors who had been blacklisted in the McCarthy era, including several (John Randolph, Will Geer, Jeff Corey) in Seconds alone.

Businessman Arthur Hamilton (Randolph) is handed a slip of paper by a stranger in New York’s Grand Central Station, and then gets a call from a supposedly dead friend, Charlie Evans (Murray Hamilton), urging him to go to the address on the paper.  Drugged upon his arrival, he believes he is hallucinating his rape of a young woman, and glimpses a room full of men waiting.

Mr. Ruby (Corey) explains that the film of his staged “rape” will be held to ensure that he cannot change his mind, now that the company has faked Hamilton’s death with a body provided as part of their service.  He meets the Old Man (Geer) who started the company, and a truth drug is used to elicit ideas about the ideal profession—a painter—for him to have in his new identity.

When he has healed from his surgery, Hamilton emerges from the bandages as Hudson, with the new name of Antiochus “Tony” Wilson, and his ostensible servant John (Wesley Addy) at his side as a company-placed watchdog.  He meets Nora Marcus (Salome Jens) on the beach, and they begin an affair, but overall, he finds he is having trouble adjusting to this new lifestyle.

At a party, a drunken Tony becomes indiscreet and alludes to his transformation, without realizing that all of the guests—indeed, all of the residents of his community—are “seconds” like him.  Completely disenchanted, he tries to visit Hamilton’s wife, Emily (Frances Reid), who still believes he is dead, but agents of the company catch up with him and return him to their offices.

There, Tony is ushered into the “waiting room” and sees Charlie, learning that those who have trouble making a go of it with their new lives are required to recruit their friends, as Charlie did Hamilton.  Tony thinks he is simply waiting for another chance, with another new identity, but in a shocking finale he realizes that he is to provide the raw material for the next faked death.

A remake of Seconds by Jonathan Mostow was announced some time ago, but it is doubtful that any advances in technology can improve upon Frankenheimer’s chilling original.  At once terrifying and thought-provoking, it is full of telling details like Nora referring to Tony as a “dirty old man” and stylistic flourishes like a cut from one hand signing papers to another one holding a scalpel.

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Savage Tales

The nexus of literature and film is where it’s at for me, so what better subject to spotlight today than The Young Savages (1961), which was based on a novel by Evan Hunter and directed by John Frankenheimer?  For those who don’t already know it, Frankenheimer was one of my heroes, whom I was lucky enough to interview for Filmfax and briefly befriend before his untimely death in 2002, the same awful year I lost my Dad and my eighteen-year-old first car.  I’ve often called him the directorial equivalent of Richard Matheson, because even though he made so many outstanding films—e.g., Seconds (1966), French Connection II (1975), Black Sunday (1977), Ronin (1998)—that they perversely canceled one another out when I finalized the B100, his name inspires naught but a blank stare among the general public.

A key transitional work, The Young Savages was Frankenheimer’s second feature; the first, The Young Stranger (1957), was based on his 1955 Climax! episode “Deal a Blow,” one of 152 live dramas that earned him six consecutive Emmy Award nominations during the Golden Age of television.  “I had never planned to stick with movies,” he told me.  “Doing the movie was an afterthought.  I’d already been set to do Playhouse 90 starting that following fall, and I didn’t really like motion pictures compared to television.”

“The only reason that I left live television, or taped television, was because CBS cancelled everything.  I loved doing that, and I was much happier in it than I was ever happy in movies.  Looking back on it, that period of live television was without doubt the highlight of my life.”  In 1962, however, he released a trifecta that put him at the top of the Hollywood heap:  All Fall Down, Birdman of Alcatraz, and The Manchurian Candidate.  Most important, The Young Savages was his first of five films with Burt Lancaster (Oscar-nominated for Birdman), more than any other director, followed by another Word-Man favorite, Robert Aldrich, with four.

Evan Hunter was no stranger to the setting (New York City), genre (crime fiction), or subject (juvenile delinquency) of his cleverly titled 1959 novel A Matter of Conviction.  As Ed McBain, he wrote the long-running 87th Precinct series of police procedurals, set in a fictionalized Manhattan he called “Isola,” while under the Hunter byline he had penned the j.d. classic The Blackboard Jungle, memorably filmed by writer-director Richard Brooks in 1955.  In the novel, assistant D.A. Hank Bell ( Belani), assigned to prosecute three gang members for the murder of a blind Puerto Rican youth in his boyhood Harlem neighborhood, learns that the mother of one defendant, Danny, is Mary Di Pace (née O’Brien), who sent him a Dear John letter during World War II.

According to Lancaster’s biographer, Gary Fishgall, Hunter was hired to adapt his own work but replaced by Edward Anhalt, who recommended Frankenheimer after seeing his 1959 Playhouse 90 production of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.  An Academy Award-winner for Panic in the Streets (1950) and Becket (1964), Anhalt had a diverse resume, including John Sturges’s The Satan Bug (1965) and Hour of the Gun (1967), and was reunited with Frankenheimer on the 1985 adaptation of Robert Ludlum’s The Holcroft Covenant.  To rewrite Anhalt’s script during shooting, Frankenheimer engaged J.P. Miller, whose teleplay “Days of Wine and Roses” he had directed in 1958; losing the 1962 film version of that Playhouse 90 classic to Blake Edwards, as he had Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), was one of the biggest disappointments of his career.

Lancaster and Frankenheimer got off to an inauspicious start, attributed to the former’s reluctance to make The Young Savages:  due to debts incurred by his recently shuttered production company, Hecht-Hill-Lancaster, it was the first of four films he was obliged to make for United Artists at a fraction of his usual fee.  Such was their rocky relationship that, as Frankenheimer related in his book-length interview with Charles Champlin, Lancaster et al. had to lure him back to L.A. on the pretext of fixing a last-minute problem with Savages to ask him to replace British director Charles Crichton on Birdman, a project Frankenheimer had hoped to do for television, but was denied permission by the Bureau of Prisons.  Similarly, after they had collaborated on Seven Days in May (1964), Frankenheimer supplanted Arthur Penn, who had been hired and fired as the director of The Train (1964), which—like Birdman—was also among Lancaster’s bargain-basement quartet.

Frankenheimer’s penchant for unusual camera angles is evident from the credit sequence, with its tense shots of Danny (Stanley Kristien) and his fellow Thunderbirds seeking and stabbing Roberto Escalante (Jose Perez), whose dark glasses reflect his murder.  Having persuaded executive producer Harold Hecht to use New York locations (also Lancaster’s home turf) and cast untrained street toughs as the Thunderbirds and their Puerto Rican rivals, the Horsemen, Frankenheimer hired Sydney Pollack—who had acted in several of his television productions—to coach them, which helped lead to his successful directing career.  Telly Savalas made his film debut as Detective Lt. Gunderson, Bell’s police ally, with Shelley Winters replacing Lee Grant as Mary shortly after shooting began; adding a reportedly uncomfortable verisimilitude, Winters was in fact Lancaster’s ex-lover and, according to Fishgall, his original choice for the role.

Cast as the new character of R. Daniel Cole, the D.A. whose gubernatorial ambitions cause him to demand the death sentence, was Edward Andrews (so effective in “Third from the Sun,” the Twilight Zone episode adapted by Frankenheimer’s frequent collaborator, Rod Serling, from Matheson’s story).  The film eliminates Bell’s friendship with the judge (Robert Burton), downplays his parental inattention toward his daughter, Jenny (Roberta Shore), and changes his wife, Karin (Dina Merrill), from a German he met during the war to a Vassar graduate who castigates Cole until she is terrified by two gang members in an elevator.  But the seemingly open-and-shut case is more complex:  far from being innocent, Roberto was a member of the Horsemen who concealed their zip guns after a rumble, while the lab report on the knives reveals in the climactic courtroom scenes that Danny only pretended to stab him because of peer pressure.

“I thought he was wonderful,” Frankenheimer said of Lancaster, whom he directed for the last time in The Gypsy Moths (1969).  “I thought he was dedicated, intelligent, he was the most professional human being I’ve ever known.  He demanded the best from everybody who worked with him and he gave the best.  He was a real movie star.  He knew what his place was in the overall scheme of things.  He had a wonderful sense of himself.  He was, I think, a very fine actor, and socially I think he accepted his responsibility as a human being.  He had a life that he could be very proud of.  I loved working with him…. I think all the films he did for me he was terrific in.  In Birdman of Alcatraz, he was extraordinary, but I think he was extraordinary in Seven Days in May and The Train, and I thought his performance in The Gypsy Moths was wonderful, and I loved him in The Young Savages.”

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