(above: Charles Bronson in the tv show Man With A Camera; episode "Second Avenue Assassin" plays Oct 6 in San Francisco at the Roxie Theater.)
Old-media magnate and maniac Johnny Legend—archivist, wrestling promoter and rockabilly bastard—is at it again. He’s programmed an amazing weeklong retrospective of TV Noir at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater. One ticket gets you a nightlong double feature of grime, crime and revenge.
Noir is in the eye of the beholder—it means everything from heated melodramas to the cheapest kind of murder mystery. And black and white television was just as partial to crime melodrama and low lighting that drowned the sight of rented sets. TV got major talents on the way down and on the way up, and the affable Legend’s retrospective includes tidbits for noir fans who thought they’d seen everything.
FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 30:
6 and 9:45 pm
The weeklong fest comes out of the gate with a bouquet of unjustly forgotten TV.
Like his similarly unsettling cohort Robert Ryan, Dan Duryea was an ivy-leaguer (Cornell) before he went to Hollywood playing one snazzy straw-hatted Irishoid killer after another...most memorably in Fritz Lang's Scarlet Street. For the anthology series The Star and the Story: Duryea stars 1955’s “The Lie”, co-starring Beverly Garland.
1954’s “Bond of Hate” (directed by David MacDonald, Devil Girl from Mars) exemplifies that British TV show The Vise was a starting place for actors like Patrick McGoohan and directors like Richard Lester.
“It’s an incredible discovery from recent years,” says Legend, “Also one of the greatest shows in TV history. It reminded me of the first time I saw the Hugo the Dummy episode in Dead of Night.”
Plus the ultra-rare unsold 1954 pilot episode of Mike Hammer, written and directed by Blake Edwards, with the Donlevian Brian “Uncle Bill” Keith.
Also a surprise episode of a show featuring John Cassavetes.
“The Haunted Clown” (1960) from One Step Beyond.
“Is the story you’re about to see true? Well, no one really knows…” says debonair host John Newland.
True or false, one thing is for certain—nothing is as immutable in this universe the Law of Clowns: An offense against one is an offense against all! Pippo the Clown has a bone to pick with a certain scissors-carrying thug, who has been harassing his sweet little blonde girlfriend (Yvette Mimieux)…
Legend notes “’The Haunted Clown’ is probably one of my top 5 shows of all time. I saw it the night it was broadcast, and I was in the 6th Grade babbling about it for the next several days. So great to catch up with it decades later, to see it’s just as good as memory serves.”
Plus 1963’s never-aired pilot episode of The Plot Thickens, a quiz show hosted by Jack Linkletter and created by master of ballyhoo William Castle. Groucho Marx was meant to be one of the regular hosts, who try to detect who the murderer is, based on a ten minute film (the one we see here is scripted by Robert Bloch, author of the novel Psycho.)
And, from Schlitz Playhouse: Lee Marvin (among others) in 1959’s A Fistful of Love.
SATURDAY OCTOBER 1:
"The Great Directors"
Program One: 2:15pm, 6:15pm, 9:50pm
Sidney Lumet directs “The System” from a 1951 episode of the NYC based TV show Danger. “The Funmaster,” stars Keenan Wynn in a teleplay directed by Robert Mulligan (To Kill A Mockingbird). Blake Edwards directs “The Bomb” (1953) an episode of Four Star Playhouse starring David Niven.
Program Two: 4pm and 8pm
“The Hard Way,” written by Blake Edwards and directed by Robert Aldrich (1953) has Dick Powell as a gambling joint operator in New York who has to make his own hard way between the customers (Jack Elam) and the coppers (one of them is played by perennial flatfoot Regis Toomey).
Robert Altman directs a 1959 episode of US Marshall titled “R.I.P.”
In the 1950s, Alfred Hitchcock produced an anthology show titled Suspicion, and directed the initial episode himself. Based on a Cornell Woolrich story, “Four O’Clock” stars E. G. Marshall as a cuckolded watchmaker who decides to get a little revenge.
A Night of Rod Serling: 2:45pm, 6:15pm & 9:50pm
1953’s “Nightmare at Ground Zero,” concerns a henpecked contractor for the Army getting serious payback, written by Serling for Suspense and directed by Robert Mulligan. “The Arena” (1956) is from Studio One, directed by Franklin Schaffner of the original Planet of the Apes. It's about a battle between rival senators.
Noel Murray of the Onion AV Club just gave this one a thorough and intelligent review; in face of its limitations Serling himself suggested the problem of writing about politics for mid-1950s television: “To say a single thing germane to the current political scene was absolutely prohibited.”
4:30pm and 8pm
1958’s “A Town Has Turned To Dust” is a battle royal of Shat versus Steig. Clearly only one can survive. William Shatner is a racist in a Southwestern town, hungry for Mexican blood; Rod Steiger is the sheriff holding him and his fellow racists at bay. John Frankenheimer directs.
"Legends of Horror Go Noir!"
Program One: at 6:15pm and 9:50pm
Price, Lugosi, Karloff, Lorre and Lon Chaney, Jr tonight in obscure TV rarities:
Bela Lugosi stars as General Fortunato, about to be given a room without a view in a Robert Stevens’ directed version of Poe’s “A Cask of Amontillado,” (1949). Stevens worked on some of the most unnerving episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including the haunting John Wyndham adaptation, “Consider Her Ways.”
In the Ziv TV series Lock-Up, Macdonald Carey starred as attorney Herbert L. Maris, outlining real-life stories of innocent men arrested; on vacation, Maris encounters Lon Chaney, Jr stars as a rural sheriff in “The Case of Joe Slade” (1960).
Boris Karloff is an unhappily married sea captain “Food on the Table,” from the horror anthology series he hosted, The Veil (1958)
TV Reader’s Digest was one of the many anthology shows of the 1950s; under the direction of Harry Horner (the Ryan/Lupino noir classic Beware, My Lovely) Vincent Price stars in the war drama “The Brainwashing of John Hayes” (1955). Workhorse character actor James Hong makes his debut.
TV’s Checkmate concerned a San Francisco detective agency run by a pair of a pair of buddies, helped out by a British boffin named Dr. Carl Hyatt (the arch-ham Sebastian Cabot). In the 1961 episode “The Human Touch,” Peter Lorre co-stars as a just out of jail criminal with a fiendish plan to pay Hyatt back.
“Two Classic Evenings of SPACE AGE NOIR!!”
6:15pm and 9:45pm:
“The Strange Lodger” was the last episode of Science Fiction Theater (1957). “The Threat of the Thormanoids”—they look just like humans--is an episode from the often parodied Space Patrol (1953). Tales of Tomorrow may be a show of yesterday but the Philip Wylie (When Worlds Collide) story “Blunder,” is a bracingly pessimistic August 1951 episode. As endorsed by the Science Fiction League of America!
“Now Is Tomorrow” is an unaired pilot for an anthology show written by Richard Matheson and directed by Irvin Kershner: Robert Kulp in a tale akin to Donald Barthleme’s short story “Game.”
Studio One dramatizes the story of Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds, with footage of Welles and Edward R. Murrow aboard.
Program One: 6:15pm & 9:45pm
Another Tales of Tomorrow episode: Lee J. Cobb in 1951’s “Test Flight”. The late Charles S. Dubin, long time TV director who survived two stints of blacklisting, tells a story of a millionaire who decides to fly to Mars. “The Forbidden Experiment,” from the 1955 West Germany shot series Flash Gordon has our intergalactic hero rescuing eternal hostage Dr. Zarkov from kidnappers.
“Secret Agent,” the premiere episode of the sadly shite-canned tv series World of Giants (1958) makes an audience weep for what might have been. Let them decide whether Jonathan Swift or Irwin Allen went farther with this idea.
Program Two: 8pm only
Wow: not only did Schlitz produce a TV series, but so did the defunct beer Rheingold, which may actually not be dead but just slumbering.
In its heyday as an essential building block in the construction of Brooklyn beer guts, Rheingold produced a little drama: this episode of Rheingold Theater is a 1954 version of Gogol’s “The Overcoat” (1954) titled “The Awakening,” updated to a totalitarian regime and starring Buster Keaton.
Indeed, today’s craft brewers have their work cut out for them; I’m looking forward to Lagunitas Ale Theater of the Air.
Even more flabbergasting: the Studio One version of Orwell's 1984, starring the orotund Lorne Green as Big Brother.
Sex, Drugs and Dragnet
6:15pm & 9:50pm
Recording artist, proto-Leone director and workhorse of radio and television, Jack Webb is an underappreciated figure. Here as rock-faced LA cop Joe Friday, he stars in three 1950s episodes of Dragnet. Not as beautifully clueless as the Nixon era color revival, but bound to appeal: “The Big Producer,” “The Big Lamp” and “The Big Seventeen” has the copper on the trail of pornographers, out of control teens and lenient courts.
Program 2: Crime Busters! 8pm only
“Second Avenue Assassin,” the premiere 1958 episode of Man With A Camera stars Charles Bronson in a tale of rigged boxing.
Legend explains, “It was a series featuring Bronson as photographer Mike Kovac, who naturally gets involved with some kind of crime scene almost every week. Interesting that Bronson is both macho and sensitive in this role.”
The aforementioned Lock Up returns with “The Case of Frank Correy” starring Leonard Nimoy. Plus an episode of the Prohibition-set New York crime drama The Lawless Years...and a surprise episode of something or other with Lee Marvin.
For more info on this series, check www.roxie.com.