Thursday, January 14, 2010

THE EASTER BREACH - Spring 1965 (Suspense Theatre)

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Recently through the interest, kindness and generosity of David Lanza's Kraft Suspense Theatre blogsite at http://kraft1963.blogspot.com, I received a much better transciption of this show than the one I published in January, 2010.  So here are new film clips.

Late morning the second day of filming THE EASTER BREACH I received a telephone call from the producer. He had just viewed the first day’s rushes and was calling to tell me how pleased he was with what he had seen. He was especially impressed with Richard Beymer’s performance. As was my custom I immediately went over to where Richard was seated to relay this information. He looked up at me with the saddest eyes and said, “That’s what they told me on WEST SIDE STORY."

I was back at the factory to film my third and last SUSPENSE THEATRE. The script was an intelligently written love story by Leon Tokatyan about the difficult escape from East Berlin of an elderly couple. It was decided the story would be even more poignant if it were a young couple, and I had just the young couple in mind to play it. Earlier that season I had directed a FUGITIVE guest starring Diana Hyland and a 12 O’CLOCK HIGH guest starring Keir Dullea. I thought they would make an ideal pair to enact this story, and relayed my wishes to the casting director, Bill something-or-other. That was the last I heard until I was informed that Richard Beymer and Katherine Crawford (daughter of Universal producer Roy Huggins and wife of Universal executive Frank Price) had been signed to star in this Universal production. There is no other word for it -- I was pissed. I decided I was not going to break my back over this little venture. The script was okay. I scouted the necessary locations on Universal’s backlot. I visited the various sets assigned to the project. But not one pencil mark of staging or camera instruction was entered into my script. I was going to wing it, start to finish. Then came the first day, and Richard Beymer showed up impressively prepared. He had a fine German accent; he was totally committed in attitude and preparation, and the excellence of what he was doing lifted my spirits and pulled me in. I still was committed to not doing any homework, but because of my feelings of responsibility to the actors, I would still function to the best of my ability on the set.

The staging of the flight at the beginning of the story presented a bit of a problem. We were to film it on the Universal backlot, and the wooded area selected just wasn't long enough. So we filmed the same short distance several times -- first in a two shot, then a close-up of Richard, and a close-up of Katherine; thus I was able to prolong the sequence in the editing process. The director of photography for this show was John Russell. We had worked together once before on the ARREST AND TRIAL episode starring Mickey Rooney, FUNNY MAN WITH A MONKEY.  And oh yes, he was the director of photography on Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO!

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Where MGM was letting their backlots deteriorate, Universal was improving theirs. Because of the Berlin location of our story, I was able to use their European streets to good advantage. Werner did not die; he was rescued and brought to a West Berlin hospital.

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After a couple of days working with Richard, I was compelled to pose a question to him. I said, “Before meeting you, I did not understand how you could have been cast as Tony in WEST SIDE STORY. Now that I’ve worked with you, my question is ‘What happened?’”

He told me. He did not go to view the dailies, but he was praised each day by the director for his work. Near the end of the filming, when he had completed what he considered the main and difficult part of his role, he went to a viewing of the dailies. He was horrified by what he saw; he was even more disturbed that at that point there was nothing he could do to correct it.

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  I’m afraid because of the possible nepotism involved in her casting, I underestimated Katherine Crawford’s talent. When Werner, while visiting an art museum sees a woman who looks remarkably like his wife (she should, she’s played by the same actress), I was going to need a certain reaction from Katherine as she looked at him on the ground. So at the end of her close-up, instead of saying “Cut, print,” I tore the page out of my script, dropped it to the floor and said, “Well, I guess we’ve got that one in the can.” Watch the reaction that ends the art gallery scene.

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The producer for this episode was Norman MacDonnell.  A decade before this, when I first started working at CBS in the radio mimeo department (yes, I was a lowly typist, cutting stencils for CBS radio shows).  One of them was GUNSMOKE starring William Conrad in the role that James Arness later portrayed in the television series. The mimeo department was next to a viewing booth that looked down on the studio where GUNSMOKE was recorded.  I watched many of them in production.  I became acquainted with the script supervisor on the show and even sat in on some of the rehearsals.  I didn’t meet him at that time, but Norman was the producer.  

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I really didn’t have any idea of what a checkpoint between East and West Berlin looked like. But even if I had had a detailed drawing, there was no chance the studio would build it, not on a television budget. So we found a tunnel-like structure on the European street on the backlot, put up some signs and we had our checkpoint. Actually it looks pretty effective.

An added plus was the restaurant set being located on the backlot adjoining the exterior street. So now for some nefarious business!

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Werner finds Liese; they are in line at the checkpoint to go to West Berlin. In the scenes that followed both characters portrayed by Katherine were involved. However, since they did not have a scene together, I did not have to cope with the problem of the split screen, but I did need to use a photo double. First in the wide angle shot where Werner walks away from Liese and sees Victoria -- Victoria, with her back to the camera is a photo double. And then the final shot of the sequence when Werner and Liese on the West Berlin side of the wall exited the two shot and you see through to East Berlin as Victoria was taken away by the police, that Victoria was a photo double.

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It would be a year shy of two decades before Richar Beymer and I would work together again (ignoring a test I directed of him for a role in the pilot for DYNASTY). And that later project, through no fault of Richard’s or other members of that cast, was a miserably grievous experience for me.  I think Richard was aware of the problems, because one day when we were lunching together, he looked at me very wisely across the table of the booth we shared, and with a twinkle in his eye he said, “You appear to be a gentle poodle, but I can see the pit bull ready to pounce.”

As I explained before, I did no pre-planning in my script for this show. In fact when I checked my files for a script for this production to help me with this posting, there was no script. I had thrown it away, page by page, as I completed filming each scene. It is the only script missing of the almost two hundred productions I directed. So did I then decide, “Boy this is the way to go. You can do this job without all that laborious homework.” I’m afraid not. Now that I knew I could wing it and get by, I made the decision and never wavered from it -- NEVER AGAIN!

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