Wednesday, January 6, 2010

ORDEAL - August 1966 (The FBI)

I have raved about art director Richard Haman before; the problem with Richard is that he is so talented, there is no such thing as over praising him. Richard and William Spencer, director of photography, after completing the first season of TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH were switched by Quinn Martin to his new series being launched on ABC, THE FBI. ORDEAL was my fourth assignment in that series’ second season (I had directed three episodes its first season.) This was the eleventh show in which Richard and I were partnered.

Richard came to me with a plan for the opening sequence you just viewed. He had worked out the mechanics of the shooting of the guard -- the placement of the camera and the gun so that the hole created by the shattering pellet would be in line with the guard’s body. But the pellet would have gone off to the side, avoiding any injury to the actor portraying the guard. This was a true case of what would be done by an art director when his credit on the screen would read: Production designed by ... . I directed a movie for television once where the producer came to me with a request from the art director’s agent asking for the ‘Production designed by’ credit. Now on that production I had prepared to shoot the exterior of a mountain cabin for an establishing shot. As we went to the spot where the camera would be and looked at the cabin, I discovered there was no roof. I was told the art director felt it wouldn’t be needed. We didn’t do the shot that day. The roof was added, and then we filmed the establishing shot. And my reply to the request for the special credit was, “No, actually I think that credit should read ‘Production designed IN SPITE of blank blank’.”

I’m quite certain if this barn sequence were being filmed today, it would all be done on location. Quinn Martin still adhered to the old studio principles. The exterior of the barn and the entrances and exits into the barn were done on location, but the long scene in the barn itself was filmed on a sound stage where Billy Spencer could take full advantage of the opportunities afforded to work his photographic magic.

Are you as fed up and turned off as I am by the excessive violence on our screens today? Well even forty-three years ago I wanted to find other ways to deal with the many killings I had to film. Especially because there was a double standard. Network programming loved the violence, but network program practices had many restrictions. You couldn’t make death ugly by showing the massive bloody wound a bullet would create. That would offend the public. A bullet hole would rarely be a blood spot as large as a quarter, more likely closer to the size of a dime. In this case I preferred to show it by focusing on the reaction of a participant in the incident.

Which had the added advantage of adding dimension to the character of the person reacting. In this case Paul Bryar, birth name Gabriel Paul Barrere, and known and beloved by all who knew him as Gaby. I had met Gaby and his wife, Claudia (real name, Hortense, but known to many as Hort) when they auditioned for a production of the play, MY THREE ANGELS I was to direct. They both ended up appearing in that play, and the following year we joined forces to do DEATH OF A SALESMAN. They were the beginning of my west coast family beyond the extensive blood family I already had. When I came to QM Productions two years prior, I requested Paul Bryar for a role in the second FUGITIVE I was directing. John Conwell, casting director for the show, told me we would not be able to get Paul approved by Quinn. It seems several years before when Quinn was producing THE UNTOUCHABLES, Paul had been cast in an episode. Between takes on a set, there is usually casual banter between cast and crew. Quinn, visiting the set one day, saw Paul joking around and thought his behavior was frivolous, not serious enough. Paul made Quinn’s black list. So he did not appear in that episode of THE FUGITIVE. Somehow Johnny Conwell, during the first season of THE FBI, changed Quinn’s mind enough to give Gaby another chance, and he was cast in one of my episodes that season. He was now in good enough standing with Quinn to take on this even more important role in the current production. I tell this story not as a comment on Gaby’s behavior; more as a reflection on Quinn’s and as a reflection of what actors (and writers and directors) sometimes faced in their search for employment. Around this same time I learned Lou Antonio was on ‘that’ list. Lou had appeared in an episode of TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH. He had been called back some time after completing photography for some additional scenes and he arrived at the studio with his hair definitely in need of cutting. That was enough to get him on the list. I contacted Lou and told him what I had learned. He immediately wrote a letter to Quinn explaining his long hair. He was in the cast at that time of the Elia Kazan feature film, AMERICA, AMERICA and was still on call to complete principal photography. Voila! Lou Antonio was off the list!

The FBI rounded up enough clues to send them on a search for Kingsley, a missing driver. Erskine and Rhodes go to his rooming house and interview his landlady. I thought the scene needed a little perking up, so I had the actress cast in the part play it in a more distraught manner. She was upset at the mess in the room and kept moving around, picking up articles of clothing, as she was being interviewed by Erskine and Rhodes. Quinn didn’t like it when he saw the dailies the following day. Too frivolous. I ended up reshooting with a recast landlady and everybody just stood around and talked. That’s what you’re about to see.

THE FBI episodes were touted as being based on FBI files. I’m sure a lot of them were. But I doubted then and I doubt now that ALL of them were. I felt when I was doing this episode that we owed a greater debt to the French movie, WAGES OF FEAR, than we did to any FBI file. I could have been wrong; but I also could have been right

I know that in filming a sequence like the one you’re about to see to whom my debt was owed -- to the remarkable Billy Spencer and his magic camera.

Carl made the fatal phone call and agreed to meet with Mr. Lockwood.

This was another instance where the plot got an FBI representative directly involved in the criminal part of the story, in this case young Rhodes. Stephen Brooks, who played Rhodes, only stayed with the series for two years. I had worked with Steve earlier when he had a recurring role on THE NURSES, a Herb Brodkin produced series that was filmed in New York, and he later guest starred in an episode of STAR TREK, which I will soon be writing about.

Ford Motor Co. was one of the sponsors of THE FBI on ABC. This was a major advantage for a program of this type. We used a lot of automobiles in the show. A very nice man, Tom, a representative from the agency that represented Ford, came to all of our production meetings. He would then supply whatever we needed. Rich car, poor car, beggar car, thief. Well, almost always. There was a situation the first season on a show called THE PLUNDERERS. Look at the opening sequence, and then I’ll tell you what the problem was.

The problem was that Ford did not produce an armored car, and they were not eager to use a vehicle from another automobile manufacturer. Tom’s suggestion was that we use a panel truck in lieu of the armored car. Our side very vehemently vetoed this idea, so that Tom finally relented and we got to use a legitimate armored car for our filming.

You win some, you lose some. On THE PLUNDERERS we won. We were not so lucky on the current show, ORDEAL. The final leg of the journey in our script included a fierce storm in mountainous terrain. And in our script this Ford truck carrying nitro picked this unfortunate time to have brake problems. Unfortunately the Ford truck had not conferred with Ford agency rep Tom. It seems that Fords don’t develop brake problems. To add to the problem it was also an irrefutable fact that Quinn Martin productions had exciting, when possible hair-raising Act IV’s. What’s a director to do? Just close his eyes and step on the gas!

I can hardly leave you hanging without showing you the end of the journey, not that I don’t think you haven’t already figured it out for yourself.

This was the end of more than one journey. This was Billy Spencer’s last show for the series for a time. He left to be the director of photography for Quinn Martin’s theatrical feature, THE MEPHISTO WALTZ. I directed four more episodes for the series with three different directors of photography, only one of whom I liked. Unfortunately he was not the one the producers decided to retain. As I said before, I left the series after eight episodes because of physical exhaustion. I wonder if I would have been so spent if Billy Spencer hadn’t left. I don’t think so!

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