Thursday, February 11, 2010

ALIVE AND STILL A SECOND LIEUTENANT - February 1963 (Naked City)

I have to confess - I am not a New York type person. My first brush with the big city was a very brief stay in 1952, so my return to New York in 1963 to direct my first NAKED CITY was really my introduction to it. During 1963 I spent a great deal of time in New York, where I directed five more productions.


NAKED CITY was the first police story I directed. It was my follow-up production for Bert Leonard to IN THE CLOSING OF A TRUNK on ROUTE 66, and it was the first time in my career that I knew what and when my next job would be before I completed the current assignment. That was a nice heady feeling. There were just a few days at home between shows, and this time I had the complete script when I flew from Los Angeles to the east coast. Robert Sterling, who had guest starred in PRINTER’S DEVIL on TWILIGHT ZONE was set to guest star in the production.


My New York adventure started on West End Avenue, turning onto either 94th or 95th Street (I can’t remember everything) on a very, very cold winter day (that I remember). It’s the first scene in the film, and it was the first scene I shot.


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It is said that the way to teach a person to swim is to toss him into the water and then it’s ‘sink or swim.” My five-picture stay at Herbert Leonard’s Productions was like that. I considered myself very proficient at staging and directing interior scenes on sound stages. But going outdoors for exteriors -- well I was getting a crash course in location filming; it was ‘sink or swim’ time. The wondrous thing was that I was given the opportunity by Leonard. Earlier I had been escorted by my agent to a meeting with Norman Lloyd, producer of television’s ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. Mr Lloyd said to me, “Our next production is a mystery with an advertising agency background. What have you directed like that that you can show me?” I at that point only had a couple DR. KILDARE episodes that were neither mystery nor advertising agency. I didn’t get the assignment. As to how I ended up on the streets of New York after a stint in Texas, you can read about my first interview with Herbert Leonard in the archives to the right of this column. (Just go to September 2009 - IN THE CLOSING OF A TRUNK.) It was now up to me to swim, not sink.


I had already succeeded in Texas, but I was more familiar with that kind of drama. It was theatrical and focused almost totally on actors' performances. It also had a very fine script (even though I received the script in an unconventional manner). New York was a whole new ballgame. There was a gritty reality to the material and to filming on the street that was a new directing experience for me.


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Yes, that was twenty-four year old Jon Voight as the son of the slain man. I have to say I didn’t think he was very good. According to the Internet Movie Database this was his first film appearance. The following summer I went down to the Globe Theatre where he was appearing in two Shakespeare plays. Again he was not very good. When I say that, I am not demeaning the actor. I am complimenting him. I give him credit for going out and learning his craft. I also give credit to casting director Marion Dougherty. She was remarkable. Three of the five shows I directed did not have completed scripts when we started filming. I’m not sure what communication there was between her and Leonard, and what was the basis for her casting choices. But she knew actors, she recognized talent. She cast actors who were right for the parts they were assigned, and they turned in fine performances. If this seems to contradict what I wrote about Jon Voight, I disagree. Marion had obviously seen Jon in some off-Broadway production and recognized a blooming talent that deserved a chance. It was only six years later that he exploded on the screen with a magnificent performance in MIDNIGHT COWBOY. He indeed had gone out and learned his craft. And he is still a working actor.


Why do I bring this up? Because I think the rush to stardom for young people barely out of their teens does them harm. Acting is a craft, an art, to be learned and developed. Great stars are not born. They need a place to work and be bad in order to learn their craft. Gable, Cagney, Tracy -- all of them debuted in movies after they had passed the age of thirty. Bogie didn’t become a big star until he had reached his forties. And they are still with us as true screen legends. Where are those big stars of the Brat Pack: Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall et al. They had talent, but I think the early stardom without the major studios' supervision of the earlier years harmed them.


In Texas I had my first experience when filming a moving car sequence of using the tow car method. Here I was having my first time use of the camera IN THE CAR. I did prefer both methods to filming sequences with rear screen process. (Strangely the following season when I started working for Quinn Martin Productions, Quinn insisted on rear screen process for such scenes.)

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During that crazy ride the camera operator and the camera were in the back seat. So was I.


I think NAKED CITY was one of the great television series of all times. And for me the reason was that Bert Leonard, when it came to editing (and I will be going into a detailed description of my experience with that in the next posting) had the courage to take his time telling the story; he didn’t edit to speed up the action that had been filmed; if anything he enhanced and embellished with the use of the coverage that had been shot.

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Jack Priestley was the director of photography for NAKED CITY, and his style of lighting was different from the cameramen on the west coast. But it was a style that certainly worked for the series. Jason’s office set, if done on the west coast, would probably have been built at the studio. The New York studio for NAKED CITY was not nearly large enough to accommodate such construction, so we filmed on a live location. The result was a larger set than a television budget could have allowed for, and it was lit with very naturalistic lighting. I think there is almost a documentary feel to the filmiing which adds to the reality of the series.

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I didn’t realize it at the time, but the writing of the police in this series was far more realistic than I was going to encounter in my future cop-infested career. This incidentally was the only time I worked with Nancy Malone. But it was not the last time I was in contact with her. Two years later I was booked to direct the first episode of LONG HOT SUMMER, a series at 20th Century Fox based on the classic Paul Newman movie. A pilot had been filmed in which Nancy played the Joanne Woodward role. The pilot was scrapped, and a whole new cast was assembled. Since I was directing the first episode, I also was assigned the task of directing the tests of the replacement actors being considered for the series. All of the roles were cast except the Joanne Woodward role. The tests for that role did not produce an actress that the powers at the studio and the network found acceptable. They then decided they wanted Nancy after all and made the offer to her through her agent. Nancy was properly offended that she had been overlooked all of this time and turned them down. Frank Glicksman, who was producing the series and for whom I had directed TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH the previos season, knew of my association with Nancy on NAKED CITY. He had me contact her to try to influence her to accept the offer of the series. I telephoned her; we had a nice conversation, and I guess I convinced her that she should accept the series, which she did. The series turned out to be a big bomb. I’ve never seen or had contact with Nancy since that time. I wonder if she has ever forgiven me.

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NAKED CITY was the first time I filmed a sequence in a cemetery. It wasn’t the last. A decade later I directed five episodes of DAN AUGUST starring Burt Reynolds. All five episodes had a sequence in a cemetery.


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This was the second show in less than six months that I worked with Robert Sterling. I think he is a perfect example of Hollywood’s way of developing talent and then wasting it. His work in films reveals a very attractive young man hired for his looks, but the studios never utilized his developing talent. He and hes second wife, Anne Jeffreys, moved over to television in 1953 as the stars of the series, TOPPER. I can’t resist -- Robert Sterling had developed into a sterling performer.


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In the follolwing scene Bert Leonard was not happy that I had Jason kiss Paula (which was not in the script stage directions). He interpreted it as a romantic moment, a love scene. I felt it was part of Jason’s desperate attempt to keep Paula under his control, to protect himself because of his crime. I still think I was right.


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I started this piece by saying I was not a New York type person. That applied only to living in New York. Once I reported to the set to function as director, New York ceased to be a place to live. It became a movie set. And no art director ever provided me with a better place to film. I think there is no direction you can point a camera in New York and not get a wonderful picture (unless you’re aiming your camera directly into the wall of a building).


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For me the power of this script was that it was an ordinary man, a common Joe, involved in a crime -- not a criminal. That was Hitchcock’s formula -- to involve some common man in his nefarious undertakings. Unfortunately there would not be many of these guys in my future adventures in crime.


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I never saw Robert Sterling again. There are eight million stories in Hollywood; this was one of them.







1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts about Naked City.

    John DeAngelis, NYC

    ReplyDelete