Wednesday, March 24, 2010

FUNNY MAN WITH A MONKEY - Part Two

Samuel Goldwyn once said, “Pictures are for entertainment, messages shoud be delivered by Western Union.” It’s a funny line, but I’m afraid I don’t agree with it. I don’t like propaganda. I don’t like preaching. But I do like to work with material that has something to say. Jerome Ross, in writing this piece, had plenty to say.


As Stephen Bowie pointed out in his great ARREST AND TRIAL posting at:


http://classictvhistory.com/EpisodeGuides/arrest_and_trial.html


“The corner into which the writers inevitably found themselves painted was the schism between the motives of the two leads. Arrest and Trial put Anderson and Egan on opposite sides of the judicial process: Anderson’s job was to catch the criminals and Egan’s was to turn them loose. Allowing the principals to be wrong “occasionally” might have seemed like a good idea on paper, but it meant that every week one of them would have to make a fool of himself — either Anderson arrests the correct perpetrator and Egan loses his case, or Egan sets his client free by proving that Anderson busted the wrong guy.”


In the two episodes I directed that corner did not seem to be that confining. Martin Burnham, who had accidentally pushed someone off a tall building when he was trying to commit suicide, was saved because he was emotionally unstable. In this episode Jerome Ross stayed out of that corner by sending some of those messages Samuel Goldwyn railed against.


video

THE TRIAL


video

Milton Shifman, the film editor for this production, used a splicing instrument I had not seen before. The prevalent method used at the time was the hot splicer. Two strips of film to be spliced together were laid in a splicer connected electrically to heat up, the film ends were scraped with a razor, glue was applied, and the ‘lid’ of the splicer was clamped down as heat was applied. Milt had a special splicer (I think it was foreign made) and he TAPED the two strips of film together. Since tape for splicing was not being made at that time, Milt’s splicer punched sprocket holes in the tape to match the film’s sprocket holes. In not too many years the hot splicer was eliminated, special tape with sprocket holes was produced, and tape became the way films were assembled.


Milt was an excellent editor, but he did something that at the time was irksome. Now forty-seven years later I find it very disturbing. When I shot the coverage angles of Mickey, I always made sure the ‘look’ (does he look camera right or camera left?) matched the look of the person on the stand. I also varied the size (how close is the camera to Mickey?). As the story progressed, Mickey’s closeups became larger and more dynamic. Well Milt especially liked a close-up I shot for one of the later, more dramatic testimonies, and he used it almost exclusively for the entire courtroom sequence, including something I have recently discovered. When Mary Murphy is in the witness stand testifying, that shot of Mickey reacting has Mary Murphy seated behind him in the courtroom.


video

The over-used closeup


ARREST AND TRIAL was my first lawyer film; it was my indoctrination into courtroom staging. There is always something fascinating and dynamic about such sequences. But they do have to be well written because those scenes are made up of questions and answers -- total dialogue. And the only person moving about is the attorney doing the questioning. I don’t remember from whom I learned it, but one of the tricks attorneys use is to stand by the jury, so that the witness on the stand is looking at him AND THEM as he testifies.

video

The judge in this episode (and several other episodes of ARREST AND TRIAL) was Bill Quinn. a close personal friend. Bill had been acting since beginning his career at the age of six as a child actor on Broadway. You may recognize him as Mary Tyler Moore’s father on her long-running television series or as the Blind Man on ARCHIE BUNKER’S PLACE.


Mickey Rooney was a marvel to watch. And he had a ball during the courtroom sequences. You see, he had a captive audience. During the time a new setup was being lit, Mickey would entertain the fifty people who were the audience in the court. Stories. Jokes. When the set was ready and the assistant director called places, MIckey would finish his routine, and as the audience gleefully responded, he would turn around, sit down at the defense table and by the time I called “Action”, he was totally in character, tears streaming down his cheek if the scene called for it. During one of these takes I was standing by Judge Bill Quinn and I heard Bill mutter, “That son-of-a-bitch, how does he do it?”


You may not recognize him, but Roland Winters, who played Linda’s father, was the third Charlie Chan. He was cast when Sidney Toler, Charlie Chan #2, passed away. Roland was forty-three years old at the time, almost the same age as Keye Luke who played Charlie Chan’s son.


video

Jerome Ross’ script, beside being filled with information relating to the world of the drug addicted, was also very well written dramatically. He gave the actors material they could really sink their claws into. And more importantly, his script was not without dramatic surprises.


video

There was a long standing belief that acting in films was easy because the actor only had to do llittle bits at a time, and these bits would be cut together in the editing room to make the performance. Not always true. You saw it in the extended takes Mickey Rooney did in Part One. Now see what Mary Murphy did when she took the witness stand..


video

In the summations to the jury, Ross’ script really attacks not only the problem of drugs, but the ineffectiveness of the way the problem has been addressed.


video

He wrote this nearly a half century ago. Nothing has changed. He could have written it today.


video

Stephen Bowie also wrote on his blog: "The episode that most Arrest and Trial staffers remember, and the one that may rank as the best of them all, is “Funny Man With a Monkey.” Nominally the story of Hoagy Blair, a heroin-addicted nightclub comedian who plans to challenge existing narcotics laws in court after his arrest on a drug-related homicide charge, “Funny Man” is actually a semi-documentary tour of the nightmarish world of chemical dependency."


1 comment:

  1. I've enjoyed your blogging Mr. Senensky. I had read about "Arrest and Trial" on Stephen Bowie's blog which prompted me to acquire one of the sets of the DVD release of the series. This particular episode stills packs a very solid dramatic punch and was my favorite. Thanks for sharing your directorial experiences.

    Todd

    ReplyDelete