Thursday, April 8, 2010

DETOUR ON A ROAD GOING NOWHERE - October 1964 (The Fugitive)

In 1932 MGM produced the first all-star cast film, GRAND HOTEL. It was a true innovation. At the box office any of the five stars of the film (Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore) could carry the weight of a film alone. DETOUR ON A ROAD GOING NOWHERE, my second outing on THE FUGITIVE, had the same multi-character format as GRAND HOTEL. I thought the show could have been subtitled “mini-GRAND BUS.” And if the cast didn’t quite reach the dazzling heights of the Metro film, I think for television in 1964 it was pretty high-powered. Headed by series star, David Janssen the guest stars were Geraldine Brooks, a star since her 1947 breakthrough performance in POSSESSED, one of Joan Crawford’s most impressive films; Lee Bowman, a Hollywood fixture since his film debut in 1937 and leading man at some time to Jean Arthur, Rosalind Russell, Doris Day and a host of Hollywood beauties; and Phyllis Thaxter, who had been around since 1944, when she came to Hollywood after playing the title role Dorothy Maguire had played on Broadway in the national touring company of CLAUDIA.


What was it about knives that so upset the network continuity acceptance departments. On my first show, JOHNNY TEMPLE on DR. KILDARE, there was no fuss when the script called for young Johnny to SHOOT his father, but since it was established that Johnny had an obsession with knives and it was decided the injury to the father should be by a knife, the concern bells started clanging. On DETOUR... Dorothy Brown at ABC didn’t feel the need to descend on the production office as she had done for THE BULL ROARER episode of BREAKING POINT, but she did send some warnings to Alan Armer which he relayed on to me.


When we get to the three film clips involved, I’ll discuss this further.


As I wrote in the previous posting of THE FUGITIVE, one of the attractions of the series was the varieties of film genre it presented. WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS had been an intense interior drama with Kimble involved mainly with only one character. And aside from the opening railroad yard sequence, the settings also were mainly interior. This episode, like GRAND HOTEL, was a multi-character melange and it also gave the possibility of being almost entirely a location shoot. In fact, if this story were being filmed today, I would bet it would be filmed on location. But since more than half the script was at night, the television schedule and budget couldn’t accommodate that. It was decided that once the bus had broken down, the balance of the show would be filmed at the studio on a green set. That was to be another major first for me, and one that had me a trifle concerned.


The film started at Indian Lake Lodge. That was easy. I just returned to the girl scout camp in Bronson canyon I had used earlier that year for the Guide Dog School setting on BREAKING POINT.

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A year before I had directed Geraldine Brooks in A HERO FOR OUR TIME on SUSPENSE THEATRE. (See archives to the right.) I liked working with actors I had directed before, so she was cast to play Louanne. But then her agents notified us that she had been offered the role of co-star to Robert Taylor in a feature film, JOHNNY TIGER; so as was the custom we released her from the commitment. In casting Elizabeth Allen to replace her, visually we were cloning her appearance.


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The camera crew didn’t object too strenuousy, but they weren’t too happy with my choice of this site for the scene. You’ll notice it was at the top of a long stairway. The heavy camera had to be carried up that stairway. But I thought it was such a good angle for the opening shot of Kimble ascending.


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The young Doll was Lana Wood, Natalie Wood’s kid sister.


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I loved Walter Brooke. He was such a fine actor. This was our first film collaboration, but I had met Walter twelve years earlier. I was the assistant director at the Chevy Chase Summer Theatre in Wheeling, Illinois, a suburb north of Chicago. I was assigned to stage manage an incoming package production of THE SECOND MAN starring Franchot Tone with Betsy von Furstenburg, Irene Manning and Walter Brooke. Walter told me then that the previous year he had been a final contender for the role of Biff in the film production of DEATH OF A SALESMAN. It all depended on who would be cast as Willy Loman. When Fredric March was cast, Kevin McCarthy, who looked more like he could be his son, got the role. Walter also told me Franchot Tone had confessed to him that he in his early years was the great white hope of Broadway. But regretfully he had not lived up to that promise. I remember during the first performance of THE SECOND MAN there was a scene where Tone and Walter broke up in laughter. The audience went wild. Only later when they did it night after night did I realize it was not a breakup, it was part of the staging. Walter also told me the champagne used in the scene was real champagne; Franchot Tone didn’t like the laste of ginger ale, which was usually used. Walter is the manager of the Lodge.


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The girl scout camp location for the Lodge gave us an added benefit -- it was in Bronson Canyon where we could also film the scenes of the bus in transit. As for the scenes in the interior of the moving bus, they would be filmed the final day at the studio in process. This was strict Quinn Martin policy; all such sequences had to be filmed in process. We did not film them in the actual bus; rather a mock-up set of a bus was used. Again I think if this were being filmed today, the moving shots inside the bus would be done on location. A decade later that was the way I filmed the moving interior scenes on the old Los Angeles red car for A DREAM FOR CHRISTMAS (see archives to the right).


The bus driver was Barry Cahill. As I discussed in a posting of THE FBI much earlier, that was the role that I had wanted Paul Bryar to play, but he was on Quinn Martin’s ‘don’t use’ list because on a production of THE UNTOUCHABLES Quinn had thought his behavior on the set was frivolous. It wasn’t, of course and the following season John Conwell, casting director and assistant to Quinn was able to convince Quinn that Paul Bryar was a seasoned professional. Barry worked for me many times during the years and today is married to Rachel Ames. Somehow it all stays in the ‘family’.


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When I wrote about filming METAMORPHOSIS, I described how we coped with having one limited cyclorama for the sky and could only shoot in one direction. The same thing applied to filming in process. There was only one process screen behind the bus on which the moving image of passing scenery was projected. But that moving image had to change. If we were looking straight back in the bus, the image was of road pulling away, exactly as if you looked out of the rear window of a real moving bus. If you looked out the side window of a moving bus, the movement is different from what you would see if you looked out the window of the opposite side of the bus. Since the process screen didn’t move, that meant the bus set had to. What I’m trying to point out is that moving the bus set is a time consuming procedure. So to avoid that, all the setups for all the sequences in any one of the three angles would be filmed at the same time. First all the angles in all the sequences shooting straight back in the bus would be filmed. The bus set would be turned and all the angles shooting toward the right side of the bus would be filmed next. And finally all the angles shooting toward the other side of the bus. I have not included clips for all of the sequences in the moving bus. Actually there were eight pages to be filmed in process. This was no major problem for me. I planned my coverage and could work my way through my shot list. It's the actors who should be commended. They could be working in five or six different sequences at the same time. To further complicate matters, the final sequences were night, which required different lighting.

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Confession. We did not create a landslide for that sequence. We just angled the bus so we could shoot into the side of the canyon bordering the road. Meanwhile back at the Lodge, a nice plot twist provided by the writers. And another of Quinn’s policies; whenever a new interior scene occurred, there had to be an exterior shot of the building preceding it.


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As I mentioned earlier, the decision to film the sequences after the bus breaks down in a green set had me concerned. I had never filmed in one before and I was fearful that it would look fake. In my naive inexperience I would have preferred to shoot it in the canyon where the bus stopped. But those sequences added up to over thirty-one pages. That would have meant filming from dusk to dawn. Fine for a feature film where three or four pages a night would have been acceptable. But this was television. By creating a wooded set on the stage we filmed the thirty one pages in less than two and a half days.


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It was on this production that I made a discovery I was to use many times in the future -- the effect of an overheard conversation.


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The business of Enid overhearing the conversation between Kimble and Louanne was not scripted. It was not something I pre-planned. It was a shot I added on the set during the filming of the scene. I felt then and I feel now that it added immeasurably to Enid’s character.


And now we come to a scene involving one of network continuity acceptance's warnings.


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As you can see, I didn’t feel it was necessary to slap him even once. As for the fall that Kimble took when Langner shoved him, that was done by David’s stunt double. We couldn’t risk David doing that with his hands tied behind his back. That’s what stunt men are for.


Now the other warning from continuity acceptance had been be sure Louanne does not whisper anything to Langner. My those network minds! Lewd whispering! Double backhand slaps! Come on, guys. Stop fantasizing!


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I won’t even honor with an acknowledgement the third warning that the young boy not hold the knife to anyone’s throat.


I have tremendous respect for good actors. Acting is so much more than hitting the marks and saying the dialog. Witness a couple of real pros fleshing out some good dialog with some remarkable depth.


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I loved Phyllis’ delivery of her last line, “Yes, dear.”


I think David had one (or maybe two) gimpy knees. But he never complained, at least not on any of the productions I was on. And Dr. Kimble eluded the law once again, this time with the connivance of three people. And the next day the crew reported to the studio and commenced filming another episode in the flight of Richard Kimble.



5 comments:

  1. I admire the touch of mystery you preserved with regard to Kimble and Louanne's unseen date. We get only tantalizing hints of what went on there--just enough to keep us riveted whenever the two cross paths.

    Surely that business with Louanne's skirt on the bus was not scripted. If it had been, I can imagine the flurry of comments it would have provoked from your nemesis Ms. Brown! Come clean, Ralph. Did you decide to add that during filming?

    And the young tough (...with the carefully regulated knife) is a clever twist on things when you think about it. Unlike most who come to the aid of Kimble, he appears to help him not because he believes him to be innocent--but because he thinks him guilty!

    Mike Bouchillon

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  2. The business with Louanne's skit was scripted. However the script only had her pull the skirt up once. I figured two times was twice as good.

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  3. Well, it was certainly handled tastefully, and it's a fun moment. You'd think something like that would worry them far more than an unintelligible whisper or the particulars of a knife. As you suggest, I suppose there was no way of knowing what they would choose to seize upon next.

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  4. I love that memo. Certainly says a lot!

    It's really interesting to get insights into the making of this great series. You're right about how well the actors handle the dialogue. Sometimes less is more and looks and silences can say so much.

    Thanks for this, your memory must be fantastic to recall all this in so much detail.

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  5. Man so interesting to get to read some inside
    on this "Fewj" episode. Thank you and also congratulations too;
    I think it one of the standouts of the entire series.

    In "Detour ..." each character seems to act against his/her own interests somehow.
    Life can do that to you, huh?

    Louanne & Fewj have "a history" if certainly very recent.
    Fewj and the thief. And the poor - pitiable & pitiful - wife.

    But then the wife spoils the viewer's chance to sympathize for
    her by figuratively knifing Louanne in the final scene.

    I didn't see that coming - expecting and kinda hope-ing - the two
    women would/ve could've bonded in mutual contempt toward
    the lout.

    No big tho. Fewj lived to fight another day and of course
    that was the most important thing. ;-)

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