Early Television: The Crooked Frame | The Blue Panther
| The Invisible Killer
| F.O.B. Vienna | Nightmare at Ground Zero
| The Defender
Feature films: Fear Strikes Out
| Come September | The Spiral Road
| To Kill a Mockingbird
| Love With the Proper Stranger
| Baby the Rain Must Fall | Inside Daisy Clover
| Up the Down Staircase
| Summer of '42 | The Nickel Ride
| Same Time, Next Year | The Man in the Moon
Classic Film and Television Home Page (with many articles on directors)
Robert Mulligan is an American director, who started in out in
live television during the Golden Age of TV in the 1950's.
He directed 21 feature-length films. A symposium on Mulligan edited by Peter Tonguette
can be found at
Common subjects of Robert Mulligan's films include:
- First Love of young people (defendant and girl friend: The Defender,
Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee: Come September, Love With the Proper Stranger,
Up the Down Staircase, Summer of '42,
The Man in the Moon)
- Parents who abuse and pressure children, the effects of such abuse on grown children
(hero's father: Fear Strikes Out, hero's vicious minister father: The Spiral Road,
Baby the Rain Must Fall, Blood Brothers, The Man in the Moon)
- Characters who have mental breakdowns (pilot protagonist: The Invisible Killer,
hero: Fear Strikes Out, hero, other doctor: The Spiral Road,
Boo in past: To Kill a Mockingbird, heroine, mother: Inside Daisy Clover)
related (hero cracks up under wife's nagging: Nightmare at Ground Zero,
psychological profiles kept on students: Up the Down Staircase,
young hero sent to psychiatrist: Clara's Heart)
- Young people trying to enter a profession opposed by their parents
(prosecutor and his engineer son: The Defender, Baby the Rain Must Fall, Blood Brothers)
related (attorney influences son to become lawyer: The Defender)
- Men who justify violent attacks on other men, in the name of protecting female relatives
(husband: The Defender,
father: To Kill a Mockingbird, brother: Love With the Proper Stranger)
- Young people with fantasies of wealth (poor defendant fantasizing about being rich: The Defender,
hero as impostor: The Great Impostor,
rich hero falsely described as poor fantasist: Come September)
related (father fantasizes about son getting successful: Fear Strikes Out,
student playing judge at mock trial: Up the Down Staircase, hero and war fantasies: Summer of '42)
- Working class homes impoverished due to deceased father, only a mother (defendant: The Defender,
heroine: Love With the Proper Stranger, heroine: Inside Daisy Clover)
related (hero sole support of parents: Fear Strikes Out, abandoned kid raised by foster mother: Up the Down Staircase)
- Energy and generations (doctor suggests he might be tired because he's getting older: The Invisible Killer,
older attorney tired, son vigorous: The Defender,
Bobby Darin tries to exhaust older man Rock Hudson: Come September)
related (couple out of breath after running away from brothers: Love With the Proper Stranger,
young hero performs exhausting chores for heroine: Summer of '42)
- Men charm their way into women's homes (killer and woman witness: Remember Me?,
hero and future wife: Fear Strikes Out)
- Fertility, and women having babies (Fear Strikes Out, Love With the Proper Stranger,
student gets girlfriend pregnant: Up the Down Staircase, sister: The Other,
Same Time, Next Year, The Man in the Moon)
- Crowds with vignettes (courtroom crowds: The Defender, baseball crowds: Fear Strikes Out,
train depot finale: Come September,
union hall, playground: Love With the Proper Stranger,
high school: Up the Down Staircase)
- Black servants (The Defender, The Member of the Wedding, To Kill a Mockingbird, Clara's Heart)
related (black janitor at union hall: Love With the Proper Stranger)
- Discrimination against black people (A Man Is Ten Feet Tall, justice system: To Kill a Mockingbird, jobs: Up the Down Staircase)
- Time schemes that follow characters over long periods, and
through life transitions (Fear Strikes Out, Same Time, Next Year)
- A sense of the sacred - one is looking at people's lives through
the view of eternity.
- Evangelical Christian women married to atheist men, with both
characters' views treated respectfully (The Spiral Road,
The Man in the Moon)
- Press coverage, often negative (press depicts accused as killer: The Defender,
pressure from sportswriters: Fear Strikes Out,
Hollywood publicity: Inside Daisy Clover)
- Life issues (anti-euthanasia: The Spiral Road,
sinister aspects of illegal abortion: Love With the Proper Stranger)
- Theater of the Absurd: strange events, characters and feel
(F.O.B. Vienna, Nightmare at Ground Zero, To Kill a Mockingbird,
Inside Daisy Clover, The Nickel Ride,
Same Time, Next Year)
- Opening films with a character in bed (The Nickel Ride,
Same Time, Next Year, The Man in the Moon) related
(heroine menaced while sleeping: Nightmare at Ground Zero,
hero's illness leads him to bed: The Defender, hero sleeping on golden couch: Come September,
hero watches over sleeping son at end, other bed scenes: To Kill a Mockingbird,
Robert Redford entrance: Inside Daisy Clover)
- Doubles (courtroom: The Defender, The Other)
- Ambiguity (court case: The Defender)
- Couples that meet once a year for an affair (Come September, Same Time, Next Year)
- Strange, good-looking blond men, around 30 years old (Robert Duvall: To Kill a Mockingbird,
Robert Redford: Inside Daisy Clover, Bo Hopkins: The Nickel Ride)
related (young man in white suit in restaurant: Same Time, Next Year)
- Strange costumes for women (bridal gown in train depot: Come September, ham: To Kill a Mockingbird,
rag doll: Inside Daisy Clover) related (mannequins: Nightmare at Ground Zero)
- References to previous Mulligan films (heroine mentions Rock Hudson: Love With the Proper Stranger,
montage showing Mockingbird: Same Time, Next Year)
- Criminals with hearts of gold (hero: The Great Impostor, majordomo: Come September,
hero: Baby the Rain Must Fall, hero: The Nickel Ride)
- Courtroom scenes (courtroom drama: The Defender,
trial: To Kill a Mockingbird,
mock trial: Up the Down Staircase,
hearing: The Pursuit of Happiness)
- Sensitive heroes contrasted with security forces (artist vs military guards: Nightmare at Ground Zero,
teacher vs school security head: Up the Down Staircase)
- Dealings in stolen goods (painting: The Blue Panther, equipment: F.O.B. Vienna,
hero and warehouse: The Nickel Ride)
- Impersonation and impostors (hero disguises himself as old man: The Kiss-Off,
crooks: F.O.B. Vienna,
hero: The Great Impostor,
majordomo: Come September,
hero on phone: Same Time, Next Year)
- Police (cop rescues heroine: Remember Me?,
investigate robbery: The Kiss-Off,
Scotland Yard: Kiss Me Again, Stranger,
police seize hero during ballpark breakdown: Fear Strikes Out)
- Good guys being stalked or hunted by a villain (heroine threatened by mugger she witnessed: Remember Me?,
deranged killer: The Invisible Killer,
Russian refugee in USA: Hunted,
stalked in jungle: The Spiral Road,
hero's kids stalked by racist villain: To Kill a Mockingbird,
The Stalking Moon,
hitman: The Nickel Ride)
- Still lifes on tables (buffet: F.O.B. Vienna,
sandwich and milk for lunch, lawyers' tables: The Defender,
dinner table at villa: Come September, meal: Love With the Proper Stranger,
kitchen table: The Other,
kitchen table: The Nickel Ride,
tables and food: Same Time, Next Year)
- Eggs cooking for breakfast (The Nickel Ride,
The Man in the Moon) related (plate of eggs: Love With the Proper Stranger)
- Cakes, often chocolate (anniversary party: The Spiral Road,
with sparklers: Love With the Proper Stranger,
birthday cakes: The Nickel Ride,
song, anniversary cake: Same Time, Next Year,
chocolate cake at picnic: The Man in the Moon) related (donuts: Summer of '42)
- Characters involved professionally with food production
(delicatessen: Remember Me?,
butcher shop: The Defender,
hotel kitchen and dining room: Come September,
beautiful cook: The Spiral Road,
farmer with bag of nuts, agricultural festival and ham costume, vegetable gardens: To Kill a Mockingbird,
produce truck, boyfriend works as cook in own restaurant, garlic warehouse: Love With the Proper Stranger)
related (hero is expert chef: Fear Strikes Out)
- Extending the human voice (radio communication in jungle: The Spiral Road,
paging at union hall: Love With the Proper Stranger,
recording booth, dubbing: Inside Daisy Clover,
school loudspeaker: Up the Down Staircase) related
(radio coverage of test: Nightmare at Ground Zero, hero tries to get radio turned off: Fear Strikes Out)
- Pianos and piano players (restaurant: F.O.B. Vienna, hero: Same Time, Next Year)
- Planes (hero flies in: The Blue Panther,
pilot heroes: The Invisible Killer,
heroine terrified of bomber planes: Nightmare at Ground Zero,
shipping auto by air: Come September,
travel: The Spiral Road,
final escape: The Pursuit of Happiness,
hero studying to be pilot: Summer of '42)
- People sketching images we see (reporter making courtroom sketches: The Defender,
hero drawing in business meeting: Come September,
male teacher sketches heroine in meeting: Up the Down Staircase)
related (Boo's statues of the children: To Kill a Mockingbird)
- Identifications with pointing arms and fingers (courtroom: The Defender,
train station finale: Come September)
- Art (comic book artists, studio: The Crooked Frame,
art gallery: The Blue Panther,
artist hero: Nightmare at Ground Zero,
painter hero based on Gauguin: The Moon and Sixpence)
- Murals (courtroom: The Defender, bar in villa: Come September)
related (comic book art on display: The Crooked Frame, heroine and graffiti: Inside Daisy Clover)
- Naive Americans in Europe (F.O.B. Vienna, Come September)
- Southern small towns (The Member of the Wedding, To Kill a Mockingbird,
Baby the Rain Must Fall, The Man in the Moon)
- Faulkner adaptations, set in the South (Smoke, Barn Burning, Tomorrow)
- New York City (The Crooked Frame, A Man Is Ten Feet Tall, The Defender, Fear Strikes Out,
The Rat Race, Love With the Proper Stranger, Up the Down Staircase,
The Pursuit of Happiness, Blood Brothers, Kiss Me Goodbye)
- Los Angeles (Inside Daisy Clover, The Nickel Ride)
- Pacific islands (Tahiti: The Moon and Sixpence, East Indies: The Spiral Road)
- Repeating architectural modules and units (crates: F.O.B. Vienna,
courtroom panels, designs, windows, ceiling beams: The Defender,
fence, bleachers: Fear Strikes Out,
crates on bird truck: Come September,
country club pavilion, village houses: The Spiral Road,
courtroom galleries, benches, jury chairs, fences and posts: To Kill a Mockingbird,
pillars and sections of porch, window shutters in Miss Kate's room: Baby the Rain Must Fall,
Merry Go Round building, triangle flanges on studio building, multi-paned mirror, motel doors and posts: Inside Daisy Clover,
desks, blackboards, lockers, windows: Up the Down Staircase,
shutters inside cabin: The Stalking Moon,
warehouse arches, windows and shades in Cooper's home and office, arched windows in bar, downtown building facades, swimming pool valences: The Nickel Ride,
windows, french window doors: Same Time, Next Year,
porch, series of trees, barn at Court's property: The Man in the Moon)
- Old buildings, full of wood paneling and fixtures (courtroom walls and furnishings: The Defender,
family home, bar, baseball office: Fear Strikes Out,
courtroom: To Kill a Mockingbird, Miss Kate's house: Baby the Rain Must Fall,
shack, heroine's ceiling: Summer of '42,
hero's office, staircase, elevator, cabin: The Nickel Ride,
heroine's house: Kiss Me Goodbye,
suite living room, restaurant and lobby: Same Time, Next Year,
barn at Court's property: The Man in the Moon)
related (wooden shacks: F.O.B. Vienna, bleachers: Fear Strikes Out, hero's Western cabin: The Stalking Moon)
- Wide staircases, in stairwells that function almost as separate rooms
(villa: Come September, court building: To Kill a Mockingbird,
union hall: Love With the Proper Stranger,
Miss Kate's house: Baby the Rain Must Fall,
school: Up the Down Staircase,
hero's office: The Nickel Ride)
related (stairwell: The Defender)
- Porches (family home: Fear Strikes Out,
entrance of Burl Ives: The Spiral Road,
family home, Boo's: To Kill a Mockingbird,
Miss Kate's house: Baby the Rain Must Fall, heroine's house: Summer of '42,
houses: The Other,
patio back of motel suite: Same Time, Next Year,
hospital at end: Clara's Heart,
back porch where the girls sleep: The Man in the Moon)
related (front steps of landlady's building: Remember Me?)
- Kitchens (hero's small kitchen in apartment: The Crooked Frame,
heroine's apartment: Remember Me?,
family home, heroine's apartment: Fear Strikes Out,
villa: Come September,
family home: To Kill a Mockingbird,
girlfriend, family, boyfriend, heroine's apartment at end: Love With the Proper Stranger,
shack at pier: Inside Daisy Clover,
heroine's house: Summer of '42,
family home: The Other,
at bar, cabin: The Nickel Ride,
family home: The Man in the Moon)
- Bars, where groups of people congregate for celebrations
(Fear Strikes Out, Baby the Rain Must Fall, The Nickel Ride) related (wild party of planters: The Spiral Road)
- Balconies over auditoriums (courtroom: To Kill a Mockingbird, union hall: Love With the Proper Stranger)
related (school auditorium: Up the Down Staircase)
- Fences (meshwork fence at rail yard: F.O.B. Vienna,
guard posts: Nightmare at Ground Zero,
fence at family home, ballparks: Fear Strikes Out,
mesh and plague fire: The Spiral Road,
wire mesh, wood fences around gardens: To Kill a Mockingbird,
cyclone fence at playground: Love With the Proper Stranger,
briefly seen cyclone fence: Up the Down Staircase,
corral: The Stalking Moon,
many fences: Summer of '42,
front yard: The Other,
wire fence downtown: The Nickel Ride,
near motel cabin: Same Time, Next Year,
farm fence: The Man in the Moon)
- Meshwork grill windows (room for prisoner in courthouse: The Defender, asylum: Fear Strikes Out,
wire door and window at asylum rest home: Inside Daisy Clover, meshwork on porch: The Man in the Moon)
- Tents (young men camp out: Come September, in jungle: The Spiral Road)
- Sports settings (urban gym with boxers: The Blue Panther, baseball parks: Fear Strikes Out,
bocce court and playground: Love With the Proper Stranger,
swimming pool, stadium: The Nickel Ride,
school swimming pool: Clara's Heart)
related (former high school basketball star turned cheap crook: Remember Me?)
- White or part-white houses
(hero and heroine's home: The Spiral Road,
Miss Kate's house: Baby the Rain Must Fall,
studio headquarters: Inside Daisy Clover,
The Man in the Moon)
- Loading docks (train, ship docks: F.O.B. Vienna,
bakery dock in background: Fear Strikes Out,
warehouse: The Nickel Ride) related (shipping auto by air: Come September)
- Houses with outbuildings and garages (sheds at railroad, dock: F.O.B. Vienna,
family house with shed: Fear Strikes Out,
family house with garage: To Kill a Mockingbird,
shack: Summer of '42,
The Man in the Moon)
- Vast vistas seen from people's yards (from villa: Come September,
To Kill a Mockingbird, Baby the Rain Must Fall, The Stalking Moon, Summer of '42,
The Man in the Moon)
- Small town, old-fashioned downtowns (To Kill a Mockingbird, Baby the Rain Must Fall, Summer of '42,
The Man in the Moon)
- Buildings with cars parked out front (Western music bar: Baby the Rain Must Fall,
track with heroes walking behind cars: Summer of '42,
motel at start: Same Time, Next Year,
country club: The Man in the Moon)
- Lushly fertile summer landscapes (Portofino, Italy: Come September,
East Indies: The Spiral Road,
island: Summer of '42,
farms: The Other,
motel at start: Same Time, Next Year,
cabin: The Man in the Moon)
- Water, in recreational and resort areas (ferry, view of Portofino bay: Come September,
river: The Spiral Road,
river near playground: Love With the Proper Stranger,
pier: Inside Daisy Clover,
stream found during search: The Stalking Moon,
Long Island beach: Summer of '42,
pond, small pond: The Other,
cabin and river: The Nickel Ride,
motel at start: Same Time, Next Year,
estate: Clara's Heart,
swimming area: The Man in the Moon)
- Rooms seen through doors (heroine's kitchen: Remember Me?,
doctor's office: Fear Strikes Out)
- Mirrors (hero studies himself getting dressed-up in mirror: The Invisible Killer,
nested mirrors: The Kiss-Off)
- Slow, languorous but powerful camera movements
- Rapid pans whipping through at least 180 degrees (The Defender,
people leaving streets: Love With the Proper Stranger, Summer of '42)
- Rectangular regions, with the corners cut off
(under father's staircase: Fear Strikes Out,
garage door, porch ornament on side top: To Kill a Mockingbird,
doorway with one cut-off corner at Macy's: Love With the Proper Stranger,
door under the stairs, Wagon Wheel roadhouse: Baby the Rain Must Fall,
barn entrance: The Other,
bar, swimming pool corridor: The Nickel Ride,
bedroom entrance: Same Time, Next Year,
garage door: The Man in the Moon)
- Arches, rounded (over judge's bench: The Defender, asylum outside front door: Fear Strikes Out,
Slezak's room, night club: Come September,
leper colony: The Spiral Road,
courtroom gallery: To Kill a Mockingbird,
heroine's apartment building door: Love With the Proper Stranger,
studio staircase set, Plummer's office and hall: Inside Daisy Clover, warehouse: The Nickel Ride)
- Circles (looking through circular rifle scopes: The Invisible Killer,
window outside hero and heroine's home: The Spiral Road,
tire swing, rolling in tire: To Kill a Mockingbird,
circular region in bathroom mirror: Love With the Proper Stranger)
Costumes and Color:
- Color schemes for individual scenes: large amounts of white,
mixed in with some dominant bright color - producing scenes in
"white and yellow", say, or "white and red" (heroine in red in white bedroom: Inside Daisy Clover,
The Nickel Ride, several scenes: Same Time, Next Year, The Man in the Moon)
objects (villa exterior, staircase, jacket: Come September,
couple's white house with red flowers: The Spiral Road,
Merry Go Round building: Inside Daisy Clover, hero's house: Summer of '42,
house front: The Man in the Moon) related (neutral cabin interior mixed with red clothes: The Stalking Moon)
- A "color" scheme of white mixed with accents of
a sharp tone of gray, in a black-and-white film. This is an equivalent
of the full color schemes of Mulligan's color movies.
- Red and green (Rock and Gina on terrace, upstairs hall: Come September,
fortune teller, Christmas chorus: Inside Daisy Clover,
various scenes: Summer of '42,
key scene of hero's revelation: Same Time, Next Year)
- Yellow cars (college students: Come September, Redford: Inside Daisy Clover)
- Buildings painted in two horizontal bands of colors (Garlic warehouse: Love With the Proper Stranger,
triangle flanges on studio building: Inside Daisy Clover)
- Men in white clothes (hero's T shirt: The Crooked Frame,
hero's suit: Nightmare at Ground Zero,
hero's robe, internes: Fear Strikes Out,
hero's jacket, robe, sweater, sport shirt: Come September,
hero's suit, shirt and slacks, white undershirt: The Spiral Road,
hero's suit, judge: To Kill a Mockingbird,
Slim's cowboy shirt: Baby the Rain Must Fall, druggist: Summer of '42,
hero's Mod suit: The Nickel Ride,
young man in restaurant: Same Time, Next Year)
- Men in black clothes (hero's black coat: The Crooked Frame,
man in pet shop, leather coat: Love With the Proper Stranger,
Plummer's villain: Inside Daisy Clover, leather coat: Up the Down Staircase)
Several Robert Mulligan films have unusually poetic titles. These might
reflect his TV background. Such poetic titles were favorites on
TV drama shows circa 1960. The writers did not need to produce
titles that could easily be marketed the way theatrical film titles
were, and were free to let their imaginations soar. In several
cases, these titles are taken directly from source novels. Still,
they are unchanged, unlike the frequent retitling of films.
- Expensive suits as a mark of wealth (art gallery: The Blue Panther, William Shatner: The Defender,
Rock Hudson: Come September, Christopher Plummer: Inside Daisy Clover)
- Trenchcoats (spectator in courtroom: The Defender,
hero: Love With the Proper Stranger, hero: The Nickel Ride)
- Dressing gowns (hero's robe at asylum, hero with wife at home: Fear Strikes Out,
hero: Come September, heroine's robe: The Spiral Road,
Christopher Plummer: Inside Daisy Clover,
hero at cabin: The Nickel Ride)
- Men in uniforms to which they are not actually entitled (young pilot has fancy dress uniform made: The Invisible Killer,
hero as impostor: The Great Impostor,
film actor Robert Redford in Confederate uniform: Inside Daisy Clover,
student in mock court obtains judge's gown: Up the Down Staircase)
- Period uniforms (East Indies: The Spiral Road, 1930's LA cop: Inside Daisy Clover)
- Leather clothes (John Dall's pilot jacket: The Invisible Killer,
man in leather coat: Love With the Proper Stranger,
teenager's leather jacket: Up the Down Staircase,
fringed cowboy clothes: The Stalking Moon, Bo Hopkins: The Nickel Ride)
Mulligan made numerous dramas for television in the 1950's. His last work for TV seems to be Tomorrow (1960).
His TV work has a substantially longer cumulative running time, than do his twenty feature films made for theaters.
Suspense: The Crooked Frame
The Crooked Frame (1952) is an episode of the early television series Suspense.
It is an adaptation of a 1952 crime novel by the well-known writer William P. McGivern.
I liked this TV version of The Crooked Frame very much, and found it much livelier than
McGivern's original book.
Comic Books and Social Conciousness
The Crooked Frame deals with murder among people who work in the comic book industry.
Comic books in this era were often denounced as harming youth, allegedly contributing to juvenile delinquency, etc.
There is none of that in The Crooked Frame. It seems to view comic books with respect.
A line of dialogue praises one of the comic books in the story as being full of "social consciousness".
This is an unusual recognition in this era, that comic books could contain positive ideas
and social commentary.
In the film's first half, the hero is in a coat and tie, and seen mainly in a work context.
But in the tale's scond half, he gets in clothes that reflect Mulligan traditions:
The hero literally has his dress shirt torn off, revealing his white T shirt. It marks a dramatic moment,
when he transforms his appearance into these non-work, edgier looks.
- First he is in a white T shirt. He becomes one of Mulligan's men in white clothes.
- Then he dons a long black coat. The coat is spiffy, and gives him a fashion "edge".
Men in black clothes are also a Mulligan tradition.
Suspense: The Blue Panther
The Blue Panther (1952) is an episode of the early television series
Suspense. It has complex dealings in stolen goods: a subject that
will return in Robert Mulligan films. In this case, the stolen item is a priceless painting called
The Blue Panther.
Short Story to Film
The Blue Panther is likely based on a crime short story, "Red Goose" (1934) by
Norbert Davis. The credits only state that the film
is based on an unnamed tale by Davis.
"Red Goose" and The Blue Panther share the same central character, private eye
Ben Shaley. There is a good discussion of Ben Shaley and both works at
The Thrilling Detective Web Site.
The Blue Panther considerably re-works "Red Goose".
"Red Goose" is a tough pulp magazine story. The Blue Panther takes out
most of the heavy violence found in "Red Goose". There is still a little action
in The Blue Panther, but it is mild. The violence in The Blue Panther
forms brief punctuation to a crime plot, as was pretty typical of TV crimes shows of its era.
The characters in The Blue Panther are far more genteel than those in the story.
They have mainly become sophisticates. Also, the title of the painting "Red Goose" has
comically vulgar connotations, while The Blue Panther sounds dynamic and classy.
The Blue Panther shows the theft of the painting on-screen.
In "Red Goose", the theft is part of the back-story that has occurred before the tale opens.
The theft is only talked about in dialogue, not shown as action.
Dramatizing events and showing them on-screen, is a common strategy in adapting
prose fiction to film.
The plot of The Blue Panther shows a delightful construction,
with parallel events nested inside one another. This plot draws on events in
"Red Goose", but polishes them up into a better structure.
Suspense: The Invisible Killer
The Invisible Killer (1952) is an episode of the early television series Suspense.
The Invisible Killer is an example of a Mulligan subject: god guys being stalked or hunted
by a villain. Mulligan would later develop this into exotic treatments in historical films,
such as The Spiral Road, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Stalking Moon.
The Invisible Killer shows him tackling the subject, at an early date in his career.
This version takes place among "ordinary" Americans in modern times.
This subject has a long pre-Mulligan history:
see Richard Connell's much filmed short story, "The Most Dangerous Game" (1924), for instance.
The hero of The Invisible Killer is one of several Mulligan characters to undergo a mental collapse.
Some attempt is made to explore his mental problems.
His issues are rooted in difficulties in growing up and "becoming a man". This links him to
the major Mulligan subject of young people and their growing-up problems.
However, unlike many such Mulligan characters, the hero of The Invisible Killer
has no family or family problems.
The Invisible Killer is also an early Mulligan film to deal with planes.
Both heroes are pilots. However, there are no plane or aerial sequences in this low-budget,
live TV drama. The characters simply talk about their work as pilots.
Links to Gun Crazy
Gun Crazy (Joseph H. Lewis, 1950) is a famed crime thriller,
about a man with an obsession with guns. Perhaps it is just a coincidence,
but The Invisible Killer shares some imagery with Gun Crazy, and was perhaps influenced by it:
However, there are many differences between the two films. The protagonist of Gun Crazy
becomes a professional bank robber; the protagonist of The Invisible Killer is a deranged killer who stalks innocent people.
Many other details of the two films are completely different.
- Both films have a protagonist who is obsessed with guns.
- The star John Dall of Gun Crazy returns in a major role in The Invisible Killer.
However, in The Invisible Killer Dall plays the psychologically normal character
who attempts to help the hero get better, rather than the obsessed hero. (One suspects that Dall
might have enjoyed playing Mr. Normalcy: actors often like to take on contrasting roles.)
- A "normal" character in Gun Crazy is a lawman, always seen in the leather jacket of his job.
Dall's "normal" character in The Invisible Killer wears a pilot's leather jacket.
- The gun-obsessed protagonist of both films wears a fancy uniform to which he is not entitled.
Both films suggest the hero has an interest in uniforms, too.
Suspense: F.O.B. Vienna
F.O.B. Vienna (1953) is an episode of the early television series Suspense.
It is a half-hour long, and was performed live.
F.O.B. Vienna anticipates The Nickel Ride, in that the hero
is trapped in a miasmic, paranoid situation which he has difficulty
understanding. Both films contain cryptic - but menacing -
conversations between crooks, that the audience does not fully understand.
F.O.B. Vienna, like Come September, shows prosperous but naive Americans
in Europe, up against Old World criminals with tricky schemes.
The settings have a Robert Mulligan feel, even at this early date:
The buffet, filled with food and candelabra, is one of Mulligan's
still lifes. The nearby piano also has flowers along its side, as
do the restaurant tables.
- We see both a loading area for a train, and a ship's loading dock.
These are early examples of the loading docks that run through Mulligan.
- Both areas have small shacks attached.
- Inside the shacks have Mulligan's favorite wooden walls.
However, these are rough wooden walls, as opposed to the elaborate paneling most
common in other Mulligan films.
- The rail yard area has a meshwork fence, which Mulligan shoots through
for his opening shot.
- The numerous crates recall the repeating architectural units in other
Mulligan, although crates are strictly speaking not architecture.
F.O.B. Vienna is full of camera movement. Early live television seemed to encourage
and emphasize such moving cameras.
The DVD comes with the original commercials, for an auto parts company.
There is a delightful animated ad, showing spark plugs and other auto electric parts,
marching down a street on parade. Mulligan likely had nothing to do with this.
But the commercial is so much fun it is mentioned anyway.
Suspense: Nightmare at Ground Zero
Nightmare at Ground Zero (1953) is an episode of the early television series
Suspense. It has no mystery elements. It is a pure example of suspense.
The many bizarre plots elements, make Nightmare at Ground Zero an example
of the surrealism in Robert Mulligan.
The painfully sensitive artist hero is contrasted with military types, both the nasty Colonel
and all sorts of insensitive guards. This anticipates the contrast between
the sensitive school teacher heroine in Up the Down Staircase,
and the school's security chief.
The heroine is terrified of the bomber planes flying over head. While she's a bit neurotic,
these planes are indeed ominous and scary. Her fears seem fairly justified,
or at least understandable. Planes are a Mulligan subject.
The radio coverage of the bomb test is creepy. It is perhaps a mild example of
the dangers of publicity, a theme explored more fully in other Mulligan films.
The heroine is menaced while sleeping. She is actually set up to be killed while
sleeping in bed. Beds and sleeping are images that run through Mulligan films.
Nightmare at Ground Zero is written by Rod Serling, and is a precursor to his Twilight Zone scripts.
It is not quite science fiction: but it takes place in a world filled with high tech, near-futuristic technology.
The sensitive artist hero, who wants to escape from the world, is a Serling theme.
So is the imitation reality: the fake house designed to hold mannequins like an exhibit.
The guards' check points, are full of the fences Mulligan likes.
The hero is another Mulligan man in a white suit. It forms a striking contrast
to all the other men, who are in uniform. It makes him look mild-mannered,
sensitive, and a strong civilian contrast to the other men.
The suit is not as purely white as those in other Mulligan films.
It is light-colored, and looks nearly white, in the black-and-white photography.
There are constant hints, that the hero prefers his mannequins and puppets to his actual wife.
Later Mulligan heroines will sometimes wear bizarre costumes that suggest they are dressed
as mannequins or inanimate objects: the ham in To Kill a Mockingbird,
a rag doll in Inside Daisy Clover. The rag doll costume is especially close
to the puppet that gets its head torn off by the wife in Nightmare at Ground Zero.
Studio One: The Defender
The Defender (1957) is an episode of the early live television series
Studio One. It is feature length (102 minutes), and was originally shown in two one-hour parts
(February 25, March 4, 1957). It is available on DVD. While both parts are good,
the first part has an emotional electricity missing in the second part.
The man on trial is played by Steve McQueen, who would later appear in Robert Mulligan features.
As in Baby the Rain Must Fall, McQueen plays a highly vulnerable, emotionally sensitive young man.
Links to To Kill a Mockingbird
As a courtroom drama with a lawyer-for-the-defense hero, The Defender anticipates
the trial scenes in Mulligan's most famous film, To Kill a Mockingbird.
It also anticipates the courtroom aspects of The Pursuit of Happiness.
The non-stereotyped black maid is notable. So is the frequently seen presence of a black
New York City cop in the courtroom. This respectful treatment of black characters at an
early date must have been seen as involving a Civil Rights theme. In this The Defender
also anticipates To Kill a Mockingbird. A black maid in a well-to-do white family
will return in Clara's Heart.
Fathers and Sons
The father and son defense lawyers have plenty of conflict. However, this is not a
typical Mulligan tale of a parent pushing or abusing his grown son. There is plenty of
stressful disagreement, but neither side is abusive. Both father and son have emotional resources,
and secure lives and careers, unlike many Mulligan films about such conflicts.
The son has seemingly chosen his own career as a lawyer. However, we do learn
this has involved endless parental pressure and emotional influence. This recalls the
fathers controlling their sons' careers in other Mulligan. We also learn about
the prosecutor's failed attempt to get his own son to become a lawyer.
The Defender was written by Reginald Rose, who is famous for an earlier
courtroom drama he wrote for Studio One, Twelve Angry Men (1954).
Both dramas are highly unusual in being murder mysteries, in which we never learn the truth about the crime.
Instead, both films strive to introduce "reasonable doubt" that the accused on trial is guilty.
The Defender is a full scale exercise in ambiguity.
However, The Defender is always clear. It is not miasmic and opaque the way
F.O.B. Vienna and The Nickel Ride are, with their discussions of things
the audience doesn't understand. Instead, most of the conversations are completely clear.
The most cryptic conversations are those between the two defense lawyers, about some
scheme the son has dreamed up. While we don't learn the nature of this scheme till
the end of the film, the basic idea of a "legal trick" is clearly established.
And even the ambiguities of the court case are spelled out with clarity.
A courtroom novel about an ambiguous case, Anatomy of a Murder (1958) by
Robert Traver, would appear next year, and be filmed by Otto Preminger in 1959.
Anatomy of a Murder differs from the Reginald Rose TV plays
Twelve Angry Men and The Defender, in that the identity of the killer
is well known - only his motives and the background facts of the crime are ambiguous.
By contrast, in Twelve Angry Men and The Defender, the big issue is whether the
accused man on trial actually did it.
Imagery in Robert Mulligan is sometimes suggestive, beyond the functioning of the plot.
The doubles imagery at the finale is a major example. Mulligan lingers on this,
by having the doubles march around the courtroom. Such doubling has a surrealist
quality, like something one might see in a dream. Doubles return in The Other.
Also surrealistic: the emphasis on the defendant's headaches. We learn more and more
about these as the tale progresses. Sociologically The Defender takes us into a shadow world
we rarely see on-screen, that of the chronically ill. Surrealistically, we are inside
the head of a man who is in the grip of a strange mental process.
Much is made of the defendant being in bed due to his illness. This relates to several
Mulligan films which open with the hero in bed.
Fantasy of the High Life
The very poor defendant spends much of his life engaged in fantasies of wealth.
In his court trial, these are introduced as evidence that he would rob the rich.
Soon, Mulligan would look at a young man whose fantasies would actually be acted out,
in The Great Impostor.
The defendant especially fantasizes about foreign travel. That is what the rich hero
of Come September can actually do.
The Defender is relentless about exploring social class. The poor defendant
has every sort of social disadvantage: he's poor, with a dead father, a bad job,
a mean boss. He is contrasted with William Shatner's rich son of a supportive father.
Shatner is a nice guy, but one look at his snazzy suit suggests his class privilege.
No one in the court treats the defendant with the slightest respect.
The Defender takes place entirely in a courtroom, and adjacent chambers and halls.
It thus completely lacks many of the locales one associates with Mulligan.
The courtroom is fully designed to display the typical Mulligan wooden interior:
the walls are wood paneled, and the judge's bench, witness seat and jury box are all
made of wood too. The design is also modular in the Mulligan tradition:
there are repeating windows, wood wall panels, and repeating designs on the wooden fixtures
such as the judge's bench, witness seat and jury box. The ceiling beams also have modular designs.
The opening shot of the jury filing in is composed of rectilinear forms like Ozu.
One of Mulligan's round arches is over the judge's bench.
The wire mesh grillwork in the chamber window, perhaps relates to the fences elsewhere in Mulligan.
This window is frequently used as a background for characters. It seems to intensify and
dramatize anyone who stands in front of it.
The private discussion takes place in a stairwell. The stairs are not wide or big,
unlike typical Mulligan stairs, but they do have their own room, which is more typical of Mulligan.
Both halves of The Defender show a lunch, consisting of a sandwich and glass of milk.
This is a simple example of a Mulligan still life. So are the objects on the defenders'
and prosecutors' tables.
Fear Strikes Out
Fear Strikes Out (1957) is Robert Mulligan's first theatrical film.
It shows a number of Mulligan themes:
- Like several Mulligan works to come, it is about an abusive
father and the pressure he puts on his grown but still young child.
- Like several other Mulligan characters, the hero has a mental breakdown.
- It resembles Same Time, Next Year (1978), in that
it traverses many years in the lives of its characters, being
constructed out of a series of episodes that chronicle the evolving
nature of their lives at different periods.
- The film exemplifies Mulligan's theme of fertility, with
the wife getting pregnant and having a baby.
The family home at the beginning is visually similar to those
in many later Mulligan works. Even though many later Mulligan
films are set in rural areas, their family homes share a surprising
similarity to this urban home:
All of the above are features that return in the rural homes that
dominate so many Mulligan films.
- It is old, and full of wood. (Later, when the minor league
team is celebrating in the saloon, the saloon too is full of wood paneled
walls and fixtures, including a huge bar. The baseball official's office
is also partly wood-paneled.)
- It has a front porch, which has connections both to the outside
yard, and the inside of the house.
- The kitchen is prominent, as a place where the family lives
together and interacts.
- The house has outbuildings in its yard, here a small shed.
- The fence is one of Mulligan's structures made out of repeating
units: each post and region between posts repeats over and over,
a key visual motif in many of the opening shots of the film. Fences
will return in future Mulligan works.
There is also an unloading region for a bakery in the background,
near the home. This anticipates the warehouse loading docks in
The Nickel Ride (1974).
The bleachers of the high school ballpark are also wooden, and
full of repeating units, such as the seats, and the sections of
Eventually, the hero is institutionalized at the asylum. There is wire mesh
on the windows at the asylum. This gives a strong visual indication of the hero being caged.
Such wire mesh rooms will appear in other Mulligan films: the room for prisoner in courthouse in The Defender,
the wire door and window at the mother's asylum rest home in Inside Daisy Clover.
In all three films they remind us that a character is imprisoned.
The fence and gate at the hero's house are also made of wire.
There is wire fencing at the ball parks. These also perhaps give a caged feel to the hero,
long before he is committed. Wire mesh fences are ubiquitous in Mulligan, and often
in scenes that have nothing to do with imprisonment, such as the garden in
To Kill a Mockingbird.
The hero's job at the gas station keeps him isolated in a cage-like room. This is one of the most
depressing work environments ever seen, aside from sweat-shops.
Near the end of the hero's stay at the asylum, he works out in a sports batting cage.
This too has a mesh-work fence. This combines two kinds of imagery that run through the film:
- baseball locales with mesh fencing,
- cages at the asylum.
The hero is shown as most comfortable performing tasks associated with women in 1950's USA:
The hero is always shown as happy when he hangs out with his girlfriend (soon, she becomes his wife).
He also seems happy and calm when they have a baby.
- He is an enthusiastic, expert chef, shown cooking a meal for the heroine.
- He tells the psychiatrist about how he liked doing laundry with his mother:
they "formed a team".
By contrast, the hero's mental problems stem from the relentless pressure from his father to be
a success. This is in one of the most male-associated professions of the era, sports. The film
seems to be exploring the often nightmarish stress that comes from male job pressures.
Mulligan told us in 1971 that he rehearsed Fear Strikes Out
from beginning to end, just like a stage play. The actors performed a
complete run-through of the entire film, in rehearsal. He did this out of
ignorance of standard feature filmmaking practice. But it paid off in speed of shooting.
Mulligan was also proud of the performers in his films.
Robert Mulligan is famous for his dramas. But he sometimes did comedy,
as a change of pace. Come September (1961) is a sweet,
good natured comedy. Gina Lollobrigida is especially endearing,
as Rock Hudson's longtime girlfriend, who can't get a proposal out of him.
She virtually seems like the Life Force. The film is pure silliness,
a bit like Man's Favorite Sport - although it is not a bit Hawksian.
This genial work is guaranteed to make anyone feel better!
Come September was produced by "Raoul Walsh Enterprises, Inc."
The article on Raoul Walsh lists Walsh motifs in the film.
Some users on the IMDB comment that the film was a big hit in India.
Come September is indeed a bit like a Bollywood film, with romance,
comedy, beautiful people, gorgeous scenery, brilliant color, a song, some dancing,
an upbeat story and a happy ending.
Fantasy of the High Life
Previous Mulligans films like The Defender and The Great Impostor
showed poor young men caught up in fantasies of wealth.
The hero of Come September actually is wealthy.
But as part of the farce plot, his majordomo convinces other people
that the hero is a poor man indulging in delusions of wealth.
It is a reversal and twist on the situation of earlier Mulligan films.
The majordomo also indulges in impersonation, passing himself off as the
owner of the villa.
Finale at the Train Depot
The finale also has elements that recall The Defender.
The huge crowds that are everywhere in the train depot recall the courtroom
crowds surrounding the action in The Defender. Both films engage members of the crowd
The heroine's ruse is to falsely identify the hero as the deserting father of her baby.
This is quite funny. It also recalls the main plot of The Defender,
whose defendant is accused of a crime, perhaps truly, perhaps falsely.
In both films, a dramatic moment occurs when a woman identifies the man,
claiming he is the guilty party. In both films, the woman points the man out,
with an arm gesture. Once again, what is serious drama in The Defender
is played for comedy in Come September.
Earlier, at the end of the chase in the car full of birds, the majordomo makes false accusations
framing the hero as a criminal. This is also comic, but echoes serious scenes elsewhere in Mulligan.
Energy and the Generations
A long central section of Come September shows Bobby Darin and his college age pals
trying to exhaust "older man" Rock Hudson. This too is a comic echo of themes from
The Defender, where exhausted older man attorney (Ralph Bellamy) is contrasted
with the energy of his fresh out of law school son (William Shatner).
Earlier, the hero is shown sleeping, on a golden couch, no less.
Such a luxurious setting is another of Mulligan's surrealistic images of sleep.
Hudson's character sometimes seems more interested in his relationship with Bobby Darin,
than with the heroine. It attracts his energy and effort, to do the tasks their rivalry sets.
He also learns from Darin.
Water and Summer
Come September is in that archetypal Mulligan setting, a lushly fertile
summer landscape near water. And as in The Man in the Moon, there are masses
of flowers in bloom: here the bougainvillea, mentioned in the dialogue.
Some objects show Mulligan's love of bright, light colors mixed with white:
However, often these colors are mixed together in scenes, rather than being separated
as in some later Mulligan films.
- The villa exterior is in a brilliant yellow shade, with white trim.
- The staircase is white, with a red carpet and rope.
- Hudson's beach jacket is green and white stripes.
- In the same scene, Gina is in red-and-white.
Some scenes in Come September are in the complementary colors of "red and green":
The hero (Rock Hudson) is often in that Mulligan favorite, white clothes.
At the night club, his white sports jacket contrasts with the dark grey suits
of the young men. Later, during the villa bar scene, his white dressing gown makes
a similar contrast to the young men's suits. The film also shows him in white shirts
(a sports shirt and later a dress shirt) and a sweater.
- The upstairs hall at the villa has pale green upper walls, and bright red carpet.
The pale green is almost neutral, but it also has a distinct green tinge.
- The kissing scene between Rock and Gina has them in green and red clothes, respectively,
as mentioned above. Rock and his green jacket are sometimes framed against the
pink-and-green bougainvillea, preserving the color scheme.
The Spiral Road
The Spiral Road (1962) is a drama about medical workers in the jungles
of the Dutch East Indies in the 1930's. The first half is a medical soap opera, and
often gripping; the second half is a horror thriller, and pretty grim.
Suspense: the Second Half of the Film
The second half shows the rural back-country of the Indies as under the reign of terror of an evil witch doctor.
Robert Mulligan's next film, To Kill a Mockingbird, will show the rural South of the 1930's
as under the reign of terror of racists. One will stalk the hero's children, the way the hero of
The Spiral Road is stalked.
Heroes also get stalked in The Stalking Moon and The Nickel Ride. IMDb
user commentator dbdumonteil pointed out the links to The Stalking Moon in his commentary
on The Spiral Road.
The hero and other doctors who are stalked in The Spiral Road, barely understand the
deliberately mysterious campaigns of terror against them. This echoes the "miasmic",
bewildering events methodology of Mulligan's suspense films in general.
The hero has a full scale mental breakdown, and a briefly shown recovery. Both recall the final
section of Fear Strikes Out, whose hero also has a breakdown. In both films,
the hero becomes shell-shocked, numb and unresponsive.
He cannot talk, and it is unclear if he even knows his name. Both films show his supportive,
loyal wife standing by, and caring doctors.
Science and Technology
Sound communication through technology in Mulligan tends to be a one-way affair.
Here, the hero talks into the radio during the suspense finale, but does not listen.
This anticipates the paging at the union hall in Love With the Proper Stranger,
and the heroine's use of the recording booth for her song at the start, and the dubbing
at the end of Inside Daisy Clover. All of these technologies extend the human voice,
and in one direction. enabling more people to hear the speaker, but not allowing the speaker
to hear any response.
Euthanasia is seriously discussed. While both sides are argued - the atheist hero is pro-euthanasia,
the Christian doctor Burl Ives is against it - the film is clearly on Ives' anti-euthanasia side.
Mulligan will give a grim look at the dark world of illegal abortion in
Love With the Proper Stranger. Joseph H. Lewis will soon
make an anti-euthanasia drama, in the Bonanza episode The Quality of Mercy (1963).
Mulligan studied for the priesthood as a teenager; he is almost certainly aware of Catholic views
on these subjects, although neither film discusses them from an explicitly Catholic viewpoint.
Hudson's hero is right to try to publish Ives' medical notes: they can serve the public good.
The hero is also highly ethical in crediting Ives as author and himself as editor. Neither of these
points in the hero's favor are really brought out in the film, although perhaps they are "obvious".
Instead, what we mainly hear about is the hero's selfish desire to advance his career,
by being editor of such an important book.
To Kill a Mockingbird
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) is Robert Mulligan's best known film.
Race and Civil Rights
Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) has major strengths
and limitations as a work on race relations. On the positive side, it offers
a blistering denunciation of the racial oppression of blacks. Its portrayal of
Atticus Finch's stand against racism strongly urges other white people to work against racism.
But the book expunges Civil Rights organizations from American history.
It only shows a white Southerner, Finch, opposing racism, and all on his own. One would never learn
from To Kill a Mockingbird that Thurgood Marshall, a black attorney then
working for the Civil Rights organization the NAACP, was arguing in court a similar
1933 real life case about trumped-up charges against black men. Or that he would
achieve victory arguing the case in the Supreme Court: see Chambers v. Florida
(1940). Marshall would go on to be one of the most important figures in the
US Civil Rights movement.
To be fair to Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird, its limitations
have been greatly amplified by the reception of the novel, something over which she had no control.
Not only did it become a best seller, one immediately filmed. But white schoolteachers in
the United States have adopted it as a universally taught book, one that has introduced generations of
white school children to race relations in the United States. Neither Lee nor
film adapters Mulligan, Foote and Pakula have ever claimed that To Kill a Mockingbird
was the whole story of US race relations. But it has been treated as such by white US literature teachers.
This turns the book's avoidance of the Civil Rights movement into a full-scale
educational distortion of American History.
Unfortunately, no literary or film work about the Civil Rights movement has ever gained
full acceptance by white literary or film critics, white school literature teachers, or the white reading public.
Several works have gained polite initial reviews, only to be immediately forgotten.
The upshot is that Civil Rights is invisible as a subject in US culture.
Major films on the subject, such as The Rosa Parks Story (Julie Dash, 2002),
are ignored. After over fifty years of such boycotting of the subject, it seems likely
that there is a systematic problem, that Civil Rights is being written out of history.
Most people today profess to be "against racism". But they also seem to have difficulty
supporting or even talking about Civil Rights, which was the main real life practical
destroyer of racism. On most subjects, Americans are famous for being practical people,
and our country has achieved success by practical action. We know that if we want to do a job,
run a business, raise children or cure a disease, we need to take practical action.
It is more than time to see the similar linkage on race relations. If we want to be
"against racism", we have to take practical action by supporting Civil Rights.
Is To Kill a Mockingbird more positive and worthwhile in its treatment of race relations,
or more negative and harmful in its omissions and distortions of history? It is hard to say.
A critic, such as myself, can point out strengths and limitations in a book or film.
But it would take a sociologist or historian to assess their impact on society: something I am not.
My biggest concern is not with the book or film of To Kill a Mockingbird,
but with the current limited view of Civil Rights in modern culture.
As a courtroom drama, To Kill a Mockingbird recalls The Defender. In both films:
The statues Boo makes of the children, also recall a bit the sketching done by reporters in
The Defender - although they differ in having nothing to do with the court case.
- A prominent attorney is asked to take on the case of a poor, unpopular defendant
by the court system.
- Full-scale courtroom trials ensue.
- His children are present during the trial.
- A male relative of the female alleged victim is violent and threatening.
- All-male juries, all-male lawyers and a male judge try the case.
- Both black and white witnesses offer testimony.
The above similarities raise the question of "authorship". All of the above elements are
found in Harper Lee's novel. Mulligan didn't write them. He "merely" adapted them.
But the consistent patterns between the two films are too extensive to dismiss.
Andrew Sarris wrote that consistent patterns in a director's work are sometimes
achieved through "selection and emphasis". In this case, it is possible that Mulligan
chose to direct To Kill a Mockingbird, in part because its closeness
to his previous work, such as The Defender. We know that Mulligan had an intense desire
to film To Kill a Mockingbird, ever since he read the novel, and that he
struggled hard to launch a film adaptation.
It is also possible, although there is no evidence to support it, that Harper Lee
was watching The Defender when it was broadcast on national television in early 1957,
and that it influenced the writing of To Kill a Mockingbird. It is also
possible that both works reflect the common influence of earlier books, films and traditions.
Some commonalities also reflect society. In 1960, real life lawyers and judges were
overwhelmingly male, although female ones did exist. So the male lawyers and judges are no surprise.
Much odder is the way juries in both films are all-male.
Several Mulligan films offer ambiguous portraits of men who justify violent attacks on other men,
in the name of protecting female relatives:
These plots are all set up to express doubt about the men's actions. The men in
The Defender and Love With the Proper Stranger seem perhaps "justified" by the facts -
but the spectacle of actual violence is disturbing and exposes the actions as questionable or doubtful.
By contrast, the father in To Kill a Mockingbird is depicted as totally rotten.
The alleged events he is responding to are lies. And his motivations are strongly influenced by racism.
- The husband in The Defender hits the man accused of murdering his wife.
- The father of the alleged victim in To Kill a Mockingbird attacks the accused's lawyer and family.
- The brother in Love With the Proper Stranger hits the man who impregnated
his sister, to get the boyfriend to marry her.
The courtroom is full of wood. There is wood everywhere: the walls,
the furniture. Mulligan's films explore old buildings, in which wood
decoration was the main style. It is like a trip into an American past.
The galleries at the top are an example of the repeated modules
in Mulligan. In the courtroom, we also see the repeating jury chairs,
the multiple benches for the public, the repeating fences and posts.
This sort of multiple module is also everywhere in Mulligan. It gives
his images a complex visual rhythm, like a beat in music.
Porches are ubiquitous in To Kill a Mockingbird.
The swings and chairs on the family's porch, are perhaps more examples of
repeated modules. Sp are the windows of the house, and the pillars of the porch.
The family has a detached garage. Its door has cut-off corners.
These are echoed by the octagons on Jem's bedspread.
Both the family's yard and Boo's yard have gardens, surrounded by low wooden fences.
The family garden also has wire mesh, a Mulligan favorite.
The building with the court has a giant staircase in a separate room-like well,
a common feature of Mulligan buildings.
The early shot, showing tree branches overhead, then moving down to the houses,
tries to establish that Mulligan favorite, a lush green summer landscape.
But much of the actual film is surprisingly sparse with trees and vegetation,
compared to other Mulligan works.
To Kill a Mockingbird shows us that Mulligan favorite, people eating breakfast.
However, we get fewer close-ups of the actual food than in other Mulligan.
The food does not quite form the "still lifes" prominent in much of Mulligan.
Like other Mulligan films, To Kill a Mockingbird has characters involved
with food production:
- The movie opens with a farmer delivering a bag of nuts he's grown.
- The heroine's bizarre ham costume is worn for an agricultural festival at the school.
- Vegetable gardens are common in yards.
Love With the Proper Stranger
Love With the Proper Stranger (1963) is a light drama about a woman's
attempts to find grown up romance.
In all three of his Robert Mulligan films, Steve McQueen plays sympathetic men,
but who have trouble making a living or being anything other than socially marginal.
Richard Mulligan's small role as Louie seems to be the only time he appeared in a film
directed by his brother Robert Mulligan.
Links with Come September
Love With the Proper Stranger shares characters and plot with Come September,
but is more "serious" in tone:
There are humorous links between the two films, with the heroine of Love With the Proper Stranger
mentioning Rock Hudson, the hero of Come September.
- a women who has an affair with a man, but who would really like him to marry her;
- a sexy man who doesn't want commitment,
- a nice but very dull man who wants to marry the heroine,
- the nice dull man has two sisters, who have rich comic personalities.
Love With the Proper Stranger shows exhaustion, like Come September
and some other Mulligan: here after the couple run away from the heroine's brothers.
Steve McQueen plays a musician. In the 1950's and early 1960's, the mass media
accepted and promoted many different kinds of music as legitimate: Jazz, folk,
pop, rock, classical. All of these showed up on television and the movies,
and were treated with respect. As best as one can determine, there was a
broad respect among the public for different kinds of music, too.
All this would change with the gradual dominance of rock. Rock fans tend to believe that
they have the Sole Truth, and that anyone who likes other kinds of music is a nerd.
This was a big step down for society.
McQueen wears suits, has ties with "normal" life, and talks articulately.
He shows the social possibilities of people involved with non-rock music.
The Union Hall is held in a room with a balcony. In this it recalls the courtroom
in To Kill a Mockingbird. The building also has that Mulligan favorite,
a massive staircase in its own stairwell. We see the building filling up with a
crowd for a big event: just like the opening of The Defender.
The hero's reunion with his family is held in an outdoor, playground area.
This is rich in the wire fencing Mulligan loves (here cyclone fences).
The playground is one of the sports facilities that run through Mulligan,
with people playing bocce, basketball, handball, field hockey. The sports site hosts
a meeting between the hero and his father, and an old male friend, recalling a
bit Fear Strikes Out, and its baseball linking father and son. It is far less stressful,
though, and also involves the hero's mother and a woman friend.
The playground has water in the background: one of the rivers bordering
New York City.
Love With the Proper Stranger is full of kitchens, that favorite
The nice dull boyfriend was his own small restaurant, where he also works as a cook.
People involved professionally in food production run through Mulligan.
The heroine's brothers drive a produce truck.
The deserted-on-Sunday warehouse-like building where the couple wait, has a big sign
reading "Garlic" above. We never learn exactly what this building is, but the sign suggests
it might be a food distribution center of some sort.
Much of Love With the Proper Stranger consists of static, well-composed shots,
with no camera movement. Aside from some occasional reframing and adjustments,
major camera movements tend to show characters either entering or leaving a location.
People enter scenes, while the camera walks with them through a location:
These camera movements tend to be gentle and steady. They gain interest by showing
new locations and backgrounds.
- The camera walks with the black janitor through the empty union hall, at the film's start.
- The camera makes its way with the hero, as he pushes through the crowd at the union hall.
- The camera sometimes accompanies the hero and/or heroine, as they move into new areas of the playground.
This includes the first trip to the father and the bocce court.
More dramatic are the movements when people leave a scene. These camera movements can
be abrupt, energetic and dramatic, showing people's intense desire to flee a scene:
A few of these "exiting" camera movements are that Mulligan favorite, whip-like pans through 180 degrees.
These tend to show characters moving down a street, as they leave.
- The heroine fleeing the union hall.
- The nice guy leaves the apartment after asking for a date.
- The heroine packing up and moving out of the family apartment after a fight.
- The couple leaving the warehouse district after their encounter, to start looking for money.
- The couple fleeing the playground from her brothers: shown in a whole series of moves.
The heroine's first encounter with her brothers and their truck doesn't belong obviously
in either category, either of "entering" or "leaving".
It might be described as the "heroine leaving Macy's" however. It shows the camera moving first
to the left with the heroine, then back to the right. Later, when the couple hide in
what looks like a church from her brothers, the camera moves back and forth in front of
the fenced-in church yard, showing the folks involved in the chase.
The hero's trench-coat in the film's mid-section is darker, but far from black.
But we see other men briefly in black clothes:
- The man at the pet store who talks to the parakeet is a handsome young man
well-groomed in a black coat.
- When the hero flees to the street in disheveled clothes after offending his girlfriend,
he gets contrasted with a man in an elegant black leather coat.
Baby the Rain Must Fall
Baby the Rain Must Fall (1965) is one of a series of Robert Mulligan films
with richly realized Southern settings, including To Kill a Mockingbird and The Man in the Moon.
Child Abuse - and its grown victims
A central theme of Baby the Rain Must Fall is child abuse,
and its effect on grown men. In this it recalls Fear Strikes
Out, Blood Brothers and The Man in the Moon.
Unlike all these films about abusive fathers, here the bad parent
is a woman, the hero's adoptive guardian Miss Kate. As in Blood
Brothers, the hero here tries to adopt a profession that is
disapproved of by his parent.
Miss Kate's house has architecture typical of one strand of Mulligan,
resembling the house in The Man in the Moon:
All of these features are Mulligan trademarks.
- It is wooden, with rich interior paneling.
- It is white outside, and two stories high.
- It has elaborate porches.
- It is full of "repeated modules",
such as the pillars and sections of the porch, and the numerous
window shutters in Miss Kate's room.
- The cut-off corners of the door under the
stairs recall and anticipate the cut-off garage door corners in
To Kill a Mockingbird and The Man in the Moon.
while the house in The Man in the Moon is depicted as the
heroine's normal living environment, here all these features are
part of a Gothic mode. The house is as spooky as the Bates mansion
in Psycho, or the Addams Family home. And such stylized
areas as the porch, Miss Kate's room with the shutters, or the
stairway door, are the centerpiece of the film's spookiest and
most sinister scenes. The visual richness of the repeated modules
in the porch and shuttered room, or the polygonal door, becomes
the essence of the mise-en-scène in these scenes.
As a building, the Wagon Wheel roadhouse is also in the shape
of a rectangle with one corner cut off.
The staircase shots in Miss Kate's house somewhat recall the staircase
near the hero's office in The Nickel Ride. Both are wide,
and nearly complete rooms in themselves, existing in deep stairwells.
Dramatic moments take place on the staircases.
Color Schemes - in a black-and-white film
The cowboy clothes worn by the hero, the members of the band,
and the sheriff Slim all make the Wagon Wheel scene the most Western
in feel of the film's episodes. Everything else seems far more
Southern. Slim's snow white cowboy shirt links him to other Mulligan
men in white clothes, although he is not the protagonist of the
film. The windows of the light colored Wagon Wheel exterior are
painted in some darker color trim. Even in this black and white
film, one sees multi-colors straining to break through.
Outdoor Vistas and Landscapes
There are some deep perspective shots near the opening: the road
seen through the front windows of the bus, and the downtown sidewalk
with its awning. The crossroads shot from the bus is geometrically
Many of the film's scenes take place outdoors. These tend to be
on home lawns with vast vistas. There are often trees, and other
buildings seen in the middle distance. Such stagings recall Mulligan's
other Southern films, To Kill a Mockingbird and The
Man in the Moon. They cast a uniquely Mulligan mood. Such
settings allow complex visual patterns to be created. The varied
views Mulligan presents also relate to the feelings of the characters,
and the developments of the plot. The film opens this way, with
the woman standing by the roadside, waiting for the bus.
However, there is a sinister touch in Baby the Rain Must Fall
that is not present in these other Mulligan films. The outdoor
vistas frequently include the town's courthouse, or its cemetery.
Both are ominous controlling factors in the life of its hero.
They are foreshadowings of the tragedies that dominate his existence.
By contrast, the hero and heroine's own home is in an isolated
field. There are few buildings anywhere around, and the ground
has no grass - very atypical of a Mulligan outdoor locale. At
first, this looks spooky, perhaps too barren. But as the film
progresses, it leads to a welcome sense of relief. It shows the
family being free from sinister outside influences, and attempting
to start a new life.
Other locales in the film anticipate The Man in the Moon.
The exterior of the Western music bar, with its numerous cars
parked out in front, is like the country club with its row of
cars. And the downtown also is like the downtown in the later
film. Both of these public locales offer the characters an all
too brief respite from their problems at home.
The screenplay here is by Horton Foote. The opening, with the
heroine talking to an older woman on a bus, recalls the opening
of Foote's most famous work, The Trip to Bountiful.
A digression: the rollicking TV spoof of Dirty Harry style cops,
Hard Knocks (1987), had Bill Maher send his detective partner
Tommy Hinckley out to the video store for a movie. No one was
sure what the maniacally gung-ho tough guy Hinckley would bring
back - everyone expected some ultra-macho action movie. It turned
out to be his "favorite film", The Trip to Bountiful!
Inside Daisy Clover
Inside Daisy Clover (1965) is a strange drama about Hollywood
in the 1930's. It eventually becomes grim, unpleasant and nightmarish.
It is one of Robert Mulligan's least appealing films, not because it is poorly made,
but because it is so depressing.
Inside Daisy Clover contains some films-within-the-film. One is a biography
of heroine Daisy. It opens with a historical montage, anticipating the
historical montage interludes in Same Time, Next Year.
Inside Daisy Clover resembles other Robert Mulligan films in which climax with their protagonist's
mental breakdown: Fear Strikes Out, The Spiral Road. All of these
characters undergo a series of horrendous, stressful experiences. Eventually they collapse,
and become silent, inert and pathologically withdrawn, unable to speak or respond to
their loved ones.
Inside Daisy Clover is especially close to Fear Strikes Out.
Both deal with young people under tremendous pressure from adults to succeed in the entertainment business:
baseball in Fear Strikes Out, the movie industry in Inside Daisy Clover.
Even after their collapse, both the hero of Fear Strikes Out and Daisy Clover are
pressured by selfish authority figures to get up, ignore their emotional problems and go out
and get back to work. These scenes are extremely creepy in both films.
Inside Daisy Clover shares imagery with Fear Strikes Out of their protagonist being caged.
Daisy is isolated at the start in the recording booth, the pier stand where she works, and her family trailer.
At the end, she is inside the dubbing booth.
Inside Daisy Clover continues Mulligan's stark contrasts of class.
Daisy Clover is another desperately poor young person, with a dead father
and a mother with no earning potential, like the defendant in The Defender.
And like him, Daisy encounters well-to-do people in positions of social power.
Christopher Plummer's studio head has that Mulligan mark of wealth:
really good suits. Plummer looks terrific throughout, in clothes that anticipate
Dress for Success by a decade. While Mulligan heroes are often in white,
Plummer's urbane villain is in the opposite: his dressy clothes are jet black.
Robert Redford's deeply flawed actor Wade Lewis oddly recalls a man painted as angelic:
Boo Radley (Robert Duvall) in To Kill a Mockingbird. Both are blonds,
and startlingly good-looking, in a way that seems almost supernatural.
Both are first revealed lurking in architecture: Radley behind a door, Wade Lewis
on a bed in a room to which the heroine wanders. There is something surreal or Absurd
about their materializations. Wade Lewis' entrance scene is the best episode in
Inside Daisy Clover. It takes place against the film's most
surrealistic set. Wade Lewis on the bed recalls the bed imagery that runs through Mulligan,
which often evokes Sleep or Illness in surreal ways.
In addition to their similar looks, both Duvall and Redford were around 30 years old
when they appeared in these Mulligan films. Another surreal, blond 30 year old:
Bo Hopkins in The Nickel Ride.
Plummer's office is made up relentlessly of arched windows and doorways.
The rounded arch is a Mulligan motif; so is modular, repeating architecture.
The many buildings on the pier have something of the same multi-unit effect,
as the private houses with outbuildings in other Mulligan films.
The mesh-work of the doors and windows at the rest home are a Mulligan image
indicating imprisonment, like the chamber for the accused in The Defender,
and the mental asylum in Fear Strikes Out, both of which are also full of mesh-work.
The flame at Swan's studio recalls something one would see outside a tomb or mausoleum.
The whole architecture of the studio headquarters, a somber formal mansion, recalls that of a cemetery or tomb.
This adds to the "buried alive" feel of Daisy and the other workers there.
Red and Green. The fortune teller's gaudy costume is mainly red-and-green. So is her shop.
While she looks out of place outdoors on the pier in such bright clothes,
her appearance in her shop is a nicely done red-and-green color harmony.
The Christmas choir is in red, and seen outside amidst much green foliage, also
Red and White. Daisy is in a similar red chorus outfit, and meets Wade Lewis in the very strange
all-white bedroom. This gives the scene a red-and-white design, making it that
Mulligan favorite schema, bright-color-and-white. However, the strict separation
in color between the heroine's red and the room's white is disturbing.
The Merry Go Round building on the pier is white with red trim.
The musical number near the end about the circus is in pink-and-white. The color scheme has a nightmarish quality.
Green and White. The studio headquarters is one of many white houses that run through Mulligan.
Like some of the others, it is surrounded by green foliage.
Bands of Color. The strange flanged building at the studio is painted in two horizontal bands of color.
This recalls the Garlic warehouse where the couple wait in Love With the Proper Stranger,
which is also painted in horizontal bands.
Up the Down Staircase
Poverty and Class
Up the Down Staircase (1967) is a serious look at the problems of slum schools.
There is a serious, but brief, look at the evils of racial discrimination against black people.
One of the best students in the class, tells his teacher about the job discrimination he and his brother face.
Up the Down Staircase is perhaps unusual in that it does NOT focus on crime
or juvenile delinquency, unlike many films about poor urban youth. These students might be rowdy
and demoralized, but they are not criminals, gang members or delinquents.
No one carries a gun or is involved with drugs. We do briefly see some sinister street toughs on the sidewalk,
indicating crime is a problem in this neighborhood, but these bad young men are not depicted
as students at the school.
As Andrew Sarris pointed out in his review in Confessions of a Cultist, the
actual subject of Up the Down Staircase is class. We are seeing poor people at the
bottom of the class structure in Up the Down Staircase. They have a lot of problems
that derive from this.
Book to Film
Up the Down Staircase is based on the best-selling 1965 novel by Bel Kaufman. I enjoyed the novel
very much. It has features lacking in the film:
The film, like the book, sticks very close to the school. We see the school and the
characters walking in the slum streets around it, but we never see anyone anywhere else.
- Just as Mulligan's version of To Kill a Mockingbird
is much less humorous than the novel, the rich humor of Bel Kaufman's book rarely made it to the screen.
Instead, the film has a "serious drama" feel.
- The book is a mildly "experimental novel",
with much of the narration provided by a plethora of documents and techniques.
Perhaps inevitably, this was lost in the move from book to screen. There is nothing experimental
about the film at all. The book's experimental aspects were some of its best features.
While we meet many teachers, and see school functions such as Assembly,
the heroine's classroom is the only one we see in the movie.
You can see examples of wood and modules in Sandy Dennis' classroom
in Up the Down Staircase. Identical wooden desks repeat, over and over.
And the blackboard is broken down into four identical units.
The windows also repeat, as do lockers in the back of the room.
Summer of '42
Summer of '42 (1971) is a romantic drama.
Summer of '42 has almost archetypal Robert Mulligan settings:
Many of Mulligan's small towns are down South. But Summer of '42 is set
in an unnamed island, reportedly inspired by Nantucket Island in Massachusetts.
- It takes place in a lush resort area during the summer.
- Water and beach scenes are prominent.
- The area is full of many different kinds of fences.
- There are big vistas seen from people's yards.
- The shack used by the heroes to look at the book is like the
outbuildings in other Mulligan.
- The heroine's house has a porch.
- The house also has a prominent kitchen.
- Wood interiors occasionally appear, in the shack and the heroine's ceiling
with the attic door. But many of the film's walls are covered with wallpaper,
less typically for Mulligan.
- There is a small town downtown.
- The heroes walk behind a row of parked cars, while the camera tracks with them.
The hero's house is painted outside in yellow with white trim, also a
standard Mulligan color combination.
Some early scenes are in a color scheme also found in other Mulligan films:
red-and-green. This includes an outdoor scene with the heroes in red or pink clothes, and
a scene in the heroine's house.
The hero is in colorful clothes throughout. He never becomes that figure in other
Mulligan films, the "hero in white clothes". Instead, the heroine eventually wears white:
also fairly untypical for Mulligan. We do briefly see the hero in a white dress shirt, near the end.
The druggist also wears a white coat.
The hero buys a strawberry ice cream cone. The pink ice cream makes the most
phallic looking ice cream cone ever seen.
At least on the surface, Summer of '42 appears to endorse a simple approach:
young males seeking to get laid. It only looks at good aspects of such a quest,
and few of the potential bad ones.
The young men do preserve some basic standards of decency. Their relations
with women are completely consensual: something that does not always happen
in real life, in the high-pressure, exploitative world of modern sex.
And the heroes worry about the possibility of pregnancy, and use condoms:
something that also makes them more responsible than many real-life males.
This issue is something discussed in the film, a good thing.
But most of the potential bad outcomes of teen sex are missing from Summer of '42.
Are fifteen-year-olds ready to deal with the disasters than can result from sex, or with taking care of babies?
Probably not. Are they emotionally prepared to deal with traumas? Also probably not.
The hero's "second-best friend" does not want to have sex with women, at least at his present age.
The film presents him as a failure as a human being and as a male. He is a "nerd"
or "geek" stereotype. This is a sinister caricature. It also endorses the dubious idea
that sex for fifteen-year-olds is some sort of good goal.
Summer of '42 shows peer pressure, with the hero's best friend constantly
pressuring the hero to have sex. The film shows how intense such pressure can get,
and perhaps subtly suggests the dark side of such behavior. But basically,
the film seems indulgent about peer pressure, depicting it as an acceptable
part of growing up. Is this really true? Isn't peer pressure a major source of
disaster for many young people? Doesn't conformity keep people operating at a low level,
for people of all ages in our society?
Summer of '42 also seems to endorse the anti-gay remarks of the hero's friend.
This is just plain bigotry.
Robin Wood, in his article in Richard Roud's Cinema: A Critical Dictionary (1980),
thoroughly condemned both Mulligan and Summer of '42. Wood felt the film
was superficial, and did not offer any sort of critique of relationships in modern society.
Wood has a point: Summer of '42 endorses rather than critiques some dubious ideas.
(By the way, Wood does not go into many specific details. It is likely, based on his other writings,
that his detailed objections, had he given them, might have been different from my comments.)
The heroes of Summer of '42 are members of society's most powerful group,
straight white males. Summer of '42 seems to endorse this group's sexual desires
as the highest good - largely ignoring its cost to women. And also straight white men's
oppressing gay people.
Several Mulligan films show young people's fantasies of wealth or success.
The hero of Summer of '42 talks about studying flying in his high school,
and has fantasies of being a pilot and helping his older brother out in the war.
Later, we see aircraft diagrams on his bedroom walls, but learn nothing more about this.
The hero really has to strain to carry those groceries, and to put the boxes
in the attic. This is played for mild comedy. It recalls the scenes in
Come September, where the young men put Rock Hudson through a series of
The Nickel Ride
The Nickel Ride (1974) is a gangster movie, a genre one
does not typically associate with Robert Mulligan. Several of Mulligan's
films deal with "criminals who are really not such bad guys":
The Great Impostor, Come September, Baby the
Rain Must Fall and this movie.
This film is full of remarkable compositions and camera movement.
Mulligan is especially good at exploring urban landscapes. These
include both exteriors, and traditional urban interiors such as
warehouses, old office buildings, bars, etc. The slow, stop and
start camera movements are remarkably vivid and atmospheric. Its
visual beauty and inventiveness stand revealed.
Theater of the Absurd
After just the first viewing, I was unable to follow the gangster
plot of the film. This does not matter. The characters and emotional
mood of each scene come through loud and clear. I've never been
able to understand the plot of Tokyo Drifter (Seijun Suzuki),
either, although I love that film's color! The Nickel Ride
has a cryptic, surreal quality. It seems as close to such avant-garde
plays as Waiting for Godot or Tiny Alice as it does
to traditional gangster movies as Howard Hawks'
Scarface or The Public Enemy. There is little violence.
Instead, we are loose in a strange, dream like world we do not
understand, drifting from one emotionally compelling scene to
To Kill a Mockingbird and Baby the Rain Must Fall
are also full of surreal touches, and a pervasive sense of strangeness.
When Mulligan spoke after the preview of Summer of 42 (1971),
he was wearing a dazzling Mod white suit, that was typical of
the fashion of the era. At the time I thought, "So that's
how a glamorous Hollywood director dresses!"
Jason Miller is sporting a somewhat similar off-white suit during
the first third of The Nickel Ride. He looks very similar
to how I remember Mulligan. One wonders if the protagonist is
in some ways a stand-in for Mulligan, drifting through a surreal,
dream like experience. The whole film is full of Mod fashions
of the era. Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck in Mockingbird)
also wears a lot of white suits.
Color Schemes: White and Yellow, White and Red, White and Blue
Throughout the first half of The Nickel Ride, Mulligan
employs color schemes of white, offset by swaths of some other
bright color - yellow, red or blue. Usually only one bright color
appears in a sequence. A section of the film will be all white
and yellow, followed by another long stretch that is all white
and red, followed by another sequence in turn that is all white
and blue. This sort of color architecture a personal color pattern
- it shows up again in The Man in the Moon, which has major
sequences of white and green, and shorter sequences of white and
The early scenes of The Nickel Ride are designed in shades
of white and yellow. White is perhaps a more predominant color,
with big swaths of yellow, gold, or light beige tones. These scenes
include hero Cooper at home, first in bed, then on the phone,
then getting breakfast and getting dressed. The idea of opening
a film with a character in bed, full of intense feeling and pondering
about issues in his life, will recur in Same Time, Next Year
and The Man in the Moon.
The still life on the cop's table, with phone, badge, book, etc.
is a memorable composition. Much of it is in shades of yellow.
When the action switches to the street, with Cooper fully dressed
in his suit, we have a new color scheme: white with swaths of
red. The red includes Cooper's dark red tie, the red jacket worn
by the street peddler, red frames and stools in the bar, the red
and white shirt and tie worn by the man sleeping in the office,
and the red cap of the man by the pool.
While in the middle of the pool scene, the colors suddenly shift.
They now become blue and white, beginning with the boxer and the
blue accents and trim on his clothes. This color scheme persists
back at Cooper's office, with the black characters in the blue
shirts, and in the birthday party bar scene. There are even blue
candles on the chocolate cake. The bar scene occasionally has
flashes of the other color schemes: the peddler in red shows up,
the middle cake is slightly yellow, etc. But most of the color
accents and clothes in the bar are blue, against a white background.
When Carl (John Hillerman) shows up, we shift to red and white
again. Carl's car is a dark red, nearly as dark as Cooper's tie,
and Carl's clothes are reddish in shade as well. We return to
the warehouse, with its red brick. The shot where the car moves
in parallel to the walking Cooper and Carl is a symphony of dark
red and brick red tones.
The red and white persist in the shots at the concession stand
at the boxing arena, and in the kitchen scene following it at
the bar. Mulligan loves kitchens, and people getting food. The
kitchen table in front of Cooper is another of Mulligan's carefully
composed still lifes.
I suspect that Mulligan prefers color to black-and-white. When
Mulligan talked after the screening of Summer of 42, he
reminisced proudly about his television drama about Gauguin,
The Moon and Sixpence (1960). Mulligan mentioned explicitly that
this film was in color. (Color TV was something rare for the era.)
Mulligan was so articulate and friendly to everyone.
The bar is rectangular, but with a corner cut off making an angle.
Later, the garage door in The Man in the Moon will have
similar cut-off angles; and the door under the stairs in Baby
the Rain Must Fall has an angled top. Fritz Lang
loved polygonal shapes, but the polygons in his film are often
free form with lines connected at irregular angles. By contrast,
all the Mulligan polygons seem to be rectangles with corners sheared
off, a far more regular effect.
Mulligan's shapes tend to be bilaterally symmetric, as well: the
bar has both corners cut off, as does the garage door; the stair
door is paired with the hole it leaves when the door is open,
making a pointed triangular top to the shape.
As the characters walk down the corridor adjacent to the indoor swimming pool,
we see a series of valences along the upper left wall. Each valence has the "cut-off shape".
This combines cut-off corners with the repeating modules Mulligan
also loves. It is a key fusion of Mulligan visual ideas.
Mulligan uses many repeating architectural structures in the urban
scenes in the first half of the film: the arches at the warehouse,
the windows in both Cooper's home and office - each window with
its own window shade - the facades of the downtown buildings.
The wire fence along which Cooper walks in his first episode downtown
anticipates the farm fence in The Man in the Moon. Such
repeating structures make up a key aspect of Mulligan's visual
style. The first shot of the countryside involves a series of
repeating trees along the shore. These anticipate the repeating
trees along the drive in The Man in the Moon.
Edgar G. Ulmer is also a director who
favors repeating architectural modules in his settings. Ulmer's
modules tend to be whole architectural units - the various cabins
in the motel complex in Murder Is My Beat (1955), the different
sections of the porch on different sides of the building in The
Amazing Transparent Man (1960), the repeating doors and rooms
at the opening of Isle of Forgotten Sins (1943). By contrast,
Mulligan's modules of repetition are often individual windows,
or arches, or storage bins in the barn in The Man in the Moon.
Such windows or arches are large in an absolute sense, but still
often considerably smaller and more "fine-grained" than
Ulmer's architectural modules.
We are comparing Mulligan to German Expressionist directors
such as Lang and Ulmer. This comparison seems a bit outré,
at first. Mulligan's sunny Southern scenes and outdoor photography
seems remote from the studio-based Expressionism of Ulmer and Lang.
But they intersect in their shared interest in architecture
and the geometric patterns it forms on screen. Mulligan's heroes
are often as doomed as Lang's and Ulmer's.
Same Time, Next Year
Same Time, Next Year (1978) is an adaptation of a stage
play, by Bernard Slade. Somewhat eerily, it has a similar premise
as Robert Mulligan's Come September: in both, a couple meet on a yearly basis
to carry on an affair, then retreat back to their regular, separate lives.
In Come September, the couple are single and the situation is
played for laughs; in Same Time, Next Year the couple are married
to other people, and the treatment, while often comic, is realistic and
with serious aspects.
The main opening is an elaborate scene of the couple waking up
and getting dressed in the morning. This recalls the opening scenes in The Nickel Ride.
There is a pregnancy, as in The Man in the Moon. Both
the man and the woman are highly fertile, with numerous children.
Such fertility is a common characteristic of Mulligan characters.
Although the couple's families and children are never seen - this
is essentially a two character play - they are much discussed,
and become important characters in the film. The difficulties
young people have growing up, once again become a main theme of
a Mulligan film. Both characters seem to be good parents, like
Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird, but unlike the many
abusive parents that run through Mulligan films.
The hero has aspects of the impersonators that run through Mulligan films.
This is especially true of a phone sequence. It also is an aspect of
some lies he tells about his children, near the film's start.
The hero eventually becomes a cocktail lounge pianist. This recalls the
restaurant piano player in F.O.B. Vienna.
The historical montages often show stills of famous films of their
era. One is of Mulligan's To Kill a Mockingbird! This is
an inside joke. But it is also appropriate - it was a famous film
of its time. Same Time, Next Year recalls this earlier
Mulligan work, in that both deal with significant political issues.
There are deliberately startling changes between the various sections
of the film. Oddly enough, the technique reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock's
Rear Window. While the gap between scenes in Same Time,
Next Year is around five years, and the gaps in Rear Window
are usually just an hour or so, in both films the film and its
point of view are often re-thought in surprising ways in different
sections. These gaps in Same Time, Next Year give a surreal
feeling to the film, a Mulligan tradition.
Mulligan's love of cakes emerges again. The couple's theme song
becomes "If I Knew You Were Comin', I'd've Baked a Cake".
And there is an anniversary celebrated with cake and candles,
like the birthday cakes in The Nickel Ride
and the party cakes in The Man in the Moon.
Throughout the film, we see traditional Mulligan still lifes,
of tables set with food and cutlery.
Settings and Architecture
Much of the film takes place in a motel suite. The opening, which
sets the scene outside the hotel, is in a style recognizably Mulligan-like.
There is a row of parked period cars, as in The Man in the Moon.
The motel is in a lush, green, rural setting near water,
the classic Mulligan exterior.
There are familiar Mulligan architectural features:
- A fence is near the motel cabin. This is of wood, unlike the mesh fences sometimes favored by Mulligan.
- The living room of the cabin suite has wood-paneled walls. So does the restaurant and its lobby near the start.
- The two "French window" doors are an example of the repeating modules in Mulligan architecture.
- So are the series of windows on one side of the cabin.
- The patio in back of the cabin is a variant on the porches favored by Mulligan
The wide passage from the living room to the bedroom of the suite, is framed by a large
rectangular doorway. The upper corners of the doorway are filled by lintels.
This gives the doorway the shape of a rectangle with cut-off corners:
a shape that runs through Mulligan.
Several scenes are constructed along Mulligan's pattern of "white mixed with one bright color":
Color schemes in Same Time, Next Year can suddenly shift, right in the middle of a scene.
After all, everything in the film is somewhere around the motel, yard or its restaurant.
So it is not practical to wait for a big change in scene to change colors: the story is anchored in mainly a few spots.
- When the hero is in his pinstripe gray suit, much of the action is in "yellow and white".
Both the motel room and restaurant have yellow walls (the wall colors frequently change throughout the film,
depicting the passage of time). The heroine is in a mainly white dress, and sometimes wears a yellow shawl-like cape.
Yellow daffodils are on the dining room tables. At a table behind the couple,
a young man with long blond hair and a white suit adds to the color scheme.
(This is another Mulligan "man in a white suit", and "young blond man".)
- Back in the room, the colors shift to "white and orange". The heroine is in a mainly white outfit.
Orange pillow, lampshades, magazine, orange-looking wood and orange brick around the fireplace contribute.
The white couch has pale orange and pale blue designs in it. The heroine's long red hair is emphasized.
- In a later scene, the heroine is in a rust red slip, the center of a brief scene in "rust red and white".
- Soon the heroine is dressed, in various shade of blue. The hero also is in shades of blue,
along with a neutral jacket. This is a "blue and white" scene.
Late in the scene where the hero is in his pinstripe suit, after the yellow section and the orange section,
Mulligan shifts to a different approach. First the hero takes off his suit jacket, revealing a pale blue shirt.
Then the hero and heroine stand in front of the fireplace. A green painting above the fireplace is emphasized;
so is the hero's red tie. This becomes a shot in "red and green". It is key shot in the film,
one in which the hero makes a major plot statement. It gets a different sort of color treatment.
A still later scene has the hero and heroine mainly in beige. Neutrals are behind them on the walls, too.
This scene largely lacks any bright color.
The Man in the Moon
Fertility and the Sacred
The family's house has prominent triangular gables, along its
upper reaches. These are soon echoed by a similarly shaped triangular
steeple at the church. Both the church and the gables are pure
white, which adds to their echoing effect. The family house is
seen as some sort of church. Just as the house is tied to nature
through its colors, it is tied to religion through its shapes.
There is a sense of the sacred here. Robert Mulligan's stories often
have a surreal tone, lurking just under their surface realism.
The fact that the mother is pregnant here adds to the sense of
religious fertility. Even the church is flanked by huge masses
of blooming flowers of its shrubs.
The films' focus on sisters living in a lush natural environment,
and its concern with themes of awakening first love, birth and
death, recall Jean Renoir's
The River (1951). So do a number of plot elements in the picture:
a large country house filled with young women on the brink of
adulthood; innocent but powerful crushes on a young man in the
neighborhood, the final destiny of a young man at the end of the
As is often the case with Mulligan, the characters live near water,
and water or dockside scenes play a prominent role in his films.
The swimming area recalls the river in front of the cabin in The
Nickel Ride. Both are views from overhead angles, involving
a firm shore area bordering a still body of water. The food shots
here also recall The Nickel Ride. Both films have scenes
of eggs cooking for breakfast. And the shot of the chocolate cake
here at the picnic recalls the birthday cakes in The Nickel
Ride, two of which are also chocolate.
There are echoes here of earlier Mulligan protagonists.
The difficult, demanding father here recalls other hard to get
along with fathers in Fear Strikes Out and Blood Brothers.
The young hero meets the same ultimate destiny as Cooper in The
And the father's refusal to take part in organized religion here
recalls the noble but atheistic doctor in The Spiral Road.
By contrast, the wives of both of these characters are practicing
Evangelical Christians. Mulligan treats the religious beliefs
of both husbands and wives in these pictures with respect, a somewhat
The Man in the Moon (1991) is designed in a mixture of
green and white. The house and garage exteriors are painted these
two colors. So is the car driven by the young man. When we get
to the country club, there are over a dozen cars, all in shades
of green and white. Many of the clothes worn by the characters
also fall into the same scheme, although there are also some pale
blues. The lush green scenery also blends into this same color
pattern. In fact, one suspects that the green and white is intended
to make the human buildings, vehicles and clothes match the colors
of nature. The world is one big seamless mass of natural lushness
and greenery in this film.
There are exceptions. The pickup truck is brown, and so is the
dusty road and drive at the farm. These are used for a color harmony
at one point. And downtown, we get a store front that is a dazzling
mix of red and white. The shots tracking along this store front
makes a brief exception and change of pace to the rest of the
Mulligan likes repeating architectural structures in the backgrounds
of his shots. The back porch where the girls sleep at the opening
is an example. It is made up of a series of vertical sections,
each one with its own blinds. The repeating posts and blinds make
a sequence of zones, stretching across the screen. This is an
archetypal Mulligan location. Soon, we see the inside of the porch.
It too consists of a number of regions. Mulligan often frames
his shots so that the different regions, each with its own vertical
dividing posts, are spread out from left to right along the screen.
Later outdoor shots sometimes involve similar repeating structures.
Mulligan does much with a wire fence, which has a series of repeating
posts. Even when Mulligan shows the giant trees in the family's
driveway, he pans along a whole series of them, stretched along
The barn at Court's property has a series of repeating wooden
regions in its interior. These are all closed up, and probably
contain stuff. They remind one of the storage bins in The Nickel
Ride, with their unseen contents.
The film is full of Mulligan's languorous but powerful camera
movements. These maintain a sense of propulsion, but also have
a slow, contemplative feel.