Joseph M. Newman

Early short films: Know Your Money | Women in Hiding | Buyer Beware | Respect the Law | Coffins on Wheels | The Luckiest Guy in the World | The Amazing Mr. Nordill

Feature Films: 711 Ocean Drive | Love Nest | Red Skies of Montana | Pony Soldier | Dangerous Crossing | This Island Earth | Death in Small Doses | The Big Circus | The Lawbreakers | King of the Roaring 20's - The Story of Arnold Rothstein | Twenty Plus Two | A Thunder of Drums | The George Raft Story

The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: Dear Uncle George | Death of a Cop | The Gentleman Caller | Body in the Barn | Misadventure | An Unlocked Window

The Twilight Zone: In Praise of Pip | Black Leather Jackets

The Big Valley: The Way to Kill a Killer

Classic Film and Television Home Page (with many articles on directors) | Television Western Articles

Joseph M. Newman

Joseph M. Newman was an American film director. His films often deal with science and technology, including: His films often offer detailed looks at how institutions work. This includes US Federal Government organizations. Although Newman is little known today, his highly personal and observantly detailed films offer rewards for viewers.

Some common subjects in Joseph M. Newman films:

Organizations, and how they work:

Technology: Information: Common Characters: Sources: Visual style: Architecture: Lights: Costumes and Color: Costumes:

Crime Does Not Pay: Know Your Money

A Semi-documentary ancestor

Know Your Money (1940) is a short film, part of the Crime Does Not Pay series. Newman directed quite a few episodes of Crime Does Not Pay, in the early days of his career before he graduated to making feature-length films.

Crime Does Not Pay seems ancestral to the whole genre of semi-documentary films, that would appear after 1945. John C. Higgins, the scriptwriter of the pioneering T-Men (Anthony Mann, 1947) and other semi-docs, was also one of the scriptwriters on the Crime Does Not Pay series.

Comparison with T-Men

Know Your Money is like the later T-Men, in that it is a portrait of the US Secret Service battling a counterfeiting gang, made with the official cooperation of the Secret Service, and showing high-tech work by the Secret Service. Know Your Money is unlike the later T-Men, in that it is a low-key work, without the fervid melodrama of the later film.

In T-Men, Secret Service agents go undercover as crooks, and infiltrate the gang. By contrast, in Know Your Money an agent takes on an undercover role - but not as a crook. Instead, he plays an honest working man making a delivery at one of the gang's fronts. This seems typical of pre-1945 undercover work: playing an honest character, rather than impersonating a crook. Such "honest" undercover roles were typical of comic book detectives of the 1930's and early 1940's, for example.

Technology

Know Your Money shows the interest in technology that runs through many of Newman's films. Among the characteristics that will appear later in Newman:

How Organizations Work: Counterfeiters - and the Secret Service

Like many Newman films, Know Your Money gives an inside picture in how organizations work, in full sociological detail. It shows every aspect of how the counterfeiting gang is organized, from the engraver to the printer, to the distributors of the money.

And the film also shows much about the operations of the Secret Service: how its labs work, how it trails suspects, how it does undercover work, how it alerts the public about counterfeit money.

Both portraits are quiet, un-melodramatic, and rich in informative detail: all Newman traditions.

Gangsters in later Newman films are often shown as posing as upper middle class businessmen, suave and socially proper. We get a variation on this in Know Your Money. One of the women who passes the counterfeit money, acts as if she were a highly respectable matron, almost but not quite a Society figure. And the tobacco shop in the film also seems to be a respectable business, although it is far more lower middle class than the smooth acting "country club type gangsters" in later Newman.

Costumes

The hero, Secret Service agent Evans, is dressed in one of the most spectacular pinstripe suits of the early noir era. The double-breasted suit looks not so much tailored as constructed. One can see why men would take to such suits like wildfire in the 1940's, after a decade of grim looking male garb in the Depression.

In his undercover role, the hero wears a leather jacket. Such jackets were mainly restricted to professions in the pre World War II era: here the hero is pretending to be a delivery man. It will still be a few years until men can wear leather jackets, just as a fashion option. Later, good guy Jeffrey Hunter will be in a leather jacket riding his motorcycle in Red Skies of Montana.


Crime Does Not Pay: Women in Hiding

Women in Hiding (1940) is an expose about crooked maternity homes that prey on pregnant women "in trouble". It is a real horror story, as the crooked doctors who run the home do everything possible to ruin the lives of the pregnant women and their babies.

Unmarried Mothers

In real life in 1940, unmarried pregnant women faced huge negative social condemnation. Many did have their babies in secret.

In Women in Hiding, the pregnant women all claim to be married, giving various flimsy-sounding reasons why they have to keep this secret. This allows Women in Hiding to evade the censor, and technically avoid the taboo subject of unmarried pregnancy.

None of these reasons sounds remotely believable or realistic.

However, even within the film plot of Women in Hiding, the viewer suspects these women are lying, and are actually unmarried pregnant women in trouble. Their stories sound unbelievable, and exactly like the sort of cover story a pregnant unmarried woman in 1940 might give to a doctor.

Consequently Women in Hiding plays like a film about unmarried pregnant women, even if this is not how the women in the movie actually describe themselves.

One suspects this whole two-layered approach is deliberately intended by the filmmakers. It allows them to make a film about "women in trouble", yet evade the censor.

How Organizations Work: The Crooked Maternity Home

The operation of the crooked maternity home is shown in detail. It is one of the organizations that run through Newman's work. The crooked doctor is charge of operations is colossally incompetent: one of the most horrifying things about the place. This leads the home to being one of Newman's failed organizations.

The medical workers in the home also run through Newman films.

A Building Where People Live Together

The maternity home is one of many Newman buildings where many disparate people live. Many such Newman buildings are fairly benign, but the one in Women in Hiding is frightening and sinister. It anticipates another sinister place where a group of people live, the alien research center in This Island Earth.

The maternity home does not look like a hospital, despite having an operating room. Instead, it looks something like a mansion with many bedrooms. In this it also resembles the research center in This Island Earth. It also looks a bit like the mansion where sinister events take place in An Unlocked Window.


Crime Does Not Pay: Buyer Beware

Business Corruption

Buyer Beware (1940) is an expose, about how crooks who steal merchandise fence it through "respectable" businesses, here a small drug store.

While we learn how the process of such fencing works, the focus of Buyer Beware is less on the typical Newman theme of how an organization like a drug store works as a whole. Instead, Buyer Beware concentrates on how greed can lead a business, step by step, into the deepest levels of corruption. In this, Buyer Beware resembles Respect the Law to come. In both films, businesses start by making rational-sounding decisions to save some money by breaking the law or dealing with criminals - and in both films, this leads to nightmarish, overwhelming disasters.

Technology

Buyer Beware shows government labs, and how they are used to detect crime.

Buyer Beware contains what is now known as a "recall": the police call back tainted drugs. Apparently, in 1940, there were no systematic procedures for a recall, as there are today. An announcement is simply broadcast on the radio. Furthermore, while today government agents would seize suspected drugs or food, in 1940 each drugstore is left to test the drugs on their own. The test is shown on screen, and is an interesting bit of science. One wonders if Buyer Beware played a small role in helping legislators see the need for more systematic recall procedures.

Buyer Beware shows crooks disguising the appearance of a truck. Such scenes later became a commonplace in TV shows. I don't know whether Buyer Beware was the first film to include such scenes. It's a clever idea, and the first person to use it deserves credit.

Uniforms

Like other Newman films, members of organizations are uniformed, to reflect their profession. The white-uniformed pharmacists recall the medical workers in other Newman films.

Buyer Beware is full of spiffy police dress uniforms. Ralph Byrd, best known for playing comic strip policeman Dick Tracy in numerous movies and serials, makes a strong impression in a brief role. He plays the cop who shoots out the crooks' truck tire. Byrd looks great in his uniform. His hand-raising gesture, ordering the crooks to stop, is a strong image.

One policeman not in uniform is Hugh Beaumont, perhaps best known as the dad on Leave It To Beaver. Beaumont plays a plain clothes officer, as he will in Railroaded! (Anthony Mann, 1947).


Crime Does Not Pay: Respect the Law

A Medical Semi-documentary ancestor

Respect the Law (1941) is a short film, part of the Crime Does Not Pay series. Its wholesome title gives little clue that it is Newman's most nightmarish film, dealing with an epidemic of bubonic plague spreading from docks into an American city. It anticipates later semi-docs dealing with similar themes, such as Panic in the Streets (Elia Kazan, 1950).

How Organizations Work: Epidemic Fighters

Through all its melodrama, Respect the Law manages to explain how doctors, police, and city officials might fight an epidemic. It gives an overview of a whole disease-fighting set of institutions.

The doctors in Respect the Law are the scientifically skilled heroes that run through Newman. And like other Newman heroes, they have special "uniforms": the head to toe "plague suits" they wear to guard against infection. This is the earliest I've seen such suits in any film. One associates them with much later "virus hunter" films, such as the TV series The Burning Zone (1996-1997).

In Praise of Government Regulation: An Anti-Libertarian Film

Respect the Law is one of the most pro-government regulation films ever made. It is a fierce attack on the modern Libertarian idea that everything will be just swell if government leaves Big Business alone.

The businessman here looks like every image of a distinguished WASP rich businessman ever seen in a movie or magazine advertisement. And he starts out by giving a speech against government bureaucrats and regulators that sounds like every Republican campaign speech of the last 25 years. Then everything starts slowly to go wrong...

Respect the Law reminds one of the first Superman comic book story, Revolution in San Monte (1938), written by Jerry Siegel, art by Joe Shuster. In both, big businessmen get their noses rubbed (by the heroes) in the horrible consequences of their business actions.


Crime Does Not Pay: Coffins on Wheels

Coffins on Wheels (1941) is a short film, part of the Crime Does Not Pay series. It deal with crooks who sell dangerous used cars to unsuspecting customers. The film is unpleasant to watch: one keeps waiting for something awful to happen to the innocent kids who bought one of the cars. Innocent teenagers and kids in grave danger, will return in In Praise of Pip.

The screenwriter of Coffins on Wheels, Howard Dimsdale, later was one of the three writers on A Lady Without Passport (1950), directed by Joseph H. Lewis. Both films center on crooked organizations that sell things to innocent victims, that hurt the victims.

High Tech Organizations

The film contains three different organizations, all high tech: The various high tech gimmicks shown in the police lab are the main positive appeal of Coffins on Wheels. Otherwise it is just too grim to be any fun.

The detailed look at how the crooked car dealership functions as an institution, is in the Newman tradition.


Crime Does Not Pay: The Luckiest Guy in the World

The Luckiest Guy in the World (1947) is the last final entry of the long running Crime Does Not Pay series. It is different from Newman's earlier entries: it focuses on an individual, non-professional guy who commits a crime, whereas Newman's earlier Crime Does Not Pay shorts mainly look at detectives or government agents battling organized crime.

Links to Later Newman Films

The Luckiest Guy in the World somewhat startlingly resembles the The Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode Misadventure (1964), made 17 years later. Both films: The Luckiest Guy in the World anticipates 711 Ocean Drive, in that both: The Luckiest Guy in the World has some distant similarities to the comedy Love Nest: However The Luckiest Guy in the World is about a crook, while Love Nest is a comedy who hero is a law-abiding honest guy.

Costumes

Barry Nelson is mainly in a sharp suit, which he wears to his job: he is a white collar, middle class salesman.

But at one point, he switches clothes with a man in a leather jacket. He becomes a Newman hero is a leather jacket, although he is not working class, unlike many such Newman characters. He definitely looks working class, though, in the jacket.


The Passing Parade: The Amazing Mr. Nordill

The Amazing Mr. Nordill (1947) is an entry in the long running The Passing Parade series. It is a simple, comic anecdote. It tells the story of real-life counterfeiter Everett Nordill. He anticipates the protagonists of 711 Ocean Drive and Arnold Rothstein in King of the Roaring 20's in being a crook who uses brainy schemes to make money.

Operator 10 has to pursue an independent path to capture Everett Nordill. It is perhaps going to far to say that Operator 10 has to "defy" his organization, the way that many Newman heroes do. But he does perform in an a way counter to their organizational culture.


711 Ocean Drive

A Semi-documentary - and a Gangster Film

711 Ocean Drive (1950) crosses the gangster film, and the semi-documentary tradition. Most semi-docs have policemen heroes. Here, however, the protagonist is gangster Edmund O'Brien. As in many other gangster films since the 1930's, we get the complete story of his rise and fall in gangland. Most movie gangsters succeed because they are tougher and better fighters than other people. O'Brien's character is unique in gang film history in that his success is caused by his technological skills. He is an expert on telephones and electronics, and this enables him to create wire services for bookie operations, a lucrative gangland business. This technological background is typical of the semi-docs, rather than gangster films. Semi-docs typically showed police and detectives who were experts in advanced technology, and who regularly used it in their cases. Here it is the crook protagonist who is technological whiz, instead. Edmund O'Brien often played intellectuals, and men of great intelligence, so he is believable in the role of a tech whiz. His policeman character had used radio tracking devices the previous year in White Heat, so he is a natural in this role.

The film has other semi-doc features, as well. Its title is in the numerical address tradition of such works as Henry Hathaway's Call Northside 777 and Phil Karlson's 99 River Street.

More importantly, the film has a finale set against a photogenic, industrial environment, a key feature of most semi-docs. Here we go to Boulder Dam, on the Nevada - Arizona border. This is a truly spectacular site, and the film provides a whole mini-documentary about this Art Deco landmark. O'Brien climbs a huge staircase in the Dam at the end, just like the villains in such earlier semi-docs as Jules Dassin's The Naked City (1948), and Raoul Walsh's White Heat (1949). Many semi-docs have an urban industrial location. By contrast, this film resembles Newman's Red Skies of Montana (1952), in that its technology is located in a rural area out West.

The sections of 711 Ocean Drive that most resemble semi-docs are the opening half hour, which shows O'Brien's skill with telephones, and the eleven minute finale at Boulder Dam. By contrast, most of the film's middle is a fairly traditional gangster movie, with O'Brien and other gangsters all scheming for control of the wire service empire. In my opinion, the semi-doc opening and close are much better than the gangster film middle of this movie. The gangland sections are particularly cold, with all the characters being unsympathetic monsters. There is no one to root for here.

Aspects of the phone technology used in 711 Ocean Drive recall "A Date to Die" (1942), a prose mystery short story by Fredric Brown. "A Date to Die" is available in Brown's collection Before She Kills. The technology in "A Date to Die" and 711 Ocean Drive are not exactly identical, though.

How Organizations Work: The Modern Mob

Another personal feature for Newman is the treatment of the gangland empire here. One of Newman's signature subjects, is a systematic look at how some organization works. Here it is organized crime.

711 Ocean Drive is one of the first films to suggest that the modern mob was organizing itself along big business lines. The gangsters here are well dressed men who meet in a luxurious boardroom. They dress and act like big businessmen, not traditional movie crooks. They are just as murderous as traditional gangsters, maybe even more so, but they now act like businessmen, at least in their manners, offices and conversation. Suave, refined acting gangster Don Porter epitomizes this approach here. Unlike O'Brien, who has risen from a working class background, and whose suits are expensive but flashy, Porter looks as if he were born and bred in a country club. Porter's suits are in relentless good taste, as is his menacing conversation. He skillfully conveys the sense that he embodies upper class meanness - he reminds one of polished but ruthless business executives, the sort of men who shut down plants and put people out of work. Don Porter will repeat his characterization in John Cromwell's The Racket (1951). Not just Porter, but all the gang members we meet look like upper crust WASP's, the kinds of people who have been running non-gang big businesses in America for decades. They are the kind of ruthless overlords most Americans instinctively fear and loathe - almost all of us have had unpleasant experiences on the job with this sort of corporate elite. So the menace they convey as upper class executives is carefully blended with the menace they embody as gangsters, to create a very sinister combination. Newman will repeat this WASP characterization of gangland in The Lawbreakers.

Another feature that anticipates Newman's The Lawbreakers: the detailed look at the financial aspects of the bookie business. Both films give an in-depth look at the financial aspects of the underworld, and its gambling enterprise. They are unusually realistic in this regard. Both films are almost sociological studies of this universe. As in Newman's other sociological films, there are many levels in the gangland society studied. We get to understand its dynamic as an organization.

Characters

The way O'Brien is a lone hero, fighting for success in a hostile world, is typical of many Newman films. Also Newman-like is the way this world is so heavily oriented towards technology.

O'Brien starts out the film as a phone company repairman, in a leather jacket. The dialogue emphasizes how brainy and technologically skilled he is. This combination, of a leather jacketed working class look unexpectedly concealing major brainpower, also appears in the undercover Secret Service operative in Know Your Money and the aliens masquerading as bikers in Black Leather Jackets.

Edmund O'Brien is a character actor, not a leading man, and the film has tried not to have any flashier looking men around to compete with him. Aside from Don Porter, all the other gangsters and cops in the film are older men. Newman would work with a similarly gifted character actor, Jack Warden, in The Lawbreakers.

The woman at the beginning who wants to marry O'Brien is full of pathos. O'Brien's rejection of her dreams is brutal. She is beautiful, somewhat working class, and a woman who is clearly trying her best. Later, in Dangerous Crossing, Newman will include another woman who is trying unsuccessfully to get married. The heroine of that later film will have her husband disappear on her honeymoon. Much is made in 711 Ocean Drive of O'Brien's disinterest in marriage. It is seen as a character flaw. By contrast, the good guy heroes of both Red Skies of Montana and The Lawbreakers will be married.

Visual Style: Use of Architecture

Panoramas. The exteriors in 711 Ocean Drive show Newman's fondness for wide, open panoramas. We see broad vistas on city streets in Los Angeles in the beginning, and equally broad views of Boulder Dam at the end. We also go to a ball park parking lot. There are also large interior panoramas at the gas works.

The finale stresses the architecture of Boulder Dam. Newman is an architecturally oriented director.

It is noticeable how crowded and rich in visual detail many of the Boulder Dam shots are. They show a rich profusion of buildings, architectural features and machinery of all kinds. Large groups of people are often surging through them as well. Many of the shots are designed as panoramas, and show very long views with large groups of machines. The director is not afraid of one building overlapping another, or just giving us a glimpse of one machine or building peeping out in the background from behind some obstruction. This is very different from the approach of Antonioni, for example, who tends to build his compositions so that each building or feature has a broad, uninterrupted expanse of the screen.

3D Effects: Height. Many of the outdoor scenes have a 3D quality. Newman often stages Boulder Dam shots from a great height. Sometimes these shots represent police at one level looking down on O'Brien far below at the Dam; other times, Newman has simply moved his camera high up. In all cases, the use of height adds a third dimension to the shot.

3D Effects: Circular Architecture. Other aspects add a three dimensional quality, through the use of rounded architecture:

The circles all add a 3D effect; one can imagine traveling along these rounded paths, moving in more than one dimension through the image.

Outdoor Staircases. When O'Brien leaves police headquarters, he goes down their long outdoor staircase. This is filmed in two shots, broken by a close-up of his ID badge. The second shot includes a pan, following him down the lower part of the staircase. Love Nest will include numerous shots staged on the apartment buildings outdoor staircases, often including camera movement.

Corridors. Throughout the film, O'Brien is associated with long corridors full of high tech machinery. When he is introduced, he is standing in such a corridor in the telephone company. The corridor stretches away into the distance. It is filled with line-switching equipment. At the end of the film, O'Brien is in similar long corridors, deep in the heart of Boulder Dam. The camera always establishes deep perspective looks down such corridors. They are typically empty of other humans, just O'Brien and the machinery. They often look somewhat dark and underground. The bookie office where O'Brien does much of his work is also deep in the heart of a building. Like the corridors, the bookie office is completely windowless. O'Brien does not own any of these locations. He always looks somewhat lost, a solitary worker trying to cope with a vast high tech institution.

The finale has a fairly long expository piece, in which the guide tells the tourists facts about the Dam while they are in a corridor far below the surface. Such institutional corridors were commonly shown in semi-documentary films. They often tend to be in public places or institutions: police stations, train depots, hospitals, orphanages. These great corridors are places where the public interfaces with the institutions. In some ways, these locales are less photogenic and far less unique in style or visual appearance than the rest of the Dam. But they still are featured prominently here, as they typically are in the semi-doc tradition. Such corridors tend to be very "convincing" to the viewers: the viewer can easily imagine himself or herself as actually present in some institution, when they see ordinary members of the public, like themselves, walking in such corridors. They help viewers imagine they are actually present in the locales shown in the film. They are sort of half-way houses, drawing viewers into the unique, spectacular institutions shown in the semi-docs. That is its role here: the corridor is the first shot inside the Dam itself. It is the viewer's introduction to the Dam's interior.


Love Nest

Newman Subjects

Love Nest (1951) is a mild little comedy. Judged as entertainment, this inoffensive film is not one of Newman's better works. Watching a young couple trying to run an apartment building in New York City is just not that interesting. The film does have a good-natured quality, that is sweet and relaxing, however.

One can link Love Nest to some Newman traditions:

The wry comments made by the hero and Jack Paar, anticipate the humorous observations made by the lab assistant in This Island Earth and the crime reporter in The Lawbreakers.

Camera Movement and Long Takes

Love Nest is rich in long take camera movements. As Newman himself points out in his delightful DVD commentary, he often filmed scenes in long take "two-shots", rather than cutting back and forth between the characters. These shots regularly move the camera, to follow characters around the room, through doors, or up and down staircases. Newman's staging is natural, graceful, and unobtrusive. His characters' movements seem realistic and natural in the context of the film's action. And the camera is always moving to where it gives the audience the best view of the actors.

The movements tend to have a start-and-stop quality. The camera will be still, for a piece of dialogue or bit of business. Then the characters will suddenly move, and the camera will swing around with them, to get a good view of their new location. The camera will then stop for a while, again, while another bit of business is played out.

None of the camera moves are as extreme or as elaborate, as those of Max Ophuls, say. Still, some of the movements ultimately become fairly complex. Shots in the couple's basement apartment often go on for long takes, while the camera swings around, peers through doorways, moves from room to room etc. One of the longest shots is the one where the lights fail: it moves through many different actions, settings, and rooms of the basement. And both the indoor and outdoor staircases are treated with complex shots that follow the characters' motions.

The jail scene is shot in one long take. The camera moves and adjusts to show different views. There is some depth staging.


Red Skies of Montana

The Semi-Doc Tradition

Red Skies of Montana (1952) deals with firefighters who try to stop forest fires from raging out of control in the contemporary West. Aside from its Western locations, the film has little to do with the traditions of the Western. The film is very close to the conventions of the semi-documentary film noir. As in the semi-docs, we have a heroic government institution organized on militaristic lines, in this case, the US Forest Service. Parts of the film are narrated by an official sounding voice. Much of the film is shot on authentic locations. The government institution uses the latest high tech equipment and devices in its work, in this case, a range of fire fighting devices, parachutes, planes, helicopters, radios and walkie talkies to do its work. All of these devices and techniques are presented to the viewers in documentary fashion, so we get an inside look at this branch of government service. The work is full of danger and suspense. All of these things are features of the semi-doc film noir.

There are some obvious differences between Red Skies of Montana and a true film noir. First, this film is in color, not black and white. Second, there are no crime elements in this film. There are no bad guys or crooks, and no one goes undercover to infiltrate their criminal enterprises. Consequently, it is clear that this movie is not a film noir in any sense of the word. Still, its techniques and subject matter draw heavily on the traditions of the semi-doc.

Also noir like are some of the emotions of the main characters. Richard Widmark's firefighter gets amnesia after a terrible blaze, and he is tormented by what he is afraid he might have done during this blackout. Amnesia is a perennial film noir theme, showing up in Street of Chance, Spellbound, Somewhere in the Night, and so on - there are probably others, but I can't remember! Widmark's amnesia is the central subject of this movie. His tormented anguish is typical of the emotionally disturbed characters he often played in noir movies. Noir often let men experience intense feelings that were otherwise taboo in the macho culture. After all, these are macho men. They parachute into forest fires and risk their lives. So they are allowed to let their feelings erupt all over the screen.

Jeffrey Hunter's young firefighter is also obsessed: he suspects that Widmark might have caused his father's death. Both characters' obsession is typical of what Alain Silver has defined as the main feelings of film noir, alienation and obsession.

This film is written by Harry Kleiner, who also did Widmark's earlier semi-doc, William Keighley's The Street With No Name (1948). Both films have a great number of uniformed men in them.

Motorcycles

Once again, the Hunter character is in a leather bomber jacket, just like the younger hero Mark Stevens in The Street With No Name. This time the jacket might or might not be part of Hunter's Forest Service uniform. The firefighter leader (Richard Boone) is also in a pilot's leather jacket, one darker and of somewhat different style and shape.

Hunter also rides a motorcycle in Red Skies of Montana. He is one of the few "good" heroes in American film to be a cyclist; the next year, The Wild One (1953) would suggest that motorcyclists were an anti-social group of rebels, an image Hollywood has promoted ever since. Before that film, motorcyclists were largely sympathetic. For example, the kind young man who gives the priest a motorcycle ride in Robert Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest (1950) represents all of the good possibilities of life. And motorcycles were regularly ridden by young heroes in British mystery novels of the 1920's, such as Freeman Wills Crofts' The Pit-Prop Syndicate (1921).

The first half of Red Skies of Montana treats what happened in the fire as a mystery. During this first half, Hunter is in clothes like the other men: his Forest Service uniform, or civilian suits and ties. But as soon as the truth is revealed, Hunter immediately becomes a disbeliever. And bitter opponent of the hero. Hunter's appearance immediately changes as well: he becomes a leather jacketed biker. He looks highly menacing, aggressively riding his motorcycle, dressed in leather. This is not really a "good guy" look: it is more an avenging angel or formidable presence.

The first scene of Hunter on his bike, after the truth comes out, shows Hunter riding through various scenes in Montana. These include several different bridges. The bridge shots are visually striking.

Technology

The firefighters' Radio Station is at the center of a high tech communications network. This includes radio in planes, portable walkie-talkies and phones. Men in airplanes use bullhorns to address men on the ground below. It also includes loudspeakers, so that people back home in offices can sit and listen to the conversations transmitted through the communication system.

Colored Lights

The lights strung up outside the dance hall, have colored light bulbs.

The room with the hanging parachutes, has a blue desk lamp at its far end, near the file cabinets.

Visual Style: The Outdoor Scenes

The film is notable for what may be defined as "open backgrounds that stretch away into the distance". For example, there are scenes that show the main street of the Montana town, and other scenes at airports. We see buildings, cars, roads, that extend far into the distance in all directions. Each is clearly photographed. There seems to be a fairly regular progression of equipment at all distances, near, middle and far. Together these make up an elaborate panorama, a stage set containing large numbers of relevant, discrete objects at all ranges and distances. Similarly, there are many such shots at the Forest Service's camp. These too have buildings and equipment at all distances and directions, all relevant to the plot and subject matter of the film. Such elaborate outdoor constructions seem unusual in film. They resemble the Environmental Art of the 1960's. They seem more like art constructs, than the mere location shooting of much film. Another outdoor scene in this style: the parachute school, where people are trained to get out of parachutes stuck in trees.

Most of the actual action is staged in the relative foreground. This is not the "depth staging" of much film noir, with tiny figures performing key actions at great distances from the camera. It is unclear if the color photography would allow such devices here.

Vertical Lines

Some of the indoor scenes use similar staging, especially those which take place in very large rooms. The scenes in the parachute room are gems of this style. We see all sorts of snow white parachutes hanging from the ceiling, through which the characters slowly segue. These shots are unique, and are among the visual high points of the film.

Perhaps by accident, many of the shots emphasize verticals. The outdoor scenes are full of tall trees. Both the outdoor and indoor parachute scenes have the parachutes being straight white vertical lines.

Outdoor Staircases

Several of the firefighter buildings have porch steps in front.

The parachute training constructions have ladders leading up to their tops.

The men climb power line poles during the night rescue sequence. Such a scene recalls Bad Guy (Edward L. Cahn, 1937) and Manpower (Raoul Walsh, 1941).

Camera Movement and Long Takes

A number of long take camera movements shots introduce large crowded rooms full of people. Such shots are Newman favorites: Key scenes are shot in the room with the hanging parachutes, and the file cabinets containing evidence. Widmark gets closer to the truth in these scenes. (File cabinets also contain important evidence in the mystery movie Twenty Plus Two, and dramatic events take place in the room containing them.) Key shots in this room include: The crowd waiting for the landing airplane contains a camera movement of a different type. This is a long, propulsive movement in a straight line, down a row of people waiting for information. Such geometrically pure, straight line camera movements are frequently seen in directors other than Newman.

The scene outside the Federal Building in Missoula, Montana, also contains a camera movement involving the crowd waiting for the results of a hearing inside.

After Jeffrey Hunter gets evidence at the fire scene, he returns to the Forest Service camp to confront Richard Boone. Hunter enters two different buildings; his moves inside each building are each shot in a single fairly long take:

Vertical Camera Movement

There are vertical camera movements, following men climbing straight up poles or trees: Allan Dwan frequently included vertical camera moves following men climbing, including star Douglas Fairbanks in the 1910's.

Depth Staging

Newman likes to have characters appear at the back of a set, and gradually move forward:

Pony Soldier

Pony Soldier (1952) is a Western.

How Organizations Work: the Cree

Many Joseph M. Newman films show how an organization work. Pony Soldier gives a detailed look at the Cree, the Native Canadian tribe at the center of the picture. We see their elaborate debates, their councils, and their decision making processes.

We also learn a little about the RCMP: the Mounties. This ties in with Newman's interest in Government organizations.

One interesting aspect: The respect shown a woman elder among the Cree. White Moon's ideas are listened to, and influence policy. She is one of several women in Newman films, who succeed in mainly male-dominated roles or professions.

Defying Protagonists

Newman films often show a protagonist who has to defy authority figures, and pursue an independent path. Pony Soldier offers a variation on this. Both the Mountie hero and Standing Bear are leaders themselves, and neither is working in opposition to authority figures. But both do defy powerful elements in their society who want to engage in violence rather than negotiation.

Kneeling Down Before Technology

Pony Soldier contains on of the key images in a Joseph M. Newman film. The Cree see a steamship for the first time. They are awed, and kneel down in wonder. We see hundreds of people kneeling down before technological progress. This image symbolizes the awe and reverence Newman feels before technology. Science and technology are key and central in Newman's vision of the world.

Communication and Information

Standing Bear shoots an arrow across a long distance, to alert the Mountie hero of his presence. This arrow is being used for long-distance communication. It resembles a bit the phone technology that is so important in Newman's modern-day films.

Pony Soldier opens with a huge map of Canada's Northwest Territories, on the Mountie headquarters wall.

Costumes and Color: Red, White and Black

Both the hero and Standing Bear are dressed in a mixture of red, white and black. Their clothes are spectacular, and share a common color scheme, one that really stands out on screen. Both men are social leaders; both are highly responsible and idealistic. Their similarly colored clothes suggests their unique leadership positions, marked off from the rest of their societies. The common colors also suggest shared interests and abilities among these two social leaders.

Both men's costumes have small touches of other colors. There are small bits of gold on the hero's Mountie uniform; Standing Bear's costume has touches of blue.

Both men are examples of Newman heroes in red clothes: The Mountie's scarlet tunic, the partly red headdress of Standing Bear.

Standing Bear is in pale buckskins that reach from neck to toe. He thus becomes one of Newman's men in light-colored encasing clothes. More distantly, he relates to all the men in leather jackets in Newman films. These are typically unexpectedly brainy characters, and Standing Bear certainly has plenty of smarts.


Dangerous Crossing

Mystery and a Doubted Protagonist

Dangerous Crossing (1953) is a mystery that takes place aboard an ocean liner. A woman's husband disappears, and everyone on ship assumes she's crazy and that her husband never existed. The film is in the tradition of a series of melodramas about sinister conspiracies to make women seem irrational: one thinks of George Cukor's Gaslight (1944), Jacques Tourneur's Experiment Perilous (1944) and Douglas Sirk's Sleep, My Love (1948). All of these films are gripping works of storytelling. Dangerous Crossing differs from all of these films in that it contains elements of genuine mystery. The audience is baffled throughout by what is going on. By contrast, in the three previous works, the audience has a good understanding of all the sinister forces at work throughout most of the picture.

Dangerous Crossing has a brilliantly constructed plot, courtesy mystery great John Dickson Carr: it is based on Carr's much-admired radio play Cabin B-13 (1943). Cabin B-13 is available in Carr's collection The Door to Doom.

Just as no one believed hero Richard Widmark in Red Skies of Montana, so here no one believes the heroine Jeanne Crain. Both are up against an entire community of doubters.

A High Tech World

The shipboard world of this film resembles the fire-fighting universe of Red Skies of Montana: The complex series of lighted buttons on the elevators look high-tech.

Camera Movement and Long Takes

Dangerous Crossing opens with a crane shot. First the camera is high above a passageway leading to a ship, during the closing credit titles. Then the camera lowers down, till it reaches ground level. It is now behind a cart full of suitcases. It slowly penetrates through this and several other layers of passengers and equipment, till it eventually finds the heroine, streaming through masses of moving people. This is a crane shot that might be found in the works of Mizoguchi. It is inventively staged, with the motions of the various layers of people through the passage offered in counterpoint to the movement of the camera itself.

Later, on ship, the entrance of the heroine and their new husband into their cabin is staged as a single long take. The take involves both complex camera movement and staging. It mixes long shots and close-ups, with the characters moving all over the cabin, sitting on the bed, rising, and so on. It is not clear why Newman is doing this. But it does give the whole shot a "special" quality. This scene will be the couple's only in the cabin, and in retrospect it will take on some of the qualities of a myth. So Newman's special staging of this scene adds force to this plot significance.

The heroine runs into a crowded ballroom full of dancers. Camera movements follow her complex movement through the crowd.

Costumes

The ship officer uniforms are some of the spiffiest and dressiest in Newman's films. The clothes really look authoritative.

There is a contrast between the uniformed officers, and the suit worn in the opening scenes by missing husband Carl Betz.

Betz is later wrapped in a dressy trenchcoat. This is one of the light-colored enclosing wraps favored by Newman men.


This Island Earth

A Key Science Fiction Film on Outer Space

This Island Earth (1955) is one of the best of the 1950's science fiction films. It is important in that it shows spaceships, and an advanced civilization on another planet outside of our solar system. These features perhaps helped pave the way for Forbidden Planet (Fred Wilcox, 1956) the next year. These are among the more sophisticated science fiction films of the era, in terms of the sf concepts they embody. As has often been noted, Forbidden Planet is a main ancestor of Star Trek.

This Island Earth also looks back at The Day the Earth Stood Still (Robert Wise, 1951). Both deal with advanced aliens who come to Earth in flying saucer shaped spaceships. In both, we see the interior of the ships, which is a triumph of modernistic design (but otherwise, very different looking in the two films.) Both have scenes in which Earth scientists are assembled from nations and cultures all over the globe - underscoring that science is a global affair, and that humans are facing alien beings who form a common challenge to all of humanity. In both, the aliens are played by "sophisticated", upper crust actors.

Imagery from this film will recur in Russell Mulcahy's music video, Video Killed the Radio Star (1979). This is one of the most famous of all music videos.

This Island Earth is fairly closely based on a novel by Raymond F. Jones. Hollywood has produced surprisingly few credited adaptations of books or stories by real, genuine science fiction writers, other than pioneer authors Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, and the recent spate of Philip K. Dick films.

Semi-documentary

The film shows many common features with Newman's semi-docs:

How Organizations Work: Labs, Spaceships and Planets

Newman shows us in a systematic way how these technological worlds work - the hero's plane, hero's lab, the alien's Earth lab, the spaceship, the alien planet. This is in keeping with his expositions of how institutions work. The alien way of life gets the full Newman sociological treatment.

The aliens' home planet is dysfunctional, and heading for disaster. This recalls other Newman worlds, such as the burned out forests in Red Skies of Montana, and the non-functioning Cavalry unit in A Thunder of Drums.

The main alien has to defy his superiors, like many other Newman characters trapped in failing organizations.

Links to Red Skies of Montana

This Island Earth shows similarities to Red Skies of Montana:

Colored Lights

Many of the science fiction lights are in bright color. These includes lamps, rays, beams of light, small lights on the Interocitor dials, and the atom-like sign used by the aliens.

Circular Architecture

Newman likes circular architecture. The spaceship is full of it: The circular architecture continues when we reach the alien planet:

Camera Movement and Long Takes

When the Interocitor boxes first arrive in the lab, Newman uses a long take camera movement. First we get a panorama of the lab. Then the camera moves in to the hero and his assistant, for an intricately staged scene. The assistant emerges from behind crates; the hero enters the shot from the right. As a shot of a room full of crates, it recalls the finale of Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941).

Some of the shots in the alien's elegant lab building are long takes:

Costumes

The hero gets to wear a wide variety of spiffy costumes. He wears some of the sharpest suits seen in what was an otherwise dull era of men's clothes, the mid-1950's. His white trenchcoat is totally cool. He also gets to don a flight suit over his suit, at the start of the film.

The hero is mainly dressed in shades of gray and white, throughout the film. In the 1970's and 1980's, gray was established as the dressiest color for men, especially for business suits. It is not clear if it had the same connotation in the 1950's, but it looks very good here. The style and color of the hero's gray suits resembles those worn by Gregory Peck in Designing Woman (Vincente Minnelli, 1957). These contrast with the hero's bright red helmet, which he wears as a pilot. The film throughout makes good use of accents of very bright, pure color.

Once on board the spaceship, the aliens wear uniforms. The aliens are one of many organizations in Newman who are organized on quasi-militaristic lines, and who wear uniforms. Soon the human hero and heroine are in the uniforms too.

The Hero - and Howard Hughes

As an inventor, pilot of advanced planes, man with government contracts, glamour figure and celebrity popular with the press, the hero of this film bears some resemblance to Howard Hughes. The way leading lady Faith Domergue was associated with Hughes in real life also underscores this. However, such glamorous scientists were also a figure common in prose science fiction, and in such 1950's science fiction comic books as Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures. The Hughes resemblance could be just a coincidence. There also could be general similarities between the way many sf novels and comics of the era depicted technological research, and the real life aviation industry of which Hughes was a part. In any case, unlike Max Ophuls' Caught (1949), this film steers away from any depiction of Hughes' sleazy personal life or emotional issues. The hero here is noble and pure - and the film is probably better for it.

Death in Small Doses

Semi-documentary

Death in Small Doses (1957) is a crime thriller. It has links to the semi-documentary school, a tradition that had largely vanished by 1957: However, Death in Small Doses is not in the full paradigm of the semi-documentary film, as seen at its peak in the 1945-1954 era: Death in Small Doses does continue Joseph M. Newman traditions, by having medical workers play a role. The hospital scene is absorbing.

Death in Small Doses offers a frightening look at the consequences of amphetamine use: the heart attacks, the personality changes, and finally the psychotic breakdowns. All of these consequences are based in science.

The Hero

The hero FDA agent (Peter Graves) is determined, but bland, low key and has a polished but emotionless persona while on the job. This was not an uncommon depiction of federal agents: See the TV series The FBI, for example. The hero's lack of obvious emotions or personality makes him less interesting as a dramatic character.

Death in Small Doses was made at a time when most Americans regarded the US Government with patriotic respect. Today, when right-wing radicals constantly demonize the federal government, a film like Death in Small Doses is refreshing in the respect it shows towards its hero and his accomplishments.

Newman earlier made Triumph Without Drums (1941) a short film about the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act. This led to the founding of the Food and Drug Administration.

Chuck Connors

Chuck Connors plays one of the amphetamine addicts in the film, a truck driver who is always revved-up. His character is unusual. In some ways, he's a hipster: he has a fast line of patter, and is always talking a bit like the beat characters in films like High School Confidential (Jack Arnold, 1958). But Connors is not a "counter-cultural" figure, and he does not represent or advocate some beat, beatnik or hippie alternative to suburban American life. He's a working class man, a truck driver, and his big goal is to get together with some gorgeous woman and hang out at a lively night spot for truckers. This sort of combination of "working class man" and "hipster" is unusual in American cinema, maybe unique.

The Working Class and its Problems

In general, the truck drivers, gas station owners and other men in Death in Small Doses are extremely working class in appearance. They look like the guys who might come to your working class Uncle Joe's poker night. They are definitely not counter-cultural.

Many also look aging or older. They are older and tougher than many of the "young handsome heroes" that often populate Hollywood cinema.

Death in Small Doses shows how hard it is for the often aging, overworked truck drivers to do their assigned jobs. It serves as a follow-up to They Drive by Night (Raoul Walsh, 1940), which looked at the difficulties faced by truck drivers in the previous generation.

An Industry, Not an Organization

Many Joseph M. Newman films look inside an organization, giving us a detailed view of its operation. Death in Small Doses differs in that it looks at an industry, truckers and related business, rather than any one single organization. The truckers, gas station owners, trucker cafes, rooming house for truckers, etc. shown all do business with each other, and are part of the trucking industry, but they are not a single organization.

Later, we meet a crooked representative of the pharmaceutical industry, who is supplying the amphetamines.

Organizations in Newman films are often failing. The trucking industry representatives shown in Death in Small Doses are often revealed to have serious problems with amphetamine abuse.

Amphetamines in Real Life

The opening conversation at the FDA shocks the hero, by informing him how widespread amphetamine usage is in real life. I was shocked too. A look at the Wikipedia offers some back-up statistics. It says that amphetamines were widely used in World War II (1939-1945) by both sides. British troops reportedly consumed 72 million tablets, and 35 million were manufactured for the German military. US truckers reportedly did use amphetamines extensively, till President Reagan instituted mandatory drug testing for truck drivers in the 1980's.

Hollywood's censorship, the Production Code, kept drug abuse off the screen during most of the Studio Era. The Man with the Golden Arm (Otto Preminger, 1955) defied the Code and depicted the problems of heroin addition. Death in Small Doses, made just two years later, is likely one of the first films to depict amphetamine abuse, despite the fact that it was reportedly common in real life.

Costumes

The hero is in a really sharp suit while being "himself" at the FDA. There is a tradition of Feds being well-dressed in the movies. But he dresses down through the rest of the film, in his undercover role. He is first seen in his new character wearing a sport coat: something much less dressy than a suit.

Chuck Connors, rather than the hero, gets the leather jacket in the movie. Connors is a truck driver, but also a man with an unusual line of vigorous "hipster" patter. He is certainly not especially smart in his job performance or lifestyle choices. But his verbal fluency perhaps makes him one of Newman's "unexpectedly brainy characters wearing leather jackets".

The last new character seen in the film, is a policeman wearing a uniform leather jacket.


The Big Circus

The Big Circus (1959) mixes comedy, drama and suspense, in its backstage look at a traveling circus.

How Organizations Work: The Circus and a Bank

Like many Joseph M. Newman films, The Big Circus gives us inside looks at how organizations work: The section dealing with reporters attending a press party at the circus, is an inside look at a profession. It is not as detailed as the views of the circus and the bank - but it does feature similar concrete looks at the details of how a profession works. Newman has a long-time interest in reporters, who appear in several of his films.

We also get a look at how press agents operate, and interface with reporters.

Unlike several Newman films, the organizations in The Big Circus are non-militaristic. The circus band wears uniforms, though.

Many organizations in Newman films are failing. In The Big Circus the circus is on the brink of failure. It has financial problems right from the start, and its situation gets worse and worse throughout the film. The relentless insistence on these problems can be unpleasant to watch. Especially difficult to see is Peter Lorre's breakdown, over his concerns he lacks a future. Circuses as a whole are depicted as a failing industry in The Big Circus. No solutions are offered to this problem.

The Big Circus includes some typical Newman ways individuals get in trouble with groups:

Feminism

The heroine makes a striking feminist speech, about people regarding her as competent in her work. She is a woman doing what was mainly a man's profession in 1959, public relations work.

Architecture

The circus rings are examples of the circular architecture in Newman films. At one point, a circular cage for the lions is built up in one of the rings.

Newman films often feature corridor-like regions. In The Big Circus, these include the long, narrow train cars, and the similarly long, narrow circus trailers that serve as offices.

The tightrope over Niagara Falls is an unusual variation on the bridges in Newman films.

Long Takes

Both during the credits, and at the finale, there is a long take view of the circus as a whole. These shots are from an overhead angle, showing a procession moving around the edge of the circus arena. These shots contain no camera movement. They are long lasting.

A camera movement is shot through booths on the circus midway. It shows characters walking down the midway, past booth after booth. The camera moves along with the characters.

There are vertical camera movements, following people up ladders to the aerialists' perch.

Color

Several scenes are in color schemes of "red-orange and blue". These are complementary colors, and hence go together. For instance, the circus stands have very broad red-orange and white stripes, while the seats are blue.

During the big parade at the start, some of the horses and elephants have been dyed colors.


The Lawbreakers

The Lawbreakers (1961) is one of Joseph M. Newman's most obscure movies. It is not listed in Leonard Maltin's 2001 Movie & Video Guide, or in Andrew Sarris' The American Cinema (1968). Aside from leads Jack Warden and Vera Miles, its cast consists of obscure but talented character actors. The Lawbreakers was reportedly originally made for TV, which might explain this obscurity. It is clearly a version of some sort of an episode of the TV crime series The Asphalt Jungle called The Lady and the Lawyer (April 9, 1961). Whether the movie is an expanded version of this episode, or whether the TV episode is a chopped-down version of the movie, or whether the movie was a pilot for the series, I don't know.

How Organizations Work: The Police and Organized Crime

The Lawbreakers is part of the revival of the gangster film around 1960. Like Samuel Fuller's Underworld U.S.A. (1961), The Lawbreakers suggests that organized crime is infiltrating American life, and masquerading as a respectable part of the community. The gangsters here look and dress like leading citizens of the community, and employ highly respectable front men to launder money and conduct business. In both films they have fancy, respectable business offices, and wear decent looking suits. All of the gangsters here are non-ethnic looking white people. Some have Irish sounding names, but otherwise this is one of the least ethnic looks at organized crime in Hollywood history. These are men who could blend into any city's 1960 business community.

The Lawbreakers is structured to give equal time to the police and to the gang members. Lead policeman is Jack Warden, a crusading cop who is head of his city's Homicide Division. The gangsters are involved in the collection and processing of money from the numbers racket. As in Fuller's film, the suggestion is that huge amounts of money are flowing in from such activities, enabling the underworld to make itself look and feel like any other American business, at least on the surface.

The Lawbreakers is far less interested in melodrama, than in explaining the mechanisms by which its two main institutions, the police and organized crime, operate. Scene after scene methodically explores the nature of these organizations. Emphasis is given to the different sort of positions the two groups contain, and how the men in those positions interact. We get a complete look at the internal business of such groups. There is an unusually complete portrait of the inner workings of the police, showing how different branches of the police cooperate with each other, deal with rivalries for promotion, and deal with each other and the press on a workaday level. The conduct of cases is explored in depth. The police here have to cope with a corrupt Commissioner who is in the pay of organized crime. The whole effect is virtually a sociological study, an anthropological look inside an American social institution.

Many of the scenes in the film are talky, but it is interesting and informative talk. Newman establish a mood of what Andrew Sarris called "contemplative calm", designed to get the viewers to meditate on the sociological study unreeling before them. When melodramatic actions eventually do occur, they are enmeshed within a grid of information and characterization of the various groups in the film. Newman's other films have often systematically explored the internal workings of some institution: the firefighters of Red Skies of Montana, the ship's officers and crew of Dangerous Crossing. Like the leads of both of those films, Jack Warden here has to defy his superiors, pursuing a genuinely independent path within these institutions. These are not single acts of defiance; instead all the heroes have to follow an independent direction through the entire course of the film. These men are self starters, people who have the courage to act systematically on their own convictions, without much encouragement from society. They concentrate more on working hard on their own actions; they are less interested in grand scenes of defiance with their superiors. Instead they tend to quietly go their own way, employing reason and persuasion with their skeptical superiors to allow them room to operate.

The Racket showed the personal lives and homes of its cops. One sequence in The Lawbreakers shows Jack Warden's family life. This too is structured to give an inside look at the relationships within this institution. It has plenty of warmth and friendliness. But it is oddly similar in tone to the look at life inside the police.

Semi-documentary

The calm, methodical tone here perhaps relates the film to the semi-documentary tradition, a tradition often invoked by Newman's other films. However, unlike other semi-docs, there is little emphasis on location photography, undercover cops, or high technology. Nor do the mobsters here have the frightening tone of those in Anthony Mann's semi-documentary films, for instance.

There is a finale at a train depot, in the semi-doc tradition. Even here, we see more of the interior of the passenger depot, and less of the industrial areas supporting trains, on which earlier semi-docs would have concentrated.

Among semi-docs, this film is perhaps closest to John Cromwell's The Racket (1951), a film that also looks inside both police and the mob, and which also deals with both police corruption and the attempt of organized crime to present a respectable front. The Racket also contained newspapermen interacting with the police, just as in The Lawbreakers.

Vera Miles

It is unusual to see Vera Miles in the role of a villainess. She was extremely convincing in her roles as a good woman in Alfred Hitchcock's films. She is surprisingly successful here, playing a film noir femme fatale.

Technology

(SPOILERS) Sound technology plays a role in The Lawbreakers: All of this is fairly simple and conventional, but pleasant.

The film's most unusual piece of technology is the automatic door lock in the car. Its significance only gradually becomes apparent. It too is fairly simple.

Corridors

Far and away the best part of The Lawbreakers visually is the finale in the train station. This is filled with looks at corridor-like regions in the station. These "corridors" tend to be more regions between pillars or other dividing markers, than actual building corridors in the strict sense of the word. While these corridors are not Newman "corridors filled with technology", two of the corridors are lined with lockers, which give a similar visual interest. One of the locker filled "corridors" slopes downwards, and is marked by a step-like border element, further adding to its enjoyable complexity.

Newman typically shoots from below. This shows the train station ceiling. The ceiling is full of rings of lights, which produce fascinating geometric patterns in the shots. I have never seen anything like these rings of lights in other films.

I don't know if this train scene is shot on location, or is a studio set.


King of the Roaring 20's - The Story of Arnold Rothstein

Gangsters

King of the Roaring 20's - The Story of Arnold Rothstein (1961) is a gangster film. It is a biopic about a notorious real-life gang leader, gambling czar Arnold Rothstein.

Joseph M. Newman had made films about organized gambling before: 711 Ocean Drive, The Lawbreakers.

Newman favored portraits of gangsters who were suave, tastefully dressed and sophisticated, who impersonated members of the upper middle classes. This film's version of Arnold Rothstein fits that to a T. Rothstein is always quiet, well-spoken and beautifully dressed in very good suits. He looks and acts more like a corporate Vice-President of Finance than a stereotypical gangster. His suits do have more flair and sheer stylishness, though, that do the restrained tastefulness of the mob lawyer's apparel in The Lawbreakers.

Science and Technology

King of the Roaring 20's differs from much of Newman's work in that it has little to do with science or technology. It also has simple looking sets, and little location photography, mainly in simple locales. All of this plays away from Newman's strengths, as revealed in his other films.

The hospital staff at the end, are brief examples of the medical workers that run through Newman.

Newman liked underground areas full of technology. The crap game near the end, deep under Broadway, is certainly underground - even if it contains little technology. We see a steep, long set of stairs in the background, conveying how deep this basement is.

How an Organization Works: Organized Gambling, Civic Corruption

We see a little of how Rothstein's crooked financial empire works: the inside look at how he staffs and swindles his own casino is pretty interesting. But there are less such inside looks at his business than one might think. Newman's skill at showing "how organizations work", is thus under-employed.

Much of King of the Roaring 20's shows how crooks like Newman interface with New York's corrupt Tammany Hall administration, and the corrupt cops they employ. This, to a degree, can be seen as "how organizations work". Both this material, and the looks inside Rothstein's own activities, are done in Newman's typical low key, methodical style.

An Organization: The Stockbroker's

One of the film's best sequences shows Rothstein running a stockbroker's firm. Satirically, this looks just like one of his bookie joints, a room of men on phones luring customers out of their money, on stocks that are mainly gambles.

This room has a secret passage, something fairly common in mobster films of the era, such as Joseph H. Lewis' The Big Combo (1955) and Samuel Fuller's Underworld U.S.A. (1961). The secret passages are linked to the phone booths: phones are often involved with innovative or unusual technology in Newman.

The scenes with the stockbrokers are shot in two fairly long takes, the first of which shows elaborate camera movement. The stockbrokers are all well-dressed, like Rothstein himself, and are also Rothstein-like in their glib articulateness and skill at manipulating money. Rothstein's employees throughout the film, such as Lenny, are drastically different from the Tammany Hall culture around him, and more like Rothstein himself.

The room with the stockbroker's is shaped like a corridor, although it is not actually any sort of hall or corridor. Like some corridors in Newman, it is filled with technology: the telephone booths along one wall, desks with phones elsewhere.

The hero wears one of the film's best pinstripe suits in this scene.

The Hero

Andrew Sarris in The American Cinema pointed out the intelligence conveyed by Newman's leading actors, and cited David Janssen in King of the Roaring 20's as an example. Like Edmund O'Brien's lead in 711 Ocean Drive, Rothstein rises to the top of the gambling racket through brain power.

Rothstein is also a Newman hero who adopts an isolated path in an institution. He plays against the grain of the Tammany Hall system, going his own way and subverting their direction.

The relationship between the powerful, successful Rothstein, and the poor character (Mickey Rooney) who asks him for help with his life work, anticipates a bit the relationship between Peter Breck and Martin Landau in The Way to Kill a Killer.

Motorcycle Cops

There is a bit of gangster movie power fantasy, in the scene where the tough looking motorcycle cops are eager to do Rothstein's bidding.

The cops echo the motorcycle riding heroes of other Newman films. While they are not in black leather jackets, their dressy police uniforms do include huge black leather boots and gauntlets. They also wear intimidating looking sunglasses. These fancy clothes anticipate the outfits worn by the cyclists in Newman's Black Leather Jackets. The men enjoy functioning as a team. One slaps the other on the back at the end. They also enjoy assisting Rothstein with his schemes.

Rothstein's chauffeur is also in a uniform in this scene. It also includes Lenny (Robert Ellenstein) luring Rothstein away from his wife. Lenny works for Rothstein, and in some ways is his double, being equally well-tailored and suave. Lenny's clothes are a bit more flashy than Rothstein's. Lenny enjoys taking part in Rothstein's more insidious schemes, such as looting his own casino. Ellenstein is mainly a TV actor: this is a rare film role.

Architecture

The motorcycle cop scene has a tiny bit of the circular architecture found elsewhere in Newman: The stables have a corridor outside, formed by a covered portico. This corridor lacks the technology often found in Newman corridors.

Later the casino has an outdoor staircase, a bit smaller than some in other Newman films. We see the hero go up it, in a camera movement that first takes him between two cars.


Twenty Plus Two

Private Detectives

Twenty Plus Two (1961) is a detective story. It stars David Janssen as the investigator. Janssen was best known to the public at this time as the lead of the TV series Richard Diamond, Private Detective (1957-1960).

Twenty Plus Two also is in the tradition of Blake Edwards' popular and influential TV private eye show Peter Gunn (1958-1961):

However, the hero of Twenty Plus Two is more intense and emotional than the laid back, super cool Peter Gunn. The hero of Twenty Plus Two has unresolved emotional issues, with both his old girlfriend and his profession. David Janssen appropriately plays the hero with an undercurrent of neurotic emotionalism, different from the patented cool Craig Stevens brought to Peter Gunn.

Another difference: both of the hero's girlfriends in Twenty Plus Two have dialogue telling the hero how handsome he is. Such dialogue is not standard in Hollywood films. David Janssen is a good-looking man, but he is not actually as handsome as this dialogue suggests. Perhaps the film is trying to make the hero more like Peter Gunn, who is indeed very handsome.

The hero of Twenty Plus Two is an investigator who looks for missing heirs. As the hero himself points out, he is not a private eye. Still, the hero seems very close in feel to the private investigators so popular at the time.

Interiors

Twenty Plus Two seems like a low budget film. It consists almost entirely of scenes in which Janssen talks with other characters. These are usually interior scenes, on sets that recall the TV shows of the era. Often times, these scenes have Janssen talking with a single other character, all by themselves in an otherwise empty set. There is almost no action, few exteriors, and not much visual spectacle.

Twenty Plus Two does not look "sleazy". The sets try to convey an upscale look, of prosperous settings. Hero Janssen's character is a success at his work, and his Los Angeles house is a pleasant example of upper middle class interior design of the era. The spiffy Janssen wears well-tailored Kennedy-style suits, and most of the people he meets are chic-but-menacing.

Frank Gruber

Scriptwriter Frank Gruber is a well-known mystery novelist. Twenty Plus Two shows a kind of mystery plot structure common in his books: we learn about characters from the distant past, and try to match up their identities and actions with characters of today.

The North Dakota finale recalls that Gruber sometimes wrote about the Middle West: The Fourth Letter (1947) is set in Iowa.

The young bellboy is played entertainingly by Robert Gruber. One suspects this is a relative of Frank Gruber, getting to play a small role. Similarly, the airplane stewardess is David Janssen's sister Teri Janssen.

Newman Subjects

Twenty Plus Two contains a number of subjects that run through Joseph M. Newman's work. Most importantly, it deals with young people in danger. The plot centers on the search for a woman teenager who disappeared. Eventually, we learn of the genuinely serious difficulties which she encountered. This material is thoughtful, and has a feminist dimension.

On a lighter note, Jacques Pleschette (Jacques Aubuchon) is the sort of mysterious secondary character who appears that run through Newman films. Like some of the others, Pleschette is a smooth talker with a gift of gab. Pleschette, who is highly articulate with formal, old-fashioned manner of speaking, recalls a bit such characters as Kasper Gutman in The Maltese Falcon (1930) by Dashiell Hammett, and Nero Wolfe by Rex Stout.

Somewhat unexpectedly, there is a flashback to when the hero was in the Army. This recalls the hero of Love Nest, who is just out of the service. Both men wear sharp uniforms in some scenes, and are more commonly seen in civilian clothes in most of the film. Military service was universal among American men in this era, due to the draft. And since the USA was at peace in 1961, such service was not too controversial politically.

The finale of Twenty Plus Two is in a farm in North Dakota: one of many locations in rural areas of red states that run through Newman.

How an Organization Works

The hero is self-employed, and does not really have an organization. Unlike some other Newman films, there is no organization that gets an in-depth portrait throughout the whole running time of Twenty Plus Two. We do get a detailed look at the techniques the hero uses in his work of hunting missing heirs: the newspapers, files, phone calls, government contacts, private investigators, interviewing witnesses and experts. It is not an organization, but it is a business looked at with Newman's regular low key examination of detail.

A few organizations are treated in passing:

Science and Technology

Twenty Plus Two only occasionally has anything to do with science or technology. Most notable: the brief scenes at the airport. We meet another of Newman's pilot characters. The pilot is also wearing that Newman favorite, a leather jacket. Like many such leather jacket wearing men in Newman, the pilot is skilled and intelligent.

The hero makes lots of long distance phone calls. But unlike other Newman films, nothing too unusual is done with phone technology. He does have an operator trace a call. The tracing is unusually detailed for a film, going through more than one step, and resulting in more information than is typical in movies.

Information

A photostat is made of an old newspaper photograph. The photostat is then mailed. This is a key piece of information technology, showing how information is copied and distributed.

We also get a look inside a newspaper "morgue", and a look at how it stores its backlog of old newspapers. Later, we hear about the Library of Congress, and its duplicate collection of newspaper files, also used by the heroes. It is a good example of the central role the Library of Congress has always played in preserving and distributing information in the United States.

We learn about the hero's own extensive newspaper files. And the murder room at the fan mail service has filing cabinets, which contain information relevant to the crime.

Anti-Paranormal

Agnes Moorehead's vigorous denunciation of ESP as drivel, is consistent with the "scientific world view". It is in keeping with that era's respect for science and disdain for the pseudo-scientific.

Later, when a woman ascribes her ideas to "intuition", likely meaning the "female intuition" concept popular at the time, the hero demurs. He doesn't believe in intuition. Like the dismissal of ESP, this is an attack on a paranormal concept. It shows the hero's commitment to the "scientific world view".

Architecture

There is a slow camera movement along the facade of the building housing the fan letter service. This facade looks a bit like some of the huge buildings at Boulder Dam in 711 Ocean Drive.

The Circle Room night spot is mainly rectilinear, despite its name. Its bar does seem to be slightly curved, forming a huge circular arc.

The flashback begins and ends, with a look at circular light fixtures. These are replaced by a curved Japanese lantern.

We see the front of the hero's suburban house. The front steps are prominent, another of Newman's outdoor staircases.

Both the bar with the reporter, and the airplane aisle, can be seen as examples of Newman's corridors.

Depth Staging

A number of scenes have some fairly mild depth staging. These often employ a Newman staging, in which people first appear at the back of the set, then move forward to the front:

Brad Dexter

Brad Dexter has fun as the comically unpleasant movie actor. He conveys a smarmy, narcissistic image. His character is clearly trying to promote himself: there is a hilarious series of "glamour photos" of him on the wall of the fan mail service. He is also in sports clothes that seem "inappropriately casual", and which are contrasted with the hero's polished suits.

Brad Dexter usually does a memorable job with his bad guy roles. The man who Andrew Sarris once referred to as "villainous Brad Dexter" tends to liven up any picture in which he appears.

Dexter's Hollywood actor likes to pick up flashy-but-cheap women for superficial affairs. The Hollywood protagonist of The George Raft Story will also exhibit such behavior, something not endorsed by the director or the films. Raft likes longer term liaisons than Dexter's star, however.


A Thunder of Drums

How an Organization Works: The US Cavalry

A Thunder of Drums (1961) is a grim Western. Unlike 1950's Westerns, which depict a glamorized, escapist West in full color, this film tries to show how dismal and miserable the West was. It is especially structured to show all the bad aspects of Cavalry life. We are at a small, isolated troop outpost in Arizona. The commander (Richard Boone) is a disillusioned sour-ball, the troops are getting killed off like flies by marauders, funerals are common, the troop's uniforms are full of holes and in rags, and the lack of women leads to endless squabbling over the few around. The commander even has trouble keeping his payroll going. Such mundane financial matters are almost never mentioned in other Westerns, which tend to show people floating around the West with no visible means of support. Here we get a complete inside look at a Cavalry post and how it functions as a practical institution. Such a sociological study of an institution is a Newman trademark.

After an opening section setting forth many of these problems, the film sends a fresh young Lieutenant to join the troop. He is one of Newman's fish out of water, a typical Newman "man who has trouble fitting into a militarized, uniformed organization". He is played by George Hamilton, who often played rich, polished young men who were born with a silver spoon in their mouths: see Vincente Minnelli's Home From the Hill (1960).

I cannot say that I like A Thunder of Drums very much. Its grimness lacks entertainment value. Also, an expose of organizational problems in the 1870's US Cavalry lacks much current relevancy or interest. The film also seems poor in terms of storytelling and visual style.

Production Design: The 1950's Western Style

The look of the film is closer to 1950's Westerns, than it is to such later exposes of the West as Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971). Later Westerns tend to show the grinding poverty of the real old West, with everybody living in complete squalor. There does not even seem to be any color in later post 1970 Westerns, often times. A Thunder of Drums at least has the relatively glamorous fort and brightly colored costumes typical of the 1950's Western. It concentrates more on problems in the Cavalry than on the poverty of the West.


The George Raft Story

A Musical Bio-Pic

The George Raft Story (1961) is a bio-pic about real life actor-dancer George Raft. It has many dance numbers, and can also be considered a musical. Gangster film elements are also woven into the story, although The George Raft Story is not primarily a gangster film. While no masterpiece, The George Raft Story is a lot of fun.

Commenters often suggest that The George Raft Story is not especially realistic as a biography of George Raft. And certainly star Ray Danton doesn't much resemble the real George Raft in personality. However, my own feeling about this is "who cares?". The George Raft Story is a fun movie. Why not just enjoy it on its own terms?

Ray Danton

Ray Danton was often cast as villains, rather than as a hero. Even in his breakthrough lead in Budd Boetticher's The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (1960), he played a glamorous but vicious gangster.

The George Raft Story resembles The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond, both being period pieces where Danton is cast as a skilled dancer against a background of Prohibition era mobsters. Ray Danton is even dressed the same way in both films, oscillating between sharp three-piece suits and gangster-style glamorous tuxedos. But the George Raft character is mainly a good guy, unlike Legs Diamond. Raft is a bit too much of a love em and leave em ladies man. But otherwise he is mainly a sympathetic figure.

The George Raft Story was one of my Mother's favorite movies. She loved Danton's performance, and his many dance numbers. She asked me to find other Danton musicals - and I discovered that there don't seem to be any. In an ideal world, The George Raft Story would have been the start of a long series of dance films for the handsome, gifted dancer Danton. But Hollywood almost entirely stopped making original musicals around this time. The George Raft Story is one of the last films in a nearly extinct genre.

How Hollywood Works

The George Raft Story is full of scenes showing how Hollywood works, as a business. We see producers, directors, agents, films being shot, publicity. Newman films often show in detail how an organization works. The George Raft Story is a little different, in that it depicts a whole industry, Hollywood, instead of a single organization.

Still, it has that Newman emphasis on low key, interesting detail, revealing how a business runs. None of the Hollywood detail is especially new or shocking. But it is quite enjoyable to watch.

SPOILER. One amusing scene has the hero's suspenseful meeting with gang leader Al Capone, turn into a conversation about Hollywood filmmaking! This underscores in a humorous way, how inside looks at how Hollywood works, are a main structural feature of The George Raft Story.

Newman Character Types

Newman films sometimes have poor characters asking rich ones for help. The Gorshin character eventually becomes a figure somewhat like this. The hero winds up offering Gorshin a most welcome job. However, Gorshin is not as poor or as pathetic as some of these figures in other Newman films.

The hero also helps out mobster Benny Siegel, when he asks for a very large loan. This has part of the Newman paradigm: a man asking a rich figure for big help. However, gangster Siegel is really remote from the poor, powerless men who need help in more typical Newman films.

Newman films sometimes have characters who offer humorous comments on the action around them. In The George Raft Story, this role is sometimes assigned to agent Herschel Bernardi. His remarks about the huge Hollywood mansion the hero buys are a gem.

Architecture

The girlfriend lives in a New York City building with large outdoor steps, a Newman favorite. They recall the front steps of the rooming house in Love Nest. The hero makes a spectacular jump down them, in an action scene.

A maneuver staged on subway steps involves another outdoor staircase.

The alley outside the Chicago theater forms one of Newman's long corridors.

The Hollywood hotel where the hero first stays, is one of Newman's buildings with many disparate residents.

Technology

There is only a little about technology in The George Raft Story. We see sound and light equipment on the Hollywood sets.

A montage contrast motorcycle cops to the hero's dancing, an interesting effect.

The comedians make jokes about planes and trains.

Camera Movement and Long Takes

The credits are shown over a fine long-take camera movement sequence. The intricate sequence shows people in a night club. We see dancing patrons, and the hero moving through the crowd.

The comedians' act also involves long takes. These shots are mainly static, though, without much camera movement.

Pinstripe Suits

Low-level mob figure Frank Gorshin is first seen in a pinstripe suit. Other minor mob types in pinstripes soon follow.

SPOILER. But hero Ray Danton is NOT at first in pinstripes, instead wearing dressy three-piece suits in solid colors. In a coup of visual style, the hero is first seen in pinstripes later on, when he is playing a gangster in a Hollywood movie. This suggests that a gangster image is being artificially imposed on the hero, as part of his Hollywood persona.

The pinstripe suit the hero wears for his movie role is really loud, and conspicuously striped. It looks good. But it is much more emphatic than the pinstripes earlier worn by Gorshin, which were actually quite tasteful and business-like.


The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: Dear Uncle George

Dear Uncle George (1963) was the first episode Newman directed of the TV series, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

The hero's refreshingly non-stereotyped Asian secretary, shows the rise of Integration in TV casting of the early 1960's. Actress Alicia Li does a good job. Unfortunately, she seems to have had a very brief acting career.

How Organizations Work: The Police and the Paper

Dear Uncle George contains a bit of Newman's interest in organizations. The interactions between the about-to-retire policeman and his eager beaver young subordinate are comic, but also have an edge. They dramatize internal workings of the police. They are simpler than the elaborate portraits of organizations in other Newman films, though. Like several Newman organizations, the police in Dear Uncle George have a quasi-militaristic feel, with the subordinate regularly calling his superior "sir".

Similarly, we learn a bit about the columnist hero, his efficient secretary and his publisher. This too is less elaborate than in some Newman movies. Newspaper people run through Newman's work.

The apartment building is another Newman large area where disparate people live. The lady across the way who witnesses things plays a role in the plot. We also learn a little bit about how the apartment is run as an organization, with the superintendent and his relations with tenants.

Phone Technology

The most striking set shows a prison facility where prisoners and their visitors talk. It essentially consists of phone booths, in which the visitor and the convict talk over telephones. It is another of Newman's innovative uses of phone technology.

The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: Death of a Cop

Death of a Cop (1963) was the second episode Newman directed of the TV series, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

Death of a Cop has good dialogue. The script is by the talented Leigh Brackett. Characterization is in-depth. Scenes have a complex progression, with much of interest said by characters along the way.

Cast

Victor Jory is another of the character actor, non-star leads in a Newman film. He is effortlessly convincing in his characterization.

Peter Brown had just spent four years as the deputy on the Western TV series Lawman. His role as a young policeman in Death of a Cop is a variation on this. His ability to suggest a young but professional law enforcer makes his character believable.

The villains include character actor Rex Holman. Holman's ability to suggest decadent villains was honed in Western series like Lawman and The Rifleman, where he was memorable in Death Never Rides Alone (Joseph H. Lewis, 1962).

Organizations: The Police

The heroes are policemen. We get a detailed look at their organization. The police have some features of Newman organizations: The hero's police badge is perhaps a variant on the ID tags in other Newman films.

The bottling plant run by the crooks is as second organization. But its organizational aspects are not emphasized or explored.

Information

The hero uses a map to reconstruct the movements of another policeman. Maps run through Newman films.

We don't see reporters, but press coverage is discussed by the cops and crooks towards the end.

Depth Staging

The opening stakeout has some simple depth staging, with people seen in the background.

The shots looking down into the street from an upstairs window also show some simple depth staging. These shots include that Newman favorite, an outdoor staircase.

An odd shot looking up into a ceiling mirror or reflector in the morgue, can perhaps be seen as a kind of depth staging. Mainly however, this is an off-trail mirror shot.

Society

A character had a son who dies in Korea. This anticipates Newman's In Praise of Pip, which is likely the first American fiction TV show to depict casualties from the Vietnam War.

A patrolman near the end is black (Hari Rhodes). This shows the rise in Integration in casting in the early 1960's. The TV series Naked City had a bigger role for a black policeman (Terry Carter) in the episode C3H5(NO3)3 (William A. Graham, 1961).

Costumes

Young Peter Brown really looks like a cop. Despite his youth and good looks, he is instantly identifiable as a policeman. In part this is the square looking hat he and the other cops are wearing. Even by 1963, hats for men were becoming passe, and were being restricted to a few professions like the police. Brown's severe dark suit and tie also make him look like a policeman. Brown is often the man in the darkest suit on screen, making him stand out. Costume designer Burton Miller does a good job, in providing all of the cast with convincing looking suits that suggest their exact role within the police or mob.

It is villain Richard Jaeckel who gets that Newman standby, the leather jacket. Jaeckel's character is a bit working class - his official job is a working class function at the bottling plant. But he is mainly a hoodlum, not any sort of honest working man. And unlike other "working men in leather jackets" in Newman, he is not especially brainy.


The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: The Gentleman Caller

The Gentleman Caller (1964) was the fifth episode Newman directed of the TV series, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

The Gentleman Caller is an unexpectedly entertaining hour. It is full of detail. It also has an expert cast putting over its black comedy and its genteel atmosphere.

Organizations

SPOILERS. The little-old-lady heroine looks helpless. In many ways she is, small and apparently defenseless. But throughout the show, many organizations come to her aid: The implication is that, since the lady is honest, there are a large number of social organizations willing to intervene on her behalf. This gives her hidden strength and advantage, that crooks don't have.

Each of the organizations is just seen briefly, and none are explored in depth, unlike other Newman works. But the organizations are vividly sketched. Especially interesting is the gas company. It has some Newman features:

The Rooming House

The rooming house is another Newman area where diverse people are living together.

The house is quite racially integrated. This is a sign of the racial integration of the 1960's. It is also another indication that the little-old-lady is a good person, and hence has broad connections in society.

The Kitchen: A Corridor

The kitchen is one of Newman's corridors filled with technology: in this case, the cooking equipment. It is shorter than some of the corridors in Newman. Newman sometimes shoots straight down the kitchen, emphasizing its corridor-like nature.

The rooming house hall is another corridor. It too has a little technology: a phone. Unlike many Newman films, there is nothing unusual or innovative about the phone technology in The Gentleman Caller.

The Staircase

Newman likes outdoor staircases. The rooming house has a prominent staircase in its hall. But this staircase is indoors, not outside.

Costumes

The Gentleman Caller has sharp men's costumes, from Costume Supervisor Vincent Dee.

Roddy McDowall looks great in Kennedy era suits and dress shirts. This whole Mad Men look is hard to beat. While at his girlfriend's, he is in a white dress shirt; while calling on the little-old-lady, he is fully dressed with his suit coat on. This visually underscores the drastically different codes of behavior in the two locales: Mod at the girlfriend's, old-fashioned and mannerly at the lady's.

The various uniforms worn by organization men are also sharp. Their difference from McDowall's suit makes the men wearing them seem from a different part of society. They are from organizations, and uniformed; McDowall is a criminal and on his own.

A workman is briefly seen in that Newman standard, a leather jacket. This is not the man who would most typically in Newman get such a jacket: the brainy working guy from the gas company. Instead, the gas man is uniformed.


The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: Body in the Barn

Body in the Barn (1964) was the sixth episode Newman directed of the TV series, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. It is a grim, downbeat work, and not recommended.

Crime Plot and Characters

Body in the Barn stars Lillian Gish. Unfortunately, Gish's character is a nasty, mean-spirited snoop, and Gish skillfully plays her accordingly. It is not fun to watch. Body in the Barn is an example of a Newman film starring a character actor.

The neighbor woman (Patricia Cutts) is equally mean in speech. She is a Newman character falsely accused of lying. The tensions among the neighbors, and the eventual suspicion and accusations of bad behavior and lying, recall Red Skies of Montana in mood.

SPOILER. The neighbor woman's husband mysteriously disappears, like the husband in Dangerous Crossing. The two plots are developed differently - but the same character is responsible in both stories.

Organizations

SPOILER. A miscarriage of justice is at the center of Body in the Barn. The film stresses that the whole county, as a judicial entity, has failed. This makes the county, with its police, courts and medical investigators all to blame, one of Newman's failed organizations.

We see quite a few county officials of various types. But this is not a full-fledged, in-depth Newman investigation of an organization, of the sort found in other Newman films.

The county is in some unspecified rural area: also a Newman tradition.

The barn is the closest this film comes to having a technological location, although calling the barn such a tech locale is a stretch.


The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: Misadventure

Misadventure (1964) was the eighth episode Newman directed of the TV series, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

The two lead characters of Misadventure are selfish, opportunistic and pretty unpleasant people. Misadventure is not a fun viewing experience as a whole. Individual parts can be witty, but much of it seems oddly disturbing, even nightmarish. SPOILER. It centers on that at-one-time popular story subject, "adulterous people who want to kill their spouses, using The Perfect Murder". I've never liked this premise, and Misadventure doesn't improve my feelings towards it!

SPOILER. I thought it was fairly plausible when early in the show, the sex-crazed heroine lets herself be seduced by this manipulative stranger. It was less plausible that she'd let him talk her into murder. Hey: adultery is common, murder is not.

A High Tech World: Underground

Newman films often have regions filled with high technology, often underground. These can be quite elaborate, like the underground physics laboratory in This Island Earth. In Misadventure we have something simpler, but analogous: the basement of the house contains gas equipment; meters, pipes, valves, levers. These play a key role in the plot.

All we see of this basement is a simple staircase. It has the gas equipment on its right-hand side. This staircase also serves as one of Newman's corridors filled with technology.

The "house with technology in the basement" recalls Love Nest. The sexy comedy in Misadventure also somewhat recalls that in Love Nest.

The hero sets up an artificial leak in the gas, near the beginning of Misadventure. This is quickly fixed. This seems related to the Newman subject of technology temporarily failing.

The heroine at one point says about police labs "The police have all those scientific things." This is a vague, but highly accurate statement!

Social Class

Midway through the film, poorer man Barry Nelson pleads with rich man George Kennedy for financial help. This is one of several scenes in Newman films, of poor men going to the rich for assistance. As usual, Newman's sympathy is with the poor men. Nelson asks purely for money, whereas in some other films the poorer man specifically asks for help with his work.

The hero being a "gas man" recalls earlier working class heroes in Newman, such as the phone repairman hero of 711 Ocean Drive. Like that earlier man, this hero is unexpectedly brainy. Both men are expert with technology.

SPOILER. Later we learn that the hero is Not What He Seems. This is a bit like the government agents pretending to be working men in Know Your Money and Death in Small Doses. However, those agents did it for a good cause; the hero of Misadventure is self-seeking and corrupt.

The hero's background, real goals and nature are mysterious throughout much of Misadventure. Newman films sometimes have a "mysterious secondary character who runs through them". The man in Misadventure is equally mysterious, but he differs in being the hero, not a secondary or supporting character.

SPOILER. The backstory about the hero's son recalls Coffins on Wheels. Dialogue in Misadventure links it to the hero's lack of money, and George Kennedy's failure to help him financially. Implicitly, this links the subject to "social class".

Costumes

The hero's Gas Company uniform is mainly an overall, worn over regular clothes. Such outer, covering garments are a Newman tradition. In Misadventure, as in earlier Newman films, they are quite glamorous. The Gas Company uniform is light colored, like earlier Newman garments.

SPOILER. When the hero strips off this working class uniform, revealing an expensive, upper middle class suit beneath it, it is a startling, highly effective moment. It creates a perverse charge.


The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: An Unlocked Window

An Unlocked Window (1965) was the ninth episode Newman directed of the TV series, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

An Unlocked Window is something of a prized cult item among horror fans. They find it especially scary and suspenseful. Unfortunately, I'm am not a horror fan, and am typically unable to be scared or entertained by horror films. I didn't respond at all to An Unlocked Window, and don't find it an interesting movie.

Links to This Island Earth

This Island Earth (especially the scenes in the mansion serving as research lab) mildly anticipates An Unlocked Window in a number of ways:

The Short Story

An Unlocked Window is based on a short story by Welsh writer Ethel Lina White. It is a variant of her novel Some Must Watch (1933), filmed as The Spiral Staircase (1945) by director Robert Siodmak. The short story and novel have much in common. Both are Old Dark House mysteries with a serial killer preying on women.

An Unlocked Window is a good short story. Its ending is fairly similar to that of the TV film version. However, like most of Ethel Lina White's work, it is set in Britain.

An Unlocked Window is in a number of anthologies. The easiest to find is perhaps English Country House Murders (1989) edited by Thomas Godfrey.


The Twilight Zone: In Praise of Pip

An early work about the Vietnam War

In Praise of Pip (1963) was the first episode Newman directed of the TV series, The Twilight Zone. On its DVD commentary, actor Bill Mumy says it was the first American TV series to depict casualties from the Vietnam War. This makes the show a sociological landmark.

In Praise of Pip contains three separate subplots, which are wildly disparate in tone and content. One shows Pip in Vietnam; one shows his father as a small-time bookie back in the USA; and finally, we get a fantasy finale at an amusement park. The Vietnam segments are remarkable in bringing up a major social issue - but brief. The bookie melodrama is not very interesting. And the finale is rich in visual spectacle.

The Amusement Park

The finale was shot on location at a real amusement park in Los Angeles (apparently near Santa Monica). It resembles the end of 711 Ocean Drive, which was also shot at a real location, Boulder Dam. Both locales are visually spectacular. And in both, Newman pulls out all the stops to make a pictorially splendid sequence.

The hero of 711 Ocean Drive was often seen moving down long corridors in Boulder Dam. The house of mirrors in In Praise of Pip is shot so that it looks as if the characters are in deep, mirrored corridors. They are surrounded by metal frames, just as the corridors in Boulder Dam seemed full of high tech fixtures.

The ferris wheel is an example of the circular architecture seen in Newman.

How an Organization Works: The Army Medical Corps

While brief, the Vietnam scenes have a similar approach to other Newman films, in that they show how some organization works. Here, we see the process of how US Army medics treat a wounded soldier. It is very much a formal, systematic process.

The bookie scenes also explain how a gambling mob works. They bring the hero into conflict with his boss: a frequent Newman subject.

The lead is played by Jack Klugman. At that time, he was definitely a character actor, rather than a star. Newman frequently has character performers in leads.


The Twilight Zone: Black Leather Jackets

WARNING: SPOILERS

A Science Fiction film

Black Leather Jackets (1964) was the third episode Newman directed of the TV series, The Twilight Zone.

The Twilight Zone has routinely been labeled "science fiction", ever since it was first broadcast. But many of its episodes are actually fantasy or supernatural, not science fiction. Black Leather Jackets is distinctive in the series in being an actual science fiction show.

Black Leather Jackets resembles the early scenes of Newman's own This Island Earth (1955), in:

Black Leather Jackets also resembles a film Neman did not direct, I Married a Monster from Outer Space (Gene Fowler, Jr., 1958). Both films: The worst part of Black Leather Jackets is the subplot about bacteriological warfare. This is nightmarish, and distasteful as a subject of "entertainment". It does reflect Newman traditions, in echoing Newman's least appetizing film, Respect the Law (1941), a Crime Does Not Pay episode which shows rats spreading bubonic plague.

Newman themes

Black Leather Jackets reflects Newman themes:

Costumes

It would be interesting to know who did the costumes for The Twilight Zone. The costume designer is not credited on-screen. And understandably enough, the IMDB has no costume credits either.

The costumes for Black Leather Jackets are some of the spiffiest motorcycle outfits in the history of the cinema. These guys have really been glamorized to the max.


The Big Valley: The Way to Kill a Killer

The Way to Kill a Killer (1965) was the only episode Newman directed of the TV series, The Big Valley. It seems to be Newman's final film. It is a quiet, but pleasantly intelligent work. In its modest way, it explores a lot of interesting topics. The reader is urged to see this film, before reading further.

WARNING: SPOILERS

How Organizations Work: Cattle Ranches, and Race Relations

The Way to Kill a Killer adheres to Newman's basic approach: a film that shows in methodical detail how an organization works. Here we look at cattle ranches in the 19th Century American West. Newman is just as methodical in this Western setting as he is any modern day story. A good deal of detail is set forth on how both the large Barkley and new, small Montoya cattle raising outfits work. The struggles of the small start-up Montoya outfit perhaps recall those of the new apartment building owner couple in Love Nest.

Perhaps more surprisingly, the film also adopts an "organizational" approach to race relations. After all, the racial system is a social organization, too. The Way to Kill a Killer sets forth its many complex twists and turns in logical detail. Here the relations are between Anglo whites and Hispanic Americans. The organizational approach allows for an illuminating film, that reaches fairly deep into some of the complexities of the race relationship.

The Way to Kill a Killer bears the world view of 1960's exploration into race, reflecting the national conversation going on during the Civil Rights movement. It includes in its mix white Liberal Guilt. Frankly, I found this refreshingly realistic. For quite a while discussions in the USA of 2008 have been controlled by shrill, hard core right wing racism. It is nice to see some different and more liberal points of view emerge out of the cinematic time machine from 1965.

A Scientific and Medical Drama

The Way to Kill a Killer is in the tradition of Newman's other science-based films. The Way to Kill a Killer specifically recalls Respect the Law, which also was about an attempt to control an epidemic. However, it is far from being any sort of retread of the earlier film.

The Way to Kill a Killer is a low budget TV show. It does not have the spectacle of some other Newman works. It has only two medical workers, not the large crews of scientists seen in some other Newman films.

Nor are there any specialized medical costumes or uniforms. Nick Barkley (Peter Breck) wears the same leather vest he usually wears in other Big Valley episodes: this might relate to the Newman characters in modern day films who wear leather jackets.