Monday, January 25, 2010

JDM on Television, Part 3

More of my attempt to set the JDM-on-TV record straight...

11. "The Deep End"

Broadcast on January 2, 1964 as an episode of the anthology series Kraft Suspense Theatre. Based on the novel The Drowner, published in June 1963. Adapted by Jonathan Hughes.

Starring Ellen Burstyn (billed as Ellen McRae) as Barbara Sherwood/Lucille Benton, Aldo Ray as Sam Kimber, Clu Gulager as Dan Walsh, and Tina Lousie as Angela Powell.

Kraft Suspense Theatre was a filmed anthology series that ran two seasons, from 1963 to 1965. "The Deep End" appeared in the middle of the first season. The episodes were an hour long and shot in black and white. The Drowner was one of JDM's rare attempts at straight private eye fiction, although it appears from the credits above that the PI's name has been changed from Paul Staniel to Sam Kimber.

Never officially released on video or DVD, unauthorized copies of the show's complete run are easily obtainable.

12. "The Trap of Solid Gold"

Broadcast on January 4, 1967 as an episode of the anthology series ABC Stage 67. Based on the short story of the same name, published in the April 1960 issue of Ladies' Home Journal. Adapted by Ellen M, Voilett.

Starring Cliff Robertson as Ben Weldon, Dina Merrill as Ginny Weldon, John Baragrey as Ed Bartlett, Dustin Hoffman as J.J. Semmins and Bernard Hughes as Lathrop Hyde.

ABC Stage 67 ran a single season, from 1966 to 1967. The shows were an hour in length and shot on a combination of video tape and film. This was the first JDM adaptation to be done in color. A good, if muted, adaptation, the acting is excellent and the teleplay faithful. I've written extensively on it both here and here.

Never officially released on video or DVD, copies are out there.

13. "Cry Hard, Cry Fast"

Broadcast in two parts on November 22 and November 29, 1967 as episodes of the series Run For Your Life. Based on the novel of the same name, published in July 1955. Adapted by Luther Davis, John D MacDonald and Robert Hamner.

Starring Ben Gazzara, Jack Albertson, James Farentino, Charles Aidman, Diana Muldaur and Joan Van Ark.

Run For Your Life ran for three seasons, from 1965 to 1968. Begun as an episode of Kraft Suspense Theatre, the show follows Ben Gazzara as Paul Bryan, a successful lawyer who is told by his doctor that he will die in one to two years. He decides to do all of the things he has never had time to do. The show was, for all intents, an anthology series, albeit with a reoccurring character, a format that was used in other series of the era such as Route 66 and The Fugitive. "Cry Hard, Cry Fast" was part of the series' last season and is one of three two-part episodes done during the run (one each season).

The Bibliography reports that JDM received credit for co-authoring the teleplay which, if correct, would be his only such credit. In an item that appeared in his JDM Bibliophile column ten years later, Walter Shine contradicted what he had written earlier, by quoting JDM's thoughts on the adaptation:

"I never visited the set for this one, never had anything to do with it once I signed the contract. But I was satisfied with the results. Much of my dialogue remained intact, and the material made a successful transition from the story form to television. And the character and the action seemed well suited to Gazzara, so all in all I was happy with it."

After viewing a rerun on television, Shine reported that "on the whole, the spirit of the novel is maintained," even though major characters -- like truck driver Stanley Cherrik -- were omitted.

The series has yet to be released on DVD, but bootleg copies circulate.


Broadcast in May 1968 as a CBS Television Movie. Based on an extensive outline by JDM. Screenplay by Gil Ralston.

Starring Richard Boone, Vera Miles, Joan Blondell and Duane Eddy(!)

In the mid-sixties JDM was approached by producers at Seven Arts and asked to come up with an idea for a dramatic television series. He responded with something he called Bimini Gal. In JDM Bibliophile 9 (1968) he explained a bit of the background:

"The only thing I have ever done which could be classed as a 'screenwork' was to do a so-called styling of a possible television show. About fifty pages, I think, which included six outlines of sequences. I put the locale in the Bahamas, and called it 'Bimini Gal,' and hoped they could get Mitchum to do it. (They being Seven Arts.) Well, that was a couple of years ago, and Seven Arts bought Warner Brothers, and they got Richard Boone to do it, and changed the locale to Hawaii, and changed the title to 'Kona Coast,' and changed it from a series to a movie for first showing on CBS television."

The resulting made-for-television movie ran 93 minutes and was shot in color. Some reports indicate that it was filmed as a pilot for a possible series, but I can't confirm that. The new title was originally changed to Hula Gal, but Producer/Director Lamont Johnson eventually settled on KONA COAST. I saw it once on television, many years ago, and recall it as a supremely boring and uneventful film, and a total waste of the talents of such great actors as Boone, Miles and Blondell. Boone played Sam Moran, the ex-thief-now-captain of a tramp steamer, whose daughter is found murdered at a millionaire's party. The character Blondell played -- a crusty old dame named Kittibell Lightfoot -- seemed to be the inspiration for Lottie Hatfield, the part she would essay in the television series Here Come the Brides. Rock 'n' Roll icon Duane Eddy had a small part as Tiger Cat, one of his few dramatic acting roles, likely due to his association with Boone and Johnson: he had acted in a couple of episodes of Boone's early-sixties television series Have Gun Will Travel, where Johnson had directed.

MacDonald, despite being rather ill-served by Hollywood once again, apparently was well paid for the effort but not happy with the result. According to biographer Hugh Merrill, MacDonald once said "The few people who have seen that pilot on the tube -- in random places, usually very late at night -- have thrown up."


Broadcast on November 3, 1973 as an ABC Saturday Suspense Movie of the Week. Based on the novella of the same name, published in the 1956 book Border Town Girl, and later in the March 1959 issue of Climax. Adapted by Merwin Gerard.

Starring Stella Stevens as Linda Reston, John McIntire as Marshall Journeyman, Ed Nelson as Paul Reston and John Saxon as Jeff Braden.

Shot in beautiful Technicolor, LINDA was a fairly faithful adaptation of the MacDonald novella and ran a tight 73 minutes (the ABC Saturday Suspense Movie of the Week was shown in a 90-minute timeslot). I saw this many years ago and again recently. Taken on its own terms (a relatively cheap made-for-TV movie) the filmmakers did a good job of bringing MacDonald to the screen, with Stella Stevens laying down a particularly fine performance in the title role. Ed Nelson does less-well in the first third of the film, looking as if he's acting in a high school play, but improves greatly from the recollection scene on. That's when MacDonald's dialogue begins to be used to a greater extent and the entire sound of the film changes. The plot involves two friendly couples who vacation together at the beach, and where the husband of one couple is having an affair with the wife of the other (Linda). Linda shoots and kills her lover's spouse and frames her own husband for the crime. Told in first person by MacDonald, the film contains a couple of jarring third person omniscient POV scenes that are basically unnecessary. The film was directed by Jack Smight, who spent years working in television before graduating to feature films (he directed the adaptation of author Ross Macdonald's The Moving Target, titled Harper).

There's never been an official video release of this film, although there are bootleg copies around. LINDA was both Stella Stevens' and John McIntire's second JDM adaptation, as she was previously in MAN TRAP and McIntire was in the Studio 57 version of "The Homesick Buick," called "Getaway Car". LINDA was remade in 1993 as yet another made-for-TV movie, starring Virginia Madsen and Richard Thomas, a version that was inferior to this production.

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