Category Archives: Television

Sentence of Death (1953, Matt Harlib)

Sentence of Death unfolds gradually. The action mostly follows Betsy Palmer, playing a naughty blue blood who the tabloids love to cover. She’s slumming it and having a nice private dinner at a drug store. She’s there when someone holds it up and kills the owner.

Enter cops Gene Lyons and Ralph Dunn. Lyons is the younger, more sensitive one. Dunn is the older, lazy one. They round up suspects based on previous behavior and new widow Virginia Vincent identifies James Dean as the murderer. Palmer does not, but also doesn’t say it isn’t him for sure.

Dunn railroads Dean with Lyons nodding along, albeit hesitantly.

Jump ahead until after Dean’s convicted and on death row (hence the title) and Palmer happens to see the man she saw that night. She tries to convince the cops without much success and has to threaten to use her tabloid platform if they don’t investigate. Eventually she convinces Lyons to look into the matter.

When Sentence opens, Palmer’s just annoying. Adrian Spies’s teleplay goes out of its way to make her unlikable. Same goes for Dunn. Dean gets some great material–or just does great things with it–as he realizes he’s in a lot of trouble. For most of that time, before the story jumps ahead, Lyons is just along for the ride. He perturbed banters with Palmer, not much else.

Once they partner to investigate, however, Lyons gets a lot better. Dunn’s failures as a responsible cop wear Lyons down. He also can’t help finding himself interested in Palmer, who proves to have a bit more depth than anyone thought she did.

Palmer’s good once the action gets started. Dean’s only got a couple scenes, he’s excellent in both. Lyons gets good too, though more than anyone else in Sentence he gets too stagy, too exaggerated. Director Harlib doesn’t do much to rein in performances.

Sentence of Death has a surprising twist at the end, some excellent character development, and some nice performances. The wrap up is a little rushed. Not too much, but a little.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Matt Harlib; teleplay by Adrian Spies, based on a story by Thomas Walsh; “Studio One” created by Fletcher Markle; produced by John Haggott; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Gene Lyons (Sgt. Paul Cochran), Betsy Palmer (Ellen Morrison), Ralph Dunn (Sgt. MacReynolds), James Dean (Joe Palica), Virginia Vincent (Mrs. Sawyer), Tony Bickley (Tommy Elliott), Fred J. Scollay (Harry Sawyer), Henry Sharp (Eugene Krantz), Eda Heinemann (Sylvia Krantz), Charles Mendick (District Attorney Lugash), and Frank Biro (The Man).


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Spider-Man: The Dragon’s Challenge (1979, Don McDougall)

Some of The Dragon’s Challenge’s problems are because it’s a TV two-parter stuck together then packaged as a theatrical. An overseas theatrical, but still a theatrical feature. The action in the first half takes place in New York, with some cuts to villain Richard Erdman making plans. He needs to get a Chinese official out of the way so he can build a steel plant.

When the Chinese official (Benson Fong) heads to New York, Erdman sends touch guy Hagan Beggs after him. Better to assassinate him in New York than Hong Kong.

Except Fong’s in New York with a purpose–get help from Robert F. Simon and the Daily Bugle. Enter Nicholas Hammond and, pretty quickly, Spider-Man. Fong’s got a niece, played by Rosalind Chao, who thinks Hammond’s a coward for running off. Little does she know he’s running off to change into his Spider-Man outfit and save the day.

The second half takes place in Hong Kong. Much of it shot in Hong Kong. When the Spider-Man stuntman is dangling alongside a huge Hong Kong skyscraper, Dragon’s Challenge delivers on something it hadn’t really been serious about. Even though director McDougall is clearly thrilled to be shooting on location in Hong Kong, nothing in Lionel E. Siegel’s teleplay sets anything up for Spider-Man. It doesn’t even set anything up for Nicholas Hammond. The Hong Kong stuff is entirely about the villains hunting Hammond, Chao, and soon-to-be government witness John Milford. Until they get attacked, however, it’s a travelogue with this odd trio.

Hammond and Chao have no chemistry. It’s Hammond’s fault. He ignores Chao in the first half, then condescends in the second. It’s because he’s sweet on her, it turns out. Milford’s fine, but not any fun. The travelogue still can get away with it because it turns out they’re on location.

There’s a car chase in Hong Kong and then a helicopter chase. Oh, and a boat chase. And Spider-Man lets the bad guys get away. For maybe the second time in Dragon’s Challenge. Hammond makes some bad superhero decisions throughout.

Series regulars Chip Fields and Ellen Bry don’t get anything to do and barely make an impression. Particularly Bry. Even though she and Hammond get a very romantic setup–using New York location shots–they don’t have anything going on in Dragon’s Challenge. Mostly because Hammond’s weird subplot about Chao not liking him infests the first half. It’s silly.

Chao’s good. She’s got lousy material and no energy from Hammond but she’s a great guest star. Simon’s got some strong scenes with Fong. Beggs is a fine bad guy, even if he is an idiot who whines about his inability to plot assassinations. It’s more amusing than when Hammond mopes about Chao thinking he’s a coward. Those scenes are just awful.

Hammond’s part in Dragon’s Challenge is thin. His job is to run out and become Spider-Man then have no excuse when Spider-Man gets done so everyone is an idiot for not realizing the obvious.

It’s nice to see Fields, even if it’s only for a few scenes.

Fine editing from Erwin Dumbrille and Fred Roth.

The Dragon’s Challenge has got some decent pieces and it’s far from unbearable; it’s still closer to unbearable than any good.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Don McDougall; teleplay by Lionel E. Siegel, based on characters created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; “The Amazing Spider-Man” created by Alvin Boretz; director of photography, Vincent A. Martinelli; edited by Erwin Dumbrille and Fred Roth; music by Dana Kaproff; produced by Siegel; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Nicholas Hammond (Spider-Man / Peter Parker), Robert F. Simon (J. Jonah Jameson), Chip Fields (Rita Conway), Ellen Bry (Julie Masters), Rosalind Chao (Emily Chan), Hagan Beggs (Evans), Richard Erdman (Mr. Zeider), John Milford (Professor Roderick Dent ), and Benson Fong (Min Lo Chan).


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The B.R.A.T. Patrol (1986, Mollie Miller)

The B.R.A.T. Patrol is about a group of kids on an airforce base who discover one of the MPs is selling military hardware to literal junk yard arms dealers. None of the adults believe them because it’s a “Wonderful World of Disney” movie and there are rules. There are limits and there are rules. B.R.A.T. Patrol frequently bumps into the limits–if director Miller just had wider establishing shots, the movie would have some scale. But it plays well with the rules. Miller and writers Chris “Yes, the ‘X-Files’” Carter and Michael Patrick Goodman never lose track of the main kids, even when some of them get crap duty.

Nia Long gets the most crap duty, but then she gets to be part of the awesome chase sequence at the end. She gets to ride the dirt bikes. She doesn’t get to do anything cool on the dirt bikes, but then neither does Jason Presson, who kind of has the biggest role. He’s the kid who doesn’t just want to go along with what lead kid Sean Astin says. Sean Astin–and his stunt bike rider–are the only ones who get to do cool things during the dirt bike sequence.

There’s probably a lot to unpack in “Wonderful World of Disney” episodes. Let’s just say Astin is the William Shatner of the bunch, only Miller doesn’t direct a performance out of him and so his deliveries are all flat. He’s an Eddie Haskall type, from the era of rehabilitating the trope. He should be funny, but he’s not. He’s not even mean in his callousness. He’s just got a role to play.

At least Presson tries a little. His part’s terribly written–B.R.A.T. Patrol has adults but no parents and Presson gets the subplot about being afraid of punishment. Fail to stop an arms deal? Get stabbed? Presson’s parents might ground him. Without the parents, there’s nothing to back up the fear. And Miller doesn’t even try to help with it. She’s got a hands off approach with the actors, which does work to her favor. Since the teleplay has so little for the other three kids–Long, Dylan Kussman, and Dustin Berkovitz–seeing the kids mug without trying to mug passes the time. It gives them some personality, even if the script doesn’t.

Astin doesn’t have any personality. He’s just supposed to be obnoxious, but adorable obnoxious. Versus Joe Wright as the leader of the base’s Young Marines. He’s just supposed to be obnoxious without being adorable. Watching Astin and Wright bicker is one of the movie’s most frequent irritations. Once it’s established the Young Marines aren’t actual threats, the interactions are increasingly tedious. Wright and Billy Jayne are trying to stop Astin and company from winning a “Youth Service Award,” which Astin and company don’t seem to know anything about.

They’re stopping the arms dealers for the right reasons, not to get any awards.

Tim Thomerson is the MP who secretly thinks Astin and the gang are all right. Brian Keith is the base commander who’s flummoxed by children’s behavior. Keith’s fine. Thomerson’s almost better; the first act implies he might get an actual part, but he doesn’t.

And Stephen Lee is good at as the dirty MP. You believe he wants to harm Astin, making him an actual threat. Same goes for junk yard arms dealer John Quade. B.R.A.T. Patrol’s thriller thread is pretty darn effective.

Good photography from Fred J. Koenekamp, even if Miller needs to open up the establishing shots more. It’s a Disney TV movie, it only has to look so good but Koenekamp is far above the bare minimum. Fine editing from Barbara Palmer Dixon and Glenn Farr. The editing gets good for the last third, even if the script dawdles.

The B.R.A.T. Patrol is sort of racing with itself. Can the movie end before Astin hits critical mass and becomes too obnoxious. No. But it does acknowledge Astin’s too obnoxious. That acknowledgement is something.

Wait, can’t forget the production design. Ray Storey’s production design is outstanding. Since Miller’s establishing shots are so problematic, the locations never get established. But the way Storey’s able to match the actual air base exteriors with the plot set pieces? Outstanding.

But, yeah, B.R.A.T. Patrol is fine. Enough.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Mollie Miller; written by Chris Carter and Michael Patrick Goodman; “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” created by Walt Disney; director of photography, Fred J. Koenekamp; edited by Barbara Palmer Dixon and Glenn Farr; music by Jonathan Tunick; production designer, Ray Storey; produced by Mark H. Ovitz; aired by the American Broadcasting Company.

Starring Sean Astin (Leonard), Jason Presson (McGeorge), Nia Long (Darla), Dylan Kussman (Bug), Dustin Berkovitz (Squeak), Joe Wright (Newmeyer), Billy Jayne (Whittle), Tim Thomerson (Maj. Hackett), Stephen Lee (Phillips), John Quade (Knife), and Brian Keith (Gen. Newmeyer).


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The Dark, Dark Hours (1954, Don Medford)

The Dark, Dark Hours is the story of two desperate beatnik gunmen who just pulled a job and one of them took a bullet. They need a doctor and they find Ronald Reagan. The beatniks are James Dean and Jack Simmons. Simmons is the shot one. Dean’s the moody one whose undoubtedly tragic life has led him to being a beatnik outlaw.

Sometimes they need to listen to some bops to get right.

Meanwhile, Reagan’s got a wife, Constance Ford, who thinks he’s letting these two punk kids push him around. Is Reagan a coward or is he just following the Hippocratic Oath? Does it even matter?

Dean gets some speeches, Reagan gets some speeches, Ford gets some speeches. Reagan and Ford get close-ups from director Medford; they’re good solid people, not beatniks like Dean. Dean is mostly in medium shots, usually having to share the frame. He only gets close-ups after his comuppance.

Dark, Dark Hours isn’t so much predictable as never surprising. Medford directs the episode pretty well, particularly the opening with Dean and Simmons arriving at the house. Medford doesn’t bring much tension to it. Arthur Steuer’s teleplay doesn’t have much tension–really, it’s just speeches from Dean about being a sad beatnik thug. He’s probably on the reefer or something.

Dean’s fine. It’s not like he’s got some great monologues to perform. Same for Reagan. Ford’s too annoying.

It’s not a terrible twenty-five minutes but it’s also not particularly worth seeing.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Don Medford; teleplay by Arthur Steuer, based on a story by Henry Kane; produced by Mort Abrahams; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Ronald Reagan (Joe), James Dean (Bud), Constance Ford (Betty), and Jack Simmons (Pee Wee).


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