Tag Archives: S. Lee Pogostin

Something for an Empty Briefcase (1953, Don Medford)

For a while, it seems like Something for an Empty Briefcase is going to have some grit. It’s set in a rough New York neighborhood, albeit constructed out of cardboard (Briefcase is a “TV play”). Lead James Dean is a recently released ex-con who’s looking for one big score to get him into a new life. So it’s strange when it turns out that big score is mugging Ohioan immigrant Susan Douglas Rubes. She’s willing to risk her well-being to pursue her ballet dreams. Dean’s just looking for a score. And a Briefcase. He really wants a briefcase.

It later turns out Dean’s a great pool hustler so there’s no reason he’d have to mug Rubes or anyone else. But S. Lee Pogostin’s teleplay is pretty weak. Dean’s got some great scenes in the first half and Rubes seems like she’s going to have some good material, but it all goes in the second half.

Instead of being about Dean and Rubes, it’s about Dean and local crime lord Robert Middleton. Dean wants out. Middleton won’t let him out. And previously mildly annoying didactic themes increase until they’re drowning out everything else. Dean’s performance suffers, though nowhere near as bad as Rubes’s.

Dean’s supposed to be a numbskull punk, Rubes is the one smart enough to make her dreams happen. But she gives him a dictionary (for his Briefcase) and it changes his life. Well, not as much as the next book he gets. No spoilers but it’s real obvious.

The writing for Dean and Rubes is uneven the first half, but not bad. Both actors do well with it, though Dean gets a little erratic at times. Director Medford follows Dean through his performance, not really directing him. Well, hopefully he’s not directing him because the histronics are way too loud. Also because Pogostin’s writing isn’t there.

Something for an Empty Briefcase is almost half good, which isn’t bad all things considered.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Don Medford; television play by S. Lee Pogostin; “Campbell Summer Soundstage” produced by Martin Horrell; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring James Dean (Joe), Susan Douglas Rubes (Noli), Don Hanmer (Mickey), Robert Middleton (Sloane), Frank Maxwell (Lou), and Peter Gumeny (The Policeman).


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High Road to China (1983, Brian G. Hutton)

Upon hearing John Barry’s beautiful opening titles music, I realized it was unlikely High Road to China would live up to its score. It does not. It does, however, at times, come rather close.

The film takes place in the twenties, with Bess Armstrong as a flapper who hires WWI veteran Tom Selleck to fly her to Afghanistan to find her father. Selleck’s rough and tumble, Armstrong’s perky and assured; they don’t get along. But unfortunately, Road isn’t a travel picture. The 1,200 mile part of their journey is done completely between scenes. It cuts down on the bantering between the two–but also cuts down on their expected romance.

About thirty minutes in, after they reach Afghanistan, the plotting becomes more predictable. They encounter a warlord–Brian Blessed camping it up in brown-face–and have to escape. Then they get another passenger (Cassandra Gava, in the film’s worst performance) and discover they have to keep going. It should be a quest picture… but it’s not.

Jack Weston is excellent as Selleck’s sidekick. For most of the runtime, the film’s salient character relationship is between the two men; both are broken down and marking time. None of the other actors make an impression–except Robert Morley. He’s awful.

Armstrong and Selleck are both fantastic; Armstrong gets a little more to do.

Besides the weak plotting, the film’s real drawback is director Hutton. Even when he’s competent, his work is never good enough for the actors.

Still, it’s not bad.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Brian G. Hutton; screenplay by Sandra Weintraub and S. Lee Pogostin, based on the novel by Jon Cleary; director of photography, Ronnie Taylor; edited by John Jympson; music by John Barry; production designer, Robert W. Laing; produced by Fred Weintraub; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Bess Armstrong (Eve), Tom Selleck (O’Malley), Jack Weston (Struts), Wilford Brimley (Bradley Tozer), Robert Morley (Bentik), Brian Blessed (Suleman Khan), Cassandra Gava (Alessa), Michael Sheard (Charlie), Lynda La Plante (Lina), Timothy Carlton (Officer), Shayur Mehta (Ahmed), Terry Richards (Ginger), Robert Lee (Zura), Anthony Chinn (General Wong), Ric Young (Kim Su Lee), Timothy Bateson (Alec Wedgeworth) and Wolf Kahler (Von Hess).