Thursday, March 30, 2023



Legendary actor Alan Ladd was certainly no stranger to B movies. Before he became an overnight sensation in the classic THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942), Ladd had been acting in the movies for ten years, often in low budget programmers and sometimes uncredited. It wasn't until he met actress-turned-Hollywood agent Sue Carol, whom he eventually married, that his fortunes began to rise. His first film as Carol's client was RULERS OF THE SEA (1939). After that, he began to work more frequently, but still in mostly small roles. In 1940, Ladd appeared in eleven features, one serial (THE GREEN HORNET), and four short subjects. In 1941, he made seven features, including Universal's THE BLACK CAT, a brief appearance at the end of CITIZEN KANE, and two short subjects.

His small role in 1942's JOAN OF PARIS got him enough attention for RKO to offer him a contract paying $400 per week. But he turned down that offer for a better chance at Paramount. Ladd won the part of Raven the hired killer in THIS GUN FOR HIRE and signed a long-term contract with the studio. Paired with the new sultry screen queen Veronica Lake, Alan Ladd had found his niche. He and Lake followed with another hit the same year, THE GLASS KEY. Ladd was established as one of the most popular male stars in the business. 

Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake in all their Film Noir glory in THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942)

Alan Ladd's film career continued with many great successes. One of his last films under his Paramount contract was the classic Western SHANE (1953). He formed his own production companies, Ladd Enterprises and Jaguare Productions to make films for himself as star and for others. His last work was a highly praised supporting role in THE CARPETBAGGERS, released in 1964 following his death at age 50 in January of that year. 

Ladd's penultimate film role was in 13 WEST STREET (1962), a well-made crime thriller produced by Ladd Enterprises and released by Columbia. Running a fast-paced 80 minutes, the film provided plenty of action and a solid performance by its veteran star. Ladd plays Walt Sherill, a scientist living in Los Angeles. After working late one night, Sherill runs out of gas on a deserted street. As he begins walking, he's almost run down by a car driving at high speed. When he shouts at the driver, the car comes back and stops. Five well-dressed teenage boys get out and begin harassing him. Their leader is Chuck Landry (Michael Callan). He says he's fed up with adults telling him what to do. When the boys start beating Sherill, he tries to fight back. Before they run off, the boys leave him with a broken leg, a head injury, and plenty of bruises. Sherill wakes up in the hospital to see his wife, Tracey (Dolores Dorn), and his boss, Paul Logan (Kenneth MacKenna), keeping watch. A police detective, Seargent Pete Koleski (Rod Steiger), arrives and starts asking questions. Sherill remembers a boy named Bill who said he knew Sherill. He also remembers hearing the name Chuck and something about the boys having trouble at a bar that same night.

Alan Ladd with Michael Callan (Right)

Koleski begins an investigation. Mrs. Sherill's brother (Ted Knight) is the principal of the local high school. She and the detective go there to find out if any male students have a record of criminal activity. Bill Quinn (Arnold Merritt), the gang member who knows Sherill, and who attends the school, sees them and informs Chuck and the other guys. They decide to intimidate Sherill into dropping the matter. They throw a rock through a window of his home and follow up with a threatening phone call to his wife. After this, Sherill is impatient with the police and their lack of progress. One night, while driving, he believes he spots the attackers' car. He follows the car until it stops at a gas station. When he angrily opens the passenger door, he sees a hysterical teenage girl begging him not to hurt her. This incident lands Sherill in jail for the night. After he's released, Koleski warns him to let the police handle the case. When the gang reads about this in the newspaper, they go to Sherill's house, beat him up again, and tell him to leave them alone or they might have to kill him. Sherill, now walking with a cane due to his injury, uses it to beat one of the boys before they run off. 

Sherill, angry and frustrated, begins to unravel. He waits outside the local high school, hoping to see a boy who looks like he may have been recently injured. Spotting a kid with one arm in a sling, Sherill begins harassing him. A police officer shows up to assure him the boy is not under suspicion.  

Meanwhile, Koleski has discovered that Chuck and his gang were thrown out of a local bar right before the encounter with Walter Sherill. Besides being too young to drink in the first place, the boys had insulted two of the patrons, a Black man and a Mexican man, resulting in an altercation. Koleski surmised the boys took out their displaced anger on Sherill. The Black man (Bernie Hamilton) gives them a lead on a boy named Everett Bush (Chris Robinson). Bush has an alibi that's backed by his parents. Sherill now decides to take matters into his own hands by hiring a private detective (Stanley Adams) to start following Bush. He also buys a gun. His obsession with finding his attackers is causing him trouble with his wife, the police, and gets him suspended from his job.

Sherill's interference finally results in tragedy. Bill Quinn has been identified as a friend of Everett Bush. Quinn works at a local drug store. When Sherill goes there to confront him, Bill sees him and runs away. He goes to Chuck for help. Chuck warns him to keep his mouth shut or he'll wish he was dead. When Sherill tracks down Bill at his home, he finds that the boy has hanged himself.

Chuck Landry is finally identified. When questioned by Koleski at his home, Chuck lies and is backed up by his mother (Margaret Hayes). Chuck calls the gang to meet at a park to coordinate their stories as the police get closer. The detective Sherill hired to tail Everett Bush sees the boys meet and calls Sherill to let him know. Koleski is there. They head for the park. When the gang drives away, the detective follows, once again calling the Sherill home to keep them informed. Chuck realizes he's being followed. In a high-speed chase, they run the detective off the road and he is killed. Tracey, on the phone with the detective, hears the man screaming and the sounds of the crash. She calls the police. Bush and the other gang member (Mark Slade) are devastated by what they've done. Chuck coldly tells them to get out of the car and drives off alone. 

Sherill and Koleski reach the park and find it deserted. They phone Tracey, who tells them about the crash and the location the detective gave her. Chuck shows up at the Sherill home. He confronts Tracey with a gun and then tries to sexually assault her. When he hears Sherill's car outside, he runs away on foot, heading for his house. Sherill follows Chuck home and beats him savagely. He knocks the boy into a swimming pool, grabs him, and starts to drown him. Suddenly, he has a change of heart and pulls Chuck out of the water just as Koleski and Tracey arrive. Chuck is taken into custody.

Dolores Dorn and Michael Callan

13 WEST STREET is not just an exciting thriller, but also an engrossing character study of a man losing control of his senses after experiencing acts of violence. The film is similar in theme to two other B movies of the period, both involving gang violence and home invasions disrupting the lives of ordinary citizens. One is JOY RIDE (1958), starring Ann Doran, Regis Toomey, and Rad Fulton. In this film, a group of juvenile delinquents decide they have to take a ride in middle-aged Toomey's new Thunderbird. When he doesn't go along with the idea, they retaliate by breaking into the man's home and terrorizing his wife. The other is KEY WITNESS (1960), starring Jeffrey Hunter, Dennis Hopper, and Corey Allen. Businessman Hunter stops at a drugstore to use the telephone. While there, he witnesses a murder committed by Hopper and his gang. When Hunter tells the police what he saw, the gang has it in for him and his family. Of all of these films, 13 WEST STREET is the most serious in tone, its violence more shocking. Alan Ladd is quite convincing and physically energetic. He makes you wonder if perhaps Raven, the hit man from THIS GUN FOR HIRE, might have survived, moved to the suburbs, and was waiting for the right time to get back to work.

Michael Callan gives the most impressive performance as the sociopathic Chuck Landry. He is completely believable as a cold-hearted killer who is becoming more unhinged with every scene he's in. Callan had played another cool juvenile delinquent type, although not a killer, two years earlier in BECAUSE THEY'RE YOUNG. He was already in his late 20's but looked young enough to be playing troubled teenagers.

Rod Steiger brings quite a bit of intensity to the role of Seargent Koleski, a man who is understanding of Walt Sherill's anger and frustration, but also increasingly resentful of the man's dangerous interference into the investigation. Steiger underplays the role to good effect. I must admit the actor's cultured voice makes one expect him to start quoting Shakespeare at any moment.

Dolores Dorn seems like a poor choice to play Ladd's wife, and not just because of the obvious age gap. Throughout most of the film, Dorn plays Tracey as if she were little more than a moderately inconvenienced housewife, rather than a woman whose husband is going mad with a desire for vengeance. However, during the scene where Tracey is confronted by Chuck Landry in her home, Dorn comes through perfectly.

There is also a marvelous performance by beautiful Jeanne Cooper, forever known as matriarch Katherine Chancellor on the long-running soap opera THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS. Cooper plays the aunt of Bill Quinn, the gang member who kills himself. In her few minutes of screen time, Cooper makes quite an impression as a woman who experiences a quick succession of emotions. At first polite when Walt Sherill shows up at her home insisting on speaking to her nephew, she quickly becomes suspicious of his motives and asks him to leave. After her horror at discovering the boy dead in his room, and after the police have been called, she has these mournful, accusatory words for Sherill: "I hope you can sleep well tonight." It's one of the film's most memorable moments. Cooper was a fine actress who deserved much more opportunity in films than she was given.

Alan Ladd and Jeanne Cooper make a tragic discovery.

13 WEST STREET was directed by Philip Leacock, who also directed another one of my favorite films, LET NO MAN WRITE MY EPITAPH (1960). The screenplay, by Robert Presnell, Jr. and Bernard C. Schoenfeld was based on the 1957 novel The Tiger Among Us by Leigh Brackett.


Thursday, March 23, 2023

NAKED CITY: A CASE STUDY OF TWO SAVAGES (First broadcast on February 7, 1962)


When I was growing up in the Golden Age of TV back in the 1950's-60's, we were primarily a CBS family, with occasional visits to NBC. The ABC network was little more than a mysterious, snowy screen 90% of the time. That's because in those primitive days before cable, reception depended mainly on how close the transmitter was, and also which way the wind was blowing at any given time. As a result, we didn't get a chance to become familiar with most of the ABC lineup. It was only through the advent of home video that I began to catch up on some of the shows I had always heard about, but never saw. 

One of those shows was NAKED CITY, a serious crime drama that ran for four seasons: 1958-59 and 1960-63. It was based on the 1948 Film Noir by the same name. When I finally had the chance to see some of the episodes on DVD, they reminded me of the dramas I loved on CBS during my lost youth, such as ROUTE 66, THE DEFENDERS, and EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE. These programs didn't always offer happy endings but featured well-written topical stories and excellent acting by many big-name stars, as well as many up-and-coming talents. 

NAKED CITY was a 30-minute program during its first season. The stars were James Franciscus, John McIntire (later replaced by Horace McMahon), and Harry Bellaver. The show was cancelled but came back in 1960 as a 60-minute program. Horace McMahon and Harry Bellaver returned, joined by Paul Burke and Nancy Malone. The show was filmed using real New York locations.

One especially hard-hitting episode was A Case Study of Two Savages, first shown on February 7, 1962. It was written by Frank R. Pierson and directed by William Graham. The story was inspired by the infamous Charles Starkweather case. Starkweather, 19, murdered eleven people on a killing spree across Nebraska and Wyoming in 1959. He was accompanied by his girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, 14. Starkweather was executed, and Fugate spent seventeen years in prison. Their exploits also inspired the films THE SADIST (1963) and BADLANDS (1973), as well as other dramatic adaptations. This television episode starred Tuesday Weld as Ora Mae Youngham  and Rip Torn as Ansel Boake.

Ansel and Ora Mae hail from Arkansas. As they drive their old, beat-up car into New York City, the show begins with these words from the narrator:

Fifteen thousand years ago, Man came out of the caves. Today, whenever we encounter the violence and savagery of those times, all we can do is marvel at how far the human race has come in only fifteen thousand years. When Ansel Boake was four years old, he killed his first thing, one of his mother's chickens. After Ansel killed his mother's chicken, his father thrashed him. By the time he was sixteen, Ansel had thrashed his father. Ansel Boake had no friends, he never learned to read, he never held a job longer than three months. But he could wander in the woods without a compass and not get lost. He could live off the land, killing food with gun, knife, snare, fishhook, a rock, or his bare hands, equally well. Ansel Boake met Ora Mae Youngham eight days ago. Six days, fourteen hours, and nine minutes ago, they were married. In the last six days, fourteen hours, and nine minutes, Ansel Boake and his wife, Ora Mae, have shot and killed a filling station attendant in Frankfort, Kentucky during the course of a holdup, knifed a hotel manager in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and shot and killed a hitchhiker they picked up in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

As Ansel and Ora Mae make their way into Manhattan, Detective Adam Flint (Paul Burke) and Sgt. Frank Arcaro (Harry Bellaver) have parked on a busy street to perform an errand. While Adam goes to take care of the errand, Frank gets out of the car to stretch. When Ansel's car passes by and stops at a stoplight, Frank notices that the license plate is about to fall off. He walks over to the car to let the driver know.

Ansel and Ora Mae take offense at Frank's interference in their "affairs". Frank assures them he's just trying to be helpful, but Ansel gets angrier by the second.

Ansel gets out of his car and begins arguing with Frank and pushing him around. Ora Mae cheers him on. Meanwhile, the stoplight has turned green and the driver behind Ansel starts honking his horn. Ansel yells at the driver, becoming more agitated. He pulls out his gun and goes to the car's passenger side and confronts the driver, shooting him at close range and killing him. As he heads back to his own car, he shoots Frank twice, wounding him seriously. 

As Ansel drives away at high speed, we hear these words from the narrator:

And so, Ansel Boake and his bride came to New York to continue their honeymoon.

Frank is taken to a hospital. He is unable to remember very much about the incident or the people involved. Adam begins the investigation, determined to find out who shot his friend.

Ansel abandons the car and he and his wife set out on foot trying to figure out what to do next. Ora Mae asks Ansel why they just can't go back home. He reminds her of all the things they've done together in the last several days. Ora Mae claims she can't be held responsible as she is under eighteen. She tells Ansel she will swear he forced her into running away with him. While saying this, she's clutching a doll that she brought from home. Ansel tells her she can go back home to her mama anytime she wants to. But Ora Mae relents and takes Ansel's arm. She tells Ansel that she wants a wedding ring, and he promises to get her one.

 As the newlyweds continue walking, a carriage driver begins speaking to them and asks them where they would like to go. Ora Mae asks him to take them to a jewelry store. But she tells Ansel to do the driving. The carriage driver reluctantly agrees. 

When they arrive at a jewelry store, Ora Mae sees a beautiful ring in the window. She and Ansel go in to inquire but find out the ring costs $11,000. Ora Mae is deeply disappointed. Ansel promises her, "You're gonna have that ring, if I have to kill somebody for it."

Ansel begins his plan to get money for the ring. He and his wife go into a bar. While Ora Mae sips her drink, Ansel attacks and kills the bartender and then robs the cash register. Ora Mae looks on with excitement and then rewards her husband with a kiss.

 Adam Flint continues his investigation as the killings pile up. The random nature of the crimes is reminiscent of the case of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, and also the recent Starkweather killing spree. The police discover Ansel's abandoned car and find a gun inside. They try to trace the owner.

In the meantime, the newlyweds are relaxing in their cheap hotel room. Like any other loving husband, Ansel is cooking breakfast for his wife. When he starts getting romantic, Ora Mae once again brings the discussion back to the wedding ring, asking Ansel how he plans to get it for her. He tells her he can't just steal it, because in his peculiar logic, that would be like the whole marriage is "stolen".

The ownership of the car is traced back to Ora Mae's mother (Audra Lindley) in Arkansas. Detective Flint and Lieutenant Mike Parker (Horace McMahon) call the local sheriff and Mrs. Youngham to get a description of Ansel and Ora Mae. Mrs. Youngham doesn't seem deeply concerned with her daughter taking the car or getting married to a man she hardly knows. She describes Ansel as just another hillbilly. Mrs. Younger asks the police if she can come and get the car, but they tell her the car is junked and not worth the trip. She tells them that's too bad, because she always wanted to see New York.

Ansel decides that the best way to get money for a wedding ring is to rob a bank. The first step in his plan is to get another gun and plenty of ammunition. He goes into a gun shop while Ora Mae waits outside. While starting a friendly chat with the clerk, he asks to purchase some ammunition and also to take a look at one of the handguns locked up behind the counter. As the jovial conversation continues, Ansel is loading the gun. The clerk, laughing and enjoying the conversation, hardly notices what Ansel is doing. Suddenly, Ansel shoots the clerk at close range, killing him on the spot. 

Ansel leaves the gun shop, and he and Ora Mae steal a car from a man parked outside. The next step in Ansel's plan is to get some dynamite. He goes to a construction site, kills the man guarding the shack containing dynamite, and steals ten sticks. The police now have identified Ansel and Ora Mae as the killers thanks to their conversation with Mrs. Youngham and the sheriff in Arkansas. With all of the latest killings and thefts, Detective Flint believes the ultimate goal is a bank robbery in the same general area of the other crimes. Police patrols are dispatched to keep watch over the banks.

Ansel has chosen the bank he wants to rob. As he and Ora Mae are sitting in their stolen car preparing for the robbery, Ansel is humming a tune as he gets his gun loaded and ready. Sitting next to him with her gun, Ora Mae smiles and says to her husband, "Did I ever tell you I was having a good old honeymoon?" Getting a little more serious, she tells Ansel that she would just like to keep moving around for the rest of their lives, not owning anything, not having a home or children. Just thinking only about themselves. She makes Ansel promise her that things will always be that way. Then they get ready to enter the bank.

Ansel walks in with his gun and dynamite concealed in a sack. He goes to one of the tellers. Ora Mae comes in and sits down next to an older woman. Her gun is hidden in her purse. Ansel greets the teller and, pointing to Ora Mae, informs him that she has a gun aimed at the other woman. The teller is ordered to put all of his cash into the sack and not say or do anything else.

The teller starts to put cash into Ansel's bag, but another teller sees what's happening and manages to discreetly catch the eye of the security guard. Ansel senses something is wrong and orders the teller to hurry up. Ansel begins to light the dynamite with the cigarette he has in his mouth. The dynamite is meant to cause a distraction so he and Ora Mae can escape. The situation escalates quickly as the security guard is alerted. Ora Mae stands up with her gun and tells the other woman, "Listen, lady! Get up, or I'll give it to you good!"

After the dynamite has been lit, the security guard fires at Ansel. Ansel fires back and kills the guard.

Suddenly, police officers are rushing into the bank. Ansel and Ora Mae both fire their guns wildly. The bank teller and some of the policemen are shot. But Ansel is finally shot multiple times and killed. Ora Mae rushes to him.

As Detective Adam Flint and Lieutenant Mike Parker try to pull Ora Mae away and take her into custody, she clings to Ansel saying, "He was my husband, the sweetest, kindest man I ever knew!" When they finally get her away from Ansel's body, Parker and Flint ask her why her husband shot Detective Frank Arcaro. At first Ora Mae is confused and doesn't know who they're talking about. When Flint refreshes her memory, she says in a very puzzling tone, "I don't know. Just for the hell of it, I guess. You know". Not knowing how to respond, Flint and Parker just look at her and at each other.

We hear the narrator once again:

Fifteen thousand years ago, Man came out of the caves. Today, when we encounter the violence and savagery that belonged to those times, all we can do is marvel at how far the human race has come in only fifteen thousand years.

There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.

This powerful episode was very timely, considering the Starkweather-Fugate nightmare had occurred only three years before. Sadly, this story has even more meaning in our present time with all the seemingly random shootings and killings in schools, shopping malls, and other public spaces. How many of the individuals responsible for these crimes fit the description of Ansel Boake given by the narrator at the beginning of this show? How many have a history of family violence, isolation, poor social skills, lack of empathy, and limited education? As for Ora Mae, she was certainly underage and may not have been considered legally responsible for some of her actions. But she was hardly innocent. She constantly cheered Ansel on in his acts of violence and participated in some of them. Her only desire was to have a wedding ring, and she didn't care what her husband did to get it for her. And yet, we have to wonder about the family history of a teenaged girl who describes someone like Ansel as the sweetest, kindest man she ever knew. That statement tells us quite a bit about Ora Mae.

These two very complicated characters are perfectly brought to life by Tuesday Weld and Rip Torn. One might argue that Weld looked a little too glamorous for such a character, but that takes nothing away from her sensitive, multi-layered performance. Weld, only eighteen years old at the time, was a popular, sensational young actress who had won a Golden Globe in 1960 for Most Promising Newcomer. She had already proven her talent for comedy by her regular role in the television sitcom THE DOBIE GILLIS SHOW, but some of her film roles were less than stellar projects. (SEX KITTENS GO TO COLLEGE (1960) anyone?) However, she showed dramatic depth in BECAUSE THEY'RE YOUNG (1960) and several strong television roles like the one in NAKED CITY. Weld continued to have a long career, with standout roles in films like PRETTY POISON (1968), I WALK THE LINE (1970), and ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984). Weld was nominated for an Oscar for her excellent supporting performance in LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR (1977). She has been inactive since the early 2000's.

Rip Torn made his film debut in the controversial BABY DOLL (1956). He worked successfully in films, television, and on the stage. A member of The Actor's Studio, he appeared in the original Broadway production of SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH. He reprised his role for the 1962 film version and married its leading lady, Geraldine Page. Before his death in 2019, Torn was one of Hollywood's most prolific character actors. He won an Oscar nomination for his supporting role in CROSS CREEK (1983). He was nominated six times for an Emmy Award for his work on THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW, winning in 1996. And he appeared in the first two films in the popular MEN IN BLACK series.

This NAKED CITY episode, and, in fact, the entire series, can be found on Youtube: 

My blog post is part of The 9th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon, hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts. You can find his blog here: A Shroud of Thoughts: The 9th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon is Here (

Monday, March 13, 2023



I picked up a DVD copy of this film from my local Barnes & Noble not long ago after hearing some intriguing things about it. There is so much to like about this film, especially the incredible art direction and cinematography. It has a unique, imaginative story and a likable lead character. This character, Ellie, is played by Thomasin McKenzie, a talented young actress who was so wonderful a few years ago in LEAVE NO TRACE. Ellie is a young woman from Cornwall who goes to London to study fashion design. She is obsessed with the culture of the 1960's, especially the music. Ellie arrives in London hoping it will be like the so-called Swinging 60's era but is soon disappointed when the reality turns out to be quite different. Ellie is also caught up in memories of her mother, who went to London to study fashion design as well but ended up disillusioned and taking her own life. At times, Ellie sees visions of her mother. This psychic gift soon leads her into a mystery involving another young woman, Sandy, whose life during the 60's parallels her mother's life. 

Thomasin McKenzie having a REALLY bad night in Soho!

I wasn't sure where this movie was going, but I loved the beginning, as Ellie finds herself to be the ultimate fish out of water in contemporary London. And as one who was a teenager in the 60's, I loved her fixation with the music from that era. The unfolding of the mystery concerning Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy), is well-constructed and involving. But eventually, blood begins to spurt out from all sides of the screen, and away we go. By the time we reach the harrowing climax, we find ourselves viewing a completely different movie, which could be retitled: THE SOHO ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE. (Spoiler alert.) The director, Edgar Wright, found it necessary to bombard our senses with his special effects tricks in order to show us as much ugliness and physical cruelty as his budget would allow. Sorry for the cynical reaction. I don't handle violence well, especially when it isn't necessary for the telling of a story. What could have been a fascinating psychological mystery played out with brilliant imagery and characterizations degenerated into just another slasher flick. I'm not familiar with any of this director's other work, so I don't know if gushing geysers of blood are normal features of his style. Whatever the case, this is not a film I would enjoy seeing again, in spite of its many positive attributes.

All of the actors give good performances. Miss Taylor-Joy, so good in THE WITCH (2015), is quite effective here as well. Matt Smith is appropriately hateful as the villain. And Michael Ajao is gentle and moving as Ellie's best friend. One of the most interesting things about the film is the appearance of three iconic faces from the British cinema of the 1960's: Rita Tushingham, Terence Stamp, and Diana Rigg. Tushingham's role is rather small, but Stamp and Rigg are very important to the story. Edgar Wright has directed several other popular films, including SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004), ANT MAN (2015), and BABY DRIVER (2017).