Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch:
Drama treasures from TV’s Golden Age released; Grisham’s latest novel an enjoyable read

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the April 9, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

DVD Review

Last November Koch Vision came out with a six-DVD set that has 17 of the hour-long dramas, titled Studio One Anthology, that were on CBS for 10 years, starting in 1948. The set is listed for around $96 and was available at Hastings for around $70. For those who might be interested, the set may be available at a local library or on Netflix.

Early television was live on the East Coast and at one time there were as many as 14 live drama series on the four networks of the time: NBC, CBS, ABC and Dumont. For other parts of the country not connected yet with live lines, a film camera was placed in front of a television. The result was called a kinescope. Many of these kinescopes were lost and destroyed. Westinghouse, now long gone as a company, had saved many of the kinescopes at a factory in Mansfield, Ohio. As the building was being torn down in 1997, a worker discovered a bin with hundreds of hours of Studio One films, films once thought to have been lost forever.

The so-called “Golden Age of Television” was filled with live drama out of New York that provided huge amounts of work for actors and theater people. Westinghouse Studio One was performed live each week in rooms above Grand Central Station. The cameras were bulky. The sound would not be perfect if an actor did much walking around. The sets were sometimes very primitive. The lighting often didn’t work correctly. And sometimes an actor might adlib to cover a mistake. And yet there is something very powerful about many of the dramas in this collection. All this was done at a time when some writers, directors, and actors were “blacklisted” and not allowed to appear on television because of accusations about their political beliefs. Sponsors, who had relatively few ads on the hour shows, did have some control of what was presented under their name. Surprisingly, some of the shows are pretty gutsy and don’t fall into the 1950s stereotype of being closed to controversy.

Several of the hours stand out even for today. 1984, produced in 1953 with Eddie Albert as the main character, Winston Smith, rather forciblyspeaks out against mind control by a dictatorship.

From 1956, The Arena tells of the dangers of political leaders using sleazy information to destroy each other and, in a sense, the political system. Rod Serling wrote the drama, that has overtones of Advise and Consent. Wendell Corey and Chester Morris are powerful as a senator and his right-hand-man. Frances Sternhagen, who appears on today’s TNT series The Closer as the fussy southern mother, 53 years ago appeared as a young secretary in the senator’s office.

The Death and Life of Larry Benson, by Reginald Rose, tells the story of a Korean veteran returning home. His parents are overwhelmed as they believe the man in front of them is not their son. He seems to know everything about their family and friends.

Dino, from 1956, with Sal Mineo in the title role, is a version of Blackboard Jungle, with acting by Mineo that is intense, powerful and memorable. Ralph Meeker is excellent as the psychiatrist in a world where one character says only crazy people talk with such a doctor.

June Moon, from 1949, has primitive sets but one of the first appearances of two great actors: Eva Marie Saint and Jack Lemmon. The story is not very convincing, but it is great to see these actors at such a young age.

Reginald Rose’s The Remarkable Incident at Carson Corners, done in early 1954 at the time of the McCarthy period, speaks out against mob rule. Students in a small school invite the parents to a surprise “court case” in which they accuse the janitor of not fixing a stairway railing that led to the death of one of their classmates. As the drama progresses powerfully we learn many more people were partially responsible for the sad turn of events.

Twelve Angry Men, which went on to become such a famous movie, was first a wonderful television drama. Robert Cummings, who is more famous for comedy, has the Henry Fonda role. The cast includes Franchot Tone, Edward Arnold, Paul Hartman and Norman Fell.

Summer Pavilion, written by Gore Vidal, tells the story of the end of a way of life among the formerly wealthy in New Orleans, with Miriam Hopkins and Elizabeth Montgomery in starring roles.

The 1950s version of Wuthering Heights is rather clunky, but it is an opportunity to see a very young Charlton Heston as Heathcliff.

Almost all of the hour productions have the original commercials included, with Betty Furness. Each week the three or so two-minute commercials were done live by the former actress. They tell you a lot about what people were buying in the period, and even some of the prices. One oddity is the claim that Westinghouse Televisions that were black and white would eventually be easily converted to color. There is an interesting ad for nuclear power by another announcer as the first nuclear power plant was being built.

Extras include a gathering about 20 years ago of all the principals who put on the show each week, talking about how exciting and at times difficult it was to put all these dramas on each week, even in the summer.

Older readers who remember seeing these show and younger ones interested in the history of drama and television will find this boxed set very interesting. The “Golden Age of Television” wasn’t quite as golden as we might remember, but there is something special about it that should be remembered.

Book Review

I recently received a copy of John Grisham’s new thriller The Associate from a deacon friend. The book is published by in hardcover by Doubleday at $27.95.

The novel reminds one of the early John Grisham books, The Firm. Kyle McAvoy a law graduate of Yale and former editor of the Yale Law Review, becomes an associate lawyer at Scully & Pershing, the largest law firm in the world in New York City. His starting salary is $200,000.

He is being blackmailed by some strange characters who have access to a videotape of an incident at his fraternity when he was at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh some five years ago. The tape reveals events that may be close to the original accusations in the real world against the Duke Lacrosse team some years ago. It is because of the blackmail by a man with the name Bennie that Kyle is forced to work at Scully & Pershing. Bennie and whoever is in the vast conspiracy behind him want Kyle to eventually be in a position to steal secret documents about a new airplane the U.S. military wants built. The documents are part of a gigantic lawsuit between two large U.S. defense contractors involved in the design and building of the new plane.

The reader needs to believe fairly early on that Kyle is in an impossible dilemma that could not be solved by speaking to his father, John, who is a small-town lawyer in York, Pa., or going to the FBI. So Grisham continually comes back to this important plot reality and make it more and more impossible for Kyle in his own mind to get out of his menacing conundrum.

As is true in most of Grisham’s books, The Associate is non-stop plot with little description of what anyone really looks like. Once a small-town lawyer himself in Oxford, Miss., Grisham has strong biases that come through with a very dark presentation of large-city law firms. These firms virtually take over their new associates’ entire waking lives and in a real sense the young lawyers become less human. The small-town lawyer exemplified by Kyle’s Dad, John, is romanticized. Grisham may well be correct in his portrayal, but it seems slanted to this non-lawyer reader.

The end of the novel leaves a number of important loose ends way up in the air. So it is fair to call The Associate a thriller rather than mystery. The mystery genre demands everything be clearly tied up into a complete package. There are to be no loose ends.

All in all, I still have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Associate.

Movie Review

In his new film, Duplicity, writer-director Tony Gilroy has combined the best of the sophisticated romantic comedies of the late 1930s and early 1940s with the thriller films so well done by Alfred Hitchcock.

Duplicity draws on such great Gary Grant-Katharine Hepburn films as Bringing Up Baby (1938) and The Philadelphia Story (1940). In fact, the scene in the bar, with Clive Owen as Ray Koval ordering an appletini for a woman he is trying to con for information, is a fine imitation of Gary Grant trying to do the same thing. The caper or thriller part of the film has its roots in the Gary Grant-Grace Kelly film directed by Hitchcock from 1955, titled To Catch a Thief.

Admittedly, the world of Duplicity is pretty far from reality, and the wonderful script has the principals speak in great dialogue that is not normal. But it is a wonderful effervescent ride for the moviegoer.

Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts) meets Ray Koval in Dubai some years ago. She works for the CIA and he works for the MI-6 of the British government. Claire takes advantage of Ray and steals secret materials from him. So the story goes back and forth in time as the couple meets again and again, sometimes using similar sentences in a manner reminiscent of Groundhog Day. Can either one trust the other as they both fall for each other?

The movie travels to Rome, London, Zurich, New York, and Miami, and even Cleveland gets thrown in.

The key to the plot is that the two spies eventually hatch a plan to become security leaders in two competing giant soap conglomerates. It is sort like Proctor and Gamble and Uniliver fighting to find the next great product around which to build a monopoly. The leaders of the two giant corporations are played with exaggerated gusto by Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson.

Claire and Ray are trying to steal the formula from the corporations on their own and sell it to a competitor in Switzerland for millions of dollars.

With the time sequences floating back and forth and all over the place, a bathroom break in the middle of the film may lead to some confusion. But even if you get a little confused, Duplicity is still a wonderfully literate film. Even if you don’t get every piece of the puzzle, you still have a very enjoyable time.

And here’s a refreshing thought: this is a caper with nary a gun nor any violence, except for the exaggerated fight of the corporation CEOs at the time of the opening credits.

Julia Roberts and Clive Owen are as good it gets for this type of cotton-candy comedy-adventure. The supporting cast, many from Broadway, are terrific. Director Tony Gilroy gave us last year’s “top ten” serious film Michael Clayton. Now we know he can do comedy and satire equally well.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film PG-13 (parents strongly cautioned). The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops rates Duplicity A-III - for adults.

(Father Caswell is archivist and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane, and a frequent contributor to this publication.)

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