Friday, February 28, 2014

“New York Is the Real Star”

Above is the opening from the March 22, 1961, episode of Naked City, “The Fault in Our Stars,” featuring Roddy McDowall as a down-on-his-luck actor who resorts to murder.

Over the last many years, I’ve probably sat through a couple dozen episodes of the 1958-1962 ABC-TV crime drama Naked City, but nowhere near all 138 episodes. That’s quite unlike author Max Allan Collins, who--after “binge watching” the boxed set of this groundbreaking series--gives it a big round of applause in his latest blog post. He writes, in part:
NAKED CITY is a child of early television--dramas like STUDIO ONE and PLAYHOUSE 90--and is essentially an anthology series pretending to be a cop show. This can be a problem, because the cops are often shoehorned in, and sometimes the stories have little to do with crime. Some of the famous actors deliver terrible, scenery-chewing performances; many of the young actors--James Caan, Dustin Hoffman--are so in Brando’s thrall, you want to shake them until they agree to see a movie that isn’t ON THE WATERFRONT. The shadows of Tennessee Williams and William Inge loom large, turning some of the scriptwriters into pretentious windbags, burdening actors with impossible, archly poetic dialogue. …

There are several NAKED CITY “best of” collections, but unfortunately they choose episodes featuring famous cast members, with no thought to quality of writing. So why do I recommend the series?

Because when the show is good, it is really good--on that same [best series episode] list that includes [
Maverick’s] “Shady Deal at Sunny Acres,” you’ll find [Naked City’s] “A Case Study of Two Savages,” in which hillbilly honeymooners Rip Torn and Tuesday Weld cut a bloody carefree swath of robbery and murder across Manhattan. Scripted by Frank Pierson--who wrote everything from DOG DAY AFTERNOON and COOL HAND LUKE and was working on MAD MEN when he died in 2012--“Two Savages” clearly influenced Arthur Penn’s BONNIE AND CLYDE (the historical couple is directly referenced) and Weld’s later PRETTY POISON. Rip Torn’s performance is my favorite among all the NAKED CITY’s--funny, dangerous, charismatic. Actor’s Studio “Method” at is best.
You can enjoy all of Collins’ comments on the show here.

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