Guest Post | Classic Actor Spotlight: Richard Widmark – Consummate Utility Infielder

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Greetings all and sundry!

And allow me this opportunity to state that those rumors of my being deodar mysteriously abducted by aliens have been grossly exaggerated. Though, I have endured two side trips to Northern Virginia’s massive, expansive Mother Ship of Specialized Medicines, INOVA (A sub state unto itself. With superior doctors and eerily always smiling staff) for problems related to age. Leaving me with a surfeit of time to root around, excavate and shine some light on a stalwart of the thespian trade. Whose talent and trade craft, those not always “A-List” or Top Notch through the 1950s, 60s and beyond. Did manage to easily bring many memorable characters. Sometimes heroic. Sometimes creepily slimy, to life under the guidance of some of the best directors Hollywood had to offer.

So, allow me but a few moments of your time while I wax nostalgic and meticulous about one of the near forgotten greats of the trade with:

Richard Widmark.
Consummate Utility Infielder!

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First crossed my path as a wide eyed eight year old kid indulging in the forbidden fruit of “Late night” (9:00pm) television movies. And WTTG’s “Movie Greats” presentation of Kiss Of Death. A more than medium budgeted 1947 treasure that, unbeknownst to me at the time; was shot all over key locations throughout Manhattan and its five boroughs. Which added enormously to the film’s strength and tense, gripping story line. And would lock this tile away as a long time favorite.

Focusing around down on his luck Nick Bianco (Victor Mature). Who decides with three others to rob a jewelry store in the upper levels of a skyscraper to improve the lives of himself, his wife and two daughters. The heist goes off well enough. But the proprietor sets off the alarm. A cop intervenes and shoots Nick in the leg. Nick is caught. Held at the Tombs prior to arraignment. Keeps his mouth shut throughout the trial and catches a 20 year sentence at Sing Sing for his efforts. Unaware until three years later that his wife committed suicide after being raped by one of his accomplices, And that his daughters have been sent to orphanages.

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Bianco is anxious to cut a deal. But all that he knows and can do has been made useless by the passage o time. So the District Attorney, D’Angelo (Brian Donlevy) arranges an early parole and points Bianco towards another case. Putting the word out from Sing Sing that Rizzo squealed and sold out not only Bianco years ago. But is leaking to the cops information on the third member of the robbery crew, Tommy Udo (Mr. Widmark in his debut film role.). Well, but not richly dressed. With an upturned sneering smile that barely hides his close to the surface inner Psychopath. And his paranoid aversion to “squealers”.

Tommy finds Rizzo’s paraplegic mother (Mildred Dunnock) in her apartment and questions her about her son. Mrs. Rizzo says that he is out and will be back later. Udo thinks she’s lying. Ties her into her wheelchair and pushes her down a long and lethal flight of stairs, killing her,

Bianco is finally released and has a “chance encounter” with Udo. Who shows Nick around. Takes him to clubs where there are about twenty parole violations within arm’s reach before calling it a night. Bianco goes running to D’Angelo with a boast or two of Udo’s referring to recent murders.D’Angelo tells the local cops to scoop up Udo for murder.

Bianco gets cold feet. Udo is let go. Udo and Bianco meet at a restaurant. Udo makes threats against Bianco brand new family. A showdown looms on the cobbled, rain reflected streets. Bianco calls D’Angelo. Warns him about what is about to happen. Then exits the restaurant without a gun. A henchman of Udo’s draws on Bianco, but Udo shoots the henchman. Aims at Biance. Fires and hits Bianco as uniformed cops unload on Udo. Killing him in the street, And leaving Nick Bianco with a bright and pleasant future!

Overall Consensus:

Required viewing. Not just for the layered tale itself. But just to relax and bask in what Greatness can truly be!

Now. What Makes This Film Good?

Henry Hathaway in charge of one of the earliest and best “Organic” New York films. Filming on several different locations and lighting each and their surroundings in ways to intimate and hint at danger or lascivious delight hidden within. And making me a decades long sucker for most any film or television series shot in and around New York City

Add Victor Mature, Brian Donlevy, Karl Malden and Coleen Gray to the mix. Give them intelligent dialogue from Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer that moves the plot along without deliberately telegraphing what is to come. And you have the makings of smart entertainment. Enhances by Cinematography by Norbert Brodine. Music by David Buttolph. Art Direction by Leland Fuller and Lyle Wheeler, Plus Editing by J.W. Webb, Jr. help to place this near forgotten early Noir classic high in the genre’s pecking order.

Now. What Makes This Film Great?

The adversarial pairing of veteran, Mature opposite a just starting out Mr. Widmark. Whose film time and scenes are dwarfed by others. Though, in those minutes Mr. Widmark can call his own. He does make the most of and makes them his own. Violence and his scary. creepy laugh not withstanding. Had a lot to do in earning this ingenue a Golden Globe win. And an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Along with a nomination for Best Original Story by Eleazar Lipsky.


With Mr. Widmark firmly locked into my “Actor To Watch” category. Pursuit and finding him in other films was part and parcel of the WTTG’s ‘Movie Greats” and “NBC’s Saturday Night At The Movies” to find Mr. Widmark playing a similar, more powerful and lucrative role in The Street With No Name a year later.

Then a shift in gears and character into “Jealous Sap Territory” in 1948. For a B&W, Noirish trifle directed by Jean Negulesco titled Road House. Where Mr. Widmark’s Jefferson T. “Jefty” Robbins owns and runs a road house out in the sticks, Hires and falls hard for Ida Lupino’s tough talking Torch Singer, Lily Stevens. Who starts playing Jeffty’s restaurant owner and partner, Pete Morgan (Cornel Wilde) against him. So, Jeffty starts to frame Pete for embezzlement. And worse once Pete proposes to Lily.

Making time through 1949 for a whaling tale. With Mr. Widmark going upscale, cast wise. Taking on the First Mate’s role, Dan Lunceford. But also the tutor of the Captain Bering Joy’s (Lionel Barrymore) grandson, Jed (Dean Stockwell) in Down To The Sea In Ships. Under the direction of Henry Hathaway. In a surprisingly good maritime drama as young Jed learns about honesty, courage, teamwork and responsibility.

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And an upgrade in directors the next year and Panic In The Streets. For the first of its kind police and medical procedural directed by Elia Kazan. And his take of tracking down the carrier of pneumonic plague in the port city of New Orleans. The unwitting carrier and future “Patient Zero” is Jack Palance. And the hero is Navy Lt. Commander Clint Reed, Aided by Police captain Tom Warren (Paul Douglas) as they canvass, interview and slowly eliminate others and narrow the suspect pool as Palance’s slimy ‘Blackie’ slinks around the piers and seeks a way out after a failed robbery.

Then a ground breaking racial drama and thriller. No Way Out (1950) under the direction of Joseph L. Mankwicz with Sidney Poitier and Harry Bellaver, Where Mr. Poitier plays Dr. Luther Brooks. Who works on wounded low rent racist thief, Ray Biddle and his brother, George. Who dies on the table. And sends Ray on a deep and very personal mission of revenge

Followed by the Marine service drama, Halls Of Montezuma with Jack Palance and Richard Boone. The Frogmen. A personal favorite. With Dana Andres, Gary Merrill, Robert Wagner and Harvey Lembeck. Dircetor Lloyd Bacon renders a pretty fair exposition about what Underwater Demolition and the removal of barriers and obstructions is all about before a sea borne invasion. Then onto parachuting “Smoke Jumpers” in Red Skies Of Montana. And the drama involved when two of Mr. Widmark’s Park Rangers and firefighters die after a tragic wildfire. Not a bad film, actually. Under the direction of Joseph M. Newman. And all four films being early top choices for ‘NBC’s Saturday Night At The Movies’.

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Another contender from 1953 is an odd WWII film from Robert Wise. Destination Gobi. Where Navy meteorologists are dispatched to the Gobi desert to set up shop and record and transmit weather data to a picket ship to aid the air war against Japan. When not bartering with Mongols for assistance and protection in the form of saddles for their horses. Another ‘Saturday Night At The Movies’ offering. And Robert Wise’s first color film. With Mr. Widmark as a lowly chief Petty Officer (NCO) in charge of Don Taylor, Martin Milner, Darryl Hickman, Alvy Moore and Earl Holliman. In a surprisingly good film which has a pronounced hardscrabble, no frills “You’ve Got To Start Somewhere” vibe, cast wise. While using several parts of the Mojave Desert, Fallon, Nixon and Yuma, Arizona to fill in for Mongolia and southern China..

General Concensus

To this point, Mr. Widmark seems to have spent far more time in military uniforms than civilian finery. Becoming on of the “Go To Guys” along with Martin Miler, Richard Jaeckel. Ty Hardin, Marshall Thompson, Robert Ryan, Van Johnson, James Whitmore and Dana Andrews to play G.I.s, sailors and Marines in immediate post war Hollywood. And to Mr. Widmark’s credit, he did pull those roles and characters off quite well. Usually in the lead. Though often as a small part of a larger objective or story.

And Mr. Widmark’s luck was about to change in a very noticeable way. By signing onto low budget, independent maverick director, Sam Fuller. And the director’s embellished screenplay about pick pockets flourishing around 1950s Manhattan. To include Russian agents,hollow coins and microfilm regarding atomic bomb secrets and blueprints in the minor 1953 “Red Scare” classic, Pickup On South Street.

Where Mr. Widmark plays Skip McCoy. Two time loser and somewhat gifted “dip” or “cannon” (pick pocket) making his living on the city’s crowded subway trains. Who runs afoul of a cell of Russian agents by snatching the wallet of an unassuming courier, Candy (Jean Peters). And later rifling through an envelope and discovering highly classified documents and microfilm. While still unaware that Candy was being watched by US Federal agents hoping to discover the higher up on the receiving end.

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Creating an equally compact and intriguing, noir-ish B&W film that clocks in at 75 minutes. Excels in cramped, neglected and dirty sets and sound stages of 20 Century Fox’s many back lots. Yet looks like thr film was shot on many locations throughout New York City. As the cops stick their noses in. Interviews are logged. Deals are made. Specifically between local soft crime maven, Moe Williams (Thelma Ritter) and Detective Dan Tyger (Murvyn Vye) to narrow the number of suspects down to Skip McCoy. Who has no problem dealing with the highest bidder. Even if it isn’t the US government.As Candy’s boyfriend, Joey (Richard Kiley and a silenced pistol) tidy up loose ends.

In a film that threw critics, select politicians and J. Edgar Hoover for a loop. The critics loved the film’s low budget, Mickey Spillane grittiness. While politicians and the FBI had conniptions over Widmark’s and Skip McCoy’s arrogant, “You’re gonna wave the flag at me?!” line and its inherent “Anti-Americanism”. Especially in the backwash of the House Un American Activities Committee Hearings and The Cold War. Though, for a skint 780.000 dollars. Sam Fuller put together a cramped, claustrophobic and shadowy masterpiece that rises up into the firmament of “Required Viewing’. With an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for Thelma Ritter. And a Venice Film Festival Gold Lion win for director, Sam Fuller. Reaffirming his position as a Master of cinematic”Bang For The Buck!”

Which Mr. Widmark would return the following year. After a brief detour to the Army’s anwer to Hell On Earth, Fort Bliss and the city of El Paso, Texas for a Richard Brooks directed Basic Training drama, Take The High Ground!. With Karl Malden training draftees, Steve Forrest, James MacArthur, Russ Tamblyn and others for crucible that is the Korean War. Before returning to Sam Fuller’s next project.

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A neat, compact little Cold war thriller titled, Hell And High Water. Where Mr. Widmark takes on the role of former Navy Sub Commander, Adam Jones.Who is mysteriously approached by a group of nuclear scientists in Japan. Who want Jones to take over a retired Japanese sub and check around a string of islands north of Japan. The scientists suspect that China may have had something to do with a recently exploded nuclear device outside the continental US.. And may have designs to join “The Nuclear Country Club” and intimidate their neighbors to the west.

The sub goes out with Jones and a small crew of Jones’ shipmates. Following a Chinese freighter into the North Pacific. Though, due to events. the Japanese sub left in pursuit. Without time to inspect its torpedo tubes. Leaving the boat nearly weaponless. A cat and mouse game with the Chinese navy ensues. A Chinese sub is rammed as the specific island is found. With either a restored American B-29. Or Russian TU-4 in a US paint job on the island’s bare base taxi way (A superb glass matte painting!). One of the scientists sneaks ashore of Capt. Jones. Signals the bomber’s take off… And I’ll leave it right there!


Surely in the simplistic realm of kid and schoolboy fantasy. But superb, well thought out and executed low budget kid and schoolboy fantasy. Director Fuller again raises the tale with deft sleight of hand, excellent model and pool work for the Japanese sub and its Chinese protagonist. And some well spent money (1,870,000 dollar budget) on artists and matte paintings. Since outside of some lush on location shots at Orly Airport, The Arc de Triomph and sights around Paris to establish the plot. Mr. Fuller and company never left 20 Century Studios. Its sets, sound stages and properties.


Setting the stage for three years of training and yeomanry work in post war thrillers and westerns( The Prize of Gold, Broken Lance, Garden of Evil, Backlash, Run Fro the Sun, Saint Joan, The Cobweb). Before joining up again with Karl Malden in the director’s chair for a neat and compelling 1957 post Korean War procedural titled Time Limit. Where Mr. Widmark plays Colonel William Edwards. A JAG officer trying to determine the limits of The Military Code of Conduct for POWs experiencing near Arctic cold, starvation and torture at the hands of the North Koreans. When one can snap. And the end results of possibly finding a traitor among their ranks. With Richard Basehart and Rip Torn under suspicion, Martin Balsam as the Colonel’s aid and conscience, Dolores Michaels as Corporal Jean Evans. And Martin Balsam as the Colonel’s Top Sergeant and conscience.

Then three more years of westerns before an upgrade in cast members with John Wayne directing and starring in The Alamo. Along with Richard Boone and Laurence Harvey. And major stage piece whose parts would be used again in The Green Berets. Giving Mr. Widmark a chance to add to an exceptional ensemble cast as Colonel Jim Bowie. In a fairly accurate depiction of those historic thirteen days. Plus an upgrade in directors to John Ford for his project.

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Two Rode Together
. With James Stewart, Shirley Jones and a swath of Mr. Ford’s cinematic regulars re-indoctrinating those captured by Indians back into the world and society. And continuing his high end ensemble streak with Stanley Kramer’s Judgement At Nuremberg, With Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Maximilian Schell, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift, Marlene Dietrich and a “Who’s Who” of Next Generation talent filling any and all remaining roles. Followed quickly by larger than life, generational family Magnum Opus, Covering the Gold Rush and Comstock Lode. To the Civil War. Manifest Destiny. Captains of Industry and the Railroad in How The West Was Won. With not just one director, but four! Henry Hathaway, John Ford, George Marshall and Richard Trope. Each with their own tale or area of expertise to heighten and tell. And enough old and new talent signed on and assigned characters to fill a medium sized high rise apartment complex.

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And making the mid 1960s the time when Mr. Widmark seem to come into his own. With small films which made large impressions. With Stanley Kubrick alum, James B. Harris’ The Bedford Incident with Sidney Poitier, Martin Balsam and James MacArthur on a navy destroyer trying to surface a Russian sub inside Territorial Waters. And what can go wrong. Alvarez Kelly. With William Holden and Mr. Widmark as an eye patched Confederate officer wanting to follow the tenets of William Quantrill and John S. Mosby in rustling and hijacking cattle and horses. As long as Mr. Holden’s Alvarez Kelly teaches them how.

It has often been said that I am a sucker for any film shot in Manhattan and its boroughs. And one of the better ones of the 1960s is a near forgotten police procedural with Henry Fonda, Inger Stevens, James Whitmore, Sheree North, Michael Dunn, Don Stroud, Steve Ihnat, Susan Clark. Raymond St. Jacques and Harry Guardino in the Don Siegel directed, Madigan.

Where Mr. Widmark plays Detective Daniel Madigan assigned to a precinct in Spanish Harlem and partnered with Detective Rocco Bonaro (Harry Guardino). Who lose their guns after a third rate low life, (Steve Ihnat) gets the drop on them, And now have 72 hours to catch the creep and get their guns back. In one of the better made for TV “Partner Movies” to be generated by NBC and clocking in at 110 minutes full of dirty, cramped and un glamorous places, sights and sounds rarely seen in 1968. Which adds to the film’s grittiness and no apologies attitude. Ane was so well received as a pilot. That NBC created a six 90 minute episodes package for their Sunday night ‘NBC Mystery Movie’ series in 1972.

Returning to ensemble work for Sidney Lumet’s Murder On The Orient Express with Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Jacqueline Bissett and John Gielgud two years later.

The Doomsday thriller, Twilight’s Last Gleaming with Burt Lancaster and directed by Robert Aldrich. Stanley Kramer’s 1977 political thriller, The Domino Principle with Gene Hackman as an expendable Presidential assassin.

And Mr. Widmark preparing to go out on his own terms with Michael Creighton’s Coma the following year. Then playing a high ranking US hostage in Ian Sharp’s well detailed and executed gritty, sweaty, no frills British Special Air Service (SAS) against an IRA splinter cell gem. The Final Option. And a final return to “Bad Guy Territory” in Taylor Hackford’s Against All Odds. A film that tries very hard to be an updated remake of Jacques Tournier’s Out Of The Past, but doesn’t quite make it!

Overall Concensus

Like so many actors while I was growing up. I cannot remember a time when Mr. Widmark was not working. Consistently supplying grist for the imagination with often more than one film a year. And on the whole, very good films at that. Good guy. Bad Buy. In uniform and out. Mr. Widmark offered something unique in most of his characters. The possibility that there may be a double cross at worse. Or that proposed events would not occur in their correct order.

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Slowly covering the spectrum of character types. For his initial “Creep” with Tommy Udo in Kiss Of Death. To “Rebel” in Pickup On South Street and Panic In The Streets. To racist “Thug” in No Way Out. A side trip to Rugged Individualist in The Alamo and How The West Was Won. And “Hero” in War Films, Don Siegel’s Madigan and its later mini-series!


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Check out Kevin G’s other posts and reviews


What are your thoughts on Richard Widmark? Differing Opinions are welcome. The floor is now open to discussion!

Guest Post: Spotlight on Darren McGavin – Master Character Actor!

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Greetings all and sundry!

After a few weeks of laying low and perusing vicariously the wares of various film festivals supplied by our Hostess, Ruth. I decided to embrace a wave of nostalgia. Break open a fresh set of digging clothes. Brain bucket, miner’s light, tools. And a few carafes of coffee. To plumb a vein of rich material and grist for conversation.

A memorable chunk of time. From the mid 1950s and the just starting to fade glimmers of the Hollywood System in film. And that young upstart and seat stealing entity known as Television. Whose talented and charismatic legions were but cogs in a slightly less than smoothly operating machine. To this new century. Where decades old procedures are firmly ensconced for generating “product”. And the final visualization of countless writers, cinematographers and directors dreams.

To that end, allow me but a few moments of your time to wax nostalgic. As I excavate, investigate and lay bare a few prime examples of honed and polished talent. Presented by a familiar face for anyone born around 1954. And a sizable number beyond:

Darren McGavin: Master Character Actor!

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I’ll allow you a requisite few seconds to scratch your head and allow the “Who”s and “What?”s to die down, Before noting the first time the actor and I crossed paths was while watching Otto Preminger’s then ground breaking The Man With The Golden Arm from 1955.

A neat little back lot drama awash in Skid Row shabbiness and tackling the then, taboo subject of heroin addiction as experienced through Frankie Machine. Two time loser, card sharp known for dealing “seconds”. And would be, wannabe drummer just returned from prison. And brought to life by Frank Sinatra in his return to the big screen after From Here To Eternity.

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The Man With The Golden Arm

Now. Anyone of Mr. Sinatra’s popularity requires a nemesis of equal or greater lousiness and slimy evil. And Mr. McGavin’s drug dealer and low rent pimp with an elegant “Boston Blackie” mustache more than fills the bill. Patient to a fault and quietly mobile. Seeing all sorts of opportunities along filthy streets and dark allies. Nearly invisible and incredibly confident that Mr. Sinatra’s Frankie Machine will screw up sometime soon. And come knocking at his door for a fix.

Though only having about twenty minutes of the film’s 119. Mr. McGavin makes those scenes, secrets, spoilers, revelations (And this film has more than its share!) and moments his own. While allowing his character to thoroughly despised by any and all!

Now, one may ask from whence does such self deprecating talent arise?… Ten solid years of summer stock, stage and traveling Road Shows, Intermixed with just starting out and unnoticed apprenticeship in small, forgotten films. And being one of thousands standing in line to ply their craft and trade in this just burgeoning thing called “Television”.

At the time and more often than not. Stage plays performed before three cameras, And privy to all of the accidents and mishaps that come with the territory of that form of art. While being lucky enough to catch the lead in a two season series, Crime Photographer. Holding court in a New York greasy spoon diner. While regaling reporters of that paper’s Bulldog (Late Night) edition with tales of past adventurous cases. A format that would be returned to decades later in ABC’s Kolchak: The Night Stalker. And latching onto notable performances with Goodyear Television Playhouse offerings of The Witness, Better Than Walking and The Rainmaker.

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Kolchak: The Night Stalker

Then returning to television for two more years of honing and polishing with many of the heavy hitters of the day. Including Alfred Hitchcock, Armstrong Circle Theater, Robert Montgomery Presents and The Alcoa Hour.

Creating a brief margin in time in 1956 and 57 for Mr. McGavin to show off his stoic “Straight Man” abilities opposite Jerry Lewis in The Delicate Delinquent. A Don McGuire directed, Paramount black lot comedy. Notable in its being the first film for Mr. Lewis after breaking up his full spectrum slapstick comedy teamwork with Dean Martin.

Mr. McGavin plays veteran uniform beat cop, Mike Damon. Who comes across klutzy, bumbling janitor, Sidney L. Pythias (Jerry Lewis). Whose building and home in its basement is in the middle of a “No Man’s Land” between warring street gangs. And being conned, cajoled and other wise persuaded to choose a side. Sight gags and pratfall humor abounds in many scenes. Especially in Sidney’s one room efficiency apartment. As Damon befriends Sidney. Tries to get him away and into the Police academy.

Does the film have a script?… Sort of. By director Don McGuire. More of extended set up foresight and other gags. All footed by producer, Mr. Lewis. When not delving into dramatic encounters with Social Worker, Martha Hyer. A decent enough outing. With huge Kudos to Set Decorators Sam Comer and Ray Moyer arranging and executing eye catching time saving Rube Goldberg gimmicks inside Sidney’s digs. And many comedic blackouts and scenes lifted, updated and reused by Woody Allen and his later film, Take The Money And Run.

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The Delicate Delinquent

Then returning to television for several roles in drama in Studio One in Hollywood. And creating a serviceable episodic Mike Hammer for two seasons and 79 episodes in 1958 and 59. Most tales written by Mickey Spillane. Delivering his character in ways Ralph Meeker, Stacy Keach. Spillane himself and Kevin Dobson ( Sgt. Crocker of’ ‘Kojak’) would approve. Though not so much Armand Assante.

Gaining more and more of the spotlight an Mississippi gambler and later Captain Grey Holden in Riverboat. Offset by former stunt man turned actor, Burt Reynolds for 42 hour long episodes in 1959 and 1960.

When not making the rounds of “Bread & Butter”, B&W and color Westerns. Guest stars and recurring television characters during the 1960s in Route 66, Rawhide, Alfred Hitchcock, The Defenders, Ben Casey, The Rogues. Dr. Kildare, Gunsmoke, The Virginian, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible.

And during this time. Some brilliant minds at NBC (Grant Tinker. Mr. Mary Tyler Moore.) and ABC (Aaron Spelling front and center) were kicking around ideas on how to streamline budget, stories and filming times. To make initial and introductory television tales in an Anthology vein more acceptable for future series. And thus the “Pilot” Concept was created.

Where a topic or story with the potential for a series is decided upon. Scripted and cast while locations and back lots are sought out and reserved. To create a ninety minute or two hour introduction while attention is paid to audience feedback. And Voila!. The basis for a future group of tales is in the works for future consumption!

NBC moved first and bet heavily upon a magazine conglomerate. Its rarely seen CEO and Managing Editor and slick investigative reporter (Tony Franciosa) delving into the private diary of a high end Call Girl and escort with Fame Is The Name Of The Game in November of 1966. The very first “Made For Television Movie”. And oil was struck. A boon created. And a niche created for the talents of many, many actors and actresses. In the form of ABC “Movie(s) Of The Week” and “NBC Mystery Movies”.

Darren_TVGuideMr. McGavin among the first front line shock troops. Signing onto veteran ABC and NBC writer and creator, Roy Huggins’ idea for an orphaned released convict delving into Private Investigation (Mr. McGavin as David Ross). Without a gun due to his criminal record. Trying to make ends meet while avoiding cops and friends of friends he might have angered in prison, alike. In the sunny expanses of Los Angeles and its cities, towns, adult playgrounds and “Cultural Retreats” of Venice Beach and Big Sur of the later 1960s in The Outsider. Which returned as an hour long weekly series less than a year later for 26 episodes…. Sounds familiar? It shouldn’t. Mr. Huggins brought back and reinvigorated the same plot line and lateraled the idea to James Garner and hid Cherokee Television Productions. And The Rockford Filers were born. For a six year, 122 episode run. Along with six later television films.

Dipping his Dramatic Tongs back into the Furnace and Billows as disgraced and soon to be facing Court Martial disgraced for alleged “War Crimes” (Dispatching his own enemy “Kill List” of NVA and VC Officers and collecting their sandals for verification on both sides of the DMZ and Laos in ABC’s The Challenge (1970). With Lt. William Calley and “the My Lai Massacre” still thick in the air. Special Operator. Jacob Gallery is given the opportunity to wage a “Surrogate”. Or “One on One” war on a remote Pacific island. Against an equally well trained and talented Peoples Republic Chinese number. Yuro (Mako).

Photo courtesy of Modcinema.com
The Challenge – screencaps courtesy of Modcinema.com

High Stakes and Winner Takes All. With a fallen out of orbit spy satellite deep beneath the ocean being the Grand Prize! Gallery accepts. Gears up with an overloaded rucksack, jungle fatigues, sundry items and a very cool weapons system. Two 9mm Madsen M-50 Sub machine Guns bracketed side by side. Half of it last seen in ‘The Godfather’. And I had originally mistaken for S&W M-76 at first glance (H/T to Michael and IMFDb.org.)


Both soldiers infiltrate by submarine and rubber raft. Are well trained in Pioneering and living off the land. Stalking and ambushes ensue. With small gains made outside their own perimeters. A battle of wits and guile. That stays dormant. Until Yuro finds Gallery’s tree borne base camp and slips a straight edge razor low into the tree’s massive trunk. Just enough for a quick, not felt medium deep wound to become infected and fester below the knee.

As is expected. Both sides watching away from the island cheats. Another Chinese soldier is killed by a very young and fresh faced Sam Elliot. Who, is in turn shot and killed by a suddenly betrayed, Gallery. Setting the stage for a final showdown!

I’ll leave it right here for Spoilers sake.

And move the clock forward only slightly. To a time just after the failed Tet Offensive and siege of Khe Sahn. When the Marine Corp broke long standing tradition through Presidential fiat and began accepting draftees instead of those who volunteer. Not a great time for the Corp. With tales of drug use, race riots and even desertion filtering back eastward across the Pacific. And adding extra impetus for those Masters of Intimidation, Peer Pressure and Fear to inculcate log haired, lackadaisical young men into the Mythos, Mystique and History of the Corps. Before being sent out to fight a war.

That task falls on the shoulders of Drill Instructors Gunnery Sergeant Drake (Mr. McGavin in splendid form!). Aided by a brash and bullying “Good Ol’ Boy”, Staff Sergeant DePayster. (Earl Holliman. Who seems made for the role.) And waste no time belittling and harassing the latest busload of unwary cannon fodder to darken the entrance of the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot, circa early 1968. In Tribes.


A very well written effort from just starting out Tracy Keenan Wynn. Under deft direction from Joseph Sargent. And shot mostly on location. A rather clean cut tale unfolds. With blonde haired, Zen friendly, Hippie, Adrian (Jan Michael Vincent) slowly singles himself out as an outsider. Who doesn’t balk. back or break down in tears. Earning the ire. And later admiration for a very Zen “Mind Over Matter” mindset. If you don’t mind. It don’t matter! Enduring long sessions of PT (Physical Training) which helps break down individuality. And creates the initial building blocks of uniformity, like mindset and instant obedience to the word of God. The D.I..

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Tribes

Drake tries every trick in the book. From seeing how far he can push the brim of his Instructor’s Campaign (Smoky The Bear. For those uninitiated.) Hat just above the bridge of Adrian’s and other slacker’s noses during extended periods of verbal abuse. To standing at Attention. Arms out to the sides at shoulder height to either side. While seeing how long aluminum buckets of sand can be kept aloft before “Boots” (Recruits) collapse. Some tactics work. Some don’t as Drake’s platoon begin to excel in strenuous training, drills and tactics. But remain individuals. With Adrian as their sub rosa leader.

An impasse is sure to happen. Which I’ll keep in my hip pocket.As Mr. McGavin excels in presenting all of the scary elements of a Drill Instructor. With Jack Webb”s rapid fire delivery from his earlier, The D.I. down pat. Offset by far less imaginative, intimidating, vulgar and profane qualities (Television Censors) honed to perfection by R. Lee Ermey in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. While winning a Prime Time Emmy Awards for neophyte Tracy Keenan Wynn and director Joseph Sargent for Outstanding Achievement in Drama-Original Teleplay. And Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama. A Single Program among others.

An elusive film nowadays. And well worth the effort of discovery and watching. If you can get past its God Awful theme song!

Garnering Mr. McGavin a bit more credibility and wherewithal to be one of the “Go To Guys” in this new cinematic realm for the next two years. Dropping by NBC’s Hollywood Studio based Bracken’s World. ABC’s “Mobile Shrink”. Matt Lincoln. A return to his earlier Outsider, David Ross character for The Forty Eight Hour Mile and Quinn Martin’s 1930s Los Angeles Private Eye, Banyon United Artists Mrs. Pollifax-Spy. With Rosalind Russell. And NBC/Universal’s The Bold Ones: The Lawyers. Before touching The Holy Grail of episodic television roles in January, 1972 The Night Stalker.

Where Mr. McGavin is given the role on veteran. perpetually down on his luck Las Vegas newspaper reporter Carl Kolchak. Resplendently scruffy in a much used white Seersucker suit. Narrow, uneven tie and woven bamboo Panama Hat. Perpetually on the move. Tracing down leads to offbeat and “Man On The Street” stories. Until stumbling across a secluded Crime Scene. Whose victim seems to have drained of blood!

Weird, right?… Ridiculous?… Absolutely! Yet taken with a grain of salt. With words, mood and setting derived from a screenplay by Richard Matheson. A distinct, eerie, shadowy, vibe courtesy of Producer, Dan Curtis of ABC’s afternoon Gothic Soap Opera, Dark Shadows fame. And under the deft touch of John Llewellyn Moxie. A New Sheriff has just rode into town. As Kolchak follows leads and missed evidence. And starts whittling down rumors between arguments with his boss, Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland, Bullitt). On and Off again girlfriend, Gail Foster (Carol Lynley). And a Rogues Gallery of secondary talent. Including Ralph Meeker, Claude Akins and Elisha Cook. Jr. Kolchak get closer to his mysterious nemesis, Janos Skorzeny (Barry Attwater).

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Photo courtesy of Tumblr

A Nielsen Ratings Slam Dunk overnight, by 1972 standards. With more than enough creepy and eerie to offset the occasional humor. And keep an audience coming back for more. Specifically, another 74 minute jaunt a year later. After a shift in locales to Seattle. Where an ancient Alchemist (John Carradine) striving to remain young through the blood of young women in The Night Strangler. And then getting the full blown treatment in Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

Moved to Chicago and an independent newspaper. Kolchak uncovers all sorts of explainable, though eerie close to supernatural happenings. Each episode introduced by Kolchak’s voice dictating possibilities and questions into his trademarked portable tape recorder. Pens and notebooks being so passe though useful. Subtly setting up the plot before the actions begins. Then returning for a quick epilogue. In lieu of today’s more cliche “Hugs and Happy Endings”.

The series is also unique in providing an early test bed for mysterious and paranormal activities which would be plunged into more deeply in FOX’s The X Files just shy of two decades later. With Mr. McGavin portraying veteran FBI Agent Arthur Dales. One of the first agents assigned to the files. And impromptu guide and mentor to Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) for two adventures in 1998 and 1999.

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In the interim. Mr. McGavin indulged in a tale of three generations of Irish American NYC cops for NBC. Law & Order (1976). Based on the novel by former detective Dorothy Uhnak. The story is meticulous in 1940s to 1970s flash back details. Where small incidents may grow into major career destroying scandals later on. And what goes on in the day to day workings of police officers. From uniformed beat cop. To plain clothes detectives. To the higher strata where Mr. McGavin’s Deputy Chief Brian O’Malley resides and rides herd. Clocking in at just under two and a half hours. Shot almost entirely on back lots. Directed by Marvin Chomsky. And shown in two parts. The film is a grittier, more virulent version of today’s ‘Blue Bloods’. Though both casts are equally rich and up to the task!


Allowing more time to check in with characters for Mr. McGavin to fill in Airport ’77. Three different heroic characters during the last gasps of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, Ike: The War Years. With Mr. McGavin delivering a fairly decent General George S. Patton opposite Robert Duvall’s General Eisenhower, The Martian Chronicles. The far inferior, 1981 William Conrad and Lee Horsley Nero Wolf and Tom Sellick’s Magnum, P.I. Before catching lightning in a bottle again. As Ralphie Parker’s (Peter Billingsley) “Old Man” in Bob Clark’s 1983 multi award winning 1947 centered, A Christmas Story.

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Though Mr. McGavin is not on the screen a lot. And in the majority of those scenes, he’s a secondary character. When he is there. He is GOLD! With just enough back story through young Ralphie’s older voice overs “He worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium; a master.” and “In the heat of battle my father wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.” filling in the gaps. Several have squabbled that Mr. McGavin may have been too old to play the part. While I believe it adds to the wear and tear of Old Man Parker. Whose facial expressions, timing with a gift wrapped bowling ball dropped in his lap. And refusal to verbalize often mentioned profanities is a cool, piquant move. That places this film in the sometimes Marathons of “Holiday Heavy Hitters”. It’s A Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas and most recently, Elf.

Not a bad collection of work. 183 roles. With time and money to spare to as Executive Producer for four episodes of Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Producer of film, Happy Mother’s day. Love George in the early 1970s. Cranking out the screen play for Zero To Sixty and the Documentary, American Reunion a few years later. And arranging the soundtrack for the TV movie, The Night Stalker.


Overall Consensus:

Yes, I may have gone a bit long in this dissertation. Though considering the talents, consistent availability and superb luck and timing through the progression of cinematic and trail blazing and cost cutting improvements. Consistently working and turning in memorable performance in roles small to large. Contentedly staying in the realm of television. Though always available for the larger screen and delivering more than asked for required.

All in all. The definition of A Character Actor!


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