A Night of 50’s Television with Edmond O’Brien

Time for another piece from the pen of Gordon Gates. This one is diversion into an area I don’t tend to cover myself, mainly due to the fact I’m not so well informed about it. Gordon, on the other hand, is very much on his home ground writing about the early years of broadcast television, a field where he has an enviable depth of knowledge.
Most people think of early television as an endless string of comedy, western and detective shows. There was however another genre that populated the airwaves.This was the anthology series. These shows, such as Alcoa Theater, Schlitz Playhouse, Ford Theater, Robert Montgomery Presents, Climax, General Electric Theater, Studio One, Stage 7, Lux Video Theater and so on were extremely popular, Some of these series ran for over a decade and produced hundreds of episodes each.The format was stand alone stories that had a drama one week, a western next, a horror then a noir etc. As movie making slowed in the 50’s, many top flight actors, directors and cinematographers etc switched to television.More than a few Oscar types ended up on the small screen.Here is a small example of just one actor’s work. I asked all if they were fans of Edmond O’Brien and everyone answered in the affirmative. Here we go.
A Night of 50’s  Television with Edmond O’Brien.
Here are three different episodes from three different series all starring Mister O’Brien. The episodes are all film noir tinged.
First up is from LUX VIDEO THEATER: To Have and Have Not (1957)
No need to retell the story as we all know it. I will just describe the changes from the 1944 film. The two leads are played by Edmond O’Brien in the Bogart role and Beverly Garland filling in for Bacall. O’Brien plays the role with a far more violent and menacing edge than the laid back “leave me out it” style Bogart used in the film. Beverly Garland likewise turns it up and does her part as if she is just a step away from being a tramp. This really causes the sparks to fly when the two are in the clinches. One would swear they were going to drop their linen any second. There is some real chemistry here. John Qualen does a straight up copy of the Walter Brennan role and does not stand out at all. Dan Seymour reprises his role from the film as the slimy head of the Vichy Secret Police. Frances Bergen does the role played by Polly Moran while Lyle Talbot plays the American fisherman. Though there is no Hoagy Carmichael, we do have Sir Lancelot belting out a calypso tune. Lancelot had a small role in the 44 film but most will recall him from Brute Force. He was the soulful singer of the cell block in that film. The rest of the cast is Ken Terrell, Richard Flato, Edward Barrier and Jean De Val. Jean Yarbrough directs. Given the confines of television at the time, this production works very well. There is the odd short-cut. For example, we only get to see the cast going to, or from the boat. None of these short cuts hurt the story and in fact speed up the action. This is one of the best bits I’ve ever seen Garland in. A top flight TV noir.
Second up is from SUSPICION: Death Watch  (1958) – This one has 3 Oscar winners involved.

Janice Rule plays a live-in nanny who witnesses her employer shot to death by a mob boss. She soon regrets that she agreed to testify for the Police after she gets several death threats, and a bullet through her car window. The police soon have her put away in protective custody. The detective in charge is your buddy and mine, Edmond O’Brien. O’Brien moves Rule to the 10th floor of a big hotel and puts together a crack team of detectives to look after her. As the trial date draws near, Rule becomes convinced that the mobster behind the murder, Phil Donati, will get her. O’Brien does what he can to calm the woman including having the windows covered in case of a sniper. Two days before the trial O’Brien hears from an informant that a hit has been arranged. The hitter? He is told it will be one of his own squad. Which one could it be? O’Brien has known them all for years. He approaches the D.A. and his Captain with the info. Change the detectives with others from a diff squad is their suggestion. O’Brien decides instead to go with the same crew and see if he can flush out the traitor. He assembles the detectives and tells them what he has heard. O’Brien figures that they will now keep a watch on each other. This he hopes will give him the time he needs to catch the turncoat. The next day, Edward Binns, the senior detective, is approached by O’Brien. “I need to trust someone and you are it”. He tells Binns that he suspects one of the police women on the squad. O’Brien wants Binns to sit in with her while he steps out to make a private phone call. O’Brien steps out followed shortly by the police woman who needs to “powder her nose”. Binns pulls his gun and enters Rule’s room and walks up to her. He begins to level the gun when O’Brien pops out of the shadows and lets him have it. It seems O’Brien had let himself in through a hallway door. “How did you know”? whispers Binns. O’Brien responds. “You were the only one on the detail not to report the bribe attempt the mob made to all the rest.” Binns is hauled away and Rule is safe to testify.

The rest of the cast include, Jeanne Bates, Clark Howat, Horace McMahon and Mary Gregory. Actor and sometimes director Ray Milland helmed this well paced episode. The d of p was 6 time nominated and 2 time Oscar winner, Ray Rennahan. The story was by John Hawkins who wrote Crime Wave, The Killer is Loose and The Shadow on the Window.

To finish off the evening we go with an episode of STAGE 7: Debt of Honor (1955)

Edmond O’Brien and Charles Bronson are the stars in this episode. The episode is based on the Cornell Woolrich novel, I.O.U. One Life.

Our man O’Brien is a cop with a perfect life. He has a loving wife, a young daughter and a nice home in the burbs. He has even received a nice promotion at work. His job? He is now a lieutenant with the force. He decides that a night out with the family in the town is in order. They are involved in a car wreck which results in them crashing off the road and into a lake. The wife, Kasey Rogers, gets out, O’Brien is thrown out but knocked unconscious. The daughter, Wendy Winkelman, is still trapped in the slowly sinking car. A passing motorist, Charles Bronson, dives into the water and pulls the child to safety. A somewhat groggy O’Brien comes to and thanks Bronson. He tells Charlie that he is forever in his debt. Bronson jumps in his car and drives off before O’Brien can get his name. A year goes by and O’Brien is now a Captain. He is in charge of a unit assigned to hunt down a killer. O’Brien looks at the suspect’s mug shot and recognizes Bronson. What to do? To avoid being involved, he puts his aide, Steve Pendleton, in charge and heads home.
“Good thing the wife and daughter are out of town” O’Brien thinks to himself. A couple of hours later and there is a knock at the door. Standing in the doorway is Bronson who has come to ask O’Brien to honor his “debt”. There is some great back and forth as the two men discuss the “debt”. Bronson says, “I gave you your daughter’s life! Now I want mine!” “I’m a cop you fool! I can’t do what you ask”! answers O’Brien. O’Brien finally tells Bronson he can stay the night but if Bronson is there in the morning, he is taking him in.

The episode is directed by Lewis R. Foster whose work included the noir Crashout and Manhandled. The episode was photographed by one of noir’s best, George Diskant. His work included Desperate, Riff-Raff, They Live By Night, Port of New York, On Dangerous Ground, A Woman’s Secret, Kansas City Confidential, Between Midnight and Dawn and The Narrow Margin. What more could a person ask for, O’Brien and Bronson in a Cornell Woolrich penned story. A real top flight time-waster!!!!

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Gordon Gates