Release Date(s)1955-56 (September 11, 2018)
Studio(s)ABC/CBS (VCI Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: C
Known as the Golden Age of Television, the 1950’s was a rich period of live TV broadcasts. Hour-long anthology dramatic programs such as The Philco Television Playhouse, Westinghouse Studio One, and Kraft Television Theatre used talent from Broadway both in front of and behind the camera. The shows had to be meticulously planned, rehearsed, and timed, with scene changes and camera and lighting cues worked out to the second to accommodate the live broadcast medium. Usually, the shows were filmed on small stages, making working conditions even more challenging.
The Blu-ray release Television’s Classics: Volume One contains two one-hour primetime specials from the mid-50s, sourced from kinescopes (films shot directly off TV monitors). The first, Crime in the Streets, was shown on ABC’s The Elgin Hour on March 8, 1955. It stars John Cassavetes, Robert Preston, and Glenda Farrell and was directed by Sidney Lumet, who would later go on to direct movies including 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico. The main character is teenage juvenile delinquent Frankie Dane (Cassavetes, who was 26 at the time), a slum kid with a terrible home life, who plans to murder a snitch with his buddies. Filled with anger, Frankie bears similarities to James Dean’s Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause, released the same year. He lashes out at his mother (Farrell), bullies his kid brother and rebuffs the advice of social worker Ben Wagner, who coincidentally pops up at convenient moments to offer the food-for-thought “Let somebody love you, Frankie.”
The subject matter has the potential for lots more action than the show could provide. Endorsed by the National Society for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency, it contains many of the cliches associated with juvenile crime. Today’s viewers will find the pace plodding despite a brooding, often volatile performance by Cassavetes. He would repeat the role of Frankie when the TV show was adapted as a feature film in 1956.
The program is broken up into three acts, with the original one-minute filmed Elgin watch commercials placed between the acts and at the top of the show. The picture quality of the filmed commercials is far better than that of the program itself. A coming attraction for the U.S. Steel Hour presentation of No Time for Sergeants is included.
No Right to Kill, the second special on the disc, was originally aired on CBS’ Climax! on August 9, 1956, and also stars John Cassavetes. Based on Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and directed by Buzz Kulik, the show is updated to the present. Struggling writer Malcolm McCloud (Cassavetes) has been treated badly by a hunched elderly pawnbroker and is obsessed with killing her. In a needless sub-plot, McCloud is attracted to a waitress (Terry Moore) and asks her to go away with him. We hear McCloud’s thoughts as he becomes more and more convinced that he must kill the pawnbroker. When police detective Porfear (Robert H. Harris) starts asking questions and piecing together clues to the old woman’s murder, McCloud’s guilt intensifies.
Bill Lundigan hosts and does the live Chrysler Corporation commercials between the show’s three acts. Five new cars in the studio are displayed as Lundigan sings their praises. At the end of the show, Lundigan announces “next week’s show” — The 78th Floor — about the bomber that crashed into the Empire State Building in 1945.
The kinescopes have been restored from the best archival film elements available in HD. Aspect ratio is 1.33: 1. Resolution is 1080p. Neither of the programs has been seen since the original broadcasts. Both lack the pristine clarity of film but look good despite their age. Crime in the Streets has a brief scratch on the left about 10 minutes in, and another on the right about 15 minutes in, but neither is overly distracting. Because much of the action takes place at night, there are deep shadows and occasionally characters disappear completely into blackness. Both programs feature 2.0 mono tracks. Optional English subtitles are available.
No Right to Kill, overall, looks better. The pace is brisker with a driving energy. No major flaws are evident. Sound quality is generally good, with dialogue, music, and sound effects well balanced, but in one scene in a restaurant, a singer overpowers the dialogue between McCloud and waitress Lisa. The show contains an impressive number of sets — the pawn shop, McCloud’s flat, a restaurant, a party, a church, and a crowded street.
Bonus Extra — Outtakes from the TV dramas The Defenders and The Nurses are included. These are the usual kind of bloopers, with a lot of R-rated language over blown lines, along with a burlesque striptease intercut with reaction shots of cast members ogling. Another sequence features outtakes intercut with shots of Elizabeth Taylor.
- Dennis Seuling