Freedom Comes High
A tricky little thing to put together, with a climax of night action in the Pacific, made up of documentary footage, combat re-creations, and a Stateside drama in a familiar set.
The device of representing the fallen as a ghostly double exposure (as in The Fighting Sullivans) is employed to establish an understanding of war widows’ grief. A notable film for its quickness and sureness, with an impressionistic slowing of some night gun footage (which might have been seen as too abrupt otherwise), and a silent part for Cecil Kellaway as the father-in-law.
A London music critic (he lives with his sister) takes a house on the Atlantic coast to write music, and thereby hangs a ghost story justly famous for its wit and insight and the commanding presence of the director.
Crowther in the New York Times for once candidly admitted he couldn’t tell what was done, and with which, and to whom.
A magnificent exposition on a grand theme merely serves to point up one little scene during a stagecoach journey from Virginia City to Los Angeles, whence a U.S. Marshal comes to the Ponderosa after a year-long search for a wanted murderer.
The suspect is a friend of the Cartwrights who is clubbed down before their eyes and then badly beaten overnight in jail. Ben wires a thousand dollars to a Los Angeles attorney, Adam and Hoss take the stage with the marshal and his prisoner, joined by Dr. Strasser and his daughter, both visiting from abroad.
The victim was the marshal’s wife, coaxed into releasing the suspect and then thrust into her husband’s line of fire, allegedly. The suspect is manacled and shackled, the Cartwrights fear for his life.
At a desert station, an accomplice stampedes the horses, badly injuring the marshal, and is killed. Adam is forcibly deputized to bring the prisoner in. While he ponders what to do, the girl is cozened into releasing the suspect, who marches off to kill the marshal. Adam nearly beats the man to a pulp until the marshal, out of bed with a shotgun, sees the error of his ways.
The stationmaster is asked by Dr. Strasser for private accommodations on their arrival. “Mister, the only thing private out here is the hole in the ground you’re buried in, and even that’s liable to be stolen out from under you by a thievin’ Apache. Breakfast at sunup, supper at sundown. If you’re late, you don’t eat.”
Gypsies roll across the Ponderosa, thieving and rascally, their leader “could charm hisself out of a Comanche scalpin’,” declares Hoss admiringly. A daughter of the band has detached and is there before them. Hoss and Little Joe found her while tracking a “lobo wolf”.
The title is a maleficent aspect, her own explanation for her present state, she is a witch, she could be a fish if she wanted to (it was her dream as a child—Little Joe wanted to be a grizzly).
Her fellow gypsies want nothing to do with her, the old bruja has expelled her but can be mollified with Metaxa, says an admirer.
Little Joe is fascinated by the wench, who repels her gypsy suitor and wakes up in her bed at the Ponderosa with blood on her hands and paw prints beside her. It’s said she became a wolf and slaughtered chickens.
She is staked to the ground while the bruja performs an exorcism, bidding Asmodeus depart, etc. Little Joe tries to stop it, the suitor attacks him and is killed.
Afterward, the spirited girl is reinstated to the fold, happy with her lot. She won’t marry Little Joe, but moves on with the gypsies.
An inspired, literary script by Anthony Lawrence gets up a bit of magic effectively handled by Allen. Susan Harrison is the fiery and mysterious girl who dances to a gypsy tune, Hugo Haas the ingratiating leader, Arthur Batanides the hot-tempered suitor.
In the dead of night, robbers blow the safe in Tom McClure’s bank, remarking how soundly people sleep in Virginia City. One of the gang is dispatched to the Ponderosa as a lookout while the rest hide out, anticipating a search.
The Cartwrights’ new hired hand is useful at breaking horses and pleasant enough, but isn’t very sociable. McClure brings in soldiers from Fort McKay, the hand reports this to the gang. A run on the bank is feared.
Little Joe has his suspicions, so has the sheriff. Otherwise, the hired hand is treated with great cordiality, invited to a picnic, loaned a vest to cover his whip-scarred back after a fight with Little Joe tears his shirt.
The story is told of a stepfather who lashed the boy after his mother’s funeral to inculcate a new regime, and was killed by him a few years later. The boy served eight years and received a pardon. The Cartwrights regard the matter as closed.
Little Joe goes to apologize, follows the hand to his gang and is captured. The last straw comes when Adam tells the Ponderosa spy what his brother had in mind. The spy saves Little Joe from killing, both subdue the gang and bring them in. And so, the ironic title refers to “heaping coals on an enemy’s head.”
The Blood Line
Ben is positively obliged to kill an abusive drunk when the railing varmint draws to vent his dislike of all Cartwrights. His widow is an eyewitness and still aggrieved at the deed, and the man’s son arrives in town ready to kill Ben.
They have an awfully high opinion of the deceased, which leads the widow to hire a gunslinger for vengeance when he offers his services. The son steals a six-shooter and shells, even after Ben installs him on the Ponderosa as a hand-in-training. There’s no dealing with them, until Ben narrowly escapes a shot in the back from the gunslinger by hitting the floor and returning fire, whereupon he breaks the bitter truth to widow and son, their idol was “a no-good drunk”. The son is still infuriated, but the widow is obliged to acknowledge the truth of this, and calms him. Her love is undiminished, just the same.
The Third Man set in Mexico, where the son of an old Ponderosa foreman has died in jail during an escape, shot in the face. Adam goes to investigate, finds the man alive and plotting to rob the Copa de Plata mine with two Mexican henchmen, one his wife’s brother.
The fugitive has killed fifty men and inculcated on the chief of police a great dislike of gringos. The chief’s own deputy is in on the scheme. Adam is captured by the gang, the wife threatens exposure if he is killed, her brother is ordered to shoot her. He refuses, the henchmen kill each other. Adam seizes a gun against the leader.
The body is returned to Virginia City, where the old foreman hears of his son’s death by misadventure and the pretty girl he married, nothing more.
The Case of the Violent Vest
An extraordinary composition in which the mainspring of the murder is named but does not appear, and the victim is a schnook.
The opening scene is an excoriating divorce case in the making, which gradually leads to a kaleidoscopic view of the advertising industry as a realm of predation and falsity.
An ad exec sends his partner up the river, snookers a subordinate into taking a bullet for him, and the rap is pinned on the married young spokeswoman for Miss Debutante Cosmetics.
The title refers to a jazzy vestment borrowed for the nonce by the victim, from his boss.
Iron Curtain security requires a fall guy for advancement to the stratagems of war, Briggs is the American tourist caught in the net, an agricultural chemist talking soil conservation with the deputy premier of an evening, and at the same time arrested elsewhere preparing to blow up the Engels Hydroelectric Complex.
A double agent’s wife is the prosecutor’s mistress, Briggs’ car in Victory Square is full of explosives from the government’s own factory. Rollin is the defense counsel.
He foils an assassination plot against his witness with a Sherlock Holmes maneuver and brings him into court disguised as a janitor (Billion Dollar Brain) and then as defense counsel calling himself to the stand.
The Alpha Group (named The Alpha Society on a wanted poster) is “a terrorist ring” that buys a deadly airborne bacteriological weapon from a government scientist, there is “no antidote and no treatment”. The leader gloats, “now the government will have to listen to us”.
The canister is handily obtained by the IM Force, the scientist is arrested. A harmless substitute is placed in the hands of Alpha’s buyer, he is then given to understand that it has leaked into the small town where the purchase is made, and that he is among the victims.
Mimi is the “one in ten thousand” immune, her watch emits a tracking signal, she is his only hope, they head for the Alpha laboratory.
A second man is sent by Alpha to oversee the first, he plans to go into business for himself. The watch is damaged in a fight, a shorter version of the plan forces the location of Alpha out of him.
This astounding composition by Leigh Vance opens with a mobster (Roddy McDowall) blasting his brother (John Crawford) in the face with a shotgun. The mob has a new boss, other gangsters lend financial support to a scheme involving Iranian oil diverted by “an unfortunate pipeline leak”. The finale has counterfeit South African currency printed in the sub-basement.
The wounded brother is seemingly recovered sufficiently to lie in bed with his face wrapped in bandages and serve as moral authority for the new ventures. Hank (Richard Devon) suitably masked takes his place to spoil things, and Casey observes of the captured original, “Jim was right, he’s a puppet.” And so, Mission: Impossible touches on Franju’s Les Yeux Sans Visage.
Barney takes a job as chef to this establishment. “Pre- or post-Revolution?”, he asks when asked if he knows Russian cuisine. A liquid concoction serving as dinner is doctored for the patient to simulate a heart attack and effect the switch (Willy as physician), but Barney is obliged to taste it afterwards, and barely has time for the antidote.
Allen’s best recourse in all the clear facets of this is a close-up study of McDowall while the bandages are removed. “You were never half as smart as your brother, kid,” says John Larch injecting a note from Hamlet as a rival gangster when the police catch everybody in the sub-basement.
The series came to its end, as reported, with this most elegant and astounding restatement of President Eisenhower’s farewell address. Observe the beauty of the construction, a terrorist outfit is planning to take over the U.S. military by assassination and infiltration. This group is very suggestively named Pendulum, a formal trick.
Against them, the IM Force invents a global concern called World Resources Ltd., arms manufacturers, commodity dealers, gold speculators. This bunch wants to subsume Pendulum (forcing its leaders to divulge their plan).
And there you have it, a general understanding of the military-industrial complex. The script by Calvin Clements, Jr. (out of his Western habits) is uncompromisingly explicit in detailing the cold crassness of mass murder to incite war and force arms purchases on the participants, as well as of calculations on famine to nurture sales (and this is World Resources Ltd., the bogus operation whose logo is a ringed globe with a lightning bolt emanating from its South Pole).
It’s headquartered in a remarkable building which is a fine coup by Allen. There is a curious aspect of Pendulum’s plan, called Project Nightfall, in its resemblance to Colonel von Stauffenberg’s plot to kill Hitler with a briefcase-bomb at a staff meeting, but here the targets are top military brass at the home of a general (chairman of Joint Services Intelligence) who has been killed and replaced with a double. The homage to Eisenhower in this type of OSS or MI6 operation mutatis mutandis, characteristic of the entire series, is a fitting summation.
“The Pendulum” was the antepenultimate episode broadcast, though by some accounts the last one filmed. Allen’s exceptionally cool handling of the material is nonetheless a feature of Mission: Impossible as a whole. The very sangfroid of his interiors is as expressive in its quotidian blitheness and normality as any Ken Adam design could be. It’s what transpires (or appears to) in these bland, fashionable spaces that is the main point. I would add a curious resemblance to The Sting in the manifestation of the ploy (a room full of “speculators”, “screens”, observed from a back room), which as one has pointed out first appeared on radio among The Adventures of Harry Lime (“Horseplay”).