Night of the Steel Assassin
The Wild Wild West
Katzin’s representations of harbor (seacoast) and mansion (Texas border) set the tone.
Lt. Torres (John Dehner) has survived a cannonball at the Arsenal that left him shattered, held together with metal. He plots vengeance on the officers who placed him as sentry by a cheating draw of cards.
One dies, a ship chandler, his daughter goes to Torres and is hypnotized out of her college training into a saloon girl.
Another intended victim is now President Grant. Gordon visits Alto Nuevo in disguise to accept the town’s honors, wireless rockets point at him and West, who is being held prisoner. The rockets are Torres’ own invention, much of his recovery is due to operations he performed on himself.
It seems a shame, once Torres has drowned in his own dungeon pool, to unhypnotize Nina (Sue Ane Langdon), who is not nearly so agreeable afterward.
The Life Against Death Raid
The Rat Patrol
During an attack on the enemy, Pvt. Hitchcock sustains a serious wound requiring medical attention. Sgt. Moffitt commandeers a German ambulance and nurse for a trip to the nearest doctor, at a German field hospital.
They are immediately identified as Americans by a German colonel, who is revealed to be suffering from battle fatigue, he sees Americans everywhere and says, “I can smell an Englishman like Jack and the beanstalk, fee-fi-fo-fum.”
The tense operation is conducted under ether, briefly interrupted by the colonel with an automatic weapon. The ambulance is missing, an escape is made on a coffin truck.
An armored column pursues, and is stopped by Sgt. Troy with ether bottles serving as Molotov cocktails. Pvt. Hitchcock is transferred to a medical unit.
The parallelism of the theme is mirrored in the last shot of both jeeps side-by-side receding into the distance. Katzin exhibits a perfect handheld camera technique at the German field hospital, where the Americans are given away by Hitch’s tattoo, “Fort Benning, Ga. / 1942”, with flag.
The Kill or Be Killed Raid
The Rat Patrol
Katzin reserves his brilliant technique for the final breakout from German headquarters in an Arab town, so as to have sterling quiet for one scene between Sgt. Moffitt and his interrogator after a beating. Moffitt has been undercover as a professor of archæology sent from Berlin to decipher the German’s discovery, a parchment in Coptic (old style) which may indicate the presence of wells decisive for the German plan.
Troy has orders to kill Moffitt if he’s caught. He and Hitch take up positions outside HQ. Moffitt is offered tea, English tea. “Could use a spot more milk.” Death by Gestapo torture is waiting at Bezerta. Bloodied Moffitt sips his tea, he’s translated the parchment and burned it.
Rooftop lovers surprise Troy and Hitch, Moffitt is led out, they leap onto a half-track and lumber away in furious fire.
The Blind Man’s Bluff Raid
The Rat Patrol
It begins and ends in extraordinary images, Sgt. Troy on foot Tommy-gunning the sand to clear a minefield for the patrol, which disappears amid caverns of smoke and dust after pulverizing a convoy.
In between, Troy is lost on the desert, beaten down by the sun (Katzin’s close work with the camera follows him down, briefly glimpsing an equipment shadow like the one in Ford’s Wagon Master, also filmed on the desert). He wakes up sunblind in a field hospital tended by a nurse from the German Intelligence Corps and a well-trained American-sounding doctor under Hauptmann Dietrich’s personal supervision, and is duped into betraying the patrol’s rendezvous point.
He kisses the nurse, dips the eyedropper that blinds him into a glass of water, busts out of a guarded ambulance and leaves his dark glasses for Dietrich to find.
The Blow Sky High Raid
The Rat Patrol
A heavily-fortified German radar station is under the flight path of bombers heading for the docks where Rommel’s new division is assembling. A new type of explosive is invented for just this purpose, served up in round portions the size of tennis balls.
Dietrich controls the pass, Moffitt knows another one, discovered on a fossil hunt. The Germans have an Arab in their service who knows an old man who remembers the legend of “a race destroyed by flood”, leaving a dry riverbed. The old man is dead, a blind girl riding an ass has been taught the secret.
Sgt. Troy’s hand is forced. He walks into the midst of the Germans holding a ball of the stuff. Dietrich orders his men away, the rest of the explosive is set off by machine gun, the station is destroyed.
Troy lets Dietrich go, and says nothing when asked about it by Hitch.
The Deadly Double Raid
The Rat Patrol
Attack on a convoy, Moffitt and Pettigrew stall their jeep, flee on foot, Moffitt is wounded in the arm, they are captured. Troy drives their jeep away.
Katzin has a camera on the German halftrack for a POV of the POW camp as it is entered. “Don’t see Craig,” says Moffitt, “don’t see him anywhere.”
The undercover man they have come to extricate is dead and buried at the camp. The code word is Birdwatcher, answered by the name of Rommel’s planned surprise offensive. Operation Nachtigall is written on Moffitt’s bandage, the camp doctor is their man. Not so, says Cpl. Marston, a cabbie. He fed the man, received the information. Troy and Hitchcock tear up the camp, the doctor and Marston are both brought along, one a German plant.
The jeep gets stuck in the sand, can’t be pushed. Moffitt says surrender, Marston breaks for the top of the dune, the doctor mans the machine gun to stop him. A .45 prevents this.
A striking blue and orange contrast of sand and sky reflects the theme.
The Gun Runner Raid
The Rat Patrol
A U.S. convoy behind enemy lines is a trap for the patrol, all its soldiers are Arabs under the command of an expatriate lately serving in the Air Corps, shot down and hit by a bullet that was stopped by the money in his wallet. He “saw the light,” his profitable sales of American arms and ammunition to the Germans have been undercut by the patrol to the tune of half a million dollars. They are served a fine dinner in his richly-appointed Arab home, en route to POW camp.
The gun runner’s mistress is also an American, a singer whom he haggled for with an Arab nightclub owner in Casablanca. “He loathes me,” she says, “and I despise him. We’re even.”
The traitor (“defector, please”) is undone when a sandstorm puts out the lights. Troy and Moffitt make for the exit (Pettigrew and Hitchcock are quartered elsewhere inthe establishment), the lights come on, their host is on the second-floor landing with a machine gun in his hands, about to rid himself of two costly foes. A shot from his mistress’s .45 brings him down. “Mommy?”, he whimpers (her pet name).
The Last Chance Raid
The Rat Patrol
There is an anti-tank unit lying in wait for Operation Wildcat, HQ must be advised, Capt. Dietrich’s column hits the patrol and eliminates one jeep and their radio transmitter. They still receive the propaganda broadcast from the Germans at El Jebel fifty miles away, recommending “a nice cool drink at home” and Churchill as the enemy.
They enter the city and head for the Senderaum, upstairs past a secretary and a room full of card-playing guards. Dietrich has followed them, they are captured. “Did you really think you could walk in and take over the radio station?”
Sgt. Troy and Sgt. Moffitt do just that, by overpowering the bringers of a gift to their cell, a radio to hear the broadcast. The English reader, known as Col. Windsor, tries to escape and is shot by the Germans in haste. Pvt. Hitchcock and Pvt. Pettigrew are freed, the message is sent out, “Abort Operation Wildcat”.
Dietrich awakens from an enforced nap to see his prisoners driving away in one of his own personnel carriers. Hitch finds a nice slow ballad on the radio back at the jeep.
Katzin strenuously curtails his handheld camera, relying instead on editing at a table. The result is as quick, tense and dramatic as his usual way of working.
Snowball in Hell
The old penal colony is dead, there a man might be flogged to death for refusing a question from the commandant. He still has his office and his staff and a bottle of cesium-138 for sale, the calembour stuff of “low-cost nuclear weapons”. It comes back on him, Rollin wearing a balaclava acquires it in a hospital freezer once Briggs and Willy have gummed up the air conditioning, heat will set it off.
Barney is an escaped prisoner back for a photo session, the juice is trundled to its source through his namesake’s tunnel by means of a one-track tank, very small as these things go, and heated.
Cinnamon is a nurse at the hospital, overseeing the plasma crates where Rollin hides (one is in the foreground of the last shot, after Borodur is blown up).
The acting is led by Ricardo Montalban as a very authentic bureaucrat and sadist, more than cruel and not entirely unusual. The art department once again triumphs by fulfilling a precise requirement, a photo in his files of the prisoner, bearded and not Collier, but with something about the eyes that suggests a resemblance.
Beginning with the calm after the storm, Katzin’s work here may be said to take off from Kowalski’s in the pilot, for sheer dynamism, with many scenes precisely edited by means of a handheld camera dexterously used.
The script by Judith and Robert Guy Barrows has a direct mechanical force of its own, as well as a working knowledge of Kafka’s story.
James Daly has to play two other people disguised as himself (in the role of a U.S. envoy overseas), and he does this by carefully studying Steven Hill as Briggs, and by inventing an actor turned secret agent and assassin. The eerie faultlessness of Daly as Briggs as the actor as the envoy is a masterpiece.
Part of this is no doubt attributable to Katzin’s direction, which after “Snowball in Hell” is now firmly on its feet in dash and freedom. The genius of Le Mans is fully evident in a brilliant working plan giving half the shots to a handheld camera moving easily or forcefully or sculpturally within the action. Beautifully rhythmic editing completes the tour de force.
He defects to the adverse party with a message in code he cannot understand (the part is played by Lonny Chapman with comical stolidity). There’s no improving on this, so Katzin occupies himself with a straightfaced elaboration of the details.
Rollin enters the Soviet embassy as a code expert who in a Gogolian flurry declares himself an NVD man, the real code expert is shortly to arrive. The sinuous Eartha Kitt infiltrates the heating system, and makes the sleeping traitor’s bed right over him, before filching the message from a safe.
The traitor is shown to be mercenary, and is arrested outside the embassy while fleeing for his life. The stunned security chief (Malachi Throne) watches Rollin walk out the door on his way to report to headquarters, and is handed a teletype advising he is not what he appears to be.
The only game in town is a heroin supplier in Marseilles financed by the head of a numbers bank in Miami. Barney drops the latter’s elevator down to the basement, Phelps takes him to the hospital, blind.
Cinnamon plays the widow, replacing her husband. The entire crop is silently seized by Phelps, leaving powdered milk as scented bath salts. Rollin’s rival gang forces the issue.
The carefully-prepared safe is opened for refunds, through its trapdoor the smiling financier is seen holding the strongbox in his hands, empty though it is. The buyers liquidate their assets.
Katzin’s direction is perfectly geared to Slater’s script, making it the best of his work in the series.
The shifting perspectives of the teleplay by Woodfield & Balter make the title character first Barney, then Cinnamon as singer Andrea Lynn, finally the English wife (Antoinette Bower) of the brother of the king of Elkabar on the Persian Gulf. The economy is sustained by the slave trade, the king himself (Joseph Ruskin) is the author of it, his trader De Groot (Warren Stevens) pillages countries roundabout for victims, raising the threat of hostilities. The king is unperturbed. “Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to go to war with them,” he tells De Groot, “the oil business is every bit as good as the slave business.”
The king’s brother is deceived by assurances. An Arab expert (Steve Franken), author of a Report to the International Commission on Slavery, joins the IMF for the nonce.
Phelps receives the assignment at a firebox in the park. He horns in on De Groot, offering the king his own wife as prime fodder, Andrea Lynn. “White ivory on the block,” says De Groot to the king, “they will come flocking.”
Katzin opens on the back lot as the holy city, threading a crowd of extras to a sign reading, “Moslems Only Beyond This Point”. His technique is once again a takeoff from Kowalski’s pilot. The fairy-tale atmosphere gradually accretes details on the foundation of such actors, rising in the second part to the king in golden splendor.
Rollin introduces sleeping bats to the bedroom of the brother and wife. The bats stir and waken, very much like The Birds, the wife is carried out by Willy, to be installed in a slave cell copied from the real article beneath the palace by way of photographs taken by Barney during his stay.
Lynn is sold to a private buyer, but saved for the auction block. De Groot is finessed out of the picture, leaving tavern owner and bordello proprietor Jara (Percy Rodriguez) as go-between to the king.
The slave market in the holy city feeds on penniless pilgrims, the poor baited with false promise of work, children stolen from their parents or brought up in it.
Phelps is a bold rascal, the king threatens him, “No-one leaves this city alive without my authority.” Phelps’ reply is, “This city of yours survives on slavery,” they go halves.
The brother’s wife is quickly switched for Lynn (Barbara Bain does a swift sketch of Bower behind bars), she is seen by her husband auctioned off under the king’s eye. “You would sell your own brother’s wife”, he says to the surprised king.
As advertised, “no house servant but a wife to prince or sheik.” Slavery is abolished there and then.
A military coup, a Chancellor, “our nation is ringed with enemies, we must destroy them before they destroy us, we must crush all who would destroy the New Order!”
He is provided with an astrologer, Cinnamon, who joins the Deputy Chancellor and his aide on an airliner to the capital.
An opposition leader is also aboard, unconscious and captive, brought back from exile for trial and execution with all the loyalists whose names are on a piece of microfilm captured with him.
Rollin and Barney work from the luggage compartment, up through a seat in the lounge, and view the events through a grille.
The security man is a skeptic, but the Deputy Chancellor sides with Cinnamon when the list is found to have his own name on it, as she foretold.
In the same way, Rollin and Barney switch the prisoner for a dummy that looks to have leaped from the plane on final approach to avoid ignominy.
The security man has his traitor nonetheless, and the aide’s name is on the list as well. The prisoner comes away with the luggage, Phelps burns the microfilm.
The prescience of James F. Griffith’s teleplay is especially remarkable for conceiving the airliner as no man’s land.
“The Photographer” is the business end of “The Carriers”, the American agent in charge of the operation is a photographer for Elite Publications, and lives forty-five minutes from Broadway in a house with a bomb shelter on the grounds, where he receives commands from a power that is neither Russia nor China, in an unbreakable code comprising “changing progressions of random numbers”.
Cinnamon is equipped with a husband named Carter (Phelps) and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry, for the nonce. The photographer does a layout of her, complete with chemical formula in the background, and the IMF create the illusion of a nuclear attack, so that Rollin (as a Fed held prisoner in the bomb shelter) may see the code in operation, which, like the more elementary one in Perry Mason: The Case of the Moth-Eaten Mink, is tied to pages in a phonebook.
The script by Woodfield & Balter once again places Katzin in the position of having to follow its hair-trigger mechanism with the utmost meticulousness, and, as in “The Astrologer”, he finds a flourish in the representation of photography—there, a flurry of press photographers, here, a fashion shoot at the outset derived from Blowup, and adding a freeze-frame and optical-printer zoom adapted from Torn Curtain.
The theme is simplicity itself. Dr. Halder runs a string of clinics named after him, but his principal venture is counterfeit drugs (insulin, digitalis, penicillin), shaped and packaged like the real thing but only milk powder. The IM Force cause him to appear sick, take him to one of his clinics and prescribe his own baloney, which he rejects.
The beauty part is in the second theme. Cinnamon is an executive at Gant Pharmaceuticals, maker of Dilatrin for vascular disease. Their plan to foil Halder is a design change every thirty days. Halder has police sergeant Rollin catch her with bags of amphetamines, to force a twelve-month design schedule out of her.
A contract killer at several removes must be caught red-handed.
He’s invited to dinner with Phelps, his wife Cinnamon and his brother Rollin, next-door neighbors. The lights dim, the chandelier tinkles, it’s brother Bobby, who died young in an accident many years before. “It’s all right, Bobby,” says Rollin earnestly to thin air, “we’re together.”
The skeptical but observant thug has an affair with Cinnamon photographed by Phelps, who comes on strong and is shot by right-hand man Connie, right in the bulletproof sweater devised by Barney.
He comes back to haunt the fellow and strike Cinnamon down in storm and lightning also devised by Barney, with an assist from Willy. Finally, the killer takes a rifle and shoots the body, which is unconscious Connie’s behind a decomposing mask.
Phelps calls the police.
An Eastern Bloc Minister of Culture plots to seize power with an attack on his premier’s East-meets-West diplomatizing.
Rollin trades faces with a leading actor whose escape is nearly botched when a border guard sees his State Arts Medal.
Cinnamon is Joan Vincent, the author of At the Summit, a very likely piece. John McLiam rehearses as the president, until Rollin goads him off the stage. Joan’s American husband (Phelps) takes his place, president and premier run through their repartee.
Author and leading actor go to see the real premier and complain of liberties with the text. The premier sees for himself, as the material is screened from hearing and replaced by Barney as it is spoken with a taped variant substituting the patriotic phrases of the stage premier with interpolations like “mistress”, “pleasures”, “Swiss bank account”, “retirement fund” and so forth, beamed to the seats in the empty house occupied by the real premier and his retinue.
The Minister of Culture is at once arrested.
Part of the skill in Katzin’s direction is the casting of McLiam and Michael Tolan (as Rollin in disguise) to play the temperamental actors.
Heaven with a Gun
Cattle vs. sheep, the big man runs cattle, the new man in town isn’t a hired gun but a preacher who can shoot.
To Howard Thompson of the New York Times, Katzin’s first film was “a plodding, vest-pocket Western” and not the kaleidoscopic show the director made it, with fine shadings amongst the actors as the prism reveals this or that turning.
Halliwell’s Film Guide notes that it is “solidly carpentered”.
The effect of the construction is to represent Le Mans itself in two hours, and the execution does precisely that.
Even with the formidable example of Un homme et une femme discreetly before them, the critics were unable even to imagine any significance whatsoever in Katzin’s masterpiece.