Fifth Man in a String Quartet
A mobster seeking public office devises a scheme to silence a murder witness.
A Little Tête-to-Tête
Fred R. Shultke is running for Harbor Commissioner. Years before, he killed a rival, and believes he was seen. The question is, what to do at this juncture?
The witness is a low-level runner named Stephen Rudensky, who saw nothing at all. He has a brother, “the internationally-renowned violinist Paul Rudell” according to the latter’s remarkably lifelike and true-to-form obituary on the evening news (“he will be missed”), who founded a Conservatory of Music in New York, and whom Stephen deeply admires in his far-flung travels, saving the odd newspaper clipping that comes his way.
Shultke has a plan. He donates $10,000 to the Conservatory (“a modest little contribution,” McCloud observes), places his own Fifth Avenue lawyer on the staff as a part-time advisor without pay, arranges a frame job, and has Rudell stabbed after a charity concert rehearsal.
Stephen Rudensky surfaces for the funeral, Shultke tries to have him killed. Meanwhile, a student of Rudell’s, Louis Brocco is held for the murder on impressive circumstantial evidence that leaves McCloud cold. This is a lovelorn lad who looks over his shoulder every day because in his childhood, like Cocteau’s poet, kids threw snowballs full of rocks at him. He has, by his own admission, “no personality”, is “not strong, not attractive” without his violin.
The rest of the quartet, second violinist Waldemar, violist Milton and cellist Kurt, are studies of a very similar sort. They train like athletes and live like chessplayers, work at a deli and scrape along in the city. When Louis is arrested for first-degree murder (the motive is asserted to be love for Rudell’s granddaughter Natalie), they try to bail him out, and then get into trouble by taking evidence from his room (they give themselves away by straightening up the apartment before they go). McCloud wonders how a man wearing one blue sock and one yellow sock could have such a neat apartment, finds out they have a key, could run them in, but will accept a bribe. “You see,” says Kurt, who thinks the marshal has beady eyes and hence a wrongheaded implacability, “I told you so!” They bring him Louis’s returned love letters from behind the deli counter (“‘Dear Miss Rudell,’” McCloud reads, adding, “sort o’ formal for a love letter, ain’t it?”), and inquire about the bribe. “That’s gonna cost you one bagel and cream cheese, and maybe a cream soda, I don’t know, I haven’t figured that out yet.”
Natalie is receiving the attentions of Shultke’s lawyer, Kevin Mallory, who disprizes Louis in the strongest terms as “a weirdo”, if not “dangerous” on the surface.
McCloud grasps the situation with great rapidity, helped out by general astuteness and by chance and good investigative work. He sees Rudell’s double on a streetcorner near the Conservatory, learns of Rudensky’s plight, has the rest of the quartet stake out Natalie, follows her to Rudensky. A shootout with Shultke’s assassin (the “man in the green hat” who’s been following Louis around) and a pursuit through Long Island bring him to the arrest of the lawyer, whom Shultke has set to kill Rudensky (“I don’t want to think I saddled myself with a weakie”). The last scene has the quartet playing Dvořák (the “American” quartet), and between Alex and Milton is toe-tappin’ McCloud with his harmonica, under a bust of Beethoven.
Mayberry’s direction is distinguished by a sense of detail in a flowing mise en scène. Shultke flip-flops back to his hotel room in robe and slippers after assigning Mallory to kill Rudensky, and this walk from the elevator (out of which two prostitutes emerge and are sent on to the room), his short parti-colored robe and the sound of his slippers as he walks away from the camera down the corridor, is one of the best scenes of this kind. The final chase under a clear blue sky is not less remarkable.
Brand and Rick Weaver give seemingly effortless performances that go very far in refinement and characterization. Lilia Skala is skillfully present as Natalie’s aunt Eugenia (these Russians call each other Natalya and Eugénie and Pavel and Stefan), a ballet teacher at the Conservatory, “an aristocratic lady,” McCloud says, and as quick as he is to understand the situation.
Wiseman has a brief scene as Rudell signing autographs, then plays Rudensky in a tricky twofold manner as a man of feeling and violence. One is in his gentle demeanor, the other in his tough-guy voice.
Henteloff stays on a nervously even keel as the co-violinist amid these rapids. Haydn and Schreiber are brought in to definitely etch their characters in a swift movement. Fabares is abstracted and responsive by turns, as needed. Collins is a perfect tool.
It’s a balmy summer day in New York at the opening. How are things, Chief Clifford would like to know. McCloud has collared a pickpocket, also a man selling flying saucers, he’d like more challenging duty, at night for instance. Every day, says the Chief standing on the steps outdoors, we meet and have a talk like this, you tell me of your day, I have a plan. “From now on, you work nights.”
And that night, McCloud has just answered a call about a “dying animal” (it was the old man’s bagpipes, “he gave me a demonstration that wouldn’t quit, a whole serenade, you betcha”) when the call goes out about Rudell’s murder. Responding, he finds Louis fleeing from the scene after a passerby’s scream of terror.
Chief Clifford berates McCloud for “coercing” the prisoner by bringing his violin to him in jail. The marshal tells Louis about his Aunt Cora, who loved the violin and had 23 cats. “One day a stranger came and took away her innocence, just took away her innocence. He told her what those strings were made of, and just absolutely devastated a fantastic musical career.” He gets Louis to play for him, “you know, that Borodin quartet, No. 2 in D Major, I think it is, just that third movement, that’s the part that really turns me on.”
The beauty of the structure is revealed in the transition from Louis’s dreary apartment, where the manager offers McCloud a cup of tea (“haven’t had m’ booster shot,” the marshal answers, refusing it), to the Conservatory, where Eugenia serves him from a samovar.
Joseph Wiseman Paul Rudell/Stephen
Written by James D. Buchanan & Ronald Austin
Directed by Russ Mayberry
Theater marquees: A Gunfight (dir. Lamont Johnson), Creatures the World Forgot (dir. Don Chaffey).
FRED R. SHULTKE: (To his miniskirted chambermaid, who is interrupting Paul Rudell’s obituary on television.) Go polish something.
(The other members of the quartet want to bail out Louis
Brocco on a first-degree murder charge.)
SGT. BROADHURST: (To McCloud.) If you need anything at all, I’ll be gone.
McCLOUD: There ya go.
MILTON: (To McCloud.) Louis couldn’t hurt the lowest creature in the world! A caterpillar! A music critic!
MILTON: (To McCloud.) An ant, he couldn’t hurt!
McCLOUD: You know, my Aunt Cora played the fiddle, she was—
LOUIS BROCCO: Please don’t call it a fiddle. That’s a very ugly word.
(Louis Brocco plays a little Borodin in his jail cell.)
PRISONER: (Off-camera.) Hey, knock off the lullaby!
McCLOUD: Well, there’s no accountin’ for bad taste, is there.
McCLOUD: (To Louis Brocco.) You always look around to see if someone’s followin’ you?
APT. MANAGER: (Of Louis Brocco, to McCloud.) You say good mornin’ to this kid, you know what he does, he hums to you.
APT. MANAGER: His three musician friends, Huey, Louie and Mooey, or whatever their names are...
(At the Conservatory.)
McCLOUD: Excuse me, ma’am, may I ask you a few questions?
EUGENIA: I would say it’s about time someone did..
(Serving Russian tea.)
EUGENIA: I hope it’s steeped long enough.
McCLOUD: Oh, listen, that’s quite all right! I don’t like it too steep.
SGT. BROADHURST: (Of Fred R. Shultke, to McCloud.) He’s never tried to hide his past. As a matter of fact, he’s stated publicly that he grew up being somewhat less than lovely.
McCLOUD: You wouldn’t happen to have a little free time to help me
out, would ya?
SGT. BROADHURST: Free time? You are speaking of a long-forgotten luxury, my friend.
(The trio volunteer for stakeout duty.)
KURT: (He has opposed McCloud as inimical to “artistes”.) When a man of honor has pledged himself to assist, such a man is not deterred.
McCLOUD: There ya go.
KURT: (Indicating an upstairs window.) The subject is up there.
McCLOUD: You’re doin’ a bang-up job.
McCLOUD: A crazy idea gets reasonable when a man gets desperate enough.
FRED R. SHULTKE: (Of Kevin Mallory.) My lawyer. Phi Beta Kappa. All the right social circles. All that spiffy stuff money just can’t buy. Ain’t that right, silver spoon?
FRED R. SHULTKE: Kevin, you’re gonna have to learn how to read people instead of books.
FRED R. SHULTKE: (Of Stephen Rudensky, to Kevin Mallory.) I told you, however he got it, he now knows it was us that zinged his brother.
FRED R. SHULTKE: Well, personally of course, I got a pretty full appointment schedule, but an old friend like Steve, he deserves to get met. Definitely deserves to get met.
(Fred R. Shultke, candidate for Harbor Commissioner, contributed
ten thousand dollars to the Paul Rudell Conservatory of Music.)
SGT. BROADHURST: Well, where are you going?
McCLOUD: I hate to be a namedropper, but if Chief Clifford should ask as to my whereabouts, you can tell him I’m havin’ a little tête-to-tête (he pronounces this, moreover, “Tate-ta-Tate”) with a patron of the arts.
SGT. BROADHURST: What?
McCLOUD: Yeah, and I shall return anon. (Exits.)
SGT. BROADHURST: (To himself, likewise.) Tête-to-tête?
(At first, Shultke denies his involvement with the
FRED R. SHULTKE: (To McCloud.) Cowboy, can you picture me snorin’ my way through a violin concert, huh?
(If he was trying to win support, why did he contribute
FRED R. SHULTKE: (To McCloud.) Well, you make ‘em anonymously, it leaks out eventually, at the right time. Makes you look more benevolent, huh?
(He knows every man on the docks.)
FRED R. SHULTKE: When I was a kid they called that bein’ a bum. Now they say I got practical experience.
(Kevin Mallory pulls a gun.)
KEVIN MALLORY: You’re dangerous, Rudensky.
STEPHEN RUDENSKY: Yeah, I must be, your hand’s shakin’. Come on, boy, if you’re gonna use it, use it! You dishrag! You no good— (He grabs Kevin Mallory by the throat.)