A highly unusual Western, put together by two eminent Hollywood writers, directed by Swackhamer in such a way as to advance the film and at the same time preclude all critical awareness (cf. Godard on Sternberg’s Jet Pilot), an epic Western (cf. Furie’s The Appaloosa on a similar theme) filmed intimately.
The idea is to relive the past in the eyes of the son, the search for the stolen horse takes them to the bunkhouse where the old rival still nurses a grudge, then to a grieving widow in the wilds, and finally an aging desperado on the run, whose particular dilemma mirrors and resolves that of the new farmer and his family clearing rocky scrubland in Arizona after the Civil War.
Gidget Gets Married
Gidget is engaged to Moondoggie and teaching First Grade. Sheldon’s Louis B. Latimer, the silent-film and Dracula buff, does the wedding photography with “inserts from Intolerance”. After a “surf honeymoon”, the couple settles down in a subdivision called Oakdale, the middle-class component of Woodlake, a town wholly-owned by World Wide Dynamics, the company for which Moondoggie has resigned his Air Force commission. He begins as a draftsman working very late, one night he finds his wife at a neighbor’s party dancing with another man.
All Woodlake consists of Poplar Flats, Oakdale and Cypress Hill, where Moondoggie’s boss (Don Ameche, his wife is Joan Bennett) lives in a mansion apart from the rest. Oakdale is plagued by sonic booms, Gidget gets herself arrested outside a City Council meeting, but is surprised when she finds out the boss (vice-president for research and development) is on the Council.
“You want everything to be perfect,” Moondoggie complains to Gidget. She goes to stay with Louis B., Moondoggie quits his job. Negotiations fail, there is a “final break”. Moondoggie turns up with a camera.
Gidget mounts an offensive, an “Explorers Club” of kids who adopt new parents around Woodlake, her neighbors’ little boy turns up in the boss’s house.
All the wives protest the company’s social arrangements, which are conceded to be out of date. Moondoggie is assigned to London, where he and his wife dine at a restaurant with a Lord Byron Room downstairs closed to ladies, and a Tennyson Room upstairs. The gentlemen in the former crowd around the couple at table, giving them the silent stare.
The progression of thought that leads to this point from Gidget Goes to Rome through Gidget Grows Up is poetically conceived by way of Dante and Matthew Arnold (“The Scholar-Gipsy”), and properly speaking so rarefied that all five of the films back to Wendkos’s original must doubtless be considered as a whole to grasp it.
It’s a sunny New York day in springtime, or possibly early summer, and this provides the key to NBC’s lighting system at this time.
The script also is quintessentially McCloud in some respects, starting several hares in a dramatic way and transcending them all in a dynamic conclusion.
McCloud is in Spanish Harlem on pawn shop detail. There is a young Puerto Rican tough on the verge of a life of crime... There is a Navajo girl and her wealthy admirer from, say, the Hamptons, who has dumped her and left her broke. There is Lt. Easton of Homicide, whose partner was killed in the line of duty, and who is set to retire in a month. There is Vincent, a new low-level mob executive, violent and careless.
McCloud goes undercover as an auto parts dealer short of cash (his company is called Southwestern Consolidated Industries). At the close, he’s taken captive in a twin-engine aircraft out of La Guardia, and Chief Clifford commandeers another in pursuit. The aerial chase is sharply filmed (almost echoing Ulu Grosbard’s Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?), with the same sun on the water and a virtuosic exterior lasting two or three seconds, filmed from the second plane, of McCloud subduing his captors seen through the windows.
Dick Haymes as mob middle management is brought on to demonstrate Vincent’s ineptness in a brief scene.
Swackhamer’s skill is everywhere evident. When Chief Clifford has to talk McCloud through a landing, Swackhamer shows you the field from the roof of a rescue vehicle heading toward the runway, then drops the camera down into the cab to look through the windshield past the uniformed driver and his silver-suited passenger.
Park Avenue Pirates
McCloud’s colleagues are mysteriously absent. He tracks them to a secret meeting with Treasury Agent Lund (Fred Holliday), where they are planning a raid on a record piracy operation.
A record producer (Jessica Walter) who is backed by mob associate Mr. Gregory (Raymond St. Jacques) runs the operation to finance payola for disk jockeys. The advantage here is in having a source of capital that’s off the books. Much footage shows the pirate presses running off LP’s for shipment across the country (a ball of wax, or rather vinyl, is placed on a sort of waffle iron, squeezed flat and trimmed).
The producer also needs the services of up-and-coming talent like Shannon Forbes (Barbi Benton), whose manager (Hoke Howell) still objects to crooked operations like J & T Records. He’s dispatched with a psychotomimetic drug overdose, Agent Lund is murdered, and so is a DJ junkie (Dick Whittington) who’s an informer.
McCloud goes undercover to Nashville as Shannon’s new manager, Arnie Hooten. Sgt. Broadhurst is badly beaten for snooping around the J & T plant.
Back in New York, the psychotomimetic is slipped to McCloud at a rooftop café. He hallucinates the fauna of New Mexico (rattlesnake, roadrunner, prairie dog, buzzards), draws his revolver to fend off a stampede of traffic, and attacks Chief Clifford, whom he mistakes for a wolf.
Back on his feet after receiving a dangerous antidote, McCloud corrals Mr. Gregory in the engine of a freight train where the engineer is being held hostage.
Shaw has composed this like a Western of the Thirties, and Swackhamer films it that way, right down to the fight atop the Santa Fe boxcars.
Our Man in the Harem
A more relaxed style, enabling Swackhamer to focus his attentions and energies on set-ups where he finds the camera angles that give him comfortable resources in which to couch his tale of Arab mischiefs and corporate corruption.
Notably, his odalisques are filmed with a rather long lens, or thrown in the background with a lack of focus.
The idea is that an American aircraft company in fierce competition with the French bribes an Arab buyer with girls for his harem (one a year from the also-rans at a beauty pageant). McCloud and a State Department agent ferret all this out, but the Arab has a ploy: claiming all these Americans are conspirators in a plot to oust his Sheik.
It will certainly be seen that this is admirably constructed as a reversible image of what is at stake in certain commitments and dealings, with a remote flavor of the Minotaur.
The suggestion is that American interests do not lie in supporting feudal interests along a corrupt line indicated by De Tocqueville as endemic to American business structures.
From another point of view, the exploitation of such a weakness is seen as futile because essentially provincial.
New York Turned Blue
During a New York City snowstorm, a union lawyer is placed in protective custody as a witness to graft, a working girl is slipping out-of-towners a mickey and painting them blue, a Federal Inspector is auditing the Department books, the mob plans an invasion of headquarters, and patrolmen have a strike meeting.
The common ant, whose intelligence is in numbers, will go to extreme lengths to get at a crumb; remove the crumb, his legions withdraw. Similarly, the Celts have a saying about the devil’s intelligence of your whereabouts after this your exile.
Carl Sandburg has a way of working with a line like this: he strings it out and lets it play in the Rootabaga Country, and it comes out where it didn’t go in.
Swackhamer is one with difficulties, they do not cause him the mere arch of his eyebrows, and with every hair in place, despite enough material for half a baker’s dozen shows, he serenely pulls this off, earning a pat on the back from the Chief for McCloud.
The technique is the classic television ploy of cramming the set with actors able to deploy their forces fast and tight, because the script has a complexity that is unusual even for McCloud. The clean lines of Swackhamer’s direction are as good as can be imagined, because he always has the next move in his mind, without overlooking the polish on the scene in hand. He is able to keep transitions to a minimum, at least partly due to the script, and because his preparations allow him to pick up the strands one by one without any difficulty.
A good example of this is the union meeting, led by Carl Weathers. Swackhamer films this in two parts: first the warm-up, and then the punchline. Between them, the Chief announces he is going to the meeting (with a gag line involving a Federal inspector). Rather than follow the Chief to the meeting, Swackhamer can have him pop his head back into his office to nix any warnings, and then be seen entering the now crowded and confused meeting, so that Swackhamer has two gags going simultaneously and one in the offing—while at the same time he has two separate plot lines in full development (a menaced witness to pension fund graft in protective custody, and the azure prostitute—Gig Young, Bernadette Peters).
The finale brings every inch of film directly or by implication into play, and drops an entirely new element (McCloud’s defense of police headquarters) into the stretto to crown the work.
City Hall… to the Death
Swackhamer’s mastery works hand-in-hand with the script by Larson & Shaw to achieve a full-length drama or two-part episode in one.
A rape and murder on the beach unravels a blackmail plot to rob City Hall, girls are placed in secretarial positions to coerce high officials into filching a pile of city checks for dispersal in Switzerland.
The death of one girl in Mexico calls for an unofficial visit.
The Death of Ocean View Park
One of the glories of the Western world, the Coney Island of Virginia, whose latter end was a stationary carnival with a memorable roller coaster. It’s represented as sold to a developer as the focal point of Paradise City, a housing tract. Providence, however, brings the park to a fiery end on the Fourth of July before the groundbreaking.
The image is of a plain girl who sells cotton candy. An inexperienced sailor abandons his Navy buddies and a charming hooker to sleep on the beach and see the amusement park he’s heard about. Boy meets girl…
Swackhamer got this on the strength of his performance in complex interwoven stories like the McCloud episode called “The Day New York Turned Blue”. He thrives on difficulties that would stump other people, and actually grows calmer the more he has to juggle. The various plot strands are kept effortlessly well-organized.
The park had been shut down when Playboy and ABC went in to record the demolition. Swackhamer gets every last flavor out of the jelly bean colors and whirring gizmos in the sea air, as a last bit of America sold for stock options.