“We are an alien presence in the house of our masters. Entirely at the mercy of the bureaucratic power structure. The facts are plain, we are not taken seriously by those who govern us. We are not advised by our advisers, and in many cases we are not even taught by our teachers! It is time for all of us to wake up and demand a voice in the administration of this university!” Alden, having stopped to listen, looks at his watch, dissolve to hamster on wheel in foreground, focus out to Alden’s supine head in background, profile.
Mike Alden, “helping Dr. Courtland with an experiment,” amnesia and flatworms, Dr. Lashley of Harvard is cited. A new security guard on campus to pay the freight, whose chief says, “I want that ticket book filled!” Question of reserved parking for faculty and administrators, cp. The New Interns (dir. John Rich).
Alden springs forth, “is there a prize?” Puzzled look from the chief. “Sorry.”
The student scholar, independent-minded and very busy. “Lecture notes. I spend half my time taking them and the other half tryin’ to figure out what they mean. Why did Professor Heinemann compare Aristotle to William Pitt?”
“I give up, I don’t know.”
“When I find out, I’ll let you know.” The extensive, nay exhaustive teleplay is by Robert Van Scoyk, somewhere between Hecht & MacArthur’s Soak the Rich and Hagmann’s The Strawberry Statement. After the student newspaper is confiscated and burned, “we’re planning to demonstrate against the anti-human attitude of President Marshall’s administration.” The writer of these notes was at an earlier stage asked by a college student for permission to cite them in a paper, which turned out to mean shoehorning them vacantly into a curt dismissal of Cohen’s “counterculture series” or the equivalent, probably a grad thesis by now.
“Save us from our protectors and protect us from our saviors” is Dr. Courtland’s word, looking at it all the way around he prefers “the democratic process,” as he says. The students of Medwin U. strike against “mass-produced education”, as a television newsman says. Everybody wears “a hat and a stick” in campus security for the occasion on the president’s orders, “a rain hat, for when it starts rainin’ bricks and bottles,” the chief explains. Wanamaker cranes in to the scholar’s disappointed face, a reluctant protester in hopes of reform, on the student leader’s cry “to join me in taking over the Administration Building,” remembering Lumet’s The Hill and Frankenheimer’s Birdman of Alcatraz. The conclusion is that subsequently reached by Bolognini in Imputazione di omicidio per un studente and Dassin in The Rehearsal.
Jon Voight shortly before The Revolutionary (dir. Paul Williams), Candice Bergen between The Group (dir. Sidney Lumet) and Carnal Knowledge (dir. Mike Nichols), David Carradine the Art Thief in Alf Kjellin’s “Ten Minutes from Now” (The Alfred Hitchcock Hour), Richard Kiley as Ralph Richardson as Dr. Courtland et al.
The heavily endowed “multiversity” and its docile or arbitrary disciplines are significantly analyzed in R.P.M. (dir. Stanley Kramer) and Getting Straight (also with Bergen, dir. Richard Rush).
The view of a field operative is that a Russian agent is gumming up the works in London and wreaking terrible damage, the higher-ups take a somewhat different view, both are correct.
A great masterpiece worked out from the setting of the equation to its solution, thoughtfully regarded by some film critics as “dour” (Halliwell’s Film Guide) or actionless (Variety).
The fate of an independent with a herd of mavericks, and a U.S. marshal after him, and a cattleman’s gunhand after him, too.
There’s gold, Confederate gold, in Mexico. Plenty of Indians, too.
Wanamaker’s direction is enormously detailed and attentive, his editing is fast, that gives him time for the grand précis of a rich Mexican general’s inner yard with Moorish fountain and roses, and the formal ball out of an Emilio Fernandez.
Critics claim it’s pointless because they don’t see the point, some say Wanamaker is dull, which is why.
The Bye-Bye Sky-High I.Q.
You will recognize this as the mirror image of “An Exercise in Fatality” (dir. Bernard L. Kowalski). There is the same motive for the murder (embezzlement threatened with exposure) and the same sort of exclusive club, not the one that fitness buffs belong to, perforce, but the Sigma Society for people who are mentally gifted or, as the murderer himself refers to his fellow members, “eccentric bores.”
This dichotomy, which is known in the publicist’s world as the jock/nerd theory, is one of a startling series of themes set in motion along the way, and which we are all familiar with, like “intelligent machines” (though whether “smart” machines are referred to or “artificial intelligence” is not specified, for reasons humorously explained in the plot), “addiction” (in this case, to ice cream cones), “creative bookkeeping,” “conspiracy,” and the murderer’s curious phrase to his wife, “you are the mother of my predicament.”
Expert television artists like Sam Wanamaker (who had also directed a handful of films at this point) and Robert Malcolm Young show you very clearly what that means. Young’s script is a dazzling survey of the main theme with all its sparkling offshoots, and Wanamaker is able to keep up with it at top speed, catching the tiniest joke in flight with what looks to be a modified classical television style of minute camera movements and a free use of depth-of-field for surprising, delicate effects to match the “many and various” gags.
There is a Rube Goldberg brilliance in the murder apparatus, something further developed in “Murder with Too Many Notes” (dir. Patrick McGoohan) and “Columbo Likes the Nightlife” (dir. Jeffrey Reiner), and note the detail of the dictionary with which the murderer and his victim, partners in an accounting firm, regularly play a fanciful word game, and which is divided on the back cover exactly in half for the apparatus.
The LAPD is startling as well in its efficiency from the outset, as seen from the mental murderer’s point of view. He gives his own brow the mark of Cain (soot-smutch) and tries to cleanse himself like Lady Macbeth. He gives Lt. Columbo a “minimum-information” puzzle, guessing which is gold and which dross. He owns a Modigliani, steals from widows, and tells the lieutenant whoever did the crime “would have to be a genius.”
Lt. Columbo’s consideration and tact, such signal features of his modest and humble character, are sorely tried when the Sigmoids foist their crime theories on him, each of which contains a grain of truth, however. After the last of these, alone at the crime scene, he bows his head and cradles his brow in his hand, shaking with disbelief.
Furthermore, he reveals another charming trait. He thinks of a “penny scale” as dispensing cards with your weight on them, he calls a stereo phonograph and receiver set a “Victrola,” and pronounces chimney as three syllables—he’s old-fashioned. And, just as in “Troubled Waters” (dir. Ben Gazzara), he pronounces Danziger as “Danzinger,” for some reason. Driving away from his first interview with the suspect, his Peugeot is audibly in need of a tune-up and very nearly causes an accident.
The details and gags are so profuse as to defy enumeration, but one looms large. In order to demonstrate his solution of the minimum-information puzzle, Lt. Columbo has brought three small sacks of gold coins (chocolate) to the Society. Reaching for a scale, he sets them down on a desk, and a close-up shows that he places them on a small bound notebook with the brand name Cannibal, as it appears, printed on its cover. Mrs. Columbo, he has told the murderer, is a help with puzzles.
Whereas the murderer’s wife is a very lovely expenditure who never asks where the money comes from (Samantha Eggar expresses this with almost preternatural clarity). The victim’s brief role is given to the incomparable Sorrell Booke, whose only professional recognition seems to have been an Emmy nomination for Ben Casey. Kenneth Mars has a cameo as a lonely welder of genius. Theodore Bikel plays the vigorous brainstormer undone by his own irascible vanity. Another television veteran, Robert Prince, has a subtle score to go with it all.
Just before Lt. Columbo springs the trap (with the help of the boys at headquarters), he projects his empathy toward the murderer in an admirable confession of his own feelings of inadequacy as a young policeman surrounded by very smart officers. He “worked harder than they did,” he says, “put in more time, read the books, kept my eyes open” and thus became a detective, which reveals not only the secret of his success but that of the series, which always has new facets to explore.
You will recognize also that several scenes were filmed at the building used to represent company headquarters in Pakula’s The Parallax View. This is the former CNA building, famous for reflecting the First Congregational Church across the street. It’s now in disrepair, CNA has moved out (large letters reading SUPERIOR COURT now adorn its upper floors), and an iron fence separates it from Lafayette Park, where Lt. Columbo buys an ice cream cone and the murderer dumps his pistol in a garbage can.
Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger
If Wanamaker’s direction is undervalued, it’s because it’s fast, subtle and deep. Any one of these qualities may earn so much disfavor critically speaking as to be discountenanced, any two will certainly earn silence. Three, and you’re in a blind spot from which no-one can ever emerge.
So much wrongheaded criticism has been heaped on Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger that it must be cleared away to consider the film. Patrick Wayne is a brilliant actor, but here he is said to be “wooden”. Jane Seymour is described as a novice, which is ridiculous, and Wanamaker, with three films and years of television under his directorial belt, is called “inexperienced”. This is contumely and nothing but.
Now, consider the film. Wanamaker wastes no time, instantly the dilemma is presented. Amid his many intensive labors, he never loses sight of the Arabian Nights fantasy in the piece.
And this is a most laborious film from the director’s viewpoint, Wanamaker having applied himself to scene construction in a way more thorough, minute and telling than one has ever seen. The vantage point gained is a secure basis for stop-motion cinematography allied with dramatic action and scenic representations in a complicated, varied style.
It’s the scene with Zenobia in a glass jar that gives the measure of Wanamaker’s patience, as delicately and precisely measured as the Wizard’s laboratory apparatus (out of George Pal or Walt Disney). A variety of setups, but also a driving need of “following the affair” carries through the scene, and is again for example reflected in the accidental death of Zenobia’s golden Minotaur, a single action filmed with very minute accuracy.
Wanamaker also has bold steps away from such constructions into a flash of cinematic hocus-pocus, as when the hero and his party stride up from the beach into the city of Petra. These are things with a difficult, dazzling effect that also prepare the grand finale, which outdoes anything since by dint of sheer artistry (you have to go back to Wilcox’ Forbidden Planet and Lang’s Metropolis for similar grandeur).
Harryhausen lays the basis for this on another ground, naturally, and Wanamaker plays to it by placing his actors in that most difficult position of all, emoting at a void. This will be seen to great effect throughout, and perhaps most essentially as a preparation for the significant view of the baboon (into which Zenobia has turned the prince) shown a mirror, one of Harryhausen’s priceless gags.
By way of an homage to Willis H. O’Brien, the climax enters the elemental world of Irwin Allen.
There is no way of accounting for the failure of this film to win critical acclaim, except to admit that it is simply, above all, too much movie to be taken in all at once. By now, however, it should be appreciated at something like its full worth, which seems to be incalculable.
A think tank goes into business with arms sales to little wars.
The titular head is a retired general, whose young wife is sleeping with the operating manager, a retired colonel.
There’s a two-week paramilitary training camp for paranoids, the First Foundation for American Thought’s “bargain basement boutique”.
The sergeant major who runs this gets wise to the philandering and finagling and fiddling, the colonel kills him during an exercise rather than cut him in.
And the point is the shift to overseas adventures, expressed in a large box of Civil War books marked Military Miniatures and a small box of toy soldiers marked Books.
Wanamaker opens with a tour de force as the camera tracks above Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg in miniature, allowing him to work quietly and steadily in the general’s dignified home and office, the training area, the foundation offices (with I Ching gags), the colonel’s tacky office and hideaway apartment, with very beautiful and subdued cinematography.