The Secret of the Purple Reef

The prologue is an island funeral of stunning eloquence, to set off Witney’s unique stylistic experiment. The credits follow with, typically, the long drive across the island.

The main feature of the style is the vivid use of essentially static shots to convey the sense of island travel, an exact understanding of what it means to shuttle around the Caribbean isles in a small boat or sailing craft, the walking distances along the quay, the height of a dune above the bay. Witney’s thoughtful treatment, magnifying all the details of the tedium and danger, leads to an exceptionally fine grasp of the situation.

Insurance fraud with inflated prices reached by double-dealing and triple-dealing with dummy counterparts is the nautical enterprise in the title. By misadventure, witnesses have to be eliminated, all this before the prologue.


The Tax Collector

An inept hand borrows wood for his house without a word and is nearly beaten for it, Hoss intervenes with a broad shoulder for the little guy, who loses his tax money on a horse race. The shorthanded tax assessor hires him for salary and a percentage, he taxes everything in sight and even unborn livestock. His wife charms vehement opposition, but the valley is in an uproar.

Ben enters Little Joe in a horse race through Virginia City, three times around the streets. Joe curbs the horse, increasing the odds. At 21 to 1, the tax collector bets all of two years’ salary with Ben, who signals Joe. No money is wagered, just salary, without the job there is no debt. The tax collector resigns at once, revealing it was temporary work all along.

During the race, Hoss runs from barn to house and back again, tending the man’s wife in labor and mare in foal. “Twins”, he calls the result.


Master of the World

Man with his flying machines, ahead of Annakin’s film in the prologue, and then archetypal Robur thundering from the mount in 1868.

His craft is paper and electricity, “magic”, heavier-than-air, a mile high and 150 miles per hour. The world is his oyster, he cracks it with aerial bombs to destroy war.

The screenplay by Richard Matheson from Jules Verne is quite formidable.

Peter Yates has Murphy’s War on sinking to your enemy’s level, Joseph Losey has Figures in a Landscape on rising above it, the problem is identifiable as hauteur and dastardliness.

A very fine score by Les Baxter. The design by Daniel Haller includes the Albatross, an airship resembling Richard Fleischer’s Nautilus but with a raft of vertical propeller shafts to maintain flight, and probably an influence on Yellow Submarine.

The cast includes Henry Hull for an unforgettable portrayal of a nineteenth-century arms manufacturer, Charles Bronson as an agent of the Interior Department, Mary Webster as the armorer’s daughter, and David Frankham as a gentleman swain. Vincent Price is Robur.


The Infernal Machine

Hoss invests in a prototype automobile and spreads the word in Virginia City. “Too soon,” the inventor dies in jail, protected from an angry mob bilked by a stock promoter who has absconded with their holdings, “they’re not ready.”

Witney is all actors here, his close attention to them pays off in a speedy exposition conveyed by looks and intonations. The inventor and his wife are a Moses-and-Aaron team, she does the talking. George Kennedy as the promoter’s assistant walks into a post at the sight of Big Red the saloon girl. Willard Waterman, the second Great Gildersleeve, tells the townsfolk how to say, “I demand my right to a share.”

At full stride, Witney’s technique is easy, fluid and fine, with a silent comedy fight in top style. “Come away with me, Lucille,” says the wordless orchestra, “in my merry Oldsmobile.”


The Lonely House

A bank robbery, the robbers flee, the leader is wounded, the house belongs to a widow, it is raining.

She has just been lamenting to Little Joe the indignities of her position, men are condescending and imperious. Joe is a cordial friend.

The house is taken over, the bullet must be gotten out. Whiskey deadens the pain, reminds of an old acquaintance, Sue.

The widow and the robber fall in love. Faith Domergue and Paul Richards carry the thing well beyond praise.



The Deadly Ones

This beautifully surrealistic composition has Gen. Arturo Diaz (Will Kuluva), a follower of Juarez, pass through the Ponderosa in quest of a wagonload of Mexican gold shipped out by Maximilian.

The General has two lieutenants, one a vicious brute (Leo V. Gordon) who shotguns Little Joe in the back and later seeks the gold for himself, the other (Lee Farr) more susceptible of reason, who takes up with a poor girl (Jena Engstrom) hitching a ride on the gold wagon.

The thematic resemblance to Mission: Impossible’s “The Western” is at least as crucial as the girl’s gesture of flinging open the curtains on daylight, as in Huston’s Freud.


Final Escape
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour

The old Adam is called Doc, a trusty at State Prison Lumber Camp No. 2. His granddaughter needs money for an operation, his prison job pays 12¢ a day, burial detail.

Leone must have seen this while casting about for his Western (and finding Rawhide). Doc smuggles out a young bank robber for the fee by hiding him in a coffin next to a corpse for burial. A short wait, then Doc arrives to place a grave marker, digs him up there in the graveyard, across the fence.

Doc has a weak heart, partial to moonshine, doesn’t show. A clear-minded and intrepid director shows the last stages of prison solitude, adduced from Hitchcock like no other. The exertions of the entombed man spill the shroud on the body next to him, old Doc, dead of drink.


The Night of the Deadly Bed
The Wild Wild West

Its spiked canopy drops down and nearly impales West, neatly conveying the notion of a mad æsthete out to conquer Mexico for Napoleon, again.

The Monroe Doctrine is to be subverted with a “monster” kept in a cave and riding out on the rails to smash U.S. trains by means of a battering ram.

This generalissimo is Flory, close enough to Florey for the mickey to abstract. He starves his mistress, puts Gatita in a cage for lending her a drumstick, enslaves the peones to stoke his boiler.

Gordon manufactures a coal made of dynamite, West joins the slaveys.

The mise en scène surpasses the artistic self-sufficiency of the pilot episode on spec a hundredfold in detail and depth.


The Night of Sudden Death
The Wild Wild West

The dream is of a vast nature preserve in Africa against predatory man, “the only creature who can change the environment, hunt creatures to extinction,” like the great auk newly eradicated.

The circusmaster acquires U.S. Treasury printing plates to run off fifty million for this purpose. Murder is no object, his menagerie is a weapon, and so is prussic acid in the whiskey offered West and Gordon.

His cat trainer has a change of heart and sicks her tiger on him, he dispatches it on the instant with bow and arrow, the same way he hunts (The Most Dangerous Game) West.

An alligator devours the brute while Gordon and the trainer are locked in a cage. “Sometimes at night I roar,” he confides, and at utmost length opens the cage door with her hairpin.