Thursday, March 23, 2017

Twilight Of Honor (1963) What if "Anatomy Of A Murder" had went Noirsville?


"Any man whose wife turns him in is better off dead."
Directed by Boris Sagal (Mike Hammer TV Series (1958–1959), Johnny Staccato TV Series (1959), Mr. Lucky TV Series (1959–1960), Peter Gunn TV Series (1958–1961), The Twilight Zone TV Series (1959–1964), Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV Series (1955–1962)). The screenplay was written by Henry Denker based on the novel by Al Dewlen. The excellent cinematography was by Philip H. Lathrop whose credits include camera operator on (The Raging Tide (1951), Touch of Evil (1958), Hammett (1982)), and as cinematographer for (Mr. Lucky TV Series (1959–1960), Peter Gunn TV Series (1958–1961), Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), Experiment in Terror (1962), Lonely Are the Brave (1962), Days of Wine and Roses (1962), The Americanization of Emily (1964), Point Blank (1967)). Music was by Johnny Green (They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969)).

Mitchell (Chamberlain)
Brown (Adams)
Harper (Rains)
Bixby (Gregory)
Laura-Mae (Heatherton)
Clinton (Buttram)
Amy Clinton (Nolan) lt. Alice Clinton (Evans)
Arch Johnson
The film stars Richard Chamberlain as David Mitchell, Nick Adams (Rebel Without a Cause (1955), I Died a Thousand Times (1955), Hell Is for Heroes (1962)) as Ben Brown, Claude Rains (Moontide (1942), Casablanca (1942), Angel on My Shoulder (1946), Deception (1946), The Unsuspected (1947), Rope of Sand (1949), Where Danger Lives (1950)) as Art Harper, James Gregory (The Naked City (1948), Nightfall (1956), The Big Caper (1957), The Manchurian Candidate (1962)) as Norris Bixby, Joey Heatherton (My Blood Runs Cold (1965)) as Laura Mae Brown, Pat Buttram as Cole Clinton, Joan Blackman as Susan Harper, Jeanette Nolan (The Big Heat (1953), Psycho (1960)) as Amy Clinton, Edgar Stehli (Boomerang! (1947)) as Judge James Tucker, Bert Freed (Black Hand (1950), Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950), 711 Ocean Drive (1950), No Way Out (1950), Detective Story (1951), Why Must I Die? (1960)) as Sheriff B.L. 'Buck' Wheeler, and Linda Evans as Alice Clinton.

Examples above, below, of the graphics of  title sequence


Twilight of Honor is a courtroom drama along the lines of Anatomy of a Murder (1959). Otto Preminger's film deals with a service man (Ben Gazzara) accused of killing a popular backwoods Michigan resort owner who the defense (James Stewart) claims allegedly rapped his wife (Lee Remick). The state prosecutors (George C. Scott and Brooks West) are determined to impinge the reputation of the service man's wife, claiming that her revealing attire (she went around "bare legged") and intense sexuality signified her as a woman of loose morals. The fact that both the service man and his wife were heavy boozers also enters into the equation.

like a mad dog

Judge James Tucker (Stehli)  


Twilight of Honor begins with the Big Sky, a plane, a twin engine job, like the one in "Sky King" tracks across it. It's a Western Neo Noir. We see with eyes used to reading Western codes what looks like a lynch mob. It is, just updated to the 20th Century.  A cut to the aircraft and the sheriff is dragging USAF vet Ben Brown (Adams) out of the plane like a dog on a chain. He's wanted for the murder and robbery of a rich and beloved native New Mexican scion, Cole Clinton (Buttram). Brown is brought into Clinton's Durango County seat hometown for arraignment before a grand jury. That lynch mob atmosphere is duplicated with another angry crowd at the courthouse. David Mitchell (Chamberlain) a local attorney is appointed by Judge Tucker (Stehli) to defend Brown. Norris Bixby (Gregory) the state's special prosecutor has ambitions. He wants to use the case to run for governor. Mitchell's old friend and law associate Art Harper (Rains) is a renowned retired attorney. He encourages the seemingly in over his head, and very discouraged Mitchell to agree to take on the case. Mitchell hasn't tried a case in three years. Harper with some sort of heart condition will act as Mitchell's mentor.





At the county jail Mitchell meets Ben's cheap, shapely, slutty, round-heels wife Laura-Mae (Heatherton). Laura-Mae ratted out her own husband Ben. Mitchell also finds out that after his arrest Ben signed a confession. When Mitchell questions Ben about his confession he tells him that it was made under coercion and that the document he signed left out parts of his original statement.


When Mitchell and Harper conduct a research of New Mexico’s criminal code, they discover No. 12-24 which provides that a husband is innocent if he kills another man whom he discovers in the act of adultery with his wife.

Mitchell and Harper's monumental task now, is to convince a jury that is made up of friends, business associates, club members, and acquaintances that their favorite son Cole Clinton was a lecherous adulterer.

Cole Clinton leering at Laura-Mae
What makes Twilight Of Honor different from Anatomy Of A Murder and tips the film directly into Noirsville is the use, by director Boris Sagal, of vivid and extremely lurid true and false story flashbacks of the sleazy details of the Ben-Laura-Mae-Cole Clinton relationship that lead up to the death of Cole Clinton.

Noirsville


















  


Richard Chamberlain in one of his first major roles does an adequate job as David Mitchell he's no Jimmy Stewart, but he actually pulls it off. Claude Rains in one of his last screen appearances is effective and touching as Art Harper, though he's relegated more to the background. James Gregory is doing his big blowhard schtick to perfection and Jeanette Nolan as the conniving widow are both convincing in their supporting roles. Arch Johnson is nicely slimey as the Palomino Bar bartender, and Pat Buttram is in the movie role of a lifetime as the sleazy rancher Cole Clinton trolling watering holes for young poontang. Other early 60s TV staples are glimpsed in minor roles, Gene Coogan, Chubby Johnson, Burt Mustin, and Henry Beckman. The two standouts for me are Nick Adams, and in her big screen debut Joey Heatherton.




Nick Adams was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, he plays, docile, bewildered, desperate, defeated, demoralized, betrayed, dumb, calculating and vicious, however I've read that many of his most intense scenes were cut from the final released version, and he subsequently lost to actor Melvyn Douglas for his role in Hud (1963). They should have left his parts in. They probably sacrificed his screen time to beef up the Chamberlain/Blackman relationship, too bad. He could have been a contender but sadly life gave him a one way ticket to Palookaville.


Joey Heatherton's first role as a dramatic actress came in 1960 when she guest starred on TV's Route 66, in Twilight of Honor as Femme Fatale Laura-Mae Brown she displayed an eye catching and incredibly sizzling aura of sleazy eroticism. She sort of had a shooting star career, she either peaked just a bit too soon, or Hollywood didn't know how to take advantage of her, too bad. She was a bonafide sex symbol and had mainly a television career appearing in countless variety shows. If the film had been made five years later after the demise of the Motion Picture Production Code, one can guess what heights she would have achieved in this, she had it, and knew what to do with it.


Don't get me wrong, Anatomy Of A Murder is the better film, but Twilight Of Honor is the Noir-er one. It only makes me speculate how much better (from a Noir point of view, of course) both films may have been had former had flashbacks of Laura Manion's (Lee Remick) encounter with Barney, and the later had a more accomplished late Classic Film Noir actor in the lead. Better yet the film would have been even more up to date if it was told from the Browns POV from the get go. This film needed more Adams, Heatherton, Buttram, New Mexico, West Texas, and less everyone else.



The soundtrack was adequate nothing special, however all the sequences showing Laura-Mae dancing at the juke box would have been much better if they had used actual hits from the time, i.e., Blue Velvet/Bobby Vinton, Sugar Shack/Jimmy Gilmer And The Fireballs, The Lion Sleeps Tonight/The Tokens, etc., etc., rather than the elevator type music that was used. Screencaps are from the Warner's Archive Collection DVD 7/10.

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