ABC’s ‘Whiskey Cavalier’ Battles Assassins, Double Agents, & Poor Ratings

by Doug Snauffer

Cold war intrigue is upon us this spring — not from Washington, D.C. or the Kremlin, but from ABC.  Viewers need only turn to the alphabet network on Wednesday nights at 10:00 pm to catch the ambitious new hour-long espionage series Whiskey Cavalier.

The lightweight spy spoof/buddy comedy follows the escapades of an inter-agency group of agents who join forces to save the world from the worst the enemy has to offer.

Scott Foley (The Unit, Scandal)  stars as Will Chase, an FBI super-agent whose official designation is ‘Whiskey Cavalier.’  He’s earned a reputation as a top-level spy, yet his mojo is currently on the fritz due to a nasty breakup with his fiancee (the as-yet unseen Gigi) six months earlier.

Scott Foley takes aim in Whiskey Cavalier.

In the pilot episode, Will met and matched wits with his no-nonsense CIA counterpart, Francesca “Frankie” Trowbridge (The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan), as the two pursued rogue NSA systems analyst turned hacker Edgar Standish (Tyler James Williams, Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders), who was wanted for treason after he amscrayed from his department with covert intelligence files.

With their competitive natures, Will and Frankie (whose own field designation is ‘Fiery Tribune’) played a dangerous — and often comic — game of one-upmanship in order to deliver Standish to their respective agencies.  Their rivalry in turn became the greatest threat to the success of their mission.

Lauren Cohan is no one to mess with in Whiskey Cavalier.

But when the Russians showed up to steal Standish from both of them, Will and Frankie were forced into an uneasy alliance that not only thwarted their opponents but led to Standish’s vindication.

Their bosses were so impressed by the joint venture that they decided to keep Will, Frankie, and Standish together in an inter-departmental effort between the FBI, CIA and NSA.  Joining them are a support team of fellow spooks: Dr. Susan Sampson (Ana Ortiz, Ugly Betty), a top FBI profiler who also happens to be Will’s analyst;  and CIA Weapons Specialist Jai Datta (Vir Das), the only person in the world Frankie sincerely trusts.

Then there’s Ray Prince (Josh Hopkins, Quantico, Cougar Town), the FBI’s Head of Evidence Response.  Ray wants to be a part of the team, too. Problem is he’s incompetent and untrustworthy — and could very well be a double agent.

The five mismatched agents must pull their resources while keeping their egos in check.  To protect their true identities from the rest of the world (particularly their enemies), the team poses as a group of friends partnering up to open a New York Irish pub called ‘The Dead Drop.’  In essence, it becomes their batcave.

In the batcave: Vir Das, Tyler James Williams, Ana Ortiz, Lauren Cohan, and Scott Foley, the spooks of ABC’s Whiskey Cavalier.

Will and Frankie make for an interesting pair.  Their strengths and weaknesses could either make or break their missions.  Will is emotionally needy, while Frankie is withdrawn and unavailable. Yet despite their differences, these two oddball agents have somehow made a mutual connection.  There’s always a chance that they’ll end up satisfying each others needs, which might lead to romance. But let’s hope they’re able to become friends first.

Whiskey Cavalier is one of the more ambitious programs to hit network TV recently.  ABC placed an initial order for 13 episodes, then sent the cast and crew packing.  The series is set in different foreign locale each week, but rather than recreating the world on L.A. soundstages, the producers opted to add authenticity by filming on actual locations in and around Prague and other areas of the Czech Republic. Production commenced on September 8, 2018 and wrapped on February 23, 2019, just one-day before Whiskey made its high-profile debut following this years Oscars telecast.

Not everyone, however, is thrilled with the lighter moments of the show.  Whiskey is a ‘dramedy, ’ but today’s audiences may not be as open to the genre as past audiences were.  It’s like trying to sell fans of Daniel Craig’s James Bond on “Moonraker” or “Octopussy.” It’s become a sore spot with many viewers.

Yet one look at the names of those working behind-the-scenes on Whiskey and suddenly the programs often comedic tones will make a little more sense.  The show was created by David Hemingson (Just Shoot Me) and produced by Bill Lawrence (Scrubs).  

The reasoning behind the move, according to Scott Foley in early interviews, is that there’s so much violence and hate in the real world — and on TV — that they wanted to do something that would provide fans with both thrills and a bit of escapism.  

Once Foley signed on, he packed up his entire family — his wife Marika and their three young daughters — and made the six-month shoot in Prague an extended family affair.  The girls even attended school there for a semester.  

The cast of ABC’s Whiskey Cavalier (l to r): Vir Das, Josh Hopkins, Lauren Cohan, Scott Foley, Tyler James Williams, and Ana Ortiz.

The series got off to a great start with its post-Oscar show preview, scoring impressive numbers (including an 85 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer) and positive reviews.  

But in its regular Wednesday night timeslot, viewership has dropped consistently over the past five weeks, and analysts are predicting that the future of Whiskey Cavalier will most likely ride on how the two episodes scheduled for April 10 and 17 perform in the ratings.

Perhaps Standish can hack into the Nielsen computers.


Doug Snauffer is an Ohio-based freelance writer. His work has appeared in myriad publications and on SyFy Channel and includes several cult horror films and the books The Show Must Go On and Crime Television. Check him out on IMDB.

Corporal Punishment and Primetime TV

by Doug Snauffer

The subject of corporal punishment is seldom addressed on TV these days, but that hasn’t always been the case.  Television periodically changes to reflect society (or perhaps vice-versa), and the idea of paddling a child is pretty much taboo in our time, particularly on TV.  But back in the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and even into the ‘80s, most fictional parents lived by the motto “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” At least that’s what TV producers wanted viewers to believe.

The issue was addressed — with a bit of a twist — on the CBS sitcom Family Affair.  In the episode “Love Me, Love Me Not” (12/5/66) young Jody (Johnny Whitaker) witnessed a friend being spanked.  8The boy’s father explained to Jody that he only punished his son because he loves him and wants him to behave and to stay out of trouble. This led Jody to question his Uncle Bill’s (Brian Keith) love since Bill had never paddled him.  His solution was a streak of bad behavior that would leave his uncle with no alternative but to discipline him. But Bill, being a relatively new and inexperienced father, was hesitant to resort to corporal punishment.

Brian Keith (left) and Johnny Whitaker in Family Affair.

Bill was eventually clued in to the cause of Jody’s bad behavior, and this time gave him a swat on the behind — with his hand, not a paddle — to which Jody responded with a big, satisfied smile.

Perhaps the most notable program to examine is The Andy Griffith Show.  Many times in the early episodes of the series, Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) set his young son Opie (Ronny Howard) straight with the threat of a “whippin”.  For instance, in the episode “Mr. McBeevee” (10/1/62), Opie made friends with a telephone lineman named Mr. McBeevee (Karl Swenson), who was stringing a new phone cable through the woods.  The man wore tree-climbing spurs on his boots and a tool belt to carry the many tools — or “extra hands” — that he needed for his trade. When Opie described his new friend to Andy and Barney (Don Knotts) as a man who “walks in the treetops, wears a silver hat, has twelve extra hands, blows smoke from his ears, and jingles when he walks,” they laughed it off as an imaginary friend the boy created.

Later however, when Opie shows up with a quarter and claims that Mr. McBeevee gave it to him, Andy insists that he admit that his new friend is only imaginary.  Opie refuses, even though the consequence will be a paddling. But when Andy goes to the boy’s room to punish him, he realizes that Opie is more concerned that his father doesn’t believe him than he is about being spanked.  Andy decides not to follow through, later explaining to Barney that “a whole lot of times I’ve asked [Opie] to believe things that, to his mind, must have seemed just as impossible.”

Karl Swenson (left) and Ronny Howard in The Andy Griffith Show.

Andy had faith in his son despite Opie’s fantastic story.  At that point Andy needed to clear his mind, so he headed out to the woods and upon calling out the name “Mr. McBeevee” he was suddenly prevailed upon from above, and all ended happily without the need for punishment.

It’s also worth noting that Andy Taylor was known as ‘The Sheriff Without a Gun’ — he never wore a sidearm nor would he allow his deputy to carry a pistol that was loaded.  He believed in earning the respect of the people through non-violent means.  So it would only make sense that he’d take a similar approach in raising his son.

The sitcom Diff’rent Strokes (NBC, 1978-85; ABC, 1985-86) presented a situation somewhat similar to that of Family Affair.  Philip Drummond (Conrad Bain) was a Park Avenue millionaire who’d taken in the two young African-American sons of his late-maid— Willis (Todd Bridges) and Arnold (Gary Coleman).

In the first season episode “The Spanking” (12/1/78), Arnold ignored warnings to stop tossing water balloons off the balcony, leaving Drummond with a dilemma in regards to punishing him.  Having only been Arnold’s guardian for a month, he felt it might be too soon to lay hands on the boy. But when Arnold disobeyed him one-time too many, Drummond decided it was time to act.

Todd Bridges (seated) and Gary Coleman in Diff’rent Strokes.

At the last moment however, it was Willis who stepped forward to protest Drummond imposing punitive measures against Arnold, reasoning it was just too soon for their newly acquired steward to assume such duties.  The older boy also suggested that as Arnold’s closest surviving blood relation, that he himself should handle Arnold’s punishment. Of course Arnold fully supported the idea, thinking Willis was going to let him off easy.  But once Willis got Arnold alone, he delivered the genuine article — a spanking which Arnold would not soon forget.

One memorable episode of NBC’s Little House on the Prairie, titled “I Remember, I Remember” (01/23/78), featured the story in flashback of how Charles and Caroline Ingalls first met.  At school, the young Charles (Matthew Laborteaux) quickly alienated himself from the school teacher, Mr. Watson (Sorrell Booke), a strict disciplinarian with a strong proclivity toward corporal punishment.  Throughout the episode, the poor kid receives beating after beating both at school and at home. It ponders the question 0f how the adult Charles (Michael Landon) ever turned out the well-balanced man he did — and not another Mr. Olsen.

Sorrell Booke (adult) and Matthew Laberteaux in Little House on the Prairie.

These are just a few of the more notable depictions of corporal punishment on the small screen.  Arguably the most controversial, however, was an episode of Good Times (CBS, 1974-79) entitled “The Lunch Money Rip-Off” (03/18/75), in which younger son Michael (Ralph Carter) invited Eddie (Douglas Grant), the school bully who had been extorting him for his lunch money, home for the weekend hoping to bond and make a favorable impression on him.  But it didn’t take Eddie long to incur the wrath of the Evans’ family — particularly that of Michael’s father, James (John Amos). Eddie’s belligerent and rancorous behavior was bad enough, but when he refused to study with Michael and challenged James’s authority in his own home, he crossed the line.

James grabbed the young man and began dragging him towards the bedroom.  His wife Florida (Esther Rolle) attempted to object, but James was in no mood to hear it:

“James!” she protested.

“You know the boy got it coming,” James replied.  Then, turning back tomorrow Eddie: “Now get your behind in there.”

As Eddie received his punishment off-screen, the Evans’ children provided a comic-laden commentary:

“Question is… which beating [will] he get?” pondered sister Thelma.

“Well, Dad has three in his repertoire:  the regular, the super and the Big Mac!” offered older brother J.J.

(left to right) Douglas Grant, John Amos, and Esther Rolle in Good Times.

Afterwards, Eddie told James that nobody had ever paddled him before, to which James responded that someone should have done it a long time ago, and that he went easy on him;  if it had been one of his own kids, the punishment would have been much more severe.

Back in the living room, Eddie was about to leave when matriarch Florida (Esther Rolle) stepped forward and explained that she and James only disciplined their kids because they loved them.  If they didn’t, they wouldn’t bother taking the time.

“I didn’t know somebody could beat on you and care at the same time,” Eddie offered.  But the idea seemed to be getting through to him. He accepted the offer to stay, and even began studying with Michael.

John Amos, Douglas Grant, and Esther Rolle in Good Times.

Yet the controversy remains apparent:  It’s one thing for a parent or guardian to punish a child, but James beat an underaged teen whom he had no real authority over.  Such a scene would have little chance of making it onto prime-time TV screens today — especially if mom and dad were being presented as loving, responsible parents.  And today in 2018, James could very well have spent the next 20-years in prison for child-abuse.

These are just a few of the many TV programs which have dealt with corporal punishment.  Despite the strong insinuation that TV parents like Andy Taylor and Charles Ingalls subscribed to the adage of sparing the rod and spoiling the child, they were never seen actually doing so on-screen.  It appears producers even then had reservations about how viewers would react to such a portrayal.

Back in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, corporal punishment was practiced in a great number of U.S. homes, with that number declining in each proceeding decade.  During these times and into the early 1990’s, it was also legal for teachers to paddle students in schools (in most states).  Today, 31 states have banned striking a child in the classoom.  And in homes, laws now clearly dictate ways in which corporal punishment must be administered.  If parents fail to heed these mandates, they can be jailed for child abuse.

Our country has clearly moved in a more liberal direction and corporal punishment, for the most part, has been villanized.  It is difficult to imagine many of today’s teenagers being deterred by the threat of a swat on the behind, and most parents and teachers now feel there are better ways to deal with youthful rebellion through communication. 

Prime-time TV seemed to be ahead of the curve on this one.  Producers realized that not all of the traits and vices that were a part of everyday society in real life, would necessarily fit into the wholesome TV programs they were putting on the air.    


Doug Snauffer is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor.  His work has appeared in myriad publications and on SyFy Channel. He’s also the writer of several cult horror films and the books The Show Must Go On and Crime Television. Learn more about Doug HERE.

Everybody Remembers Floyd the Barber…and if You Don’t, You Should!

by Doug Snauffer

In October 3, 1960, TV viewers were introduced to the fictional small-town of Mayberry, North Carolina—home to an oddball assortment of lovable characters on a new CBS comedy, The Andy Griffith Show.  The pleasant hamlet quickly became as definitive a depiction of rural America as Norman Rockwell’s classic Saturday Evening Post cover illustrations.

There were few lawbreakers in Mayberry.  In one episode, the town was even recognized as the most crime-free community in the country.  Andy never even carried a gun, and Barney kept his one and only bullet in his shirt pocket.

Don Knotts (standing) and Andy Griffith in The Andy Griffith Show, circa 1960.

Over the years, a flurry of local citizens was seen on a recurring basis.  More often than not, they were presented as country bumpkins, but rarely were the portrayals offensive.  

Over the years, a flurry of local citizens was seen on a recurring basis.  More often than not, they were presented as country bumpkins, but rarely were the portrayals offensive.

The most prominent of these characters was hyperactive town barber Floyd Lawson, played by character-actor Howard McNear.  The men of Mayberry would gather at Floyd’s Barber Shop to play checkers and share a few laughs while waiting for their haircuts.  Floyd was endearingly quirky and perfectly suited for the leisurely pace of life in Mayberry.  His biggest ambition was to someday add a second barber chair to his small shop.

By the fall of 1962—thanks primarily to exposure from the Griffith show—56-year-old Howard McNear’s career was on an upswing.  He had landed

Howard McNear (left) and Elvis Presley in Fun in Acapulco.

featured roles in a number of high-profile films: Fun in Acapulco starring Elvis Presley; Irma la Douce with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine; and The Wheeler Dealers, a romantic pairing of James Garner and Lee Remick.  On TV, as The Andy Griffith Show rolled into its third season, McNear was receiving increased screen-time.

Two episodes in particular focused the spotlight squarely on McNear.

In “Floyd, the Gay Deceiver,” (Nov. 26, 1962) Floyd wound up in a bind when a wealthy widow (Doris Fowling) whom he’d been corresponding with decided to pay him a visit.  He’d misled her into believing he was a wealthy philanthropist, and couldn’t face her with the truth.  He turned to Andy—typically the voice of reason—who instead went to extreme lengths to help Floyd continue the charade.

That episode was followed by “Convicts at Large” (Dec. 10, 1962), in which Barney and Floyd’s big fishing weekend was interrupted by three escaped convicts—three very rowdy, female convicts (Jane Dulo, Jean Carson, Reta Shaw)—who took the men hostage.  It was a physically demanding episode for McNear—featuring dance sequences which had to be choreographed, rehearsed, and blocked for the cameras.  Yet throughout the production, he remained as lively and animated as ever.

“Convicts at Large” is widely considered the most popular Floyd-centric episode of the Griffith show.  Unfortunately, it very nearly became his final appearance as well.  In December 1962, McNear suffered a massive stroke which left him severely impaired.  It affected his left shoulder, most of his left arm, and both of his legs.  He was fortunate to have survived, but it appeared his acting career was over.

Reta Shaw (standing, left) and Jane Dulo keeping an eye on Howard McNear in the episode “Convicts at Large.”

Losing Howard McNear was a huge blow to the series.  He was sorely missed by his fellow actors on set, and the series’ writers were thrown into a quandary over how to deal with the creative void left by McNear’s sudden absence.

Ultimately, their solution was to add another character to the rolls.  On Christmas Eve 1962, Jim Nabors made his debut as naive young gas station attendant Gomer Pyle.  Gomer pumped gas, washed windows, and checked under hoods for customers of Wally’s Service Station.  He was a hometown boy who loved comic books, monster movies, and cherry sodas.

Gomer became an immediate hit with viewers and was soon moonlighting as a reserve deputy, thus allowing him to interact more closely with Andy and Barney.

Now most TV producers would be exceedingly protective of a character as popular as Gomer Pyle, but not Andy Griffith.  He thought so highly of Jim Nabors’ talent that he was reluctant to hold the young man back.  It was Griffith who so generously pulled the strings with CBS to get Nabors his own spin-off series.

Don Knotts, Andy Griffith, and Jim Nabors on the set of The Andy Griffith Show. They made the show a hit; the show made them stars.

In the final episode of the 1963-64 season, Gomer enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and shipped off to basic training.  In the fall, his cousin Goober (George Lindsey) took over his duties at the service station.  Goober had been mentioned periodically but had made only one on-screen appearance.

With Nabors gone, concerns arose once again over how to best handle the departure of a primary supporting player.  Then one afternoon in the production offices, Griffith, writer-producer Aaron Ruben, associate producer Richard O. Linke, and a couple of writers were trying to fix a problematic script, when Ruben uttered, “Boy, do I wish we had Howard.”

Suddenly, Andy Griffith was hit by an epiphany. Why someone like Howard McNear when they could have the genuine article?  Griffith quickly picked up the phone and called McNear’s wife Helen to inquire about her husband’s condition.  Helen loved the idea of Howard returning to the program.  She explained that Howard had been making progress in his recovery, but that he’d grown depressed at being so inactive after having lived such an industrious life.

Producer Sheldon Leonard (right) working with Andy Griffin (left), Don Knotts (2nd left) and the rest of the cast during rehearsal of The Andy Griffith Show. (Photo by Allan Grant/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

Helen said she’d speak to Howard to see how he felt about the idea and then get back to Griffith.  When the phone rang about an hour later, it was McNear himself.  He sounded well, and seemed thrilled at the prospect of playing Floyd again.  He was forthright, however, in regards to his limitations, but his old-friend Andy Griffith assured him that if he felt ready to return, that together ”they’d work it out.”

And together they did.  Due to his paralysis, McNear couldn’t walk.  When a script required him to stand, a special device was employed to support his weight.  To conceal the rigging from view, McNear would then be positioned, for example, behind Floyd’s barber chair.  A majority of the time, however, scripts were written and staged with Floyd in sitting positions—a favorite location being the bench in front of the barber shop.  It sometimes appeared a bit odd, but the important thing was that they made it work, and Floyd the Barber was once again a part of the Mayberry community.

A year later, in the spring of 1965, Don Knotts announced he was leaving The Andy Griffith Show to pursue a feature film deal with Universal Studios.  It was a tremendous career opportunity for Don, but his departure was a major blow to the series.

Although Griffith had made a name for himself in such films as A Friend in the Crowd (1957) and No Time for Sergeants (1958), he had left the comedy in his TV show to Knotts.  Now Griffith was a straight-man without a comedic sidekick, and the supporting players—Ronny Howard, Frances Bavier, George Lindsey, and Howard McNear—were more vital to the program than ever before.

Still, due to his fragile health,  McNear’s workload was kept relatively light throughout most of the sixth season.  A new character was added that season, Floyd’s nephew Warren Ferguson (played by actor-writer Jack Burns), who became Andy’s new deputy.  The idea had been to team Warren and Goober for laughs, and have them play against Griffith’s straight-man.  But Burns never caught on with viewers and Warren was fazed out by the end of the season.  Another tactic was to bring back several of the programs most popular recurring players, like the Darling family (featuring patriarch Denver Pyle), rock-throwing nuisance Ernest T. Bass (Howard Morris), and nomadic Brit Malcolm Merriweather (Bernard Fox).

In the fall of 1966, at the outset of the seventh season, another new character was introduced to viewers.  This time it wasn’t a deputy.  The producers had evidently learned their lesson about trying to replace Don Knotts’ Barney Fife.  Instead, county clerk Howard Sprague (Jack Dodson) was added to the series.

McNear had become alarmingly frail and was having trouble remembering his lines.  He often became frustrated at the situation, and had fallen into a deep depression.

In September 1967, The Andy Griffith Show returned for it’s eighth and final season, but town barber Floyd Lawson was nowhere to be found.  Floyd’s shop on Main Street was also gone.  In its place stood Emmett’s Fix-It Shop.  The transition, however, was never explained on-screen—not on the Griffith show anyway.

But later that season in an episode of Gomer Pyle, USMC  (“Gomer Goes Home,” Jan. 5, 1968), Floyd’s disappearance was finally explained.  On leave from the Marines, Gomer returned to Mayberry only to learn that all his friends were away on a fishing trip.  While there, he noticed Emmett’s shop and inquired about Floyd; a passer-by explained that Floyd had retired and was living with his daughter in Mount Pilot, and Emmett had bought him out.

The Andy Griffith Show finished its eighth season as the top-rated program on television, an outstanding achievement.  Yet Andy Griffith had decided he was ready to move on, and what better time than with the show being number one.  Obviously, CBS wasn’t happy with his choice to end the series, and neither were the 27.6 million viewers who’d remained loyal to the program over the previous eight years. 


Doug Snauffer is TVWriter™ Contributing Editor.  His work has appeared in myriad publications and on SyFy Channel. He’s also the writer of several cult horror films and the books The Show Must Go On and Crime Television. Learn more about Doug HERE.

Check Doug out on IMDB.

Cinemark Classic Film Series: ‘Rebel Without a Cause’

by Doug Snauffer

Director Nicholas Ray’s classic ode to embittered, alienated teens, Rebel Without a Cause, was back in theaters last week as part of ‘Cinemark’s Winter Classic Series 2017.’

The weekly showcase of Hollywood’s most distinguished and time-honored films is sponsored by Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events, and often includes commentary reels featuring TCM TV-hosts Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz.

Rebel Without a Cause first hit theater screens on October 29, 1955, and became a sensation, raking in $4.5 million against its $1.5 million budget.  The film’s success was overshadowed, of course, by James Dean’s death in a road accident just a month before the movie’s release.

(top-to-bottom) Natalie Wood, James Dean, and Sal Mineo get cozy.

Rebel was only Dean’s second film.  He’d made his big-screen debut just six-months earlier opposite Julie Harris in director Elia Kazan’s East of Eden, then signed on for George Stevens’ Giant with Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor.  Production was delayed, however, due to Taylor’s pregnancy, allowing time for Warner Bros. to cast Dean as the lead in Rebel.  It proved to be the defining performance of the young man’s life and career—both of which were cut tragically short.

Despite the wild success of Rebel Without a Cause, Dean—unlike his co-stars Sal Mineo and Natalie Wood—failed to receive Oscar recognition.  Mineo was nominated as best supporting actor and Wood for best supporting actress.  Neither walked away with a win—but Dean was overlooked entirely.

***

I viewed Rebel Without a Cause on January 22, 2017, the first time I’d experienced it on a movie screen, and had mixed reactions to James Dean’s performance.  There’s no denying that Dean had screen presence.  But I tended to view his “method” acting style as more of an oddity.

“You’re tearing me apart!” James Dean delivers his signature line.

A prime example occurs early in the movie after Dean’s character, Jim Stark, is arrested and his parents (portrayed by Jim Backus and Ann Doran) are summoned to the police station.  There they spend as much time arguing with each other as they do admonishing their son, leading Dean to deliver his signature line, “You’re tearing me apart!”

But his “method” delivery, in my opinion, was all artifice, an overly theatrical tribute to Brando and other proponents of that particular acting approach. Dean’s facial expressions and animated hand gestures took away from his performance rather than enhanced it, making it seem forced instead of realistic.

Critic Bosley Crowther, in his New York Times review of East of Eden on March 10, 1955, commented of Dean’s performance:

“He scuffs his feet, he whirls, he pouts, he sputters, he leans against walls, he rolls his eyes, he swallows his words, he ambles slack-kneed—all like Marlon Brando used to do. Never have we seen a performer so clearly follow another’s style. Mr. Kazan should be spanked for permitting him to do such a sophomoric thing. Whatever there might be of reasonable torment in this youngster is buried beneath the clumsy display.”

Of course, after his death James Dean quickly became larger-than-life, and his acting style now defines the legend.  In evaluating Rebel Without a Cause, I doubt it would’ve become the breakthrough hit it did without him.  But whether Dean had the chops to sustain a long-term acting career we’ll never know.

(left-to-right) Corey Allen, James Dean, and Natalie Wood revving up for a “chicky race.”

Rebel wasn’t the only film about teen angst to hit theater screens that year.  Director Richard Brooks’ Blackboard Jungle beat Rebel into cinemas by seven months, bowing on March 25, 1955.  It played from an adult perspective, that of a dedicated teacher, Richard Dadier (Glenn Ford), hired to teach at a rough, inner-city high school.  Vic Morrow, also a disciple of method acting, played a tough gang leader, and Sidney Poitier a young black student with the ability to succeed.

Blackboard Jungle was also a box-office hit; shot on a budget of $1.1 million, it earned $5.2 million in domestic ticket sales.  It benefitted from a hit song, “Rock Around the Clock,” by Bill Haley and His Comets.  (The song had actually been released the previous year but hadn’t caught on.  After playing over the opening titles of Blackboard Jungle, however, it raced to the top of the charts and remained at #1 for eight-weeks.)

Both movies were made in an attempt to focus attention on the soaring rates of juvenile delinquency in the early 1950s—or to capitalize on it perhaps.  Rebel even took it a step further.  Director Nicholas Ray, scriptwriter Stewart Stern, and co-stars James Dean and Sal Mineo made a deliberate effort to portray Mineo’s character, Plato, as being gay.

For instance, when Plato opens his locker at the beginning of the film, there’s a pinup of Alan Ladd inside where one might have expected a female centerfold.  Then when he gets his first look at Jim, Plato is unquestionably swept away in a wave of wanton desires.

Natalie Wood tries to talk Sal Mineo out of making bad choices.

The Motion Picture Production Code at the time (http://productioncode.dhwritings.comwould not have permitted Plato to have been openly homosexual.  To do so in 1955 would most likely have resulted in the film being banned, and could have ruined the careers of those involved.  Even Mineo’s covert take was a risky move.

Blackboard Jungle courted controversy as well; Ford’s Mr. Dadier had to come to terms with his own bigoted feelings towards his black students, while another violent scene depicted the attempted rape of a teacher.

After the movie ended, I glanced around the theater and noticed that, of the 100 or so people who attended the screening of Rebel Without a Cause, a majority were middle-aged.  It would be nice if Cinemark could get younger moviegoers into these classic films, even if it meant handing out free passes in advance to teens who show up for other movies.

Upcoming titles for Cinemark’s 2017 classic film series include An Affair to Remember (60th Anniversary Event), All About Eve, North by Northwest, The Graduate (50th Anniversary Screening), Smokey and the Bandit (can you believe it’s been 40 years!), The Godfather, Some Like It Hot, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Bonnie and Clyde (another 50th anniversary), The Princess Bride, Casablanca, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

For more details, visit https://www.cinemark.com/theatres/.


Doug Snauffer is an Ohio-based freelance writer. His work has appeared in myriad publications and on SyFy Channel and includes several cult horror films and the books The Show Must Go On and Crime Television. Check him out on IMDB.

‘Longmire’ Proves Hard to Kill

by Doug Snauffer

As the TV landscape continues to diversify, it’s nice to know there’s still room for an old-fashioned show like Longmire — even though it’s survival has included a number of last-minute reprieves.

Based on the novels by best-selling author Craig Johnson, Longmire is best described as a modern-day Western. It’s protagonist, Sheriff Walt Longmire (Australian actor Robert Taylor), upholds the law in Absaroka County, Wyoming. Walt is a widower who lives in a small secluded cabin on the edge of the Big Horn Mountains.

When he’s not on the job, he spends his free-time drinking Rainier beer and pining over his recently deceased wife. When he’s on the job, Walt Longmire is a force to be reckoned with. He’s a large man who — as far as Western lawmen go — is reminiscent of Gunsmoke‘s Matt Dillon (Although at 6’7″, James Arness had 5 inches on Taylor.). Walt is capable, strong-willed, dedicated, and has proven to be hard to kill — even by short-sighted TV executives.

Robert Taylor stars as Sheriff Walt Longmire in the Netflix original series Longmire.

Longmire debuted on A&E in June of 2012, and continued to play as a summer series the following two seasons. It was A&E’s highest-rated scripted program, pulling in an average of 3.7 million viewers each week during it’s third season.

Then in August of 2014, just as it’s third season was coming to a close, A&E shocked Longmire devotees by cancelling the show. They explained that despite it’s impressive numbers, “the series found its largest audience amidst a specialized demographic.” In other words, 3.7 million people may have been watching Longmire, but they were the wrong 3.7 million people. They were over the age of 34.

They proved to be a surly lot, however. Fans rallied back in one of the most comprehensive protests ever geared towards the cancellation of a TV series. Meanwhile, Longmire‘s production company, Warner Horizon Television, began looking for a new home for their show.

Lou Diamond Phillips as Henry Standing Bear, best friend and confidant to Sheriff Walt Longmire.

They sent proposals out to all the major players, but from the start they were eyeing either Amazon or Netflix. Their efforts were soon rewarded. Just a scant three months after A&E’s surprise cancellation, Netflix picked Longmire up for a fourth season, which premiered in the fall of 2015.

A fifth round of episodes in the fall of 2016 received a warm welcome by fans, who binge-watched the season in large numbers. Rumors had begun to circulate over the summer that these would be the final batch of episodes, but once again the program persevered, and the streaming service officially announced a six go-round of Longmire was in the works for 2017.

(Left to right) Adam Bartley, Katee Sackhoff, and Robert Taylor take a knee in Longmire.

Walt’s posse includes sassy deputy Victoria ‘Vic’ Moretti (Katee Sackhoff), who harbors romantic feelings towards her boss, deputy Jim ‘Ferg’ Ferguson (Adam Bartley), a dedicated officer often inapt in his duties, Walt’s daughter Cady (Cassidy Freeman), an attorney who is every bit as pertinent as her dad, and Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips), owner of the Red Pony bar and Walt’s best friend and confidant.

Absaroka County is also home to a Cheyenne Indian reservation, where local businessman and resident villain Jacob Nighthorse (A Martinez) has just opened a gambling casino that Walt fears is a front for illegal activity. Malachi Strand (Graham Greene) is Chief of Security for the casino, and Mathias (Zahn McClarnon) is head of the tribal police.

Robert Taylor (left) and A Martinez (right) in a scene from Netflix’s original series Longmire.

Rounding out the Longmire universe is Ruby (Louanne Stephens), Walt’s office manager and dispatcher, Travis Murphy (Derek Phillips), a naïve, near-do-well deputy-wannabe who has somehow managed to steal Victoria’s affections, and Dr. Donna Sue Monaghan (Ally Walker), a psychiatrist introduced in season 4 who has awakened feelings of passion in Walt for the first time since the death of his wife.

Longmire is a far cry from most TV crime procedurals. It’s filmed largely on outdoor locations at a deliberately slow place, and the scripts rely heavily on character development. It consists of 10-episode seasons (with the exception of it’s second year, which contained 13). But the writing is above par and the story arcs (typically one major thread per season) are intriguing and satisfying.

The characters are all multidimensional and exhibit self-destructive behavior. They’re as much a threat to themselves as any of the contemporary outlaws they go up against. Walt has a need to do things his own way, whether he’s acting within the bounds of the law or not — and his deputies tend to take their leads from him.

Longmire (Netflix). Walt’s best friend, Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips), is taken into custody by Mathias (Zahn McClarnon), head of the Cheyenne tribal police.

I do have one problem with the series, however. With Walt, Vic, and Ferg so wrapped up in their cases, I have to wonder who is handling other police business. Don’t they ever write speeding tickets?

Production on Longmire is set to resume in March, and the new season should begin streaming this fall. But word has already begun to float that these next 10 episodes will be — yeah, that’s right — the series’ last. We’ll see what Walt Longmire has to say about that.


TVWriter™ Contributing Editor Douglas Snauffer is an Ohio-based freelance writer. His work has appeared in myriad publications and on SyFy Channel and includes several cult horror films and the books The Show Must Go On and Crime Television. Learn more about him HERE