Thursday, February 23, 2017

Thriller Thursday: THE GUILTY MEN

The Guilty Men

The spider web fills the screen, it's Boris Karloff's THRILLER!



Season: 1, Episode: 6.
Airdate: 10/18/1960


Director: Jules Bricken
Writer: John Vlahos
Cast: Everett Sloane, Jay C. Flippin, Frank Silvera, John Marley.
Music: Pete Rugolo.
Cinematography: John L. Russell




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Three boys from the slums. One wanted to be a doctor, one wanted to be a lawyer, and the third... he just wanted to be Mr. Big. All three achieved their ambitions with surprising results, as sure is my name is Boris Karloff. They are the guilty men, and that’s the name of our story. That sound you hear is a heart beat. A heart beat that held together a fantastically powerful organization dedicated to big business. The big business of crime. Let me assure you my friends, this is a thriller.”

Synopsis: Kind of a precursor to GODFATHER and GODFATHER 3, the story begins with a boy names Cesare is running down a city street at night, then climbing a fire escape to a New York City rooftop that looks a lot like the rooftop set from VERTIGO... where two other boys are hanging out. The other boys ask what happened when they hear the police sirens from below, and Cesare tells them he got the money to pay for their father’s funeral... $400. His brother Tony is outraged, but Lou asks if he’s going to need an alibi. Cesare says no alibi required, he’s a clever kid and got away clean. Tony doesn’t think their father would want to be buried in a fancy coffin bought with dirty money. Papa wanted the boys to get good jobs and be decent people. Brother Cesare disagrees: “I don’t want the neighbors to laugh, we couldn’t give the old man a decent funeral, capice? We needed the money so I got it, it don’t matter how.”. “It matters to Papa, how many times he tell us a man who lives by violence, he dies the same way.” “I gotta wise saying, too: He who takes gets, and it don’t matter how. You just take and take and take.” These three boys in the slums of New York in the 1920s talk about their futures... Tony dreams of being a doctor, Lou dreams of being a lawyer... and Cesare dreams of being the biggest mobster ever known.



Now we get a montage of Cesare Romano’s rise from that kid on the rooftop to crime kingpin through stock footage and newspaper headlines. As prohibition comes in, he rises to the top, and when prohibition is voted out he organizes all of the other bootleggers into a crime syndicate that controls all of the illegal vices people crave. When the feds begin cracking down, he turns his front businesses into *real* businesses and is able to walk away from Senate hearings a free man because his hotels and shipping and other businesses are legit... they make a ton of money (even though they are still used as fronts from some criminal enterprises). Which takes us to 1960, present day...

An aging “Charlie” (Cesare) Romano (Frank Silvera) is meeting with all of the mob bosses beneath him who form The Syndicate, and some are angry that they so corporate that they are no longer criminals. Leading the pack is Gans (Jay C. Flippin) who thinks they should focus on heroin and other hard drugs before someone else moves in. Charlie says they made record profits *legally*, why push their luck? Mob Lawyer Lou (Everett Sloane) agrees. But Gans is the up and comer, like Mantegna’s Joey Zasa in GODFATHER 3, and thinks heroin is the new Prohibition... and they could become so powerful the government couldn’t touch them. Charlie gets angry and... collapses to his chair, grabbing for his heart pills.



At Charlie’s estate, doctor brother Tony (John Marley... from THE GODFATHER) attends to Charlie as Lou looks on. Charlie and Tony are hardly on speaking terms these days, but Tony is still his doctor. Tony tells Charlie he needs to get his anger under control, that’s what triggered the heart attack today... and then calls his bother scum for being part of the drug trade and says goodbye to Lou and goes back to the hospital. When he’s gone, Charlie and Tony discuss their heroin business... should they drop it? Tony says they should either drop it or get into it 100 percent. Charlie wants desperately to be legitimate, to put his criminal past behind him and decides to get out: *not* allow any part of the syndicate to import or sell drugs.

At the next meeting, Charlie proposes they stop being part of the drug traffic... Gans argues that it’s millions of dollars being thrown away, and they should *focus* on the heroin business and make even more money. Lawyer Lou offers to mediate the dispute between the two men, and most of the other mobsters are dismissed from the meeting. Charlie and Gans face off, the argument becomes heated, comes to blows... and Charlie has another heart attack, reaching for his pills. Gans pulls them away. Charlie reaches, reaches, reaches for his pills. Can’t get them. Dies of a heart attack.



Twist: Lawyer Lou was in on it... afraid that Gans *would* take over the mob, and the mob is 98 percent of Lou’s business. He couldn’t survive if Charlie lost control, so he went along with Gans and kept his job.

Charlie’s funeral: all three boys together again, but one is dead.

Gans in now in control... and wants to go full force into the drug business. When some of the legit business guys and Lawyer Lou think they should not get into it, or at least be very very cautious, Gans rubs out one of them making it look like suicide. The problem with the suicide? It splashes mud on everyone else in the syndicate including Lawyer Lou. For Lou the plan has backfired: he never really wanted to be *Gans* lawyer. In trying to save his income he has sold his soul and is liable to go down with *Gans*. He decides to turn states evidence against Gans and the mob... not knowing that Gans has his phones tapped, and after cutting a deal, leaves to turn himself in... and is shot dead in the street by Gans. But the police arrive and shoot it out with Gans and his men, the end. Everyone who lived by violence has died by violence.



Review: There are a handful of THRILLER episodes that are crime dramas and seem like rejected episodes of THE UNTOUCHABLES that found their way to THRILLER. This is one of them. Many TV shows take a while to figure out what they are, and that must have been even more difficult with an anthology show like THRILLER. There are no continuing characters and no continuing storyline, and for a while no specific *genre*. Hitchcock has a history of films which set the tone for his show, but even that show had occasional episodes that didn’t seem to fit. Hey, it’s television, we have to make a one hour show every single week! Eventually THRILLER would find itself and center on suspense with a touch of weird tales thrown in, but this week it was a crime drama.

And the accent is on the *drama* here, as most of the episode takes place in the mob’s boardroom with dangerous men... talking. This episode could easily have been a stage play about corporate politics instead of organized crime. So it seems slow and stagey, and they chunk of stock footage from some other gangster movie or show with all of the car chases and explosions and tommy gun fights looks even more like stock footage because of it. And doesn’t really inject any action into the episode. Even the three murders on screen, Charlie’s and the other mobster who doesn’t go along with Gans and Lou’s, don’t have any have action. Lawyer Lou’s is the only one with the kind of action you’d expect in a gangster story: he gets plugged in a drive by. Charlie’s comes closest to being suspenseful (THRILLER materialz) because they have to hold him away from his pills long enough to die. Actually an okay scene. The other murder is off screen, with only the discovery of the body on screen. Imagine THE GODFATHER without the violence or the pageantry.

The scene with Charlie and his pills comes in the last half of the episode! That gives you an idea of how much talk there is. And after Charlie is dead... more talk!



One of the great things this episode does is give us a “bridge” between the boys and their adult counterparts, most notably with Cesare/Charlie who slaps his hand on a table hard when making a point. We end with the boy Cesare slapping his hand down and, after the credits and montage, begin with Charlie slapping his hand down on the board room table. Easy for the audience to understand that the boy is now this man. Things like this are part of old school screenwriting and I fear are being lost these days.

It’s great to see John Marley in a GODFATHEResque story made almost 15 years before that film... but his character vanishes at the end. After Charlie’s funeral he isn’t in a single scene. I would have squeezed him in at the very end, just because he *is* the surviving brother. Technically fine, and watchable. But the *next* episode gets us back on course to what THRILLER would become.

FADE OUT

Bill

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