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CanFilm Five: Film Reviewer and Blogger Marty McKee

CanFilm Five” is the Canuxploitation blog’s ongoing guest column, which brings together prominent filmmakers, bloggers, critics and programmers to discuss their most loved offbeat Canadian films.

Marty McKee is an Illinois-based freelance copywriter who somehow finds the time to moderate Mobius Home Video Forum, review films for Marty’s Marquee, and maintain his blog–a Canuxploitation favourite–Johnny LaRue’s Crane Shot, devoted to trashy paperbacks, movies and TV. His copywriting portfolio is online at Coroflot.

You’ve thrilled to his finely tailored trenchcoats in KIDNAPPING OF THE PRESIDENT and got caught up in his love of yogurt in VISITING HOURS, but even though William Shatner didn’t appear in too many Canadian productions, he’s still a true Hollywood North acting legend with a career that spans six decades and almost 200 roles. An acknowledged Shat-ologist who has followed the Rocket Man’s colourful professional career from court rooms to outer space and back again, Marty presents his top five picks of Shatner’s must-see non-STAR TREK performances.

5. David Koster on FOR THE PEOPLE
Forty years before winning an Emmy as colorful Denny Crane on the hit ABC series BOSTON LEGAL, William Shatner played another attorney on the CBS series FOR THE PEOPLE in 1965. Filmed on location in New York City, FOR THE PEOPLE centered around David Koster, an idealistic young assistant district attorney who also found himself torn by the day’s current issues. For Koster, the producers called upon Shatner, a 33-year-old leading man with acting credits on prestigious television series like TWILIGHT ZONE,  THE DEFENDERS, and THE OUTER LIMITS, as well as big-screen roles in JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG and Roger Corman’s THE INTRUDER. In 1964, when production began on the 13-episode run of FOR THE PEOPLE, Shatner was a very big deal.

“Guilt Shall Not Escape, Nor Innocence Suffer” (all episode titles are drawn from actual New York state law) is an interesting look at the justice system working for the convenience of the judges and attorneys, rather than the actual victims. Tony-winner Paul Hartman is very good as Sam Chapin, a vagrant who is arrested on a burglary charge. He freely admits to being drunk and beaning the arresting officer during a scuffle, but claims to be innocent of the breaking and entering. Koster, his D.A. boss Anthony Celese (Howard daSilva), and the presiding judge, in a hurry to get through the day’s dockets as quickly and trouble-free as possible, just want Chapin to take a plea and serve his time, at least 10 years in prison. Only Chapin’s inexperienced legal-aid attorney (Walter Moulder) is willing to consider his client’s cries of innocence.

Even better is “Dangerous to the Public Peace and Safety,” which showcases Tony Bill as Buddy, an ingratiating young man with an active fantasy life and a yen for knifing pretty young girls to death. Bill is wonderful as the young psycho, refusing to overplay or go for cheap laughs like actors playing serial killers love to do. Koster blames himself for Buddy’s body count, because of his insistence upon sending the lad to jail for six months on an earlier offense, rather than the psychiatric stay for which Buddy’s lawyer called. Would Buddy’s five knifing victims still be alive if Koster had felt more sympathy for him?

4. Edwin Danbury on THE SIXTH SENSE, “Can a Dead Man Strike from the Grave?”
Produced by Universal in late 1971 and first aired by ABC February 26, 1972, “Can a Dead Man Strike from the Grave?” is an episode of THE SIXTH SENSE, a paranormal mystery show . This episode casts Shatner as Edwin Danbury, a wealthy architect living with his beautiful younger wife Elizabeth (Anne Archer) in the family mansion where his grandfather lived decades earlier. Elizabeth becomes worried by the temperamental Edwin’s increasingly frequent bouts of unexplained behavior, where he speaks using a strange voice, plays classical music on the grand piano (even though he doesn’t know how), or just stares at something happening in the room that she can’t see.

She contacts Dr. Michael Rhodes (series star Gary Collins), a university professor specializing in parapsychology. While poking around the Danbury house, where Edwin does not make him feel welcome, Rhodes meets Elizabeth’s niece Stephanie (Pam Peters) and Edwin’s busybody assistant Phyllis (Allison McKay), who attempts to stir up trouble by insinuating to her boss that Elizabeth and Rhodes are having an affair. Stephanie tells Rhodes, who has begun to suspect Edwin’s late grandfather of being involved in the spooky happenings, that no one is allowed in the family attic, where the Danbury history is suspected to be stored. Who’s haunting whom and why, are the questions nagging at Rhodes, who apparently has no classes to teach and plenty of free time to hang around the Danbury estate.

Surprisingly, considering the script is by a good television writer, Gene L. Coon (a former STAR TREK producer), and directed by action specialist Alf Kjellin, “Can a Dead Man..?” is lifeless and dull. It looks as though it was shot on leftover THRILLER sets (I swear some of those props I’ve seen a dozen times in other shows) and a back corner of the Universal lot.

As for Shatner, less than three years after STAR TREK completed production, he gets to rant and rave, like he does so well, and act generally weird through most of the running time. And make out with Anne Archer, which I’m sure he didn’t mind. The show is pretty lame, but Shatner is wonderfully entertaining in it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0wXwNM8jjQ

3. Narrator in OPERATION BIKINI
One of Shatner’s most obscure performances. I honestly had no idea it even existed until I caught 1963’s OPERATION BIKINI on television in 2007. Note my surprise when the closing narration was read by none other than Shatner, who probably recorded his speech during one of his sessions dubbing star Mark Damon in AIP’s THE YOUNG RACERS. I’d be curious to know how Shatner landed these voiceover gigs, as he never starred in an AIP production and was at the time an in-demand television and stage actor too busy, one would think, for voice roles.

Shatner’s monologue first plays over an atomic bomb blast, which cuts to color footage of two contemporary honeys frolicking in bikinis on a beach, while the closing credits flash. I have no idea what director Anthony Carras was doing here, except AIP perhaps used the bikini girls in the trailer to trick unsuspecting moviegoers. Carras, by the way, never again directed for AIP, but he did receive a promotion from editor to producer of several Beach Party movies.

2. Mark Antony in JULIUS CAESAR
In between starring roles on Broadway in THE WORLD OF SUZIE WONG and A SHOT IN THE DARK, Shatner returned to Canada to perform in a two-hour taped adaptation of JULIUS CAESAR for a prestigious CBC program called FESTIVAL. It aired December 18, 1960, and starred Shatner as Marc Antony, Fritz Weaver as Brutus, Douglas Rain (later the voice of HAL 9000 in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY) as Cassius, Robin Gammell (RITUALS) as Octavius, Kate Reid as Portia, and even a young John Vernon (CURTAINS) as Cinna. It looks as though Weaver may have been the only American in the cast. The show is apparently available through the collector’s market.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJihkc8rQRI

1. Alexander the Great in ALEXANDER THE GREAT
Filmed in Utah in 1964, this one-hour TV pilot starred a Shatner as the boy king of Greece and a pre-BATMAN Adam West as Cleander, his sidekick. The cast also includes John Cassevetes (INCUBUS), Joseph Cotten, Simon Oakland, John Doucette, Ziva Rodann, and Cliff Osmond. 

ABC commissioned it, but didn’t air it until 1968, when the network and producers at MGM were looking for material to fit in with OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD, a prime-time anthology series aimed at children. ALEXANDER THE GREAT is an adult show, but I suppose ABC thought it was a history lesson or something. Of course, by then, Shatner and West were both big TV stars, and it’s likely the ratings for the telecast were pretty good.

Director Phil Karlson (KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL) provides lots of action–wrestling and swordfighting and a big battle scene (although some of this may be stock footage). Shatner is perfectly cast in the lead. He looks great and is believable as a leader of men. It’s obvious that much of what he used in the role carried over to his performance as Captain Kirk on STAR TREK. Cassevetes and Cotten also deliver top-notch work, although neither would have been regulars on the prospective series.

You’ll find many reviewers who snub the pilot, merely because of the shallow perception that Shatner and West are “bad” actors or because it stars macho guys running around in very short skirts. It ain’t SPARTACUS, but it’s still an interesting show and one of mild historical significance, even if only for the talented filmmakers involved.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jeiQ6cdmEo

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  1. FEEDBACK says:

    I need to see the full version of Shatner in Julius Caesar. NOW!

  2. Allan says:

    Great list, although I definitely would have included his performance in THE DEVIL’S RAIN. Not as obscure, but still essential. Close runner-up: Concerned dad in DON’T ASK ALICE.