Sarafian Credit

Best remembered for his existential chase movie Vanishing Point (1971), Richard C. Sarafian remains one of the neglected figures of the New Hollywood era.  Before he moved wholly into feature filmmaking in the late sixties, Sarafian spent eight years on the A-list of episodic television directors, starting with a brief stint at Warner Bros.    A veteran of industrial filmmaking in the Midwest, Sarafian was thirty when he went to Los Angeles and directed his first television episode.  He rotated through almost all of the Westerns and private eye shows that were the studio’s mainstay, but concentrated on Lawman, a half-hour horse opera starring John Russell and Peter Brown that still has a small cult following today.  During his third year at Warners, The Gallant Men joined the studio’s roster; Sarafian directed nine of the twenty-six episodes.  In a telephone interview last month, Sarafian shared his memories of working on the short-lived World War II drama.

 

How did you land on The Gallant Men?

I got a contract after having directed one episode of a Western called Bronco.  They appreciated the fact that I was a first-time director and did well, and signed me to a seven-year contract.  So I was a contract director at Warner Bros. at the time, and I did maybe sixty or seventy Westerns.  Somewhere in the mix was The Gallant Men.

The pilot was directed by Robert Altman.  I’m his brother-in-law, but that had nothing to do with it.  I was just a good director.  I mean, I considered myself a pretty hot TV director, and the network, ABC, really liked my work.  And while I was doing Gallant Men, Robert Altman jumped onto Combat.  Basically, I was in competition – it was unwritten, between Robert Altman and myself.

Who do you remember among the cast of The Gallant Men?

Richard Slattery was one.  He was a hard-drinking Irishman.  Bill Reynolds, he in every way I think fit the character in his personal life as well as in his role within the series.  Robert McQueeney had the texture of someone that would fit that role.  I can remember his face a little bit, in that he had acne.

What about Eddie Fontaine?

Eddie Fontaine fit the character, and he could sing.  After work there was a place nearby where he would go and sing.  He had a pretty good voice.  But he was definitely “street,” and Italian, and had natural charm.

And Robert Ridgely?

Yeah …. He was a sycophant.  He had his nose so far up Robert Altman’s ass that it was bleeding.  So, naturally, after he did the pilot with Bob Altman, he remained loyal to him.  None of that really meant anything to me, nor was I aware of – I knew that they maintained a relationship, and it wasn’t until [years later when] my sons were at a party where he was trying to undermine me to Bob, and because my children were there, Bob took offense at that and didn’t want to hear it and came and spent most of the time with my kids.  Ridgely was a toady.

Did you have trouble working with him during the production of The Gallant Men though?

I never had trouble with anybody.  Nobody ever gave me a hard time.  I was too strong a director to be countermanded.  I had earned the respect of all of them, because I credit myself as – I liked actors, and later on I acted myself, and I probably should have done it earlier on.  But I was sensitive to their fears, their insecurities.

The Office of Army Information sent someone from the Pentagon to be an advisor, and I told my cast, I says, “Tell this guy that I was a Medal of Honor winner, that I killed thirty-four North Koreans with an entrenching tool after I lost my bayonet.”  We were going to meet him in a local joint where we all gathered after a shoot.  So he came down and I was introduced and he stood up erect and saluted me.  Anyhow, he would put his hand over the lens if he didn’t think that the moment I was shooting was in the army rule book.  Well, I stopped that very quickly.  How dare he, you know, censor my work!  That’s something you don’t do during a shoot.  If you have the power, you might do it later, but not when I’m working.

Slattery

Richard X. Slattery in “Signals For an End Run.”

Essentially you alternated episodes on The Gallant Men with another director, Charles Rondeau.  What can you tell me about him?

He was a colorful, very competent director.  He loved cars.  I would see him with a new one every two or three months.  Once I was sitting with him at a local bar where we went after work, and he said to me, “What is ‘debriss’?”  I said, “What do you mean?”  He said “Every time I read a script, it says, “The streets are covered with debriss.”  I said, “Charlie.  Debris!  It means trash and broken buildings.”

Anyhow, Charlie was fun to be around, and actors felt comfortable with him.  Charlie was a good director.  He knew where to put the camera, and when to say cut.  You had to know when you got it – when it was done, and you were able to yell out, “All right, let’s move the camera.  That’s it.  Print it.”  He and I alternated, and competed in a way.  I mean, we had no way of choosing the scripts.  They were just handed to us.

In what way did the two of you compete?

I always wanted my shows to be the best, in terms of style and performance.  But the cast carried it through.  It was an interesting ensemble of people.  One of the major contributors creatively was Bill D’Angelo.  I think he helped orchestrated the quality of the scripts.  He, and his superior was somebody by the name of Richard Bluel.

Bluel was the producer of The Gallant Men.

Bluel was the producer, but the real producer in terms of casting, and who had his thumb on the quality of the shows, was Bill D’Angelo.

That’s interesting, because William P. D’Angelo (later of Batman) wasn’t credited at all, except with a story credit on one episode.

He may have written some of them, but why he wasn’t credited was just the way things go.  I don’t think he ever cared.  But he was there, working with Richard Bluel, as his sort of sidekick and confidante and creative ally.

Were they good producers?

They were fun to be around.  I liked anybody who liked me!  That was the main qualification: if they liked me, they appreciated me, and they didn’t lean on me too hard, and I had gained their trust, that’s all I cared about.

There was always the pressure of not only making a good show, but bringing it in within the parameters of the amount of time and money.  I remember asking Charlie Greenwell, the head of production at that time, “Charlie, if we took out all the special effects, if we took out all the extras, if we distilled the show down to its barest minimum, how much would it cost?”  Because they complained that the budgets were too high.

He said, “$92,000 per episode.”

I said, “Well, strip it.  Strip it of all the whipped cream.”  Strip it of all the special effects, the construction, and whatever else goes into creating an episode.  The basic cost would be $92,000.  You couldn’t bring it in for any less than that.  [Variety reported the show’s budget as $114,000 per episode – incidentally, $6,000 more than Combat, which arguably looked like the more expensive show.]

So I enjoyed the series, the cast, the production people, Hugh Benson, who worked as the associate with William Orr, who was the head of television production.  Bill D’Angelo, I think, was my main ally and fan, and really appreciated my work.  I was able to work on the show with the security of knowing that I was appreciated.  I could pretty much resculpt the scripts if I felt there was the opportunity for further improvement.

Do you remember your directors of photography, Jack Marquette and Carl Guthrie?

Carl Guthrie sat in a chair and was able to instruct his electricians by hand motions.  Never got up out of his chair.  Never took out a meter.  He was an old-timer.

How would you describe your visual style, early on, when you were doing the Warner Bros. shows?

Well … adding pace.  I learned early on that I was a pretty good editor.  When I was an embryo director, I was sitting in a bar, and there was a guy sitting next to me who had drank too much.  His name was Bill Lyon.  We got to talking.  I told him I was a director and he said, “Oh, shit.”  He said, “Let me give you a bit of advice, kid.  When you cover a scene, move the camera.  Move it a little bit.  Change the angle.”  That was, of course, good advice.  And he said, “Second, let me tell you.  Every time you make a cut, there’s got to be twelve reasons for making a cut.  Either in terms of story, or nuance, or motion.  But there should be more than just one reason, not just arbitrarily make the cut.”  And this was advice given to me by an Academy Award winning editor [for From Here to Eternity and Picnic].

And one of my closest friends was Floyd Crosby.  Floyd, early on in his career [shot] films for Murnau and was a cinematographer on a film called Tabu, and had worked also with Flaherty, the documentarian.  He was the cinematographer on High Noon.  I was able to get him to come to Kansas City and he guided me through my first effort in directing a movie that I wrote [Terror at Black Falls].  Floyd was my mentor and became like a father figure to me, guiding me if I had questions.  The one main [piece of] advice, and the one thing that he hated was for me to shoot into the sun and flare the lens.  Later on that seemed to be okay, and was a technique that some directors [used].

But everything had its own needs.  What I liked to do was rehearse and then allow the actors to have a lot of leeway, and not have them worry about hitting their marks.  I never restricted the actors to meeting chalk marks.  So I gave my actors a lot of freedom, and I also was pretty adept at improvisation.

Did you have that luxury to rehearse even on the early Warner Bros. shows?

Yeah, pretty much, but not to the extent that I did later.  Within every moment there’s an improvisational opportunity that comes up.  I think back on Gallant Men when I didn’t take the advice of Richard Slattery, who had a thing that he wanted to do, and I said no.  This was a moment where they were in some sort of tight situation with the Germans, and he ended up with the hat of one of the German officers, and as they marched away for the final moment, he says, “Can I throw the hat away?”  And I said no.  And to this day, I regret the fact that I didn’t allow him to do that, to let him throw the hat away and while it was still kind of shaking or wobbling on the dirt road, with the troops moving off into the distance, that the final moment was on the German hat.  I mean, maybe it doesn’t sound like much, but it was a touch that I think would have been a much better denouement.

I remember the show and how much hard work I devoted to it to give it reality.  I remember trying to get a child to cry, that Eddie Fontaine was holding in his arms, and telling the child not to cry, but to laugh.  That was able to produce tears, because it unlocked him.  That’s how I got lucky, in terms of finding the key to getting the emotion out of the child.

Fontaine Child

Eddie Fontaine and guest star Anna Bruno-Lena in “Retreat to Concord.”

Where was the show filmed?

It was all shot on the backlot.  Some of them were shot in Thousand Oaks.  We did some battle sequences there, where we needed more terrain.  But as far as the “debriss,” all the debriss was on the backlot.  There was one formation of rocks, part of it was called the B-52 rocks, and we were able to – we had a pretty good art director, I think his name was William Campbell – and he was able to create the illusion of being somewhere in the streets or in the trenches during that moment in history.

Were you able to get into the editing room?

There was nothing that could stop me!  One of the editors that I remember was Stefan Arnsten.  He had lost one leg in the Second World War.  But I didn’t have the time, really, to spend as much time as I would [have liked with the editors].  You pretty much finished the show and jumped right on to another.  You would look at the first cut, give some suggestions, and that’s it.  But so much of the editing is driven by the way you shoot a scene and how it’s covered.  It’s not like I gave the editor a lot of choices.  You pretty much were locked in to my style.

Did you like The Gallant Men?  Was it a good show?

Pretty much.  Did I like it?  Of course.  I don’t see how I can say I didn’t like it.  I thought that the show was pretty well-crafted, based on bringing reality to that period in time, in terms of the sets, the locations, and the details that we were able to bring to each episode.  But in my early career, early on, I was scared to death most of the time.  Not to the extreme that I just described, but scared that I could not deliver both quantitatively and qualitatively the show that I had envisioned.  And bring life to the words.

So who won that rivalry with Altman?

I had to respect his style of shooting, and his cast.  Vic Morrow was a friend of mine.  Altman brought his gift to Combat, and I couldn’t compete with that.  Altman knew how to shoot.  Altman could should them himself – he could get behind that camera, and he could get into the editing room, and he had a free style of shooting.  He was able to get the respect, the attention of all of his cast.  So he did a hell of a good job.  It was just two different types of shows.  I think that Altman’s shows were better, more realistic, with a better cast.

And when The Gallant Men was cancelled after just one season, were you unhappy?

What I was unhappy [about] was that the whole studio was cancelled!  It wasn’t just my show.  It was The Roaring 20s, it was the Westerns.  I had my ham hand in all of them.  Jack Webb came in, and he was the broom.  It was his job to cancel those shows.  ABC was very unhappy with what Warner Bros. was doing.  They had about eight to ten shows on the air but ABC didn’t like the quality, I guess, as a result of which the licensing fee for all of these shows was cancelled, and Jack Webb came in and took over.  I was the last director to be fired.  I was the last person under contract.  I never had any physical contact with Jack Webb – never one word.  Was I sad?  Yeah, because it was work.  Listen, I had three kids, then five, and I had to bring home the bacon.  That was my home for so many years.  It was my genesis.  But as soon as I was let go, I went on to do Ben Casey and Kildare and Slattery’s People and some of the other episodic shows.  I was in demand.  Mainly because the networks felt, I think, from [what I heard], that my contribution as a director was a touch more than the others’, in terms of style and quality.

Sarafian Hills

Another Sarafian composition from “Signals For an End Run,” with guest star Mala Powers at left.

The Gallant Men

April 2, 2013

Title card

Mud as a unit of measurement for a war movie’s authenticity: It’s a stand-in for blood, at least in shows made before actual gore became a possibility, and also a signal that the performers and the filmmakers were committed to putting themselves through at least a fraction of the hardships that actual soldiers endured.  The Gallant Men, a World War II drama that ran on ABC during the 1962-1963 season, has mud in ample measure.

In particular, there’s a tactile set piece near the beginning of the pilot, where the hero, a somewhat overwhelmed journalist (Robert McQueeney), tromps through a foot of goopy muck to hitch a ride with the truckload of G.I.s that he’ll end up sticking with for the remainder of the series.  The boxy compositions in this sequence, probably dictated by the constraints of the location (Los Angeles, remember, is a desert, and another reason that mud measured a film company’s commitment was the tempting expendability of a water truck as a line item on the budget), are defined with an appealing clarity: a tree-lined ridge on the left, a ditch on the right, a hill rising toward the background.

Robert Altman directed this hour, and like most of his early television work, it’s filled with the kind of details that make it stand out from more generic gung-ho action shows.  The pilot – which has no on-screen episode title; some sources refer to it as “Battle Zone,” but that was more likely an early title for the series – is a platoon narrative, formulaic in its scenario and characters.  But it has an unusually specific chronological-geographical progression, beginning with the soldiers’ amphibious landing at Salerno and then following them toward and through the battle of San Pietro.  That particular conflict had already been immortalized in a famous film, John Huston’s startlingly frank documentary The Battle of San Pietro.  And since the pilot (more than the subsequent series) shows us the war through the eyes of a hardened war correspondent, The Gallant Men also calls to mind The Story of G. I. Joe, William Wellman’s film about Ernie Pyle (a template for McQueeney’s character, Conley Wright).  I’ll bet Altman was aware of those imposing cinematic touchstones, both of which privilege the dogface’s point of view over the rear echelon officer’s.  (There are, in other words, no scenes of generals pushing toy tanks around on maps.)  If the Gallant Men pilot never reaches the heights of its big-screen antecedents, it’s still a respectable entry in the genre, more interested in ideas and ambiguities than violence and spectacle.

There are several subplots, but the main narrative line in Halsted Welles’s script (adapted from a magazine story by James Merriam Moore) concerns Jake Miller, a member of the platoon with a secret.  Conley recognizes Miller (William Windom) and gradually figures out that he’s actually an officer, a disgraced major who turned tail under pressure and is now hiding out under a dead enlisted man’s name.  Miller beseeches Conley not to write about him, but Conley is noncommittal; he doesn’t think Miller is helping himself by ducking his past.

Windom

Working mainly through performance, Altman reduces this farfetched conflict to a series of crystalline emotional beats.  A sort of second-rate Barry Sullivan, McQueeney was not a versatile actor, but he had a craggy, pock-marked, high-cheekboned visage, and a gravelly voice – all of which Altman knew how to align as a sort of stolid wall for Windom to bounce off of.  And Windom has never been better than he is here.  Windom was an actor who could go very big, and his most indelible roles had him doing that, quite literally clawing at the scenery both in his Twilight Zone (“Five Characters in Search of an Exit”) and as the mad starship captain in Star Trek’s “The Doomsday Machine.”  But Windom knew how to work at the opposite end of the scale, too, and his Gallant Men performance is entirely free of histrionics.  He could have played his confrontation scene with Conley as abject, pathetic, but instead he’s matter-of-fact, laying out his case like a soft-selling salesman, with just a strain of desperation creeping in to let us know how desperate he is.  Windom (and Altman) make it clear that Miller, coward or no, is hardened in a way that the other characters are not.  They give the man dignity, which is the only reason that his rather contrived plight becomes moving.

A fairly complex psychological dynamic comes into focus in the second half, when the platoon’s new leader, Captain Benedict (William Reynolds), appears.  Benedict is young, new to command, and unsure of himself.  Again, there’s an avoidance of hysterics –Benedict knows that he’s green and scared, and he’s smart enough to be open to whatever help he can collect – and once again Altman teases out a limited actor’s most usable traits.  In this case, Reynolds’s narrow range of expression approximates Benedict’s uncertainty; he plays the character as an alert but tentative man who’s afraid to commit or even express himself, for fear of revealing himself as unfit.  Reynolds’s eyes flit around, looking for cover.

Of course, the obvious trajectory here is for Miller to step up and rescue the platoon by revealing his own fitness for command.  The conclusion plays out as a fairly predictable ritual of bravery and sacrifice, but the situation is complicated by two factors: the fact that Benedict, the weak and potentially unsympathetic character, will remain with the show while Miller will not; and Altman’s utter disinterest in convention.  Altman presents Miller’s hidden past not as a secret weapon, there to tidy up the plot, but as an existential tragedy.  He has the skills and the knowledge to lead, but not the temperament.  He can offer tactical advice that may save this day, but as soon as the burden of men’s lives falls upon Miller’s soldiers, he will crumble.  Miller can’t take the pressure of command; Benedict can, but he hasn’t the experience to succeed.  Each of them is half a man and Altman, I think, wanted to underline this idea that two halves don’t make a whole – that our limitations define us as much as or more than our good qualities – even though a fairly subtle change in emphasis could have turned this into a triumphal story of redemption and victory through teamwork.

Hugueny

The avoidance of emotional resolution in Miller’s arc extends into an evasion of narrative resolution elsewhere – a harbinger of Altman’s feature work.  In the end, Conley allows his friend to be buried under his assumed identity, seemingly in keeping with his wishes.  But unpack that uneasy moment: it means that the heroism of Jake Miller’s final hours will never balance the scales against the cowardice that closed the file on Major Robert Clinton.  My favorite scene in the pilot is a brief touch of surrealism: suddenly the grunts’ jaws drop as a beautiful young woman (Sharon Hugueny) suddenly appears out of nowhere, running across the battlefield toward them, an oasis of beauty amid a landscape of destruction.  Eventually there’s some exposition to explain this – somehow she knows the platoon’s resident ladies’ man, Private D’Angelo – but Altman cares so little about the literal explanation that the point remains muddled.  (The suggestion is that D’Angelo has been carrying on with the girl while scavenging in San Pietro, but in Hugueny’s scene it appears that the platoon is coming upon the town for the first time.)  After San Pietro has been taken, D’Angelo searches the rubble, calling out the girl’s name.  Altman pans down to the cross that D’Angelo gave to Rosa in the earlier scene, concealed under a pile of concrete.  D’Angelo does not see it.  Miller’s identity remained a secret between Miller, Conley, and the audience; Rosa’s fate is an even more privileged moment, a bit of grim news that Altman shares only with us.

This kind of untied loose end could not survive in a weekly series in 1962 – nor, as it turned out, could any of the pilot’s other welcome ambiguities, or even the key players behind the camera.  Halsted Welles – a skilled adapter of prose source material, with episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Night Gallery and the classic Western 3:10 to Yuma among his credits – did not write for the show again.  Altman left The Gallant Men to write, direct, and eventually produce a very similar series for ABC.  Combat became a big hit, and Altman did some of his best early work there – biting anti-heroic, anti-war stories that expanded in triplicate upon the best ideas in his Gallant Men pilot, and got him fired before the end of the first season.

Meanwhile, working with lesser writers, the series’ journeyman producer, Richard Bluel, smoothed The Gallant Men out into a more standard-issue combat melodrama.  (Something similar would happen to Combat after Altman left that show, too.)  The greatest loss was the concept of Captain Benedict as an untested novice.  In the pilot, he receives counsel not only from Miller, but from Conley Wright, who is even further outside the chain of command.  He comes off as so inexperienced that he’s almost a danger to his men.  War narratives about indecisive battlefield Hamlets who lead their men into disaster had already been done in the movies (see Robert Aldrich’s astoundingly pessimistic Attack!), but the suggestion that a platoon leader might be unfit for command would not fly in a weekly series.  Captain Benedict became a steely, square-jawed hero, and Reynolds’s comforting blandness lost its intriguing subtext of mediocrity.  In a less obvious way, Conley Wright’s identity as a war correspondent was also minimized.  Although it was used as a plot device on occasion, the idea of his typewriter as his “weapon” (as he puts it in the first scene of the pilot), and the dynamic of Conley as an outsider, with an agenda distinct from that of the soldiers, was lost.  In most episodes, Conley is simply the member of the squad who doesn’t happen to carry a gun.

Reynolds

Like many Warner Bros. shows of this era (as well as Combat), The Gallant Men was structured to split its focus between dual leading men, both to reduce the actors’ workload and to multiply the possibility of a launching a breakout heartthrob.  But McQueeney and Reynolds (above) were so dull that the supporting cast carried the series to an unprecedented degree.  Robert Ridgely, playing the tough-as-nails second-in-command, Lt. Kimbro, was probably always meant to dominate some episodes; it’s Kimbro who gets the booby prize of the obligatory psychosomatic blindness storyline, “Lesson For a Lover.”  (Ridgely became a prominent character actor specializing in pompous suits and weasels – he’s perhaps best remembered for his films with Mel Brooks or his last role, as a pederast porn king in Boogie Nights – and it’s very difficult to reconcile that image with his stone-faced, deep-voiced performance here.)  But jut-jawed Richard X. Slattery, as the platoon sergeant, and boxer Roland LaStarza, as comic relief hustler Lucavich, are occasionally front-and-center, and singer Eddie Fontaine (below, holding money), as the charismatic everyman D’Angelo, ends up almost an equal to the series’ putative leads.

Combat had a similar character, Private Kirby (Jack Hogan), who performed a similar function.  Kirby got a bump in screen time any time the writers needed a character to do something unprofessional or unheroic, which was verboten for the static-heroic lieutenant and sergeant played by Rick Jason and Vic Morrow.  But Hogan’s appealing, squirrelly trickster figured never shunted that show’s leading men completely to the side in the way that D’Angelo does in The Gallant Men.  This was partly because D’Angelo spoke Italian, and was therefore essential to any storyline involving the locals, but mostly because Fontaine was the only cast member with any charisma.  (Coincidentally, or not, his desultory career as a supporting player ended in 1984, when Fontaine was charged with trying to hire a hit man to kill his wife.)

Hooker

Pimp

“Advance and Be Recognized,” the only really interesting episode I’ve found other than the pilot, is a D’Angelo vehicle, in which he falls for a local girl who is quite clearly identified as a prostitute, censors be damned.  A long, atmospheric sequence in a little cafe where the soldiers flirt with the Italian girls examines the G.I.s’ relative comfort level with women, and records the knowing looks of the town pimp, with an unusual empathy and eye for detail.  As is often the case with failed TV shows, there are little crumbs that show you what might have been had the series reached its potential; this is one.  “Advance and Be Recognized” was written by George and James O’Hanlon (yes, George Jetson and his brother), and directed by the twenty-five year-old Robert Totten, who is best remembered for a run of late-sixties Gunsmokes that I’m told are very good.

*

One pedantic game for bored TV historians might consist of attempting meaningful distinctions between The Gallant Men and Combat – two nearly identical programs that debuted simultaneously, a network television phenomenon that’s more common than it ought to be.  (Think of the doctor doppelgangers – Ben Casey and Dr. Kildare, Medical Center and Marcus Welby, ER and Chicago Hope – that all debuted in the same season, or the trifecta of alien invasion shows – Surface, Invasion, and Threshold – that canceled each other out in 2005.)  Combat takes place in occupied France; The Gallant Men in Italy.  The geography varies: The Gallant Men roamed the scrubby hills of the western San Fernando Valley, more often a home to plains Westerns like Rawhide, while Combat was shot in the more verdant Franklin Canyon, on the other side of the hill.

In general, Combat was more of a director’s show, initially thanks to the exuberant imaginations of Robert Altman and the first season producer, who alternated with him Burt Kennedy.  (After the first season, replacement producer Gene Levitt kept the scripts toothless but allowed a handful of gonzo visual stylists, especially Sutton Roley and John Peyser, to execute some astounding action sequences.)  Historians tend to identify Altman’s primary stylistic fingerprint upon Combat as the show’s restless camerawork, but that’s a lazy bit of shorthand that’s debatable on both ends.  Combat’s documentary-inspired handheld camera doesn’t resemble the slow track-and-zoom aesthetic of Altman’s seventies films very closely; also, Combat’s cinematographer, the great Robert Hauser, took his signature shoulder-mounted long-takes with him to his next assignment, Peyton Place, thereby muddying the auteurist claims for Altman.  In The Gallant Men’s pilot, the action sequences are surprisingly perfunctory, laced with stock footage and composed without a lot of variety or movement.  Altman excels elsewhere, in the still moments and in particular with the performances; indeed, his most permanent contribution to The Gallant Men was getting regular or semi-regular roles for a few members of his early stock company, chiefly Ridgely and Robert Fortier.

If The Gallant Men had a “look,” it originated with Richard C. Sarafian, a young Turk who directed nine episodes (chiefly in rotation with Charles R. Rondeau, who did eleven).  In contrast to the handheld, newsreel-influenced look of Combat, Sarafian favored forceful tracking and crane shots.  Although restricted somewhat by budgets and schedules, Sarafian managed to consistently compose many shots that are boldly framed and lit.  His finest Gallant Men hour is the otherwise undistinguished resistance story “Signals For an End Run.”  Like many young directors of his generation, Sarafian was bewitched by the influx of foreign films that appeared in the United States, and his images of the stone-faced partisans, dotting a rocky cliffside and outlined against an expansive sky, suggest the influence of Italian neorealism (particularly the late neorealist work of Francesco Rosi and Gillo Pontecorvo, who made use of newer telephoto lenses and high-contrast film stocks).  Although the visual pleasures of The Gallant Men are intermittent, to put it mildly, Warner Archive’s recent DVD release of this long-unavailable series does reveal that there are important exceptions to the general understanding of Warner’s early TV output as cookie-cutter dull and directed by hacks.

Sky

*

Postscript(s): On February 19, 1963, ABC announced that it would not extend The Gallant Men’s episode order beyond the initial 26 episodes.  (Presumably a “back four” or “back six” would have extended the first season to a more typical length had the show been a hit.)  Although the show’s ratings were not disastrous, The Gallant Men was in an odd situation at ABC, which was also home to Combat and to McHale’s Navy, a service comedy that had debuted in 1962.  It’s likely that the three military-themed shows were always seen as being in competition with one another, and that at least one of them was doomed to die in 1963.  Another factor may have been that Oliver Treyz, the ABC executive who developed all three series, had been fired even before their debut – and that afterward Treyz had gone to work for Warner Bros., home to The Gallant Men.  Warners had built an empire of shoddily-cloned, cheaply-made Westerns and detective shows, almost all of them sold to ABC (with Treyz as the key middle man), and clearly the studio proceeded in the hope that The Gallant Men could spawn a third cluster of wartime dramas.  Two of the twenty-six episodes, “The Leathernecks” (with Philip Carey) and “Operation Secret” (aka Avalanche, with Ray Danton) were backdoor pilots, but neither went to series – probably a foregone conclusion, given that ABC reportedly had difficulty in signing initial sponsors for both Combat and The Gallant Men.

The timing of the show’s cancellation also coincided with a seismic shift at Warner Bros.  On February 25, the news broke that longtime Warners television vice president William T. Orr and his head of production, Hugh Benson, had been ousted in favor of actor-director Jack Webb.  Webb carried out a clean sweep of both series and contract personnel, either orchestrated by or meant to appease ABC.  (Whatever revival Webb might have had in mind for Warner Bros. Television did not come to fruition – a shame, since the shows he produced during that period, especially G.E. True and the final season of 77 Sunset Strip, were stylish and fascinatingly eccentric.  Warners would remain a relatively minor player in prime time for years to come.)

One particularly intriguing tidbit in Variety’s cancellation announcement is this: “Warners had ordered additional scripts on the World War II series in anticipation of a pickup, and when notified of the [network’s] decision, immediately sought to sell the extra scripts to TV’s other war series, Combat, also on ABC-TV.”  Did this happen?   There are three episodes from the middle of Combat’s second (1963-1964) season credited to Gallant Men scribes who did not write any other Combat segments: “Gideon’s Army” (written by Charles B. Smith), “The Pillbox” (story by Gallant Men regular Ken Pettus, rewritten by frequent Combat contributor Don Tait), and “The Hostages” (written by Richard L. Adams).  The timing is perfect, and it seems an odd coincidence that Combat (which tended to rely upon a small stable of prolific freelancers) would commission scripts from three individual Gallant Men writers, and then invite none of them back again.  At the moment I have no way of verifying it (production files for The Gallant Men, housed at USC’s Warner Bros. Archives, might or might not yield the answer), but I’d wager that one or more of those episodes are repurposed Gallant Men scripts.

Next Week: Director Richard C. Sarafian remembers The Gallant Men.

Correction (4/19/13): The original version of this piece referred to the primary setting of Combat as Germany, rather than France.

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