Fat Man, The: The Thirty-Two Friends of Gina Lardelli (1959 TVM)

US / 59 minutes / bw / Laxman, Screen Gems Dir: Joseph H. Lewis Pr: E.J. Rosenberg Scr: Ivan Goff, Ben Roberts Story: characters created by Dashiell Hammett Cine: Fred Jackman Cast: Robert Middleton, Tony Travis, Frank Gerstle, Jan Arvan, Leslie Bradley, Argentina Brunetti, Herb Armstrong, John Bryant, Patrick Sexton, Rita Moreno.

A while ago I posted on this site about the movie The Fat Man (1951). In 1959 there were plans to create a Fat Man TV series, with Middleton taking over the central role from the movie’s J. Scott Smart (who also played that role in the radio series that started it all), and with the central character inexplicably undergoing a name change, from Brad Runyan to Lucius Crane; his sidekick Bill Norton (played by Clinton Sundberg in the movie) here becomes Bill Gregory, again for no apparent reason. This is the pilot for that unmade TV series.

Fat Man pilot - 1 Crane Quizzes Scott

Lucius Crane (Robert Middleton) quizzes small-time hood Larry Scott (John Bryant).

Glamorous model Gina Lardelli is found dead in her apartment in the Golden State Towers, having committed suicide—or at least that’s what the cops think. But elderly schoolteacher Mario Carvello (Arvan), who knew Gina since she was a child, believes her strong Catholicism would have prevented her from taking her own life. He and 31 of her other friends, most of them direly poor, have collected $300 which they believe will hire famous PI Lucius Crane (Middleton) for three days of investigation. This is just half his usual fee but, partly because of some arm-twisting by assistant Bill Gregory (Travis), Crane takes the case anyway.

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Cobweb, The (1955)

US / 124 minutes / color / MGM Dir: Vincente Minnelli Pr: John Houseman Scr: John Paxton, William Gibson Story: The Cobweb (1954) by William Gibson Cine: George Folsey Cast: Richard Widmark, Lauren Bacall, Charles Boyer, Gloria Grahame, Lillian Gish, John Kerr, Susan Strasberg, Oscar Levant, Tommy Rettig, Paul Stewart, Dayton Lummis, Jarma Lewis, Adele Jergens, Edgar Stehli, Sandra Descher, Bert Freed, Mabel Albertson, Fay Wray, Oliver Blake, Olive Carey, Eve McVeagh, Virginia Christine, Jan Arvan, Ruth Clifford, Myra Marsh, Marjorie Bennett.

By the mid-1950s the studios were becoming seriously worried over losing their audience to the new kid on the block, TV. One stratagem they tried in response to this threat was the star-studded ensemble movie, of which The Cobweb is a prime example. This blackly comedic soap opera isn’t of much direct noir interest, if any, save for its astonishing cast, with noir icons like Widmark, Grahame and Bacall at the top but others like Jergens and Stewart further down as well as actors better known outside noir but who nevertheless made noir contributions, such as Boyer, Wray, Christine and even Bennett.

Dr. Stewart “Mac” McIver (Widmark) is the de facto chief of a psychiatric clinic, although the physician who ran it for many years, the boozy, philandering Dr. Douglas N. “Dev” Devanal (Boyer), is still formally its Medical Director. Mac has instituted a self-government policy for the patients as part of their therapy; in fact, the place seems more like a posh country hotel with psychotherapy laid on than a grim sanitarium.

Meg Rinehart (Bacall) views Stevie’s designs.

All are agreed that the clinic’s library requires new curtains. Victoria “Vicky” Inch (Gish), in charge of administration, assumes she should order something bland from the usual local supplier, Petlee & Sons. Before she can do so, however, two things happen. First, Mac’s seemingly spoilt, shrewish wife Karen (Grahame), visiting the clinic and discovering the situation, decides to take matters into her own hands and, with the connivance by telephone of the Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees, the formidable Regina Mitchell-Smythe (Albertson), orders the most expensive drapes money could buy—to be delivered by special airmail, no less! Second, the extraordinarily repressed patient Sue Brett (Strasberg) suggests the patients should design the new drapes themselves, an idea picked up by the suicidal but artistically talented patient Stevie Holte (Kerr) and supported by the clinic’s art therapist, the widowed Meg Faversen Rinehart (Bacall).

Stevie produces his designs for the drapes, and they’re Continue reading