Wednesday, April 4, 2007


Well, even though I stated yesterday that Steve McQueen would be appearing in last night's episode of 'Boston Legal', thanks to archival footage from 'Studio One' - "The Defender", the legal drama limited itself to just three scenes between William Shatner and Ralph Bellamy to hammer home the dynamic between Denny Crane and his father.

There were also no clips of the courtroom proceedings from that live 1957 production, so we never got to see Martin Balsam as the prosecutor, Ian Wolfe as the Judge, and Ed Asner in an uncredited turn as Juror #2.

Surely David E. Kelley's production company had to pay for the rights to use the material. (You know there's a Shirley Schmidt joke in that sentence!) If they paid for the whole show, they should have probably taken advantage of that and used even more clips. Even to the point where Alan's sub-plot could have been sacrificed and used in a later episode.

(But it was smart to keep him out of the "proceedings" in the conference room. Aaron Sears would have eventually had to shoot him just to shut him up!)

Still, I get the feeling that in their original concept for the use of the film clips, Phoef Sutton and DEK may have been planning to use more of the footage. Otherwise, why have their version of that case mirror almost exactly the events that were seen in "The Defender"? They changed the characters names, save for the defendant Joe Gordon. They even changed his sexual orientation!

(Not that there's anything wrong with that, but O'Bviously he was never going to be revealed as homosexual in a TV show back in the 1950s! However, it might splain why his character was so full of anger. Despite trying to conform to society's demands by having a girl-friend, maybe Joe couldn't fight what he really was.

Although I bet McQueen would have fought against playing that aspect back then, if ever. McQueen as a queen? You know that horrible pun would have come up.....)

Otherwise, everything pretty much remained the same as it had been in the original episode. Joe was dubbed "The Butcher Boy Killer" in that first case won by Denny Crane, and he was a butcher's assistant supposedly making a delivery to the victim at the time of the murder. The maid walked in on the killer and claimed that it was Joe who knocked her down. And the husband saw Joe fleeing the apartment building.

They even used the same legal trick employed by Shatner as Kenneth Preston in "The Defender" for Shatner as Denny Crane to get a dismissal of the charges for his client.

Despite the fact that he was only about five years old when that 'Studio One' episode aired in 1957, James Keane was hired to play Joe Gordon in 2007. (The character was supposed to be 19 at that time fifty years ago.) Apparently he was hired because there is a passable resemblance to Steve McQueen, which was then aided by old-age makeup.

But why go to the bother if you weren't ever going to show McQueen in the archival footage? (In my opinion, if they ever want to make a biopic about Steve McQueen, the go-to actor is Anthony Michael Hall. Really.)

Like I said, it's a shame they never expanded the storyline to fill the entire hour. Even if they just wanted to focus on the father-son dynamic, there were still some great scenes in the courtroom itself that they could have used. I'm wondering if they had to pay the rights for all of the "atmosphere people" who could be seen in the background and so finally decided it wasn't cost-effective to use the clips?

I'll have to watch my tape of the episode again, but I don't think the late Ralph Bellamy was given screen credit for his "participation" during the episode. I may be wrong on that; I hope so. Otherwise he was literally and figuratively "used". I'm not against re-using old film clips in commercials and TV shows, but credit must be paid.

The best moment had to be within the first flashback, when Shatner's visage as Denny Crane morphed into that of Kenneth Preston to show how Denny must have looked fifty years ago.

If you ever get the chance to see that full production of "The Defender", take advantage of it. Reginald Rose (who also wrote "Twelve Angry Men") has been hailed as one of the top five greatest writers from TV's Golden Age, and David E. Kelley has been compared to him in the past.

It also gives you an opportunity to see what his later series about the characters of Lawrence and Kenneth Preston would be like. (However, EG Marshall and Robert Reed would play the father and son legal team in that ground-breaking show "The Defenders".)


1 comment:

Will said...

It wouldn't surprise me if the McQueen estate vetoed the use of his image for such a character. Given what it was like in 1957, I can't imagine having a name like "McQueen" was really helpful and may have even caused a lot of pain for the family based on that "horrible pun".