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The Case Against Brooklyn

The Case Against Brooklyn(1958)

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Columbia Pictures' The Case Against Brooklyn (1958) belongs to a brood of crime films sired by the historic "Kefauver Hearings," aka The Senate Special Subcommittee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce. Headed by Democratic Kentucky senator C. Estes Kefauver, this government road show and protypal media circus traveled the breadth of the United States in 1950 and 1951, subpoenaed a conga line of criminal capos and their hyperhidrotic hirelings (who duly showed up like so many Survivor contestants to testify or plead the Fifth) and televised its sessions in a bid to expose "syndicate" crime in America. The hearings beget feature films from the sublime (Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront [1954]) to the ridiculous (Fred F. Sears' Chicago Syndicate [1955]). Adapting the True magazine story I Broke the Brooklyn Graft Scandal by Ed Reid (later the coauthor of The Green Felt Jungle, an early expose of Las Vegas crime and corruption), The Case Against Brooklyn distinguishes itself from other mafia-minded movies of this period by focusing not on gangsters but corrupt policemen.

Darren McGavin stars as a rookie cop and Korean War veteran who volunteers to go "on the pad" to smash a ring of bookmakers who have the NYPD in its back pocket. A "man inside" drama in the long-lived crime film tradition of Raoul Walsh's White Heat (1949) and Martin Scorsese's The Departed (2006), The Case Against Brooklyn also avails itself of a verisimilitous narration la The Naked City (1948) and some plot points cadged from Fritz Lang's The Big Heat (1953).

While clearly a product of its time, The Case Against Brooklyn was an atypical project for Morningside Productions, founded by Charles H. Schneer and his producing partner, stop motion pioneer Ray Harryhausen. Beginning with It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955), Schneer and Harryhausen specialized in outsized monsters and invading ETs flattening balsawood cities before they moved on to the mythical charms of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) and Jason and the Argonauts (1963). Because Harryhausen's animation took so long to execute, Schneer squeezed in side projects. Directed by Paul Wendkos in follow-up to his noirish The Burglar (1957), The Case Against Brooklyn had been scripted by blacklisted Hollywood writer Bernard Gordon, under the pseudonym "Raymond T. Marcus." Subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee but never called to testify, Gordon had been named as a Communist sympathizer by writer-producer William Alland and was subsequently blacklisted. After working briefly outside of Hollywood as a plastics salesman, Gordon accepted Schneer's invitation to bang out scripts for Morningside under an alias. He later quit the country for Europe, where he scripted such overseas projects as 55 Days at Peking (1963) and Battle of the Bulge (1965). Proper credit for Gordon's pseudonymous work was restored in 1997. Two years later, he criticized The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for awarding an honorary Oscar® to Elia Kazan, a friendly HUAC witness. Gordon authored two memoirs about his experiences as a blacklisted Hollywood writer prior to his death in May 2007.

A former set painter who parlayed a walk-on part in Charles Vidor's A Song to Remember (1945) into a more than fifty-year career, Darren McGavin made a vivid impression as a loud but harmless American tourist in David Lean's Summertime (1955) with Katharine Hepburn and as a heroine addict whose friendship spells trouble for ex-junkie Frank Sinatra in The Man with the Golden Arm (1955). Yet McGavin's fate was effectively sealed in 1951 when the Columbia Broadcasting Company brought him in to replace Richard Carlyle as the star of Crime Photographer. As Jack "Flashgun" Casey (a character created by former newspaperman George Harmon Coxe and introduced in a 1934 issue of the pulp magazine Black Mask), McGavin began a long association with investigator types. In 1958-59, he was Mike Hammer, Mickey Spillane's hard-boiled private dick, for 79 half hour episodes; ten years later, he was The Outsider, another world-weary gumshoe, for the National Broadcasting Company. Of course, McGavin is chiefly remembered today for playing garrulous Chicago journalist Carl Kolchak, who ran down paranormal occurrences of every stripe in the highly-rated TV movies The Night Stalker (1972) and The Night Strangler (1973), and for a single season on NBC's spin-off series. As he aged (the actor was pushing fifty when he played Kolchak for the first time), McGavin dialed down the machismo in favor of comedy but The Case Against Brooklyn finds him in true two-fisted mode and ready to rumble with a supporting cast of Hollywood heavies that includes dapper Warren Stevens and serpentine Joe Turkel. Largely retired from acting after he suffered a debilitating stroke in 1999, Darren McGavin died of natural causes in February 2006, at the age of 83.

Producer: Charles H. Schneer
Director: Paul Wendkos
Screenplay: Raymond T. Marcus; Daniel B. Ullman (screen story); Ed Reid (book "I Broke the Brooklyn Graft Scandal"); Julian Zimet (screenplay, originally uncredited)
Cinematography: Fred Jackman Jr.
Music: Mischa Bakaleinikoff
Film Editing: Edwin H. Bryant
Cast: Darren McGavin (Pete Harris), Maggie Hayes (Lil Polombo nee Alexander), Warren Stevens (Rudi Franklin), Peggy McCay (Mrs. Jane Harris), Tol Avery (Dist. Atty. Michael W. Norris), Emile Meyer (Police Capt. T.W. Wills), Nestor Paiva (Finelli), Brian Hutton (Jess Johnson), Robert Osterloh (Det. Sgt. Bonney), Joe Turkel (Henchman Monte), Bobby Helms (Himself, Vocalist).
BW-82m.

by Richard Harland Smith

Sources:
Hollywood Blacklist, or How I Learned to Love the Blacklist by Bernard Gordon
The Gordon File: A Screenwriter Recalls Twenty Years of FBI Surveillance by Bernard Gordon
Charles Schneer obituary by Margalit Fox, The New York Times
Bernard Gordon obituary by Tom Vallance, The Independent
Darren McGavin obituary by Michael Carlson, The Guardian
Flashgun Casey, Crime Photographer: From the Pulps to Radio and Beyond by J. Randolph Cox and David S. Siegel

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