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In these days of relatively common cross-over success between TV and motionpictures, it's strange to consider that television directors were onceviewed as second-tier talents by the film industry. Movie producersregarded the new medium as an electronic poacher, a wooden box that enabledviewers to get - for free - the very product that they had been shelling outgood money to see in theaters for over 30 years. Many TV directors wholater enjoyed significant movie careers were given the cold shoulder whenthey first attempted to carry their skills to "the big leagues."
That was certainly the case with John Frankenheimer, whose first feature,The Young Stranger (1957), was a critical success despite the largelyuncooperative producers and technicians who worked on it. Frankenheimer(who was only 26 years old at the time) was adapting a story he first shotfor television, so he was at an even greater disadvantage in the eyes of hisco-workers. He was so stung by the experience of filming The YoungStranger, he avoided movie work altogether for the next few years,preferring instead to stick to TV. However, even with the extra agitation,Frankenheimer constructed a straightforward juvenile delinquency drama that washeartfelt and effective. Its understated tone is a nice contrast to thefiery, sometimes overtly melodramatic path blazed by Rebel Without a Cause(1955).
In The Young Stranger, written by Robert Dozier, James MacArthur plays Hal, the sixteen year-old son of Tom Ditmar (James Daly), a famous movie producer. Tom continuallychastises Hal for his semi-surly attitude and youthful rebellion. One night at a movietheater, Hal puts his feet on the seat in front of him. He winds up in anargument with another patron and is asked to leave. On the way out, he'sprovoked by Mr. Grubbs, the theater manager (Whit Bissell). Hal beltsGrubbs in the mouth and gets hauled to the police station, where his unruly behavior is noted by Shipley (James Gregory), a kindly police officer.Hal's dad, of course, is appalled by all of this, but he and his son willeventually reconnect...after another fight and the help of concerned OfficerShipley.
Years later, Frankenheimer was completely open about the ordeal of shootingthis picture. "I was panic stricken on my first day at the studio," hesaid. "We rehearsed in continuity, and the actors began to use one scene toget into the other. When we shot the film out of continuity they were lostand had to start all over again."
But that was a common beginner's error. The more formidable challenge wascommanding the respect of the crew and a tight shooting schedule: "The cameraman had been under contract at Metro for years, and didn't want to do the stuff I wanted him to do. Heinfluenced the way the rest of the crew reacted to me. We had two weeks'rehearsal and a twenty-five day shooting schedule, and I was told that if Ididn't finish the film in twenty-five days, the lights get turned out. Sowe finished in twenty-five days."
It must have helped that Frankenheimer had a talented cast. MacArthur (theson of legendary stage and screen actress, Helen Hayes) received strongreviews for his performance as Tom, but would have to wait until the late1960s, when he co-starred on TV's Hawaii Five-O, before he wouldachieve real stardom. And Gregory, who would later appear as a bumblingSenator in Frankenheimer's political thriller The ManchurianCandidate (1962), played one of the great recurring characters in TVhistory - Inspector Luger, the morbidly lonely, loud-mouthed detective onABC's Barney Miller.
Directed by: John Frankenheimer
Screenplay: Robert Dozier
Producer: Stuart Millar
Photography: Robert Planck
Editing: Robert Swink and Edward Biery, Jr.
Music: Leonard Rosenman
Art Direction: Albert D'Agostino and John B. Mansbridge
Principal Cast: James MacArthur (Hal), Kim Hunter (Helen), James Daly (TomDitmar), James Gregory (Shipley), Whit Bissell (Grubbs), Jeffrey Silver(Jerry).
BW-85m. Closed captioning.
by Paul Tatara