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A tough cop movie made with almost documentary realism, Madigan (1968) was based on a novel by Richard Dougherty called The Commissioner. The screenplay, originally titled Friday, Saturday, Sunday, was adapted by two writers who had been blacklisted in the 1950s: Howard Rodman (here credited under the pseudonym Henri Simoun), and Abraham Polonsky. Don Siegel, a genre director known for taut action films like The Lineup (1958) and Hell Is for Heroes (1962), was handed the directing reigns.
Madigan, with its story of two New York cops (Richard Widmark and Harry Guardino) who are given 72 hours by police commissioner Henry Fonda to bring in a ruthless killer, would end up a big hit and one of Siegel's own favorites, but it was far from an easy shoot. Serious clashes between Siegel and producer Frank Rosenberg marred the production. Rosenberg was a studio veteran who considered himself the boss of the project; as far as Siegel was concerned, once the cameras rolled, Siegel was boss. The very first day of the shooting schedule set by Rosenberg, for example, called for a highly emotional and poignant scene that comes at the end of the film, in which actress Inger Stevens berates Henry Fonda for the death of her husband. To make things more difficult for Stevens' concentration, she was also scheduled to shoot wardrobe tests throughout the day. Stevens approached Siegel almost in tears. The director apologized, suggesting, "When you're playing this painful scene with Mr. Fonda, think of the loathing you feel for Frank Rosenberg, who is responsible for this ridiculous schedule." In the end, Siegel wrote, "Miss Stevens gave a startling portrayal, truly magnificent and brave."
Rosenberg also interfered in tiny, annoying ways, as in the shooting of Henry Fonda's first scene. The actor walked into a room where Susan Clark was lying on a bed and said, "You can open the other eye now and make coffee." Siegel said, "Print it," but Rosenberg, who had been watching, demanded that it be re-shot because Fonda didn't say "the coffee." "It changes the whole meaning," Rosenberg insisted. When an angry Siegel refused to reshoot it, Rosenberg later had Fonda record the "the" and looped it into the final cut.
The most significant clash came over the location for the action-packed ending. Most of the picture had been shot on location in New York, but for the finale the company moved to Los Angeles. New York was getting to be too dangerous: Widmark and Guardino's car had been attacked by a gang in Harlem, and the prop man had been mugged. Rosenberg picked a location in L.A. that Siegel found to be unimaginative and virtually unusable. Siegel himself then discovered a location that was perfect and looked very much like New York, but Rosenberg still insisted that his choice be used. Siegel went over Rosenberg's head to Lew Wasserman, the head of Universal. He made his case, showed photos of both locations, and Wasserman agreed that Siegel's choice was best.
Henry Fonda echoed these accounts of Rosenberg. Attracted to the project because his part as the police commissioner was so three-dimensional, he found that Rosenberg toned down much of the character's depth in the screenplay. "He just wouldn't listen to anything," Fonda said. "He fancied himself a writer and rewrote scenes which we'd try to change on the set, but eventually he'd make us dub it the way he had written it, putting single words back in. The rest of us on the set got along beautifully. It was still a good picture because of what Don did with it."
"Don's tough," said Richard Widmark. "He could have slid over the ending we wanted. He could have said, 'Let's shoot it and get it over with.' It was the end of the picture and we were all tired. But no sir. He fought like a bastard. A director can't operate on the idea that everyone has to like him. If he does, somewhere along the line reality is going to hit." Widmark called Siegel one of the three best directors he ever worked with, along with John Ford and Elia Kazan. "He's efficient, organized, quiet, and in total command. You never feel any loose ends. And he has taste."
Reviews for Madigan were among the best of any film Siegel had directed. Critics praised its urban grittiness and straightforward style, and audiences responded to its excitement and tautness. Siegel would go on to direct more exciting cop movies, including Coogan's Bluff (1968) and Dirty Harry (1971).
Producer: Frank P. Rosenberg
Director: Don Siegel
Screenplay: Richard Dougherty (novel), Abraham Polonsky, Howard Rodman
Cinematography: Russell Metty
Film Editing: Milton Shifman
Art Direction: Alexander Golitzen, George C. Webb
Music: Don Costa
Cast: Richard Widmark (Detective Daniel Madigan), Henry Fonda (Commissioner Anthony X. Russell), Inger Stevens (Julia Madigan), Harry Guardino (Det. Rocco Bonaro), James Whitmore (Chief Inspector Charles Kane), Susan Clark (Tricia Bentley).
C-101m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Jeremy Arnold