Screen Director's Playhouse: Markheim
The television drama adaptation of Markheim (1956) stars Ray Milland as a man who has allowed his dark side to overtake him. When the half-hour short for NBC's Screen Directors' Playhouse opens, Markheim (Milland) skulks in the alleyway outside of an antiques shop on Christmas Eve. Once a policeman has passed, he talks himself inside the shop on the pretense of needing a gift for his fiancée. But Markheim has other intentions in mind. The shop owner (Jay Novello) shows Markheim a mirror, but he recoils at the idea. When the owner's back is turned as he searches for another potential gift, Markheim stabs the man to death. Later, as he searches the shopkeeper's bedroom for the cash he is reputed to keep there, Markheim is visited by a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who says he has been watching Markheim his whole life including witnessing his devolution into crime and murder. Markheim tells the stranger he can stop his criminal activities but the man--who Stevenson scholars have contended represents either the devil or Markheim's own conscience--goads Markheim to greater acts of evil. The stranger tells him that when the shopkeeper's servant (Marilee Phelps) returns, if Markheim kills her he can have the entire evening to search for the money and ask for absolution from god on his death bed. In the surprising denouement of the short TV play, Markheim defies the devil and turns away from evil.
Markheim appeared as part of the half hour television anthology series Screen Directors' Playhouse. The television drama was produced and filmed at Hal Roach studios, and appeared as 35 half hour episodes on NBC from 1955-1956. Sponsored by Eastman Kodak, the Screen Directors' Playhouse featured the acting talents of John Wayne, Peter Lorre, Errol Flynn, Buster Keaton and the directing talents of Frank Borzage, John Ford, Leo McCarey, Ida Lupino and Fred Zinnemann who directed Markheim.
Vienna-born Zinnemann was most famous for High Noon (1952), From Here to Eternity (1953), and A Man for All Seasons (1966). He won four Oscars® for directing and was known for adapting his prodigious talents to an impressive variety of film genres.
Exceptionally memorable as the morally conflicted Markheim, Welsh-born Ray Milland often distinguished himself playing troubled, haunted men, as in his Academy Award winning performance as the alcoholic Don Birnam in 1945's The Lost Weekend. His later career in the Fifties and Sixties found Milland alternating between film and TV parts including the starring role in the CBS drama Markham (1958-1960) as New York City private investigator and attorney Roy Markham.
Equally intense in his own way, Rod Steiger was known for his mastery of an array of diverse performances in In the Heat of the Night (1967), On the Waterfront (1954) and The Pawnbroker (1964). Steiger began his show business career in theatre and live television. In fact his breakthrough role was in Paddy Chayefsky's 1953 version of Marty for Goodyear Television Playhouse. Steiger turned down the starring role in the film version of Marty (1955) that won Ernest Borgnine an Academy Award. He also famously turned down the lead in Patton (1970) that won George C. Scott his Best Actor Academy Award, a decision Steiger was said to have deeply regretted.
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Producer: Sidney S. Van Keuren
Screenplay: John McGreevey and Paul Osborn working from a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson
Cinematography: Paul Ivano
Production Design: William Ferrari
Cast: Markheim (Ray Milland), the stranger (Rod Steiger), the shopkeeper (Jay Novello), the servant (Marilee Phelps).
BW-27m. Closed Captioning.
by Felicia Feaster