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KOCH VISION

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Delbert Mann
Cast:
Larry Blyden, John Forsythe, Barbara Rush, Dina Merrill, Norman Fell
Writing Credits:
Budd Schulberg, Stuart Schulberg

Synopsis:
Causing a sensation when it was first published in 1941, What Makes Sammy Run? was such a controversial novel that no Hollywood studio dared bring it to the screen. In 1959, NBC presented the definitive adaptation of Budd Schulberg's scathing tale on the anthology series Sunday Showcase. Audiences were enthralled with the amoral hustler Sammy Glick (Larry Blyden) and his meteoric rise from copy boy to the heights of the studio system. Long considered one of television's "lost" treasures, the complete two-part broadcast (directed by Academy Award®-winner Delbert Mann and also starring John Forsythe, Barbara Rush and Dina Merrill) has been restored and re-mastered and is now available for the first time ever.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Fullscreen 1.33:1
Audio:
English Monaural
Subtitles:
English
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English

Runtime: 105 min.
Price: $19.99
Release Date: 2/10/2009

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Actors Dina Merrill and Barbara Rush
• Interview with Writer Budd Schulberg
• Booklet
• Previews


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RELATED REVIEWS


What Makes Sammy Run? (1959)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 27, 2009)

Before showbiz exposés like All About Eve and Sunset Boulevard, Budd Schulberg’s 1941 novel What Makes Sammy Run? tore a hole into Hollywood. Long viewed as too toxic to be made into a big-screen effort, Run did leap to TV on occasion. It showed up in 1949 and again in 1959. The latter version appears here as part of an NBC series called Sunday Showcase.

Told mostly from the perspective of New York entertainment reporter Al Manheim (John Forsythe), Run follows the meteoric rise of Sammy Glick (Larry Blyden). Glick starts as a copy boy at Mannheim’s paper but he soon moves his way up to radio reporter. Filled with ambition, Glick talks his way into the sale of a movie script and he heads out to New York.

Glick regards Manheim as his mentor, so he sets him up with a job as a screenwriter. Manheim doesn’t embrace this move but he accepts it anyway, and we see his adaptation to Hollywood. Run follows his side of things as well as Sammy’s relationships with fellow writer Kit Sargent (Barbara Rush) and society heiress Laurette Harrington (Dina Merrill).

Though Schulberg’s novel acted as a prototype for the showbiz exposé genre, I don’t know how well it makes the leap to the 1950s TV screen. As the DVD’s supplements note, some of its themes and material needed to be toned down for TV exhibition, and I suspect Run loses some of its bite due to those changes. We get a sense of Sammy’s ruthlessness, to be sure, but the film never comes across as quite as hard-bitten as it probably should.

Perhaps it also suffers by comparison to far superior movies such as Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve. While I suspect those classics might not exist without Schulberg’s precursor, they remain arguably the best films about ambition and backstabbing in show business. It’s no sin that a TV adaptation of Run can’t match up with those two; after all, they’re two of the greatest movies ever made regardless of genre. Nonetheless, it becomes more difficult to view Run without thinking of the greater charms exhibited by those flicks.

That said, Run does provide an entertaining yarn, albeit one that takes a little adjustment. In particular, Blyden’s feral performance turns into an acquired taste, especially during the film’s first act or so. He plays Sammy as such an intense character that he overwhelms the screen. This may sound logical in that Sammy’s supposed to be larger than life, but the performance borders on hamminess. Early Sammy looks like he wants to bite the heads off of everyone he meets; he’s so over the top and rabid that it’s tough to imagine he could get anywhere without frightening away all his potential supporters.

This does change as the film progresses, however. As Sammy develops more savvy, Blyden’s portrayal boasts more nuance and depth. Sammy remains just as amoral, but he shows his colors in a less obvious way, and Blyden reins in the excesses. It’s an interesting turn. I’d have thought Blyden’s manic performance at the start would leave him nowhere to go, but instead, the opposite was true. He was able to tone down Sammy and keep him ambitious; later Sammy simply displays a much greater understanding of political savvy. That actually makes him scarier since he seems more ingratiating and less obvious in his bloodlust.

Forsythe gets a somewhat thankless role as the one who comments on Sammy’s foibles, but he does well in the part. He exhibits a nicely cynical, weary feel through much of the film, and that acts as a good contrast to Sammy’s one-dimensional ambition. Merrill also fares quite well as Sammy’s opposite number, the one woman as amoral and cruel as he; we really buy her as Sammy’s equal – and perhaps superior – in the game of self-centered ambition.

As much as I like the actors, I still find myself a little lukewarm toward Run. Again, I think it feels a bit watered-down for the TV presentation, and Sammy often seems to lack the requisite bite. Oh, he does some pretty rotten things, but he rarely seems quite as amoral and horrible as he probably should. I won’t argue he should be a totally one-dimensional egotist, but I think the movie’s examples of his sins often seem less offensive than one might expect.

Still, What Makes Sammy Run? remains a fairly involving proposition. It doesn’t compare to stronger entries in its genre, but it keeps us entertained and acts as an interesting take on show business ambition.


The DVD Grades: Picture D/Audio D/ Bonus B-

What Makes Sammy Run? appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A 50-year-old, long-lost kinescope, I didn’t expect much from the transfer. It showed a mix of inevitable problems.

Focus often seemed rather soft and vague; at times it looked adequately defined, but usually it appeared fuzzy and indistinct. Quite a few examples of jagged edges appeared, many of which stemmed from scan lines. Black levels seemed somewhat mushy and muddy, and contrast was poor; the film often took on a murky look. Shadows were similarly flat and blah.

Not surprisingly, print flaws caused a lot of concerns. I saw a mix of speckles, grit, grain, hairs, nicks, blotches, and general debris throughout the show. These never seemed terribly heavy, but they did crop up consistently and frequently. Video interference was also a considerable problem, and the picture often became distorted.

Objectively, this was a pretty terrible presentation. Subjectively, I had no problem with it. As we learn in the package’s extras, Run went missing for decades, so it’s fairly remarkable that we get to see it at all. Nonetheless, objectively it offered a terrible picture that deserved no better than a “D“, and a lower grade might be more accurate.

Don’t expect anything better from the show’s monaural audio. Dialogue appeared consistently intelligible, but speech could sound thin and brittle. Similar tones affected music and effects, which showed mild distortion and also lacked much depth or distinction.

In addition, a number of source flaws entered the mix. I heard a variety of clicks and pops, and some hiss also appeared. The overall presentation seemed a little crackly and rough at times. Again, I can’t complain about the audio because I understand the limitations of the source material. The quality remained lousy, though, so I objectively can’t give the track anything better than a “D”.

An ad for Studio One Anthology opens the DVD. In terms of extras, the main attraction comes from an audio commentary with actors Barbara Rush and Dina Merrill. Both sit together – via remote hookup – and offer a running, screen-specific look at the film. They discuss their interactions with various members of the cast and crew, working in live TV, finding the lost footage, and other aspects of their careers.

Expect Rush to dominate, as her lively, bubbly presence fills most of the commentary. Merrill seems more subdued, and she also remembers much less about her experiences. Rush doesn’t have airtight memories of the production, but she provides the majority of the information.

The moderate amount of information we receive, that is. At no point does the commentary ever become better than “pretty good”, and it often suffers from dull spots. Much of the time the actresses just talk about how young they looked back in 1959, and the track turns even spottier during the second half. I didn’t mind the time I spent with these two lovely ladies, but I can’t say that I learned a ton about Run.

We also find a 28-minute and 32-second Interview with Budd Schulberg. Conducted in October 2008, the author/screenwriter chats about the inspiration for the novel, writing the book and aspects of its characters/story, adapting the tale for TV, how his experiences with the Communist Party affected the book, and the novel’s impact. Schulberg offers a good collection of notes about Run in this featurette. He throws out mix of tales and thoughts that allow us to learn a lot about his work.

The package concludes with a 16-page booklet. This very nice piece includes essays from archivist Jane Klain. The text discusses the source novel, adaptations and attempts to bring it to the movie screen, cast and crew, and specifics about this production. Archive of American Television director Karen L. Herman also adds an introduction. We get quite a lot of good information here.

Adapted from a novel that offered a very early Hollywood exposé, this 1959 TV version of What Makes Sammy Run? provides erratic charms. For the most part, I think it succeeds, and it remains a consistently entertaining piece. Nonetheless, don’t expect real greatness from the movie. Though the DVD presents weak picture and quality, I think both seem acceptable given the fact that the footage had been lost for years. The set’s extras offer a reasonable amount of information about the project as well. No one will cite this as a demonstration disc, but it’s an interesting piece of TV history.

Viewer Film Ratings: 5 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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