3/22/12

You Don't Know Shat !?!: Naked City: Portrait Of A Painter (1962)

It's the last week of You Don't Know Shat !?!, and that means it's also a very special day, the birthday of William Alan Shatner. Born in Montreal in 1931, The Shat has reached his 81st birthday and is  still growing strong. In the last year Shat has appeared on USA's Psych, his own sitcom (the failed Shit My Dad Says), and killed off his popular Priceline Negotiator making for the first time, I know of, that a commercial character died as part of their plot. I expect in years to come there will still be plenty of Shat to look forward to, and there's still so many of his films that I haven't got to go back and watch. In case you missed the other entries this month, go back and check out Shatner as a worried Dad in Broken Angel, a hepcat teacher in The Explosive Generation, and a cheating cad in Secrets of a Married Man, and of course, all the previous years' Shat-tastic goodness. For the last entry, I chose to look at an early Shatner TV role. William was already a veteran actor by the early Sixties, with ten years of experience under his belt, when he was cast as a troubled painter who just might have killed his wife. There's eight million stories in The Naked City. This is just Shatner's.


The once and future Kirk stars as Roger Barmer, a struggling artist, who wakes to find his wife dead on the floor of his studio. Running to his shrink (Theodore Bickel, the once and future father of Worf), Roger has no clue if he committed the crime or not. His shrink thinks he might be guilty and previously advised Roger that he would kill a woman he loved. Police Investigator Adam Flint (Paul Burke) isn't so sure. After seeing a man put to death last year, he's not comfortable charging Barmer until he's positive the man is guilty. As all the facts start pointing the artist's way, including an analysis of his work by an art critic (Barry Morse), Barmer's memory begins to clear up revealing just what happened that fateful night.

Naked City was a long running crime show from the Fifties and Sixties, and watching it, I have to consider it the thematic forebearer of Law & Order. If I had to guess, Dick Wolf was a big fan in his youth. The show revolves around a pair of cops, but each week a guest star was brought in for some criminal hijinx. In other shows I watched, the guests were Walter Mattheau, Jack Klugman, and, in his first role, Jon Voight. Of course, we're here to talk about Shatner. Wearing tight paint splattered jeans, Converse hi tops, and a manky shirt, Shatner looks the part of Greenwich Village hep cat, well, save for his perfectly coifed hair. Playing the emotionally messed up Roger, Shatner gets a chance to over-emote  to such a degree that it still hangs heavy over the air of New York even today.While later roles show that The Shat learned how to edit his tendencies, in this case, it's pure unadulterated Shat in your face.

The show itself was well made even by today's standards. The script, by writing duo Rodman and Goldberg, keeps the viewer guessing by throwing out some decent red herrings, giving the story an emotional core, and keeping the police business to a minimum. It also contained some strange scenes such as when Detective Flint stops by his gal pal's house and talks on the phone while she does an interpretive dance detailing the life cycle of a flower. It perfectly fit in with the beatnik themes going on in the episode, but having never have seen the program before, I had no idea she was Flint's girlfriend or an aspiring actress so it just seemed like a strange choice. I also have to wonder who did the art credited to Shatner's character because they're all described as cold and unfeeling, except for one the "art critic" says was painted by a murderer. In either case, it doesn't seem like a high compliment.

Director David Lowell Rich would continue to work in TV for years, and eventually he would become another Made-for-TV Movie arteur bringing us classics such as Satan's School for Girls, Death Race, and Horror at 37,000 Feet as well as the feature film Concord: Airport '79. Rich handles the Isolde well, and quite a number of the shots were artfully shot for early Sixties TV. The show also benefits from Shatner's co-stars. Character actor Theodore Bickel, who as I mentioned would go on to portray Worf's father on ST:TNG, give s a great performance as Roger's shrink and became my personal choice for the guilty party. If you haven't seen Bickel in The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming, I highly recommend folks add it to their watch list. Peter Morse makes the most of his scene as an art critic a few years before he would start chasing the wrongfully accused as The Fugitive's Lt. Gerard. Paul Burke might not be a household name, but if you're a fan of Valley of the Dolls surely you will recall his performance as Lyon Burke, one of the film's few grounded roles. It was Burke that really drew me into the show, and for his performances, I could see myself watching more of Naked City.

Naked City: Portrait of a Painter was the perfect way to close out this month's celebration of all things Shatner. In the show, Shat showed off all the skills that make me love him so. With his hammy over-acting, his panache and style, and the fact that you can always see the emotional core of his performances, it encompassed an unadulterated version of Shatner. While The Shat is consistently the butt of jokes for his staccato acting style, he's an actor who wears his heart on his sleeve and he's willing to bear himself emotionally even at the risk of looking foolish. In the modern era that presents so many leading men as untouchable, immobile forces, it's easy to see why Captain Kirk hit a chord with folks. It's easy to see why T.J. Hooker and Boston Legal were such successes. For me, it's easy to see why I love The Shat and I always will . I hope everyone enjoyed this month long celebration of all things Shatner, and I'm already looking forward to movies to watch for next year. Until then, may the Shat be with you, and Happy 81st to the man himself.

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