#Noirvember: Films from Noir City DC (OCT 2022)

This year was my 2nd time attending the Noir City DC Film Festival at AFI Silver Theatre (here in my current neighborhood- Silver Spring, MD). I ended up seeing 3 movies- one of which I’d never watched before. During the 1st weekend, TMC’s Noir Alley host, Eddie Muller, introduced the films. I bought Eddie’s book on the behind-the-scenes story of Gun Crazy (1950).

All the King’s Men starring Broderick Crawford, John Ireland, Joanna Dru, John Derek, & Mercedes McCambridge

Jack Burden (John Ireland) is a newspaper reporter who hears of Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford) when his editor sends him to Kanoma County to cover the man. What’s SO special about this “nobody” running for county treasurer? He’s supposedly an honest man! Burden discovers this to be true when he sees Willie delivering a speech and having his son pass out handbills, while local politicians intimidate him. Willie is honest and brave; he’s also a “hick” whose schoolteacher wife educated him at home. He loses the race for treasurer, BUT later makes his way through law school. He becomes an (idealistic) attorney who fights for what is good. Someone in the governor’s office remembers Willie, when they need a patsy to run against the govermor and split the vote of his rival. While these (wiser/experienced) political types underestimate Stark, Burden (who becomes Stark’s biggest supporter) overestimates the man’s idealism.

I’d never seen this movie before; it will esp. interest those of you who follow politics. Here we find some of the same themes as in A Face in the Crowd (1957)- a must-see for fans of classics. After living through the Trump presidency, you’ll (no doubt) find comparisons aplenty! The basis of this movie is a Pulitzer-winning novel, All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren; the book was loosely based on the life of a Louisiana politician- Huey Long. The screenwriter/director, Robert Rossen, also worked on Body and Soul (1947) and The Hustler (1961). Ireland reminded me a BIT of Henry Fonda w/ his looks. This is the 1st movie role for McCambridge; she makes a big impression as a tough/unapologetic political operator. Dru is NOT able to convey deep emotion, so in several moments, she dramatically turn away from the camera. Crawford, known for playing mostly “heavy” (tough guy) roles, seems to inhabit his role here. Both Crawford and McCambridge won Oscars for their work!

A Place in the Sun (1951) starring Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, & Shelley Winters

A chance meeting w/ his uncle after his father’s passing leads to George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) being caught in the middle of two worlds and NOT truly belonging in either one. The son of poor Christian missionaries, George meets his wealthy (paternal) uncle, Charles Eastman (Herbert Heyes), while working as a bellhop in his uncle’s hotel in Chicago. Wanting a better life for himself, George takes his uncle up on his offer for a job in one of the Eastman factories in California. Under his cousin Earl’s directive, George is placed on the factory assembly line. George sees this position as a stepping stone to something better, which he’s willing to work hard to achieve. Feeling lonely, George breaks the rule of no fraternization when he starts dating a fellow assembly-line worker, Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters). Several months later, Mr. Eastman suddenly promotes George professionally and personally. Although he’s NOT used to high society, George is soon befriended by beautiful/young socialite, Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor- then just 18 y.o.)

Quite a big audience was present to watch this film; it’s a classic and that stands the test of time. I watched it (w/ my family) as a kid. Mike Nichols said this film was his favorite; the filmmaker watched it 50+ times! Nichols noted that it also influenced how he directed his 1st movie- The Graduate (1967). The director of A Place in the Sun, George Stevens, was one of the most respected/prolific of his era. He came up through the Hollywood studio system, working as a stills photographer, then as a cinematographer. Stevens directed MANY critically-acclaimed/well-loved films, incl. Alice Adams (V early in Katharine Hepburn’s career), Woman of the Year (teaming up Spencer Tracy w/ Hepburn), The More the Merrier (a fun/early rom com), Shane (considered one of the best Westerns), and the epic family drama Giant (also w/ Taylor). The source novel for this movie, An American Tragedy, was written by Theodore Dreiser; it’s based on a true story. The book was adapted into a play by Patrick Kearney. The screenplay was written by Michael Wilson; he also worked on The Bridge on the River Kwai and Laurence of Arabia.

In 1991, this movie was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. One critic wrote that this film represents America, where people are NOT satisfied w/ what they have, BUT always looking for something better. Another critic pointed out the connection shown btwn social class and desirability. The costumes, set design, editing, music/sound, directing, and acting ALL combine to make this an effective (and affecting) story. The director makes some great choices, incl. those memorable close-ups of two of the hottest actors to appear in film. In one pivotal scene, George embraces and speaks reassuringly to Alice, BUT Clift’s body is hidden from the camera. When George and Angela interact, she is often shown in the power position (as a male love interest). Notice their embrace on the balcony, where Clift hunches down and enfolds himself tightly in Taylor’s arms. At the lake, Taylor is sitting up w/ Clift laying his head down in her lap. In the end, did you think that George was a victim of circumstance or a calculating villain?

He would discuss the scene, but not the lines, and would photograph the second or third rehearsal so the scene had an almost improvisatory quality. Stevens would print the first take, then spend the next three hours minutely rehearsing the scene, then film it again. He explained to me that in this way he often got actors’ unplanned reactions that were spontaneous and human and often exactly right. And often when actors overintellectualize or plan their reactions, they aren’t as good. -Winters, describing Stevens’ way of directing

…because Monty was the New York stage actor, and I felt very much the inadequate teenage Hollywood sort of puppet that had just worn pretty clothes and hadn’t really acted except with horses and dogs. -Taylor, on feeling intimidated to act w/ Clift (before they became the best of friends)

Body and Soul (1947) starring John Garfield & Lili Palmer

Charley Davis (John Garfield) wins an amateur boxing match and is hailed as a local wonder. He meets a young woman, Peg (Lili Palmer), the winner of a beauty pageant. Peg lives in the West Village of NYC and is studying to be painter. The young men of Charley’s Lower East Side (LES) neighborhood are mostly jobless; some are looking to make some quick money. Charley’s friend, Shorty (Joseph Pevney- later director of many eps of Star Trek), tries to get the attention of a boxing promoter, Quinn (William Conrad), when he comes to the local pool hall. Suddenly, Charley’s father is killed in a bombing of his small candy store! Charley’s mother, Anna (Anne Revere), is strongly opposed to him fighting; she wants him to continue w/ night school and become a “professional.” Instead of letting his mother sign-up for “relief” (the precursor to welfare), Charley gets Shorty to set up a fight through Quinn. Charley travels to many states and his career grows, as he keeps winning fights. When an unethical promoter, Roberts (Lloyd Gough), shows an interest in Charley, he finds himself faced w/ difficult choices.

This movie (directed by Robert Rossen) is considered to be the best of Garfield’s short/bright career; the screenplay was written by one of his childhood friends- Abraham Polonsky. This role fits Garfield like a (boxing) glove; he also produced the film. Revere (who is related to that Paul Revere) is perhaps NOT the 1st choice for a Jewish mother, BUT she does good in her role (as usual). Palmer (who is British) and Garfield have good romantic chemistry, BUT her (posh) accent is out of place in the gritty world of the LES. Canada Lee plays Ben, a Black boxer who fights Charley, then becomes one of his trainers/close pals. Lee gets a few meaty scenes (rare for this era for people of color in film); he mainly worked in theater. The cinematographer, James Wong Howe (Chinese-American), filmed the pivotal fight holding the camera while being pushed around the ring by an assistant on roller skates! Martin Scorsese saw this movie as a boy; its influences can be seen in Raging Bull (1980), as some viewers noted.

“Storm Warning” (1951) starring Ginger Rogers, Ronald Reagan, Doris Day, & Steve Cochran

On the way to a job, a NYC based model, Marsha Mitchell (Ginger Rogers), decides to stop at a small town (Rock Point) to visit her sister, Lucy Rice (Doris Day), who she hasn’t seen in 2 yrs. She will be able to finally meet Lucy’s husband, Hank (Steve Cochran- a character actor who often played villains), who works at the local mill. Upon arriving in town, Marsha witnesses a Ku Klux Klan (KKK) murder! She saw two of the men’s faces (after they removed their hoods), BUT they didn’t see her. We soon learn that the man was Walter Adams, a reporter from out of town who’d been investigating the KKK. Upon later arriving at Lucy’s house, Marsha is shocked to see that Hank was one of the men involved in the murder! Marsha is speechless for a moment, wondering how she’ll break the news to her sister (who looks to be SO happy w/ her life). Meanwhile, the county prosecutor, Burt Rainey (Ronald Reagan), knows that the KKK committed the murder. It seem that everyone in town is aware of this, BUT Rainey knows that none of the locals will come forward to implicate the KKK.

Sheriff Art Jaeger: Well, that’s all there is. I take orders. You give me an order, l’ll do it. You know anybody in Rock Point who will go to the inquest for you and testify against the Klan? Tell me, and l’ll bring ’em in. If you don’t, and you don’t, stop kicking my men around for not doing what you can’t do yourself.

Burt Rainey: I know. But every time someone from New York, Washington, or points north, starts poking his nose in our affairs, we holler foul. Well, if we don’t want the meddling, one of these days we’re gonna have to start cleaning up our own messes. You and me. All of us.

Warner Bros. wanted Lauren Bacall to star, but she’d decided to travel to the Belgian Congo (as it was then called) w/ her husband, Humphrey Bogart, who’d be making The African Queen (1951). This is Day’s first non-singing role. Joan Crawford was asked by studio boss Jack L. Warner to play the lead role; Crawford declined by saying: “Come on, Jack. No one would ever believe that I would have Doris Day for a sister!” LOL- too real! Alfred Hitchcock liked Day’s performance here so much that he asked her to act in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). Day was V happy to work w/ Rogers; before Day’s success as a big band singer, she’d aspired to be a dancer (and Rogers was one of her childhood idols). The writers (Daniel Fuchs and Richard Brooks) were known for fine work; Brooks was nominated for 6 Oscars over his long career.

Burt Rainey: Nobody saw anything. Nobody heard anything. It’s a shame Adam’s body keeps getting in the way.

Walt Walters: I don’t know who’s the guiltier, the one who commits the crime or the one who just stands by and refuses to do anything about it.

Burt Rainey: Sometimes, I sit around for hours trying to figure that one out.

This is an (oddly) compelling film noir/melodrama that I saw recently for the 1st time (Amazon Prime). It’s playing during the Noir City DC film festival at AFI (in my neighborhood of Silver Spring, MD). Where is this town located: Midwest, Southwest, or South? None of the locals have a Southern accent. Christmas is coming soon, BUT there is no snow or Winter weather. There is no mention of race; the ONLY Black residents are seen in a crowd scene (blink and you’ll miss them). There are references to “safety” (incl. of women on the streets) and “outsiders” (who are looked upon w/ suspicion). Local lawmen and businessmen are fearful and complacent; they’ve put up w/ the KKK’s influence for yrs. The KKK is considered more of a criminal organization rather than a hate group.

[1] In many ways, this is a taut and excellent drama. BUT, it also pulls some of its punches. It’s VERY strange that there are no black folks as characters in the film–not even as the victim. Now I am NOT saying the KKK didn’t sometimes kill whites, but this was the exception to the rule and completely negates the whole racism angle. It’s sad, but the film seemed to want to play it safe by playing it that way. However, while Hollywood was very hesitant to address race…

[2] The Ku Klux Klan might have been the Elks in white sheets. No pun intended, but they get quite a white washing here. No mention at all of their racism or hatred of Catholics, Jews, and foreign born of all kinds. Still they are a nasty bunch who have a habit of doing in people who disagree with them.

Ronald Reagan here is a District Attorney who is bland in a very poorly written role. The problem with the Klan was that the various county District Attorneys in the South were more than likely Klan members, or who, at best, just looked the other way. After all, these cretins with the hoods were the very voters who put in the District Attorneys. When the Klan was prosecuted, if witnesses were found against it back in those days, it was always done at the federal level by appointed United States Attorneys.

[3] …this film isn’t very good as a history lesson… […] Storm Warning is still pretty entertaining and worth a look for anyone curious about how such subject matter was treated in an era of censorship and post-war political atmosphere.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

Quick Reviews of Recent Views (2021-2022)

And Just Like That (2021): HBO Max

This is the much-talked about (and criticized) sequel to SATC; writer Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), lawyer Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon), and stay-at-home mom Charlotte York-Goldenblatt (Kristin Davis) are now in their mid-50s. Of course, publicist Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall) is NOT on the show; many fans objected to how her character was handled. At the start of the show, ALL the pals seem happily married; we see John AKA Mr. Big (Chris Noth), Steve (David Eigenberg), and Harry (Evan Handler). Anthony (Mario Cantone) and Stanford Blatch (Willie Garson) are married, BUT don’t look too happy. As for the teens, they’re annoying AF; Miranda’s 17 y.o. son Brady behaves V disrespectfully; Charlotte’s kids- 14 y.o. Lily and 12 y.o. Rose- are spoiled and uncompromising. Why spend SO much time on kids- it’s supposed to be about adults!? Carrie is one of the regular guests on a podcast hosted by a bisexual/non-binary comedian, Che Diaz (Sarah Ramirez).

I mainly tuned in to see Carrie’s realtor-turned-friend, Seema (Sarita Choudhury) who appears starting in E4; she’s mainly a theater/indie film actor; I saw her at a play reading in NYC in 2008 (and she is gorgeous IRL). Choudhury starred opposite a young Denzel Washington in Mira Nair’s indie/drama/romance Mississippi Masala. Seema’s mom is played by veteran/international actor/chef/author- Madhur Jaffrey. Miranda’s prof, Dr. Nya Wallace (Karen Pittman), and her jazz musician hubby, Andre (LeRoy McClain), are trying to have a baby w/ IVF. Lisa Todd Wexley AKA LTW (Nicole Ari Parker) is the mom of 3 young kids; Charlotte becomes her friend (after they meet while organizing school events). LTW’s hubby Herbert is played by Hamilton actor Chris Jackson; he (sadly) doesn’t have much to do. Where is the fun (I barely cracked a smile; don’t recall LOLs), fashion (Miranda’s wig and outfits don’t suit her at all), and romance!? IF you’re a fan of the original series, I suggest avoiding this one!

Bridgerton (Season 2): Netflix

Everybody (and their mom) has an opinion on the show- LOL! Almost ALL my friends (IRL/online) were talking/messaging/tweeting about it (some more than 2 wks before S2 dropped). Since I’ve gotten a LOT more active on Twitter lately (and have some new connections), I couldn’t avoid the jokes, memes, etc. You have to shut-off your brain to enjoy shows like this (NO offense); it’s been compared to Jane Austen fan fiction and an alternate universe (AU) of Regency era England. MANY women of color (of all ages) esp. liked seeing the Indian (South Asian) representation in the Sharma sisters (played by Brits: statuesque Simone Ashley and petite Charithra Chandran)! I liked the “slow burn” romance (Anthony and Kate), the fam scenes of the Bridgertons (who all have great chemistry together), and (light-hearted/funny) scenes w/ the artist/bohemian bro, Benedict (Luke Thompson). I think the acting is stronger in this season; S1 didn’t impress me that much. There is one V powerful/emotional scene (S2 E3) that is unlike ANY I’ve seen in a period drama!

The Chair (2021): Netflix

This show was tweeted about by MANY women/POC/academics I follow, so I watched it when it came out last Fall. Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim (Sandra Oh) is the new Chair of Humanities at a small/fictional university (Pembroke); she is the 1st woman and person of color (POC) to hold this post. Ji-Yoon is single (by choice) and the adoptive mom to a bright/challenging young daughter, Ju-Hee. The “old guard” at this school are played by veteran actors: Bob Balaban, Holland Taylor, and David Morse. Ji-Yoon’s closest friend/potential love interest, Bill Dobson (Jay Duplass), lost his wife a few years ago and his 18 y.o. daughter leaves for college in the 1st ep.

This comedy/drama series (6 eps; 30 mins/ea.) was filmed on-location in Pittsburgh and nearby areas. To create Pembroke’s campus, the show used Washington & Jefferson College and Chatham University. Annie Wyman (co-creator/co-writer) was actually an academic in an English department; she earned a PhD in English Lit from Harvard). David Duchovny (playing a version of himself) earned a Master’s in English Lit (Yale); he started (but didn’t complete) his PhD. If you (or your fam/pals) have connections to academia, you’ll esp. relate to this show!

The Gilded Age (2022): HBO Max

This is the show for ALL you Downton Abbey fans; it was also created by Julian Fellows, BUT he had several others collaborating w/ him (incl. prof/historian/co-executive producer- Erica Armstrong Dunbar). Another producer (who also directed some eps) is Salli Richardson-Whitfield; most will know her from her acting days. The setting is NYC in the 1880s where “old money” (the Van Rijans/Brooks) and “nouveaux riche” (the Russells) are nabes, BUT def NOT pals! There are MANY theater actresses (over the age of 40) who appear on this show: Cynthia Nixon, Christine Baranski, Audra McDonald (who I saw once on Broadway), Celia Keegan-Bolger, Debra Monk, Kelli O’Hara, and Donna Murphy. We also see more well-known movie actors (incl. Jeanne Tripplehorn and Nathan Lane) in small (yet pivotal) roles.

In his January 2022 NYT article The Gilded Age’ Finally Arrives on HBO, Dave Itzkoff reported that the long filming hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic allowed actress Denée Benton (who plays Peggy Scott) “to seek refinements of [her role] to better reflect [her] understanding of history. Benton said she urged the creative team to provide more ways to show that there were Black people like her character, Peggy, who lived in their own affluent and educated communities. I didn’t find Louisa Jacobson (who plays Marian Brook; one of Meryl Streep’s daughters) that compelling; MANY viewers agreed w/ me on this point. Peggy is much MORE interesting than Marian. I thought that George Russell (Morgan Spector- husband of actress Rebecca Hall) was better written than his wife Bertha (Carrie Coon). Coon was written as TOO strident (as some viewers noted online). George’s full beard was quite popular on Twitter- LOL! This is a period/costume drama, BUT it also has some brains (and is somewhat educational also).

Mare of Easttown (2021): HBO Max

If you like domestic drama mixed w/ a cop/mystery show (such as Happy Valley or Broadchurch), then check this out! A detective, Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet in an Emmy-winning role), in a small Pennsylvania town investigates a murder of a teen girl while trying to keep her fam/personal life from falling apart. I thought almost ALL of the actors did a terrific job; they seemed like real/unglamorous/flawed people. There was even a (spot-on) sketch about the show on SNL. Much has been talked about re: the complicated relationship between Mare and her funny/acerbic mom (played by veteran actress Jean Smart); these ladies had great chemistry together! I was also impressed by Evan Peters (who plays the naive/younger cop- Colin Zabel); it’s rare to see a police officer w/ doubt and vulnerability. You can also check him out in S1 of Pose. Guy Pearce (who acted w/ Winslet in HBO’s take on Mildred Pierce in 2011) plays Mare’s love interest; he is a writer-turned-prof who is in town as an adjunct. The creator/writer of this show, Craig Zobel, also wrote the recent movie The Way Back (starring Ben Affleck); it received some critical acclaim also.

“The Report” (2019) starring Adam Driver, Annette Bening, & Jon Hamm

The Report is a thriller based on actual events. Idealistic staffer Daniel J. Jones (Adam Driver) is tasked by his boss Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) to lead an investigation of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program created in the aftermath of 9/11. Jones’ relentless pursuit of the truth leads to findings that uncover the lengths to which the nation’s top intelligence agency went to destroy evidence, subvert the law, and hide a shocking secret from the American public. The Report is written and directed by Scott Z. Burns, and the film also stars Jon Hamm, Sarah Goldberg, Michael C. Hall, Douglas Hodge, Fajer Kaisi, Ted Levine, Jennifer Morrison, Tim Blake Nelson, Linda Powell, Matthew Rhys, T. Ryder Smith, Corey Stoll, and Maura Tierney. -Synopsis (Amazon)

This movie (acquired by Amazon Studios) is available for free on Amazon Prime; I saw it 2x (to get a better understanding on the issues). If you follow the news/current events, have an interest in politics, and/or enjoyed The West Wing– check this movie out. This has more of a documentary-style approach, so I wouldn’t call it a typical “thriller” (as classified on IMDb). Just before filming, the original plan of 50 days shooting was cut to a 26 days; the $18 million budget was slashed to ONLY $8 million! Burns revealed that ALL the actors (incl. Driver) were paid next to nothing on this project. Burns originally planned to approach the material in a satirical Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) manner; the more he delved into the facts, he realized it had told in the most realistic fashion. The film premiered at Sundance and received a standing ovation for the real Dan Jones (who was present).

Sen. Feinstein: If it [waterboarding] works, why do you need to do it 183 times?

After completing the screenplay, Burns shared it w/ frequent collaborator, Steven Soderbergh, w/ a view as to who he’d suggest for the lead. Driver’s name came up almost immediately; Soderbergh directed Driver in Logan Lucky (2017). In 2007, Dan comes to Capitol Hill as an idealistic young man (wanting to help his country); we learn that he was a Math teacher in Baltimore w/ Teach for America (3 yrs). After 9/11, he switched his classes to national security while at grad school (Harvard). Dan gets a job working for Sen. Feinstein (D-CA), head of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He ended up working on the torture report for 5+ yrs- wow! Jones was available to provide feedback on set; Driver found this very helpful.

Gretchen (CIA Agent): You may not realize, but we were trying to protect this country from people who wanna destroy everything we believe in.

Dan: You may not realize it, but we are trying to do the exact same thing.

The term “enhanced interrogation” has no meaning under law; the tactics aren’t used by professional interrogators. It was created by the CIA to describe tactics that would otherwise be considered torture or unlawful detainee abuse. The science finds that rapport-based approaches to interrogation are the most effective, as FBI Agent, Ali Soufan (Fajer Kaisi), tells Dan when they meet in NYC. Soufan’s flashback was eye-opening and troubling. I’m now curious to see The Looming Tower, a HBO miniseries (w/ Jeff Daniels and French-Algerian actor, Tahar Rahim, as Soufan) which focuses on the FBI’s response to 9/11. The physician assistant, Raymond Nathan (Tim Blake Nelson), who came to oppose EIT, meets w/ Dan late at night in a parking garage (reminiscent of Deep Throat in All the President’s Men). The psychologists, James Mitchell (Douglas Hodge) and Bruce Jessen (T. Ryder Smith) were put in charge of not only creating and implementing the EIT program, but also evaluating its effectiveness. This is (obviously) a conflict of interest, as Dan explains to Feinstein in the 2nd hr. of the movie.

Evan (NYT Reporter): If the Times had your report, we would print it, tomorrow.

Dan: No. If it’s gonna come out, it’s gonna come out the right way.

I live just outside DC, so got a kick out of seeing Driver running past the national monuments. Then there are the (relatable) boring office buildings, basement rooms, and working on computers- LOL. Driver has a scene w/ his wife, Joanne Tucker (who he met while they were students at Julliard)! Tucker plays Gretchen (blonde CIA Agent working under the mysterious Bernadette, played by Maura Tierney); she confronts Dan and his colleague in the restaurant scene. Matthew Rhys plays Evan (the NYT national security reporter); he’s a friend of Driver who acted w/ him off-Broadway and appeared on HBO’s Girls. Corey Stoll (who also appeared on Girls) plays a lawyer, Cyrus Clifford, who Dan consults w/ after the CIA goes after him. Driver and Stoll played brothers in the comedy movie This is Where I Leave You (2014).

[1] The late Sen. John McCain gets the last word here, appropriately, with archive footage of his impassioned speech on the Senate floor regarding the necessity of forbidding the U.S. from engaging in torture, regardless of what the country’s enemies do.

[2] The cuts in time work well to put meat on the bones and helps to mix the political, ethical, and real life aspects of it. […]

It is more important than engaging though, and could have been a stronger film for embracing the complexity more than it did.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

Official trailer for The Report.
The director and actors talk re: The Report at Sundance Film Festival with Variety magazine.

Adam Driver’s “Law & Order” Episodes

Law & Order (S20, E15): Brilliant Disguise (March 8, 2010)

After a young woman, Justine, is found brutally murdered in a hotel and her body stashed away on a food service cart, evidence leads Detectives Cyrus Lupo and Kevin Bernard to a young med student. When a crafty lawyer, Ray Backlund, becomes involved, the detectives realize that it is going to take more than superficial evidence to put the murderer behind bars. This quickly becomes a case of mind over matter. -Synopsis from NBC

This ep (which I saw for the 1st time last month) is based on the Craigslist Killer (Philip Markoff) who targeted escorts in hotel rooms in 2009; like his fictional counterpart, he also was engaged. This appears to borrow elements of the 2009 murder of Yale graduate student Annie Le. A suspect and coworker of hers, Ray Clark, was convicted of the homicide. Clark was a lab tech who became extremely angry when his colleagues left mouse and rat cages filthy. He also had a fiancee who was possessive/bossy. This is an interesting story about a perpetrator who thinks he’s much smarter than anyone else. I haven’t seen many eps which paired Det. Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) w/ Det. Bernard (Anthony Anderson); I’m a fan of Anderson from other series (he can do BOTH drama and comedy well).

It turns out that Justine had a secret life as an escort which her mom in Richmond, VA, knew nothing about. Initially, the detectives get it wrong when they arrest Robby Vickery (Adam Driver), a lab tech at Chelsea University who lets women assume that he’s a med student. In fact, other evidence points to Alex Conway (Daniel Eric Gold), an arrogant grad student w/ gambling addiction. To Alex, the escorts he picks up are like the lab rats Robby works w/- scary! Alex is clever, as is his defense attorney, Ray Backlund (Timothy Busfield). Also, Alex’s wealthy fiancee, Carrie Newton (Jess Weixler), is willing to do anything to help his case.

Getting a job on the L&O series was a rite of passage for up-and-coming/NYC-based actors. Driver does well in his role; this show originally aired several mos. after he graduated from Julliard in 2009. He shows Robby’s unassuming/charming side (in the opener w/ Justine); she gives him her number and wants to go out to brunch w/ him over the weekend. Then, we see Robby’s insecurity/vulnerability when detectives come to his lab. When they question him at the precinct, we see the creepy behavior he has engaged in (though exclaiming “I respect women”). As the evidence against him is circumstantial, it was the smart move to ask for a lawyer. It took me a few weeks, BUT I learned that this is where “feed the rats on time” comes from (in the Driver fan community)- LOL!

Law & Order: SVU (S13, E11): Theater Tricks (January 11, 2012)


SVU tries to figure out who was responsible for the real-life rape of an actress during an interactive theater performance that everybody just assumed was part of the show.
-Synopsis

This is a weird/shocking case (even by SVU standards- IF you’re familiar w/ the series); I didn’t remember seeing it when it originally aired. There are several notable guest stars (along w/ Driver): Gibert Gottfried (a police computer expert), Grant Shaud (a theater critic), Kevin Pollak (a judge w/ a secret love life), and Fisher Stevens (a controlling director). The victim is Meghan Weller (Jenn Proske), a V pretty/eager-to-please young woman who moved to NYC 6 mos. ago from a small town in Minnesota. She is stunned that such a horrible thing could happen; she was so happy/excited to get her 1st role. The men around Meghan ALL seem to be problematic in some way, BUT who is the ultimate villain!?

Jason Roberts (Adam Driver) isn’t the rapist here, BUT he is a creepy stalker. Meghan calls him her “computer guy” who “seemed harmless.” Jason is obsessed w/ Meghan, has pics of her all over his bedroom, has seen her play 12 times, and installed hidden cameras in her apt. Now some of you L&O diehards (or those studying law) will realize that everything found in that room is inadmissible as evidence. Det. Rollins didn’t have Estelle Roberts’ permission to enter her son’s room; also his door was closed (violating the plain view doctrine), so they had no probable cause or warrant. Meghan (using her acting skills) convinces Jason to meet her at a cafe; Det. Nick Amaro (Danny Pino) and Det. Rollins (Kelli Giddish) can arrest him.

Jason: If I was gonna set up Meghan, I’ve got images that are a lot hotter. See?

[shows the detectives the images]

Det. Rollins: Really? Jason, you just made bail on a surveillance charge.

When Jason is initially questioned in the interrogation room, we see the (twisted) “love” he has for Meghan. He looks shocked to learn of what exactly happened to her during the play; his eyes are full of concern (almost as if going to cry). In Jason’s mind, the cameras were “for her protection,” as she’s “naive” and “trusting.” It turns out that the video footage he captured from the play (and other instances) could be helpful in solving the case! This is a bigger/more interesting role for Driver than in his previous L&O ep. I was impressed by how he made this character (somewhat) sympathetic and even a BIT humorous (see Ice T’s reactions). You also see his quirky physicality. It would’ve been great IF he’d gotten to have a scene w/ Lt. Benson (Mariska Hargitay).

Adam Driver behind them scenes of “SVU.”