I thought I'd created a thread for this movie to keep a vigil out for a potential "official" dvd (vs TV rips), but I can't find it.. maybe I never created one. The loss of the forum's search engine doesn't help, but I did use google externally, searching into the forum to locate it, and came up empty.
This 1973 film, based on the 1963 Wylie Hoffert "Career Girls" Murders
in NYC, is absolutely mesmerising, and may be the finest television movie I've seen from the US. At least as far as crime dramas go. This is the film that wound up constituting the pilot for what became the Kojak television series-- a series that wound up taking on a distinctively different flavor than its pilot.
I've always loved this film, I pull out my worn, VCR-eaten, retaped/spliced VHS copy of an old NBC broadcast of it at least 2 times a year to watch, so profound is the effect.
I was noodling around youtube the other day and came across some archival interviews with Abby Mann, the astronomically successful writer whose career spanned over five decades at the top of his game. It's impossible to overstate the success of this native of the Lower East SIde of NYC (who only recently died), who stayed so long at the better edge of a medium whose players and allegiances were ever shifting.
In three hours worth of archived interviews covering his life and career, one half hour segment
deals with The Marcus Nelson Murders
: the story of the Wylie-Hoffert murders and the unfolding of the case-- and his effect on them-- and the conceiving and execution of the movie itself.
It's fascinating for a number of reasons. Here you have a writer who, charged with bringing an idea to fruition as a functional television movie script, wound up turning the criminal justice system upside down, freeing an innocent man, and contibuting to the way you are processed in the US when undergoing the arrest process.
When the Wylie Hoffert case went down, it was front page news. The story was probably destined to be widely published: Wylie was the daughter of Max WYlie, a well-known TV writer-- and niece of Philip Wylie, the writer. Both Janice Wylie and her roommate Emily Hoffert worked in publishing, both were the upwardly mobile offspring of socially connected parents. Both were horrifically butchered in their apartment, and at least Janice was raped, as well (how far he got I don't know; he claims he stopped while she was tied up because she protested). Supposedly the crime scene was a shocking mass of blood and gore. Adding to the aura of the case was the fact that the murders began just as Dr. M. L. King was giving his "I have a dream" speech... in fact it was playing on the TV in the apt as the murders went down.
When Abby Mann was handed the assignment (along with reporter Selwyn Raab who, aside from writing the book Justice In The Back Room
seems to have actively contributed to the case's unfolding as well; see here
,a contemporary article in Time mag), it was because Universal's TV division had bought the rights to the story about the explosive case, which was, until an arrest was made, subject to what was then the largest manhunt in NYC's history. The suspect, George Whitmore, was then in custody, and the case-- based on a complete confession from the kid-- seemed closed.
As Mann (& Raab) went through the facts, he went about interviewing the participants in the case, prior to producing the screenplay. Mann knew his way around NYC, and he obviously had a nose profoundly attuned to the melody of well rehearsed bullshit. After speaking to the suspect Whitmore (a young, "slow", extremely naive black kid living half out on the streets, far away from the Upper East Side- the Wylie Hoffert domain-- in Brownsville Brooklyn at the time of his arrest) and consulting a detective (who he eventually gave the name Kojak; in the Time article Raab claims it's him, so go figure) he became convinced that the tale Universal wanted to go to screen with was, as it stood at the time, rampant bullshit... and that the kid languishing in prison was completely innocent.
The case unravelled for a variety of factors, clearly not exclusively owing to the efforts of Mann & Rabb (the arrest for murder of a drug addict named Delaney-- named Bobby Martin in Marcus Nelson-- clearly put the actual murderer, Richard Robles, a heroin addict from the upper east side in the crosshairs of the Manhattan DA), but owing more than a bit to their intervention. Dozens of pages of confession from George Whitmore were revealed to have been the result of at best coaching, or at worst complete fabrication-- all in an effort by police to solve a very hi-pressure, hi-profile case.
It's an incredibly fascinating and haunting story, from an era which seems like eons ago in NYC, where cops could offhandedly grab black kids off the street and cavalierly beat them into confessing for stuff they didn't do because, in their minds, "they were guilty of something
Abby Mann wrote a screenplay that told the tale Like It Is, and promptly scared the hell out of Universal Television. Revealing the rampant evil lurking within the Manhattan DA, the Brooklyn DA, and their corresponding police depts was not something that routinely was fed into American households at the time. But it was an important case that was cited in the supreme court case that requires us all now, when arrested, to be read our Miranda Warnings, and the simple broadcasting of the story at prime time was an important and painful step in the growing process and maturation of law enforcement. The Marcus Nelson Murders
is an absolutely magnicificent television movie. Mann's utter sincerity of spirit pervades every frame. Shot all on location across the brick and garbage strewn vacant lots of early-70's NYC-- Brownsville Brooklyn, the Upper East Side-- it's a hugely impacting experience, and impressive (and incredibly depressing) in how uncompromising it is. An interesting detail in all this is during preproduction & development, there was never any question in Mann's mind about who was going to play Kojak-- especially since this actor had already agreed to play the part. That actor was Marlon Brando, who was attracted to the film because he thought it was a rare and golden opportunity to participate in a project that would pull no punches, and show Americans what the real world is truly like, and not the glorified cop-as-hero pablum which ruled at the time. The studio refused to cast Brando in the part, announcing that the man was finished as far as box office was concered. Hilariously, Brando and Mann had to face facts... so Brando moved on and did The Godfather
, and thereafter wound becoming the highest paid/most-sought-after actor in Hollywood. Ah Hollywood.
George Whitmore wound up, after a multitude of struggles, being completely exonerated, and was best man at Mann's wedding.
If you ever have the chance to behold this rare jewel, I can't recommend The Marcus Nelson Murders
enough. It's a rare and uncompromising snapshot of the bleakly depressing tones ruling NYC's underbelly at the time... the world of the then narcotic-soaked streets, collapsing infrastructure filled with desperate, hard-bitten denizens making their way across the moonscape of a ruined city, huge numbers of them committing minor burglaries and heists every day like a 9-5 job for survival-- and the way that underbelly was opportunistically kicked around and preyed upon by corrupt police for the closure of unsolved crimes by extracting stand-in's in the absence of actual perps. A gloomy saturation of all kinds of "blue collar" crime that's tough to imagine in NY nowadays.
There's an R2 DVD
combining The Marcus Nelson Murders with an episode of Kojak ("Mojo") from season one, but my hunch is that its a vhs rip of this VHS
Anyone know otherwise?