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PostPosted: Wed Apr 08, 2009 6:23 pm 
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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 DVDcombining 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?


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PostPosted: Mon May 07, 2012 3:18 pm 
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Good news for those who still never saw this fantastic film, probably the best made for TV film I've ever seen (at least in the US). . .

This pilot film, though not formally out on DVD from Universal, has been put up in it's entirety online via the tube.

Don't miss this masterpiece! See the role that Brando very badly wanted to play--Kojak in his pilot film based on one of the most haunting murders in NYC's recent history--but was rebuffed by the studio who thought him, pre Godfather, box office poison.

Great new book on the actual crime and the times out by TJ "Westies" English, called THE SAVAGE CITY.


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PostPosted: Mon May 07, 2012 3:26 pm 
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Shout Factory released Kojak - The Complete Movie Collection in January. Here's a DVDTalk review.


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PostPosted: Mon May 07, 2012 3:44 pm 
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Ah, well there you go. Glad the set is out there, particularly for the flat out excellent film that MARCUS-NELSON is, in restored condition and looking very good.

Worth quoting the review of the pilot film itself:

Quote:
Kojak: The Complete Movie Collection opens with what many Kojak fans dismayed of ever seeing again: the superlative 1973 TV movie, The Marcus-Nelson Murders, that served as the Kojak series' pilot. Written by Abby Mann (Judgment at Nuremberg), and based somewhat loosely on the infamous "Career Girls Murders" case used in the ground-breaking Miranda Supreme Court decision, The Marcus-Nelson Murders opens with the brutal slaying of two young women living in a Manhattan apartment, disturbingly shot from the killer's P.O.V., and proceeds to the long, tortured investigation and prosecution of suspect Lewis Humes (Gene Woodbury), a black Brooklyn youth with developmental disabilities who is railroaded into a false confession by racist cops. Manhattan police detective Lt. Theo Kojak (Telly Savalas) knows that the facts of the case and Humes' supposed confession don't add up, but it's next to impossible for him to stop the wheels of "justice" once they're in motion...particularly when so many promotions and citations and political elections are on the line.

I clearly remember watching The Marcus-Nelson Murders as a kid, scared first by that ominous opening narration (whenever they said, "The following story is based on fact," it freaked me out because TV was supposed to be made-up), and then by that unnerving murder sequence, disturbingly staged by ace director Joseph Sargent (who directed his bona fide masterpiece, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three that same year), shot from the killer's P.O.V. as the second victim screams, "Don't you touch me!" over and over again. Watching it today, I was struck by the noir elements Mann and Sargent were able to inject into the gritty French Connection-like framework, with Savalas' perfectly-delivered, fatalistic narration coming straight out of the legacy of Lang and Preminger ("It's interesting how matter-of-fact death can become," and "It was as if we were all sleepwalkers, watching a terrible pageant nobody cared about anymore."). Savalas' portrayal of Kojak isn't nearly as flip and delightfully smart-assed as it would become in the series proper; here, he's calm, slightly menacing, and always very, very smart. Mann puts independent, insubordinate Kojak (a fictional character inspired in part by several real-life cops that worked on the "Career Girls Murders" case) through an emotional trajectory that sees him first disbelieving that those "Brooklyn hick" detectives solved his case, to becoming more and more disillusioned with the criminal justice system as a whole, until he himself becomes a "stoolie" for the press ("I don't want to do it. I was expecting someone else to do it...but no one is,"), SPOILER eventually crossing over the line into the racist cops' territory when, out of frustration, he almost beats up the real murderer, white cat burglar and junkie Teddy (an excellent Marjoe Gortner). Even the brief romance Mann gives Kojak with former flame Lorraine Gary stays true to Mann's depressing view of life here: he picks her up at the market one day; they re-connect on a significant emotional level; she picks up on the fact that work will always come first for him; and she splits. No drawn-out theatrics. It's over just as quickly as it started, without her being mentioned again in the story.

Importantly, The Marcus-Nelson Murders plays fair with the racial politics that are involved here, as well. The racist cops who set up Humes are given no extenuating circumstances (although we see Kojak succumb to the same instincts of police brutality when he's frustrated with Teddy's lack of cooperation), but neither are there any given to charismatic drug dealer Bobby Martin (the flat-out brilliant Roger Robinson). Mann has fun setting up the audience to identify and sympathize with the likeable Bobby, showing the dichotomy of pimp/pusher/murderer Bobby, living in squalor, teaching his young son in a loving way proper English and good manners...before Kojak kicks the unfailing polite Bobby out of his chair, repulsed by his actions ("You're so polite...you make me sick!" Kojak sneers at the stunned Bobby lying on the floor). Robinson's mesmerizing performance here is a standout in a uniformly excellent cast of familiar faces, including Jose Ferrer, Ned Beatty, the sleazy Allen Garfield (playing a "good" guy-as-bad guy as only he could), William Watson, Val Bisoglio, Chita Rivera, Bruce Kirby, Robert Walden, Robert Fields, Lloyd Gough, and John Sylvester White. Sergent's use of authentic New York locales is remarkable―just as gritty and unrelenting as anything in The French Connection―and the pacing of his scenes in the precinct houses and courtrooms is methodical and relentless. A completely gripping made-for-TV movie―one of the best of the decade.


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PostPosted: Mon May 07, 2012 9:07 pm 
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Nice heads up S!

OF course Colossus: the Forbin Project is the first Sargent pic cinefans noticed way back. It's great (And in HD here and there).


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PostPosted: Tue May 08, 2012 8:40 am 
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Great, underrated film.

Like the quoted reviewer, I also caught this on TV late one night as a kid and was extremely unnerved by the opening murder sequence, which with its subjective camera recalls that of Bob Clark's Black Christmas, made the following year (1974).

For years I had no idea what this film was, until last year I stumbled across a screening on ITV3 here in the UK and was amazed to discover it was the pilot for Kojak. Watching it again, I was completely sucked into the story and as the credits rolled against that haunting, seemingly endless tracking shot of those run down (Brooklyn?) streets I was convinced that this was an unjustly forgotten classic. As HerrSchrek notes, there's something fascinating about this period of New York, when the city seemed to be rotting away. The sequence when the cop first arrests the young black kid as he's sleeping in the remnents of some long-vacated tenement looks like it was shot on some dystopian sci-fi set, so run-down is the surroundings. What other films capture this era of the city?

Great film and glad to see it on DVD at last!


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PostPosted: Tue May 08, 2012 11:42 am 
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david hare wrote:
Nice heads up S!

OF course Colossus: the Forbin Project is the first Sargent pic cinefans noticed way back. It's great (And in HD here and there).


Believe it or not I just saw FORBIN for the first time this year-- fascinating film. TAKING OF PELHAM I saw with my whole family when it came out . . . we're a Pelham Bay family (at least since 1970, when we moved there from the Yankee Stadium nabe of Jerome and Burnside when that area went into its final slide) and I've been riding the 6 Train since I was three. So of course we had to see a film (and a truly great one at that. . . Matthau is brilliant in it) shot about our home line which ran just outside our window.

Mr. Deltoid wrote:
What other films capture this era of the city?


There's a good number of them: definitely don't miss ACROSS 110TH STREET (which I just put a commentary up for on my blog) which is shot about 100% on location in the Harlem of 1972, and a masterpiece in my book. FORT APACHE THE BRONX of course (not a great film but still a good one). For some off the beaten track docs catch STATIONS OF THE ELEVATED, a docu montage of the graffiti covered subways and kids jumping at play about the moonscape of South Bronx rubble set to Charles Mingus jazz... great rare gem. Also don't miss EIGHTY BLOCKS FROM TIFFANY'S, a doc made about the south Bronx gangs the Savage Skulls and the Savage Nomads, where the filmmakers gained access to their abandoned tenement clubhouses deep in "Fort Apache". Also the straight up hip hop documentary about graf and break dancing STYLE WARS is fantastic. WILD STYLE gives an excellent dose of all location work in those areas as well.

That closing sequence in MARCUS NELSON, beginning with Kojak sitting there stunned in an empty courtroom, talking about the faded optimism of his first day on the job running to his narrating his present dream of turning in his badge (and the sad reality that he still goes on. . .), and the montage of the blocks and blocks of abandoned buildings (looks like the Bronx but could be Brooklyn) with Andy Kim singing DON'T GIVE ME A ROAD. . . it's very affecting, and bleakly beautiful. A genuine masterwork.


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PostPosted: Tue May 08, 2012 4:05 pm 
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Cheers for the reccomendations.

Eighty Blocks from Tiffany's sounds fascinating - and I still havn't got round to watching Across 110th Street, despite loving the Womack tune. Got to rectify that soon.


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PostPosted: Tue May 08, 2012 4:50 pm 
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Hardly the most appropriate thread, but there was a really unusual 'New York in the 70s' film that I saw on TV a couple of decades ago and can't seem to track down. Lots of location footage, traipsing around the city, yada yada yada, but the gob-smacking thing about it was the storyline, which involved a pregnant teenager trying to get an abortion, and her friends helping her get it. I assume it must have been made immediately in the wake of Roe v Wade, because the tone was utterly bizarre by Hollywood standards, in that there was no air of hysteria or risk or controversy about her quest. It was all (at least so far as I remember) quite matter-of-fact: how do I find a good abortionist, how do I get the money together, how do I keep my parents from finding out? Not a whiff of moral panic and, by the same token, no air of pro-choice crusading. It was hard to believe there was a time when this subject matter wasn't politicized.

Searching for 'abortion' on imdb was no help, and there's probably only a small window of opportunity in which such a film could get made (73-75?) Any ideas?


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PostPosted: Tue May 08, 2012 4:56 pm 
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Could be either of these two? http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074963/
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0057263/


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PostPosted: Tue May 08, 2012 5:03 pm 
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No and no. No big stars in there, as far as I recall, and very little emphasis on the adult characters (if there were any major ones). The only other clue I can offer is that I don't think the title gave any indication of the subject matter, as I was pretty surprised as the film unfolded.


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PostPosted: Tue May 08, 2012 6:05 pm 
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Drawing total blank.


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PostPosted: Tue May 08, 2012 6:43 pm 
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It's a film that I can't imagine being broadcast nowadays, and it was probably only a fluke that it ended up on late night TV back in the late 80s / early 90s when I saw it. (I do know that I didn't dream it, as I compared "can you believe this film exists?" notes at the time with a feminist filmmaker who also happened to catch it.)

Oh well, I'll repost the enquiry in the "Identify This Movie" thread. It's not a film I've thought that much about over the years, but now it's starting to annoy me!


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