“The Crooked Frame,” the live television play, is a fascinating example of TV in its infancy.
Freely adapted from William P. McGivern’s novel of the same name, with many changes and compressions to fit the 30-minute time-slot of the CBS series Suspense, this 1952
episode drains almost all the mystery and – OK – suspense, out of the story.
So, what is so interesting about it?
First, the show was directed by 27-year-old Robert Mulligan, who labored for years in live television before directing movies. Ten years after doing “The Crooked Frame,” he directed Gregory Peck in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Mulligan, here, seemed to have a cast of stage actors who did not quite grasp the concept of acting for the camera. The only exception was…
The second interesting thing about this show: Actor Richard Kiley. Kiley, who later won a Tony for Broadway's "Man of La Mancha," here, at age 30, had done a fair amount of TV work and a movie or two, and he plays the lead in a style far more suitable to…
The third interesting aspect of the show: The staging and camera work. Mulligan, like other directors of live television dramas in those days, kept his actors close to the camera. Sometimes his blocking is almost comically tight, clustering his players together into a sort of football huddle. Most likely, this was to keep the actors' faces visible on the small screens of early television sets. But Mulligan is also clever in his staging and in the freewheeling way he wheels his camera in and around and through the tiny sets.
All in all, a fascinating look at early television and a fairly harmless presentation. But be warned: If you have not read the book, this ancient video will spoil the plot. So, read McGivern’s novel first.
(A companion piece to this post, about McGivern’s book, is on this blog and at Friday’s Forgotten Books, Patti Abbott’s weekly feature, hosted last week by Todd Mason.)