Friday, June 13, 2014

Tonight's Movie: A Fever in the Blood (1961) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Courtroom drama meets political melodrama in A FEVER IN THE BLOOD (1961), recently released by the Warner Archive.

A FEVER IN THE BLOOD features a number of Warner Bros. TV actors of the era, including Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Jack Kelly, Ray Danton, Andra Martin, Robert Colbert, and Saundra Edwards, along with Angie Dickinson, Don Ameche, and Herbert Marshall.

The movie was produced and cowritten by Roy Huggins, creator of two famous TV series which starred Zimbalist and Kelly, 77 SUNSET STRIP and MAVERICK.

Zimbalist stars in A FEVER IN THE BLOOD as Judge Leland Hoffman, who presides over the trial of Walter Thornwall (Rhodes Reason) for the death of his wife (June Blair). Thornwall, who is actually innocent, is the nephew of the former governor (Marshall), so both Hoffman and District Attorney Dan Callahan (Kelly) know publicity from the high-profile case could boost their chances of winning the nomination for governor.

Senator Alex Simon (Ameche) wants to run for governor as well, and he attempts to bribe the judge in order to clear the path for his own nomination. Simon's much-younger wife Cathy (Dickinson), incidentally, is the judge's old flame.

There's a heated, very loud trial and a great deal of backroom politicking and dirty tricks before the conclusion at the party's nominating convention.

The cast of A FEVER IN THE BLOOD is very appealing, especially for someone such as myself who loves Warner Bros. shows like MAVERICK. The movie was a reunion for Kelly and Zimbalist, as Zimbalist had had a recurring role as Dandy Jim Buckley on Kelly's MAVERICK.

Unfortunately some of the dialogue, combined with overly broad acting, results in moments which are unintentionally humorous. I chuckled more than a few times at oh-so-serious lines which I thought were hilarious. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as the movie is quite entertaining, just perhaps not as the filmmakers intended. (I don't think I was supposed to be amused by Ameche's hospital room scene...) I had a good time watching it, even if I was baffled by Kelly and Danton delivering most of their courtroom dialogue at the top of their lungs.

Vincent Sherman was an old hand at crime melodrama, with credits such as NORA PRENTISS (1947) and THE DAMNED DON'T CRY (1950). He might not have been able to do much with some of the dialogue, which is uncharacteristically clunky for Huggins, but the film would have been more plausible if he'd at least had his cast tone down their performances.

That said, if the movie were more believable we would have lost out on a film which is at times absurdly entertaining. It's quite a diverting 117 minutes, even if it's because sometimes it's so bad it's good! I have to say I enjoyed it a lot, even though I would class this one as a guilty pleasure of sorts.

I particularly enjoyed a moment which might best be appreciated by fans of James Garner; near the end of the film I noticed James Garner's longtime stand-in, Luis Delgado, in a bit role as a newspaperman standing behind Garner's longtime MAVERICK costar Jack Kelly. Delgado, as a matter of fact, was the brother-in-law of the movie's writer-producer, Roy Huggins. Huggins was married to Delgado's sister, actress Adele Mara. Delgado, who can be seen in the background in some MAVERICK episodes, had a recurring role on THE ROCKFORD FILES as hapless Officer Billings.

The movie was photographed in black and white by J. Peverell Marley. The Warner Archive DVD is a very nice widescreen print which presents the film at its visual best.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.

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