Thursday, August 31, 2017

A Fever in the Blood

Angie Dickinson and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.
As a fan of courtroom dramas and films about political intrigue, I was particularly pleased to discover A Fever in the Blood on Warner Archive's streaming service. Co-written by Roy Huggins (Maverick, The Fugitive), this 1961 feature examines the impact of a sensationalistic murder trial on a gubernatorial race. Thus, we get all the usual courtroom theatrics, plus behind-the-scenes political machinations.

The films open with Judge Leland Hoffman asking his friend, District Attorney Dan Callahan, to be his running mate as he seeks his party's nomination for state governor. Callahan declines and we later learn the reason is because he plans to run for the same nomination. Callahan goes to see Senator Alex Simon, a powerful state politician, to gain his endorsement. It turns out that Senator Simon plans to vacate his Senate seat and seek the governor's office, too!

Jack Kelly as Callahan.
Meanwhile, Judge Hoffman and D.A. Callahan become involved in a murder trial, in which a former governor's nephew is accused of suffocating his unfaithful wife. Callahan is convinced that a conviction will seal his bid for the nomination. It's a point that's not lost on Hoffman and Simon, inspiring the senator to suggest that the judge squash Callahan's free publicity by declaring a mistrial.

For most of its running time, A Fever in the Blood is an effective political drama that examines the ethics of its three protagonists. As the plot unfolds, motivations become murky and even the most moral of the trio begins to question his actions. Many of its themes are still timely, such as the effect of press coverage on the trial and, indirectly, the gubernatorial race. In one of my favorite lines, a political strategist notes of D.A. Callahan: "Celebrities write their own tickets."

Still, A Fever in the Blood almost collapses under the weight of its extraneous subplots. The final half-hour includes a hit-and-run accident in which a child is killed, the death of a major character, the capture of the real murderer, and an unbelievable ending at the state convention.

Jesse White as a police detective.
The cast consists of Warner Bros. contract players, including TV stars Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. (77 Sunset Strip) as Judge Hoffman and Jack Kelly (Maverick) as Callahan. They turn in acceptable performances, though they're overshadowed by seasoned pros like Don Ameche (as Senator Simon) and Angie Dickinson (his wife). Jesse White also shines as a police detective that works closely with the district attorney. White later gained fame in TV commercials as the Maytag repairman.

Incidentally, the title is a reference to the passion felt by those who seek the power and influence of a major political office.

Here's a clip from A Fever in the Blood. You can view it full-screen on the Classic Film & TV Cafe's YouTube Channel. You can also stream the entire movie at warnerarchive.com.

2 comments:

  1. Since nobody else mentioned it ...

    This was the feature film debut of Carroll O'Connor, playing a powerful newspaper publisher in the State, with considerable clout in the Party.
    For much of the previous decade, O'Connor had been working on TV, live and filmed, in New York and Hollywood.
    When he made A Fever In The Blood, O'Connor was thirty-seven years old, but his character was supposed to be 15-20 years older. It was a smallish part, but O'Connor made an impression - at least that's what I thought when I watched Fever this morning in order to write this.

    Interesting side note:

    Years afterward, when Carroll O'Connor produced and wrote his version of The Last Hurrah for TV, he engaged Vincent Sherman, who directed him in this movie, to perform that task in the new TV-movie.

    Funny follow-up:
    When the TV Last Hurrah aired, one of the better-known "critics" panned it, singling out Vincent Sherman as one of those new-fangled TV directors who go from camera 1 to camera 2 and back. (That isn't a direct quote, which is why I italicized it.)
    This "critic", who had won major awards for his TV columns, was unaware that Vincent Sherman had directed features for Warners, going back to the '30s, and that the new Last Hurrah was shot as a movie, with one camera.
    And that's why I never trust TV critics ...

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  2. Nothing beats a well-done political drama and, despite the last half hour, this one sounds worth it. Thanks for the tip re: Warner streaming.

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