Thursday, November 2, 2017

A Covenant With Death

George Maharais as the judge.
George Maharis's brief flirtation with movie stardom included one crackerjack suspense film, The Satan Bug (1965), plus several questionable career choices. Made in 1967, A Covenant With Death falls in the latter category with Maharis playing an inexperienced half-Mexican judge in a small Southwestern town.

Maharis with detective Gene Hackman.
The implication is that Benjamin Morales (Maharis) was appointed to his judicial position by the governor as a favor to Ben's deceased father. He appears to be doing well enough with his job until a more senior judge (Arthur O'Connell) heads off on a fishing vacation following the end of a murder trial. When the governor rejects the accused man's (Earl Holliman) appeal, Ben has to sign the execution order for death by hanging. However, the execution goes horribly wrong and the hangman is accidentally killed. Making matters even more complex, evidence comes to light that may free the convicted killer of his original crime.

Had it honed in on the legal intricacies of its plot or explored ethic prejudice, A Covenant With Death might have been a sharp, little courtroom drama. Alas, the film goes astray with too many subplots surrounding Ben and the three women in his life. His strongest relationship is with his mother (the always reliable Katy Jurado), with whom he bickers with constantly, sometimes playfully and sometimes not. She knows what's best for her son and it's not the pretty blonde that visits from the big city.

Laura Devon as one love interest.
That blonde would be Rosemary (Laura Devon), who certainly shares a passionate, physical relationship with Ben. However, it's also an uneasy one since his dark moods set her on edge. She also describes him--accurately--as "a selfish, cruel little boy." Hence, it's hard to understand why Ben's sweet, innocent distant cousin Rafaela (Wende Wagner) is attracted to him. But it's a mutual attraction and takes up a surprising amount of Ben's time considering the legal challenges he's facing.

George Maharis was a better actor than people gave him credit for. As evidence, I offer the first two excellent seasons of Route 66 and the show's gradual decline when he left it. In A Covenant With Death, though, Maharis seems content to rely on his natural charm. He's never believable as a young judge with a bright legal mind. It doesn't help that his character is incredibly self-centered and borderline chauvinistic. His character might have been at home in a darker film, but A Covenant With Death is ultimately a conventional film with a sloppy happy ending.

Wende Wagner as another love.
The supporting cast features Gene Hackman just before his performance in Bonnie and Clyde put him on the map to stardom. As for the ladies, Laura Devon appeared mostly in television, notably in The Richard Boone Show and Dr. Kildare. She was married to Brian Kelly (Flipper) and later composer Maurice Jarre. Wende Wagner has a Richard Boone connection, too, having starred with him in the Western Rio Conchos (1964). She was discovered by Billy Wilder and later was a regular on The Green Hornet as Britt Reid's secretary Lenore "Casey" Case.

Here's a clip from A Covenant With Death. 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. Wende Wagner: Shades of The Green Hornet!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Your ideas to improve the movie sound excellent. Sometimes you can have the right ingredients, but the measurements are wrong.

    ReplyDelete