Sunday, February 1, 2009

Americans, USA

Five months back, I made brief mention of the movie The Last Angry Man, which is unfortunately not available on DVD. It's showing overnight tonight, at 2:30 AM ET on TCM.

Paul Muni stars as Dr. Sam Abelman, an elderly doctor living with his wife and nephew who has spent his entire life working in the tenement slums of his New York City neighborhood. His nephew is a budding journalist, and when nephew Myron sees his uncle minister to a woman who showed up on their doorstep late one night (that's an uncredited Cicely Tyson), having been attacked, he writes a column about her.

This column comes to the attention of TV producer Woodrow Wilson Thrasher (David Wayne), whose career has reached a crossroads. Either find a success, or lose his job. Thrasher, on reading the story, gets visions of instant TV success. The good doctor would be the perfect subject for a new reality show, "Americans, USA", dealing with the lives of real people. Thrasher plans to do an entire live broadcast about Dr. Abelman.

Unfortunately, there are several catches. The good doctor isn't so certain he wants to do the broadcast. Also, the network executives aren't so comfortable with the idea, either. It seems the doctor has some unorthodox ideas about medicine, specifically the pills put out by America's pharmaceutical companies, the sorts of people who are sponsoring shows like "Americans, USA". Would they really want to see the doctor speaking negatively about their products? Worse from a TV production standpoint is that Dr. Abelman is liable to drop everything to make a house call on a sick patient. One can only imagine the nightmares that would cause in the days of live TV, especially the TV of the 1950s, when live remote broadcasts were a much bigger logistical challenge than they are today.

Paul Muni, in his final movie role, put in a superb performance, and was nominated for an Oscar. (He lost to Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur.) The rest of the cast is OK but not great. They don't need to be, however, as the focus is squarely on Muni. One character to watch out for is a young black thug who Dr. Abelman thinks has a brain tumor that's causing him to act the way he does. That's a young Billy Dee Williams.

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