Betsy Palmer

Sentence of Death (1953, Matt Harlib)

Sentence of Death unfolds gradually. The action mostly follows Betsy Palmer, playing a naughty blue blood who the tabloids love to cover. She’s slumming it and having a nice private dinner at a drug store. She’s there when someone holds it up and kills the owner.

Enter cops Gene Lyons and Ralph Dunn. Lyons is the younger, more sensitive one. Dunn is the older, lazy one. They round up suspects based on previous behavior and new widow Virginia Vincent identifies James Dean as the murderer. Palmer does not, but also doesn’t say it isn’t him for sure.

Dunn railroads Dean with Lyons nodding along, albeit hesitantly.

Jump ahead until after Dean’s convicted and on death row (hence the title) and Palmer happens to see the man she saw that night. She tries to convince the cops without much success and has to threaten to use her tabloid platform if they don’t investigate. Eventually she convinces Lyons to look into the matter.

When Sentence opens, Palmer’s just annoying. Adrian Spies’s teleplay goes out of its way to make her unlikable. Same goes for Dunn. Dean gets some great material–or just does great things with it–as he realizes he’s in a lot of trouble. For most of that time, before the story jumps ahead, Lyons is just along for the ride. He perturbed banters with Palmer, not much else.

Once they partner to investigate, however, Lyons gets a lot better. Dunn’s failures as a responsible cop wear Lyons down. He also can’t help finding himself interested in Palmer, who proves to have a bit more depth than anyone thought she did.

Palmer’s good once the action gets started. Dean’s only got a couple scenes, he’s excellent in both. Lyons gets good too, though more than anyone else in Sentence he gets too stagy, too exaggerated. Director Harlib doesn’t do much to rein in performances.

Sentence of Death has a surprising twist at the end, some excellent character development, and some nice performances. The wrap up is a little rushed. Not too much, but a little.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Matt Harlib; teleplay by Adrian Spies, based on a story by Thomas Walsh; “Studio One” created by Fletcher Markle; produced by John Haggott; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Gene Lyons (Sgt. Paul Cochran), Betsy Palmer (Ellen Morrison), Ralph Dunn (Sgt. MacReynolds), James Dean (Joe Palica), Virginia Vincent (Mrs. Sawyer), Tony Bickley (Tommy Elliott), Fred J. Scollay (Harry Sawyer), Henry Sharp (Eugene Krantz), Eda Heinemann (Sylvia Krantz), Charles Mendick (District Attorney Lugash), and Frank Biro (The Man).


Friday the 13th (1980, Sean S. Cunningham), the uncut version

There’s nothing wonderfully terrible about Friday the 13th. It’s not like any of the cast are bad in funny ways, not even Betsy Palmer who’s doing inept histrionics. Are any of the cast members good? Not really. Some are better than others. Kevin Bacon’s probably the most useless (and annoying, due to an affected Southern accent) and Jeannine Taylor is okay, which is strange since most of their scenes are opposite each other.

Inept is a good word to describe the film in general. Director Cunningham rips off a style or a device from another film and then changes it just enough to make it not work. Without Harry Manfredini’s omnipresent score, there wouldn’t be any tension in the film. Cunningham can’t direct for it and writer Victor Miller can’t plot for it. Friday the 13th is obvious at every moment; there’s no inventiveness.

Well, except for the special effects, which are a little too slick for the film. Cunningham tries to make an exploitation picture, but does it with a little too much budget and not enough understanding of how to actually be affecting while terrorizing your audience. He and Miller try for “scary” things because it distracts from their inability to form a connect with the viewer. Friday the 13th doesn’t use any of the viewer’s brain cells, unless he or she is counting shockingly obvious moments for later review.

The single surprise–the ending scare is really well-executed (thanks to Manfredini’s cheap, obvious and effective music).

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Sean S. Cunningham; screenplay by Victor Miller, based on a story by Cunningham and Miller; director of photography, Barry Abrams; edited by Bill Freda; music by Harry Manfredini; production designer, Virginia Field; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Betsy Palmer (Mrs. Pamela Voorhees), Ronn Carroll (Sgt. Tierney), Adrienne King (Alice Hardy), Harry Crosby (Bill), Peter Brouwer (Steve Christy), Laurie Bartram (Brenda), Jeannine Taylor (Marcie Cunningham), Kevin Bacon (Jack Burrel), Mark Nelson (Ned Rubinstein), Robbi Morgan (Annie), with Rex Everhart (Enos, the Truck Driver) and Walt Gorney (Crazy Ralph).


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