Saturday, September 24, 2016

Shadow over Elveron (1968)

Despite his battle with lung cancer, Franchot continued to work in 1968. His final performances are in the made-for-television movie Shadow over Elveron and the feature film Nobody Runs Forever. Although he looks older than his years and physically weak (in SOE, he uses a cane and in NRF, he is in a hospital bed), Franchot's performances are still stirring. I wrote about Nobody Runs Forever before. You can read that post here.

In remembrance of the anniversary of his death on September 18, 1968, I wanted to watch a performance of Franchot's that I'd never seen. Happily, I can say that I've managed to view all but 1 of Franchot's films (his first, The Wiser Sex.) Sadly, it is harder to find his television work, so I'm running out of new Franchot viewing experiences. Shadow over Elveron is an engaging movie with great performances all around, but knowing that it was Franchot's last television performance made it an emotional watch for me.
 Dr. Matthew Tregaskis (James Franciscus) moves to the small town of Elveron to be close to his new wife's father and family home. His father-in-law Justin Pettit (a seemingly ageless and handsome Don Ameche) has bought the son-in-law he's never met a medical practice and furnished home. Dr. Tregaskis and his wife Joanne (Shirley Knight) meet young teen Tino (Vic Dana) who helps them unpack equipment in the doctor's office. When Tino is arrested for the murder of a retired doctor, Dr. Tregaskis knows a mistake has been made and feels compelled to defend the boy. When he realizes that Tino is being abused in his cell, Dr. Tregaskis enlists the help of lawyer Barney Conners (Franchot Tone) in his pursuit of justice. By the time they've reached the courthouse, Tino has been hanged (either by his own hand to stop the abuse or murdered by abuser.) The menacing Sheriff Drover (Leslie Nielsen) and Dr. Tregaskis seem startled by the hanging, but it is Franchot's Barney Conners who is the most unsettled by it. Conners screams in panic, "Cut him down! Cut him down!"

Shadow over Elveron
James Franciscus and Franchot Tone

Shadow over Elveron
Leslie Nielsen
Once they are away from the sheriff, Conners and Tregaskis discuss how they will uncover the town's corruption. Franchot gives a very moving speech. He is frustrated with the injustice in the town and furious that an innocent boy is dead. This is a random and rambling observation, but I've noticed that Franchot holds his mouth differently in his performances of the mid-late 1960s. I think this is due to false teeth. If you watch Tone in the 1962 Ben Casey episode, "A Memory of Candy Stripes," you'll notice that his natural teeth look damaged. In years following that performance, Franchot's teeth are all white, smooth, and straight. Anyway, my point is that in this close-up speech (and others like it from this time), you may notice that his mouth seems to move a little differently than it once did.
Shadow over Elveron

Shadow over Elveron
Barney uncovers a bombshell about Sheriff Drover and plans to meet the new doctor to hatch a plan. But Sheriff Drover gets to Barney first and reveals a secret that strips Barney of all his self-confidence and brings him down to his knees.

The screen captures below occur when Barney is excitedly building his case and I see so much of young 1930's Franchot in these expressions.
Shadow over Elveron
Shadow over Elveron

In addition to Don Ameche, Shadow over Elveron includes performances from more of Franchot's contemporaries. Veteran actors Stuart Erwin and James Dunn are both townsmen who are intimidated by Sheriff Drover. It's interesting to watch Leslie Nielsen in the part of the villain, but his performance is so good that it's almost too real to watch. He's completely believable as the powerful, corrupt sheriff and it's hard to see him cut down the sweet, hardworking townspeople.
Although his screen time is brief,  it is good to see Franchot in two entertaining, quality films in 1968. I have so much respect for the fact that he continued to do what he loved right up until the end of his life. I was delighted to find the full-length Shadow over Elveron on Youtube. If you'd like to see Franchot's scene in Nobody Runs Forever, I uploaded that clip some time ago and it can be viewed here.

No comments:

Post a Comment