The War Room

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Forbidden Area strikes me as a comically weak title — a big build-up and a puny conclusion — and there are plenty of other flaws in this live TV play, but there’s a whole lot to admire also. Directed by John Frankenheimer and adapted by Rod Serling, it plays like a rehearsal for the same team’s SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, but as a reds-under-the-beds nuclear drama it dishes more cold-war paranoia than you’d expect from this pair of liberals. If you removed the McCarthy-bashing subplot from THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and displaced the balance, you’d have a sense of what to expect. I imagine from Serling’s POV the “what if?” angle and the atomic anxiety outweighed the re-bashing, but since the plotline is quite unlikely and hinges on sinister commie infiltration, all skews wingnut.

Amazing/mismatched cast — Chuckles Heston and Diana Lynn are leads, with Charles Bickford, Vincent Price, Victor Jory and Jackie Coogan as supporting yanks, and Tab Hunter as the Russkie saboteur planning to disable America’s nuclear defenses with an intrinsically silly scheme. Hunter gets the benefit of most of Frankenheimer’s wide-angle distorted closeups, and his face fits this approach rather well, transforming into a kind of Aryan Easter Island monument.

Frankenheimer’s blocking thrills me anew — based on this and RONIN he may be the all-time champ at staging dry exposition in an exciting way.

A taut, packed, snazzy frame —

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We follow one character, breaking up that frame, as he bananas off screen left then right —

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This brings us back to a new variation on the original composition, with a different character playing the important role of Big Foreground Shoulder.

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I definitely want to steal this in whatever thing I direct next.

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4 Responses to “The War Room”

  1. Love these live shows there’s always a bit more tension in the air between the actors when there’s no retakes. The voiceover is a hold out from radio dramas. And Jack Palance introducing the show in a tux; hey, Jack, the camera is over here.
    I remember that men always wore tuxes on TV back then. The sets for the game shows would be worst than for a high school play, but the men were in tuxedos and the women in evening gowns, with gloves and jewelry.
    Could Heston and his eye patch be the inspiration for the look of Marvel’s Nick Fury agent of SHIELD ?
    What a great cast. Victor Jory is always a joy to watch.

  2. Heston is VERY Nick Fury, isn’t he?

    The friend who recommended this described it as starring “Judah Ben-Hur and Emmy Kockenlocker, screen couple of 1956.”

  3. kevin mummery Says:

    Heston looks more like the Hathaway Shirt model than Nick Fury.

  4. Ha! I never saw this entity before.

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