It’s no secret one of my all-time favorite performers, on the small and large screen, is James Garner. And I’ve thought of him as of late. I firmly believe he’s been one of the most underrated, though well-known, TV and film actors. Like many my age, my first introduction to the man came as a kid via his starring role in the Maverick TV series.
As I see it, Garner has been such a versatile performer over the decades that he’s been taken for granted in many of his roles. And unfortunately, forgotten somewhat for his earlier work. His acting chops allowed him to appear in all sorts of westerns, dramas, and war films. To say nothing of private detective TV/movies and comedies he has been in. You name it, he’s done it.
Just about all of his work has been so consistently top-notch — even if the some of the movies were not. He played the only character I know of who figured a way to dispose of Bruce Lee in a film. His performances in whatever TV show or movie always seems to be accomplished with such relaxed ease, too. Though, it’s well-known that the Oklahoma born actor has been one of the hardest working people in Tinsel Town since his arrival.
If I catch one of his films on cable, I’ll stop whatever I’m doing and watch. It’s so easy to do. A repeat of an old Rockford Files episode that shows up on syndicated TV, will have me fixed. I’ve got to see which one it is and squeeze some time with the vaunted character he crafted. I’ll go on record to say it was the height of arrogance by a studio to think Dermot Mulroney could fill Garner’s shoes in a new Rockford Files series.
Don’t even try, Hollywood.
I’ve seen just about everything the man has done. Usually more than once. From his Wyatt Earp, his later Murphy — a character whom I find I relate to more and more — to his supporting role in The Notebook and everything in-between, has brought nothing but utter enjoyment of his work. His 2011 memoir, co-written by the actor and Jon Winokur, only brought more appreciation of Mr. Garner by this admirer.
Plus, with this being a Friday, I thought another forgotten piece was warranted.
For this I chose a James Garner film I’ve only seen but once, on television somewhere during in the 70s. Yet, I still recall it with some affection. It was the 1966 comedy caper film, A Man Could Get Killed. As adaptable as Garner was in different genres, his light-hearted takes with romantic-comedy, and tales like this one, were tailor-made for him. He had a special talent for this, and few others could handle them nearly as well, or with his style. George Clooney may well have a similar strength, and compares well with the James Garner of that time, I think.
A Man Could Get Killed was no exception. In addition, when he worked with someone as strong and alluring as the Greek actress (and singer and later politician), Melina Mercouri, well…it was the type of screen pairing that just sizzled. Released in the spring of that year, the film was directed by Ronald Neame and Cliff Owen, and written by David E. Walker from his novel Diamonds For Danger. Its synopsis had Garner portraying one William Beddoes. An American arriving in Lisbon to investigate financial interests for his American bank.
Mistaken by a British embassy official for an agent on a secret mission, he’s suspected of being linked to a fortune in missing industrial diamonds. Naturally, despite his best efforts to prove otherwise, total ignorance regarding the gems not an excuse, James Garner’s character is wrongly, and hotly (in a good way) pursued.
That he interacts with Aurora Celeste (Ms. Mercouri, who along with mythology, led to my love of Greece), the intriguing lover of the murdered man he supposedly replaced, a bogus Portuguese and supposedly amateur smuggler (Tony Franciosa), himself pursued by Amy Franklin (Sandra Dee), was where the fun lies.
I know, it does sound a bit convoluted. James Garner thought the film one of his lesser efforts. For sure, it’s not in the same class as Move Over, Darling and The Thrill of it All, both out in 1963. Yet, the actor’s charm overcame a lot the film’s downsides. Even a lesser Garner film can be head and shoulders above others’ better known works. The actor-producer wrote of it:
“Disappointing, though I did have fun playing backgammon on the set with Melina and her husband, Jules Dassin.”
And Garner did have a run-in with one of his co-stars (read his memoir to discover why I admire him more as a person for how he dealt with the actor failing to pull his punches with the stunt men working the film). The other reason I choose to highlight this forgotten film was one unfortunate fact. There isn’t a worthy studio-released DVD of it in circulation.
Oh, there are collector sites that offer it, but the quality of what their MOD print is unknown, at best. Hell, it might be better to catch it on TCM, if you’re lucky. Or, watch it on YouTube. This film deserves better treatment, and I hope one day that a decent disc comes to market. It’s an underappreciated romantic thriller well worth that effort. Especially for the Garner and Mercouri pairing. One that merits watching, if it makes it to a cable channel near you.
I should also note this film had a more than solid, contemporary score by the German orchestral leader/composer Bert Kaempfert. One of the tracks written specifically for the movie became its instrumental theme song. I mention it because the song became quite popular after A Man Could Get Killed was released.
Primarily due to the tune being later recorded as a vocal and performed by an Italian-American crooner of some note. I guess we’ll add a forgotten song element to this post, as well. Strangers in the Night was recorded by Frank Sinatra within a month of the feature hitting theaters. Not only topping Billboard’s Hot 100 and Easy Listening charts, but being the title track to the singer’s 1966 album.
Which by the way, won the Chairman of the Board Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and Record of the Year, and a Best Arrangement Accompanying a Vocalist or Instrumentalist for Ernie Freeman, at the ’67 Grammy Awards [per Wikipedia]. Not bad for song Sinatra despised, calling it at one time “…a piece of shit”, and “…the worst fucking song that I have ever heard.” What do you think?
Strangers in the night exchanging glances Wond'ring in the night what were the chances We'd be sharing love before the night was through Something in your eyes was so inviting Something in you smile was so exciting Something in my heart told me I must have you Strangers in the night Two lonely people, we were strangers in the night Up to the moment when we said our first hello little did we know Love was just a glance away, a warm embracing dance away and Ever since that night we've been together Lovers at first sight, in love forever It turned out so right for strangers in the night [instrumental-first three lines of chorus] Love was just a glance away, a warm embracing dance away Ever since that night we've been together Lovers at first sight, in love forever It turned out so right for strangers in the night [Dooby-doooby-doo and other scat to end]