Bullet For A Hero

FILMED January 1971

Because of the inferior quality of the film clips, I recommend viewing the small frame

APRIL FOOL! Oh I’ve already done that. I don’t think I should do it again. Although the opening credits said this post was going to be about a movie titled MURDER, MY FRIEND, I’m going to be talking about the episode BULLET FOR A HERO, which was combined in 1980 with the episode TRACKDOWN and released as a television movie titled MURDER, MY FRIEND. Since I don’t have a good copy of BULLET FOR A HERO, I will use a copy of the movie as the source for my film clips.

A couple of years before I had seen Robert Pine on a Lucy show and was very impressed. The comedy was farcical, but he was real and he was funny, and I believe if you can do that kind of comedy, you are truly a good actor. His casting as Lt. O’Connell in BULLET FOR A HERO was the first time I had a chance to work with him. Six years later he would become a regular on the series CHiPS, which ran for a half a dozen years. His productivity is still functioning; he is still working today. Oh yes, I almost forgot, his son is Chris Pine, the Captain Kirk of the latest incarnation of STAR TREK.

We filmed the scene in the banquet hall between August and O’Connell at a hotel in Hollywood that was no longer open. After we completed that sequence I had a scene in a bar to do, a scene that did not make it into the final cut of the film.

After giving the single set-up for the bar scene to the director of photography, I was seated in the lobby, bundled up in my heavy overcoat with my hands in the pockets, because it was a cold day in Hollywood, and the hotel was not heated. One of the stand-ins came to me and said, “Didn’t you give the cameraman a simple shot at the bar?” I replied I did.

He continued, “I think you’d better go check; he’s lighting the whole room.” I went. He was, and in a few moments he wasn’t!

Meg Foster had the most fascinating eyes. They were the lightest blue I had ever seen, almost to the point of being colorless. We had worked together the year before on a series that didn’t make it, THE INTERNS and would work together again in the future. She was a favorite of mine.

The location filming in Oxnard on my earlier assignments on DAN AUGUST had been accomplished in one day per show. BULLET FOR A HERO required three days, and so the company traveled to Oxnard on the morning of our second day of filming and returned to Los Angeles at the end of the fourth day. I was very happy to film in the Oxnard airport rather than the Burbank airport (which I had filmed several times), because its layout worked better for the sequence I had to shoot there.

I had seen Peter White’s performance of Alan in the film version of Mart Crowley”s BOYS IN THE BAND. Like Laurence Luckinbill, whom I had seen in that film and cast earlier, Peter was a fine actor and a fresh face for a QM production. Since Quinn had no objections to the extra expense of plane fare and per diem, I jumped at the chance to cast him in BULLET.

Mrs. Jackson, Jeremy’s mother, was played by one of my perennial standbys, Amzie Strickland. His father was played by True Boardman, who also doubled as a screenplay writer; he had written GIRL OF THE NIGHT, which I had directed on IRONSIDE

There was another sequence that was filmed but not included in the reconstructed movie.

The elimination of that sequence was unfortunate. I thought O’Connell’s association with Em made him another suspect in the murder of Lt. Wayne Jackson, and the scene prepared for the intense beginning of the following scene.

I must repeat something I wrote in a preceding post. One of the most astounding bits of advice given to me was what producer Tony Spinner said to me as I started prep on my first episode of DAN AUGUST: “You’ll have to watch Burt Reynolds. He’s going to try to insert bits of business into his role, trying to be charming, but the one thing the guy doesn’t have is charm.” Well as Amanda Wingfield said in THE GLASS MENAGERIE as the picture on the wall of her departed husband lit up, “The one thing he had plenty of was charm.”

Since Oxnard was a coastal city, we were able to film our boatyard scene there, thus saving the expense of creating a set on a soundstage.

Striving for a stark and powerful scene, I had an amputee photo double for the establishing shot as Krager (Lou Antonio) stepped in front of the casket, but the scene suffered from post-filming meddling. I was told that Adrian Samish objected strenuously to Krager’s beating the flag with his crutch. Of course he wasn’t beating the flag, he was attacking the body in the casket, the man responsible for his crippled condition. In the reediting after my director’s cut, the action was speeded up so that there was only one blow of the crutch, curtailing the fury of the amputee and the distress of Wayne’s screaming mother. I considered this a narrow-minded mutilation of the scene.

It had been seven and a half years since I had last worked with Lou Antonio. In 1963 he had appeared in two productions that are at the top of the list of films of which I am most proud: COLOR SCHEMES LIKE NEVER BEFORE on NAKED CITY and BULL ROARER on BREAKING POINT. Four years later Lou moved behind the camera and started directing, but he didn’t give up acting. For years he has performed in front of and behind the camera. Unfortunately DAN AUGUST was the last time we worked together

In spite of the fact that all but one of the shows I directed for DAN AUGUST had a scene in a cemetery, the cemetery scene in this show was the first time I filmed in a real one. For THE LAW we had improvised and created a cemetery on the lawns of a house in West Los Angeles. On DEAD WITNESS TO A KILLING, because of inclement weather, I made a last minute change and filmed the cemetery scene in a funeral home.

Have you noticed Burt’s right hand in a cast

Burt was an accomplished stunt man, and he did all of his own stunts, which in this series were very physical and numerous.

It was inevitable that he would be injured, but the irony was how that injury occurred. On the show preceding BULLET FOR A HERO Burt was involved in a dramatic scene. He played his role with the same intensity that he brought to his many fights and at one point pounded the table with his right fist. Unfortunately the table fought back, there were some broken bones, and Burt’s hand ended up in a cast.

Because of the cast on Burt’s hand, the final action sequence had to be rewritten. Here is the original script:

When scouting locations in Oxnard, I saw the Edison Electric Plant Towers. They became the solution.

Since we had filmed Peter White’s soundstage scenes the first day, Peter’s work in this episode was completed with this sequence, and we said our goodbyes.

At the end of the day when we completed our Oxnard location, we returned to Los Angeles, where I filmed for three more days to wrap the picture. I did not hear from Peter White for a year. I was directing some episodes of BANYON, a new Quinn Martin series, when a letter arrived from Peter with some shocking news. He told me that when he left Los Angeles, he did not go directly back to New York; he stopped for a couple of days in Las Vegas. His back was bothering him, but since most of his work had been in theatre and feature film and since BULLET FOR A HERO had been his first action television experience, he thought getting hurt was part of being on television, so he overlooked it. But when he got back to New York, and his back was still sore, he said that since he was a swimmer, he thought some exercise in the pool might give him some relief. He went to the pool at his gym, and when he dove into the pool, he felt something snap and his back locked. He had to be pulled out of the pool and taken to the emergency room at Roosevelt Hospital, where he discovered he had two fractured vertebrae. Months and pain-filled months followed with treatments for everything but surgery. He found relief from an acupuncturist in China Town in New York, and later from a chiropractor in Los Angeles.

I took the letter immediately to casting director John Conwell and told him we certainly owed Peter, and we booked him immediately for a role in my next episode of BANYON. When he returned to the coast he filled me in on what had happened that day on the tower. Burt had planned the action very carefully. Mats had been laid out on the floor of the wrought iron structure to catch their fall. They rehearsed it many times. When it came time to film, Peter said there was a gust of wind that caught them just as Burt grabbed him and blew them a bit further than had been planned, so that Peter landed a bit differently than they had rehearsed. That was when the injury occurred. He told me that since he did not know about filing an accident report, he had been responsible for all of his medical bills that went on for months and months. Had he filed the accident report, Quinn Martin’s insurance coverage would have paid the bills.

DAN AUGUST was cancelled at the end of the season. It too resides in that wasteland of one-season failures to get their renewal, awaiting some inspired entrepreneur intelligent enough to recognize that there just may be an audience for what was a series better than the fate it received.

The Journey Continues

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6 Responses to Bullet For A Hero

  1. sdbarkalow says:

    he shoulda had a chiropractor.

  2. Jeff Burr says:

    Ralph…just wanted to write and say that Meg Foster is one of my favorites too. It was great to see her in this episode. I always thought she was underused by Hollywood…I remember seeing her in the PBS SCARLET LETTER in the late seventies and she was brilliant. You mention her eyes, and I think they have held her back in casting, because they are so unusually striking. I have directed her in two films, and would love to work with her again too. It was also great to see Lou Antonio…seeing him at the casket was still a powerful moment in the episode, but your original cut would have been much more striking. And the fact that you are still mad about the cuts made means you always cared about what you did, which seperated you from a lot of the pack. And, it was good to see Jeff Morris, who I always liked from KELLY’S HEROES. And great thinking on your feet (a totally essential trait of a director) to revise the climax the way you did…very visual and a great substitution. BRAVO and keep up the great posts…I love reading them! Hope all is great with you.

  3. Peter White says:

    Ralph: Beautifully done. I remember it all so very well.
    The pain was all very much worth working with you, as we did for many years following. I also remember several months later Burt and Tina visiting me in New York and we
    relived the whole incident.
    Many thanks for bring the episode back to life one more time.
    Peter

  4. John Dayton says:

    Despite the supposed “lack of charm” syndrome, Burt has a great heart, years of being a beat-up stuntman (like Jim Garner) have taken their toll. Burt and I talked about the show, but I had never seen it, nor did I know you had directed, Ralph!!

    Wonderful to see Peter, and great to read his comment above – memories of visits at your home in WLA with Peter — thank you, Ralph.

  5. Phil says:

    ‘Dan August’ is still alive in Brazil. A few months ago, someone posted the opening minutes of your ep. “Days of Rage” (dubbed in Portuguese):
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVE_bPP4bkk

    ************

    Much has been written on your site regarding the shortcomings of this series. I saw two examples in ‘Bullet For a Hero’.

    In the 2nd video, Burt says, “George, Joe and I want to bring back Charlie from Dallas. We need some help on this thing.” Time out! You cannot have Burt Reynolds saying he needs Norman Fell’s help for anything! Isn’t it enough that he’s got Ned Romero to do the boring, routine detective work? Burt was the star of the show, but he was diluted by sharing so much time with Fell (who I can’t take seriously as a cop), Romero, and Richard Anderson. Meanwhile, this series badly needed the pretty face of Ena Hartmann as relief from the unrelenting grimness, but where was she? Aside from being Anderson’s secretary, what did she do?

    In the 11th video, Burt is given a rare opportunity to break out of his straightjacket…but, what was his reward? It’s Ned showing up and dropping this dreadful stink bomb: “You’re fooling around with dynamite any time you let your personal feelings interfere in a police case. Now I learned that from you.” Yukk! P.U.! You tell him, Ned…Burt is being paid a fortune to play a Jack Webb cop!

    The Santa Luisa city setting also unsettled me. All I keep thinking is, “how can a mythical town that’s doubling for Oxnard, CA (pop. 70,000) have so much violent crime?! The regular cast includes THREE homicide detectives. The residents of Oxnard who watched this series must have wondered WTH was going on in their town.

    **********

    Ralph, your ‘James at 16’ ep. is on Youtube. Regarding guest star Michele Tobin…WOW.

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