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ABC Stage 67: "Noon Wine"  /  "The Human Voice"

ABC Stage 67: "Noon Wine" (ABC, 11/23/66)
March 23, 2013 - 4:00 pm
Theodore Bikel; Dan Einstein, UCLA Film & Television Archive.

ABC Stage 67: "Noon Wine" (ABC, 11/23/66)

ABC Stage 67: "Noon Wine"

“'Noon Wine' is superb evidence that Peckinpah understood the values and requirements of a tragic action outside the conventions of the traditional Western.” -- author John L. Simons

Directed by Sam Peckinpah

Five years after the final broadcast of CBS’ Playhouse 90 symbolically signaled the end of the “golden age of television,” ABC-TV announced plans for an ambitious new anthology, Stage 67, with an eclectic single-season slate of twenty-six programs across genres. ABC’s experiment was helmed by television impresario, Hubbell Robinson, best known as one of the original architects of Playhouse 90. In advance press for Stage 67, Robinson explicated his blueprint for the endeavor, stating, “[the series] represents a totally conscious and thought-out effort to organize a creative environment that will permit entertainment’s major talents to work for genuine excellence in television.”  As evidenced by the critically-acclaimed productions, The Human Voice, starring Ingrid Bergman and Noon Wine, directed by Sam Peckinpah, Robinson’s noble goals for the ultimately short-lived Stage 67 were most certainly obtained, even though sustainable TV ratings were not. Underappreciated by the mass audience when originally broadcast, these obscure television productions are ripe for rediscovery today and stand as remarkably sophisticated beacons of quality in the outposts of the so-called “vast wasteland.”

Pioneering filmmaker Sam Peckinpah began his legendary career in television, honing his distinctive talents by working in various capacities on a number of series, including writing and/or directing episodes of the western classics Gunsmoke, The Rifleman, Zane Grey Theater, and the short-lived cult-favorite that he also created, The Westerner. Peckinpah’s string of creative successes in TV led to feature film assignments, with his second motion picture, the revisionist western Ride the High Country (1962) enjoying significant critical notice, including receiving the Grand Prix Award at the Belgium International Film Festival (selected in competition over Fellini’s 8½). However, by the end of production of his third film Major Dundee (1965), Peckinpah’s perfectionism, on-set temperament, and vocal distaste for studio intervention became nearly career-ending impediments. Abruptly fired only a few days into the shooting of The Cincinnati Kid (1965), (to be helmed instead by Norman Jewison), Peckinpah was labeled as “too difficult” by Hollywood and found himself essentially blacklisted over the next few years.

Despite warnings from numerous industry quarters, producer Daniel Melnick (of David Susskind’s esteemed Talent Associates production company) took a leap of faith and tapped the embattled Peckinpah for a return to television to adapt and direct Katherine Anne Porter’s celebrated novella Noon Wine for ABC’s Stage 67 anthology series. Set in turn-of-the-century Texas, Porter’s character-driven tale concerning a strange itinerant farmhand and the violent, tragic transformation of a struggling rural family proved perfectly suited to Peckinpah’s deft hand with morally-complex material. Starring acclaimed actors Jason Robards and Olivia de Havilland (in her television debut), the darkly poetic Noon Wine was an unqualified artistic and critical success on the small screen. Peckinpah’s exemplary work on the TV production garnered both Writer’s Guild and Director’s Guild Award nominations, helping to restore his reputation within the motion picture industry. His next feature film assignment would be the landmark western, The Wild Bunch (1969).

Mark Quigley

A Talent Associates Production. Producer: Daniel Melnick. Writer: Sam Peckinpah. Based on the short novel by Katherine Ann Porter. With: Jason Robards, Olivia de Havilland, Theodore Bikel, Per Oscarsson.

Digital Betacam, color. 90 min.

Preserved from the original 2” master. Video transfer at Research Video. Courtesy of Parmandisam, LLC.

ABC Stage 67: "The Human Voice" (ABC, 5/4/67)

ABC Stage 67: "The Human Voice"

“Miss Bergman’s delicate playing was a tour de force, a brilliant portrait of the woman whose life is wrenched out of joint by the fates of the heart.” -- New York Times

Directed by Ted Kotcheff

Ingrid Bergman gives a tour-de-force performance as a middle-aged woman going through an emotional and psychological breakdown at the end of a doomed love affair in Jean Cocteau’s pioneering one-character play, presented as the final installment of the ABC Stage 67 series. The drama unfolds as an extended monologue – a one-sided telephone conversation between the unnamed woman and her invisible, inaudible, soon-to-be former lover. The phone becomes her final link to the man and she employs it in a desperate attempt to hold onto him, despite a bad connection, the knowledge that he is leaving her to marry a younger woman, and her growing certainty that he is in fact, speaking to her from his fiancée’s home. Written in 1930 and first staged at the Comédie-Française in Paris, “The Human Voice” (“La Voix Humaine”) was subsequently filmed in Italy by Bergman’s lover/husband-to-be Roberto Rossellini as a segment of the 1948 anthology film, L’Amore starring Anna Magnani; and an operatic version with libretto by Cocteau was composed by Francis Poulenc in 1958. Bergman, who had recorded an LP record album of “The Human Voice” in 1960, makes a rare television appearance in this program, only her fourth dramatic television role to date (she had previously starred in a 1959 Ford Startime version of Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw,” for which she received an Emmy Award; 24 Hours in a Woman’s Life, a 1961 CBS special based on a story by Stefan Zweig, whose executive producer was “The Human Voice” producer Lars Schmidt; and Hedda Gabler in 1963). Broadcast directly opposite Arthur Miller’s The Crucible on CBS, the ABC State 67 presentation of “The Human Voice” reflects a frustrating pre-TiVo television scenario, and recalls then-ABC president Thomas Moore’s suggestion that the networks establish a clearinghouse in order that notable specials such as these not be scheduled to compete with each other.

Dan Einstein

A Talent Associates Rediffusion Televison Production. Producers: David Susskind, Lars Schmidt. Writer: Jean Cocteau. Adapted for television by Clive Exton. Translated from the French by Carl Wildman. With: Ingrid Bergman.

Digital Betacam, color, 55 min. 

Preserved from the original 2” master. Video transfer at KTLA. Engineering services by Don Kent. Courtesy of Parmandisam, LLC.