Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


OUTRAGEOUS CONDUCT: ART, EGO AND THE TWILIGHT ZONE CASE. Stephen Farber and Marc Green. Arbor House/Morrow; 1988.

Hard to believe that it's been over thirty years since the awful tragedy on the set of Twilight Zone -- The Movie and since director John Landis decided to circumvent child labor laws and bring two children, Renee Chen and Myca Le [along with actor Vic Morrow, who was desperate for a mid-life career break], onto a set late at night in close proximity to a low-flying helicopter and explosives, with the result that all three died horrible deaths. Landis and his cohorts [five men were put on trial while others who were clearly culpable in some way, such as producer Frank Marshall, managed to escape prosecution] were never charged with breaking the child labor laws, supposedly because the sentence would have been only a few days in jail -- but surely the fact that the children died would have made a big difference? In any case, there were severe prosecutorial blunders [the first prosecutor was let go, and he and his replacement seemed to have a private war going on], and the members of the jury, while not necessarily thinking Landis and the others were "innocent," felt the prosecution didn't prove its case. [However, prosecutor Lea D'Agostino and others seemed to think the jury consisted of twelve of the dumbest people on the planet.] Outrageous Conduct looks at all sides of the issue, assessing guilt and innocence [the title pretty much sums up the books' point-of-view], bolstered with interviews from many involved in the case, as well as court transcripts. The large cast of characters includes several self-important defense lawyers, as well as has-been Ralph Bellamy, who publicly and foolishly supported Landis because he gave the actor a job in Trading Places. The book looks at the varying opinions of directors of note in regards to Landis' actions and behavior. Any way you look at it, these three deaths should not have happened. While Landis basically got away with "outrageous conduct," it's also a fact that his career since the tragedy has been low-profile, mostly TV work, and his later films were not well-received; by major Hollywood standards he himself is a has-been. How much this has to do with Twilight Zone is debatable, as Landis was never really a major talent. Outrageous Conduct also examines the general subject of safety on Hollywood movie sets for added balance. Ultimately this is the story of two innocent children, all excited about being on a movie set, who were let down by so many of the adults they counted on, including associate producer George Folsey Jr. [one of the defendants] who told them and their parents that everything was "safe."

Verdict: A brilliant and sobering book that doesn't pull any punches. ****.

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