Reviews by Roi Frumkes & Roy Frumkes
WARNING SHOT was the first review I wrote for ‘Films in Review,’ back in 1967, one year out of college and pretentious enough to use the French spelling of my first name. At some point during the next few years, I mercifully dropped it. Below are my two reviews, 55 years apart. The first was a 35mm screening; the second, a Blu-ray release.
WARNING SHOT is a good example of how relatively new uses of light, color and camera
angles, and a relatively large expenditure of money for good actors in small roles, can put
enough gloss on an old-fashioned B-programmer to enable it to sell tickets at todays inflated prices.
David Janssen plays a cop who, on his own time, has to prove the man he killed in self-
defense deserved it. Ed Begley is his superior who stands, not always too firmly, by him; Keenan Wynn is his buddy who first believes and then doubts; Eleanor Parker is the lascivious widow who drowns her non-existent grief in martinis without disturbing an artificial eyelash; and Lillian Gish is the dog-owning recluse who is necessary to the plot – and for comic relief. Sam Wanamaker, Stefanie Powers, George Grizzard, George Sanders, Steve Allen, Joan Collins and Walter Pidgeon are also in the cast.
WARNING SHOT comes close to being more than competent, though it is certainly far
from being creative. The art direction (Roland Anderson) in WARNING SHOT is much more interesting than Buzz Kulik’s direction of the film itself. The editing of Archie Marshek is noticeably inept.
Kino Lorber has released WARNING SHOT in luminous Blu-ray, pumping up the narrative
value while somehow reinforcing the fact that the film was destined for TV release but ended up in theaters due to the violence inherent to the plot. Despite the pristine nature of the transfer, it nonetheless has the made-for-TV stigma to get past. Martin Sheen told a friend of mine that the difference between acting for movies and acting for made-for-TV films is that
with TV, following a take, if the sound recordist says he got it, that’s the last take, even if the actor and/or the director think they can do better. Today, considering TV’s countless options, the difference between the two formats is near indistinguishable. So WARNING SHOT could be considered a relic of a bygone television format.
The plot is simple and fun. Detective Janssen shoots a man who draws on him at night
in the fog, killing him, but within a matter of minutes there’s no gun to be found, and he spends the remainder of the film trying to figure out why. He has ten days before he goes to trial, so there’s a solid ‘ticking clock’ screenplay device at work, and as the days run out, the suspense amps up.
I can’t think of an actor who projected a lower key persona than Janssen. Gary Cooper
comes to mind, but if the two were to be compared side-by-side Janssen would win hands down. When he yells at the 49 minute mark it’s his first show of any sort of external passion.
Still, his emotionless demeanor doesn’t prevent us from growing progressively more concerned about his dilemma until, by the 3 rd act, we’re downright worried for him. Of the roster of guest appearances, a few are slightly more substantial than others.
Lillian Gish is remarkably pretty for someone who appeared as far back as 1915’s BIRTH OF A NATION, and she is given some decent character development. [She died in 1993, aged 99.] Steve Allen pulls off a brash TV commentator with aplomb – and why shouldn’t he? He’s doing himself, only as a prick instead of a nice guy. And it’s always fun to bask in George Sanders’ effortless delivery, even if it’s only for two minutes. Some of these had to be one-day gigs, and the sense of fun at seeing them is obviously far more nostalgic than it was in ’67. The only cameo misfire is Eleanor Parker’s boozed-up widow of the victim who comes on to the detective only to be rebuffed. It’s not a critique of Parker; the scene just doesn’t play right.
Director Buzz Kulik was willing to deal with journeyman shooting schedules. Occasionally he rose above budgetary constrictions, and he did as well with this kind of stuff he did with episodic TV such as HAVE GUN WITH TRAVEL, GUNSMOKE, and THE TWILIGHT ZONE, as well as Playhouse 90s and a cult made-for-TV feature, BAD RONALD.
There is a commentary track featuring historians Steve Mitchell and Howard Berger, and while the tone is too laudatory, it is otherwise enjoyably informative. Describing the film as having ‘pulp integrity’ is a reasonable compliment. Calling it ‘Noir’ is going too far. Similarly, drawing a connection to ‘Giallo’ is a stretch. They also compare the narrative and form to Will Eisner’s graphic novel output. I knew Eisner fairly well. We did classes together at The School of Visual Arts. I don’t know that he would consider the comparison a compliment.