Sunday, January 17, 2010

Concealed Enemies

Several years ago, my brother met a guy who had done some work for American Playhouse in the 1980s. It turned out that Jeff Bleckner had directed "Concealed Enemies," Hugh Whitemore's take on Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers. He very nicely gave my brother four videocassettes of the miniseries, which my brother gave to me for my birthday that year. I should say that though I was interested in Hiss (before he died, I used to see him on the street around Gramercy Park, and I used to work with some who was friends with his son Tony, a wonderful writer himself), I also was good friends with the actor who played Hiss, Ed Herrmann. Because I was constantly in rehearsal when it aired, I never was able to watch all of "Concealed Enemies" on TV. After Googling, it doesn't seem to be on DVD yet either.
So last night, my boyfriend and I watched all four hours of the series. My initial thought was "oh, TV drama really does not age well"- try watching an old Columbo episode. It's excruciating how slowly the creaky plots move. But it picks up after the first 30 minutes, and really starts going.
It was made in 1983, and it is extraordinary to me how young the younger actors look; not only Herrmann, but Gerry Bamman (as an anti-Communist priest) Remak Ramsay (as a psychiatrist), Charles Kimbrough, Holland Taylor, Peter Gerety, Peter Reigert (as Richard M. Nixon), Dick Jenkins, Maria Tucci (as Priscilla Hiss) and Michael Tucker. Others, like John McMartin seem to be trapped in amber, like they've always looked that way. The casting is extraordinarily good, even down to the under-fives (Anne Pitoniak has maybe 3 lines as Chambers' mother). I had forgotten, in particular, how wonderful the late John Harkins was as Chambers, so much so that when I think of Chambers it's Harkins' face that I see. Once I decided to be a writer, I fantasized that one day I'd write for American Playhouse, too. It never occurred to me that it wouldn't stick around. Perhaps PBS could do worse than to bring a DVD collection out, because I don't know many people with VCRs anymore. There's no link or graphic here because I couldn't find any on the web. Only photos of the real people came up, and that doesn't seem right.

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