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Warning Shot

Warning Shot
1967 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic 16:9 / 99 min. / Street Date November 1, 2005 / 14.95
Starring David Janssen, Ed Begley, Keenan Wynn, Sam Wanamaker, Lillian Gish, Stefanie Powers, Eleanor Parker, George Grizzard, George Sanders, Steve Allen, Carroll O'Connor, Joan Collins, Walter Pidgeon
Cinematography Joseph F. Biroc
Art Direction Roland Anderson, Hal Pereira
Film Editor Archie Marshek
Original Music Jerry Goldsmith
Written by Mann Rubin from the novel 711--Officer Needs Help by Whit Masterson
Produced by Bob Banner, Buzz Kulik
Directed by Buzz Kulik

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

As a thriller, Warning Shot has some good atmosphere but is most interesting as a signpost to the future. David Janssen's weary Sgt. Valens is pictured as a victim of societal prejudice, and we identify strongly with his struggle to clear his name. Once we accept the picture's even dozen name stars in supporting roles, we're left with a pretty good detective story - better than TV grade and more interested in character details than big-screen action.


Sgt. Tom Valens (David Janssen) fatally wounds a man acting suspiciously at a Brentwood apartment house where a prower report has been called in. But nobody can find the gun that Valens claims the man aimed at him. When the victim is discovered to be a respected doctor, Valens is suspended and brought up on manslaughter charges by D.A. Frank Sanderman (Sam Wanamaker). Still insisting that Doctor Ruston had a gun, Valens investigates his background in hopes of breaking down his lily-white reputation.

In 1967 Warning Shot must have played as a cop-nightmare film.The innocent and noble protector of the people is in danger of being brought down by enemies he can't control - opportunistic prosecutors, a rabble-rousing television commentator and a host of rich people stone-walling Valens' efforts to get at the truth.

Beautifully shot in clear colors by Joe Biroc, Warning Shot looks far too good to be a television movie but is similarly structured. There are so many star names making one-scene appearances that we wonder if the whole project wasn't green-lit to take advantage of work days contractually owed by the likes of Joan Collins and George Sanders. What's special here is the focus on a downtrodden and glamour-challenged cop hero. Janssen's Valens isn't exactly living the good life -- his wife (Collins) is days away from a final divorce decree and he lacks the requisite nightclub singer as a girlfriend. His duty partner (Keenan Wynn) is not a personal friend, and hangs around eavesdropping at the office of Valens' superior (Ed Begley, reprising a role he's played at least since 1951's On Dangerous Ground). When Valens refuses to change his story about the gun, even Begley writes him off.

The other stops on the road to solving the case are also familiar. Bigshot TV demagogue Steve Allen cynically says he supports Valens only to provide his public something to yell about. Snooty investment broker George Sanders won't tell where the dead Dr. Ruston got his sudden influx of cash and instead chortles over Valens' predicament. The victim's champagne widow (Eleanor Parker, a true case of casting overkill) doesn't talk either, but makes a sloppy pass at him. And Ruston's nurse (Stefanie Powers) is at first frightened of Valens until she empathizes with his side of the story. Also making ten-word appearances are Carroll O'Connor and Walter Pidgeon.

Valens has more success closer to the scene of the crime. Ruston had been visiting an old lady, played with admirable vitality by Lillian Gish, and her testimony is Valens' biggest problem. But he's given considerable help from a womanizing airline pilot living in the same apartment building (George Grizzard of Advise and Consent).

Perhaps the best thing about Warning Shot is its setting. West L.A. in 1967 looks exactly as it did when Savant arrived four years later, and the swimming pool apartment setting is identical to the 'swinging singles' millieu that would soon become an official fixture of the area - Palms, West L.A., Santa Monica. The streets are clean, the lawns mowed and the apartments still new-looking, long before terminal traffic congestion set in. Director Buzz Kulik worked heavily in television and was making some interesting features just as Andrew Sarris was compiling his American Film overview book, and perhaps got more attention than he deserved. But this is a tightly-constructed movie.

Despite the formulaic nature of his investigation (the source book is by the author of Touch of Evil) Sgt. Valens is symptomatic of a vage disillusion left over from film noir, an unease that will soon be co-opted by the conservative fantasies of pictures like Dirty Harry.  1 Valens hasn't anywhere to turn. There aren't yet support groups for unloved policemen, only rogue elements eager to profit from his misfortune. Janssen's performance remains admirably subdued, allowing our sympathy to grow stronger. That angle is totally unlike a TV movie, and keeps the show afloat.

Curiously, now that every policeman's actions are considered suspect in some quarters, we worry about the film's conclusion. (spoiler) The actual mystery is tied up in a scheme very similar to the one shown in Arthur Penn's Night Moves eight years later. (bigger spoilers ahead) But any consideration of how Valens' final action will appear to investigators and the press shows us no way that Valens could escape more trouble, or even what his solving of the mystery will prove. Valens may be on a primarily existential quest to prove his own innocence to himself, but that's not the story Warning Shot tells -- he wants vindication pure and simple. We just hope someone else believes him as well.

Paramount's DVD of Warning Shot is totally plainwrap but the enhanced transfer is a beauty, with flawless bright color and a sharp image. Biroc pulls off many deep-focus shots at a time when the going style was exactly the opposite. Jerry Goldsmith contributes a nicely-judged, slightly jazzy score that should have been gotten more attention. The disc cover art doesn't name a single one of the supporting stars.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Warning Shot rates:
Movie: Very Good +
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: Novmber 7, 2005


1. Although Warning Shot can't resist using a gay fashion designer (Vito Scotti) as the butt of some easy jokes.

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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