What Makes Sammy Run? (Koch Vision)

1959, Not Rated

Apr 22, 2009 at 2:06 pm

A piece of legendary television history, long considered lost but discovered and restored by the Archive of American Television, makes its DVD debut with its crackling, electrifying energy intact. Budd Schulberg wrote What Makes Sammy Run?, a portrait of venal and ignorant but desperately striving, hustling Hollywood studio boss Sammy Glick, way back in 1941. It never was turned into a movie, partly because of its uncomplimentary portrayal of the movie business, partly because its depiction of the Screenwriters Guild might be seen as Communist and partly because of fears Sammy was an anti-Semitic stereotype. But in 1959, NBC aired a two-part adaptation on its Sunday Showcase dramatic-anthology series sponsored by Procter & Gamble. (An earlier television adaptation, from 1949, is lost.) Even by 1959, some of Schulberg’s melodramatic writing, with its fever-pitched, soul-bearing confrontations, seemed dated, but the nervously energetic Larry Blyden (later a game-show host) gives such an explosively forceful and — dare I say it? — human performance of Sammy that every second of this show is riveting. As terrible as he frequently acts, you also see his vulnerability. He’s an individual, not a stereotype. It’s one of the best performances by an actor on television — ever. As the cynical newspaper columnist who mentors Sammy in a love-hate relationship, John Forsythe brings a calming yet acidic presence to the proceedings. Barbara Rush as a screenwriter used and abused by Sammy and Dina Merrill as the rich and cruelly imperious woman he chases are also both excellent. Delbert Mann directed; Schulberg and his brother Stuart wrote the adaptation. Grade: A-