Thursday, November 16, 2023

Eastside/Westside: Who Do You Kill & No Hiding Place

It is hard to believe a TV show about a social worker was cancelled after its first season, right? Each episode addressed unusually heavy subject matter, especially for the early 1960s. However, the music was terrific, thanks to the jazzy score composed by the great Kenyon Hopkins. Social worker Neil Brock tries to cure the social ills of New York City, but the system is stacked against him in “Who Do You Kill” and “No Hiding Place,” two of the most acclaimed episodes of creator David Susskind’s Eastside/Westside, which screen Saturday at UCLA.

"Who Do You Kill?” won an Emmy for director Tom Gries and also earned nominations for guest stars James Earl Jones and Diana Sands. Arguably, the rat problem that ignites the drama is just as bad now in the City, if not worse. However, when a rat bites Joe and Ruth Goodwin’s toddler daughter, it reveals all the inequalities of life in the 1960s inner cities.

Beyond the social commentary, Arnold Perl’s script features a compelling dramatic shift. Initially, the angry Joe Goodwin spurns the assistance of Brock’s agency, but as his wife sinks into despair, he alters his attitude, for her sake.

Unfortunately, neither the show’s credits or the official soundtrack album listed the individual musicians who performed Hopkins’ score. Of the two selected episodes, “Who Do You Kill? is bluesier, jazzier, and more distinctive. It definitely features some superb session work. Hopkins’ soundtrack for the TV show
The Reporter, released one year later, is stylistically similar. It included Joe Newman and Joe Wilder on trumpet, Phil Woods on alto, Jimmy Cleveland on trombone, Bernie Leighton on piano, and Barry Galbraith on guitar. It is very possible many of the same musicians played on Eastside/Westside as well.

Thematically, “No Hiding Place” pairs up quite compatibly with “Who Do You Kill?” For this episode, Brock’s old college roommate, Chuck Severson, brings him out to the Long Island burbs, because he is concerned the racial integration of his neighborhood could lead to trouble. Again, the teleplay (written by John Gabriel and Millard Lampell) pulls off an ironic inversion, when Severson’s former southern belle wife Ann turns out to be more genuinely welcoming and progressive than he does. At one point, Brock admonishes him: “Stop playing Larry Liberal!,” which might be the best line of television dialogue from all of 1963.

George C. Scott absolutely radiates integrity and authority as Brock, yet he also brings a world-weariness to the role. Ironically, neither selected episode is a great showcase for his regular co-stars, Cicely Tyson and Elizabeth Wilson, who portrayed agency co-workers, Jane Foster and Frieda Hechlinger. On the other hand, both Lois Nettleton and Ruby Dee have fine moments as Ann Severson and her new next-door neighbor, Marilyn Marsden.

Eastside/Westside now feels like a time-capsule of the 1960s, but the quality of its ensemble performances and Hopkins’s music remain undiminished. Recommended for fans of Scott, Jones, and Hopkins, the best-of episodes of Eastside/Westside screen Saturday (11/18) at UCLA.