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Matinee: 'Man With a Camera: Black Light' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

29 August 2015

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the one hundredth in our series of Saturday matinees today: Man With a Camera: Black Light.

More than once in a while, we like to exercise our God-given right to be silly. It burns off the fat and keeps our sense of humor fit.

And since this is our one hundredth matinee, what better time than now to take a break from the serious pursuit of perfection? So once again (we've offered you a couple of these already), young Charles Bronson plays photographer Mike Kovac in the ABC TV series Man With A Camera.

In Black Light, which first aired Nov. 9, 1959, a police detective asks Kovac's help in documenting payoffs he suspects are being made to police officers in a particular precinct.

Serious stuff, right? Right. But wait a minute. Let's look at this from a historian's point of view. Like what's that funny thing in the opening shot?

That's a jukebox. Playing 78s. Which are records. You put a coin in to pick a tune to play. The machine finds the record and plays it.

Kovac has loaded his Speed Graphic with infrared film so he doesn't have to use his flash to take photos in the dark.

Now what are those guys wearing around their necks? They're called ties. Not colorful ties either. Dark, somber ties. And those are hats on their heads. Dark, somber hats. And notice the clean-shaven chins? They shaved every day. Gillette was a big sponsor of early TV shows. All the actors shaved.

And why does that guy who slipped the cash across the table walk into that lighted booth next to the jukebox? To make a phone call. That's a pay phone. You drop in a coin, get a dail tone and use the rotary dial to enter your phone number.

Out on the street, there's no Uber waiting to pick up the guy who took the cash when he leaves the bar. Where, guess who but the guy who made the phone call gets beaten to death when he leaves. No Lyft then either.

End of Scene One.

That's where Kovacs comes in. To investigate the police. The guy who was murdered was an uncover investigator. That's why he made the phone call.

"Mike, watch yourself," the inspector warns Kovacs in the era before selfies.

Kovacs hits the streets to begin his investigation. He talks to a cabbie, asking him where "the game" is tonight. "No game," the cabbie answers. "The Yanks are in Boston and the Dodgers don't play here no more." The cabbie takes Kovacs for a cop.

Kovac has loaded his Speed Graphic with infrared film so he doesn't have to use his flash to take photos in the dark. Hoisting the big 4x5 camera up was, uh, camouflage, apparently.

He tries to pawn it as part of his investigation. But a woman's scream distracts him and he rushes into the street to photograph the scene. They didn't call them Speed Graphics for nothing.

We won't spoil it for you by revealing any more of the plot. But there's a darkroom scene with even more antiques in it (that black thing he holds to his ear is the headset to his phone). There's disappearing evidence. A phantom lady wearing a high school pin. High school slang from the 1950s (including calling Kovacs Daddy-O). And more.

"The inspector hired me to do a job and I did it," Kovacs says at the end, after solving the case. "And all I did was take some pictures. And that's all I ever do. And that's all I ever want to do."

A perfect ending.

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