Monday, December 6, 2010

Kraft Suspense Theatre; A Cruel and Unusual Night; Ronald Reagan; Scott Marlowe; Anne Helm; death penalty debate

Click here to see the previous episode review.

Season #1, Episode #28 - (this episode would be the final episode for season #1)

A Cruel and Unusual Night
Original Air Date - June 4, 1964 (It is almost unheard of today for prime time television programs to air new episodes as late as June).

Setting/Time - A modern city, an abandoned restaurant in the country and the inside of a penitentiary (via flashback).

Plot/Review/Discussion -

For those of us too young to remember Ronald Reagan as an actor, but old enough to remember him as President, this episode has a certain appeal. We enjoy seeing the man we knew as President Reagan confront a killer as the episode builds to a climax.

While Ronald Reagan's involvement is definitely a plus for the episode, it does not make up for a weak and politicized plot. Criminal laws and prosecutions had been under attack for years in the United States at the time this episode aired. The attack on the death penalty was part of this movement. This movement would culminate in the Supreme Court banning the death penalty in a controversial 1972 decision. (That decision would be modified in 1976, as the Court would again allow the death penalty under certain circumstances.)

This episode would reflect that movement, as it would become the second KST episode to make an issue of the death penalty. While the previous episode would skirt the issue (while providing bizarre theories on hitting and killing women), this episode would take on the issue directly. This directness became evident when the main portion of the story was introduced by an argument between Reagan's character and a convicted murderer over the validity of the death penalty.

Ronald Reagan plays a judge who is kidnapped by a former death row inmate/escapee played by Scott Marlowe. Marlowe holds Reagan in an abandoned restaurant outside of town in an effort to recreate for Reagan the feelings that death row creates for the inmates. Marlowe plans an "execution" for Reagan the next morning, while recreating as much as possible the circumstances of a state sponsored execution.

The escapee was bitter over having been sentenced to death by Reagan for a murder. This episode's agenda became apparent as the two men argued during the night. Marlowe compared himself to a victim of the holocaust and Reagan to a Nazi. The dispute would have been more realistic had the writers not held back the best of the pro-death penalty arguments. In particular, when Marlowe likened his own sentence to the holocaust, the obvious response would be to question Marlowe's comparison. The holocaust victims were law abiding citizens who were not being punished for any actual crime. They were not murderers. While Reagan's character was permitted to oppose the comparison of himself to the Nazis, the writers would not permit Reagan's character to speak out against Marlowe's self-elevation to holocaust victim status.

Following the kidnapping and the argument, Marlowe describes his time on death row. Much of the episode is then consumed by a long flashback of Marlowe awaiting execution some time in the recent past. Marlowe recounts many of his death row conversations with the warden, a preacher and the guards. All of them tell Marlowe how "sorry" they are that he will soon be killed. At least I recall Marlowe saying that he is tired of hearing everyone say how sorry they are (I sympathize with him on this point. I, myself, was tired of hearing about their sorrow by this point in the program also). Marlowe remained indignant about his predicament to the very end.

As Marlowe's own execution approaches in the flashback, we see him eat his last meal. Strangely, the meal includes staple side dishes that one normally eats solely for their nutritional value instead of their taste. It seems strange that Marlowe would be concerned with nutrition instead of simply trying to enjoy one or more main dishes. I will definitely do things differently if I ever reach death row.

Marlowe, after additional indignant banter, is then lead into a chamber and strapped into a chair. The guards leave the chamber and seal the door/vault. We see white bags lowered into a liquid by some automated process. We hear a hissing/sizzling sound as a chemical reaction between the bags and the liquid releases gas into the air. Marlowe begins to suffocate/choke. But he is spared when the warden receives the proverbial last minute reprieve via telephone as the gas takes effect and the guards scramble to rescue him. This entire scene is powerful solely because of the details. The viewer sees and hears the execution through the eyes and ears of the prisoner inside the chamber. The director and writers took their time with this scene and let it develop in painstaking detail.

Marlowe wakes up later in the infirmary and learns that the reprieve was only temporary. He screams in terror at the thought of going back to the chamber.

The flashback ends shortly thereafter. We learn at some point that Marlowe's sentence was ultimately commuted to life in prison, but he escaped anyway so he could find Reagan and show him the horror of death row. The conflict in this episode then comes down to a question of whether Reagan will crack under the pressure of the pending execution - which is what Marlowe appears to want.

We never find out exactly what Marlowe's motive was in kidnapping Reagan. The story makes sense only in the context of a larger campaign against the death penalty. Because we are watching what is largely a political message, the conflict becomes watered down and the story becomes less realistic. The message is less likely to resonate with the viewer - not simply because the death penalty is a remote subject to most people, but because the characters are driven by a desire to make a point instead of making real choices in their lives. The characters thus appear to be disposable for the sake of the agenda.

Agenda driven episodes also do not stand up well after time passes. The message of this episode seems almost quaint in light of the anti-crime backlash of the past three decades. It is difficult to understand fully this episode without context.

Miscellaneous

This episode's title is not to be confused with "Once Upon a Savage Night" (episode # 1.21). As I wrote for episode #1.21, this is another pairing of KST episodes with confusingly similar names (with both titles sounding like they were written by Snoopy). I am sure the similarity is purely coincidental, as the title is a reference to the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against "cruel and unusual" punishment.

Actors

As noted, Ronald Reagan played the judge. This episode marked one of his final acting roles before entering politics. Reagan would make headlines later that summer for political speeches on behalf of Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign. Two years later, Reagan would be elected governor of California. This episode aired the same year as The Killers, in which Reagan acted with KST guest stars Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager.

Scott Marlowe appears in the second of his two KST roles, having played in "My Enemy, This Town," earlier in 1964.

Anne Helm played the wife of Marlowe's character. She acted for thirty years, appearing on most of the big-name television programs of her era, including Big Valley, Hitchcock, KST spinoff Run for Your Life, Perry Mason and many others.

Cars

Ronald Reagan drove a light blue 1960 Mercury Monterey, in which he was kidnapped. This episode marked the third appearance of that vehicle (probably the same vehicle in each episode). The previous appearance of this vehicle occurred in the previous death penalty episode. This appearance was somewhat unique, in that the viewer can see exterior shots of the vehicle speed through the streets as part of the action. This model had a distinctive appearance even for cars of its era. Today's museum or car show experience does not equal the sight of a classic car such as this one actually in motion.

I found it interesting when Reagan's car phone played a role in the episode and two of the actors appeared to be momentarily flustered by the novelty of such an item.

The stock footage of the city street rolling behind Reagan as he drives is also very telling. We all know that studios use stock footage of traffic behind drivers as they sit behind a steering wheel in the studio. But in this case, the stock footage was obviously more than a decade old. The cars in the stock footage dated from the late 1940's. The difference between a late 1940's car and the cars of the early 1960's was very large. Today, producers could easily use stock traffic footage from 10 or 15 (or more) years ago without such use being obvious.

This obversation is telling not so much with regard to the production of this episode, but with regard to the state of the automobile industry over the past few decades. Because cars of our generation have become so uniform looking, not only is it impossible to date film by looking at vehicles, but films have lost one interesting aspect. No one in the future will look back on television of 2010 with the goal of commenting on the cars.

Lessons I learned from "A Cruel and Unusual Night."
  • When you are executed, everyone involved will be very sorry.
  • Even though you are about to be executed, you should make sure that your last meal is well-balanced and nutritious.
  • If you were ever on death row, even if you killed someone, you are just like a Holocaust victim.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Leslie Nielsen, RIP; Kraft Suspense Theatre; One Step Down; Green Felt Jungle

Leslie Nielsen passed away on November 28th.

He starred in two Kraft Suspense Theatre episodes - One Step Down (# 1.06) and The Green Felt Jungle (# 2.20).

The online eulogies discuss many of his roles over the decades, including The Forbidden Planet, but I have seen none that mention KST. (Click here to see the connection between Forbidden Planet and KST.)

For today's writers to ignore KST in this way is consistent with my post almost six months ago, in which I identified numerous KST actors whose biographies ignore KST while focusing on less consequential roles on Star Trek. Click here for more discussion of KST's relative obscurity.

Nielsen achieved tremendous fame in his career. It is my hope that fame of the type that Nielsen and other KST actors achieved will eventually shine a brighter spotlight on KST.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Kraft Suspense Theatre; The Robrioz Ring; Robert Loggia; Julie Harris

Click here for the previous episode review.

Season #1, Episode # 27

The Robrioz Ring

Original Air Date - May 28, 1964

Setting/Time - A beach town near San Diego in the present.

Plot/Review/Discussion

Having seen this episode more than once, it is apparent that it takes more than one viewing to appreciate all of the plot layers in this story. Two individuals come together in a west coast beach town, each with their own story, their own history and their own problems. Their stories are brought together almost seamlessly by an ancient ring in ways that will be hard for the viewer to predict.

(Do not be put off by my reference to an "ancient ring." Even though this reference might cause a modern audience to think of magic, sorcery and wizards, nothing of the sort plays a role in this episode. The ring just happens to be the object at the center of the conflict.)

Mario Robrioz is a cliche'd playboy who does not work and lets women support him. He is descended from long lost Spanish royalty that settled the region centuries ago. His most prized possession is an old ring passed down through many generations from son to son. The ring is his tie to the past. His past gives him the pride that allows him to refuse work and live with a royal attitude. Upon returning from a trip, he discovers that his mother has pawned the ring. Enraged, he spends the episode trying to get it back.

Lucy Bram is a spinster school teacher from Philadelphia vacationing on the west coast with two friends. She happens to buy the ring at the pawn shop just as Mario arrives.

Lucy's role is somewhat confusing at first. While Julie Harris is very attractive, she is called upon to play Hollywood's version of a less attractive female. Despite her obvious attractiveness, the role is that of a spinster. So the story uses various devices to convince the viewer that she is the least attractive of her group (clothing, shyness, more outgoing friends, etc.). (Hollywood would never actually cast an unattractive woman as a romantic lead.) This characterization is important because, as the spinster, she is the right woman in the right place to turn Mario's task into a romantic nightmare.

Mario uses romance as a ruse to get close to the women over the next few days. He fixes their flat tire, acts as tour guide, etc. Mario's plan works only too well - Lucy falls for Mario, but Mario also falls for Lucy. That is the point where the proverbial hijinks begin. Lucy will not admit to her friends that she is in love with Mario. When their friends catch them together, she must pretend that Mario's advances are unwanted - thus enraging Mario.

Lucy has two reasons for pretending that there is no affair:

  • The pair really have nothing in common. She is not going to throw away her schoolteacher/ spinster life to settle down with a somewhat crude playboy that does not work for a living.

  • Lucy is afraid that no one would believe that a man would be interested in her. She is taking the easy way out instead of trying to convince her friends of a scandalous truth.
Lucy suffers pain and embarrassment - pain at having to give up Mario and embarrassment for having been with him in the first place. These emotions are explored sympathetically (but are not beaten to death). Lucy is trapped by her past and by who she is. [Mario would later summarize their differences by saying (in one of his calmer moments), "We are who we are." ] But while Lucy is trapped by her past, Mario is predictably enraged by it - even to the point of forgetting (for the moment) his goal of recovering the ring. Mario is angered not at rejection (for he is not really rejected) but at being hidden. Mario is angry because Lucy is embarrassed.

This point is where the conflict is most pronounced. Through a series of encounters with Mario (and as her friends console her) we see Lucy suffer from her own internal conflict about what to do. She also is forced to deal with Mario's anger. At this point, neither Lucy's nor Mario's behavior is exemplary (this is the point where I became vague so as to avoid plot spoilers).

The conflict is presented subtly (despite Mario's outbursts). A first-time viewer might mistake the drama as an abusive suitor vs. a reluctant woman. But upon reflection and consideration of all of the dialogue it becomes obvious that the relationship is very complicated. Just as Lucy is struggling with new and confusing experiences, Mario is coming to grips with his own life. We see him slowly realize that this affair is about more than just the ring and more than merely his relationship with this woman. He, too, has been trapped by his past.

As with prior episodes, I appreciate this episode much more by comparing it to the Hitchcock episodes of that era. Had this story aired on Hitchcock, the ring would have possessed some magical power that would have dominated the plot and resolved the climax. Instead, the characters' own decisions dominated the plot, while the ring slowly got pushed to the background. Rather than take the easy way out by resolving the plot with magic or spirits, the story forced the characters to face their own identities and their own pasts. What the story lacked in cleverness, it made up for in thoughtfulness.

The music score for this episode is unique among KST episode, unlike many of the scores that were repeated in at least three or four episodes.

This episode featured numerous beach scenes, including shots of naval ships near San Diego. The outdoor scenery made the episode more realistic.

Actors

Robert Loggia played Mario. He has been a fixture in movies and television for more than 50 years, including guest appearances on Hitchcock and Big Valley, starring roles on short lived TV series and films now in post-production. This episode was Loggia's first of two KST appearances.

Julie Harris plays Lucy. She has been active for more than sixty years. She starred with James Dean in East of Eden in 1955. She was a regular on Knots Landing in the 1980's. She was honored at Kennedy Center in 2005.

Julie Adams played one of Lucy's traveling companions. This was the first of her two KST episodes. She has acted for roughly sixty years and remains active in lesser roles today. She was featured in recurring roles in The Jimmy Stewart Show, Perry Mason, Murder She Wrote and others (plus numerous one-time guest roles).

Virginia Gregg played the other travelling companion whose wisdom and experience helped Lucy during and after her encounters with Mario. Her voice was a fixture on radio for many years. She received repeat guest roles on shows such as Gunsmoke, Dragnet, Hitchcock, Twilight Zone and others. One of her now most noted roles was uncredited at the time, when she played the voice of Norman Bates' mother in Psycho (and both sequels).

Cars

"Robrioz Ring" was a good episode for observing classic cars. The traveling ladies drove a light blue, convertible 1964 Ford Galaxie, which model was usually reserved for police cars in shows of that era. Numerous other cars appeared on the street during driving or walking scenes, including a 1960 Chevy, a Corvair, a 1959 Cadillac, an early 1960's Volkswagen Beetle, a Thunderbird and a 1961 or 1962 Buick Skylark (and others). The viewer can also see the same 1963 Chrysler as a background vehicle in numerous scenes. This collection of cars would today make for a popular car show. But in TV of the 1960's, they were merely background that you would miss if you blinked.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Watchman; Kraft Suspense Theatre; Telly Savalas; Jack Warden; Spanish Civil War; Sydney Pollack; David Rayfiel; Ezekiel

Click here for the previous episode review.

Season #1, Episode #26

The Watchman

Original Air Date - May 14, 1964

Setting/Time - The present in New York City and Spain - plus flashbacks to mid/late-1930's Spain and late 1930's New York City.

Plot/Review/Discussion

"The Watchman" is the story of a writer/journalist and his uneasy relationship with a gangster/warlord over nearly three decades.

The conflict in this story is more subtle than in most fiction. The main conflict exists throughout the story between the writer and the warlord - although that conflict always lurks just beneath the surface.

Jack Warden plays the writer who meets a warlord/revolutionary (Telly Savalas) during the Spanish Civil War. Warden is alternately indignant toward Savalas and enabling of Savalas during the coming years. We watch Savalas execute prisoners and petty criminals without trial (and other warlord type activity) in the mountains of Spain. Savalas ends up in New York after the war and becomes involved in organized crime. Warden helps him by covering up for Savalas' crimes. The episode is careful to depict Warden as reluctant and indignant even while helping Savalas.

Most of the story is told through flashbacks as Warden discusses this history with his analyst in present day New York. Savalas has long ago been deported back to Spain. Warden discusses this matter with his analyst now because Savalas has summoned Warden to Spain for an unknown reason. Warden is once again reluctant and indignant.

The story becomes complicated when Warden reveals that he has held romantic feelings for Savalas' wife since Savalas' days in New York City. These feelings, while generally unspoken, have been known both to Warden and the wife for years. The viewer follows the story as Warden flies to Spain to confront his old benefactor/nemesis. The conflicts and complications come to the surface through a series of conversations/confrontations leading to the climax.

The flashback method of telling the story works in this episode. The story begins in modern New York with the "summons" upon Jack Warden. From there, the mystery behind the summons emerges gradually through Warden's flashbacks as he tells the history to his analyst.

The Spanish Civil War remained a favorite subject of writers (fiction and otherwise) for decades. Few subjects were so romanticized. That war has since been replaced as a favorite topic by Vietnam.

I believe the title comes from Ezekiel 33:6. That Bible passage establishes that a "Watchman" shall blow the trumpet as a warning when danger threatens the Israelites. If the Watchman fails to blow the trumpet, he shall be responsible for any deaths that follow. In this episode, Warden's character is torn and disturbed by his own belief that he has been compromised by his friendship with Savalas over the years. The viewer can judge for himself whether Warden is held accountable for failing to blow the trumpet.

The portion of the storyline relating to Savalas' wife tends to confuse the "Watchman/Ezekiel" theme. Warden never acts on his romantic interest, but that storyline is the only part of the plot that involves consequences. (Pardon my vagueness, but I am trying to avoid plot spoilers).

Miscellaneous

This episode marked an early instance of collaboration between director Sydney Pollack and writer David Rayfiel, which collaboration lead to a string of successful movies over the next three decades, including The Way We Were (1973), Three Days of the Condor (1975), The Firm (1993)("screenplay" credit for Rayfiel) and Sabrina (1995). Even though this future collaboration would tend to make this episode somewhat of an historical artifact for movie fans, this episodes lingers in obscurity.

Quote of the episode:

Warden: You've outgrown the truth.
Savalas: It changes.
Warden: No, only what we see and tell of it.

Cars

A Rolls Royce was used at one point toward the end of the episode. Aside from this scene, cars played a minor role in this episode.

Actors

Jack Warden played the title role. He enjoyed a 50 year career in many TV and movie roles, including a small role in From Here to Eternity (1953), parts in two Twilight Zone episodes and numerous additional roles. Always a well-known character actor, he achieved lasting success in 1979-1980 with major supporting roles in three hit movies - Being There, And Justice for All and Used Cars.

Telly Savalas played the mobster/revolutionary. He previously starred in "Action of the Tiger" (episode #1.16).

Victoria Shaw plays Savalas' wife. Her 25 year career saw numerous roles in well-known television programs and movies. She was married for a time to Roger Smith, star of "Knight's Gambit" (episode #1.20).

Star Trek Connection

This episode's Star Trek connection is Arthur Batanides, who played D'Amato on "That Which Survives." He acted for nearly forty years, with repeat guest appearances on shows such as Gomer Pyle, Wild Wild West and Mission: Impossible. Batanides played a police detective in this episode.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Kraft Suspense Theatre; Charlie, He Couldn't Kill a Fly; Keenan Wynn; Richard Kiley

Click here for the previous episode review.

Season #1, Episode #25

Charlie, He Couldn't Kill a Fly

Original Air Date - May 7, 1964

Setting/Time - New York City in the present. (Update - After viewing the episode again, I think this is a mistake. I believe the episode takes place in a generic city instead of New York. I was misled by the reference to the "Mets." See below for details.)

Plot/Review/Discussion

From the very beginning of "Charlie" it becomes apparent to the viewer that there can be no happy ending to this story.

Charlie is a nice and gentle man who happens to be an alcoholic. He fails to provide for his wife and teenage son. He constantly talks about big plans, but he never follows through. His wife and teenage son live in relative squalor because of Charlie's failings. The situation has dragged on for years.

Charlie's wife works and provides for the family. (Today, Charlie and his family would be on "disability" and/or would receive subsidized housing and other assistance.) The wife plans to leave Charlie for her boss. The story begins as she struggles with the decision of how and when to tell Charlie and her son.

The story is doomed to an unhappy ending because the wife faces a choice between two bad outcomes. Either way, Charlie will continue to be miserable. The wife must choose between continued misery and guilt, depending on whether she leaves Charlie.

The story is complicated when Charlie witnesses a murder early in the episode and is wrongly charged for the killing by the police. The murder victim is a notorious drug dealer in Charlie's neighborhood. Charlie suddenly receives respect from the neighbors when they think he killed the drug dealer. He enjoys the role of hero, sobers up and begins spending time with his son. The son develops a new respect for his dad. The false accusation is the best thing that has happened to Charlie in years.

This scenario sets up the choice that Charlie must face. If he accepts the blame for the murder, he will be a somebody. The one man who believes Charlie is innocent is Lou, his wife's boss. Lou begins his own investigation to prove that Charlie is innocent.

As Lou continues getting closer to discovering the real killer, it becomes apparent that this discovery will destroy all of the progress that Charlie has made. Lou presses on anyway, despite (or because of) his genuine desire to help Charlie and Charlie's family. Charlie, Lou and Charlie's wife are each caught in their own dilemma where any resolution will lead to a different bad consequence. All of these dilemmas are forced to the forefront when Lou finds and confronts the real killer. The episode then proceeds to its climax (involving multiple verbal and physical confrontations), with each dilemma wrapped up and concluded in its own neat and miserable package.

Despite the hopelessness of the situation(s), the story is absorbing. The plot depends on the resolution of the personal conflicts and the decisions the characters must make. The physical confrontations provide a stepping stone for the plot to advance, but are not the object of the plot.

The writer is Irv Pearlberg, who wrote mostly for TV crime, law and police shows (Paper Chase, Quincy, Hawaii Five-0, Police Woman, Baretta, The Rookies, Cannon, F.B.I., Ironside, Columbo, etc.). He would later contribute to Season #2's "That He Should Weep For Her."

Despite Pearlberg's eventual resume', the crime and police aspects of this episode are relatively minor. This is not a mystery story. At its heart, this episode is not a crime story. The crime in this episode merely interfered with an already unfolding tragedy and sent that tragedy in a new direction. The crime forced the characters to reexamine their lives and their choices. It forced the characters to make new choices. The drama came not from the anticipation of an arrest or conviction, but from the human interactions that both preceded and followed the crime.

At one point, I recall Lou making reference to Charlie and his son attending the Mets game, even though the stock footage appears to be from Yankee Stadium. I will have to pay more attention to this part when this episode airs again. It is possible that the baseball players that appear briefly in the stock footage are among the legendary Yankees of that era. (Update - After viewing this episode again, I no longer believe this episode takes place in New York. Lou refers to the Mets being "in town." Lou refers to Charlie having a choice between seeing the Mets or waiting for the Dodgers. This reference implies that both the Mets and Dodgers would be visiting teams if they played "in town." Also, I cannot tell what stadium the stock baseball footage is from. There are a few clues, such as a distance marker on the outfield wall and a few player numbers. A true baseball trivia expert could probably identify the stadium.)

The music score worked in this episode. The background music was soft and ominous, long before the episode reached its climax. The music contributes to a general feeling of despair as the story progresses.

I have written earlier that KST episodes always exuded class. In this case, Charlie always wore a suit and tie, even when he was stumbling home drunk from a night at the bar. While more recent programs would give their subjects a more "realistic" appearance, realism comes not from appearance, but from the plot and dialogue. Modern shows and their visual effects do not compensate for the lack of plot that could be found in shows like KST. KST and this episode work even today despite the supposedly outdated appearance.

Update - Upon viewing the episode again, I was struck by the fact that there were no "bad guys" in this episode, except for the drug pusher who was killed early in the story. The main conflict is internal, as the characters struggle with decisions as to what to do. The conflict also exists between good guys, which often makes for the best and most subtle kind of conflict.

Cars

The cars in this episode are the standard 1963 and 1964 Plymouth Fury police cars, parked cars and taxis in the background. Vehicles did not play a major role in this story.

Actors

Keenan Wynn played Charlie. His acting credits span more than 40 years, including guest roles on many of the most prominent TV series of the 1960's and 1970's. I will always remember him for his role in Herbie Rides Again - the 1974 sequel to The Love Bug.

Beverly Garland played Charlie's wife. Her 50+ year career included regular or recurring roles on such shows as 7th Heaven, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and My Three Sons (and others).

Richard Kiley played Lou. His 50+ year career included numerous roles in TV series and mini-series (including recurring roles on Kraft Theatre in the 1950's), two Tony Awards (including one for his role in "Man of La Mancha") and movie roles such as the pilot in 1974's The Little Prince and the "tour voice" in 1993's Jurassic Park.

Michael Burns played Charlie's son. He had previously played in Kraft Mystery Theatre in 1963 opposite Jack Kelly and Broderick Crawford. Berkeley Harris played in the second of his two KST roles as the real killer. He had previously played in the same Kraft Mystery Theatre episode as Michael Burns. Myron Healey (who played the police detective) is another KST repeat actor, having previously starred in "One Step Down." Joan Staley played a witness in this episode. She would later star in Season #2's "Kill Me On July 20th."

Fans of The Bob Newhart Show will recognize the actor who played Benny Galati in the bar scenes. Noam Pitlik would become a semi-regular guest on Dr. Newhart's couch in the 1970's.

Walter Brooke played a minor role in this episode. He previously played in The Case Against Paul Ryker. He uttered the famous line about "plastics" in The Graduate.

Roy Glenn played the piano player. He is rumored to be the original voice of Tony the Tiger, but that rumor is apparently denied by Kellogg's. (The voice sounded right to me.) Update - upon watching this episode again, I noted that Glenn's character was the only one unhappy that the drug dealer had died - because Glenn would now need a different source for his narcotics.

Star Trek connection

IMDB.com states that Joseph Mell played a character named "Harry" that I will have to pay more attention to the next time I see this episode. Mell played a small role with symbolic dialogue on the Star Trek pilot "The Cage" (along with several other KST actors). If you have trouble recognizing him in this episode, he is a stocky bald man who also played in Twilight Zone in the same episode as future KST and Star Trek guest actor Warren Stevens. Update - After seeing this episode again, I identified Mell/Harry as Berkeley Harris' neighbor who was present on the stairwell during the final confrontation.

Update - Lessons I learned from "Charlie, He Couldn't Kill a Fly."

  • If your friends and neighbors get tired of listening to your BS, kill a local drug dealer and they will like you again.
  • Black musicians will be inconvenienced if you kill a drug dealer.
  • You can kill in self-defense only once. Any more than that and the cops will think that you are "a killer."

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Kraft Suspense Theatre; The Sweet Taste of Vengeance; John Forsythe; Diana Hyland; Brazilian Carnivale

Click here for the previous episode review.

Season 1, Episode #24

The Sweet Taste of Vengeance

Original Air Date - April 30, 1964

Setting/Time - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in the present.

Plot/Review/Discussion

I have not seen this episode (although I know that RTV has aired this episode at least once in the past 2+ years). I have read three plot descriptions online - each one with a somewhat different description.

The story seems to involve a wealthy divorced American woman who travels to Brazil, while being followed by detectives sent by her ex-husband. The plot is complicated by a playboy that she meets in Brazil. The story takes place against the backdrop of the Brazilian "Carnivale" celebration.

The remaining details are disputed among the various reviews I have read. None of them explain where "vengeance" fits in to the story. Obviously, I will have to fill in more details if RTV ever broadcasts this episode again.

Frank Fenton enjoyed writing credits for this episode, having previously received writing credits for KST episodes "My Enemy, This Town" - 1.15 and "Name of the Game" - 1.10 as well as four episodes of KST spinoff Run For Your Life and Kraft Mystery Theatre's "Shadow of a Man." While I have seen several of these episodes, they have no common theme that would provide a clue as to the plot of this episode, unless Forsythe's character bears a resemblance to Jack Kelly's character in "Shadow" or "Name of the Game" - or unless this episode involves gambling or casinos.

Actors

John Forsythe plays a prominent role in the first of his two KST episodes.

Diana Hyland also played a prominent role (probably the ex-wife). She acted until her death in 1977 at the age of 41, just as her starring role in Eight is Enough was getting underway.

Jack Weston played (most likely) a detective in his second KST role, having acted previously in One Step Down - 1.06.

It is difficult to be certain which actors match which roles.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Their Own Executioners; Kraft Suspense Theatre; Dean Stockwell; Dabney Coleman

Click here for the previous episode review.

Season #1, Episode # 23

Their Own Executioners


Original Air Date - April 23, 1964

Setting/Time - A small town just outside of Boston in the present.

Plot/Review/Discussion

The basic plot of this episode centers on a young man (Martin) who has killed his wife just before the episode begins. The viewer does not see the murder, but learns that the young man kicked his wife to death. Most of the episode consists of an older lawyer (Joe Monti) attempting to help the young man by convincing the young man that he did not premeditate the killing.

The title refers to both the old lawyer and the young defendant. The lawyer discovers early in the episode that he is terminally ill. He accepts this news and does not want to fight the disease, while the young man does not want to prevent the execution that surely awaits him if he does not let lawyer Joe Monti help him. Each man is thus acting as his own executioner.

The old lawyer goes to great lengths to convince the young man to say that he did not premeditate the murder. The young man's resistance to the old man's efforts constitutes the major conflict of the episode.

The method by which Monti tries to help Martin is confusing. Monti discovers that Martin's wife was not virtuous, but was flirtatious with other men. Monti throws this discovery in Martin's face. Monti then drops the bombshell on Martin that Martin's own mother had a less than virtuous past. I am not sure I fully understand this strategy. Monti seemed to be arguing that Martin had a false ideal about his mother that his wife failed to live up to. By convincing Martin that his own mother was just as bad . . . . . well, I am not sure how that comparison was supposed to help Martin or Monti.

This revelation was complicated when Monti revealed his own role in Martin's mother's promiscuous past.

At one point, Monti told Martin that he had hit his own (deceased) wife, although only after opening his hand at the last minute before the blow landed. Again, I am not sure what this admission has to do with anything. At this point, Martin was probably hoping that if the case went to trial, Monti would not use this little tidbit in front of the jury.

A secondary plot involves Monti's daughter and her impending marriage to the local weasel. The groom-to-be commits various acts of weaselness, including convincing the daughter to change her appearance and name so as to hide her Italian heritage. At one point, Monti mutters to himself that if his daughter marries this man, he will slowly and figuratively kick her to death over time.

This is the second KST episode in which a defense attorney helps his client solely by convincing the client of his (her) own (relative) innocence - as if the prosecutor, judge and jury are mere afterthoughts. The first exemple of this plot occured in "The Machine That Played God" (1.07).

This is the first of two KST episodes that discussed the death penalty at length (the second one would be "A Cruel and Unusual Night" 1.28). These episodes aired during a roughly 15 year period when the courts favored the rights of criminal defendants and before the public outcry and backlash began. My own opinion is that the writers were looking for some way to create sympathy for Martin in this episode. This search for a pro-defendant story resulted in the convoluted arguments regarding Martin's mother and his own wife's conduct. The storyline suffered as a result of the inclusion of a political agenda. Otherwise, the story of two men overcoming their passive acceptance of their own fate was somewhat compelling.

Cars

The lawyer is driven to the jail by his doctor in a 1960 Mercury Monterey. It is the same color as the 1960 Monterey that appears in two other episodes of Season 1. The viewer sees the car from the back as it backs out of a driveway and heads down the road. A viewer can really appreciate the size of the tail fins and the width of the car. The sound of the wheels pulling away on the wet road while a train can be heard in the background underscores the late night atmosphere that the producer/director/writer were trying to create.

Actors

Herschel Bernardi plays the old lawyer, Joe Monti. Bernardi was only 41 when this episode aired. He had previously played a supporting role in Billy Wilder's Irma la Douce with future KST and Star Trek actress Grace Lee Whitney. In the 1970's he played the title role in the TV series Arnie.

Dean Stockwell played Martin. He continues to act today following a roughly 65 year career. His longest running role was in Quantum Leap. Contemporaneously with KST, he guest starred on Hitchcock, Twilight Zone and many other shows of that and other eras.

Virginia Vincent plays Joe Monti's daughter, even though Ms. Vincent was born only one year later than Herschel Bernardi.

Dabney Coleman plays the weasel in the second of his two KST appearances (having previously appeared in "The Threatening Eye" 1.18).

Star Trek Connection

Robert Fortier played a small, but important role in this episode. The prior interaction between Martin's wife and Fortier's character helped Monti establish his "theory" by which he convinced Martin to fight the murder charges. Fortier would later star (with KST repeat actor Warren Stevens) as Tomar, one of the conquering aliens in the Star Trek episode, "By Any Other Name." He guest-starred in Outer Limits with Grace Lee Whitney three months before "Executioners" aired. That same year, Fortier also acted in Alexander the Great with William Shatner and Adam West (even though that show would not air for four more years).

Quote of the Episode

"We hit our wives, we don't hit our mothers." - Bernardi/Monti

Lessons I learned from "Their Own Executioners"

  • It is OK to hit your wife as long as you open your hand at the last minute.
  • See "Quote of the Episode" above.
  • If your mother was promiscuous many years ago, it is ok to kill your wife today.
  • If you are on trial for murder, find a lawyer that beat his own wife and slept with your mother.




Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Portrait of an Unknown Man; Kraft Suspense Theatre; Clint Walker; Robert Duval

Click here for the previous episode review.

Season #1, Episode #22

Portrait of an Unknown Man

Original Air Date - April 16, 1964

Setting/Time - A western mountain sheep herding town in the present (in October).

Plot/Review/Discussion

Clint Walker plays a very tall man (David Wolfe) who is new in town and wants to be left alone for reasons that are unclear. As he arrives near the town, he abandons his broken down car to roll down an embankment along the road. He shows up at a general store in the mountains and orders many supplies but refuses to say why. Walker then loads his supplies on a burro and begins a 3 hour trek up the mountain to his newly rented cabin.

The following clip picks up the action after Walker has ditched his car (and just after the locals have called the sheriff to find out who won the world series after their radio broke):


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This event begins constant gossip among the townspeople over what Walker is doing up in his cabin three hours away. Several of them even walk up there (!) to visit/spy on Walker. Much of the plot involves additional scenes/confrontations in which the townspeople seek answers from Walker, while Walker remains secretive and professes his desire to be left alone. The suspicions of the local residents were based on the fact that Wolfe paid for his purchases with a one hundred dollar bill.

The story is very much like "My Enemy, This Town" (1.15). There is a constant series of confrontations between one man and the local residents, in which the man repeats the same theme over and over again. These confrontations are much milder in this episode than in "Enemy," but the repetitiveness still makes for an inferior plot.

This'll learn ya' to use 100 dollar bills!














There is a related plot involving the general store owner and his daughter. That conflict/plot had been brewing under the surface for years prior to the events of this story. Apparently the father wanted his daughter to marry the man who molested her when she was underage. Walker's arrival in town helps bring the secondary plot to the forefront, while the secondary plot helps bring the main story to a resolution.

There are small points where the plot is difficult to believe. The writers went to great lengths to isolate Walker/Wolfe in his mountain cabin. While that isolation reinforces Wolfe's character, it makes it difficult to create additional confrontations/interactions between Wolfe and the townspeople. The writers' solution was to have townspeople take a three hour hike (each way) to visit Wolfe so that new confrontations could advance the plot.

Miscellaneous - The exterior set would be reused in "The Long Ravine" (2.24).

Cars

Clint Walker drives what is most likely a 1952 Ford at the beginning of the episode. He then proceeds to push a different 1952 Ford down the hill (either it was different or things were removed on the exterior before it was released to its destruction). This car was difficult to identify due to the beat up condition. Aside from broken windows and many dents, the only problem with the car seemed to be a broken hose - until it rolled down the embankment.

The Sheriff drove a 1964 Ford Galaxie.

Actors

Clint Walker plays David Wolfe. He was active in TV and movies for more than 40 years. He played the title character in Cheyenne for seven years. He played a small role in The Ten Commandments.

Robert Duval in "Portrait of an Unknown Man"







Robert Duval plays in one of his earliest roles as Harvey the handyman. He remains active today after more than 50 years in Hollywood. At the time this episode aired, TV guest roles were typical for Duval instead of the movie roles that he would get regularly in the 1970's and beyond.

Mala Powers played the store owner's daughter. Her acting career began with the help of Ida Lupino, when she played a rape victim in Lupino's Outrage. She guest starred on numerous television series, including Cheyenne with Clint Walker.

Quote of the Episode -

Robert Duval/Harvey (shouting indignantly): "Wait a minute! You think you can come down here, hand an order in and then just fill it?"

Clint Walker/Wolfe (matter-of-factly): "Yes."

Lessons I Learned from "Portrait of an Unknown Man."

  • If your car breaks down, just dispose of it by letting it roll down an embankment. No one will mind.


  • Sheriff's deputies, in addition to their duties as art critics, also provide sports updates.


  • You can come down here, hand an order in and then just fill it.


  • Don't trust any man who has a 100 dollar bill.


  • If your daughter is single, marry her off to the first child molester that becomes available.


  • If you are curious about a stranger in town, spend six hours walking back and forth to his house so you can check up on him.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Once Upon a Savage Night; Kraft Suspense Theatre; Nightmare in Chicago; Robert Altman, William McGivern

Click here for the previous episode review.

[I am updating this review on April 9, 2011, as I have recently seen this episode for the first time on Museum.tv - as I explain here. The updates appear in brackets.]

Season #1, Episode #21.

Once Upon a Savage Night

Original Air Date - April 2, 1964. There is some question as to whether this episode was a two parter. Episode 1.22 would air two weeks later on April 16, 1964. There is no entry in the IMDB.com episode list for April 9, 1964. [Update - this episode was not a two parter. Near the end of the Museum.tv posting of this episode, there appears an original commercial for the Perry Como musical special that often appeared in place of KST during its original run. Perry Como would replace KST on April 9th with guests Bob Newhart, Ray Charles and others.]

Setting/Time - Chicago in the present [Update - the episode takes place near Christmas].

Plot/Review/Discussion - I have never seen this episode, so this part of the review will be difficult. [Update - I have now (March 2011) seen this episode at Museum.tv. See this link for an updated explanation.]

According to The Encylcopedia of Television (p. 82), this episode was intended as a pilot for a new series. That plan did not work out, but the episode was later released as a TV movie called "Nightmare in Chicago."

The episode is a crime story about a serial killer. The story is told from the point of view of the murderer. There also appears to be a secondary story about transportation of nuclear missiles on the highway.

This was the third and final KST episode written by William McGivern. This story appears to be based on his novel, Death on the Turnpike. McGivern was a prolific crime writer whose stories often appeared on television police shows, such as Kojak and Adam-12.

Robert Altman directed this episode. This was the final episode of KST that he directed.

[Update - This story was, in fact, the story of a serial murderer who played cat and mouse with the police as he tried to escape on the Illinois Turnpike. The existence of the military convoy complicated the plot, as it hampered police efforts to capture the killer, while the manhunt interfered with the convoy.

The convoy looked impressive as it rolled with flashing lights down the highway at night. The convoy's imposing appearance added to the drama.

The conflicting goals of the police (catch the killer v. protect the convoy) constituted the secondary plot, which complicated the main conflict while helping to provide the resolution.

This episode tried to present a psychological explanation for the killer's actions. The explanation was confusing and incomplete.

Despite the plot and psychological complications, the story's race to the climax was simple and effective. All of the complicating factors were resolved with the completion of a simple physical task.

Despite the sometimes seedy nature of the story, this episode (much like the other KST episodes) showed class. Everyone (including the killer) wore a suit and tie and drove big American cars.]

Miscellaneous - This episode's title is not to be confused with "A Cruel and Unusual Night" (episode 1.28). This is another pairing of KST episodes with confusingly similar names, with both titles sounding like they were written by Snoopy.

Cars - I do not know what cars were used in this episode, but there were undoubtedly many opportunities to see classic vehicles. This opportunity provides a reason that I hope to see this episode one day.

[Update - The cars were difficult to discern, as most of the action took place at night and musuem.tv's version is black-and-white. The killer drove a 1964 Chevy station wagon for a time. The police drove a 1964 Chrysler. During the highway scenes, one could spot the back of a 1960 Chevy going through a toll booth.

At one point, the killer caused a major accident in his attempt to stall the police. The cars in that accident were all from the mid to late 1950's. The KST producers were hampered in this regard by the great difference in appearance between 1950's cars and 1960's cars. The producers could not destroy a large number of new cars (for budgetary reasons) so they were forced to stretch the viewer's credulity by staging an accident in which the cars all happened to be obviously older than the cars from the rest of the episode. Today, that problem does not exist, as ten year old cars look very similar to new cars.]

Actors

Philip Abbott played the murderer. He acted for nearly 50 years until his death in 1998. He starred earlier in KST episode The Long, Lost Life of Edward Smalley (1.08) along with John Alonzo (who also appeared in this episode). Abbott's longest running role was on The F.B.I. , in which he both acted and directed.

Ted Knight starred as (I believe) a police official. He would later become famous for his role in Mary Tyler Moore. [Update - After seeing Knight for so long as Ted Baxter, one has to fight to remember that he is not playing his KST role for laughs. Once I forgot about Ted Baxter, Knight's role as the police commissioner was relatively strong, as he struggled to balance his duties to catch the killer with his need to see that the convoy proceeded smoothly.]

Charles McGraw played in the first of his two roles on KST.

The IMDB.com entry for this episode lists Andrew Duggan and Carroll O'Connor, but one of the reviews of "Nightmare in Chicago" states that these references are erroneous. [Update - O'Connor and Duggan did not appear in this episode.]

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Knight's Gambit; Kraft Suspense Theatre; Eleanor Parker; Roger Smith; Mountain Greenery; William Faulkner

Click here for the previous episode review.

Season #1, Episode #20.

Knight's Gambit

Original Air Date - March 26, 1964

Setting/Time - The Spanish Riviera in the present. [I realize there may not be an actual place known as the "Spanish Riviera," but this episode takes place on the Spanish Mediteranean coast and bears certain specific similarities to KST's two other "Riviera" episodes (see below)].  [Update - April 28, 2013 - Knight's Gambit takes place on a Spanish island just off the Mediterranean coast.]

Plot/Review/Discussion -

This is the second of three KST episodes that take place on the Riviera. The characters are wealthy and do not seem to work for a living. They have plenty of spare time for the drama that unfolds. Except for this episode's location in Spain instead of Italy, the action could have taken place in the same town as "The End of the World, Baby." The atmosphere (but not the plot) was the same.

The phrase "Knight's Gambit" refers to a chess move. The reference is appropriate for this episode. The plot is not nearly as complicated as the chess reference would imply.

"Knight's Gambit" is also the name of an old collection of William Faulkner mystery stories. As Faulkner's Amazon.com reviewer noted:
The mystery at the heart of each story is not found in actions, though some of the plots are puzzling, as much as in the characters' hearts and souls.

This description is appropriate to this episode. The best KST episodes, in general, focus more on the conflicts within the main character than the external action. The Amazon reviewer continues:
The tales in this collection range from the haunting "Tomorrow," which reminds us that no one ever knows where "love or lightning either will strike," to the title selection, in which Stevens (the Knight) captures his Queen after a twenty years' quest spent translating the Old Testament.

There was no twenty year quest or translation of the Old Testament in KST's episode, but this description gives some hints as to what is in store for the KST viewer.

In KST's "Knight's Gambit," a wealthy playboy arrives on the Riviera flying his own private airplane. He begins romancing the secretary of an American diplomat [Blaine], but he turns out to have ulterior motives. I am going to be vague about the story partially to avoid spoiling the plot (in particular, the playboy's ulterior motives) and partially because I have not seen this episode in well over a year.

The secretary suffers from her own internal conflicts. She resists the playboy's advances because she feels guilt about some crime of hers in the past (and about which she is reluctant to speak). As I recall, she has resolved herself to spinsterism working in her boss' mansion in order to escape her own past. [Update - April 28, 2013. The main conflict is the struggle of the playboy to make the secretary come to terms with her past so that he can pursue his own agenda.  There are other conflicts that this conflict sets in motion.]  The secretary's part of the story is the most interesting aspect of the plot and I look forward to seeing this episode again for this reason.


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The writers do a good job of tying in the diplomat, the playboy's ulterior motive and the secretary's past as the mystery unravels.

At one point, the playboy plays (and sings) a small portion of "Mountain Greenery" on the diplomat's piano. This performance was not presented as a separate musical number such as you would see on Broadway. It flowed nicely with the dialogue in that scene and appeared as a natural part of the plot progression. "Mountain Greenery" is an old song dating back to the 1920's and, together with the Riviera atmosphere and the performances by the actors, it lends class to this episode. (Only by looking up some of the lyrics was I able to discover what the character was singing and playing.)

Actors

Eleanor Parker played the secretary. She is most well-known as the "Baroness" in The Sound of Music. She played opposite Frank Sinatra in The Man with the Golden Arm. She received 3 Oscar nominations in her 50 year career.

The playboy was played by Roger Smith, star of 77 Sunset Strip and Mr. Roberts, although he is best known for being married to Ann Margret.

Cars - I cannot remember the vehicles in particular, but I seem to recall the playboy driving a red sports car (of course) and the secretary driving a large blue American car (from the late 1950's). This is another reason I want to see this episode again so I can test the accuracy of my memory. [Update - April 28, 2013 - the playboy drives a dark sports car.  The Secretary drives a light blue 1964 Ford Thunderbird (probably the same one from episode 1.17. One can also briefly glimpse a late 1950's - early 1960'a Citroen DS at several points in the story.  The use of the Citroen at several points is relevant to the story. The diplomat - and others - ride in a 1964 Chrysler Imperial. At the very end, one of the characters rides off in a 1961 Cadillac]


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[Update - April 28, 2013 - The episode ends in a car chase that detracts from the main conflict, although it is visually appealing.]

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Monday, September 20, 2010

A Cause of Anger; Kraft Suspense Theatre; Brian Keith; Nancy Powell; Anthony Caruso

Click here for the previous episode review.

Season #1, Episode #19

A Cause of Anger

Original Air Date - March 19, 1964

Setting/Time - A modern western desert highway between California and New Mexico.

Plot/Review/Setting -

A teenage boy suffers from anger/emotional problems, but is academically gifted to the point of being a genius. His father arranges for a private detective/bodyguard/off-duty cop and a counselor/nurse to take him to an institution where he can be treated.

The plot of this episode is somewhat weak, as certain things are not explained and the conflict and resolution result in somewhat of a letdown.

The plot appears to be based on the basic premise of the old Wagon Train series (which I am sure was based on prior western movies and fiction), where small groups face dangers as they travel across the desert in covered wagons trying to reach a remote destination. The trio in this episode (cop, nurse, teenage boy) are heading by car to an institution in Kansas (as best I can recall). The journey requires them to travel on desert highways across western states. During the trip, they face unknown dangers from breakdowns, other travelers and local residents.

In particular, the cop notices a mysterious car following them. When the cop's car breaks down, the drama is heightened. The mysterious followers now have their opportunity to do harm, while the boy's emotional problems will affect the trio's interaction with local residents. (The drama is better than I am making it sound, as I am trying to avoid plot spoilers.)

The contrast with Wagon Train is made clear early in the episode with an overhead shot of the proverbial congested, interlocking Los Angeles highway system. Thus the Wagon Train theme is brought forward into the 20th century. The writer of this episode, Richard Wormser, was known for his work on westerns (as well as other television programs).

The trio ends up in confrontations with locals and other travelers, but the resolution appears to be rather anticlimactic.

Greater conflict occurs with the boy's struggle against his own emotional problems. He frequently becomes enraged at various points in the trip and must be physically restrained. We watch as the boy comes to terms with these problems and their causes. We see how these problems place the trio in greater danger from locals and the mysterious car following the trio. The writers do a nice job of wrapping up all of the conflicts (both physical and emotional) in the same resolution. The acting, writing and story, despite my reservations, are superior to most of modern television.

Miscellaneous

Whenever the boy flies into a rage and has to be restrained, the viewer hears particular background music to accompany the action. The musical score sounds like the type of Keith Mansfield/Syd Dale jazzy production music that appeared in many movies and in NFL Films highlight reels in the late 1960's. The exact same background score can be heard in "Are There Any More Out There Like You?" (episode 1.5) as the college students were driving over the pedestrian. The music seemed to work better in that scenario than in "Cause of Anger."

Actors

Brian Keith played the cop hired to take the boy across the desert. Viewers may remember his starring roles in multiple television series, such as The Crusader, Family Affair, and Hardcastle and McCormick. He made numerous additional guest and regular appearances in movies and television for more than 70 years, including Wagon Train (and other westerns), Hitchcock and many, many others.

Nancy Malone plays the nurse in the first of her two KST appearances. She acted for over 30 years, including guest roles on Twilight Zone and Kraft Mystery Theatre. She also worked as a director and producer in recent years, directing numerous episodes of Dynasty, Melrose Place and two episodes of Star Trek: Voyager (although I don't count that as a "Star Trek Connection").

Robert Crawford Jr. played the teenage boy. His acting career spanned 15 years, followed by work as a producer or associate producer on well-known movies like The Sting.

Norman Leavitt played in the first of his three small roles in KST, while Douglas Henderson played in the first of his two KST roles.

Cars

Brian Keith drives a 1964 Chrysler Imperial. The main villains were following in a 1964 Colony Park Mercury station wagon. At various scenes along the highway, the producers used the same Mercury Comet, the same Valiant (1960-1962) and the same big finned late-1950's car to complete the background traffic. The viewer also sees the same Ford Thunderbird in traffic at various points.

Star Trek Connection

There are two Star Trek connections in this episode. Anthony Caruso played Bob Cuero, the local deputy. Caruso would later play Bela Oxmyx on Star Trek's "A Piece of the Action," as well as many other roles in his 50 year career. Caruso played in many westerns, including three episodes of Wagon Train.

Oliver McGowan played Dr. Martin. McGowan was the "Caretaker" in Star Trek's "Shore Leave."

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Threatening Eye; Kraft Suspense Theatre; Jack Klugman; Annie Farge; Phyllis Thaxter; Ida Lupino; Coleen Gray

Click here for the previous episode review.

Season #1, Episode #18

The Threatening Eye

Original Air Date - March 12, 1964

Setting/Time - Present day California [update April 13, 2013 - in March in a medium sized town.]

Plot/Review/Discussion -

I saw this episode once over a year ago (which means that RTV should be getting ready to re-run it again, but only after another 5 airings of "My Enemy, This Town"). I don't remember much of the detail, but I recall the basic plot.

"The Threatening Eye" was generally unique among KST episodes because the main plot involved a mystery. A middle aged man was pursued romantically by an attractive young woman. The reasons for this pursuit were unclear. We watch as the young woman does her best to wreck the man's marriage. Eventually, the young woman resorts to illegal means to pursue her goal. (Pardon my vagueness, but I am trying to avoid plot spoilers.) We share the man's puzzlement as he tries to explain/understand the woman's attraction to him and her anger at his rejection of her advances.

The plot thus combines both the pursuit (by various means) and the mystery. The underlying reason is not revealed until the very end. I recall the reason, but I do not recall that reason even being foreshadowed during the episode. In fact, the viewer might not even realize that a mystery exists until the answer to the mystery is revealed.

Much of the plot focuses on subtle manipulation and deception. The actual resolution of the mystery (and the lack of foreshadowing of such resolution) is less important than the subtle drama that takes us to that resolution. Of course, the plot and the young woman's tactics become less subtle as the story unfolds.

This snippet (midway through the episode) summarizes the mystery that the audience and Klugman's character struggle with until the final scene. 


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The title comes from Shakespeare's "King John." Shakespeare's quote reads, "When Fortune means to men most good, She looks upon them with a threatening eye." -King John, Act iii. Sc. 4. This reference might be the closest the episode comes to foreshadowing the explanation to the mystery.  [Update - April 27, 2013 - This is the second of at least three episodes with a Shakespearean quote in the title.]

The episode was written by Howard Browne, who was well known for crime, mystery and action writing, including 1967's St. Valentine's Day Massacre, numerous television episodes, two later episodes of KST and his work editing a science fiction journal in 1952.

[Update - April 27, 2013 - There is an interesting line early in the episode that is a subtle reference to work-related sexual harrassment.  Dabney Coleman's character, in describing the sexual harrassment of a female employee, tells Farge's character,  "It seems that her boss figures a secretary should perform two functions - one of which is to be a secretary."]

Actors -

Jack Klugman plays the middle age businessman. He is most famous for his starring roles in The Odd Couple and Quincy M.E. in the 1970's and 1980's. Klugman has been visible in recent years for his appearances on numerous syndicated Twilight Zone reruns from the early 1960's. "Threatening Eye" was the first of his two KST episodes. Klugman remained active for more than 50 years.

Annie Farge played the pursuing secretary. Farge had played the title role in the sitcom Angel in the early 1960's. I could find no reference to her, either at IMDB.com or elsewhere, that post-dated 1964, even though she was young at that time. She appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson less than a month after this KST episode aired. Her final known acting role occurred in the fall of 1964 on Perry Mason. [Update - April 27, 2013 - Wikipedia reports that Farge returned to France in the mid-1960's and died six months after I posted the initial version of this review.]

Phyllis Thaxter plays the victimized wife. She enjoyed a 50 + year career in theatre, tv and movies. Her first movie was Thirty Seconds over Tokyo in 1944. In 1948, she starred with future KST actor Robert Ryan in Act of Violence. She acted in her share of Hitchcock episodes and one Twilight Zone episode. By the late 1970's she would play Clark Kent's mother in Superman. She often played similar roles to that of the wife in this KST episode - the patient and overshadowed victim of the more flambouyant villains. Her ex-husband, James Aubrey, was, at one time, the President of CBS-TV.

Pat O'Brian played the first of his two roles as a policeman on KST. Dabney Coleman made the first of his two KST appearances in this episode. [Update - April 27, 2013 - Coleman played a private detective early in the episode.]

Ida Lupino directed this episode. She had starred in Season 1's "One Step Down."

[Update - April 27, 2013 - Coleen Gray played another employee of Jack Klugman's company, whose friendship with Klugman played a pivotal role at various points in the show.  Her career spanned 40 + years, including recurring guest roles on such shows as Perry Mason, McCloud and Ironside, as well as a guest appearance on KST spinoff Run For Your Life.  For many years, she was active in Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship.]

Cars - I cannot recall the cars used in this episode. I recall only that they played an important role at one point in the plot and that interesting models were used. 

[Update - April 27, 2013 - Jack Klugman drove a light blue 1964 Ford Galaxie (one of two 1964 Galaxies that appeared in this episode).  The stalking secretary drove a 1961 Ford Galaxie.

Phyllis Thaxter's character drove a 1954 Ford - probably a "Crestline."

A snippet of one Galaxie following another (with a third Galaxie passing by).


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1954 Ford Crestline


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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Kraft Suspense Theatre; Doesn't Anyone Know Who I Am?; Cornel Wilde; Kathryn Crosby; Malachi Throne, Willoughby

Click here for the previous review.

Season 1, Episode #17

Doesn't Anyone Know Who I Am?

Original Air Date - February 27, 1964

Setting/Time - Most likely the present [update - April 26, 2013 - the present in [1] a suburb of Seattle and [2] a small northwestern town some hours away].

Plot/Review/Discussion

I have not seen this episode, as I do not believe RTV has run it over the past two years. IMDB.com includes the following plot description:
An overly stressed, financially strapped, high powered businessman goes on a sales trip and wakes up suffering from amnesia after being assaulted. He settles in a small town, meets a nice girl and gets a simple satisfying job. Then his memory returns. He goes back to his old life and finds unhappiness. What will he do?

This description makes me want to see this episode. It appears from the description that the main character will face a choice. The best episodes feature difficult choices between right and wrong.

The description makes the episode sound like it could qualify as an episode of Twilight Zone or Hitchcock Presents. But I have higher expectations for "Doesn't Anyone Know Who I Am?" Hitchcock episodes always suffered from self-congratulatory cleverness, which reduced the realism of the program. Twilight Zone would have used some unexplained supernatural event to create the predicament that faces the main character. While I am all in favor of science fiction being used to create dramatic situations, KST plots result from naturally occurring scenarios that are resolved through difficult choices of the characters instead of cleverness or supernatural intervention. We can identify with KST episodes more easily as a result.

I hope only that this episode lives up to its description.

[Update – April 26, 2013 -  I have now seen this episode (twice). I can say that it does live up to its description.

This episode is one that makes the viewer envy the main character (despite all that he went through). He was able to disappear into a small town, leave his troubles behind him, and start a whole new life with a new wife and a less stressful job. All of the responsibilities of the old life were gone – so long as he preferred it that way.

Cornel Wilde plays Eric Blaine/George Press, the executive that finds a new life in a small town with a new girlfriend and a new job after being assaulted and suffering amnesia. The main conflict in this story is internal to Eric/George. The plot is basically as described at IMDB.com (quoted above). Eric/George spends the episode fighting against himself. After the amnesia takes away his past, he struggles to remember his old life, but he refuses to take steps that would help him learn the truth. Specifically, he refuses to go to the police and access their records (which pale in comparison to modern databases, but which are considerable nonetheless). He visits a psychiatrist (Malachi Throne), but resists Throne’s advice and seems impatient with Throne’s techniques for accessing old memories.

By visiting a local doctor, Blaine/Press discovers that he has very high blood pressure – to the point of being uninsurable. He later learns that his blood pressure has become perfectly normal after he has become acclimated to his new life. There are hints that his refusal to go to the police may result from fear of what he may find out about his real past (and maybe fear of whatever caused him to develop high blood pressure).

While amnesia has been a common theme of television shows in the past, amnesia is only the tool for the writers to create a conflict for the main character in this episode. When Eric/George later learns the truth, he must choose between his two lives – thus continuing the George v. Eric conflict. The amnesia makes it possible for the character to face such a choice. KST is best when the characters face difficult choices instead of mere physical danger or other such confrontation. Without the amnesia, Eric’s/George’s choice would not have been possible unless he had willfully abandoned his family and committed adultery. Amnesia thus helped the writers maintain audience support for Eric/George while letting the writers open up this whole new world for him.

This episode reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode entitled, “A Stop at Willoughby,” in which an executive dreams of a fictional, peaceful small town where he can get away from the people and problems that make his life miserable. In this KST episode, Eric/George does more than dream and Willoughby is a real place. While the “Willoughby” episode was satisfying and complete, it left the audience wanting more. This KST episode takes the next step and allows the audience to experience life in “Willoughby.” Where the audience would be sympathetic to the executive in “Willoughby,” the audience might be envious of the executive in this KST episode.

This episode has also been compared to a 1949 movie named Impact, which I have not seen.

The title has two meanings. Not only does George/Eric need to know his real name, he needs to know who he really is. Even after regaining his memory (and thus his name, address, executive position, etc.) he still must discover his true identity and where he belongs in this world. A name and other matters of record are not the same as what establishes and creates a true identity.  Eric/George must learn what makes him truly happy, productive and healthy.  The answer to those questions will determine which life he will choose for himself.


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Eric’s/George’s situation is truly enviable. Whichever life he chooses, he has a ready-made job, wife, friends, family, etc. waiting for him. Even if he chooses a new life, he does not need to spend years of uncertainty before he makes a stable, comfortable life for himself. That level of security exists no matter which life he chooses.  Both lives are waiting for him. He need only choose where he truly belongs and discover who he truly is.]

Actors

Cornel Wilde appears to play the main character. [Update - April 26, 2013 - Wilde, indeed, plays the main character - Eric Blaine/George Press.]  He acted in TV and movies for over 50 years, including guest roles in several well-known series in the 1980's.

Kathryn Grant (AKA Kathryn Crosby) played a major role also - [update - April 26, 2013 - Crosby played the new girlfriend in the small town where Eric/George ended up after the assault that caused the amnesia]. She is the widow of Bing Crosby. Her acting since the late 1970's was limited to the stage until 2010. A new movie in which she appears is now in post-production.

Martha Hyer plays in the first of her two KST roles. [Update - April 26, 2013 - Hyer plays Eric's/George's original wife in the suburb of Seattle.  She is a gossip who brags about her husband's career and the status it brings.  She is bitter, petty and vicious when her status is in jeopardy.]

Charles Alvin Bell makes the second of his two KST appearances in a small role.

[Update - April 27, 2013 - Paul Newlan played Doc Pierson (see the film excerpt above). Newlan's 40 year included many movies and television roles, including guest roles on Twilight Zone and KST spinoff Run For Your Life.  His longest running role was as a police captain on M Squad  in the late 50's and 1960.

Barney Phillips played a co-worker of Eric/George.  He played many, many roles in movies and television from the late 1930's until his death in 1982, including regular guest work on Ozzie and Harriet, Have Gun Will Travel and many others.  What I consider his most famous part (and the one for which he is usually instantly recognizable) is his role as a three-eyed lunch counter attendant on Twilight Zone.]

Cars

[Update - April 26, 2013 - Before he lost his memory, Eric Blaine drove a white Lincoln from sometime between 1962 and 1964.  An identical car can be seen parked on the street of the small town later in the show, but it was not intended to be the same car. Eric/George sees what appears to be a black Lincoln from the same era later in the episode, but it is difficult to tell, as viewers do not get a good look at most of the cars in this episode.  One also sees a blue 1964 Ford Thunderbird parked on the street near the white Lincoln. 

One car that is seen clearly is (probably) a 1953 Chevy driven by Crosby's character.  The difficulty in identification comes from damage and wear to the car's exterior - especially the front grill. The following excerpts and photos are from this episode.]


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Star Trek Connection

Malachi Throne is this episode's Star Trek connection. Throne made the second of his three KST appearances here. Throne's Star Trek role is more prominent and historic than that of most guest stars. As I wrote in my review of The Machine That Played God:
He portrayed the voice of Star Trek's first villain in the original pilot ["The Cage"]. His voice was dubbed out before that episode aired, but Throne played a more pivotal role in the final product, which became Star Trek's only two-parter.