Sunday, June 27, 2010
Kraft Suspense Theatre; The Machine That Played God; lie detector tests; Anne Francis; William Boyett; Malachi Throne
The Machine That Played God
Original Air Date - December 5, 1963 - This was the first episode after a three week hiatus since One Step Down on November 14, 1963.
Setting/Time - A modern city.
A woman and her husband are involved in a car wreck early in the episode. The husband dies. The police suspect that the wife caused the accident on purpose. I forget the alleged motive - whether it was to kill the husband or herself (or both). That aspect is not of primary importance in this review.
The interesting point is the progression of the plot. The woman gradually becomes convinced that the police are right. Most of the KST episodes are about an ultimate choice between right and wrong. In this case, a bad choice is allegedly made early in the episode, for which the main character tries to take responsibility.
The main character becomes convinced that she is guilty solely on the basis of repeated lie detector tests that she takes that indicate her guilt. The episode is an indictment of the concept of the lie detector test. The woman ultimately learns the real truth in court during her trial.
Criminal law underwent drastic changes in the 1950's and 1960's. There may have been a political agenda against lie detectors at that time that fueled the writing in this episode. Later KST episodes would campaign against the death penalty.
I found the plot to be weaker than the previous few episodes. The focus on the main character's internal struggle was compelling, but somewhat unrealistic. I did not find it believable that a woman could be convinced that she intended to wreck a car simply because she failed lie detector tests. I think the anti-lie detector test agenda colored the plot and made it less believable.
---------- update 9-18-10 ----------- (plot spoiler warnings)
After seeing this episode again, it appears that the criminal trial was a convoluted scenario by which the woman's defense attorney convinced her client that she was not guilty. She had confessed, thus resulting in her prosecution. During the trial, the defense attorney introduced evidence of the lie detector (and its flaws) to convince her that the lie detector was wrong about her own guilt. (Ordinarily, lie detector evidence would be inadmissible.) Thus the criminal trial placed the lie detector on trial instead of the woman. Once the woman could no longer assert her own guilt, the prosecution dropped its case as if the woman was the only judge of her own guilt. I will not begin to deconstruct the legal errors inherent in this scenario. I will say only that this approach is a more extreme example of KST plots where the main character's adversary is himself/herself instead of a third party.
Cars - I am almost certain that the main character drove a 62-64 Lincoln in the initial accident.
Anne Francis played the main character. She previously played a prominent role in The Forbidden Planet, with future KST actors Leslie Nielsen and others. She remained active on television and in movies from the late 1940's through recent years.
William Boyett played a detective in the first of his two KST roles - the second being "The Jack is High" during season #2. He played many, many policemen during his nearly 50 year Hollywood career, including 2 guest appearances on KST-spinoff Run For Your Life. He had an uncredited role in The Forbidden Planet. His most long-running roles were as policemen on two of the most famous cop shows of all time, Highway Patrol (starring future KST star Broderick Crawford) and Adam-12 (with KST star Martin Milner). He also guest starred on Star Trek:TNG, but I don't count that toward the Star Trek Connection.
----update--- Charles Alvin Bell played in the first of his two KST episodes.
Star Trek Connection -
The Star Trek Connection for this episode is Malachi Throne, who plays the prosecutor. Throne makes the first of his three appearances in KST in this episode. He portrayed the voice of Star Trek's first villain in the original pilot. 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. He also played an important role in the pilot for Big Valley. He was a regular on It Takes a Thief and has continued to work in recent years as part of a 50 year career.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
I wrote in my initial post that Kraft Suspense Theatre has been largely ignored by fans and biographers of 1960's television and the actors from that era:
Stars and their biographers are quick to point out their roles on other shows of that era, including Star Trek, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Hitchcock, etc. But they usually see no benefit in touting their performance on Suspense Theatre.
In response, director Ralph Senensky has written to me that he often forgets Kraft Suspense Theatre when he is asked what shows he directed. Senensky directed numerous popular television shows before during and after the 1960's.
I suspect that many of the biographies that I have seen lack reference to KST because the biographers do not appreciate the significance of the show. Because KST has not been in syndication very much, it is not considered significant among biographers and historians.
Star Trek received poor ratings during its entire first run. Many other shows of that era did better in the ratings. Yet actors that played roles on Star Trek emphasize their Star Trek roles to the exclusion of shows that were more popular during the 1960's. Star Trek guest stars still appear at Star Trek conventions across the country, while there are no such conventions for KST or many other popular shows of the 1960's.
So not only is KST largely ignored, the original Star Trek's legacy exceeds its original success and reflects mainly its post-run popularity.
Grace Lee Whitney devoted most of her book to Star Trek (plus some small roles in other shows), while not mentioning her role on KST (IMDB.com still does not mention her role in KST, even though she had a speaking role).
Ralph Senensky's blog is named "Ralph's Trek," even though he directed more episodes of some other shows than he directed of Star Trek. Senensky's Wikipedia entry does not mention KST (or Hart to Hart or Barnaby Jones), but mentions Star Trek.
Lloyd Bridges' Wikipedia entry makes no mention of KST, yet includes a reference to Star Trek merely because Bridges turned down a role on that show.
Joseph Pevney's Wikipedia entry does not mention KST. It does mention Star Trek and also lists many of the individual Star Trek episodes (while failing to mention individual episodes for any other series).
Actor Ian Wolfe worked for almost 60 years, including some prominent roles with famous actors. His Wikipedia entry does not mention KST, even in the long catalogue of credits at the bottom. The narrative part of the entry does list both of his Star Trek episodes by name (and little else).
Perhaps no actor played a more prominent role on Kraft Suspense Theatre than Jack Kelly. Kelly's Wikipedia entry does not mention KST, but mentions his less prominent role in Kraft Mystery Theatre.
Warren Stevens played in three KST episodes, none of which were mentioned on his Wikipedia page. That page did mention his one Star Trek role.
Malachi Throne played in three KST episodes, none of which were mentioned on his Wikipedia page. But the same Wikipedia entry discussed his one Star Trek role at length.
Actress Katherine Crawford starred prominently in three KST episodes (and had family connections to the show and to Universal Studios). She had no connection with Star Trek. Not surprisingly, she has no Wikipedia entry. Had she guest starred even once on Star Trek, it is safe to say that by now she would have appeared at numerous Star Trek conventions and would enjoy her own cult following.
Of course, the Wikipedia entries and IMDB bios (as opposed to the IMDB catalogues) for Mickey Rooney, Milton Berle, Peter Lorre and other KST guest stars make no mention of KST.
There are many other examples.
This legacy helps define one purpose of this blog. The plots are the most important part of each review, but cataloging the well-known actors of each episode serves its own purpose. The list of famous actors adds gravitas to KST. The demand for KST would be much greater if it was more widely known that KST featured less prominent performances of the all-time greats. These considerations may hasten the day of a DVD release or KST availability on hulu.com.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Roncom continued to produce Como's television music specials into the 1970's.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
One Step Down
Original Air Date - November 14, 1963 - This would be the last episode broadcast before the JFK assassination - 8 days later. KST would not resume until December 5th. I don't know whether news coverage disrupted the broadcast schedule. I suspect Thanksgiving interrupted regular programming (KST was a Thursday show). (There may also have been a Perry Como musical special during the hiatus - more on that later.)
Setting/Time - Ojai, California in the present.
This episode is another of my favorites. The story involves a choice between right and wrong, much like "Hero" and "Are There Any More Out There Like You?" Unlike those two episodes, the choice in "One Step Down" is made in the beginning. The main character (Janet Cord/Gena Rowlands) makes a wrong choice to start the show, and spends the entire episode hoping to escape the consequences. The suspense comes not from wondering what choice she will make. The suspense comes from the fear of the consequences.
Cord/Rowlands opens the episode by going to a hotel with a married man (she is married herself to Dr. David Cord/Leslie Nielsen). Nothing happens - she gets cold feet and tries to leave. Events from this point forward spin out of control. I leave out a few facts to avoid spoiling the plot, but suffice it to say that the tryst is discovered, but only in part. The innocent spouses know only that something went on in a hotel between the boyfriend and an unknown woman. Cord/Rowlands seems to have dodged a bullet. We watch the scorned wife attempt to discover the identity of the unknown woman for most of the episode. The plot is complicated by the close friendship of the two couples. We see Ida Lupino as the scorned woman planning her revenge, not knowing that the target of her ire (Cord/Rowlands) stands before her in fear and anxiety the entire time.
Rowlands plays the part sympathetically, suffering from fear instead of enjoying the possibility of getting away with near infidelity. I wrote in "Hero" about "class" in KST. Gena Rowlands played this role with class. She was well-dressed, articulate and reserved. It was obvious that this situation was out of the ordinary for her character. Modern dramas feature actual infidelity as a routine matter. The women who are portrayed today differ markedly from Rowlands' character.
The resolution is enjoyable because it is believable. This is standard for KST. The Hitchcock resolutions (of the same era) are too clever, relying on improbable coincidences, Rube Goldberg plans or supernatural events. KST resolutions rely on human interaction and the ability to overcome fears, emotions and frailties. We can identify with KST, even if we have never been in exactly the same situation.
Cars - Leslie Nielsen drives a 1963 Mercury Monterey. The boyfriend drives a @ 62-64 Lincoln convertible. I cannot remember all of the vehicles, but I seem to recall a Plymouth police car and a 1958 GM car toward the end driven by the scorned wife. There is also one limousine, as I recall. I believe Rowlands drove an early 1960's Ford/Mercury. The plot does not revolve around the vehicles.
Update - December 5, 2010 - Rowlands drove a 1962-1963 Ford Falcon wood panel station wagon. Lupino drove a 1957-1958 Plymouth (similar to the car in Stephen King's Christine (1983)). The limousine I recalled was an early 1960's Cadillac hearse with too brief an appearance to identify exactly.
Actors - Gena Rowlands remains active today. She has acted since the mid-50's. This was the first of two KST episodes for Rowlands, the second being "Won't it Ever be Morning" in Season Two. She made 10 movies with her husband John Cassavetes.
Leslie Nielsen starred also in Season 2's "The Green Felt Jungle." He remains active today after 60 years of acting. He starred in 6 episodes of Kraft Theatre in the early 1950's. He was one of many KST actors to star in The Forbidden Planet in 1956.
Don Collier played the police detective. He appeared in Season 2's "Kill me on July 20th."
Ida Lupino was one of Hollywood's first female directors and producers. She helped found Four Star Productions in the 1950's, which produced many television programs over the next decade and more, including Big Valley in the 1960's.
Star Trek Connection -
The Star Trek Connection in this episode is Phillip Pine, in a supporting but important role as the private detective charged with discovering the identity of the unknown woman. Pine played Colonel Green in the Star Trek episode, "Savage Curtain." He was active in Hollywood for more than 60 years. He was known for guest roles on many police shows of the 1970's, including Barnaby Jones, Streets of San Francisco, Adam-12, Ironside, Police Woman, Swat, Police Story, Kojak, Chips, Hawaii Five-O, Baretta, The Rookies and more.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Kraft Suspense Theatre; Are There Any More Out There Like You?; Katherine Ross; Peter Helm, Adam Roarke, Robert Ryan
Season 1, Episode #5
Are There Any More Out There Like You?
Original Air Date - November 7, 1963
Setting/Time - Present-day small towns in California.
The plot of this episode was similar in an important way with Hero for Our Times. The main character faced a choice - a choice between right and wrong. We suffer with him as he agonizes over that choice. His final decision resolves the plot.
The main physical action of the plot takes place in the beginning, when four college students are involved in a car accident that kills a pedestrian on Christmas Eve. All of them had been drinking. Afterward, they won't reveal to the police which one was driving. The father of one of them is the main character. He faces the choice as to whether to cross a legal line in order to protect his daughter and her friends. He does not know who the driver is any more than the police do, but he is tempted to break the law to keep the police (and himself) from finding out.
The father's agony is made worse by his revulsion at the carefree attitude of his daughter and their friends. They make wisecracks, they wear smug expressions, enjoy playing their flutes and show no respect for the law, the victim or anything else. The father wants to help them, but their attitude makes him very reluctant.
The title of the episode is a question the father asks one of the students when he realizes how little they care about what they have done and the man who died. The student's answer indicts an entire generation. That exchange brings the subsequent five decades of U.S. history suddenly into focus. That exchange turns this episode's writer into a prophet.
Cars - The students drive a 1963 Ford Galaxie as they hit and kill the pedestrian. The father drives a 1963 Chrysler Imperial. As in Hero, the action scene with the car does more than simply provide action. It sets the stage for the larger plot to follow.
One of the students is played by Katherine Ross, in her second role (according to IMDB.com). She remains active today. Her most famous roles came in The Graduate and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, in which she took part in one of the most famous musical scenes in movie history (with Paul Newman).
The father was played by Robert Ryan, who acted from 1940 through his death in 1973. Ryan was a veteran of Zane Grey Theater, Alcoa Theatre, Goodyear Theatre and Playhouse 90. He played John the Baptist in King of Kings (with future KST star Jeff Hunter).
Peter Helm played another student. He later starred in the KST episode "Operation Greif," during KST's second season.
Star Trek connection -
This episode's Star Trek connection is Adam Roarke, who played another of the four students. About a year after this episode aired, Star Trek's original pilot episode, "The Cage," was filmed (the film would finally air as part of another episode in 1966). Roark played part of the bridge crew for KST actor Jeff Hunter's Captain Pike.
Monday, June 14, 2010
A Hero for Our Times
Original Air Date - October 31, 1963
Setting/Time - A modern city - most likely San Francisco (judging from the opening shot).
Plot/Review/Discussion - This episode is a favorite of mine. This episode made me think of "class" with respect to KST for the first time. The setting was cosmopolitan. The music was smooth. The men all wore suits and hats and drove big, late model cars. The women acted like ladies - even when their behavior was not so ladylike.
The plot makes one think. The main character faces a choice. The suspense revolves around what choice he will make.
The main character is a successful business executive with a wife and a mistress. While staying at his mistress' apartment one evening, he witnesses a murder next door. It becomes apparent quickly that the police will charge the wrong man and that the main character is the only one that knows the mistake. He faces a choice between coming forward to save the innocent suspect or staying silent to protect his own secret. The plot becomes more complicated when the main character faces a possible promotion to his high profile company's board of directors. For him to come forward and reveal an affair would be professional suicide in 1963.
We watch him struggle with his dilemma as he hides his secret from his wife and co-workers. Modern dramas feature several plots in one episode, thus implying a short attention span on the part of the audience. While KST features one plot per episode, this plot results in numerous conflicts. In "Hero," we see the courtroom drama, the hero's professional situation and his marriage all in turmoil as a result of his dilemma. KST made the most of this story.
To me, watching a man face such a choice provides better drama than simply waiting to find out whether he will win a gun battle or survive an operation or wondering who he will sleep with this week.
The drama becomes even more real when one thinks of modern politicians who have gone to great lengths to deny affairs - even to the point of letting innocent people die. The title of the episode turns out to be more of a commentary on our times instead of praise for the main character.
Miscellaneous - This episode is unique because there is now more information about this episode than most other KST stories. Director Ralph Senensky has provided his own commentary plus generous film clips from "Hero" at the Ralph's Trek blog:
Except for a car chase sequence later in the script, this was a very talky script that was reminiscent of the live television dramas from the decade before. And it certainly owed a debt to REAR WINDOW.
The car chase Senensky refers to provides more than a mere action break. The resolution of the car chase was an important plot point and made the "hero's" moral choice more stark. Spoiler alert - Don't watch Senensky's clips if you don't already know the ending.
Senensky also writes of unexpected difficulties arising from one of the earliest uses of color on television in this episode.
Lloyd Bridges plays the main role. The internet bios I have seen for Bridges ignore his KST role.
Dabbs Greer played the innocent suspect. Senensky's blog contains much information about his career.
Berkeley Harris played the defense attorney. Despite having many speaking lines, his role is uncredited at IMDB.com. Many of the IMDB.com cast listings are incomplete for KST. (I believe this is starting to change with the show's newfound popularity on RTV.) Harris also played in 2 other KST episodes, which are credited at IMDB.com.
update 7-2-10 - after seeing the episode on RTV again (for the first time in two years) I noticed David Lewis, playing the first of 2 KST episodes. [IMDB.com apparently leaves out 4 major characters from this episode. Click here for my discussion and speculation of KST characters being ignored on that type of website. IMDB also left out Victor French as the murderer and William Bramley as the DA.]
Cars - In addition to this episode's focus on the hero's internal struggles, it does feature the proverbial car chase. In the car chase, Lloyd Bridges drives a white Lincoln (@ 1962-1964). He is chased by the killer in a 1963 Mercury Monterey. Senensky does not remember filming this sequence and speculates that they may have used stock footage from another movie or show. I have my doubts. The 63 Mercury was a fixture on KST. The same car appeared earlier in this episode. The car was practically new (as was the Lincoln). The producers would have had to have re-used very recent footage for Senensky's speculation to be correct.
Star Trek Connection - The Star Trek connection in this episode is the director, Ralph Senensky. He directed several episodes of Star Trek, including "This Side of Paradise," "Metamorphosis," "Obsession," "Bread and Circuses," "Is There in Truth, No Beauty," and "The Tholian Web." He provides extensive commentary and film clips on these episodes at his blog.
Senensky also directed episodes of, inter alia, The Fugitive, The Waltons, Ironside, Mission Impossible and Route 66.
Here is a clip of the opening theme (copied from Senensky's blog). This clip is more complete than the clip I uploaded here.
update - 7-2-10 - Another Star Trek connection is William Bramley, as the Prosecutor. Bramley later played in the season #2 episode, "The Jack is High," also directed by Ralph Senensky. Bramley played the most prominent policeman in Star Trek's "Bread and Circuses," also directed by Senensky.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
The End of the World, Baby; Kraft Suspense Theatre, Peter Lorre, Gig Young, Katherine Crawford, Nina Foch
Season #1, Episode #3
The End of the World, Baby
Original air date - October 24, 1963
Setting/time - The Italian Riviera in the present. This episode is one of three (in addition to Rapture at Two-Forty and Knight's Gambit) that took place on the Mediterranean Riviera. All of these Riviera episodes featured wealthy people with time on their hands and either living in elegant housing or driving expensive cars (or both).
Katherine Crawford stars as the daughter of an independently wealthy American woman (Nina Foch) who is looking to leave her husband (Crawford's father) for a playboy sculptor (Gig Young). The plot gets complicated when Crawford's character falls in love with the same sculptor without her mother's knowledge. You will never be sure whether Crawford is acting in her own best interest or simply to protect her father.
What makes this plot enjoyable is that it is not simply a good v. evil story. It is not simply a case of the hero/heroine escaping danger. The plot is strong because the characters are forced to make decisions. The suspense occurs where the audience does not know which choice the character will make and what the consequences will be.
The plot is strengthened as we explore the art of Young's character and the immaturity of Crawford's character. Crawford's character struggles as she is pulled from all directions - (1) her loyalty to her father, (2) her new feelings for the sculptor and (3) her need for maternal comfort (despite keeping secrets from her mother) as the situation spins out of control.
Much of the story takes place in a centuries old Italian castle known as Fini del Mondo ("The End of the World.")
Katherine Crawford makes her first of three KST appearances with this episode. She is the daughter of Roy Huggins, a writer and producer of several KST episodes (although not this one). She appeared in numerous popular shows from the early 1960's through the mid-1970's. The photo below is from The Fugitive.
Gig Young starred in TV and movies for nearly forty years, including such examples as an uncredited appearance in 1941's Sergeant York and one of the more famous episodes of Twilight Zone. He won his only Oscar for his role in 1969's They Shoot Horses, Don't They. He apparently committed a murder-suicide with his wife of 3 weeks in 1978.
Nina Foch starred in TV and movies for nearly 65 years. Her most famous role was probably 1960's Spartacus, in which she starred with, inter alia, future KST star John Gavin.
Peter Lorre died nearly six months after this episode aired.
Monday, June 7, 2010
The Case Against Paul Ryker, Parts I and II
I have never seen this two-part episode, as it has not been broadcast on the RTV network during the recent syndication run. Check this post for speculation about episodes that have not aired recently.
Original air date - October 10, 1963, part I - October 17, 1963, part II
I will fill this part in if I ever actually see this episode.
This episode spun off a new series, Court Martial, that aired in 1965-1966.
Both parts of this episode were rebroadcast in February 1968 as a TV movie named Sergeant Ryker.
This episode is typical of KST. By checking the IMDB.com entry for this episode, you will find actors with decades of history in television and movies. Most of the actors in this episode starred from the early 1950's through the 1990's - in everything from Gunsmoke through Murder, She Wrote and much more.
Vera Miles played a major role in this episode. Her most famous role previously was in Psycho, where she played opposite John Gavin, another future KST actor. Her career spanned five decades.
Other notables included Lee Marvin in the title role and Peter Graves in his pre-Mission Impossible days. Graves' role probably contributed to the decision to rebroadcast this episode as a TV movie in 1968 (during the height of Mission Impossible's popularity).
Francis De Sales made two of his 4 KST appearances in this two-parter. Walter Brooke made two of his three KST appearances.
Star Trek connection
Don Marshall is the Star Trek actor in this episode, having played Mr. Boma on the episode entitled Galileo Seven.
Click here for the next review.
Friday, June 4, 2010
The show was presented in syndication during the 1970's as "Crisis." I don't know why the title was changed or why RTV does not use the original name.
RTV has shown only about 45 or so of the episodes during that period. I have seen no evidence of more than a dozen of the episodes during the past two years, while others have been repeated many times. It is possible that only certain episodes were syndicated and received the name change 40 years ago - and that only those episodes are running on RTV.
This is just idle speculation, but I wanted to provide at least some possible explanation (or acknowledgment of the name difference) for those who might see the show on RTV.
click the following for prior discussions of:
the theme music;
connections between Kraft Suspense Theatre and Star Trek;
The cars of Suspense Theatre;
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
The KST car shots took place outdoors - at least the shots of car exteriors. KST usually avoided the cliched car chase, but found numerous ways to use vehicles to contribute to the drama. Even when the cars were not the center of the drama, they made the action seem more realistic. They also added class to the show.
It seems to me that the 1963 Mercury Monterey was used in many episodes. [I may change my mind about that when I start reviewing individual episodes.] The 1963 Monterey was unique because it had a powered, backwards rear window that could be raised and lowered. The window design was called "Breezeway." The 1963 model was unmistakeable, even if most cars of that era look the same to those of us that grew up in the 1970's.
1963 Mercury Monterey "Breezeway"
From the ad, it appears that one reason for this feature was to allow cigarette smoke to escape from the rear of the car. Based on that possibility, it does not appear that we will see many more cars with the Breezeway feature in the future.
update - click the following for discussions of:
the theme music;
connections between Kraft Suspense Theatre and Star Trek;
The RTV network and prior syndication.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
A fun sidenote to many of the episodes of Suspense Theatre is the Star Trek connection. Many of the Suspense Theatre episodes feature actors that later appeared on Star Trek, either as regulars or as prominent (and not so prominent) guest stars.
Some of the episodes feature three or four future Star Trek actors/actresses. I will identify these actors/actresses with each episode review.
Another connection exists with the 1956 movie, Forbidden Planet, which featured multiple Suspense Theatre actors/actresses.
Both of these connections become even more interesting when you remember that Suspense Theatre contained not a hint of science fiction. No robots, no time travel, no spaceships, no aliens.
Those of us that grew up in the 1970's watching reruns of classic Star Trek became accustomed to seeing each of the guest stars solely in his Star Trek role. It is surprising now for us to see these actors in other roles. Many of these actors (the guest stars as well) have become well known more for their Star Trek role than for anything else. Those guest stars that survive make frequent appearances at Star Trek conventions. Many of their other roles are forgotten, even though the Star Trek appearance was often only one of many, many roles in their long careers.
To the extent that there is a renewed interest in Suspense Theatre, modern viewers will gain a sense of proportion about the 1960's and will be reminded that Star Trek was not the only show from that era.