Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Kraft Suspense Theatre; One Step Down; Gena Rowlands; Leslie Nielsen, Ida Lupino; Phillip Pine

Season 1, Episode #6

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.

Plot/Review/Discussion -

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.

1 comment:

  1. Good performances,offbeat plotting, one is never sure where One Step Down is going. I like the way the plot is handled, almost like a Perry Mason. One has to pay close attention with this one. Rowlands and Nielsen were superb, and Philip Pine solid as usual. Ida Lupino seemed to be channeling Bette Davis as Margo Channing, but no matter. The ending was a pleasant surprise. More drama than suspense in this entry. It's a good one.