Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Kraft Suspense Theatre; The Deep End; Travis McGee; Whit Bissell; Tina Louise; Ellen Burstyn; Clu Gulager; Aldo Ray

Click here for the previous episode review.

Season #1; Episode #11

The Deep End
Original Air Date - January 2, 1964. The Christmas/New Year season apparently did not interupt the original broadcast schedule for KST.

Setting/Time - A modern small California town and nearby lake.

Plot/Review/Discussion -

The story opens with a dramatic murder. The main character is a private investigator who is not satisfied that the victim's death was a suicide or an accident. By investigating the death, he becomes embroiled in small town intrigue, including financial disputes and romantic tension involving the victim's boyfriend's company.

This episode is essentially a mystery/crime story. There is some discussion of the motivations and internal conflicts of the killer, but those factors are too extreme in this case for the audience to identify with.

Part of the story deals with solving the mystery of the murder. The identity of the murderer becomes known well before the end of the episode. The episode then focuses on trapping and catching the murderer.

The original story is based on a novel by John D. MacDonald, the author of the Travis McGee mystery series. This story contains similarities with other MacDonald writings.

The ending is somewhat clever (maybe too clever) and adds a new layer of complexity to the plot. The story differs from a Hitchcock story of that era only in the absence of some vague supernatural connection and the absence of the smugness that characterizes the Hitchcock plots. [I would explain further, but this blog is not about Hitchcock.]

MacDonald wrote one Hitchcock story in the early sixties. He also wrote the story upon which Cape Fear was based as well as the novel for one episode of the KST spinoff Run for Your Life.

The final moments of the episode reminded me (too much) of Psycho.

Jonathan Hughes wrote the teleplay, as he did for the first season episode "Knight's Gambit," which was similar in some ways with the mystery and investigative aspects of "Deep End."

Cars

The main character drives a 1963 Mercury Monterey. An early 1960's white Jaguar is parked outside the home of one of the suspects. The accountant drives a 1957 Ford Fairlane that was destroyed as part of the plot (the Fairlane was hard to figure out, as the shots of the car took place at night and were incomplete).

It is noteworthy that today's classic luxury cars (60's Jaguar) were once simply ordinary luxury cars. Today's classic cars from the 1950's ('57 Fairlane) were considered disposable for the purpose of television by the 1963-1964 season.

Actors

This episode is just as interesting for the actors as for the story.

Clu Gulager plays the investigator. He is noteworthy for his strange clenched-teeth way of speaking. Later in 1964, he would play a major role in The Killers (written by Ernest Hemingway and Star Trek's Gene Coon) with KST actors Ronald Reagan, Lee Marvin and Claude Akin. He continues to get small roles in movies and television.

Tina Louise plays the boyfriend's secretary. She is most notable for her role in Gilligan's Island that began eight months later. In one scene with Gulager, she continuously moves her eyebrows in an annoying way that detracts from the dialogue. Her character is not fully explored and is explained away superficially by the other characters.

Aldo Ray plays the boyfriend (around whom much of the plot revolves). He served on Iwo Jima during World War II and starred in television and numerous movies from the early 1950's until his death in 1991.

Ellen Burstyn (credited as Ellen McCrae) plays both the victim and the victim's sister. She continues to get movie roles, including some set for release in 2010 and 2011. Her biggest period of success came in the early 1970's when she received numerous awards and nominations for such movies as The Exorcist and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore.

Star Trek Connection

This episode's Star Trek connection is Whit Bissell, who played the space station manager in the episode "Trouble With Tribbles." He starred in television and movies for more than four decades, including roles as the mad scientist in I Was a Teenage Werewolf (opposite Michael Landon), as a lawyer in 1957's Disney production of Johnny Tremain, a supporting role in The Time Machine (1960), a starring role in The Time Tunnel and a supporting role in the now discredited Soylent Green (1972) (and many, many more roles). He usually played authority figures, such as generals, governors, lawyers and even President Wilson. In "Deep End," he played the accountant whose self-dealing and bungling moved the plot forward.

Many Star Trek fans probably know Bissell solely as "Mr. Luray." But that role appears almost as an afterthought when one considers all of Bissell's work. Yet that one Star Trek episode probably gets more exposure for Bissell at this time than any other role he played.
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update - click here for the next episode review.

3 comments:

  1. Tina Louise displays a dark seductiveness as the dangerous, Amazonian secretary.

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  2. The '57 Ford doesn't get destroyed; it's just shown running through a fence with the sound effect of an offscreen crash afterward. Also it's the shorter Custom 300 (like Janet Leigh's car in Psycho, ironically!), not a Fairlane.

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  3. Good episode, with the weak link beng the casting of Clu Gulager as the private eye. The role just didn't suit him and he didn't play well off the other characters. Oddly, I remember him fondly for his Billy the Kid in the western TV series The Tall Man. The other actors were, for the most part, fine, with Whit Bissell edgier than usual and somewhat out of character in playing a nervous man easily bullied.

    Tina Louise did good work as Aldo Ray's loyal secretary, though I felt that she telegraphed his character's too tightly wound aspects too early in the episode and would have been better had she played the part as a more naturally wholesome young woman (which her character, from the git, obviously wasn't). Ellen Burstyn (billed as Ellen McCrae) was gorgeous to look at, didn't get much of a chance to use her acting chops, and she remained a relatively minor player, a borderline star, till early middle age. I found the writing (not acting) of her character confusing and
    and hard to make sense of in her later scenes, obviously the writer's fault, not hers.

    In the starring role I found Aldo Ray highly sympathetic and charismatic. His best years as a star were behind him by the time he appeared in this episode, as if he'd still been a bankable name in feature films he wouldn't be appearing on TV shows. That was a sign that an star player's best years (best years as a star) were behind him. Never for a minute did I doubt his character's basic decency. Even as he hit on his secretary, physically abused his accountant, one sensed a decent man with some demons, an at times nasty temper, but not the sort of person who'd kill someone,--except by accident.

    Overall, a solid Kraft entry, and nice to look at.

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