Sunday, July 25, 2010

Kraft Suspense Theatre; Leviathan Five; Arthur Kennedy; Hobbes; Harold Stone; Andrew Duggan; Robert Webber; Frank Overton; Frank Maxwell

Click here for my previous episode review.

Season #1, Episode #14

Leviathan Five

Original Air Date - January 30, 1964. This was the 4th episode aired during 1964. Twenty-nine (29) total episodes were aired during 1964 - more than any other year and almost half of all KST episodes.

Setting/Time - (1) a courtroom in a modern (unnamed) American state and (2) a nearby underground research facility (via flashback).

Plot/Review/Discussion -

Four scientists and a security guard are trapped by an accidental explosion in an underground laboratory. (I do not remember how deeply underground they were, but I recall the elevator clearly indicating a descent of more than 1,000 feet.)

After the explosion, the scientists calculate how long their limited air will last and how long it will take rescuers to reach them and reopen the air vents to the surface. They determine that they cannot survive unless they kill one man quickly. They devise a method where one man will be selected by lottery either to commit suicide or kill one of the others at his own discretion.

The story takes place in a courtroom as the surviving four men are placed on trial for the murder of the fifth man. We do not see exactly how the man died or who killed him, but that is not the point of the trial. All of the survivors face trial, even though only one man presumably pulled the trigger.

Many of the KST episodes focus on a choice between right and wrong. This episode includes the same focus but with a different emphasis. In "Leviathan Five" the choice has already been made and the characters must fight over whether that choice was right or wrong. The survivors' very method of choosing one among them to die is the basis for the charges against all of them. There is no obvious bad guy, only a near impossible situation and plausible arguments on both sides of the issue.

The survivors defend the charges on the basis that they were cut off from society and had to create new rules. They argue that they were not subject to the laws of their (unnamed) state anymore. [The writers' avoidance of any reference to any particular state is a source of awkwardness.] The issue comes down to whether it is right for a small group to kill one of their members if it will save the rest and if they are cut off from civilization. In this episode, the question depends also on the fact that all five men voluntarily took part in the plan.

The story is not as scientific or philosophical as I am making it sound. Other reviewers (at have focused on Hobbes or an article by a Harvard law professor, but one need not be familiar with these works in order to enjoy this episode. The dispute is presented thoroughly through crisp and simple dialogue - mainly the cross-examination between the prosecutor and the lead scientist.

The writers needed to separate the scientists and the guard from civilization in order for the plot to work. In doing so, the plot lost some credibility. They never made clear why the scientists needed to perform their duties so far underground in the first place. All the audience sees of the underground laboratory are books, papers, a wall control panel and some living quarters.

More interesting is the question of why they needed an armed guard so far underground (aside from the fact that the presence of the guard and his gun are important to the plot). Who was the guard expecting to shoot? What kind of trouble was he expecting 1,000 feet below ground? Is scientific work prone to erupt in violent arguments? If not each other. who was the guard protecting the scientists from? There already were guards and a checkpoint at the entrance to the facility. Notwithstanding the protection above, were they expecting prowlers to make the long journey down the shaft?

If the scientific work involved something so dangerous that it had to be kept more than 1,000 feet below the surface, was it really safe to risk gunplay down there? [This is never explained, but maybe that is what caused the explosion - a guard in another underground shaft at the same facility got trigger happy - with disastrous results.]

And speaking of safety, why did the scientists wear labcoats (aside from the television/movie stereotype of scientists wearing labcoats as some sort of uniform)? They did not seem to be doing anything that could get their clothes dirty (aside from dealing with the consequences of the explosion that trapped them all below ground with limited air). Maybe the facility owners would have been better advised to spend their safety money on preventing explosions instead of issuing useless labcoats.

And not to be overly picky, but the motorized golf cart that carried the scientists from the elevator down the long hallway (the guard would later reveal the exact distance) seemed to be pointless too. Come to think of it, they could have done without that entire hallway. There did not appear to be any other offices down there. Why not simply place the lab near the base of the elevator and avoid some very difficult tunnel construction (not to mention the expense of maintaining the golf cart)?

While others (for example Star Trek fanatics) might try to explain these points with reference to some implausible scenario (e.g. 'this is how laboratory work is done in a parallel universe'), I am content to suspend disbelief just enough to enjoy the plot despite these questions. In fact, a viewer is not likely to notice these things upon seeing the episode for the first time.

I noted also that the courtroom objections seemed to be handled correctly, especially the judge's treatment of the hearsay rule and the fifth amendment (although the main character's use of the fifth amendment would turn out to be improper and might result in contempt charges). This contrasts sharply with modern courtroom dramas.

This episode is one of three KST episodes in which William P. McGivern received a share of the writing credits. His writing focus was usually on crime and police work. I suspect he contributed some of the courtroom and legal knowledge to supplement "Leviathan's" philosophical conflict.


As far as classic cars are concerned this episode featured quantity over quality.

The opening to the flashback featured a shot of a full parking lot of early 1960's models. The only one you see actually moving is a 1962 Dodge Dart station wagon that carries the lead scientist from his home to this facility. And this brings to mind another question about plot awkwardness. The scientist testifies that he drove, even though he had a driver in the car with him. This is never explained, although it does place the "driver" in the same category as the armed guard. The scientist should have suspected trouble at this point, seeing that he had a driver that served no purpose. This fact should have tipped him off that the armed guard that met him at the shaft entrance would serve no purpose either - except to fill a plot hole that might involve shooting.

As the Dart wagon moves through the parking lot, we catch glimpses of two early-mid-1960's Ford Thunderbirds and a 1963 Mercury Monterey (among many others). Those were all definitely quality cars, but it is much less fun when you see them parked instead of moving along the highway.


Arthur Kennedy played the lead scientist, who provided the testimony during the trial. Kennedy acted for fifty years until his death in 1990. He received five Oscar nominations.

Harold Stone played another of the scientists. Stone played numerous roles on television and movies for almost 40 years, including guest roles on Big Valley (with fellow KST actor Steve Ihnat) and KST spinoff Run For Your Life. I remember him as gangster Frank Nitti in The St. Valentine's Day Massacre in 1967.

Robert Webber played the prosecutor. Webber was a well-known character actor for almost forty years until his death in 1989. This was the first of his two KST appearances. I remember him as a drug kingpin in Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978). He guest-starred in many of the most famous TV shows of his time.

Frank Maxwell played the armed guard in the first of his three KST appearances. He did character work for almost 50 years, including guest and regular appearances on network television. His roles usually were authority figures (police, military, etc.).

Andrew Duggan portrayed another of the scientists in the first of his two KST appearances. He is known for playing presidents, including Eisenhower and Johnson numerous times. He also played military leaders in modern settings and in westerns, such as Big Valley. He enjoyed many starring roles in television for nearly 40 years until his death in 1988.

Star Trek connection.

This episode's Star Trek actor is Frank Overton, who played the defense attorney. Overton starred in Star Trek's "This Side of Paradise" (directed by KST's Ralph Senensky). Overton played in one of the more well-known episodes of Twilight Zone, opposite KST's Gig Young. His IMDB "trivia" bio mentions his Star Trek appearance to the exclusion of the remainder of his 20 year career.

1 comment:

  1. An intelligent, thought provoking episode that still has me wondering what I'd do if I were in the same position as the characters in Leviathan Five. The writing is outstanding, as are the actors. This is an unusual one for Suspense Theater, a one off, highly dramatic, not gimmicky at all.