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 - 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 episode list for April 9, 1964. [Update - this episode was not a two parter. Near the end of the 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 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'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.]


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 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.]


  1. This episode is available to view on the Museum of Broadcast Communications website - It was not a two-parter.

  2. There is reason for confusion as to this episode identified as a "two-parter", because MCA/Universal later expanded this episode (as they did with four other episodes of "KRAFT SUSPENSE THEATRE", as well as other drama series and pilots), with additional footage, into a theatrical feature for overseas release [and limited release, stateside], "Nightmare in Chicago".

  3. I saw the longer version on TV about 35 years ago as Nightmare in Chicago; one additional scene I remember was the killer stealing the red 1957 Plymouth Belvedere (he beats up and knocks out the owner, a black man). The cars in the crash scene are that Plymouth, a '63 Chevy Impala that swerves and misses the Plymouth, a 1955 DeSoto two-door hardtop that goes out of control and crashes trying to avoid the Plymouth (this footage is shown twice, once with the film flopped to look like a separate crash (!) and finally a rare 1957 Plymouth Silver Special with Sportone side trim that finally hits the Belvedere and bursts into flames. When the Belvedere gets hit it spins 180 degrees and you can see a stage light mounted on the other side of the car.

  4. Also saw a nice shot of a 1963 Ford Country Squire station wagon going through the toll booth.