Sunday, October 31, 2010

Kraft Suspense Theatre; Charlie, He Couldn't Kill a Fly; Keenan Wynn; Richard Kiley

Click here for the previous episode review.

Season #1, Episode #25

Charlie, He Couldn't Kill a Fly

Original Air Date - May 7, 1964

Setting/Time - New York City in the present. (Update - After viewing the episode again, I think this is a mistake. I believe the episode takes place in a generic city instead of New York. I was misled by the reference to the "Mets." See below for details.)


From the very beginning of "Charlie" it becomes apparent to the viewer that there can be no happy ending to this story.

Charlie is a nice and gentle man who happens to be an alcoholic. He fails to provide for his wife and teenage son. He constantly talks about big plans, but he never follows through. His wife and teenage son live in relative squalor because of Charlie's failings. The situation has dragged on for years.

Charlie's wife works and provides for the family. (Today, Charlie and his family would be on "disability" and/or would receive subsidized housing and other assistance.) The wife plans to leave Charlie for her boss. The story begins as she struggles with the decision of how and when to tell Charlie and her son.

The story is doomed to an unhappy ending because the wife faces a choice between two bad outcomes. Either way, Charlie will continue to be miserable. The wife must choose between continued misery and guilt, depending on whether she leaves Charlie.

The story is complicated when Charlie witnesses a murder early in the episode and is wrongly charged for the killing by the police. The murder victim is a notorious drug dealer in Charlie's neighborhood. Charlie suddenly receives respect from the neighbors when they think he killed the drug dealer. He enjoys the role of hero, sobers up and begins spending time with his son. The son develops a new respect for his dad. The false accusation is the best thing that has happened to Charlie in years.

This scenario sets up the choice that Charlie must face. If he accepts the blame for the murder, he will be a somebody. The one man who believes Charlie is innocent is Lou, his wife's boss. Lou begins his own investigation to prove that Charlie is innocent.

As Lou continues getting closer to discovering the real killer, it becomes apparent that this discovery will destroy all of the progress that Charlie has made. Lou presses on anyway, despite (or because of) his genuine desire to help Charlie and Charlie's family. Charlie, Lou and Charlie's wife are each caught in their own dilemma where any resolution will lead to a different bad consequence. All of these dilemmas are forced to the forefront when Lou finds and confronts the real killer. The episode then proceeds to its climax (involving multiple verbal and physical confrontations), with each dilemma wrapped up and concluded in its own neat and miserable package.

Despite the hopelessness of the situation(s), the story is absorbing. The plot depends on the resolution of the personal conflicts and the decisions the characters must make. The physical confrontations provide a stepping stone for the plot to advance, but are not the object of the plot.

The writer is Irv Pearlberg, who wrote mostly for TV crime, law and police shows (Paper Chase, Quincy, Hawaii Five-0, Police Woman, Baretta, The Rookies, Cannon, F.B.I., Ironside, Columbo, etc.). He would later contribute to Season #2's "That He Should Weep For Her."

Despite Pearlberg's eventual resume', the crime and police aspects of this episode are relatively minor. This is not a mystery story. At its heart, this episode is not a crime story. The crime in this episode merely interfered with an already unfolding tragedy and sent that tragedy in a new direction. The crime forced the characters to reexamine their lives and their choices. It forced the characters to make new choices. The drama came not from the anticipation of an arrest or conviction, but from the human interactions that both preceded and followed the crime.

At one point, I recall Lou making reference to Charlie and his son attending the Mets game, even though the stock footage appears to be from Yankee Stadium. I will have to pay more attention to this part when this episode airs again. It is possible that the baseball players that appear briefly in the stock footage are among the legendary Yankees of that era. (Update - After viewing this episode again, I no longer believe this episode takes place in New York. Lou refers to the Mets being "in town." Lou refers to Charlie having a choice between seeing the Mets or waiting for the Dodgers. This reference implies that both the Mets and Dodgers would be visiting teams if they played "in town." Also, I cannot tell what stadium the stock baseball footage is from. There are a few clues, such as a distance marker on the outfield wall and a few player numbers. A true baseball trivia expert could probably identify the stadium.)

The music score worked in this episode. The background music was soft and ominous, long before the episode reached its climax. The music contributes to a general feeling of despair as the story progresses.

I have written earlier that KST episodes always exuded class. In this case, Charlie always wore a suit and tie, even when he was stumbling home drunk from a night at the bar. While more recent programs would give their subjects a more "realistic" appearance, realism comes not from appearance, but from the plot and dialogue. Modern shows and their visual effects do not compensate for the lack of plot that could be found in shows like KST. KST and this episode work even today despite the supposedly outdated appearance.

Update - Upon viewing the episode again, I was struck by the fact that there were no "bad guys" in this episode, except for the drug pusher who was killed early in the story. The main conflict is internal, as the characters struggle with decisions as to what to do. The conflict also exists between good guys, which often makes for the best and most subtle kind of conflict.


The cars in this episode are the standard 1963 and 1964 Plymouth Fury police cars, parked cars and taxis in the background. Vehicles did not play a major role in this story.


Keenan Wynn played Charlie. His acting credits span more than 40 years, including guest roles on many of the most prominent TV series of the 1960's and 1970's. I will always remember him for his role in Herbie Rides Again - the 1974 sequel to The Love Bug.

Beverly Garland played Charlie's wife. Her 50+ year career included regular or recurring roles on such shows as 7th Heaven, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and My Three Sons (and others).

Richard Kiley played Lou. His 50+ year career included numerous roles in TV series and mini-series (including recurring roles on Kraft Theatre in the 1950's), two Tony Awards (including one for his role in "Man of La Mancha") and movie roles such as the pilot in 1974's The Little Prince and the "tour voice" in 1993's Jurassic Park.

Michael Burns played Charlie's son. He had previously played in Kraft Mystery Theatre in 1963 opposite Jack Kelly and Broderick Crawford. Berkeley Harris played in the second of his two KST roles as the real killer. He had previously played in the same Kraft Mystery Theatre episode as Michael Burns. Myron Healey (who played the police detective) is another KST repeat actor, having previously starred in "One Step Down." Joan Staley played a witness in this episode. She would later star in Season #2's "Kill Me On July 20th."

Fans of The Bob Newhart Show will recognize the actor who played Benny Galati in the bar scenes. Noam Pitlik would become a semi-regular guest on Dr. Newhart's couch in the 1970's.

Walter Brooke played a minor role in this episode. He previously played in The Case Against Paul Ryker. He uttered the famous line about "plastics" in The Graduate.

Roy Glenn played the piano player. He is rumored to be the original voice of Tony the Tiger, but that rumor is apparently denied by Kellogg's. (The voice sounded right to me.) Update - upon watching this episode again, I noted that Glenn's character was the only one unhappy that the drug dealer had died - because Glenn would now need a different source for his narcotics.

Star Trek connection states that Joseph Mell played a character named "Harry" that I will have to pay more attention to the next time I see this episode. Mell played a small role with symbolic dialogue on the Star Trek pilot "The Cage" (along with several other KST actors). If you have trouble recognizing him in this episode, he is a stocky bald man who also played in Twilight Zone in the same episode as future KST and Star Trek guest actor Warren Stevens. Update - After seeing this episode again, I identified Mell/Harry as Berkeley Harris' neighbor who was present on the stairwell during the final confrontation.

Update - Lessons I learned from "Charlie, He Couldn't Kill a Fly."

  • If your friends and neighbors get tired of listening to your BS, kill a local drug dealer and they will like you again.
  • Black musicians will be inconvenienced if you kill a drug dealer.
  • You can kill in self-defense only once. Any more than that and the cops will think that you are "a killer."

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Kraft Suspense Theatre; The Sweet Taste of Vengeance; John Forsythe; Diana Hyland; Brazilian Carnivale

Click here for the previous episode review.

Season 1, Episode #24

The Sweet Taste of Vengeance

Original Air Date - April 30, 1964

Setting/Time - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in the present.


I have not seen this episode (although I know that RTV has aired this episode at least once in the past 2+ years). I have read three plot descriptions online - each one with a somewhat different description.

The story seems to involve a wealthy divorced American woman who travels to Brazil, while being followed by detectives sent by her ex-husband. The plot is complicated by a playboy that she meets in Brazil. The story takes place against the backdrop of the Brazilian "Carnivale" celebration.

The remaining details are disputed among the various reviews I have read. None of them explain where "vengeance" fits in to the story. Obviously, I will have to fill in more details if RTV ever broadcasts this episode again.

Frank Fenton enjoyed writing credits for this episode, having previously received writing credits for KST episodes "My Enemy, This Town" - 1.15 and "Name of the Game" - 1.10 as well as four episodes of KST spinoff Run For Your Life and Kraft Mystery Theatre's "Shadow of a Man." While I have seen several of these episodes, they have no common theme that would provide a clue as to the plot of this episode, unless Forsythe's character bears a resemblance to Jack Kelly's character in "Shadow" or "Name of the Game" - or unless this episode involves gambling or casinos.


John Forsythe plays a prominent role in the first of his two KST episodes.

Diana Hyland also played a prominent role (probably the ex-wife). She acted until her death in 1977 at the age of 41, just as her starring role in Eight is Enough was getting underway.

Jack Weston played (most likely) a detective in his second KST role, having acted previously in One Step Down - 1.06.

It is difficult to be certain which actors match which roles.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Their Own Executioners; Kraft Suspense Theatre; Dean Stockwell; Dabney Coleman

Click here for the previous episode review.

Season #1, Episode # 23

Their Own Executioners

Original Air Date - April 23, 1964

Setting/Time - A small town just outside of Boston in the present.


The basic plot of this episode centers on a young man (Martin) who has killed his wife just before the episode begins. The viewer does not see the murder, but learns that the young man kicked his wife to death. Most of the episode consists of an older lawyer (Joe Monti) attempting to help the young man by convincing the young man that he did not premeditate the killing.

The title refers to both the old lawyer and the young defendant. The lawyer discovers early in the episode that he is terminally ill. He accepts this news and does not want to fight the disease, while the young man does not want to prevent the execution that surely awaits him if he does not let lawyer Joe Monti help him. Each man is thus acting as his own executioner.

The old lawyer goes to great lengths to convince the young man to say that he did not premeditate the murder. The young man's resistance to the old man's efforts constitutes the major conflict of the episode.

The method by which Monti tries to help Martin is confusing. Monti discovers that Martin's wife was not virtuous, but was flirtatious with other men. Monti throws this discovery in Martin's face. Monti then drops the bombshell on Martin that Martin's own mother had a less than virtuous past. I am not sure I fully understand this strategy. Monti seemed to be arguing that Martin had a false ideal about his mother that his wife failed to live up to. By convincing Martin that his own mother was just as bad . . . . . well, I am not sure how that comparison was supposed to help Martin or Monti.

This revelation was complicated when Monti revealed his own role in Martin's mother's promiscuous past.

At one point, Monti told Martin that he had hit his own (deceased) wife, although only after opening his hand at the last minute before the blow landed. Again, I am not sure what this admission has to do with anything. At this point, Martin was probably hoping that if the case went to trial, Monti would not use this little tidbit in front of the jury.

A secondary plot involves Monti's daughter and her impending marriage to the local weasel. The groom-to-be commits various acts of weaselness, including convincing the daughter to change her appearance and name so as to hide her Italian heritage. At one point, Monti mutters to himself that if his daughter marries this man, he will slowly and figuratively kick her to death over time.

This is the second KST episode in which a defense attorney helps his client solely by convincing the client of his (her) own (relative) innocence - as if the prosecutor, judge and jury are mere afterthoughts. The first exemple of this plot occured in "The Machine That Played God" (1.07).

This is the first of two KST episodes that discussed the death penalty at length (the second one would be "A Cruel and Unusual Night" 1.28). These episodes aired during a roughly 15 year period when the courts favored the rights of criminal defendants and before the public outcry and backlash began. My own opinion is that the writers were looking for some way to create sympathy for Martin in this episode. This search for a pro-defendant story resulted in the convoluted arguments regarding Martin's mother and his own wife's conduct. The storyline suffered as a result of the inclusion of a political agenda. Otherwise, the story of two men overcoming their passive acceptance of their own fate was somewhat compelling.


The lawyer is driven to the jail by his doctor in a 1960 Mercury Monterey. It is the same color as the 1960 Monterey that appears in two other episodes of Season 1. The viewer sees the car from the back as it backs out of a driveway and heads down the road. A viewer can really appreciate the size of the tail fins and the width of the car. The sound of the wheels pulling away on the wet road while a train can be heard in the background underscores the late night atmosphere that the producer/director/writer were trying to create.


Herschel Bernardi plays the old lawyer, Joe Monti. Bernardi was only 41 when this episode aired. He had previously played a supporting role in Billy Wilder's Irma la Douce with future KST and Star Trek actress Grace Lee Whitney. In the 1970's he played the title role in the TV series Arnie.

Dean Stockwell played Martin. He continues to act today following a roughly 65 year career. His longest running role was in Quantum Leap. Contemporaneously with KST, he guest starred on Hitchcock, Twilight Zone and many other shows of that and other eras.

Virginia Vincent plays Joe Monti's daughter, even though Ms. Vincent was born only one year later than Herschel Bernardi.

Dabney Coleman plays the weasel in the second of his two KST appearances (having previously appeared in "The Threatening Eye" 1.18).

Star Trek Connection

Robert Fortier played a small, but important role in this episode. The prior interaction between Martin's wife and Fortier's character helped Monti establish his "theory" by which he convinced Martin to fight the murder charges. Fortier would later star (with KST repeat actor Warren Stevens) as Tomar, one of the conquering aliens in the Star Trek episode, "By Any Other Name." He guest-starred in Outer Limits with Grace Lee Whitney three months before "Executioners" aired. That same year, Fortier also acted in Alexander the Great with William Shatner and Adam West (even though that show would not air for four more years).

Quote of the Episode

"We hit our wives, we don't hit our mothers." - Bernardi/Monti

Lessons I learned from "Their Own Executioners"

  • It is OK to hit your wife as long as you open your hand at the last minute.
  • See "Quote of the Episode" above.
  • If your mother was promiscuous many years ago, it is ok to kill your wife today.
  • If you are on trial for murder, find a lawyer that beat his own wife and slept with your mother.