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.


  1. I am watching this epidode on Antenna TV right now and your summary certainly gave me a good laugh!

  2. Their Own Executioners was a strange, sub-par episode of KST. It's cast was excrllent, though I some had problems with the life affirming Bernardi character, who seemed ready to morph into Zorba the Greek at the drop of a plate, but no matter: small town New England setting nicely realized (especially at it was filmed enitirely in California).

    What was scadalous back fifty years ago,--the lawyer's relationship with the boy's mother--was a bigger deal, more dangerous to talk about back then than it would be today. The young murderer's "idealization" of his mother was truly from another time. As a time capsule it's an iteresting episode. but the way the moral issues were dealt with had by 21st century head spinning.