Saturday, November 20, 2010

Kraft Suspense Theatre; The Robrioz Ring; Robert Loggia; Julie Harris

Click here for the previous episode review.

Season #1, Episode # 27

The Robrioz Ring

Original Air Date - May 28, 1964

Setting/Time - A beach town near San Diego in the present.

Plot/Review/Discussion

Having seen this episode more than once, it is apparent that it takes more than one viewing to appreciate all of the plot layers in this story. Two individuals come together in a west coast beach town, each with their own story, their own history and their own problems. Their stories are brought together almost seamlessly by an ancient ring in ways that will be hard for the viewer to predict.

(Do not be put off by my reference to an "ancient ring." Even though this reference might cause a modern audience to think of magic, sorcery and wizards, nothing of the sort plays a role in this episode. The ring just happens to be the object at the center of the conflict.)

Mario Robrioz is a cliche'd playboy who does not work and lets women support him. He is descended from long lost Spanish royalty that settled the region centuries ago. His most prized possession is an old ring passed down through many generations from son to son. The ring is his tie to the past. His past gives him the pride that allows him to refuse work and live with a royal attitude. Upon returning from a trip, he discovers that his mother has pawned the ring. Enraged, he spends the episode trying to get it back.

Lucy Bram is a spinster school teacher from Philadelphia vacationing on the west coast with two friends. She happens to buy the ring at the pawn shop just as Mario arrives.

Lucy's role is somewhat confusing at first. While Julie Harris is very attractive, she is called upon to play Hollywood's version of a less attractive female. Despite her obvious attractiveness, the role is that of a spinster. So the story uses various devices to convince the viewer that she is the least attractive of her group (clothing, shyness, more outgoing friends, etc.). (Hollywood would never actually cast an unattractive woman as a romantic lead.) This characterization is important because, as the spinster, she is the right woman in the right place to turn Mario's task into a romantic nightmare.

Mario uses romance as a ruse to get close to the women over the next few days. He fixes their flat tire, acts as tour guide, etc. Mario's plan works only too well - Lucy falls for Mario, but Mario also falls for Lucy. That is the point where the proverbial hijinks begin. Lucy will not admit to her friends that she is in love with Mario. When their friends catch them together, she must pretend that Mario's advances are unwanted - thus enraging Mario.

Lucy has two reasons for pretending that there is no affair:

  • The pair really have nothing in common. She is not going to throw away her schoolteacher/ spinster life to settle down with a somewhat crude playboy that does not work for a living.

  • Lucy is afraid that no one would believe that a man would be interested in her. She is taking the easy way out instead of trying to convince her friends of a scandalous truth.
Lucy suffers pain and embarrassment - pain at having to give up Mario and embarrassment for having been with him in the first place. These emotions are explored sympathetically (but are not beaten to death). Lucy is trapped by her past and by who she is. [Mario would later summarize their differences by saying (in one of his calmer moments), "We are who we are." ] But while Lucy is trapped by her past, Mario is predictably enraged by it - even to the point of forgetting (for the moment) his goal of recovering the ring. Mario is angered not at rejection (for he is not really rejected) but at being hidden. Mario is angry because Lucy is embarrassed.

This point is where the conflict is most pronounced. Through a series of encounters with Mario (and as her friends console her) we see Lucy suffer from her own internal conflict about what to do. She also is forced to deal with Mario's anger. At this point, neither Lucy's nor Mario's behavior is exemplary (this is the point where I became vague so as to avoid plot spoilers).

The conflict is presented subtly (despite Mario's outbursts). A first-time viewer might mistake the drama as an abusive suitor vs. a reluctant woman. But upon reflection and consideration of all of the dialogue it becomes obvious that the relationship is very complicated. Just as Lucy is struggling with new and confusing experiences, Mario is coming to grips with his own life. We see him slowly realize that this affair is about more than just the ring and more than merely his relationship with this woman. He, too, has been trapped by his past.

As with prior episodes, I appreciate this episode much more by comparing it to the Hitchcock episodes of that era. Had this story aired on Hitchcock, the ring would have possessed some magical power that would have dominated the plot and resolved the climax. Instead, the characters' own decisions dominated the plot, while the ring slowly got pushed to the background. Rather than take the easy way out by resolving the plot with magic or spirits, the story forced the characters to face their own identities and their own pasts. What the story lacked in cleverness, it made up for in thoughtfulness.

The music score for this episode is unique among KST episode, unlike many of the scores that were repeated in at least three or four episodes.

This episode featured numerous beach scenes, including shots of naval ships near San Diego. The outdoor scenery made the episode more realistic.

Actors

Robert Loggia played Mario. He has been a fixture in movies and television for more than 50 years, including guest appearances on Hitchcock and Big Valley, starring roles on short lived TV series and films now in post-production. This episode was Loggia's first of two KST appearances.

Julie Harris plays Lucy. She has been active for more than sixty years. She starred with James Dean in East of Eden in 1955. She was a regular on Knots Landing in the 1980's. She was honored at Kennedy Center in 2005.

Julie Adams played one of Lucy's traveling companions. This was the first of her two KST episodes. She has acted for roughly sixty years and remains active in lesser roles today. She was featured in recurring roles in The Jimmy Stewart Show, Perry Mason, Murder She Wrote and others (plus numerous one-time guest roles).

Virginia Gregg played the other travelling companion whose wisdom and experience helped Lucy during and after her encounters with Mario. Her voice was a fixture on radio for many years. She received repeat guest roles on shows such as Gunsmoke, Dragnet, Hitchcock, Twilight Zone and others. One of her now most noted roles was uncredited at the time, when she played the voice of Norman Bates' mother in Psycho (and both sequels).

Cars

"Robrioz Ring" was a good episode for observing classic cars. The traveling ladies drove a light blue, convertible 1964 Ford Galaxie, which model was usually reserved for police cars in shows of that era. Numerous other cars appeared on the street during driving or walking scenes, including a 1960 Chevy, a Corvair, a 1959 Cadillac, an early 1960's Volkswagen Beetle, a Thunderbird and a 1961 or 1962 Buick Skylark (and others). The viewer can also see the same 1963 Chrysler as a background vehicle in numerous scenes. This collection of cars would today make for a popular car show. But in TV of the 1960's, they were merely background that you would miss if you blinked.

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