Saturday, April 9, 2011
Museum TV features four episodes of KST. There appears to be an intention for more episodes to appear in the future. You will have to look at the archive/search page to see what I mean.
The episodes appear in black and white (or possibly very faded color) for reasons that I do not know. The black and white appearance gives the episodes an air of more advanced age than the other episodes.
The episodes use the original Kraft Suspense Theatre title instead of the syndicated "Crisis" title that appears today on RTV and was used in the 1970's. The episodes appear with the original Kraft food commercials.
The episodes are even downloadable using RealPlayer or a similar program.
I have already fully reviewed three of the four episodes that appear at Museum.tv. I provided only a speculative review of Once Upon a Savage Night because I had never seen it before. I will update that review shortly.
Museum TV features many other programs, including news and documentaries, that aired in past decades. There seems to be an emphasis on Chicago based programming.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Season #2, Episode #2
Original Air Date: October 8, 1964. This episode, whether by design or otherwise, aired a little over two months before the 20th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge.
Setting/Time: Western Europe, World War II, 1944/1945. This is the third episode that took place during World War II.
"Operation Greif" appears, on its surface, to be a war story. In fact, the real story is deeper. This episode is more of a mystery story than a war story. The writer, Jerome Ross, had numerous writing credits to his name - many of which were for crime/mystery shows while none that I know of were military in nature.
The story is based loosely on the Battle of the Bulge, which took place in Western Europe as the allies were preparing their final push toward Germany and victory in the European war. The setting for the episode is the German attack, although we hear few references to the actual battle. The viewer hears nothing about "Bastogne," "Nuts" or other familiar words from that famous battle. The episode appears to take place in warm weather under clear skies, while the actual battle took place in heavy snow and cloud cover.
The story is not about the larger battle, but about five soldiers traveling together in a Jeep while the battle rages around them. Stock war footage is inserted at various transition points. The soldiers discover that the Germans have sent spies to infiltrate the American forces and disrupt allied operations. The soldiers begin to suspect each other (with some justification).
At this point, the episode is not merely about the action or even the mystery. The show is about the choices that the soldiers must make. Sergeant Henning has picked up the other four soldiers (in his Jeep) during the chaos of the battle at random locations as he rides to rejoin his unit with needed blood. None of them know each other. Each of them, especially the Sergeant in command, must make decisions as to whether to trust the other men in the Jeep. They face this decision repeatedly as they confront snipers, repair the Jeep and mingle with local farm residents.
At this point I will be vague as I try to avoid plot spoilers. The main characters are written and acted very well. Upon seeing this episode for the second and third times, I noticed that the characters are introduced to the story seemlessly in a way that the veiwer cannot fully appreciate until the end. One can almost recreate the writer's thought process as he works backwards from the basic story line to the details that establish the main conflict.
The plot was similar in some ways to the Twilight Zone episode, "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street." The KST episode was superior because it did not contain a hidden political message.
"Operation Greif" featured a tight plot while developing strong, entertaining characters with which the audience could identify. The plot advanced briskly toward a realistic conclusion.
Robert Goulet plays the pivotal role of Private Brubaker. Goulet was fresh from his success in Broadway's Camelot, whose 2+ year run had ended a year earlier (and which would be briefly revived with Goulet in 1993). Goulet would later win a Tony for The Happy Time in 1968. Goulet also enjoyed television and movie acting credits spanning nearly fifty years. He was married for 18 years to Carol Lawrence, who starred in one episode of KST during Season #2.
Claude Akins was perfect for the role of the gruff sargeant stereotype. Even though he was playing a stereotype, the role and character worked. His short commands and inquiries got to the point, advanced the plot and made the viewer believe that the story was real. Akins avoided the pitfall of overdoing the role with exaggerated gestures and mannerisms, as many of the more modern stereotype sargeant roles tend to do. His acting career spanned 40 years, including an uncredited role in 1953's From Here to Eternity, a part in 1959's Rio Bravo and many roles as military men, policemen, sheriffs and western gunfighters. He landed guest roles on such shows as Bonanza, Wagon Train, Dragnet, Big Valley, Guns of Will Sonnett, The Lucy Show and many, many others. He starred in two series of his own in the 1970's and early 1980's - Movin' On and Lobo. It is mildly ironic that in 1960, Akins played one of the leading roles on Twilight Zone's "Monsters are Due on Maple Street."
Claudine Longet played the teenage/20+ farm girl. She was known for numerous guest roles in the 1960's and 1970's. She was married for a time to Andy Williams. In 1976, she shot and killed her olympic skier boyfriend. Following a sensational trial, she served a 30 day jail term. That event now overshadows her entire career.
Peter Helm played the soldier muted by battle fatigue. He had previously starred in Season #1's "Are There Any More Out There Like You?"
Linden Chiles played Private Buttel. He continues to act today after more than 50 years in show business. I recall his guest role in the Time Tunnel when he played the main character's father at Pearl Harbor.
Don Dubbins played Corporal Shale. He acted for nearly 40 years, including an uncredited role in From Here to Eternity, guest roles in Big Valley, The Guns of Will Sonnett, Dynasty, KST spinoff Run for Your Life and other shows.
At least five of the actors in this episode appeared in more than one program/movie that took place during World War II. This fact helps show how influential that War was on film fiction for at least the following twenty years - influence that has waned following the 1960's. How many actors today can claim more than one World War II based credit?
Cars - The only vehicles in this episode were military vehicles such as the Jeep that carried the five soldiers and stock footage of tank battles inserted briefly at transition points in the story.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Season #2, Episode #1
The World I Want
Original Air Date - October 1, 1964
Setting/Time - A modern city in the present.
This episode is somewhat melancholy and sweet at the same time.
The main conflict in this episode is between an elderly cabinet maker and his wife. The man suspects that his wife is planning to kill him. He wants to disinherit her and leave his money to his orphaned niece. The conflict between the man and his wife escalates as the wife begins to suspect the husband's plans.
The title refers to the state of mind of the niece and the underlying conflict in the story. The niece has befriended a deaf and mute cousin that lives with the family. The growing conflict between her aunt and uncle upset her to the point that she would rather retreat into her fantasy world in which both she and the cousin are safe and happy and the conflict does not exist.
The niece takes on a larger role in the episode as the story goes on, as her fantasy world clashes directly with the aunt/uncle conflict when she and the cousin are forced into a final violent confrontation.
I am being vague as I wish to avoid plot spoilers and I have not seen this episode in well over a year. If RTV broadcasts this episode again, I will look for specific examples of scenes supporting the niece's longing for the "world" that she wants. As I recall, her desire for a different world is expressed both through her conversations with the cousin and her unhappiness with the growing strife in the household.
The underlying conflict in this story is the secret desire of the niece for her "world" versus the harsh reality in which she lives. Despite her desire for this world, the niece is not a child. I recall her being in her late teens or early 20's (as is the cousin). The outcome of the violent struggle helps determine the outcome of the niece's own desire for her world.
The idea of a separate "world" apart from the conflict of the aunt and uncle is reinforced by the living arrangements of the cousin. He lives below deck in a boat on the property of the aunt/uncle. The niece is never so happy as when she is visiting the cousin in his cramped quarters.
Halsted Welles received writing credits for this episode. His television writing credits span nearly thirty years, including four episodes of KST. His other KST episodes seemed to have the melancholy undertones that characterized this episode, although the plots were in no way similar.
Cars - I cannot remember the vehicles used in this episode, as most of it took place in and around the home. There were a few street scenes, so I am sure that cars played some role in the background. I will provide an update if RTV reruns this episode.
Albert Dekker played the uncle. He performed mainly character roles for over thirty years in movies and television, including Bonanza, Mission Impossible, Rawhide and KST spinoff Run For Your Life. He acted in 1955's East of Eden with future KST star Julie Harris and 1954's The Silver Chalice with KST actor Ian Wolfe. He had previously served as a Democrat state representative for the Hollywood district. He died in 1968 from what the coroner labeled autoerotic asphyxiation.
Jo Van Fleet played the aunt. She acted for over 35 years, including three episodes of Kraft Theatre in the 1950's and guest roles on shows such as Hitchcock, Route 66, Bonanza and Police Woman. In 1955, she acted in East of Eden with Albert Dekker.
Sal Mineo played the cousin. Mineo was 25 years old at the time. He was in a transition phase of his career. He was too old to play teen idol types and had begun playing darker characters.
Patricia Hyland played the niece. Her career appears to have been brief.
Star Trek connection -
Leonard Nimoy played the attorney that helped the uncle with his will. There were other Star Trek actors that played bigger roles on many KST episodes, but there was no KST guest star that was ever as high up on the Star Trek totem pole as Nimoy in this (and one later) episode.
Monday, February 28, 2011
I have now completed my reviews of each of the first season episodes. (Click here to see each of these reviews or consult the "Episode List" on the left side of this page.) Before beginning Season #2, I want to review some of what I have learned from reviewing Season #1. The posting format has developed over the course of the past few months in a way that would benefit from summary and explanation. So here is my section-by-section summary/explanation of what I have written from Season #1.
Title: I use the the title of each post as Google fly-paper. Each "title" is composed of a series of names, words and phrases with little apparent coherence. But it is the title that attracts Google traffic. Google users are not searching for clever phrases or sentences. Google searches look for keywords. I try to pick the most likely searched words and dump them into the title. If you peruse the "Site Meter" data, you will see that this approach works to a certain degree. You can see what the visitors typed into Google that landed them into a particular post.
The opening link: Each post begins with a link to the previous episode review. The most important feature of a blog is the ability of the viewer to move quickly from one post to another. This or any blog contains ongoing references to overlapping information. The more quickly a reader can move to another post, the more likely he is to obtain all of the available information. Readers that find their way to this blog (via Google) because of the information in one post should be able to look around and get to other posts without delay. The closing link for the next review at (or soon to be at) the bottom serves the same purpose. These links supplement the "Episode List" for that purpose.
Episode Number: I occasionally place additional commentary here to help place the episode in context. (Example here)
Episode Title: I place the title of each episode in boldface and larger letters so the reader will know at a glance which episode is at issue. This is especially important since the post title is full of miscellaneous phrases.
Original Air Date: This component often merits additional commentary that focuses on speculation regarding the original schedule, news events from the time in question or other contextual matters (example here and here).
Setting/Time: Most of the episodes take place in the present. There are a few examples from World War II or other situations (example here), many of which are presented through flashbacks (example here).
Plot/Review/Discussion: Obviously, this is the most important part of each review. I try to convey with each review my appreciation for the realism of each plot. I have stated repeatedly how the best plots feature the characters facing a choice instead of simply bed hopping or performing surgery or facing danger. A Hero for our Times (1.04) is a good example of one such plot.
Episode #1.05 is another good example. Episodes 1.25, 1.26 and 1.27 are also good episodes to watch the characters face difficult choices.
Some episodes involve variations on the "facing a choice" theme - such as where the choice is made at the beginning and the character(s) must live with the consequences. (1.06, 1.14, 1.16).
Other episodes with political agendas have plots that are more muddy (1.15, 1.28). Some episodes have mixed political/legal messages that now seem out of date and that make the plot somewhat implausible (1.07, 1.23).
Some episodes are more crime or action oriented with an element of mystery (1.11, 1.13, 1.18, 1.20, 1.22). These episodes vary in quality, with the best of them forcing the main character to struggle with some choice or come to terms with choices in his or her past.
My reviews seem vague because I try to be less specific as the episode goes on so as to avoid plot spoilers. I try to set up the characters and the conflict in a way that avoids any hint at the resolution. I also try to avoid spoiling the opening teasers, as the action in the KST openings sometimes contains a twist that is worth seeing without knowing what to expect.
In some cases, I try to identify the author of the story and explain how the story fits into the author's other work.
Sometimes the story also is based on Biblical, Shakespearean or other references (that are hinted at in the episode title). In the review I try to identify these references and how those references add meaning to the story.
I try to do more than simply establish the basic storyline and invite the reader to "find out" what happens by watching the episode. Much of today's advertising for television programs uses the "find out" approach to attract viewers. Even many of the summaries that appear online describe television and film in this way. This approach assumes that people watch television solely for the purpose of finding out what happens instead of enjoying the story as a whole. The resolution becomes the whole reason to watch the program. The flaw in this approach becomes apparent once the viewer has seen the program. The story is now over. The viewer knows how it ends. The viewer retains no interest in the story or in watching the episode again unless the story itself presented an interesting conflict. In the most enduring programs, it is just as interesting to watch the characters struggle for the conclusion as the conclusion itself. These programs achieve lasting success and are watched in syndication for decades. Viewers watch the same episodes again and again even though they know the outcome. They are not watching simply to "find out" what happens.
My goal is to provide enough context that the reader will want to see the episode for reasons other than the simple desire to "find out" what happened. I believe that the viewer will want to explore the issues created by the conflict and will enjoy seeing the issues play out. I believe that KST possesses the enduring qualities that would create the type of loyal following that would cause viewers to want to see these episodes more than once despite being aware of how the episode ended.
Cars: This portion of the review is often the most fun. I am not an expert on vehicles of the 1950's and 1960's, but I can get a good idea of what I am seeing on the screen. Once I have a rough idea of the year and make of the car, I can narrow it down by searching Google images. Even then, I am sometimes guessing as to the year. If KST had been broadcast 25 or so years later, distinguishing among the various years would be impossible.
Before I began this blog, I was under the impression that the 1963 Mercury Monterey made more appearances than it actually made throughout the series. After paying attention to the extent necessary to write these reviews, it seems that that model makes only a few appearances (although more than most cars of that era and as many as any other model). The 1960 Mercury Monterey is almost as prominent, as is the 1964 Ford Galaxie, various Lincolns and various years of the Ford Thunderbird.
The best season # 1 episodes for cars are 1.04, 1.06, 1.19 and 1.27, (with honorable mention to 1.05, 1.11 and 1.28.) These choices are based on the best variety of cars and the best use of those cars during the episode.
Each discussion of cars begins with a link back to the original "cars" post so that a reader can learn the context of my "cars" discussion.
Actors: Kraft Suspense Theatre has been relatively unknown compared to other shows of its (or any) era. Syndication has been rare until the recent RTV era. I think this relative obscurity is unjustified given the stories and the actors in each episode. As I have tried to make clear in my reviews, each episode featured well-known actors who remain recognizable today. I try to point out the famous actors that appear in each episode.
KST remains a lesser known work in the careers of many actors that would later find fame in movies or television. KST also featured actors that were legendary at the time, thus revealing that KST was somewhat more important during its first run than its later obscurity would indicate.
KST also featured many character actors that made a career from guest appearances in famous television programs of the past six decades. Despite KST's obscurity, these appearances help place KST on a par with those other series.
The same is true of directors that later became famous for major movies or other TV series.
By pointing out these connections, I hope to raise KST's status from that of an obscure television show not popular enough for its own DVD release to that of a classic series from television's golden age.
Star Trek connections: I have written about this feature here. I have several reasons for making the comparison between these shows.
I am primarily a Star Trek fan. There are already too many sites devoted to Star Trek. I have very little to say about Star Trek that has not already been said or written. Discussing KST allows me to write about an underappreciated, quality show while pursuing an unexplored connection to Star Trek.
Lessons - I began including a list of "lessons" of particular episodes only when the plot is weak, when there is an agenda or when the story involves some implausible or bizarre scenario. Eventually, I began including lessons whenever I saw an opportunity for a joke. Episodes that include a list of lessons are 1.15, 1.22, 1.23, 1.25 and 1.28.
Labels - The labels at the bottom serve a specific blog related function. I include in the "label" section only those terms or names that will appear in other posts on this blog. This usage will allow the reader to click on that term and find other posts that use the same term. I will not include the most prominent name in each episode if that name does not appear in other episodes or other posts - even if I have written extensively about that name in that particular post. In this way, the labels allow the reader to move easily from post to post in search of information about a particular topic.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Ms. Francis constituted one of the many connections between KST and The Forbidden Planet. (The others include Leslie Nielsen, Jack Kelly, Richard Anderson, Warren Stevens and William Boyett.)
The Washington Post obituary (as well as Ms. Francis' Wikipedia entry) mentioned many of her roles, but did not mention her starring role in KST (much like many sources of information about famous performers who starred in KST).
Francis was the second KST/Forbidden Planet star to pass away in little more than a month, as Leslie Nielsen died on November 28th.
Anne Francis and Robby the Robot from a publicity photo for The Forbidden Planet - H/T insai.net