Friday, April 19, 2013

Kraft Suspense Theatre; A Lion Amongst Men; James Whitmore; Tommy Sands, Peter Duryea

Click here for the previous episode review.

Season #2, Episode #3

A Lion Amongst Men

Original Air Date
: October 22, 1964

Setting/Time: A small rural/mountain/western town (Cedar Bay) in the present (in late October).

Plot/Review/Discussion -

James Whitmore plays "the Major," a Korean War veteran that emphasizes preparedness and physical fitness in his daily living. He and his army friends have built a training center at their mountain cabin retreat. The Major believes that the rest of society, particularly the young people in high school, have gone soft. The conflict is established early, as the Major confronts some smart-alec students who show no respect to the Major and his friends.

The writer faced some difficulty in creating a balanced conflict among the characters. Ordinarily, smart-alec teenagers do not make for sympathetic characters - especially when they confront or oppose military veterans. So the writers gave the Major some unpopular traits. He disliked ethnic students. He used sneaky methods. He spoke in favor of "real Americans" and against "their kind." The Major was Archie Bunker nearly a decade before All in the Family. These traits balanced the negatives of the teenagers.

The Major's animus toward ethnic students and use of non-PC buzzwords served no purpose in the plot, as it played no role in the final confrontation. That character trait existed just so that the writers could present a political view.

The local teenagers, led by the high school quarterback named Riccio, go on a rampage of vandalism on Halloween eve. Their last stop is the Major's house. The teens' vandalism included cherry bombs. The noise from the cherry bombs sent the Major into an episode of post traumatic stress disorder. He began suffering flashbacks to the Korean War.

The Major captured Riccio and took him prisoner in the house while the other teenagers escaped. The Major began berating Riccio for various aspects of unAmericanism, while slowly slipping into a delusion that both of them were fighting in Korea a decade earlier.

The Major then began blaming his former superiors for orders that resulted in the death of the Major's soldiers in a particular Korean War battle. The Major took Riccio to the mountain retreat where his breakdown became complete. He eventually began firing his gun into the night air while Riccio tried to run away. This confrontation took place while the other teens and the sheriff raced to the retreat to rescue Riccio.

The main point of the story appears to focus on post traumatic stress. The Major's confrontation with Riccio brings that issue to the forefront, while the prejudice issue appears to serve no purpose. The "generation gap" also looms in the background, but is overshadowed by the other issues.  At the end, Riccio gains a new appreciation for the Major and what he endured in the war.  The episode was a learning experience for both characters, but the political issues got in the way.

The story could have been much more effective and dramatic had the writers not injected the political and PC elements into the story. In 1964, Americans were not yet tired of seeing fictional bad guys made obvious with dialogue that referred to "real Americans" while criticizing "their kind." The Archie Bunkers of television were still considered controversial and had not yet become mere parodies of themselves. Today, Americans have grown weary of the "race card." It has become too easy for a writer to place a "racist" label on a character by having him insult someone's ethnicity. For this reason, this episode has not aged well.

Just as importantly, both the war on terror and recent economic troubles in the U.S. and Europe have created a new emphasis on preparedness. The Major does not seem as out of place today as he would have been in 1964. As I watched this episode, I had to remind myself from the beginning that the Major would soon emerge as the bad guy.  The Major's emphasis on preparedness probably caused the 1964 audience to peg him as the bad guy much sooner. 

The Sheriff doubled also as the high school football coach. But he did not provide sports updates or serve as an art critic.

Cars

The Sheriff drove a 1964 Ford Galaxie. There also appeared to be a 1964 Dodge or Plymouth, which was somewhat common for this and other shows of that era. The high school kids drove a 1957 Dodge convertible.

Actors

James Whitmore played the Major. This was his second appearance on KST. His acting career spanned almost 60 years and featured such TV shows as Twilight Zone, Big Valley, KST spinoff Run For Your Life and The Virginian. He played a prominent role in 1970's Tora! Tora! Tora!

Tommy Sands played Riccio. Sands was, at the time, Frank Sinatra's son-in-law. He made guest appearances on such shows as United States Steel Hour, Wagon Train and Hawaii Five-0. He enjoyed a successful music career as a teen idol in the 1950's, singing in an episode of Kraft Theatre in 1957.

Star Trek connection

Peter Duryea played Palchek - one of Riccio's teenage friends. Little more than one month after this episode aired, Duryea began filming his role in Star Trek's first pilot episode - "The Cage." Duryea is one of many actors from that particular episode to be featured in KST.

No comments:

Post a Comment