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This first television series produced by the company that became Four Star Productions was a surprisingly good, well written and directed show to have been produced on the west coast in the early fifties (the "quality" shows made in those days mostly emanated from New York, while the filmed shows made in Hollywood were mostly children and family fare such as Superman and The Lone Ranger, or else situation comedies). Four Star Theater was an attempt to make a first-class anthology series in Hollywood, and as such it succeeded. There were many outstanding episodes, and some highly gifted people worked on it from time to time, from writers of the caliber of Blake Edwards to such gifted directors as Robert Florey, Robert Aldrich and Tay Garnett. The shows ranged from mysteries to dramas to comedies; one never knew quite what to expect, which was part of the show's charm. I wish that some cable network would-rerun them,--they probably won't, since they're all filmed in black and white--or that they'll be reissued on tape or DVD. It's a show well worth looking for.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I especially enjoy Dante's Inferno with Dick Powell. The Four Star Playhouse used the talents of so many stars, and up and coming stars, they are too numerous to count. Dick Powell was always cool, and Dante is the reincarnation of Johnny O'Clock for him. He is the owner of a restaurant and gambling hall in the back room. The atmosphere is one that lends itself to trouble. Murder, robbery, and a variety of women enter the place and Willie is always able to handle all in stride. I love the film noir feel of this show. Dick Powell was always good as the classy, somewhat devious and not so honest man about town. There is a great deal of humor here too, and that makes it all the more enjoyable to watch.
I remember several episodes of Four Star Playhouse from 1953-54. Ida
Lupino was in one of them called "The green Dress" or something like
that. It scared the blazes out of me. In it, Ida Lupino starred as a
housewife murdered by her husband. She was pushed down a flight of
stairs and broke her neck. Later, she returned to haunt him as an
apparition at the top of the stairs, wearing the same green dress that
she died in. I was five or six years old at the time of viewing this.
Guess you could say it stuck in my mind! The other episode was the
story of a woman who was being exploited by relatives for money. They
were attempting to drive her mad or cause her suicide. The story
unfolds as this young woman is looking for a new place to live. Her
calculating uncle and aunt show her a renovated apartment that they
know of. She is shown in, and while she is distracted, the sinister
couple slips out and locks the door. Eventually this young woman
becomes quite desperate as all the doors and windows are locked,the
phone is disconnected, and nobody can hear her banging on the door. One
scene shows her opening a closet door only to be greeted by the site of
a hanging rope noose. She gets revenge by tricking her adversaries
inside and locking the door on them.
I was too young at the time to be a movie critic. In retrospect however, I think these were classics that shouldn't be missed by those who love unique,unsettling dramas.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Four Star Theatre is a superb dramatic anthology series which ran
between 1952 and 1956.
Uniquely the series featured four stars, Dick Powell, Ida Lupino, Charles Boyer and David Niven who rotated weekly as the guest stars of the episodes.
Powell, Niven and Boyer all also served as producers of the series. All the stars give fine performances in this and the episodes are a mixture of dramatic and comic stories.The reason I love anthology series such as this and The Twilight Zone is because you never know what story or setting you'll be presented with next, that's part of the attraction to such series.It's such a shame that anthology series are not made today.
It must have been great seeing these series at the time they originally aired, seeing these famous actors appearing weekly on TV must have been quite a treat.
Some of my favourite episodes are The Bomb, House For Sale, The Gun, A Study in Panic, The Man on the Train, Desert Encounter and The Girl on the Bridge.
According to the Tony Thomas book on The Films Of Dick Powell although
the company was named Four Star Productions only three stars ever
invested on the producing end, David Niven, Charles Boyer, and Dick
Powell. They never came up with a fourth though Ida Lupino kept them
dangling for a while.
Niven and Boyer were glad to let Powell run the business end of Four Star Productions. Powell himself eagerly embraced the new small screen medium of television, it was his firm belief that like Madonna you had to reinvent yourself periodically or become a has been in the entertainment business. So he went from crooning tenor in musicals to tough guy leading man to big time TV producer. Four Star Playhouse was one of many anthology series in those early television days of the Fifties and a source of good drama.
Not to mention it was the first of many television series that Four Star Productions created. You'll find a lot of familiar names in the credits of Four Star Playhouse in front of and behind the camera. Powell had a good eye for spotting talent and gave a boost to a lot of careers.
When Dick Powell died in early 1963 he was quite the tycoon, creating many shows under the Four Star banner. He even acted in several stories in Four Star and the Zane Grey Theater.
Several Four Star shows have been put on YouTube and I urge you strongly to see them.
Although Ida Lupino was not that interesting to look at, her themes of loneliness and singleness made a valuable contribution to later projects such as 'The Twilight Zone' and 'Thriller'. I can't say that I enjoyed this particular project, or any of her projects leading up to 1959. She was probably a better writer than actress.
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