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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.
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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