Jeff Spencer! Welcome to the latest episode of "77 Sunset Strip", a more-than-welcome return to form following several episodes in this fourth season so mediocre that they're not worth commenting on. And I'm not giving away anything more about the plot except to say it entangles Spencer (at first skeptical about this bizarre situation, then downright sympathetic once he meets and befriends the tortured artist) into a labyrinth of puzzling clues, a creepy assortment of supporting characters, real-life incidents as startling as those in the artist's nightmare, and finally a satisfying conclusion, capped by a double-twist one-minute romantic postscript.
None of this would have worked were it not for the inspired casting and wonderful performances by the entire cast. Despite brief (and unnecessary) cameos by Efrem Zimbalist Jr. & Edd Byrnes, it's Roger Smith's show all the way and, as always, he comes up trumps. (How tragic that Smith's acting career was terminated after only a few more years, first by one, later on by another, nearly fatal illnesses, though his 50-year-marriage to Ann-Margret remains one of Hollywood's most inspiring, mostly untold love stories.) Another highly underrated actor, Peter Breck (soon to achieve TV stardom with "The Big Valley"), is terrific as the tormented artist. Stunning Norwegian actress Anna-Lisa keeps looking younger with each scene as the psychiatrist, and Andrea King (one of Warner Bros.' most popular leading ladies of the 1940s, now an equally fetching character actress) is a hoot as a self-proclaimed friend of the missing (murdered?) girl of Mr. Breck's nightmares, her ravenous appetite for gossip unwittingly providing Jeff with clues vital to his solution of this baffling mystery.
"Nightmare" has such a tantalizing, incident-and-character-filled plot that it easily could have been expanded into a 2-hour theatrical movie. That the cast and crew of "77 Sunset Strip" manage to compress it into a fast-paced 52-minute television episode (without sacrificing the in-depth characterizations and nuances necessary to make such a complex thriller so gripping) is a testament to their professionalism and expertise at their craft.