Dan Mathews stops for breakfast in the small, isolated town of Larchmont. He finds that the residents are unwilling to do any business with him (or even talk to him) and that they are obviously anxious to see him leave. Even the county medical officer is behaving secretively and gives evasive answers to Dan's routine questions. Dan decides to investigate further when an inquiry to headquarters reveals that local farmer Charlie Barrett was attempting to drive away in a stolen convertible. Relentless questioning of Barrett, diner owner Jenny Crane, and other local residents finally results in an admission that general store owner Frank Wilkins had killed a man in self defense the previous evening. Dan interrupts a hastily arranged funeral service for the dead man and learns that he had been wanted for robbery and murder. He also learns that there was a valid reason for the townspeople's attempts to conceal Wilkins' actions. Written by
Much of a law enforcement officer's work is routine. On August 18th, the head of the Highway Patrol was making an ordinary inspection tour of outlying patrol stations. But the atmosphere in the isolated community of Larchmont was anything but ordinary.
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Not quite highway noir, Desert Town is a tense, compact, very human focused entry of the Highway Patrol series. It feels at times like a small screen version of the feature film Bad Day At Black Rock, only it's shorter and doesn't have the time for much character development, so relies mostly on its plot, which is an intriguing one.
Chief Dan Mathews arrives in a desert town looking for breakfast in a small diner. The behavior of the woman who works at he counter and of the various other people he meets suggests that something is being concealed. The town-folk would rather Mr. Mathews mind his own business: not stick around, not ask questions, not look at license plates.
But Mathews is a law enforcement officer, and when he sees something that looks or feels not quite normal, not right, he becomes suspicious. This is his job. The only reason he drove into the town in the first place was to find a place that served breakfast; and before long, as the saying goes, one thing leads to another. While I wouldn't go so far as to say all hell breaks, as a result of Matthews' investigation of the town things will never be quite the same again.
A strong, slightly offbeat episode, it ramps up the tension nicely, and in the end it plays fair with the viewer. Written, acted and directed with admirable professionalism, Desert Town is about as good a TV half-hour of its era could be short of brilliance and inspiration. Just because it's of high journeyman quality doesn't make it a less than first rate effort for what it is.
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