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Snakes on a Plane
The obligatory plane crash and survivors story, but a successful variation on the oft-repeated theme. Captain Greer's assignment is to transport aged and dying gangster Tony Lando to a place where he can divulge his great secret in a grand gesture. Greer inexplicably arranges to fly Lando on a commercial flight and on a bargain basement airline. That ill-conceived plan quickly goes awry, of course.
Pete, Linc, and Greer go it alone this time, leaving Julie behind I suspect to complete filming her many scenes in "Hello, Mother, My Name is Julie." Filmed on location, "Flight Five" is a more ambitious than average episode and likely required more time, though the location is nearby Bronson Canyon.
The guest cast is presented in a lineup as each man presents himself at undercover airline steward Pete's ticket counter. In addition to Lando and his mouthpiece Max, there's the self-important surgeon, the freaked-out first-time flyer kissing his mezuzah, and the returning Vietnam vet, who gets a hearty handshake and "welcome home" from Pete in what may have been an eyebrow-raising scene for the program's counterculture demographic.
On the heels of that comes Linc's own discordant scene. Linc, undercover flight engineer, asks the black pilot why he's not flying for a major airline. Slapping down the race card, the embittered pilot replies, "For the same reason Satchel Paige isn't in the Baseball Hall of Fame." Instead of taking the opportunity to knock the chip off the pilot's shoulder, Linc blithely agrees with him, which not only tacitly condoned the pilot's racism but shined a light into an ugly corner of Linc's character.
Fortunately, the audience isn't given time to dwell on these conflicted attempts at character development as the action quickly escalates. The plane is hijacked, forced to crash land, and the survivors soon learn the truth. Caught between the good guys and the bad guys are the stuffed-shirt surgeon Jay Milton and the radio repairman and professional nebbish Sol Albert, played perfectly by Russ Conway and Marvin Kaplan. So effective and endearing was Kaplan's comedic Sol Albert that he was invited back the following season to reprise his role.
The villains of the piece can be divided between the sympathetic bad guy seeking redemption and the unrepentantly rotten ones. Broken-down mobster Tony Lando has only six months to live and has found religion, praying for his erstwhile enemy Greer and clutching the miraculous medal (the Catholic complement to Kaplan's Jewish mezuzah). Tony has forgiven his nemesis Greer for sending him to prison so long ago. Through this ordeal, Tony, like the good thief Dismas, has found salvation. Mocking Tony's prayers is Bobby Willoughby, glancing conspiratorially to his latter-day Judas accomplice.
A highlight of the episode is the humbled Dr. Milton guiding Linc through a life-saving surgery. "Surgery's not a mystery, just mechanics," says Milton, encouraging his reluctant student. The scene does flirt with parody when Pete dabs away the sweat beads from Linc's face, underscored later by Pete calling Linc "Dr. Kildare." But the soberness of the scene prevails, and I hoped this bond forged between Linc and Greer would be remembered and referenced in future episodes.
"Flight Five Doesn't Answer" is a consistently suspenseful and entertaining episode that Pete and Linc bring in for a smooth landing with memorable last lines: "After today, man, I really believe that the best things in life are free. Just being alive." Amen to that.
PS: If you enjoyed this episode's plot, it was reworked for the first season SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN episode "Survival of the Fittest." Among the similarities: phony servicemen aboard the plane with orders to assassinate a prominent figure, a baddie named Bobby, an amateur has to perform emergency surgery under the guidance of an older, wiser character, and in the end the comic relief learns she had boarded the wrong plane. (One big minus for the SMDM story was its being larded with a soapy romance, but outweighing that misstep was its boasting William Smith as a guest star!).
Bonanza: The Sisters (1959)
Tis Better to Have Loved and Lost?
Only fourteen shows into the 430-episode epic series and already each Cartwright has loved and lost. This time it's Adam's turn to suffer.
Like father like son, Adam has fallen for a saloon girl. As Ben haughtily lectures Adam on his involvement with a woman the townspeople whisper about, he seems to have forgotten his own scandalous love for a disreputable actress ("The Magnificent Adah") and his implied romantic relationship with a saloon girl in just the preceding episode, "Vendetta." Ben's wisdom-tinged moralizing falls upon deaf ears, however, and Adam--like so many men before and after him--rushes in where angels fear to tread.
Hoss loved and lost in "The Newcomers," and Little Joe in "The Truckee Strip," both of which episodes slipped into melodrama. So what a delight that "The Sisters" instead took a turn towards murder mystery! While Adam kisses his beloved goodnight a shot rings out and Sue Ellen wilts like a cut flower. Adam races off into the shadows after the assassin, and ends up getting charged with the heinous crime. Why didn't he stay with Sue Ellen until the doctor arrived? Were her fading moments spent surrounded by gawking strangers?
I believe Adam made a poor choice in that moment--and a revealing one. Adam is a man of a fragile ego, one easily bruised, and when he believes he's been dishonored he will stop at nothing to avenge it. This is evident in the duel that opens the episode, Adam's roughing up and demanding an apology from Dixie, and finally his impulsive rush to vengeance while his girlfriend is abandoned and left to die. Adam is never shown grieving over his loss; in fact, Ben seems to take it harder than Adam, maybe because Ben has been there time and time again.
Before affable Sheriff Roy Coffee joined the cast in the second season, Virginia City was policed for at least several terms by rogue lawman Sheriff Jesse Sanders. Buddy Ebsen is impressive playing the corrupt lawman with a perverse edge. It was an ugly role, far from folksy Jed Clampett and Barnaby Jones, but one that shows his range and which makes fans such as myself appreciate Ebsen even more.
The mystery plot was intriguing and the writers gave us several possible suspects, each with a motive and acting suspiciously, of course. Serving as a catalyst is Malcolm Atterbury as town drunk Dixie enjoying his fifteen minutes of fame recounting and reenacting his increasingly fanciful take on the shooting, which unbelievable as it was, nonetheless provoked the half-soused barflies to get a lynch mob together to string up hapless Adam. Sheriff Sanders bemoans to Adam the prospect of having to shoot voters in order to protect a prisoner. Sanders was despicable, concerned only with reelection to his cushy job. Watching Sanders curry favor with voters, idle away the day playing cards with his deputies, and calling upon the young lady with whom he's infatuated, I wondered how Ben Cartwright could ever have been friends with this horrible man. And Sanders notes Ben and he have been friends a long time, ever since Adam was just a lad.
The mystery of the murderer's identity wasn't too difficult to solve. And it was cool to see Adam prefigure Han Solo with some under-the-table shooting. Sanders conveniently ties up all the loose ends and exonerates Adam before expiring, perhaps oversharing about his unseemly infatuation with Sue Ellen, whom he'd admired since she was a schoolgirl.
The episode ends there, and I was left wishing an effort had been made to weave continuity into the scripts. For example, imagine how powerful and meaningful an epilogue scene would have been of Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe sitting before the fireplace, staring forlornly into their brandies, and lamenting the loves they've each recently lost to disease, pitchfork puncture, and gunshot. Add to that Ben standing to the side and entering to sympathize and to share how he's been there too. I like to imagine that that is exactly what happened after the credits rolled.
Cannon: The Nowhere Man (1971)
Operation Rogosh Redux
For Beatles fans, the title "Nowhere Man" may stir up fond memories of Jeremy Hillary Boob PhD, but alas there's nothing lighthearted in this deadly serious episode of CANNON, one wholly devoid of cute kids and tuba-riffed fat jokes. What began as a routine assignment quickly escalated and called upon Cannon to prevent a chemical weapon catastrophe!
This episode boasts a big plot far from the rodeo heists, truck hijackings, and runaway rock singers featured thus far in the fledgling series. This story is more MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE in scope, reminding me, in fact, of the first season M:I episode "Operation: Rogosh." Is it by coincidence that Fritz Weaver was the guest star of both shows, spoke with a foreign accent, was disheveled in appearance, and was similarly plotting a grand scale catastrophe that the good guys had to race against the clock to prevent? That's not a complaint, as I thoroughly enjoyed each story and can acknowledge the many differences.
Here Weaver plays Leo Kern, a Holocaust survivor who suffers nightmares and is haunted by the fact he survived while all his family died. He sees Germans smiling behind their beer steins and Americans enjoying afternoons at amusement parks, evading the harsh realities of war and its aftermath. But paradoxically, Kern is employed as an accountant at a fertilizer plant that is a front for a factory producing chemical weapons for the military. Off-screen, plant manager McMillan tapped Kern to be his patsy to steal and ransom a canister of nerve gas, a ruse that would allow McMillan to raise funds to cover debts. Kern performed the theft out of principle, but upon learning from Cannon that he was duped, Kern inexplicably plans to use the nerve gas. Unwittingly, McMillan and Cannon were responsible for loosening the screws on the already unhinged Kern.
Curiously, Cannon shows sympathy for Kern, a man who is unrepentantly ready to detonate a canister of nerve gas capable of wiping out 20 square blocks of innocent men, women, and children. The heady conversation Cannon and Kern engage in while the clock inexorably ticks down to disaster smacked of Weaver's theological colloquium with Burgess Meredith in "The Obsolete Man" episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. Kern believes America needs a wake-up call to face the reality of war and suffering, which it is avoiding by escaping into fun, games, amusements, and excitement. Cannon agrees Kern has a point, which I found surprising since that just indicted every person sitting in front of their televisions watching CANNON!
Speaking of Rod Serling's iconic series TWILIGHT ZONE, four-episode veteran Barney Phillips has a too-brief appearance in this story as Inspector Daniels. He'll be back three more times, as will his fellow guest stars Robert Webber and Richard O'Brien. The breakout star of the guest cast, however, has to be Jeanne Cooper as brassy landlady Sylvia Barberio, who could tell by the cut of Cannon's suit he was no general issue flatfoot. And she's a woman who knows about fashion, as those yellow go-go boots testify. She was a highlight and did succeed in briefly lifting the mood of a heavy episode. Conversely, Lynn Carlin as Kern's "plain as a blanket" wife Helen failed to make a strong impression in a thankless role.
This episode appears to have been filmed on location at a June 1971 Expo, with Weaver filmed wandering through real crowds as you can glimpse people in the background gawking at the camera.
A suspenseful and thoughtful episode, even if it stretches credulity. The military would never entrust the recovery of the nerve gas canister to a private detective. And the police interrogation of Kern is almost leisurely, even though countless lives were at stake. Contrast Cannon plucking out the deadly canister and carrying it away with the bomb squads in hazmat suits and robots one sees today. The Seventies were a saner time and we need men of Cannon's caliber today.
Jim West vs. The Hordes of Ghastly Grim and Ancient Raven
One advantage we enjoy over the WILD WILD WEST fans of 1969 is the ability to watch this epic two-part episode commercial-free and back-to-back, letting it unfold like a major motion picture, which is exactly the scope and effect of "The Night of the Winged Terror."
Mr. Pomfritt, is that you? William Schallert, whom I always think of as the long-suffering professor on DOBIE GILLIS, landed a plum role playing Frank Harper, subbing for Artemus as sidekick to Jim West. Schallert's performance is much more convincing than his pasted-on moustache. Schallert also enjoys a scene with Robert Ellenstein, playing the second Dr. Occularis, reuniting two guest stars from "The Night of the Gruesome Games" from earlier this season.
Beautiful, raspy-voiced Michele Carey, fresh from co-starring in Elvis Presley's LIVE A LITTLE, LOVE A LITTLE, is effective as the femme fatale Laurette. She really isn't evil, just deluded by an almost religious devotion to criminal mastermind Tycho: "Tycho is the genius of the ages. It is from him that all knowledge flows," she gushes dreamy-eyed to Jim. I wondered what substantive role such a sycophant could play in Tycho's great scientific schemes, but then I remembered she had already proved her value by eliminating the obsolete Dr. Bombay--I mean Dr. Occularis--by slipping him the backward-firing gun swiped from Dean Martin's Matt Helm classic THE SILENCERS.
Speaking of which, there is a definite super-spy vibe in "The Winged Terror" that adds tremendously to its appeal. After Jim scurries through the air vents and emerges in Tycho's sanctum sanctorum, he's humbled to find he's been outfoxed by the foxier Tycho, who was sitting there fondling his pet Blofeld-like whilst awaiting his adversary's arrival. Then, like virtually every Bond villain beginning with Doctor No, Tycho details his elaborate plans for conquest, even for effect igniting a map of the United States with a roaring flame that makes the opening of BONANZA look like a cub scout weenie roast. It's an effective scene as Jim rears back from the fire as Tycho boasts of his plot to spark Armageddon, reducing cities to ashes, from which will arise not the phoenix--but the Raven!
Forgotten in all of this bluster and bombast is the high-minded speech Toombs made to West in the first part, describing Raven as a collective of scientists possessing undreamed of knowledge and talents they would dedicate to freeing men and to ruling "the earth and its inhabitants scientifically." By the second half, Toombs is a buffoon being chided in the hallway by his colleagues for getting schooled by his old teacher! Jackie Coogan is criminally underutilized, having but one scene that spans a few minutes in the prologue. When it's replayed in Part II's recap, however, I noticed Red West's rogues' gallery are in attendance and block Jim from intervening. For all Toombs' palaver about the best minds and ruling scientifically, there seems to be no substitute for Neanderthal muscle to ensure Raven's schemes are successful.
Nice touches include Roy Engel in his recurring role as President Grant, sneaking aboard The Wanderer to lay out the scenario personally, lends the plot gravitas and urgency. I also liked Grant passing along regards from Arte, lest we forget, but I wince at the producers trying so hard to paint him as a Lothario. Seriously, "a steady influx of lovely ladies" into DC just because Arte's there? In "TNOT Pelican" a giggly record from Arte's secretary implies he was groping and tickling her during the recording session. Oh, well, such I suppose is the sordid side of the super-spy vibe.
THE WILD WILD WEST often resembled a live-action comic book, and that is very much evident in this epic episode written by erstwhile GREEN HORNET scripter Ken Pettus. Raven struck me as an homage to 1960's-vintage Hydra, arch-nemesis of Nick Fury's S.H.I.E.L.D., from its tentacle-like logo to its gaudy, caped uniforms. Tycho was the epitome of a comic book villain--and of course I mean that as high praise. I wondered if he wasn't inspired by the Hulk villain The Leader, another genius with an oversized head introduced in 1964. In addition to comic books and spy movies, the story draws from THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, which effectively portrayed conditioning and post-hypnotic suggestion for purposes of assassination. (It would have been too cool but perhaps too obvious to have cast Khigh Dhiegh as Tycho!)
There was so much to enjoy here: the exploding pinatas, the tranquilizer dart from the statuette (on loan from sister show WILD WILD KINGDOM?), and especially Harper convinced he's Sneed trying to assassinate Harper by shooting at his own reflection in a mirror! Wow! I wondered why "The Night of the Winged Terror" wasn't edited into a film like all those MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. two-parters. This story is a standout in the flagging fourth season and should serve as a rebuff to WILD WILD WEST fundamentalists who anathematize as apocryphal all episodes without Arte. Great fun with eminent rewatchability.
Wo Fat in the Wild Wild West!
Three months after debuting his signature character Wo Fat in the HAWAII FIVE-O pilot, Khigh Dhiegh plays a strikingly similar villain in this enjoyable, over-the-top episode.
Din Chang, like Wo Fat, is a criminal mastermind, one who has successfully taken over Alcatraz without anyone even suspecting it. It was frustrating to have to wait 32 minutes for Dhiegh to appear, but once he does he's in full command. Din Chang is like a James Bond villain, explaining his ambitious plan to his captive and relishing the astonishment and the accolades, though smart enough not be flattered into tipping his hand. When West feigns a desire to come to Chang's side, Chang blithely dismisses the idea: "My side is quite full."
Charles Aidman makes his third of four turns as Jeremy Pike. Jim and Jeremy work separately for most of the episode, which allows the spotlight to shine on Aidman in his individual scenes, especially one where he successfully attempts a daring disguise as an elderly Chinese man in order to get information from fearful puppeteers.
This script was clearly written with Artemus in mind, as Pike exhibits the same ready knowledge of such arcane subjects as Chinese goddesses and the wooden apparatus of a puppeteer. I missed Ross Martin, of course, but by this third appearance was warming to Aidman as his able substitute. I thought he and Conrad enjoyed an easy chemistry, even if it was the kind shared by lecherous frat brothers (especially evident in the epilogues).
Wasted along the way were a number of promising characters, most notably Buck Kartalian's Lt. Bengsten. He reminded me of a 19th century Columbo in his one brief scene. I kept waiting in vain for him to reappear during the episode. Andre Philippe hovered in the background but was never developed, even though he was presumably Din Chang's right-hand man. Miss Stafford served only to meet the fourth season's mandate to cast more minorities. Even Dr. Gibson seemed superfluous. The producers upended convention with Delilah the lady barber in "Miguelito's Revenge," and try again with Gibson as a lady doctor. But if this was a gesture of forward thinking it failed from the moment Gibson cringed in horror as Chang peeled off his disguise. From that moment on she was reduced to just another damsel in distress.
This episode suffers like many this season from padding, especially evident in the protracted epilogue, but also in the interminable scene where Pike slowly burns a hole into a crate of Chinese bells to create a simple distraction. The cannonball stacking subplot flirted with tedium, but wrapped up just in time and with some nice worm's-eye view camera work.
The climax with West foiling the bad guys' escape with a crude grenade was a letdown, as was the epilogue's revealing Chang's plan was not nearly as ambitious as West assumed. The rockets were a mere distraction to draw all the troops away from the Presidio so Chang and company could steal a payroll. Really? Surely Chang had loftier ambitions than that with all his meticulous planning and preparations.
"The Night of the Pelican" is still a winner despite its stumbles and shortcomings (add to those the giggly record updating us on Arte's antics). Khigh Dhiegh proved to be a larger-than-life and worthy adversary for West, even if one whose potential wasn't maximized. The scene with Chang and West is the episode's highlight, stirring up as it did good memories of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and many episodes of HAWAII FIVE-O. All in all, an episode worth watching and a worthy addition to the annals of adventure.
Decision at Sundown (1957)
B.A. Bart Allison Brings a Sunrise to Sundown
Wow--Randolph Scott playing a bastard first frame to last. No wonder the movie received such scathing reviews from Scott fans. I liked the film but didn't like Scott's character either--he's self-deluded, stiff-necked, and consumed with a seething hatred that costs his best friend his life. Bart Allison is thoroughly despicable and loathsome, and it's a testimony to Scott's talents that he could play such a character so effectively and evoke such emotions from his audience.
It is also a testimony to Scott's confidence as an actor and to his generosity that he played a secondary character. Noah Beery, Jr. as affable sidekick Sam steals all their scenes together (as he would frequently do to James Garner two decades later on THE ROCKFORD FILES). John Archer, as Doc John Storrow is arguably the real protagonist of the picture, certainly the catalyst who capitalizes on the situation and unleashes and channels all the pent-up emotion simmering in the chests of the townsmen. Thinking back, it's surprising how static a character Bart Allison is, holed up in the livery stable for the bulk of the film, crouching at a window, while Beery and Archer are dynamic and charismatic. And Beery and Archer prove themselves up to the task and carry the picture.
Right behind them is a cast comprised of familiar faces to all fans of the genre, among them Ray Teal as Morley, a cowed-into-submission rancher with his faithful hands (among whom is one-time Western star Bob Steele who merits neither a line nor a screen credit); James Westerfield as Otis, the bartender; Andrew Duggan as Swede, the sheriff in Tate's pocket; Guy Wilkinson as Abe the stable owner; and Vaughn Taylor as an increasingly intoxicated barber who inadvertently puts the match to the powder keg by smashing the bottle of whiskey hidden in the self-righteous reverend's coat pocket. It was upon that cruel act of humiliation, exposing a man's secret weakness, that Doc Storrow seized. He pried open the crack and got the men to admit that they too had a hidden vice--cowardice-and had sacrificed their self-respect out of fear of Tate and his bullying thugs.
Like a bellows on a flickering flame was the cowardly shooting in the back of an unarmed Sam by the vengeful deputy Spanish. Breaking the promise to allow safe passage coupled with shooting a man in the back tapped into something deep within these men of the West, a violation of the Code that held their society, such as it was, intact. Ray Teal as Morley really shines in this scene as his men systematically dismantle Swede's band of bushwhackers stationed around the stable, leveling the field to just Swede and Allison. And once Swede is dispatched, it comes down to Tate and Allison.
Victoria French as Tate's paramour Ruby proves that you only hurt the one you love, or in order to save you I had to shoot you. She takes a tremendous risk in winging Tate to short circuit the shootout, but her love was sincere, even if Tate only saw her as a plaything. French was a much more appealing character than Karen Steele's Lucy, an early sufferer of resting bitch face wholly lacking in charm. It's obvious why Tate was drawn to this woman who was as cold, calculating, and ambitious as himself.
It's a rare Western that ends with the villain of the piece riding off in a carriage with a beautiful woman while the hero gets drunk and unruly at the bar. DECISION AT SUNDOWN was a convention-defying film, and I suspect that is why it receives more bad reviews than good. Randolph Scott playing against type no doubt ruffled feathers, mine included. I wanted to see him play the hero in a clearly defined good guy vs. bad guy scenario, but Scott played out that script in the 1940s and early '50s and was ready to stretch as an actor. This film's scenario--unlikable character rides into town, cleans it up, then rides out again--would be the template for so many 1960's Westerns, both foreign and domestic. It was a Western ahead of its time and one well worth watching.
Columbo: The Greenhouse Jungle (1972)
It's a Solarium, Dammit!
I thoroughly enjoyed this episode of COLUMBO and did not expect to find so many mixed reviews here on IMDb. I thought the episode struck a perfect balance between humor and suspense, due in great part to the levity brought by Bob Dishy. In fact, the whole cast deserves credit for putting this one over the top. I'll focus on them since the plot has been dissected and discussed numerous times already.
Pity Ray Milland. A number of reviewers commented on the appearance of this big film star of the 1940s and '50s, and I love LOST WEEKEND, THE BIG CLOCK, and DIAL M FOR MURDER as much as anybody. But 1972, the year of this COLUMBO episode, was also the year he appeared cheek to jowl with Rosey Grier in THE THING WITH TWO HEADS!
As a STAR TREK fan, I got a tremendous kick out of seeing two of its memorable guest stars in this episode, even if their only shared scene was a catty phone call. Arlene Martel as Gloria was still beautiful at 36, but the blonde wig and her native Bronx accent were light years away from her iconic portrayal of Vulcan vamp T'Pring in "Amok Time" back in 1967. I also fondly recall Martel as the sexy-scary morgue nurse who cried "Room for one more, honey!" in the "Twenty-Two" episode of THE TWILGHT ZONE. Conversely, Sandra Smith's portrayal of adulterous wife Cathy Goodland was strikingly similar to the amoral and ambitious Janice Lester she played in STAR TREK's final episode, "Turnabout Intruder." Cathy was an unsympathetic leading lady, to be sure, even if not a murderess. But if looks could kill . . . ya gotta admire any woman who can give a glare to burly William Smith and make him gulp in fear, as she did upon learning about Bill's on-the-side shakedown of Tony.
Bradford Dillman was great fun in his few scenes as the cuckolded sap Tony. I'm used to seeing him in more commanding and authoritative roles (such as a would-be Wild West Napoleon in a two-part SHANE from 1966). He played well the patsy and seemed to be enjoying playing against type. With his hair long, he at times reminded me of Bruce Dern.
Speaking of long hair, it was a delightful surprise to see a post-LAREDO and pre-INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS William Smith step onto the stage. Smith looks just as he did in the 1972 horror movie GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE, which must have been filmed at about the same time as this episode. Smith also has a cameo in the aforementioned and never-to-be-forgotten THING WITH TWO HEADS (available on Blu-ray, believe it or not!). Smith just radiates awesome, unflappable coolness, like when he asks Columbo, almost as an afterthought, "Who are you?"
But it was Bob Dishy who was the breakout star of the guest cast. To fully appreciate Dishy's Sgt. Freddie Wilson you have first to enjoy him as Officer Tully in "Second Story Story," a 1971 episode of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. I'm suspecting it was his memorable appearance there as an over-eager police officer determined to make detective that landed him this COLUMBO gig. Dishy had top billing in 1975's I WONDER WHO'S KILLING HER NOW, which really should have been the cult movie of the year instead of that other one with time-warping-again transvestites.
As much as I enjoyed "Greenhouse Jungle," it had its shortcomings. I thought Dishy's night photography would have played a bigger role since Dillman's face was pretty recognizable under the stocking mask, especially the profile shot. I also wondered why the skid marks of the bigger car weren't traced back to Milland's distinctive vehicle. My speculation as the credits rolled was that Milland would escape the murder rap since Columbo's illegal search and seizure of that third bullet wouldn't be admissible in court. And it would serve Columbo right for his ingratitude after Milland nursed back to health Mrs. Columbo's ailing African violet!
Tate: Comanche Scalps (1960)
The Other Side of Paradise
An exceptionally strong episode of a strong series. And not just because of the cast, which boasts Leonard Nimoy and Robert Redford. The real star is Frank Overton, upon whom the spotlight falls and who shines brightly.
Overton's Amos Dundee is a humorless, brooding man. He has traveled two years and a thousand miles in an unflagging search for William Essey, the man who gunned down his eighteen-year-old brother. Tate, who seems to have tipped Amos to Essey's whereabouts, stands by to ensure there's no interference from the bartender or the gaggle of barflys. Tate told Amos that his brother died in a fair fight, but when the facts don't deter Amos, Tate allows the injustices to compound.
After Amos guns the man down, he and Tate step outside and engage in casual conversation. Life is cheap, and these two hard-bitten killers are calloused and remorseless. A glimmer of humanity is seen in Amos, however. He has a sweetheart back home and, with his thirst for vengeance slaked, he's eager to return to her, perhaps bearing a gift of a blue dress he spied in a store.
But Amos receives a Dear John letter from his sweetheart Lucy. Worse, in the two years Amos was away she fell in love with and married Amos' younger brother Tad. Now Amos has a new grudge, a new injustice against him that must be avenged. Amos is a thoroughly unlikable character, but Overton makes him compelling to watch and listen to as he launches into jeremiads justifying his hate.
On the road home, Tate and Amos come upon the smoldering remains of a home and the bodies of the massacred settlers. Amos' seething hatred boils up just as the Comanche band rides up, led by a grinning Leonard Nimoy. The exchange between Nimoy's Comanche warrior and Tate and Amos is excellent and perfectly performed. Each side testing the limits, sizing up the other, setting the stage for a later conflict ("Another time, another place," says Nimoy in a tone strikingly Spock-like).
Speaking of which, this scene is especially enjoyable for STAR TREK fans who know Nimoy and Overton will cross paths again seven years later as Mr. Spock and Elias Sandoval in "This Side of Paradise." (And in another sci-fi side note, Lane Bradford, who played the ill-fated William Essey, had earlier co-starred with Nimoy in ZOMBIES OF THE STRATOSPHERE.)
Another excellent scene follows when Amos and Tate arrive at the Dundee ranch. After rebuffing Lucy's pathetic, on-her-knees plea for mercy, Amos confronts the little brother who cuckolded him. Well, it's 23-year-old Robert Redford, against whom the 41-year-old Frank Overton stood no chance, which humbling fact perhaps only fueled his rage. Young Tad has no gun and no desire to fight Amos, so Amos tosses a gun at him and lashes him with a bullwhip to goad him into reaching for that gun. It's such a well-played and wince-inducing scene, especially a scene where Redford is in the dust and warring against his own instinct to grab that gun and defend himself. The gun fills the foreground of the frame, and Redford's pained face looking at it wantingly is a high point of the episode.
Suddenly, as if on cue, the foreshadowed return of the Comanches occurs, and the attack unfolds very realistically in a minute or less. The mind boggles trying to take in all that just happened. The story then resolves very quickly, and shockingly. I was stunned the first time I saw it, and saddened to see how those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Tate is certainly second banana in this story, just tagging along and showing a surprising degree of indecisiveness for a gunfighter. Perhaps the fact he knew the Dundee brothers and Lucy since childhood dulled his wits. But that is the only thing that was dull in this well-written and fast-moving story performed with aplomb by all involved.
The Mark of the Beast (1997)
Jack and Rexella Van Impe were at the top of their game in the 1990s, producing a veritable Mount Moriah of videos that announcer Chuck Ohman would pitch to the multitudes during their weekly newscasts. The prices were prohibitive at the time, so I only saw some of them later on, picked up on eBay or borrowed from a church library (where I found REVELATION REVEALED, Jack's magnum opus).
THE MARK OF THE BEAST is a lesser effort, but one still worth watching. It dates to 1997, so expect some of the information to be as outdated as Ray Boltz's mullet. It does hold interest, however, in reminding us of how we got to where we are today. While old scares like UPC codes with their hidden 666 bars appear almost quaint in hindsight, the discussions of electronic chip and especially biochip technology were amazingly prescient and are still timely. The commentators warning of a future where our every transaction and move would be tracked has indeed come about with smart phones, GPS, chip cards, drones, and cameras blanketing every city post-9/11.
This film has added heft due to its consulting academics, government officials, and technology industry insiders. The only Christian apologist interviewed was the late Grant Jeffrey. The video was produced in Canada, so it slants heavily to the Great White North in the experts consulted, but what they had to say affected all of us regardless of national boundaries.
IMDb has this film listed as a documentary, which it is, but there is considerable time dedicated to a dramatization about a father and a son, and later the father and a fellow prisoner. I really enjoyed these segments and wished there were more. The film opens with a video of Ray Boltz singing "I Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb" intercut with scenes of a father explaining to his young son about the gospel and the persecutions Christians suffered. We learn that those persecutions are happening right then and there, as the father is in a futuristic holding cell and is taken away by guards after a tearful goodbye to his little boy. Adding to the verisimilitude and power of the scene is that it's played by real-life father and son Shane and Anthony Harwell.
The father is then tossed into a dimly lit, cinderblock cell with an old Christian man whose been languishing there 30 years. They encourage one another with Scripture and the young father brings the old man up to speed on developments he's missed out on in three decades. "Beam me up, Scotty!" the old man cries in disbelief at what he learns. And if we can consider that iconic pop cultural catchphrase a prayer, it is one heard and answered (though not by Mr. Scott).
There are also two short flashback scenes, one showing the martyrdom of Joan of Arc and another of a family in what appears to be Nazi Germany. I wondered if they were clips from other features since they're quite elaborate in costuming and only a minute or so of each is shown (and none of the actors in these scenes is credited).
One controversial point for prophecy scholars is the fate of a person who unwittingly took the mark of the beast. The movie takes a forgiving position that I know would spark discussions in my circles of eschatologists.
The fictional narrative is intercut with interviews with the experts. It is a little cheesy how the transition is made, with interviews appearing on the screen of an old 1990s-era computer, and a hand reaching up to click an f-key to change the scene. But that's a quibble and one easily overlooked. A little harder to overlook is the false ending that comes at the 42 minute mark. The narrative and interviews end, and the video gives all indication of ending, but there follows thirty minutes of Jack and Rexella Van Impe discussing the subject of technologies and the end times. It was informative and inspiring, sprinkled liberally with Bible quotations by Jack, but it did break the momentum and slowed the pace to a crawl. I suspect the video was originally only 42 minutes, and that this 30-minute section was tacked on afterwards.
I watched THE MARK OF THE BEAST on YouTube. With its information being almost 20 years old, it will likely be the only place to catch it since a DVD rerelease is unlikely. Seek it out, if only to enjoy the well-done fictional narrative and the Ray Boltz video. Sifting wheat from chaff in the technological discussion will still reap a rich harvest as so much of the information is still relevant two decades later as we live in the world this film predicts.
Wanted: Dead or Alive: Dead End (1958)
A solid and entertaining even if not exceptional episode of the series. Josh is hired by a ranch boss to track down and bring back alive Juan Portilla, a line rider accused of cracking the safe and absconding with the loot. Juan's father Luis tags along to ensure his son is treated fairly, making for an uneasy relationship on the trail. Luis does all he can to throw roadblocks in the path, like faking an injury after being thrown from his horse and playing the "old man who needs to rest" card. Josh doesn't buy any of it, of course. He's a young bounty hunter, but hard-bitten.
The unusual bounty hunter as hero angle of this series is addressed in a few good lines. First, ranch boss Noonan says he turned down three other bounty hunters who wanted the job because he wanted Randall, a man with a reputation for bringing 'em back alive. Second, Josh assures Juan's fiancée Conchita that his job is just finding the suspects, not judging them guilty. If the mercenary and merciless Daimler in the preceding episode "The Bounty" was the stereotypical bounty hunter, Josh Randall stands out in sharp contrast.
The big reveal and resolution of this episode's plot will underwhelm veteran viewers of mysteries and Westerns. It's telegraphed early on that this is a scapegoating con job. The wheels begin to wobble at the end. Why did Noonan think it a good idea to make it appear that Juan and Josh were in cahoots? And the irony of Noonan faking being crippled then actually becoming crippled was forced. Luis, who threatened Josh in the prologue, is inexplicably and suddenly quite stoic when he finds his murdered son and the unrepentant killer laying on the ground vulnerable.
Or maybe Luis knows the fearsome fate that awaits Noonan when they return to the ranch and Conchita and the "more than 20 Mexicans" working there learn the terrible truth.