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The Mod Squad: The Healer (1969)
Mac is a Quack! Dobie Gillis at the Breaking Point
A "this time it's personal" story for Linc as the Mod Squad targets heterodox healer Asa Lorimer, a man extorting large sums from his hapless patients. The story opens with a funeral already in progress, led by minister Bartlett Robinson mealy mouthing the old cliché that heaven needed Jackie more than we did. But why should we expect sound theology from the "Peoples Church," a name that stirs up memories of the Peoples Temple, Jim Jones, and Guyana?
Jackie was a childhood friend of Linc's, notably a white kid who stood in contrast to the "walking hate machines" polluting the planet (presumably at both KKK and Black Panther rallies). Jackie left behind a pregnant wife that we don't meet, but Jackie's weepy mother tells Linc that Jackie never shared how sick he was or the fact he quit treatment at their traditional doctor in favor of Lorimer's unorthodox methods. Jackie, who Linc brags once bought a baseball bat on a fifty-cent-a-week installment plan, was unbeknownst to his family paying Lorimer fifty dollars cash a treatment. Not a very good son or husband to be keeping such vital things from his loved ones.
The story appeared poised to be an expose of "quack" healers who offer gullible marks snake oil, but the emphasis shifted to an extortion racket story. Lorimer's clinic is more a front for the extortion racket he operates with his eyepatch-wearing accomplice Carl. From what we see of Lorimer's treatments, they appear to be a combination of chiropractic and biofeedback. (I smiled when Lorimer bangs on the top of his machine just as we did our old television sets.) Lorimer's prominently displayed motto reads: "It is within you. You are the physician," which I doubt would raise an eyebrow in our era of holistic health and alternative medicine. It was really Lorimer's entrapping people and extorting money from them, forcing them to sell their furniture and family heirlooms, that was the real crime.
A story that more specifically addressed medical quackery was the "Once Upon a Time" two-parter on HAWAII FIVE-O that aired earlier this same year in February 1969.
Linc wants to put Lorimer "in a cage," and his reckless vendetta results in his cover being blown when he clumsily tries to trick Lorimer into making an illegal diagnosis. Pete has better luck, but admits he felt himself falling under the spell of Lorimer despite knowing he was a phony. Maybe it was because the actor playing Lorimer was best known for playing Dr. McKinley "Mac" Thompson on BREAKING POINT, a 1963-64 spinoff of BEN CASEY. Paul Richards played a psychiatrist on that one-season series, and I wondered if the writer snuck in an homage by having Lorimer ask Linc if he'd considered seeing a psychiatrist ("I don't need a headshrinker," barked an offended Linc in response).
Speaking of actors from past series, a highlight of the episode is guest star Dwayne Hickman from THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS. He plays wheelchair-bound Russ Purdee, a man desperate to believe Lorimer's empty promise that his paralysis will be cured and that he'll walk again. Still Dobie at heart, he falls hard for the dreamy and creamy Julie Barnes, who uses him to get to Lorimer. And like Thalia before her, Julie is bound to break his heart.
"The Healer" is compelling, but falls short of being a great episode for a number of reasons, mostly because the story loses its way and leaves a few unanswered questions, among them: Why was Harry Slocum murdered? It's never made clear, though perhaps his weeping at the funeral was meant to imply he was getting out of the extortion racket. Since he was Lorimer's source for referrals, and knew the workings of the racket, he had to be rubbed out. But why at the funeral? Had he exited with the other mourners, how could Carl have run him over in front of a crowd?
Another credulity-stretching question concerns the irresistible charm of Captain Greer. Discovering Lorimer is preying on the lonely old eccentric Mrs. Finney, Greer need only make a social call for tea and cake and she's on the phone to Lorimer breaking off treatment.
The story opens with Jackie's funeral and Linc's desire to avenge his death, but Linc and Jackie are lost along the way and the focus shifts to Julie and Russ Pardee. The focus on quackery similarly gives way to the extortion angle. Adding to the blurriness is the director having two incidents of dialogue for the next scene beginning in the current scene.
An eyepatch-wearing goon named Carl, an old biddy who talks to her pet bird Napoleon, and to top off the pile of central casting clichés are the Amorosas, a poor Mexican couple who are bringing their little girl to Lorimer. We know they're poor because they drive a ramshackle pickup and live in a shotgun shack. And we know they're Mexican because when they clamber into their truck mariachi music is heard on the soundtrack. Pepe Hern plays the skeptical father who warns Linc away from Lorimer. It's too late for us, says Senor Amorosa, in despair and destined to lose his daughter unless he can break the spell Lorimer has cast over his well-intentioned wife.
A good episode ending on an encouraging note, and one that allows for measuring the changes wrought over the course of the 1960s. Compare a 1960 episode of Dwayne Hickman's DOBIE GILLIS to this December 1969 episode of MOD SQUAD and it is immediately evident how much has changed in the culture and in television. The color, content, and techniques of TV production made giant leaps forward. Pete mentions the moon landing from five months earlier. And imagine Thalia having her shirt alluringly open like Julie does in the closing scene. It was fun seeing button-down Dwayne Hickman hanging out with the counterculture, and one thing that spans the ages and hasn't changed is Dobie's never ending quest for a girl to call his own.
Connecting the Clues While the Clock Ticks Down to Disaster
"Journey into Limbo" is an unjustly low-rated episode (sitting at a 7.0 with 55 votes as of this writing). I wonder if it suffered the misfortune of being the last episode before the celebrated Vashon trilogy elevated the series to a new level of greatness. Taken on its own terms, "Limbo" is a good, suspenseful episode.
Admittedly the episode starts slowly, with the camera following a dump truck loaded with sand down a long highway. I felt like I was stuck in the parade of cars following the lumbering truck. Then comes protracted scenes of the truck bed being elevated and the sand tumbling out the back. Longtime viewers of suspense and adventure dramas knew a body would soon be rolling out, but I admit I was stunned when I saw it was Danno's!
There's interesting editing showing Danno being rushed to the hospital intercut with McGarrett walking to the governor's office and being briefed on security procedures for a visiting Red Chinese official. The seemingly disparate plots will dovetail nicely before the end credits roll.
The most intriguing plot is Danno's concussion and amnesia. From waking up and getting dressed that Thursday morning--Danno's day off, we learn--until he awoke in the hospital he has no recollection. Doc Eben assures McGarrett that Danno's memory will return in flashes. McGarrett, ever impatient, begins badgering his colleague almost as soon as he regains consciousness. But Steve's zealousness to get whomever did this to his friend is a testimony to Steve's care and concern for Danno.
Newcomer to the team Ben Kokua gets his most screen time yet. I still miss Kono, but I'm fast warming to Ben. There are a few hints of professional rivalry here, and the relationship between Danno and Ben borders on tense at times, such as when Danno yanks his arm back from Ben's attempt to help. Ben did seem to relish Danno's being put on sick leave, however, and Ben raised an especially skeptical almost mocking eyebrow to Danno's half-remembering a boat being stashed in the bunker. But who can blame him? When Danno's on the job, Ben--like Kono before him--plays distant third banana. And even in this episode, once Danno returned to duty Ben was relegated to simply shouting "Steve!" whenever a new clue was stumbled upon. And then Ben took a backward step when blowing it with Durko.
Danno's memory returns, jogged in a compelling scene in Steve's office as he, Chin, and Ben tease out details from Danny. Steve's so excited he breaks his chalk when scrawling on the blackboard. I liked the character-enhancing scene where Chin and Ben enjoy their own professional rivalry, bantering about what could be in the crates: "Drugs? That's even dumber than oranges." And speaking of dumb, okay, maybe the story's conclusion was rushed and somewhat silly, but it was nonetheless satisfying as entertainment, which should never be held to the rigors of reality.
The guest stars this episode were Keenan Wynn and Philip Ahn. They have relatively minor roles, however, especially Ahn, who perhaps had to rush back to play Master Kan on KUNG FU, which premiered this season. They were both excellent in the scant screen time afforded them.
This was the first episode of the series to be written by prolific producer and scripter Frank Telford. He wouldn't return to HAWAII FIVE-O until its twelfth and final season where he would write five more episodes, including the series finale, "Woe to Wo Fat."
B.J. and the Brat
Lucy is in the limelight in this exciting change-of-pace episode that finds her playing the midget moll to a minor league felon in a grade-B homage to BONNIE AND CLYDE. It's an entertaining one-off episode that does nothing to forward the larger family saga, and in that way is strikingly similar to "Winds of Vengeance," an earlier episode that also featured Ewing women being terrorized by scruffy, lowborn Texans.
The show opens with Bobby taking a dive into the pool and reliving his MAN FROM ATLANTIS glories, while Lucy sulkily plucks a guitar, an interest not hinted at hitherto. Lucy's birthday party is coming up and bored busybodies Miss Ellie and Sue Ellen are planning it out, inviting their influential friends and a jazz combo that Lucy is too young to appreciate (she wants rock band The Coffins, but is outvoted).
Just how old is Lucy, anyway? No mention is made of her age. Since she's driving, one assumes her Sweet Sixteen came and went along with her virginity to that rascal Ray Krebbs. But since nothing is said of her graduating high school or being emancipated and thus free to go as she pleases, she must not yet be turning eighteen. So this must be her seventeenth birthday, an awkward age between childhood and adulthood, which is not to excuse her bratty behavior. Jock spoiled Lucy and she's accustomed to and feels entitled to always get her way, so one can sympathize with her overreaction when her request that her Mom be invited was denied out of hand by Emperor Jock: Valene is verboten, thus saith Jock. So Lucy grabs her guitar and runs away from home, and later hitchhikes, a doubly dangerous decision that anyone who has watched 1970's TV movies and "very special episodes" knows will end badly.
Enter Greg Evigan as Willie Guest, driving a tricked-out, fur-lined custom van that could have been driven off the set of CHICO AND THE MAN. No swindle is too small for Willie, as he skims a few bucks off Lucy's breakfast check. Meanwhile, J.R., knowing it was Lucy who lifted his car, credit card, and cash, nonetheless reports the theft. When Lucy, sitting in the restaurant, sees Ewing 3 surrounded by police, slips out the back door and hitchhikes a ride from Evigan. And thus another plight befalls a Ewing woman that can be traced to and charged to J.R.'s account of infidelity and infamy.
The story takes a silly turn when Willie sees a sign for a saloon's talent contest and coerces Lucy into performing, thus a scene of Charlene Tilton warbling a song. I cynically suspected her agent snuck a one-song-per-season clause into Tilton's contract. The scene didn't fit the Bonnie and Clyde storyline, except as a contrivance to give Tilton's singing a showcase.
The highlight of the episode was guest star Greg Evigan, who just a few weeks earlier had appeared in the pilot movie for his 1979-81 series B.J. AND THE BEAR. Evigan evokes B.J. with the many driving scenes and establishing shots of long open roads and wide country. The New Joisey accent and easy laugh that would make him so likeable on his series is effectively skewed here, his laughter maniacal, his fury flashing. Evigan displayed an impressive dark side and proved he could play the bad guy.
Bobby's heroic role in retrieving the pint-sized prodigal stirred up memories of THE FUGITIVE and Lt. Gerard, who was always a couple steps behind the elusive Richard Kimble. But instead of a badge Bobby flashes Ben Franklins, i.e. hundred dollar bills, which he dispenses liberally (perhaps a habit from his days spreading around the B's). It did stretch credulity that Bobby had pull with police forces of faraway cities, and could be in the front line of an armed hostage negotiation, but then again the Ewing influence in the Lone Star State is not to be underestimated.
For example, in a "meanwhile, back at the ranch" scene, where the family is celebrating Lucy's birthday without her, Jock brags about his outsized influence, how Ewing money can buy a congressman's endorsement for a senator who "does what he's told." Every episode convinces me further that Jock is the real villain of the piece, a Machiavellian mastermind who likely never even heard of Machiavelli. Bouncing on Jock's knees, J.R. and Bobby came honestly by their situational ethics and unwavering trust in the leverage of lucre.
The birthday party scene was filmed on a rainy afternoon, and when I saw Lucy's high-stacked cake I feared a "MacArthur Park" moment with "sweet green icing flowing down," but I should have known director Barry Crane wouldn't stoop to that. Crane is a veteran director of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and MANNIX, and that experience is evident as he handles deftly the detective drama of Bobby following the clues to close the gap between he and Lucy.
When all ends well, we're left with some insights into the characters. Jock's a jerk and J.R.'s a rat, but we knew that. Bobby proves he is ready to lay down his life for Lucy, and his love and loyalty to family is underscored and stands in stark contrast to J.R.'s reporting her to the police. In his brief scene, we see Ray really cares about Lucy, but also has the wisdom not to upset the delicate equilibrium of the Ewing home.
As for Lucy, we see her beginning to reap the whirlwind sown by her overindulgent family. She had some scary moments with Willie, but like Patty Hearst chose to stay even when opportunities to escape presented themselves. Lucy's being drawn to bad boys was foreshadowed in the previous episode where she half-jokingly asked if she could visit the Home for Wayward Boys. She's the proverbial moth drawn to the flame, loving the danger and the excitement and willfully running the risk of getting burned. Here's hoping a valuable lesson was learned, though continuity of character development hasn't yet been a series strong point.
The Monsters Are Due on Hauser Street
What sprang to mind watching "Archie and the F.B.I." were a couple episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE: "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" and "The Shelter." Both dealt with neighbors being chummy and nice until a crisis hits, then everyone's mask slips and the veneer of neighborliness is stripped away, uncovering all manner of ugliness, suspicion, and pent-up prejudice. It was a strange theme to adapt for a sitcom, and it resulted in a not wholly successful or satisfactory episode of ALL IN THE FAMILY.
One mistake was introducing Larry Grundy as Archie's "best buddy" when we've never met or heard of this guy until now. The story would have had more impact if it were Stretch Cunningham or Jimmy McNab. And wasn't it coincidental that virtually all of Archie's neighbors work at the same factory? Other episodes imply Archie has a commute to and from work, so why would so many plant employees settle along Hauser Street in Flushing? Sitcoms aren't held to the rigid rules of continuity like dramas, so that coincidence can be overlooked to allow the story to unfold as it did, with Mr. Bradford sparking fear and paranoia at every house he visited.
Archie comes off poorly in this episode, from slamming the door on Bradford's face before learning he's a G-Man (Air Force, not FBI as it turned out) to--despite his protesting otherwise--turning on his friend Larry Grundy by not wanting to be seen with him. The characterization of Archie thus far has been like a roller coaster, with some episodes presenting him sympathetically--"The Saga of Cousin Oscar" and "Edith's Problem," for example--and others, like this one, as a man possessing few redeeming qualities. At some point the series struck a good balance, then Archie was softened too much and robbed of his edge in the final season.
Graham Jarvis, making his sole series appearance as Archie's "best buddy," went on to a regular role in Norman Lear's soap opera satire MARY HARTMAN, MARY HARTMAN. He was very funny trading barbs with Archie before stomping off to bugle practice. Lionel makes his typical walk-on appearance, and one refreshingly free of his tired Stepin Fetchit routine. Jon Korkes is good as investigator Bradford, playing the part as if he were Jack Webb's protégé. Edith's mentioning Efram Zimbalist, star of the long-running ABC drama THE F.B.I., was a nice touch and noteworthy since ALL IN THE FAMILY was a CBS show.
And speaking of mentions, the 1972 setting was firmly established when Mike dropped the names of Fr. Berrigan, Huey Newton, and Abbie Hoffman in the epilogue. Names that once captured headlines, but which today would be recognized by few viewers under 50. But no matter, because just the look on Archie's face would tell the audience that whomever these people were they didn't rate high on his hit parade.
Hawaii Five-O: Chain of Events (1972)
A Wry Commentary on the Kennedys?
A standard issue episode of HAWAII FIVE-O, a series that even when merely workmanlike is always worth watching. "Chain of Events" is made more interesting for its presenting what appears to be a wry commentary on the Kennedys, successful politicians despite being notorious womanizers and, in the case of Teddy, responsible for a young woman's death in 1969.
Guest star Linden Chiles as senatorial candidate James Trevor Warren struck a very Kennedyesque portrait throughout the show, frequently seen standing pensively before windows and gazing out onto new frontiers, just as JFK was famously pictured. Warren's rallying the youth with a rousing progressive message of a "brave new world" was yet another parallel to the Kennedys and their unique brand of charisma. Chiles played well the imperturbable politician, whose demeanor and blow-dried hair were never ruffled. I peeked at Chiles' IMDb page, curious to see if he ever played a Kennedy, and surprisingly he never did. He certainly had both the resemblance and the ability, and Chiles was cast as a senator or congressman numerous times over the span of his acting career.
James Trevor Warren--like John Fitzgerald Kennedy--has a rocky marriage and an eye for the young ladies, in this case Linda, a high school student working for his campaign. The scripter took care to shoehorn in a mention that Linda was eighteen and thus of legal age. That's no consolation to her hardhat slob of a father, however, who initially retreats into disbelief upon learning of his daughter's dalliances with a stud slam dunker and later the dashing candidate, about whom Linda was indiscreet enough to gush about in her scrapbook. The producers effectively underscore Linda's youthful naiveté by playing a children's music box tune when the scrapbook is on screen.
There's a subplot here about venereal disease and how the public health department combats it by following the chain of (sexual) events all the way back to the source and encouraging everyone afflicted to get treatment. Somewhat strange was the public health investigator meeting those persons in the chain in discreet locations, like empty parking lots. Why was a personal meeting even necessary? That policy does serve to establish the premise, however, as the killer set out to remove a crucial link from the chain to protect the senatorial campaign from scandal.
All the clues point to Warren being the killer. He had the motive , he had the gun, he had the car with the telltale gash. All that he lacked was an alibi. It was all too neat, and I grew suspicious, especially as Warren was unflappable, even when collared by McGarrett and perp-walked into his office for interrogation. Warren didn't act like a murderer who was caught and cornered like a rat. A guilty party would certainly crack under the unrelenting onslaught of McGarrett's machine-gun questioning, as would be the case by the episode's end. In hindsight, one clue that Warren was innocent of murder was his having been honest with his wife about contracting syphilis. A cover up wasn't his modus operandi.
Where the story stumbles and falls is when the murderer is revealed and turns out to be a minor character we met only halfway through the show. Huh? How does that square with the murder of Kalema? He was shown waiting in the parking lot for Warren, so why did he smile and appear expectantly pleased when an entirely different person pulls up beside his car? The episode's concluding five minutes degenerated fast into a clichéd PERRY MASON finale where the guilty party cracks and confesses all with shuddering sobs. It was unsatisfactory and I felt like the writer dealt us a card from the bottom of the deck.
My initial fear as this episode unfolded was that it was going to one of those dreaded 1970's "very special episodes" addressing venereal disease. It was a real fear as the grainy old stock footage began rolling in earnest! But thankfully all that was simply to establish the premise of the chain of contacts. The discussion of a V.D. epidemic did inadvertently expose the sordid underbelly of the Sexual Revolution, with the consequences of casual sex laid bare. Hapless Walter, lying battered and bruised in a hospital bed, seems to have learned a lesson lost on the toothy clothing buyer.
Speaking of Walter, Dirk Benedict makes his television debut here, and came across as a seasoned pro. He had a real charisma and charm as Walter, and one could see how he could woo women both young and old. The makeup department outdid itself on Benedict post-beating. Hard to believe then he'd someday be playing The Face on THE A-TEAM. Mary Frann was also good, paying her dues with NEWHART still a decade away. I liked her scene fiddling with the old-school Flair pen and finally slamming it down insisting she's a trustworthy person. Maybe not trustworthy, but certainly a dedicated ideologue. Perfectly cast Lou Frizzell played the deranged dad of the murdered girl. He was greasy and unkempt and everything you'd expect. But the show really belonged to Linden Chiles, playing a Kennedy by any other name, and in all likelihood prevailing in that election against all odds.
Daniel Boone: The Christmas Story (1965)
Follow That Star from Bethlehem to Boonesborough
A heartwarming episode that flirts with but never crosses the line into syrupy schmaltz. There was a real danger of that once the premise is laid out: A young Indian couple, the woman is pregnant and close to giving birth, are caught in a blizzard. When they show up at the fort, they are told there's no room at the inn--to coin a phrase--and only after Daniel's intervention are they allowed to stay in the stable. Yeah, anyone who's read Luke 2 knows what parallel is being drawn here, but, to writer Stephen Lord's credit, he never takes it over the top, and it plays out in a genuinely touching and hopeful manner.
In that "inn" at Boonesborough are the locals, frustrated by the blizzard and the scarcity of food. Daniel, presaging Marx, says the food everyone brought will be collected and doled out according to need. That only fuels the frustration, given voice by settler Elisha Tully, who challenges Boone at every turn and even incites the settlers to leave Boonesborough and head south. Tully is played by the ubiquitous Morgan Woodward, whose imposing face and commanding voice make him a formidable opponent to the Big Man.
It was Tully who rudely rebuffed the Indian couple's request for a ride in his wagon earlier in the story, and he's the leading voice in opposition to the Indians being given shelter in the fort, an objection seconded by settler Jeremy Cain, who was a victim of the squaw's father's raids a couple years earlier. But when the settlement is named after you, you get the final word, and Boone offers the young couple shelter. Mingo adds that this couple is the equivalent of royalty, but nobody but Boone appears impressed.
The story of Oneha and Tawna, one a Creek and the other a Tuscarora, has brought an end to the bloodshed between the two warring tribes. If Tawna gives birth to a son, says Oneha, "it will unite our two tribes by blood and lasting peace." There's a parallel here to what the birth of God's son Jesus did between the warring "tribes" of Jew and Gentile. A nice touch.
But just as today, there are those who don't want peace between warring tribes, races, or religions, and the fly in this story's ointment is Shashona, who strives to spark an Indian attack with the "fake news" that the white man is holding Tawna hostage. Fortunately, a fleet-footed squaw-spy slips into the fort and warns Tawna of Shashona's evil intentions.
This being a Christmas story, a number of holiday trappings are trotted out, including little Israel's mangy Christmas tree that makes Charlie Brown's look Rockefeller Center-ready by comparison. Nary a song is sung, which is too bad because Ed "Mingo" Ames is an outstanding singer, but such would not have fit the period or the mood. There is another welcome biblical touch with the clouds clearing to reveal an especially bright star shining overhead. And the conclusion that star illuminates is a bright one.
The Boone family and Mingo play smaller roles this time around, giving the stage to the guest cast. Morgan Woodward really shines as Elisha Tully, followed close by John Crawford, who played settler Jeremy Cain. Crawford is perhaps best known for playing Sheriff Ep Bridges on THE WALTONS, and both Woodward and Crawford have STAR TREK creds. Aliza Gur played Tawna with a bearing befitting a chief's daughter, but as evidence of her range, earlier this same month of December 1965 she appeared on Burl Ives's short-lived sitcom O.K. CRACKERBY as a spoiled brat Italian starlet given to histrionics and hysteria. And a few years earlier she was half of the famous catfight in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. She's very good here as Tawna, and so is her husband Valentin de Vargas, who went on to be a busy character actor. Ralph Moody shows up briefly to play the aged sage, channeling Psalm 23 in his prophetic pronouncement. But perhaps the most welcome guest star was Jay "Tonto" Silverheels, playing against type as the bad guy and doing a fine job, though somewhere Clayton Moore was wincing.
A great episode of a great series, one that celebrates the season in a thoughtful and meaningful manner that underscores what Christmas is all about.
The Countryfried Misadventures of That Banjo-Playing P.I. Harry O
HARRY O has been consistently good to great until this two-part episode and exercise in unfulfilled promise. Where did this story go awry? Right from the beginning.
This episode's entire plot is built on a faulty foundation. I could never believe that Harry was such good friends with a couple of young hippies. Up until now, Harry has proven himself a hard person for anyone to be friends with, and I couldn't envision him suffering patiently the flakiness of a pair of flower children. The producers seemed to know this was asking a lot of the audience, so snuck in a line about David Makita being a Harvard Law grad who dropped out--of society, not school, presumably, since Harry said he has practiced law. But it wasn't enough to make such a friendship believable.
Writer Steven Kandel committed a similar crime against character in the earlier episode he wrote for the series, "Mortal Sin," which rested on the similarly shaky premise that Harry was chummy with a Catholic priest, one with whom he engaged in three-in-the-morning philosophical phone calls.
At some point I came to the conclusion that this script was originally written for another series and character and later reworked for HARRY O. This story, for example, required a different setting, and had some jarringly uncharacteristic moments, like Harry strumming a banjo and singing. And who could believe the young and vivacious Glenna was enthralled by the gruff and grizzled Harry? When they ended up in the sack, I was sure this script was written for a different character (or was intended to shamelessly stoke the fantasies of middle-aged Playboy subscribers). That love affair stretched credulity to the breaking point. Hey, I love David Janssen, but James Bond he ain't.
Another discordant note was the character of Manny Quinlan, whose feelings toward Harry range between contempt and begrudging tolerance, but here Manny bends over backwards for Harry, driving down to Verdero, putting in good words for him, and even risking his badge by driving around with the bail-jumping fugitive from justice. At one point, button-down and by-the-book Manny even distracts the local yokel cops so Harry can make a getaway! Harry and Manny's relationship was inexplicably warmer here than in any episode thus far And while that was welcome, and inadvertently explained Harry's actions in the later episode "Elegy for a Cop," it didn't jibe with what we knew and expected. It was as if characterization was sacrificed to make the story work.
On the subject of inconsistent characterization, here's the slovenly sheriff, stuffing his face, suddenly dropping a Mark Twain quotation. Huh? C'mon, this guy couldn't get past the funny pages and box scores. And what was with his apropos of nothing berating of the poor librarian to remember her Mama's advice to keep her legs crossed and not talk to strangers? Or why she inexplicably cowered in fear of him? Or why she had a fresh off Toidy-Toid Street New Yawk accent if she grew up in this California hamlet? Speaking of accents, Joanna Pettet can be heard slipping in and out of her native British accent.
Longtime fans of television get to know the usual suspects who turn up in every series, among them stone-faced Ned Romero. We see him and David Makita mixing it up in the promo preceding the opening titles, then see Romero's name in the credits as a guest star, then see him again in the opening scene which replays his tussle with Makita. Anyone who knew Romero knew he was a bad guy even when he shows up later as deputy of Verdero. While his involvement wasn't a mystery, I will admit Kandel kept me guessing as to the culpability of some of the other players.
Experience has taught me to be wary of two-part episodes. Rarely do they warrant the expanded length, and are so often jet-puffed with scenery and extended driving scenes. Another example of padding is the scene where Harry meets with informant C.C. Jackman--a clever drug allusion-laden name--who, after insulting Harry's wardrobe and shaking him down for tens and twenties--is shot right on cue in a cliché swiped from the old serials. Harry takes it all in stride, watching the assassin walk away, making no attempt to pursue or even to get a glimpse of the killer. This set piece did little to forward the story, and seemed included just to fill the expanded time. Yeah, it had snappy dialogue and the setting of it--below the San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge--was beautiful, but window dressing to cover a needless and ultimately ridiculous scene. More padding comes when Harry and Manny meet with Martinez and especially the long exposition-larded walk alongside Professor Fineman, featuring a legion of extras and a very distracting nun in full habit.
What I really enjoyed was seeing three icons of 1950's police and detective shows appearing together. When Harry appears at Glenna's for dinner, there was Richard Diamond, Peter Gunn, and Chief Dan Matthews of HIGHWAY PATROL. That was cool to see, as was catching a pre-JEFFERSONS Paul Benedict in a role far from the dapper and mannered Mr. Bentley he's best known for. Other welcome faces included Bill Quinn's brief scenes as a judge, and Kevin Hagen--a veteran of the 1950's Western YANCY DERRINGER--as a professor.
The episode is by no means unwatchable. It boasts a beautiful girl, beatings, gunplay, and a protracted proto-DUKES OF HAZZARD-brand car chase by a deputy in hot pursuit of the hero that ends with a splash. Here's hoping that with "Forty Reasons to Kill" being the series' sole two-parter, it's all uphill from here.
Who's Afraid of Hauptmann Dietrich?
An outstanding offbeat and change-of-pace episode. No German convoys to race alongside and perforate with machine gun fire this time around, but instead an American convoy traveling suspiciously far behind enemy lines. What's going on here?
The Rat Patrol investigate and while all is not as it initially appeared, there is an American back of it. And who is this very model of a dandified war profiteer but a perfectly cast Steve Franken, best known as spoiled rich kid Chatsworth Osborne Jr. on THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS. Franken plays that same irksome character here as traitorous arms dealer Ned Cunningham, living like a desert king in a lavish compound, to which be brings his "guests" Troy, Moffitt, Hitchcock, and Pettigrew. Cunningham knows their names because his arms trading racket has suffered many a loss at the hands of the Rat Patrol. It's bad business, his losing money and the Rat Patrol not making any, so he suggests a mutually lucrative partnership. Troy responds with reflexive disgust and rejects the proposal, but Moffitt, ever the scholar, wants to hear out Cunningham, to tease out clues that could bring down his Axis-abetting operation.
Cunningham's pitch is a persuasive one, or it would be on lesser men than stalwart sergeants Troy and Moffitt. Returning vets, contends Cunningham, will find all the jobs taken by those who were too young to fight in the war, and all the girls married with children. Since the market for "middle-aged commandoes" will have dried up, the war heroes will soon sink to hocking their medals at pawn shops. Why not rise above the fray and declare loyalty only to lucre and lots of it?
Into Ned's sales pitch comes the drunken caterwauling of Cunningham's wife, Fay Morgan, shouting from the balcony. Here the story pivots to the poisonous relationship between Ned and Fay. There can be no doubt this story was inspired by the film WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? That Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor classic was released to great acclaim in the summer of 1966, during the production of THE RAT PATROL's first season. Franken and Spain are both excellent in their roles, trading acid-tongued barbs and attempting to humiliate each other in front of their captive guests. Troy and Moffitt are frequently seen averting their gaze from this train wreck of a relationship.
Despite Ned Cunningham's assurance That Troy and Moffitt would be traveling "first-class," the Rat Patrol is consigned to coach for this episode. Hitch and Tully are off-screen for most of the show, and Troy and Moffitt primarily play the George Segal and Sandy Dennis roles of audience to Ned and Fay's verbal volleys. Looming over the sophisticated banter and chilled champagne is the spectre of arch-nemesis Dietrich, whose arrival is anticipated at any moment to purchase arms and--should Cunningham's offer be rejected--to haul the Rat Patrol off to a P.O.W. camp or worse.
There isn't a lot of the accustomed action here, but there's also never a dull moment. One of the series' best written and acted episodes. 9/10
Harry O: The Admiral's Lady (1974)
Who Is Killing the Great Sluts of San Diego?
This second episode of the fledgling HARRY O series is engaging and entertaining, even if not as good or imaginative as its predecessor "Gertrude," which owed much of its charm to the presence of cute and quirky Julie Sommars. "The Admiral's Lady" lacks such an endearing eccentric, and turns to more tried and true tropes of the television mystery drama: missing wife believed to be dead, a troubled May-December marriage (aren't they all?), the tall and taciturn husband who would rather fire Harry than reveal uncomfortable truths about his relationship, red herrings (cue the handsome tennis pro), a crazed killer closing in on his victim, whom the hero of course leaves alone and vulnerable just long enough to heighten the suspense, and on and on. We've seen it all before, but David Janssen, Leif Erickson, and John McMartin manage to make it all compelling television.
Seeing Leif Erickson and Henry Darrow in the opening credits sparked excitement and the promise of a reunion of two stars of THE HIGH CHAPARRAL, the 1967-71 Western. But the powers that be inexplicably decided against their ever sharing a scene. A perfect one would have been on the beach where Erickson clutches the life preserver and refuses to accept Sgt. Garvey's gloomy prognosis. Darrow's Lt. Quinlan could have played Charles Haid's role there and made the scene even stronger.
And speaking of erstwhile castmates, Stacy Keach, Sr. and Ellen Weston were both recurring characters on GET SMART. Keach merits but one short scene as a doorman, but Weston is given generous screen time as the alluring Mrs. Lucas, bored and beautiful wife of a traveling businessman whose bikini-clad body attracts the attentions of dashing Jordan Briggs . . . to her peril.
John McMartin played Briggs, the villain of the piece. He didn't look or act like an unhinged killer, which made the reveal all the more effective and shocking. A year earlier McMartin played a church pastor on THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, and like his near-lookalike Monte Markham proves himself equally adept at playing guys both nasty and nice. As much as this story relied on tried and true tropes, the motivation for Briggs' killing spree was imaginative and a reversal of expectations (even Harry leapt to the wrong conclusion).
In fact, when Harry is questioning Mrs. Briggs and she asks whether she needs go into sordid detail, Harry says, no, you've been very helpful, and then just hangs up on her. Not one for goodbyes, it seems, he hangs up on a lot of people or just walks away when they're still speaking to him. I see such anti-social behavior described as Harry's "curmudgeonly charm," but it's really just rude.
HARRY O debuted the same 1974-75 season as THE ROCKFORD FILES. Why did Garner's series enjoy five seasons and Janssen's only two? There are similarities between Harry Orwell and Jim Rockford--shabby living quarters on the sea, a rough-around-the-edges business model, a love-hate relationship with the local police. But Jim Rockford is a nice guy, one you'd enjoy shooting the bull with over a burrito at the Beach Café. Harry is not. He's proved himself incapable of carrying a conversation ("I can't follow your sequiturs," groused Gertrude last episode) and is often lacking in compassion (and what he does possess, evident in, for example, "Elegy for a Cop," he is incapable of articulating or showing in a normal, meaningful manner). I enjoy watching Harry's adventures, but I haven't warmed to the character like I have to Jim Rockford. And I wonder if Harry's coldness contributed to the show's short run.
The episode closes with Harry sitting on the beach reading Rudyard Kipling, even reciting a passage from "Recessional." I agreed with the Admiral--Harry doesn't strike one as a reader of the classics. It was an out-of-character moment, but it made for a good closing to a good story.
Angels Rush In Where the Feckless Fear to Go
This fifth adventure finds Tod and Buz correcting course after the dead end of the preceding episode. "The Strengthening Angels" is a compelling story that still suffers from a stumble or two. And such stumbles are more damaging when they come at the end of a show, as happened here with the credulity-defying reveal of the lawyer as the hitherto-unknown witness to the murder. Huh? That curve ball out of left field had me suspecting Silliphant wrote himself into a corner and wrote himself out with a ridiculous plot contrivance he hoped would be overlooked among the smiles and bullfighting banter of the feel-good ending. But it was as hard to overlook as a dead bull in the living room. But the otherwise engaging story and excellent acting from Pleshette, Larch, and Townes covered a multitude of missteps.
Speaking of Townes, who played the revivalist Daniel, I was delightfully surprised--more like stunned--that he was portrayed as an honest and sincere Christian man and minister of the Gospel. This episode aired on November 4, 1960--four days before JFK was elected and four months after the film ELMER GANTRY was released. In the movie and the 1927 Sinclair Lewis novel upon which it's based, tent revivalists are skewered as hypocritical crooks at best. So I was grateful for this very generous representation of a much-maligned vocation, and one played out with aplomb by Harry Townes.
The sight of Suzanne Pleshette instantly evokes Emily Hartley for me, but she fast overcame that pleasant association in my mind with her brash and brassy Lotti Montana. She proved a difficult protagonist to warm up to. I disliked her character all the way through, though I admired her performance. Only in Daniel's presence did Lotti's softer side show. She was a complex character with an unplumbed backstory that surely involved all manner of abuse and neglect. Her blithely abandoning her own daughter when she fled the revival testifies to that. I was impressed by how deftly Silliphant skirted network standards of decency when revealing Lotti was the town harlot with lines like men in their Sunday best ringing her bell on a Saturday night.
It's funny how the mind works while watching these well-crafted shows of yesteryear. I began thinking it was Sheriff Hingle who really murdered his brother and he was plotting to pin the rap on Lotti, especially in light of the elaborate gaslight number he prepared for her. So I was surprised when Lotti 'fessed up that yeah, she was guilty as charged. So often these hookers with hearts of gold are innocent patsies for the power players. Silliphant, to his credit, upends expectations and disabuses viewers of their preconceptions.
Take Sheriff Hingle, for example. He came across as a stereotypical small-town sheriff for whom absolute power corrupted absolutely. He slaps Lotti's beautiful face with his gorilla-sized mitt so you know he's rotten. But he actually turns out to be a stalwart and unflagging defender of justice, a believer in a fair fight, and no hard feelings. I liked how he took in stride Buz's obnoxious wisecracking about leaving his "shooting irons" in the car, as if Hingle were some cowpoke sheriff from a B-Western. And my esteem for Hingle soared when he came in to help patch up Buz. You could tell Hingle really admired Buz's scrappiness and dedication to principle, which matched his own.
John Larch as Hingle was a welcome face and lent the show a solid presence. A year to the day minus one from this ROUTE 66 appearance he played the placating father to Billy Mumy in the classic "It's a Good Life" episode of TWILGHT ZONE. And of course a decade later the tables turned and Larch was the guy trying to rein in a strong-willed and violence-prone police officer in DIRTY HARRY. Tom Reese as Deputy Tommy proved the adage "no good deed goes unpunished" when he got reamed for stepping in to save his boss from a continued thrashing. But vintage TV fans know he was eventually promoted to Sgt. Thomas Velie on the mid-1970's ELLERY QUEEN (another series that keeps you guessing).
Warren Stevens, four years after FORBIDDEN PLANET, had a smaller role than expected for a star of his caliber, but he made the most of what he had, especially in his thoughtful admission of running away and being haunted by guilt the past eight months. His culpability explained his defensive uneasiness when approached by Tod and Buz to take the case. But I think he saw this was God's way of bringing him resolution and redemption. I liked when he said he made up his mind to come clean when he accepted the job. I'm also noting how booze is behind a lot of the bad things that happen in this series.
Richard Crown dropping from the heavens as the surprise witness to exonerate Lotti stole the thunder from little Theresa Montana (played well by an unbilled Gina Gillespie). I also didn't see why Crown's testifying would make this his last case. Would he be disbarred for initially withholding his testimony? And can a defense attorney testify in favor of his own client? The story skates past such cracks in the ice to an abrupt but satisfying conclusion.
This was an episode especially noteworthy for its positive portrayal of Christianity and its dramatically testifying to the life-changing power of the Gospel. Thank God for those strengthening angels Tod and Buz, who were moved to turn around not just their Corvette but an unjust situation and a young woman's life.
The First Flat Tire on Route 66
The fledgling series takes an ugly turn with this ill-conceived episode that attempts to glamorize the dubious undertaking of Nazi hunting.
The cast is acquitted of all blame for the episode's failings. And this cast had a lot to offer fans of THE TWILIGHT ZONE and STAR TREK: Frank Overton, Michael Conrad, Alfred Ryder and Roger C. Carmel. Wasted in cameos were Ed Asner and fearless Zanti-Misfit fighter Bruce Dern.
But the spotlight is on Lew Ayres, playing against type and pulling it off admirably--he's a talented actor. There's nary a hint of kindly Dr. Kildare in his Frank Bartlett aka Daniel Torvald, icy and unsmiling, zealously reading his Old Testament at every opportunity to fuel his eye-for-an-eye ideology. Torvald ignores the commandment not to bear false witness, however, as his entire life as Frank Bartlett is a lie. He goes on to lie about planting the photograph and about his fall from sabotaged planking. Men who strive for virtue but deceive themselves into believing they can cherry pick which virtues or which commandments to live and obey are at best hollow and worst dead men walking.
And in that is the episode's irony: the "villain"--easily discerned by the episode's title--has left behind the ugliness of war, embraced American values, and is living an honest, productive life. Conversely, the "hero" has been wallowing in hate for fifteen years, suffered arrested development as a human being in 1945 and is effectively as dead as the victims he seeks to avenge. Torvald is a victim of the Nazis who didn't stop being a victim when the war ended. He's been drinking poison ever since and hoping the other person will die.
Torvald gets his wish in a silly and unsatisfying ending. Nazi-hunters wanted to relish their captives being tried, vilified, and executed on the world's stage as would happen to Adolf Eichmann in 1961-62. As another reviewer noted, the May 1960 capture of Eichmann surely served as Stirling Silliphant's inspiration for this "torn from today's headlines" episode. But I wonder if Silliphant penned the ending we got with Otto's crazed and ill-fated leap for and inevitable fall from the departing helicopter. I could see network executives insisting on such a pat ending that gave the audience immediate closure. Torvald departing with his captive implying Otto will be tried and executed in Israel may have been deemed too murky.
I wished Tod had stuck to his initial instinct to oppose Torvald after calling him out over the parlor trick with the photograph that subjected a locker room full of innocent men to an awkward and unjust accusation. In their defense, Tod and Buz weren't privy to the later psychological stunts pulled by Torvald--the Hitler speech record that unnerved the innocent cook, or the voodoo doll planted on the pillow of the guilty party. Torvald's reckless stabs in the dark hoping to hit the guilty hit many innocents, but in Torvald's skewed morality ends justify means.
This episode was a misstep in many ways, a whodunit lacking suspense and satisfaction, morality as seen in a funhouse mirror, and a promising cast that was squandered. This was a story celebrating those who look back instead of looking forward. I'm glad Tod and Buz have their eyes set on the road ahead, and I'm eager to join them wherever that road takes them next.
The Morticia Addams Story
What a treat this 1963-64 season premiere must have been for fans of WAGON TRAIN, returning in color and expanded to a whopping 90-minutes (taking a page from THE VIRGINIAN playbook). And this opening episode proved itself a worthy addition to the annals of WAGON TRAIN.
Taking center stage is Carolyn Jones a year before landing her iconic role on THE ADDAMS FAMILY. She's outstanding as Molly Kincaid, the embittered wife of Ray Danton's Robert Kincaid, the man who thirteen years earlier panicked and ran out on her when Comanche Indians stormed their cabin. Molly is unforgiving and has been nursing a grudge all those nightmarish years (one harrowing scene shows Molly laying in a tent about to be gang raped by three lusty braves who come in while the aged medicine man stands by aloof shaking a rattle). Her sole reason for coming to the bustling town of Kincaid is to murder its founder and namesake, Robert.
As Robert, Ray Danton proves his range playing against type as a mild-mannered and emotional businessman, a far cry from his usual roles as suave playboys and tough guys like Legs Diamond and George Raft. When he first appears with his hair colored gray, I knew flashbacks were afoot, and they show exactly what took place that fateful day neither he nor Molly has been able to forget. Robert is branded a coward, but what he lacks in testicular fortitude, he makes up for with other virtues, ones not often held in high regard in the wild West--business savvy, sentimentality, generosity, and a skill for single parenting his daughter Martha, who, unbeknownst to Molly, survived that Indian raid thirteen years earlier.
Molly is at first a loathsome character, stealing, feigning ignorance of English, lying, and of course attempting to bushwhack her hapless husband. Consumed with hate, bitterness, and vanity--resenting the fact her once-beautiful face is ringed with ugly, raised Comanche tribal "tattoos," Molly is initially difficult to warm up to. But she too is revealed to have her virtues, such as her love for her adopted son, Rome, a white boy the Comanches kidnapped from a wagon train when he was about four. Molly raises Rome as her own, lavishing love and learning upon him, ensuring he knows English. In the story, Rome is about 16 when he escapes captivity with his 32-year-old adopted mother, but in real life the actor--Fabian--was 23 and Carolyn Jones 33, which led me originally to think they were a couple instead of mother and son.
Rome is soon relegated to the sidelines. Molly early on expresses concern and an interest in seeing him, but seems to forget him once she becomes embroiled in the domestic drama of reuniting with her husband and thought-dead daughter Martha. Rome becomes comic relief--resisting a bath, getting a haircut, and in a cross-cultural communications fail even attempts a Comanche marriage to the flirty Merrybell.
Playing a pivotal role is "special guest star" Barbara Stanwyck as Kate Crawley, a brassy whip-cracking supplier to the wagon train. She's gritty and hard-edged, but reveals a softer side as well, easing and facilitating Molly's reversion from Comanche squaw to civilized white woman, wife, and mother. I was especially impressed by Kate's encouraging Molly to seek God, religious faith being not only a key component of civilization but also something Molly needed to reembrace personally in order to move forward in life. Kate deserves credit for bringing Molly from cynically remarking she forgot how to pray while a prisoner of the Comanches to the humbled and forgiving woman ascending arm-in-arm with her repentant husband the steps of the church he built in her honor.
Stanwyck and Danton will return later in this season headlining separate stories. But this would prove to be Fabian's sole appearance, which was disappointing since Rome joined the wagon train at the end. What ever became of his romance with Merrybell? Did Chris, Charlie, Coop and Company ever smooth down Rome's rough edges? I thought Rome being written off at the end was a weakness of the story. He and Molly both seemed too quick to separate after all the years they persevered through together. But perhaps it was necessary if Molly was to forget the past and return to her former life and for Rome to begin a new life of his own. Their moments together at the end were a heartbreaker and never was parting such sweet sorrow.
Adding to my enjoyment was the fact I watched this episode on Easter Eve as the story's themes are forgiveness, reconciliation, and new life. A promising start to the seventh season.
100 Rifles (1969)
Burt and Brown South of the Border
I think I know why so many reviews and write-ups about this picture focus on the off-screen clash of the titanic egos and the taboo-defying love scene between black lawman and Indian squaw--it's not a very good Western.
The premise was good. It's 1912 and Burt Reynolds' half-breed Yaqui Joe robbed a Phoenix bank of $6,000 to buy 100 rifles to arm the Yaqui Indians of Sonora, Mexico, who are woefully outmatched in their conflict with the Mexican army led by General Verdugo. Meanwhile, into town rides Big Jim Brown as Sheriff Lydecker determined to capture and bring back the outlaw. But to General Verdugo, one meddling gringo is the same as any other, and Yaqui Joe and Lydecker soon find themselves chained together and destined to face the firing squad.
Raquel Welch lends glamour to the proceedings as Sarita, but is incidental to the plot, relegated to eye-candy: luring a soldier to his death by unbuttoning her shirt, taking a shower, and playing the eminently seducible soldada.
The movie belongs to Burt, whose charisma and smile steal every scene from the ponderous and lumbering Brown. Yaqui Joe is no hero, however, welshing on paying his whore, slapping her around, then dragging her topless onto the hotel balcony in a vain effort to distract the soldiers long enough to allow the Yaqui prisoners to escape. Brown's Lydecker, a lawman eager to bring in Yaqui Joe for the $200 reward and job security, is a 15-year U.S. Cavalry veteran of the Indian Wars and openly declares his dislike for Indians. He rebuffs Yaqui Joe and Sarita when they implore him to join in their fight, but his attitude changes once he befriends a young Yaqui boy who is later abducted by the military--now it's personal.
To its credit, the film never descends into schmaltz with everyone forsaking their prejudices and joining in a group hug. Yaqui Joe and Lydecker work together, but don't necessarily like or trust each other. They are no Culp and Cosby and 100 RIFLES never becomes a buddy movie. In fact, I don't think anyone in this picture really liked anyone else. It's a cynical story, with each of the featured characters coming to Sonora for his own gain.
Railroad man Grimes, for example, represents American interests in Mexico. Played with disarming charm by Dan O'Herlihy, Grimes initially appears as a dandy in his white suit and weak stomach for killing, but in the end he's confident and poised to pull the strings of reluctant leader Yaqui Joe. It's telling that Joe parrots to Lydecker the stirring speech he just heard from Grimes, indicating he's already fallen under the American's persuasive spell.
And in a rather ham-fisted foreshadowing of World War II, there is Lt. Franz von Klemme. As a fan of director Tom Gries' 1966-68 series RAT PATROL, I was delighted to see Eric Braeden--still billed as Hans Gudegast--playing--what else?--a German military adviser to General Verdugo. Braeden has a gravitas that contrasted sharply with Verdugo's bombast and decadence, evident in the scene where Verdugo lolls in a tub being scrubbed by a couple senoritas while von Klemme scowls in disgust. Of course, von Klemme's sound counsel falls on deaf ears. Verdugo is more interested in salving his bruised ego by settling personal scores with Yaqui Joe and Lydecker than in the military objective of retrieving the 100 rifles. (And of course proto-Nazi von Klemme advised Verdugo to exterminate all the Yaqui in a too-obvious and ominous allusion to what the future held.) I sympathized with von Klemme and this fool's errand he was dispatched to in Sonora and was glad to see him survive and make a strategic retreat in the end, just as he did in dozens of RAT PATROL episodes.
The names of the villains each evoke strong associations: Verdugo - vertigo, unsteady and liable to fall. Von Klemme - clammy, unpleasantly slimy, sticky, and moist--yuck! Grimes - grimy, oily and dirty (in contrast with his white suit). I'm confident these names were not chosen by accident.
In another of the film's strong points, the Yaqui Indians are not romanticized as virtuous underdogs. When they conquer Verdugo's compound, they immediately get drunk and trash all the trappings of civilization they can find, eventually burning it all to the ground in the grand sacking tradition of the European barbarians, Mongols, and Huns. It was the Yaqui's tearing up the railroad tracks that sparked the conflict with the Mexican military in the first place, signifying this war is at its heart a war on civilization, modernity, and progress.
100 RIFLES is an ambitious Western that stumbles as entertainment, though it dutifully delivers action, excitement, and gunplay. The titles and Jerry Goldsmith soundtrack were excellent, as were the locations (the ruined cathedral especially). The acting is very good, with Burt Reynolds standing out, ably backed by Brown and the three principal baddies--Fernando Lamas, Dan O'Herlihy, and Eric Braeden.
The shortcomings include the tropes that traditionally plague Westerns--people falling forward after being shot (and practically diving over the sandbags near the end), Welch arriving just in time to hear a dying man's last words before he shudders and dies in her arms, and Welch and her "cavalry" coming over the wall a split-second before the firing squad executed our heroes. These weren't mortal wounds, but they added up over the 110-minute run time that could have been trimmed by twenty minutes. Worth watching once.
Jericho: Upbeat and Underground (1966)
One of the least-known of the numerous series spawned by the success of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., which is ironic because JERICHO was an MGM Arena Production executive produced by Norman Felton, developer of U.N.C.L.E. Co-creator credits go to the esteemed team of Levinson and Link, just a year or so shy of premiering their most enduring creation, COLUMBO.
The premise, judging by this episode alone, appears to be U.N.C.L.E. set in World War II. Don Francks plays American Franklin Sheppard, John Leyton plays British Nicholas Gage, and thoroughly Italian actor Marino Mase plays Frenchman Jean-Gaston Andre. Francks is the Napoleon Soloesque leader of the trio, Leyton the poor man's Ilya, a pretty boy with an anachronistic Beatles mop top, and Mase the bombastic risk taking hot dog. The team works well together and the actors enjoyed an easy chemistry right out of the gate.
Broadcast as the third episode, this was actually the pilot. And if an international cast fighting Nazis stirs up memories of THE RAT PATROL, they will only be heightened by the welcome guest appearance of Eric Braedon (still billed as Hans Gudegast) as Major Richter. He steals every scene he's in.
The setting is Occupied France, and Jericho--codename for our trio--is assigned to put the kibosh on a propaganda Bastille Day concert of Wagner music. Jericho initially balks at the unimportance of the mission, but morale and a renowned conductor and his orchestra being used as pawns by the Nazis warrants a table-turning.
Jericho plots not only to quash the concert, but to sneak conductor Paul Marchand and all 101 members of his orchestra across the Channel to England! Jericho's plotting and playing out the mission is similar to that seen on MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, which premiered this same 1966-67 season. Adding to that vibe is the Lalo Schifrin score, with cues strikingly similar to those on MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, martial drums and all. No complaints--I loved it!
One thing I didn't love was the mass slaughter of Nazis over the course of the episode. Yeah, they're the bad guys, but Jericho, with machine guns and grenades, kill wantonly and relentlessly. A couple Nazis, investigating oboe music emanating from a manhole, get machine-gunned in the face. Attempts at humor inserted into the carnage--a woman bringing her birdcage into the house while bullets fly--failed to lighten the mood.
The guest cast is good, though never used to its full potential. Even Braedon seems to be hovering in the background instead of front and center. I wanted him to have a larger, more commanding role. Nehemiah Persoff plays Paul Marchand, and gets a couple good scenes, but nothing like he would enjoy a month later in the outstanding "Odds on Evil" episode of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. Ben Wright plays Mallory, Jericho's contact who gave them this assignment and presumably another at the conclusion. He appeared poised to play this show's answer to Mr. Waverly, but he vanished after this one appearance.
What will keep me tuning in, so to speak, will be Don Francks as team leader Sheppard. He has a determined, weather-beaten face that testifies to a hard-knock life with many missions behind him. He just commands attention and respect. Leyton was a lightweight, and ugh--that ridiculous hair. I'm a stickler for period dress and styles, and I wish the producers had insisted on it, but it's obvious Leyton was the most David McCallumesque actor they could contract. Andre has charisma, but he lost me with his turn as the hot dog frog who disobeys orders to rescue a countryman, an amateur stunt that jeopardized the lives of over 100 people. He'll need reining in.
Alas, Francks will never get the chance to whip these whelps into seasoned fighting men since the series was torpedoed after a mere sixteen episodes (blame Batmania, which turned out to be a more indomitable foe than the Nazi hordes). This was a good even if flawed opening salvo in a series that's ripe for rediscovery, especially for my fellow fans of spy shows of the Sixties. Can't wait to see 'em all!
Switch: Las Vegas Roundabout (1975)
Mac and Pete Outcon the Con Men
This 73-minute TV Movie pilot for the 1975-78 series SWITCH was a real treat, especially for a longtime fan of both Eddie Albert and Robert Wagner. Back in the 1960s, who would have imagined Oliver Wendell Douglas and Alexander Mundy would prove a popular pair and enjoy such an easy chemistry? Television impresario Glen Larson did, and paired them for a fun few years. And it all started here.
This pilot, which I saw under the title LAS VEGAS ROUNDABOUT, establishes the premise inventively. Crooked cop Lt. Phil Beckman engineers an elaborate frame-up of reformed safecracker Chuck Powell. We see Beckman planting a couple diamonds in Powell's car before arresting Powell at his little kid's birthday party. In jail, Powell's lawyer Murray Franklin wants Powell to plea bargain, but Powell insists he's innocent so convincingly that Franklin decides to bring in the only two investigators who can break the frame: Frank "Mac" MacBride and Pete Ryan. In a voice-over, Franklin narrates the improbable origin story of how a retired bunco cop teamed up with his greatest nemesis--now reformed--to open a private investigation office.
Yeah, it does smack a little of IT TAKES A THIEF. But what's wrong with that? Robert Wagner again plays the reformed criminal whose talents he now turns to good. And like Malachi Throne's older, wiser Noah Bain, Eddie Albert's Mac is the seasoned voice of wisdom and experience. A big difference, however, is that Mac and Pete are equal partners. Gone are the pulling rank and threats of returning Al to prison that made Bain and Mundy's partnership uneasy at best. In SWITCH it appears Mac and Pete sincerely enjoy working together.
In this pilot episode, Mac and Pete conspire to con the con man at his own game. They know Beckman pulled that jewel heist to cover his gambling debts. The only way to catch him in the act is to dig him another hole and push him into it. Pete impersonates a CIA agent and Mac plays the retired cop hired to assist him on a special assignment. Mac acts like a bumbling old cop treating this federal gig as a lark and spills confidential details to Beckman, leading to Pete's wanting to fire him and find a capable replacement. Beckman presents himself and into the carefully laid trap he steps.
Next stop: Las Vegas, where the goal is to trick Beckman into believing he lost a whopping $25,000, forcing him to steal again. There are bumps in the road and of course the best laid plans go awry. Glen Larson keeps things suspenseful and the action moving swiftly to the inevitable denouement.
TV fans will spot many familiar faces among the guest cast. Charles Durning is featured as Lt. Beckman and does an excellent job, going from deferential second banana to confidently taking charge. He was well cast as the bad guy. Ken Swofford is on hand as the police captain. Blink and you'll miss Ken Lynch's one scene and couple lines at the very beginning. Two younger stars paying their dues were series regular Sharon Gless as put-upon secretary Maggie and Roger E. Mosley in a small but key role as a fence. Fame on CAGNEY AND LACEY and MAGNUM P.I. was awaiting just across the '80s Rubicon.
Also in a small role was Marc Lawrence as Franks, the casino manager. James Bond fans will fondly recall his minor but memorable parts in both DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER and THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN. Interestingly, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER was set primarily in Vegas and James Bond's cover name was Franks. (And that film's leading lady--Jill St. John--has been Mrs. Robert Wagner since 1990.)
And speaking of beautiful women, bringing the glamour to this episode was Jaclyn Smith as Ally McGuinness, a freelance operative Mac and Pete called in to slip a mickey to Beckman. Smith appeared poised to be a regular player, but disappeared after only two more episodes (shades of Susan Saint James' Charlie Brown on IT TAKES A THIEF). And of course the next year Smith was snapped up by Aaron Spelling, slipped into that white bikini, and was propelled to iconic status on CHARLIE'S ANGELS.
SWITCH series creator and writer Glen Larson specialized in striking the balance between suspenseful and lighthearted adventure, and he struck it again here. The banter between Mac and Pete bring smiles, while the violent intensity of Beckman raises the threat menace to red, especially in the end when the audience doesn't know whether he looked into that file revealing Mac and Pete as private investigators. Like on COLUMBO, we know who the bad guy is, so the fun is watching the good guys draw the noose tighter. And they do it with style and verve.
LAS VEGAS ROUNDABOUT is the series pilot, but it can be enjoyed on its own as a lighthearted and entertaining movie. Eddie Albert and Robert Wagner make engaging leads and they left me eager to track down episodes of the series and to dream of a DVD release.
To Protect, Serve, and Entertain
A longtime favorite episode of the series. Everybody contributes to the laughs, and there are so many of them! Like giggling at Chuckles' funeral, it seems inappropriate to laugh at Mary getting burglarized--twice!--but it's just hilarious.
All the elements that make the series special are here, from Mary's plaintive cry of help, to Rhoda's call to the police, to Phyllis' rivalry with Rhoda. At the office, everyone gets good lines and the camaraderie among them was strengthened by everyone pitching in to help Mary (even Ted with a manual ice-crusher).
Every line in the episode was a winner except for the forced and awkward scene where Phyllis pathetically tries to coerce Mary into coming to Lars' SCARD meeting. That fell flat with a thud. Another misstep was the dangling plot thread of Mary's aunt coming into town that served no real purpose in the plot and set the audience up for a never-delivered payoff.
The breakout star in this episode was Bob Dishy as Officer Tully, the number two cop who's trying harder. Why didn't this affable and abundantly talented actor enjoy greater success? He struck a perfect balance between being overeager without ever becoming a buffoon. He was sincere and somebody I thought could be a serious romance for Mary. I loved how Rhoda called him a coward after he chickened out from putting his comforting arms around Mary. He coulda been a contender, but alas, it was not to be.
Also excellent was Vic Tayback, playing a good guy for a change, albeit a gruff one (paving the way to playing Mel on ALICE). I loved the scene where these two cops step aside for some petty squabbling. You sure didn't see that on ADAM 12! And speaking of Seventies cop shows, every time I enjoy this episode I think of how Dishy would have been a wonderful addition to the cast of BARNEY MILLER, where Wojo took up Dishy's indefatigable drive to make detective. Dishy never returned to MTM, but he did the next year play a strikingly similar character on an early episode of COLUMBO, "The Greenhouse Jungle."
"Second Story Story" is an all-around excellent episode featuring the entire ensemble cast, a pair of standout guest stars, and Burt Mustin to boot! Not even twenty episodes in and the series was already steady on its feet and building its reputation as a classic.
The High(larious) Cost of Dying
A typically excellent early episode of the iconic series. Death is the sacred cow that gets tipped this time around. Archie's cousin Oscar has been enjoying an extended stay with the Bunkers, drinking brandy, eating steak, and smoking cigars all on Archie's dime. Enough is finally enough and when Archie finally musters the courage to throw the bum out, he dispatches Mike to drop the axe on the old guy. But the Grim Reaper beat him to it--Oscar's dead.
The satire really kicks in once word gets out. The funeral director--don't call him an undertaker--is trying to sell Archie a deluxe package funeral while neighbors and a distant relative (a hilarious Peggy Rea) drop in. A nice touch was Louise Jefferson coming by with a cake. Even the Reverend Felcher--don't call him Fletcher (whatever!)--makes a personal appearance. This series often had such small casts, many times just the four stars and maybe Lionel, that it's overwhelming to see the set filled with people, which reflects what Archie was feeling at the time.
Yeah, Archie's cheap, and he has no compunction about Cousin Oscar being buried in Potter's Field. And why should he? Cousin Oscar was a thorn in Archie's side (and face) since childhood, and a shameless freeloader in his waning days. The Bunker Bunch in Detroit and Cicero raised a whopping $73 to help with expenses, evidencing what low esteem Oscar enjoyed in his own family.
Mr. Whitehead, a slick salesman first and a lodge brother a distant second (i.e. expect no breaks from him) knows people and what they've been acculturated to expect when death strikes. How can Archie tell his family and friends he'll have his cousin Oscar dumped in Potter's Field? Mr. Whitehead knows he'll seal a deal and he does.
This episode really allowed Archie to shine. He's in near constant motion throughout the entire episode, enjoying a cigar and a rest in his chair only at the conclusion. He interacts nimbly with so many characters and--look out Bob Newhart!--displays his deftness at the one-sided telephone call. Only Archie could cuss out a little kid on her birthday and make it a laugh line!
In the end, Archie is a sympathetic figure, beaten down by forces he can't understand. His principles--such as they were--waver in the faces of the bereaved, who expect the funeral with its pomp and pageantry and of course the accompanying luncheon. Archie does in the end snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, basking in the success of the funeral and bragging of his E. F. Huttonesque abilities to draw a crowd.
Unexplained in the end are comments by Mike and Gloria, who called the funeral a travesty and barbaric. Exactly what were they describing? The hordes who turned out for a funeral for a man they didn't know? Or just how Mr. Whitehead and his ilk make death a commodity? "The Saga of Cousin Oscar" and many other episodes--especially the early ones--strike this perfect balance between leaving you laughing and thinking.
The Invaders: Beachhead (1967)
Fifty Years Ago Today the Nightmare Began!
I don't know about you, but even lo after fifty years I'm still keeping a wary eye peeled for people with extended pinkies. And I still suspect the whole Walton family is an alien sleeper cell! Today being the fiftieth anniversary of the broadcast of the first episode "Beachhead," I pulled down the DVD set and rewatched it as a celebration. Sadly, I saw absolutely nothing marking the anniversary, a sharp contrast to all the ballyhoo that surrounded STAR TREK's golden anniversary last September. I'm a Trekkie, of course, so I don't begrudge that classic its deserved plaudits. THE INVADERS simply suffers the misfortune of being a lesser known and under-appreciated classic.
This pilot episode does a masterful job establishing the premise and the protagonist, as well as leaving the audience with a sense of impending dread. The series was both a contrast and a complement to the idealism of STAR TREK and the candy-colored optimism of LOST IN SPACE. Its being earthbound lent it a realism the other series lacked. As thought-provoking as STAR TREK could be, it was also escapist fun in taking us to strange new worlds. THE INVADERS offered no such escape.
James Daly, who would later guest star as Flint in a particularly thoughtful episode of STAR TREK--"Requiem of Methuseleh"--is excellent here as architect David Vincent's business partner Alan Landers. He is also Vincent's first convert from skeptic to believer, though sadly Vincent never learns that.
I liked how we got only a glimpse into David Vincent's former life. It establishes that there was one, and the story demonstrates how there can be no going back to it. Landers' death, coupled with the burning of Vincent's apartment, closed that door for good. I was reminded of the prophet Elisha, who when called to a new mission in life slaughtered his oxen and burned the ox plow, putting to death the old life and dedicating himself fully to the new one. Ironically, it was the aliens themselves who left Vincent no way back, and setting him on this new path.
Quinn Martin Productions never lack for great guest stars, and this opening salvo in the war for humanity boasts a bevy of the era's stalwarts. J.D. Cannon, warming up for his future role on McCLOUD, plays a hardnosed Lt. Ben Holman. I suspected he was an alien, especially because he was chummy with Sheriff Lou Carver, played with malicious aplomb by perennial bad guy John Milford.
We know right from when she wheels into the frame that Aunt Sara is an alien, extending two pinkies to leave the audience no doubt. Ellen Corby plays her with relish, sliding sidelong into the frame and filling it with menace. Corby never was a warm grandmotherly type, and I think the menace would have been heightened had the producers cast someone like Ruth McDevitt or Marjorie Bennett. Nonetheless, Corby was effective.
I missed it on my first viewing years ago, but Kathy Adams referring to her Aunt Sara, whom we know is an alien, was a tipoff to her own otherworldly origins. Diane Baker plays Kathy so unassumingly and kind I can see why Vincent was duped. And Kathy also gives the series nuance: "We're not all like that" is a profound statement. And as the series progresses we see how complicated things can be, calling for critical discernment as opposed to killing them all.
One weakness in the story, albeit one necessary for the plot, was Vincent allowing Kathy to convince him to wait in the café instead of the hotel, where Vincent told Landers to meet him.
Speaking of the café, I laugh thinking of Vaughn Taylor, who usually plays stuffy, serious, and upstanding characters, in the role of a dirty old man unashamedly admiring the swaying posteriors of the Ackerman sisters. Hmm, were they all aliens too? I'm telling you, this show fosters paranoia. I think they would have to have been aliens, certainly no earthlings could be living in Kinney by this time.
An excellent series that has stood the test of time for fifty years. Now is the time for the series' cult of fans to convince an unbelieving world--or at least one that associates science-fiction with special effects--that THE INVADERS is a series worth discovering or rediscovering. In the meantime, watch out for extended pinkies!
Change of Habit (1969)
Elvis Ends on a High Note
What better way to celebrate what would have been Elvis Presley's 82nd birthday than by enjoying his final film? It was an admirable end to his acting career and an appealing overture to THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, boasting as it does both MTM and Ed Asner. It's as if the baton were being passed from the 1960s to the 1970s.
Co-stars Mary Tyler Moore, Jane Elliot, and Barbara McNair were all good, with MTM really surprising me in a role far from Laura Petrie and Mary Richards. Jane Elliot was the breakout star for me, very impressive as the idealistic Barbara. Soon after this movie she was cast as Daphne in "The Guru" episode of THE MOD SQUAD where she actually played a Velma-like character who nonetheless steals the show. Barbara McNair was the weak link, never clicking with the others, partly because her character was dispatched to house calls. Her acting was wooden, her face a stone mask rarely brightened with a smile or any expression. I found forced and unconvincing her big scene announcing amnesty on debts to The Banker.
Speaking of whom, Robert Emhardt, who played the kindly cook in Elvis' 1962 movie KID GALAHAD, was very effective as the neighborhood kingpin. More than just a loan shark, he implies to the naïve and oblivious Sister Barbara that she shouldn't be prostituting in his turf. It was a testimony to the film's commitment to harsh reality that The Banker, while bruised, isn't broken, and will be back shaking down the locals the next day.
The film was unflinching in its portrayal of ghetto idleness (and how that is indeed the devil's workshop), fatherlessness and abandonment, exploitation, mental illness, and violence. The attempted rape scene, for example, was especially harrowing for a G-rated movie! And no easy solutions are offered, just a little light in the darkness provided by Carpenter and company.
Also realistic and controversial was the film's portrayal of the Roman Catholic Church, caught between its past and its post-Vatican II future. I don't see the Church recommending this movie to boost vocations! Regis Toomey was very good in his thankless role of curmudgeonly Fr. Gibbons, an old school priest who simply locks the church's doors against the outside world. Sister Michelle's suggesting people-pleasing reforms like a folk mass seem innovative and idealistic, but almost fifty years later the erosion of tradition, politicization, and balkanization within the Church in the wake of Vatican II make her suggestions appear like an invitation to step out onto a slippery slope. Sister Barbara's peace signs and grocery store sit-in aptly reflect the real world agitation of rogue priests like the Berrigan Brothers.
Another actor in a thankless, blink-and-you'll-miss-him role was Richard Carlson as Bishop Finley. A decade earlier Carlson was headlining feature films like THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and starring in his own series, MACKENZIE'S RAIDERS. Now he was reduced to one measly scene. Fame is fleeting. And certainly Elvis knew this and perhaps he feared it would be his fate as well, since his screen time was reduced in both this film and its predecessor, THE TROUBLE WITH GIRLS.
Some reviewers have challenged the believability of Tennessee-native Dr. John Carpenter coming to the ghetto of New York City to practice medicine in a free clinic. But Carpenter explains the reason to Michelle after the football game, saying he had a war buddy from Washington Street who saved his life and later died half a world away (presumably Vietnam). Carpenter felt it only right to dedicate a few years of his life to paying back a debt to his friend. I liked that reason, and I also liked the subtle religious symbolism implied by it. Carpenter isn't planning on serving there indefinitely, but--like that other Carpenter--would minister among the poor only for a season.
What I challenge is the believability of the nuns taking a vow of silence not to reveal they are nuns while on this assignment, especially as it necessarily results in deception and dishonesty (and to his credit Carpenter calls out Michelle for that). It makes no sense except as an obvious plot device to set up the star-crossed romance and the big reveal at the end. And speaking of revealing, what was with the gratuitous and unseemly stripping scene near the beginning? That was a savory bone tossed to nun fetishists but a turn-off to anyone with any respect for the cloth. And why would these nuns on a short assignment order an upright piano for their apartment? Again, just to set up the jam session of "pagan music" with Elvis that outraged the distaff Statler and Waldorf leaning out of their windows to weigh in on the passing scene.
Sisters Michelle, Barbara, and Irene were chosen for this experimental assignment, sent into the mixed-up world with the hope they wouldn't be mixed-up by that world. Since all three end up suffering some degree of confusion and crisis, I suspected they were selected for the assignment because they were determined to be at-risk for staying in the Church. And in the end one has quit and it's strongly implied Michelle will be leaving as well, with Mother Joseph's blessing (judging by her knowing smile when John comes to call at the convent). The closing scene says it all, with Michelle sitting in the folk mass looking from John to Jesus to... mother and child.
This was a fine movie for Elvis to close out his acting career. He again showed his abundant abilities and evidenced enduring appeal. And the music was uniformly excellent, from the under-appreciated title song (an upbeat complement to "In the Ghetto") to "Have a Happy" (which atones for the treacly "Confidence" of CLAMBAKE), and on through the rousing closing number "Let Us Pray." Elvis went out on the proverbial high note.
Mannix: Last Rites for Miss Emma (1969)
Peggy's Fair-Weather Friend
The spotlight is on Peggy in this episode, playing amateur sleuth, playing love-struck widow, playing dedicated mother, playing heartbroken widow. Unfortunately, the episode doesn't work well as a showcase for Gail Fisher.
The plot concerns a heist of morphine from a pharmaceutical plant. A brave young black man--Floyd Brown--attempted to foil the heist and was shot. While he's recovering in the hospital from his minor wound, Peggy brings him his glasses, which were knocked off his face during the struggle. An attraction is sparked and soon Floyd is pursuing Peggy aggressively and stepping up as a surrogate father to six-year-old Toby.
Some blue paint on her new outfit sets Peggy down the path of amateur sleuthing. She comes up with a theory that the morphine has been stashed in a blue panel truck at the airport. But Mannix--uncharacteristically chauvinistic and condescending--tells Peggy secretaries should focus on telephones and typewriters.
But it turns out Peggy was right! But when Mannix goes to investigate, the truck is moved, and just when Mannix gets the scent again the morphine is gone. It's as if someone is forewarning the bad guys of Mannix's next step. But who would be privy to the details of the investigation? When Mannix presents to Peggy incontrovertible evidence that Floyd is the inside man, her mask slips and she plays the race card, accusing Mannix of targeting Floyd because he's black. It was an ugly moment uncharacteristic of Peggy. She redeems herself later, refusing to buy into Floyd's racist rhetoric about it being "us against them" and how he was passed up for promotions because of his color. Peggy knows racism--real or imagined--is no excuse for participating in a drug heist. In desperation, Floyd suggests they run off and get married that very night. But Peggy's eyes have been opened. She realizes she's been a dupe, used by Floyd so he could keep tabs on the investigation. He doesn't love her, at least not nearly as much as his $100,000 cut of the drug loot.
Gail Fisher shows her range as an actress in these scenes, getting to run the gamut from elation to utter deflation. She's a good actress, but this particular story doesn't do her talents justice.
So what went wrong? I blame the writers--Albert Beich and William H. Wright, best known as the creator and producer of KENTUCKY JONES, the 1964-65 family drama that lured Dennis Weaver away from GUNSMOKE. This is Beich and Wright's first script for MANNIX, and their unfamiliarity with the characters is evident. They won't write another script for the series until 1973. This second season of MANNIX has been flailing because script chores seem to be falling to writers insufficiently familiar with these nuanced characters. That posed a problem as the series was shifting the emphasis to character development and away from plot-driven p.i. stories.
In what was virtually a co-starring role, Robert Hooks was very appealing and compelling as Floyd. I didn't want him to be the bad guy either and I really sympathized with Peggy's hoping against hope he wasn't in on the heist. But, alas, he was. Hooks was just coming off his 49-episode run playing Detective Jeff Ward on N.Y.P.D. (1967-69), and I suspect fans of that series were shocked to see him play against type, a move that added to the episode's punch for contemporary audiences.
Also memorable in small roles were old hands Dabbs Greer, Ron Randell, and especially Rhys Williams as a drug-dealing doctor from Georgia whose charming southern accent belied his canniness and corruption. This episode proved to be one of Williams' final performances; he died in May 1969, just two months after this program was broadcast. Criminally underutilized in this episode's cast was Julian Burton, the chemist who has one line near the end. In 1959 Burton co-starred as beat poet Maxwell H. Brock in the Roger Corman cult classic A BUCKET OF BLOOD. It was a shame to see Burton reduced to such a small role with no opportunity to show his talents.
A good even if undistinguished episode that suffered from characterization problems. Mannix a male-chauvinist pig? Peggy a racist? No way.
Breaking Point: The Bull Roarer (1963)
Ecce Homo: Behold the Man!
"The Bull Roarer" is yet another excellent episode in this fledgling series, one that stands out from the rest in its addressing a still vital and deceptively simple question: What is a man? When pressed for an answer by Dr. McKinley Thompson, young and confused Paul Knopf lists off wince-worthy descriptions like being strong, tough, able to fight, and to "move in fast on a girl." Paul's model for masculinity has been his loutish big brother Murray, a construction worker who spends his off hours fighting and picking up cheap whores in dive bars.
It's the old story. A fatherless home with a mother struggling to raise a 16-year-old and his 10-year-old brother. When Murray moves out after a fight with his mother, she smothers young Paul, crippling him emotionally and robbing him of a healthy home and healthy image of masculinity. Paul later gets bounced from the Army on a nuero-psych discharge and is sent to a mental hospital. Paul is encouraged to continue psychiatric care, but Murray discourages it: "You don't need any lace-handkerchiefed psychologist to cry to. You need to act like a man!"
Murray lands his kid brother a job on the construction gang, where thuggish behavior like fistfights, wolf calls and other displays of bravado are standard operating procedure. Is this what being a man is all about? Murray is the antagonist of the story, but not the villain of the piece. Everything Murray does--and he does a lot--is with the wholehearted intention of helping Paul fit in and enjoy life like he does. There's no malice on Murray's part; he simply is what he is. Conversely, Paul is sensitive and thoughtful, eager to learn. But Paul can't reconcile his instinctive kindness and consideration with the brash boorishness of his big brother. With Murray as the standard, Paul falls short, and by default fears he must be a homosexual, a self-diagnosis debunked by Dr. Thompson.
Onto the stage steps beautiful Betty Lorimer. Murray's groping of her is sharply contrasted with Paul's treating her with deference. That is until Betty's complimenting Paul on being different than the men on the construction gang is mistaken as an insult, spurring Paul to behave in a shockingly ugly and perverse parody of Murray. It's a heartbreaking scene.
Things come to a head in a session when Paul expresses regret at not being able to show Murray he was a man. Dr. Thompson loses it on Paul, frustrated that Paul just isn't getting it, and shouts: "We've been kicking this around for weeks, so let's get it out on the table, shall we?" I've never seen the imperturbable Dr. Thompson so perturbed. Following an outburst from Paul that I suspect Dr. Thompson deliberately provoked, the psychiatrist takes an exotic implement from his wall, a wall which for this episode is inexplicably full of exotic implements. He takes his now primed-for-a-breakthrough patient to the rec room and begins the work of exorcising Paul's misconceptions about masculinity.
The exotic implement is the bull roarer of the title, a gift from an anthropologist friend who got it from a primitive tribe in New Guinea. It's a wooden box on a length of rope. Dr. Thompson has Paul whirl the bull roarer while he launches into his monologue about masculinity, tribal rites, and how men mask their doubts and fears. The bull roarer makes a racket, but it's only air whistling through wood. It was a climactic scene, even if rather stagy in its presentation. But the object lesson worked! Paul, disabused of bad beliefs, armed with insight, and emboldened with a newfound self-confidence, heads to work at the construction site.
It hadda happen: Murray and Paul play out their inevitable conflict. There's no villain here, just irreconcilable worldviews in collision. It's telling that Murray's default solution to what he can't understand is to punch it, as he does to Paul's mouth when its voicing increasingly uncomfortable truths. Murray tried to be a good brother to Paul, and is understandably confused by Paul's rejection, and I'm sure it pained Paul to have to make the break. But with Betty tending to his wounds--physical and emotional--we know Paul is going to be better than he ever was.
The acting in this episode was the best thus far in the series, with the underrated Lou Antonio doing the heavy lifting and carrying the episode as Paul. I'm embarrassed to admit that for too long a time I only knew him from his cheesy appearance in STAR TREK's "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield." But my impression of Antonio changed completely after he awed me in THE FUGITIVE episode "See Hollywood and Die," which aired just a few weeks after this episode of BREAKING POINT. He played a very different character in THE FUGITIVE, a testimony to his range. As great as that performance was, however, I'm now considering "The Bull Roarer" to be Antonio's tour de force.
Ralph Meeker always gives a strong performance, and usually as the heavy. Here he got to play a more nuanced heavy, one well intentioned in his own ignorant and buffoonish way. I liked Murray as much as I was repulsed by him. Mariette Hartley as Betty had a smaller role, but an all-important one as the woman who showed Paul a more excellent way, a life of learning and of books and of love. I'm an unrepentant Trekkie and yes, Hartley will always conjure up Zarabeth in my mind, but I've seen her in so many other things now, including her standout role in RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY, and appreciate her acting abilities as much as I do her beauty.
Speaking of science-fiction, as a longtime fan of the 1950's radio drama X MINUS ONE I enjoyed seeing two of its greatest writers reunited for this episode of BREAKING POINT. George Lefferts was the series producer and Ernest Kinoy provided the script for this outstanding episode. Bravo to all involved!
It's Hip To Be Square
A Cinderella story with the fairy tale stripped away leaving only harsh, ugly reality. Rich boy falls for poor girl with a troubled past. This latter-day Romeo and Juliet run with a motorcycle gang led by a drug-dealing, pimping hepcat named Witchdoctor. John Cassavetes fans will be crestfallen to learn he dies before the opening titles! But he reappears in flashbacks and on tape recordings of his sessions with Dr. McKinley Thompson, the rookie psychiatrist who lost his patient to suicide and strives to save the girlfriend from joining him. While Cassavetes enjoys top guest star billing, the spotlight shines upon Carol Lawrence, excellent as Evelyn Denner, the grieving and guilt-ridden girlfriend to the late Evan Price.
Evelyn was a passenger on Evan's motorcycle as it tore along the beach and ended as a fireball tumbling into the rocks. The star-crossed lovers apparently had a suicide pact, but Evelyn survived the accident, suffering only bruises and shock. Once she awakens in the hospital and gets her wits about her, she slashes her wrists! Enter Dr. Mac, determined to stave off a double tragedy. But Evelyn proves an immoveable object requiring all the irresistible force Dr. Mac can muster. And whaddaya know--something gives.
What's interesting is that something gave only because Dr. Mac went with his gut and against the counsel of his mentor Dr. Raymer. Evan entrusted Thompson with a locket of a ballerina. When Thompson proposes delivering the locket to Evelyn's apartment, Raymer ominously intones, "We have a nasty phrase for what you're suggesting--therapeutic enticement." Admirably, Thompson shuffles of the straitjacket of his training and goes. When Evelyn sees the locket her resistance falls--at least momentarily--and Thompson makes a breakthrough. He learns of Evelyn's mother dying giving birth to her and of her drunken sailor father who put her into the foster care system where she bounced from the frying pan to the fire until one caring family introduced her to dancing. That bright spot in a bleak life was short lived, however. Her story explains even if it doesn't excuse Evelyn spiraling into a life as a heroin-using prostitute.
That scene in Evelyn's seedy apartment is the highlight of the episode, and Carol Lawrence carries it well, never letting pathos slip into bathos as a lesser actress would. Another strong scene comes near the end when the Witchdoctor pimps her out to a salesman so she can earn fifty dollars to buy heroin. Actor Jimmy Joyce gets a nod for playing so convincingly a lust-crazed john who only emerges from his testosterone-fueled madness when Evelyn threatens him with a broken beer bottle. It was the salesman fingering her locket that allowed Evelyn to recall times when she was loved and to know she deserved better than the sordid scene she was enduring. And from that scene she flees to the clinic, warmly welcomed by Dr. Thompson, who is relieved that Evelyn has abandoned all intentions of suicide.
Scripter Mark Rodgers, whose only BREAKING POINT story this would be, had a year earlier wrote a memorable episode of WIDE COUNTRY titled "Our Ernie Kills People." That story was a similar exploration of juvenile delinquency that showed the difficulty in affixing blame. Is society to blame? Wealthy but emotionally distant parents? The individual him or herself? It's a thorny and complex question that defies an easy answer. Knowing that I bristled watching the consultation between Drs. Raymer and Thompson where Thompson says the Prices "felt they had an impossible son they'd done everything for." Raymer responds that the tragedy is "they deserted him emotionally in childhood," foisting the blame on the parents.
Fortunately,the unfolding story vindicates the parents and proves out that despite their shortcomings the biblical proverb holds true: "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." In a flashback scene we see Evan growing out of his "rich boy rumspringa," telling Evelyn that he's ready to get a job and settle down. She mocks the idea, saying she doesn't want a house and a station wagon. She'd much rather go to the Witchdoctor's party, knowing there will be heroin there, of which it is later implied she's a user. She wasn't ready to grow up, maybe because she never had a childhood.
The surrogate family she falls in with is a motorcycle gang of misfits and juvenile delinquents led by the horribly miscast Woodrow Parfrey as Witchdoctor (think Harold Lembeck's Eric Von Zipper crossed with Arte Johnson's LAUGH-IN Nazi). I could never really believe that Cassavetes would cast his lot with these losers. And speaking of credulity, it was a stretch to accept 33-year-old Cassavetes and 31-year-old Lawrence as a couple kicks-seeking J.D.s, but they pulled it off convincingly. J. Pat O'Malley appears in one scene as Evelyn's estranged father, whose Scottish brogue didn't square with his daughter's distinctly Italianate features.
I felt a little sorry for series co-star Eduard Franz, who is afforded little opportunity to act. His character Dr. Raymer appeared in several scenes, but always just to consult with Dr. Thompson. I was hoping for a scene of Raymer admitting to Thompson he was wrong, but that didn't happen (alas, it never does in real life either!). The imperturbable Paul Richards gets all the action scenes, such as they are. I'm enjoying seeing these two character actors headline a series and thus far each has done an admirable job and proved himself worthy, aided and abetted by adult stories and the best actors and actresses of the era.
Breaking Point: Fire and Ice (1963)
Better Living Through Psychiatry
I only just learned of this BEN CASEY spin off about a freshly minted psychiatrist and his sagely mentor helping patients cope with the vicissitudes of life. It ran for a mere one season of 30 episodes in 1963-64. The series was created by Meta Rosenberg--a name familiar to all fans of THE ROCKFORD FILES (and who isn't?)--and is one ripe for rediscovery.
Paul Richards and Eduard Franz are the stars, playing psychiatrists McKinley Thompson and Edward Raymer. Richards carries the show this time around, with Franz appearing in only one brief scene (during which he bums a cigarette off McKinley! Raleigh was a show sponsor, after all). The guest cast boasts Janice Rule, Kevin McCarthy, and Irene Tedrow as a mother-in-law straight outta central casting if not hell itself. We meet her as she pries into her daughter-in-law's Diane's love life: "When's the last time you were really a wife to David?" she asks, euphemistically, scorning Diane for not bearing the wealthy family any progeny. When Diane reacts angrily, Mrs. Henry blurts out that her son wants a divorce! And in walks that son, a 30-plus-year-old mama's boy, protesting that he wanted to tell her. It's no wonder Diane fled from the house and onto the couch of Dr. Mac.
Backing up, the episode has a strange and surreal opening, showing Diane dreamily admiring a young man working out on gymnastic rings in the park. We hear Diane's voice-over narration describing how it all just happened as we watch the man walk with her to a shady place, lay her down on the grass, and kiss her passionately. Much more happened off camera as we later learn that Diane's "rabbit test" came back positive. Shrieking that she doesn't want the baby, she asks Dr. Mac to arrange a "legal abortion" for her.
That scene takes place inexplicably in a children's playroom in the clinic. In what my English major background trained me to see as an Ibsen allusion, Dr. Mac is placidly placing objects in a dollhouse while Diane throws both a fit and any object she can fling onto the floor. That's where I really admired the casting of Paul Richards, whose stone face rivals Keaton's. Even a few minutes later when Diane slinkily and seductively sidles up to him, his expression remains implacable.
The spotlight is, however, squarely on Janice Rule as Diane, who shows off her abundant talents as an actress. Over the course of the hour she plays the full spectrum of emotions and expressions. As she becomes increasingly unhinged she drinks and dances, screams and yells, runs out of doors and makes soul-rending soliloquys. Those soliloquys are well written and delivered, though one can really hear scripter Mann Rubin's typewriter clacking away as Diane describes herself as "cold, smooth, and impenetrable, like an iceberg glistening in the sun." I admit I enjoy that melodramatic dialogue, even as I acknowledge such lush and literary language would be unlikely to pour forth from a drunk woman teetering on the brink of a nervous breakdown
I keep going back to Paul Richards, who really shines as Dr. Mac, Diane's psychiatrist-confessor. When milquetoast husband Dave stops by the clinic just to confirm his wife's pregnancy, Dr. Mac convinces him to give him five minutes, during which off-the-cuff consultation he calls out Dave for being beholden to his mother and for blaming Diane for the lack of children. Mac even persuades Dave to get a fertility check, which proves to be pivotal.
Things do resolve rapidly, though without a storybook ending. It's a messy situation, with a lot of hard work and adjustment ahead for Dave and Diane, not to mention for Mother, whose dethroning in Dave's heart and life presumably will come after the end credits roll. For a Kennedy-era program, the story didn't shy away from ugly realities, showing the adulterous promiscuity of a lonely housewife and its consequences, and touching on divorce, abortion, and male infertility. Doctors puffing Raleighs and a pregnant woman drinking like a fish do date the series and would certainly preclude the AMA from bestowing its imprimatur as it did in the end credits in 1963.
BREAKING POINT is an overlooked series worthy of rediscovery. It still holds up in presenting timeless human drama portrayed by golden age actors and actresses. For good or ill, BREAKING POINT also presaged our therapeutic age where psychology has been embraced by the culture and has been demystified, dumbed-down, and doled out to the masses by latter-day Dr. Macs like Dr. Phil, Dr. Ray, Dr. Laura et al.
Easy Come, Easy Go (1967)
Elvis Presley Meets the Bride of Frankenstein
EASY COME, EASY GO is another winning entry in Elvis' annals of entertainment.
Elvis was customarily charismatic and endearing, but I also credit his co-stars for making the movie a winner. Film veteran Frank McHugh enjoyed a large role as the charming Captain Jack, former kiddie show host now proprietor of a marine goods store who outfits the treasure hunters. I appreciated how Elvis movies frequently cast older stars, bridging the generation gap.
Pat Harrington as Judd Whitman was a more mature and savvy sidekick to Presley than the young and carefree Gary Lockwood and Jack Mullaney of earlier pictures. Harrington was integral to the story, not just tacked-on as a foil or for comic relief. His Easy Go-Go club was the hub of the film's on-shore action and site of two of the film's best songs: "The Love Machine" and "I'll Take Love." Harrington was a hard-working actor at this time, appearing in everything from THE MAN FROM UNCLE to F TROOP and voicing both the Inspector and Deux-Deux in a popular series of Depatie-Freling cartoons.
Harrington had also appeared on two episodes of THE MUNSTERS, working alongside our film's femme fatale Pat Priest, who proves herself to be a wow in a bikini as well as adept at playing a bad girl. Priest's Dina Bishop is a rich girl like Laurel Goodwin's character in GIRLS! GIRLS! GIRLS!, but unlike goodhearted Laurel Dodge, Dina Bishop is a wanton and a wastrel, frittering away her time and money in idle pursuits and attracting self-serving hangers on like Gil.
Skip Ward as Gil was convincing as Dina's kept man, pinched of face and simmering with anger and resentment for the Navy man who has caught his girl's wandering eye. Gil has a good scene with Captain Jack, playing on his vanity by telling him how much his children loved his old kiddie show. He's as much a manipulator as the devious Dina! I did a feel a moment's passing sympathy for Gil at the end when in the face of defeat Dina's so good a sport about it. She could afford to be. But for Gil that treasure could perhaps have bought his independence from Dina.
Dodie Marshall as Jo Symington fell shy of being the film's heroine. At one time she was rich, and still lives in a mansion, but like Dina is living a carefree and idle life, dancing barefooted in the Easy Go-Go and playing hostess to a menagerie of misfits, weirdos, and would-be artists. One dumps a cauldron of spaghetti onto a couple kissing atop a VW Beetle while another rolls bikini-clad girls covered in paint across a canvas. Elvis, already a man from a different era, raises a mocking eyebrow at this brave new world that has such people in it. Jo, the barefooted beatnik, claims to disdain money, until she learns of the sunken treasure, when she suddenly turns into Scrooge McDuck and persuades Ted, Judd, and Captain Jack to turn over their shares of the booty to help build her dreamed-of arts center.
I never warmed to Jo, but I liked the actress Dodie Marshall and was sorry to see she had such a short acting career, albeit one highlighted by two Elvis movies. Pat Priest provided the commanding presence and the feminine pulchritude, shining in living color like she never could on THE MUNSTERS. Director John Rich--post-GILLIGAN'S ISLAND and pre-ALL IN THE FAMILY--knew how to photograph Priest with a slightly upward angle that really showcased her awesome beauty.
Love it or loathe it, virtually everyone mentions "Yoga is as Yoga Does." Me, I loved it. I sure didn't expect Elsa Lanchester--the Bride of Frankenstein herself--to break into song and for Elvis to accompany her in a delightful duet. It was a funny song and scene and a testimony to Elvis' ability to laugh at himself and to be the butt of a joke. (Speaking of butts, I wish today's tight-cheeked yogis and yoginis traipsing across strip mall parking lots with their mats, cushions, and water bottles would watch this clip and "enlighten up").
A song rarely mentioned is "Sing, You Children," which Elvis croons to clear a path through the partygoers. Its a Spiritual-styled number referencing Jonah and appropriately Moses parting the Red Sea as he, Judd, and Jo--a latter-day Moses, Aaron, and Miriam--cleave a path through the press to the door. It's a catchy number and one that reflects Elvis' Christian faith and lifelong love for hymns and gospel songs.
EASY COME, EASY GO is easy on the eyes and goes down easy--a feel-good, happy-ending movie with welcome faces and great songs. Discover this lesser-known Presley treasure if you haven't already. A splendid time is guaranteed for all, to quote some other singers circa 1967.
Chute Wilson's World and Welcome To It
A disconcerting opening: Josh brandishing a gold nugget and imploring the well-heeled Chester Miller to grubstake him five grand so he can dig more of the same out of the ground. What's going on here? Josh offers to show the stranger the mine and off they go on horseback. Miller pauses nervously at the "Welcome to Pot Hole County" sign, and soon finds the Mare's Leg drawn on him. Miller is in actuality fugitive Penfield Crane, worth $200 in Pot Hole. Another day, another bounty.
Josh's lulling his prey into trusting him was a page from Shawnee Bill's playbook, and one played with aplomb. Crane tries to bribe Josh, offering him $300 then $400, but Josh is committed to upholding the law, and declares it's the responsibility of the people of Pot Hole to determine Crane's guilt or innocence. Enter Chute Wilson, the town power broker who boasts being the sheriff, bartender, judge, jury, and executioner. Chute orders his minions to round up a jury and bring in another barrel of whiskey, court to convene once the jury is sufficiently juiced. It dawns on Josh that he unwittingly delivered Crane into the hands of a liquored-up lynch mob.
The one bright light in this dark town is Father Miguel, who storms the saloon-courtroom and calls out the cowardly townsmen for being bullied into participating in a drunken kangaroo court and for trading their souls for Chute's booze. Alas, the padre is a voice crying in the wilderness, and Chute's announcing drinks on the house almost gets the padre trampled by the stampede to the bar. When Chute gloats to Fr. Miguel that he knows the men better than he does, the priest asks, "What men? I see no men here." But he overlooked Josh Randall, sitting quietly beside Crane, who will prove himself a man and make good those lofty pronouncements about justice that Crane sneered at earlier.
Life and death are cheap in Pot Hole. Fr. Miguel tells Josh that Chute hangs men to "amuse his friends and scare his enemies." And when the jury dutifully returns the verdict of guilty, Chute sentences Crane to "hang from the neck until dead--right now." But the bloodthirsty mob spilling from the saloon is in for a surprise. While Chute played judge banging his gavel, Josh and the padre were working together to engineer the downfall of Pot Hole's tin-badged demagogue.
Western movie veteran Jay C. Flippen plays Chute Wilson, a man in whom absolute power corrupted absolutely. To his credit, Flippen never overacted his part, which made Chute even more menacing. Anthony Caruso is excellent as Father Miguel, whose sagging spirits are buoyed and emboldened by Josh's standing up to Chute. For too long every time I saw Caruso I would think of Bela Oxmyx from STAR TREK's "A Piece of the Action," but I've since seen him in so many serious roles like this one I've come to appreciate his abundant talent (two must-see Caruso performances are HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL "Winchester Quarantine" and CORONADO 9 "The Widow of Kill Cove"). And finally hapless Penfold Crane was played by perennial tough guy Steve Brodie, who doesn't get much opportunity to flex his acting muscles in this role, which mostly called for sitting with pursed lips and a cornered rat expression. I did enjoy his cigar-sniffing flourish in the restaurant. I wonder if he ever got to smoke that stogie?
"Miracle at Pot Hole" was written by Ellis Marcus, who went on to write several first season episodes of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. Knowing that gave me greater appreciation not only for the successful ruse that opened the show but especially for Josh's inventive sabotaging of the gallows, such scenes presaging the tricks Rollin and Barney would pull a decade later.
Another fine episode that also features some detective work, a twist ending, and nice touches like the dilapidated and tipped-sideways welcome sign foreshadowing the decline and decay of the town, which may have already been obvious by its unlikely and unpromising name. Who would ever name a town "Pot Hole"?