TV mysteries


FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
by Francis M. Nevins


   Thanks to being on the road – -among other places, in New York where I’ll attend the MWA annual dinner and find out if I’m going to be the proud recipient of a third Edgar — I need to hold this down to a mini-column. It’s an ancient tradition that when a professor has to miss a class or two, one leaves a homework assignment for the students. You’ll find mine in the next item.

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   What an amazing age we live in! I never thought anything could be added to the checklist of adaptations of Cornell Woolrich stories from the golden age of live TV drama that appeared almost thirty years ago in my FIRST YOU DREAM, THEN YOU DIE. Now I’ve just stumbled upon a Woolrich-based teledrama that I had never heard of before.

   Not just a reference to it but the episode itself, and one whose origin was a Woolrich tale I had never known was adapted for TV. It’s available on DVD (SUSPENSE: THE LOST EPISODES, COLLECTION 3) and on YouTube to boot.

   “Goodbye, New York” was based on the first-rate Woolrich story of the same name (Story Magazine, October 1937). A Web write-up of the DVD describes it as evoking a mood of “grim…noir-esque despair,” which certainly makes it sound faithful to its source. Meg Mundy starred in the 30-minute drama, which featured Gage Clarke, Philip Coolidge and an unbilled Ray Walston.

   Like 90-odd other SUSPENSE episodes, it was directed by Robert Stevens (1920-1989), who later helmed dozens of filmed episodes of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. (Stevens died in his late sixties after being robbed and beaten by unknown assailants.) As shown on YouTube the episode doesn’t include an air date, but according to other Web sources it was the pilot for the series, broadcast on January 6, 1949, which apparently means that it’s the earliest TV version of any Woolrich tale.

   YouTube claims that Woolrich’s story was also the basis for the 1952 Hollywood feature BEWARE, MY LOVELY, starring Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino, but this is flat-out wrong; the literary source for that picture was Mel Dinelli’s “The Man” which, funnily enough, also first appeared in Story Magazine (May-June 1945).

   Here’s your homework assignment: When you’ve finished reading this column, watch the YouTube video and see if you agree that perhaps the earliest contribution to TV noir has been unearthed.

   If you have it handy you might want to read the Woolrich story too. It closes with lines that come as close as anything to capturing his world in a few words. “Two doomed things, running away. From nothingness, into nothingness….Turn back we dare not, stand still they wouldn’t let us, and to go forward was our destruction at our own hands.”

***

   There’s just space for a couple of bits of information that I promised to include this month, dealing with adaptations of John Dickson Carr for 60-minute broadcasts during the golden age of live teledrama. The first of these was seen on the CBS anthology series STUDIO ONE the night of January 7, 1952. “The Devil in Velvet” was directed by Paul Nickell from a teleplay by Sumner Locke Elliott based on Carr’s 1951 historical thriller of the same name. The stars were Whit Bissell, Phyllis Kirk and Joan Wetmore.

   Apparently there were no more hour-long Carr adaptations until more than six years later when another CBS anthology series presented a version of by far the best known and most popular Carr radio play, “Cabin B-13″ (CLIMAX!, June 26, 1958). Shortly after a newlywed couple board a luxury liner for their honeymoon cruise, the man vanishes along with the fortune his wife gave him as a wedding present.

   She reports his disappearance to the captain and is told that there’s no record of either herself or her husband as passengers and that what she claims to have been their cabin doesn’t exist. Heading the cast were Barry Sullivan (Dr. Edwards), Kim Hunter (Ann Brewster), Alex Nicol (Robert Brewster), Hurd Hatfield (Morini) and Sebastian Cabot (Capt. Wilkins). The original Carr radio play is easily available both in audio and script form.

***

   Apparently the last hour-long live Carr adaptation on American TV was aired on NBC’s DOW HOUR OF GREAT MYSTERIES, a short-lived series that aired once a month for seven months during the last year of the Eisenhower administration, by which time live TV drama was pretty much dead.

   Second of the seven episodes was “The Burning Court” (April 24, 1960). The adaptation of Carr’s classic 1937 novel of the same name was by Audrey and William Roos, who were well known for collaborating on whodunits as Kelley Roos. Paul Nickell once again directed. The cast boasted four top names: Barbara Bel Geddes (Marie Stevens), Robert Lansing (Edward Stevens), George C. Scott (Gordon Cross), and Anne Seymour (Mrs. Henderson).

   I can’t remember a thing about this show, probably because I was watching MAVERICK or something that night.

REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


MRS. COLUMBO. NBC / Universal Television / Gambit Productions. 26 February 1979 to 9 March 1979 and 9 August 1979 to 6 September 6 1979; 5 episodes. Cast: Kate Mulgrew as Kate Columbo, Lili Haydn as Jenny Columbo, and Henry Jones as Josh Alden. Executive Producer: Richard Alan Simmons.

KATE LOVES A MYSTERY. NBC / Universal Television. 18 October 1979 to 6 December 1979; 8 episodes (one not aired). Cast: Kate Mulgrew as Kate Callahan, Lili Haydn as Jenny Callahan, Henry Jones as Josh Alden, and Don Stroud as Sgt. Mike Varrick. Executive Producer: Bill Driskill

        * Credits above from Variety reviews and website “Totally Kate.”

   Perhaps the most infamous TV mystery series ever made was MRS. COLUMBO. The story behind MRS. COLUMBO and KATE LOVES A MYSTERY is an epic farce of clueless decisions, confusion among the involved, and the ineptness of a troubled TV network that could not stop shooting itself in the foot.

   COLUMBO time on NBC was ending. As for why, that depends on who you are asking. Let the confusion begin!

   Variety in its review of MRS COLUMBO first episode “Word Games” (which can currently be viewed below) claimed Peter Falk had walked off the series to enjoy his growing theatrical career. But according to an article in American Film Institute (June 1979), Falk as well as COLUMBO creators Richard Levinson and William Link claim all were still interested in continuing the series. One point of view claimed NBC and Universal had grown weary of Falk’s demands and the rising costs of the series. Another view was NBC no longer wanted the series. Note, NBC was now run by the same TV network executive that had cancelled HARRY O before its time.

   It was the 1970s, a decade when the name Fred Silverman meant genius TV programmer. Silverman had run CBS while it was number one in the ratings. He left CBS for ABC and quickly made the network that had been the laughing stock of television since the DuMont network left the air and made ABC number one in the ratings. NBC hired Silverman in 1978 with hopes Freddie could go three for three.

   From all accounts it was Silverman’s idea to do a TV series featuring Lt. Columbo’s never seen wife. The AFI article linked above goes into great detail about what was happening in pre-production and the involvement of Link, Levinson, and Peter Fischer (the three who would end up creating MURDER SHE WROTE in 1984). A script was written, but the problem was who would play Mrs. Columbo.

   Silverman had turned ABC around by aiming its programs at the younger audience. So it was no surprise he preferred a younger actress. Silverman’s choices varied from Carol Wayne to Brenda Vaccaro. Vaccaro would have been my choice but she turned the role down and ended up doing DEAR DETECTIVE (CBS, 1979). As for Levinson, Link and Fischer, they wanted a woman Peter Falk’s age, mid-forties to fifties and ethic looking such as Maureen Stapleton or Zohra Lampert. Ugh.

   And that is why the series was doomed. Silverman never understood the magic of Mrs. Columbo was: she could exist in whatever form the viewer wanted.

   The network ordered a six-hour five-episode long mini-series pilot from Universal, the studio that produced COLUMBO. NBC would air the mini-series pilot during the 1978-79 mid-season then decide if it wanted to add MRS. COLUMBO as a weekly series for the fall 1979-80 season.

   The inverted mystery (where we know the killer and the drama is watching the detective catch the killer) is one of the hardest forms of television drama to write. Even COLUMBO run by Levinson and Link had scripts problems.

   NBC and Fred Silverman continued to show a lack of understanding of the creative process and quickly drove the people behind the success of COLUMBO off the project. The network would eventually turn over the production to Richard Alan Simmons who produced the final season of COLUMBO on NBC (1978) and would executive produce COLUMBO return to TV on ABC in 1989.

   The premise was not a bad one – a young mother tries to raise her child while her cop husband is always off screen. To fill her time she writes for a local throwaway newspaper and solves murders. But for the wife of our hero Lt. Columbo this was a terrible idea. The addition of the daughter ruined our view of the fun-loving marriage between two independent adults with their own lives but still devoted to the other.

   Not surprisingly the audience was curious and eager to see the mysterious wife of its favorite detective. The two-hour episode “Word Games” aired February 26,1979 on NBC Monday Night Movies and did well with a 34 share opposite ABC’s HOW THE WEST WAS WON (26 share) and CBS lineup of MASH (38 share), WKRP IN CINNANTI (33) and LOU GRANT (29).

   Robert Culp played a brilliant defense lawyer with a problem. He doesn’t love his wife, and she loves him too much. A divorce would destroy her, so he asks a killer he saved from a murder charge to kill his wife.

   And don’t think the plot can’t get worse. Mrs. Columbo had installed a new intercom system that picks up the intercom of an unknown neighbor (guess who). As Mrs. Columbo listens into her neighbors’ private conversations, she hears the lawyer and killer discuss the wife’s murder.

   All of the episodes of the mini-series are currently on YouTube minus opening themes and closing credits. “Word Games” is shown in two parts.

       and

   Much of the audience was not pleased. This was not the Mrs. Columbo they knew and loved. Beyond the fans feelings of disappointment and betrayal was the fact the show was not very good.

   “Murder is a Parlor Game” aired March 1, 1979 in its regular timeslot of Thursday at 10pm to a rating share of 27 opposite of ABC’s FAMILY 33 share and CBS’ BARNABY JONES 31 share. While “Word Games” finished 18th in the ratings that week, “Murder is a Parlor Game” was 45th.

   The audience had tried and rejected MRS. COLUMBO. The reported refusal of Peter Falk to get involved even in a guest appearance made it apparent one would hope to even NBC that the series link to COLUMBO was a mistake.

   And now the farce truly began. The mini-series pilot had ended. It was unlikely MRS. COLUMBO would be picked up for the fall season. In fact, according to the AFI article above, on March 8th NBC announced it had “dropped” MRS. COLUMBO. Did that mean the show was cancelled or at least in the terms of the day “not renewed”?

   But NBC was desperate for programs to fill its upcoming fall 1979-80 Schedule. Silverman decided to add KATE COLUMBO to the fall schedule in the same Thursday at 10pm time slot. There it would go up against ABC’s 20/20 and CBS’ BARNABY JONES.

   NBC decided to rerun MRS. COLUMBO in August and September. Why NBC reminded everyone of the mini-series hated by so many is probably the same reason NBC was in such ratings trouble.

   NBC continued down it epic path of self-destruction. This time thanks to its bungling promotional department who couldn’t decide on the series title and sent out promotional materials using the different titles (KATE COLUMBO or KATE THE DETECTIVE) and character’s name (Kate Columbo) for KATE LOVES A MYSTERY with character Kate Callahan. The promos can be seen here.

   By now the press was having too much fun with NBC bumbling behavior to not add public ridicule to the situation. And NBC press department helped. Note the name differences on promotional material continued into the run of KATE LOVES A MYSTERY.

   Without on air titles and credits it is difficult to confirm what changes, if any, were made in the production staff. But changes were made to the series. The most important was the change made in the mystery format as KATE LOVES A MYSTERY abandoned the inverted mystery used in COLUMBO and MRS. COLUMBO for the average action TV whodunit format.

   Kate divorced someone whose name is never mentioned and called herself by her maiden name Callahan. She and Kate Columbo shared the same young daughter and the same boss who now ran a daily newspaper Valley Advocate. The change that best showed how much the creative side tried to flush COLUMBO out of KATE LOVES A MYSTERY was the addition of Sgt. Mike Varrick (Don Stroud) as Kate’s police contact and potential boyfriend.

   The changes in the opening themes reflected the different styles of the two series – Kate Columbo as Mom and amateur detective in MRS COLUMBO versus Kate Callahan as Mom and serious reporter in action mystery KATE LOVES A MYSTERY.

       From MRS. COLUMBO episode “A Puzzle For Prophets”

       From KATE LOVES A MYSTERY episode “Feelings Can Be Murder”

       All of the KATE LOVES A MYSTERY are currently available to watch on YouTube minus its openings and closing credits.

   “Ladies of the Afternoon” was the first episode of the new weekly series with all the different titles and aired 10/18/79 opposite of ABC 20/20 and CBS Barnaby Jones.

   Fearless reporter Kate tries to uncover who is behind the group of housewives turned hookers and how it was connected to the murder of a women Kate knew from the PTA. How far away from COLUMBO is this show? How about a long pointless car chase with Kate and the cops to end the episode?

   Here is a link to the Variety review.

   Deservedly, KATE LOVES A MYSTERY quickly made itself home in the bottom ten of the ratings. In December (Broadcasting, 10 December 1979) NBC cancelled KATE LOVES A MYSTERY.

   Today there are some COLUMBO fans still in denial who claim Lt. Columbo’s wife has never been seen, that the series featured a woman married to another Lt. Columbo.

   But check out the NBC ads promoting the first three episodes of the mini-series pilot that left no doubt this was the Mrs. Columbo and wife of the character played by Peter Falk.

   However, despite NBC’s mishandling of the two series and popular character Columbo, we can claim the mini-series pilot failed and ended MRS. COLUMBO. While we can’t explain why Kate Callahan and Kate Columbo shared the same daughter and home we can see the intent of those producing KATE LOVES A MYSTERY (except for NBC which wanted it both ways) was to remove all COLUMBO connections from KATE LOVES A MYSTERY including Mrs. Columbo.

   Three episodes from the mini-series MRS. COLUMBO are available on DVD, “Murder Is A Parlor Game” is on COLUMBO COMPLETE THIRD SEASON, “Riddle For Puppets” is on COLUMBO COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON and “Cavier With Everything” is on COLUMBO COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON.

GET CHRISTIE LOVE! ABC, made-for-TV Movie,22 January 1974. Teresa Graves, Harry Guardino, Louise Sorel, Paul Stevens.. Screenplay: George Kirgo, based on the novel The Ledger by Dorothy Uhnak. Director: William A. Graham.

   I don’t have access to my copy of the book, and it’s been far too long for me to remember anything about the novel, but it’s fairly obvious that there’s been some changes made. Uhnak’s series character was the police woman Christie Opara, not Christie Love, and I’m sure she was white, not black. The police work in the book was “real life,” and the police work in the movie was “made for TV,” or in other words, sheer flights of fancy, more often than not.

   Which is not to say that the movie is not entertaining, for it is, and the “gimmick,” the surprise that makes the ending work, is probably the same in both the book and the movie – or why else use the book as the basis for the movie in the first place?

   I should start at the beginning. The villain, Enzo Cortino, is a drug dealer, whose activities are recorded, the police discover, in a ledger that Cortino’s girl friend, Helena Varga, keeps in her possession. Christie Love’s assignment, given to her by Captain Reardon, in pseudo-blustery fashion, is to get the ledger.

   Some general comments follow, more or less in the same order as they struck me while watching the film, which is available on DVD. While Graves had a limited range of acting ability, mostly smart to sassy, she is easy on the eyes and more-or-less convincing in close hand-to-hand (karate-related) combat with various of Cortino’s minions, one of whom goes over the balcony on the losing end of one of rough-house struggles she finds herself in.

   In one of the opening scenes, introducing her to the viewer, she is (of course) posing as a hooker in an attempt to nab a guy who’s been bad to prostitutes. One guy whose overtures she turns down calls her a nigger in frustration. Her retort, as she sashays off: “Nigger lover.” My jaw dropped.

   This was an era (1974) when cops were routinely called “pigs,” and so they are here. As a cultural artifact, this is a gem in the rough. The background music is typical 70s jazz, or what passed for jazz at the time, in suitably ersatz-Mancini fashion. It’s most noticeable during car chases and other moments of great importance.

   Christie’s own mode of transportation is a yellow Volkswagen convertible, and as soon as you realize that that’s her car, you begin to wonder if it will survive the movie. You will have to watch to find out, as critical plot points like this should never be revealed by reviewers in advance.

   The most important plot detail that also surprised me, and for whatever reason, it’s the one that has stuck with me over all the years since I watched this movie the first time, is the semi-love interest between Christie and the interminably shaggy Reardon. She archly refuses his semi-advances until perhaps the closing scene.

   Hints are all we get, but a black and white romance, in 1974? That’s all that we could get. (When did Kirk kiss Lt. Uhara? Sometime in the 60s, I’m sure, but – as I recall – one of the two was possessed by an alien entity, and so it didn’t count.)

   Harry Guardino did not survive the cut and did not appear in the follow-up television series, which lasted only a year, nor as I recall, was there any more hanky-panky between Christie and her superior(s), nor even the hint of any. I have not been able to locate, so far, any of the shows from the TV series on either video or DVD, but I watched them at the time, and strangely enough, I enjoyed them more than Angie Dickinson’s show, whatever it was called.

— July 2004


FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
by Francis M. Nevins


   I own very few European crime novels in both their original language and in English, but one of those is Der Richter und Sein Henker or, as it’s known over here, The Judge and His Hangman (1952; U.S. edition 1955), the first novel of Swiss playwright Friedrich Duerrenmatt (1921-1990).

   I read it in both languages many years ago and again last month. It’s about Hans Bärlach (whose last name in English is missing the umlaut), Kommissär of the Swiss police, a man clearly near death, and his 40-year-long struggle against a sort of existential criminal who committed a motiveless murder in front of the Kommissär’s eyes and dared Bärlach to pin it on him.

   More than sixty years after its first publication the book is still a compelling read, and the German edition (designed for students who are learning the language) adds several dimensions to what readers of the translation are offered, including two maps that make clear the relationship to each other of the various small towns near Bern where much of the story takes place.

   Reading the German side by side with Therese Pol’s English version also reveals where Pol now and then goes her own way. At the end of Chapter 11 (Chapter 8 in the translation), the diabolical Gastmann breaks into Bärlach’s house beside the Aare River and steals the Kommissär’s file on him. “I’m sure you have no copies or photostats. I know you too well, you don’t operate that way.”

   A procedural this novel ain’t. He throws a knife at Bärlach, just missing him, and goes his way. “The old man crept about the room like a wounded animal, floundering across the rug on his hands and knees…, his body covered with a cold sweat.” He moans softly in German: “Was ist der Mensch? Was ist der Mensch?” This simply means “What is man? What is man?” but Therese Pol expands it to: “What sort of animal is man? What sort of animal?”

   That’s not too much of a stretch compared with the last chapter where Bärlach learns that his young assistant Tschanz “sei zwischen Ligerz und Twann unter seinem von Zug erfassten Wagen tot aufgefunden worden,” meaning that between two of the villages shown on the first map he was found dead under his car, which had been struck by a train.

   In English the report is simply “that Tschanz had been found dead under his wrecked car….” The train has vanished, but at least Ms. Pol doesn’t make up Duerrenmatt’s mind for him on whether Tschanz’s death was an accident or suicide. Such are the joys of reading a book in two languages at once. If only my French were good enough to allow me to read Simenon in his own tongue!

***

   You don’t need to be a linguist to catch some amazing blunders in the versions of Simenon that we get to see. In L’Affaire Saint-Fiacre, first published in French in 1931 and first translated by Margaret Ludwig as The Saint-Fiacre Affair in the double volume Maigret Keeps a Rendezvous (1941), a threat on the life of a countess brings Maigret back to the village where he was born and raised.

   Very early in the morning he wakes up in the village inn and, purely for professional reasons, gets ready to attend Mass in the church where he’d been an altar boy. He goes downstairs and, in one of the later translations, the innkeeper asks him: “Are you going to communicate?” Even one who knows no French and nothing of Catholicism should be able to render the question in English better than that.

***

   I don’t remember the title of the novel or who translated it but I vividly recall another Simenon where Maigret wakes up in yet another country inn and phones down for, as he puts it in English, “my little lunch.” Again, you don’t need to know more than a soupçon of French to figure out what the translation of petit déjeuner should be.

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   As this column is being cobbled together I’m in the middle of going over The John Dickson Carr Companion. And learning some odd trivia about Carr’s novels and stories that had never struck me before. How many of you remember that in the Carter Dickson novel She Died a Lady a gardener claims that on the previous night he went to see the movie Quo Vadis? The book was published in 1943 but, according to the Companion, its events take place in 1940.

   Either way, Carr certainly couldn’t have been referring to the Quo Vadis? that we remember today if we remember the title at all, the 1951 Biblical spectacular that starred Robert Taylor and Deborah Kerr. There was a German silent version of the same story, released in 1924 and starring Emil Jannings, but what would a German silent be doing playing in England long after silents had been displaced by talkies and at a time when England and Germany were at war? More important question: What was Carr thinking?

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   The adaptations of Carr’s work dating back to the golden age of live TV drama back in the Fifties are not covered in the Companion, at least not in any detail. I happen to have some information on that subject, and chance has now given me an excuse to share it. Anyone remember Danger?

   It was a 30-minute anthology of live teledramas, broadcast on CBS for five seasons (1950-55). My parents hadn’t yet bought their first set when the series began, and when it went off the air I was a child of 12 who hadn’t yet even discovered Sherlock Holmes and Charlie Chan at my local library.

   I don’t think I ever watched the program, certainly not with any regularity, but I vaguely remember that one of its shticks was a background score of solo guitar music played by a guy named Tony Mottola (1918-2004). Obviously the producers of the show were hoping to duplicate the success of the CBS radio and TV classic Suspense, and the two Carr tales that were broadcast on Danger happened to be radio plays that he had written for Suspense back in the Forties. “Charles Markham, Antique Dealer” (January 2, 1951), was based on the radio play “Mr. Markham, Antique Dealer” (Suspense, May 1, 1943) and starred Jerome Thor, Marianne Stewart and Richard Fraser.

   The director was Ted Post (1918-2013), who later moved into filmed TV series like Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel and Rawhide and, thanks to impressing Clint Eastwood with his Rawhide work, got hired to direct big-budget Eastwood features like Hang ’em High (1968) and Magnum Force (1973).

   We don’t know who directed “Will You Walk Into My Parlor?” (February 27, 1951) but it came from Carr’s radio drama of the same name (Suspense, February 23, 1943). The script was first published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, September 1945, and collected in Dr. Fell, Detective and Other Stories (1947) and, after Carr’s death, in The Dead Sleep Lightly (1983).

   The cast was headed by Geraldine Brooks, Joseph Anthony and Laurence Hugo. Among the other top-rank mystery writers whose stories were adapted for Danger were Philip MacDonald, Wilbur Daniel Steele, A.H.Z. Carr, Anthony Boucher, MacKinlay Kantor, Steve Fisher, Q. Patrick, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler and Roald Dahl.

   The roster of authors who scripted original teleplays for the series included Paddy Chayefsky, Reginald Rose and Rod Serling, and among the directors who rose from this and other live teledramas to Hollywood household-name status were John Frankenheimer and Sidney Lumet.

   The final episode of Danger was a live version of Daphne DuMaurier’s 1952 short story “The Birds,” which Alfred Hitchcock later adapted into one of his best-known films. I can’t imagine anything like Hitchcock’s bird effects being possible on live TV, but either I was watching something else on the night of May 31, 1955 or I went to bed early. If anything from this series is available on DVD, I haven’t heard of it.

***

   Considering the dozens of scripts Carr wrote for Suspense as a radio series, one might have expected a pile of his radio scripts and short stories to have been used when the program became a staple item on prime-time TV.

   In fact only one of his radio dramas and one of his short tales were adapted for the small screen. Among the earliest of the TV show’s episodes was “Cabin B-13″ (March 16, 1949), which starred Charles Korvin and Eleanor Lynn and was based on perhaps the best known and most successful Carr radio drama, first heard on Suspense on May 25, 1943 and collected in The Door to Doom and Other Detections (1980).

   The second and final Carr contribution to Suspense was “The Adventure of the Black Baronet” (May 26, 1953), an adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes story written by Carr in collaboration with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s son Adrian (who according to Douglas G. Greene’s Carr biography did most of the writing) and first published in Collier’s for May 23, 1953, just a few days before the televersion.

   As might have been expected, Basil Rathbone reprised his movie and radio role as Holmes. It might also have been expected that Nigel Bruce would have played Dr. Watson as he had so many times in the movies and on radio. I don’t know why he didn’t, but since he died only a few months later (October 8, 1953), the reason might have had to do with his health. In any event the Watson of this Suspense episode was played by Martyn Green of Gilbert & Sullivan fame.

***

   As far as I’ve been able to find, Carr’s contributions to 30-minute live TV drama are limited to these four episodes. If any of his short stories or radio plays became the bases of filmed 30-minute dramas, I haven’t found them. There are two fairly well-known teledramas at greater than 30-minute length that owe their origins to Carr, but this column is long enough already so I’ll save them for next time.

CROSSING JORDAN. “Pilot Episode.” NBC. 24 September 2001 (Season 1, Episode 1). Jill Hennessy, Miguel Ferrer, Ken Howard, Lois Nettleton, plus a large ensemble cast. Creator/screenwriter: Tim Kring. Director: Allan Arkush.

   Please forgive the lack of screen credits. This is the only episode of Crossing Jordan I’ve seen so far, and I haven’t yet placed names with faces, nor do I know how long some of the faces will last. I didn’t include any names in the guest cast, either, since most of this first episode was devoted to introducing the characters, not the story itself.

   Which was OK, or maybe even more than that, but if you’ll allow me, I’ll get to that in a minute. The series was on for six years, and I won’t lie to you: I’d barely heard of it before buying a box set of DVDs of the first season. I can’t tell you why it’s been under my radar all this time.

   Or maybe I can. (A) A lack of time to follow everything that’s on TV, even crime-solving shows, and (B) an assumption that new shows won’t last, so why start watching them, but missing one like this one that does catch on, and it’s too late to catch up with the story line, or so I think.

   Dr. Jordan Cavanaugh (Jill Hennessy) is a medical examiner who insists on helping the police solve the cases her dead bodies involve her in, against all of their wishes. She’s beautiful, smart-talking, feisty, has a problem with anger management, and as a direct result, she has run out of places to work until her former boss, Dr. Garret Macy (Miguel Ferrer), convinces his superiorss to hire her back at the Massachusetts Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

   I gather her father (Ken Howard) doesn’t stick around for the entire series, but at least during the first season he’s an ex-homicide detective who helps Jordan solve her cases by playing a version of killer/victim to re-enact the crime given the facts as she has them. He’s glad to see her again, but Jordan has problems, in the pilot, at least, with the fact that there is a new woman in his life, Jordan’s mother having been murdered when she was a child. This may explain some of the chips on her shoulder.

   There are quite few others in the ensemble cast, as I said earlier, all of whom get a brief introduction and some exposure in this first episode. The story itself is interesting without being overly memorable. It turns out that a young prostitute, found dead in an alley and suspected of dying of a drug overdose, is actually a virgin. It is then discovered that she came to Boston looking for her father, and — well, I needn’t tell you everything, need I?

   I do like the characters, and so did the general viewing public, given that the series lasted for so long. It’s one I’ll keep watching, at least through the first season, which is all that’s been officially released on DVD. (The problem being rights to the music played in the back ground.)

WHY DIDN’T THEY ASK EVANS? ITV, UK, 30 March 1980. PBS: Mobil Showcase, US, 21 May 1981, Three hours. Francesca Annis, John Gielgud, Bernard Miles, Eric Porter,Leigh Lawson, James Warwick, Madeline Smith, Connie Booth, Robert Longden. Based on the novel by Agatha Christie (also known as The Boomerang Clue). Directors: John Davies & Tony Wharmby.

   I read and reviewed The Boomerang Clue, the US title of the novel this long three-hour British TV movie was based on not too long ago. And since the TV version so closely follows the book version, I’m going to make it easy on myself and simply summarize the plot by repeating four paragraphs from that earlier review:

    “This one begins with a young Bobby Jones (not the famous one) hitting a golf ball and doing dreadfully at it, trying mightily several swings in succession, but hearing a cry, discovers a dying man lying at the bottom of cliff. He had fallen perhaps, as Bobby and his golfing partner believe, not to mention the police and the coroner’s jury, but we the reader know better.

    “Before he dies, though, the man utters a dying question: ‘Why didn’t they ask Evans?’ We are at page 9 and the end of Chapter One, and anyone who can stop here is a better person than I.

    “Assisting Bobby in his quest for the truth, especially after surviving being poisoned by eight grains of morphia, is his childhood friend, Lady Frances Derwent, whom he calls Frankie. Together they make a great pair of amateur detectives, continuing to investigate the case even after the authorities have written the man’s death off as an accident.

    “The tone is light and witty, as if investigating a murder is a lark, but this intrepid pair of detectives do an excellent job of it, even to the extent of faking an automobile accident and inserting an “invalid” Frankie into their primary suspect’s home.”

   There are a couple of changes that where made in translating the book into film, but only one maybe matters. It is as good as a direct scene-for-scene production as you could ever hope for. (A later British telecast in 2011 wrote Miss Marple into the story and changed all kinds of other things around. From what I’ve read about it, it sounds horrible.)

   On the other hand, while scene-for-scene may sound ideal, it does make for a long production, three hours worth, and viewing it on DVD, I found that watching it over the course of two evening was possible but making it very difficult to remember by the end what had happened at the beginning. Luckily I had read the book only a few months earlier.

   Before pointing out the biggest change, I’d like to say that in the movie version I didn’t get the same light-hearted “let’s solve a murder” feeling the two young sleuths seemed to have in the opening half of the book. They tried, but it just didn’t seem to be there. But many scenes were just as I’d imagined them, especially the opening one, with a body being found on the rocks beneath a tall cliff along the shoreline of Wales.

   The major difference between the book and the movie comes at the end, when the killer (in the book) writes a long letter to Frankie explaining how the murder was carried out and tying up the loose ends.

   In the movie, the two — the killer and Frankie — have a direct confrontation in an empty house. The set-up for this didn’t make sense while I was watching it, but later on I realized that doing it as it was done in the book, reading a letter aloud on a TV screen would have bored everyone, including me.

   I believe but am not positive that this movie was shown in its entirety in one evening. (The video above is only Part 1 of 3.) If it did, the attention span necessary would have to have been even greater, but commercials (in the UK) would have helped considerably in terms of snacks, bathroom breaks and whatever else that would have been needed to get through what was, all-in-all, a very nicely done piece of entertainment.

PROFILER. Pilot Episode. NBC, 21 September 1996. (Season 1, Episode 1.) Ally Walker, Robert Davi, Julian McMahon, Roma Maffia, Michael Whaley, Peter Frechette, Erica Gimpel, Caitlin Wachs. Creator/screenplay: Cynthia Saunders. Director: John Patterson.

   I came by the DVD box for this series in part by accident. I saw a large lot of DVDs up for bids on eBay, and not only in the lot were all four seasons of this series, but three seasons of another NBC series that ran at the same time, The Pretender.

   I’d never heard of either series — I wasn’t watching much network TV at the time — but the opening bid was cheap enough ($99 for 65 DVDs) — and lo and behold, no one bid against me. Of the other DVDs in the the lot I kept another 15 or 20. The rest, mostly movies — romantic comedies — from the same time period, I’ll soon be donating to the Local Library.

   What I didn’t realize at the time, but I soon found out, was that basic premise of Profiler is catching another serial criminal every week, not always a killer, but arsonists and other assorted low life. Over and above that, and how it plays out over the entire length of the season I don’t know, is the presence of Ally Walker’s character’s nemesis, a serial killer dubbed “Jack of All Trades,” who notices that Dr. Samantha “Sam” Waters, is back in action again after a three years’ leave of absence.

   Whew. Sorry for that last sentence. I know it’s a long one. Sam is forensic psychologist with the unique ability to personalize crime scenes and “see” the killer, not with extrasensory perception, but by picking up clues that others miss. She’s called into action as this episode begins by her former mentor, Bailey Malone (Robert Davi) when the police in Atlanta run into a brick wall trying to catch a killer who has been killing another beautiful woman every Saturday night.

   I should also mention that “Jack of All Trades,” whom Sam was never able to catch, murdered her husband three years ago, and is one of those serial killers who loves to taunt the police — and Sam in particular — about their ineffectiveness in nabbing him?

   I don’t know how many more in this set I will watch, but I do have four seasons’ worth, so I may. There seems to be a good chemistry between the leading players (see above), which is always a help. On the negative side, a recognized the killer as soon as the character appeared on the screen. Maybe I ought to be a profiler. Either that, or Sam ought to have listened to her own deductions to that point. They were right on target.

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