TV mysteries


77 SUNSET STRIP “Girl on the Run” ABC, 10 October 1958 (Season 1, Episode 1). Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (Stuart Bailey). Guest Cast: Erin O’Brien, Shepperd Strudwick, Edward Byrnes, Barton MacLane, Ray Teal. Screenplay by Marion Hargrove, based on a story by Roy Huggins. Director: Richard L. Bare.

   There none of the trappings you usually think about whenever you think of 77 Sunset Strip, the series, in this the very first episode, the flashy sights of Hollywood, the joint practice of two or more PI’s working out of the same office, the car jockey who was always combing his hair and giving with the jive. It is generally accepted as fact that this, the pilot, was filmed and shown theatrically (somewhere in the Caribbean) before the series started with one nefarious purpose in mind. To swindle credit from writer Roy Huggins by claiming that the series was based on the film, not on any of his books or stories.

   As a ploy, it worked. Roy Huggins lost his suit and left the series, and never worked for Warners again. (I’m not absolutely certain about that last statement; Hollywood in many ways is much like politics, or so I’m told.)

   In any case, PI Stu Bailey is on his own in this one, with no connection with Hollywood, and Sunset Strip in particular. He’s hired by a client to find his missing fiancée, but what he doesn’t know, but we the viewer do, is that the girl in question is a witness to a shooting who went on the run when she quickly learns that as a police witness, her life is in immediate danger.

   It doesn’t take Bailey long to learn that he’s been taken, but not before the killer (well, of course that’s who Bailey’s client is) has hired a gun man (Edd Byrnes) to follow him and kill the girl. It is up to Bailey to foil the plot, along with the help of both a friendly cop and and an equally helpful union leader.

   Edd Byrnes proved so popular as the killer for hire that the producers wiped the first episode completely out of continuity and wrote Byrnes in as teen favorite “Kookie” Kookson, parking attendant and wannabe PI working next door to the office on the Strip that Bailey quickly found himself sharing with Jeff Spencer (Roger Smith) for most of the rest of the series.

   Looking back today, based on this first episode, it is not easy to see what the fuss was all about, except for Byrnes’ eye catching performance. As PI stories go, there is nothing especially new about “Girl on the Run.” With Stu Bailey as a lone wolf PI who finds himself falling in love with the girl he is helping, he’s just one of hundreds just like him.

   I can also only wish that as an established PI (note how impeccably dressed he always is), he’d have done his job right and checked a little more into the background of the guy who hired him. But of course if he had, there’d not have been much of a story at all, would there?

SNEAKY PETE. “Pilot.” Amazon Prime Video. 07 August 2015. Giovanni Ribisi (Pete Murphy / Marius Josipovic), Marin Ireland, Shane McRae, Libe Barer, Michael Drayer, Peter Gerety, Peter Gerety, Margo Martindale. Series created by David Shore and Bryan Cranston. Director: Seth Gordon.

   When small time con man and sneak thief Marius Josipovic is released from prison, he quickly learns that he owes a big time gangster is on his trail for a large amount of money he thought he’d paid off. So what does he do? He heads for the home town of his former cell mate and passes himself as the other, a prodigal son finally returned home.

   How does he manage this? They have not seen him in a long time and his cell mate had bored him to tears with stories of his youth. What the newly minted Pete Murphy does not know is that his new family runs a well-oiled bail bond business, and he’s expected to move right in and an active employee. This leads, at least in this first episode, into an unexpected confrontation with someone he knows from his past. Also in the abeyance he has his own past that will, I am sure, continue to catch up with him.

   In terms of the basic plot lines, there are – and you may not noted this too — some similarities to the set up to the recently reviewed Cinemax series Banshee, which debuted in 2013, two years earlier. In that one the hero, also just out of prison and on the run, assumes the identity of the new sheriff, newly hired unseen. Similar, yes. but with enough differences to make each of them watchable without an excessive amount of déjà vu in switching from one to the other.

   Of the two, I enjoyed this one a little more than the other. There’s enough comic potential in this series – I’ve only seen this, the first episode – to make the same implausible set-up go down more easily, with perhaps less violence. Those of you who have seen more are welcome to tell me otherwise, but I know others enjoyed this one too. It was on for three seasons, and apparently left quite a few viewers wanting more.

   

BURKE’S LAW “Who Killed Cable Roberts?” ABC, 04 October 1963 (Season 1, Episode 3). Gene Barry (Captain Amos Burke), Gary Conway, Regis Toomey, Leon Lontoc. Guest Cast: Mary Astor, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Paul Lynde, John Saxon, Lizabeth Scott, Chill Wills. Writers: Gwen Bagni, Frank D. Gilroy Director: Jeffrey Hayden.

   The gimmick in the series, as I imagine almost all of you already know, is that Amos Burke is a millionaire cop who solves crimes while being chauffeured to the scene in his Rolls Royce. The title of the series comes from his way of coming up with some pearls of wisdom to pass along to his underlings at the appropriate times.  Example: “Never ask a question unless you already know the answer. Burke’s Law.”

   And let’s not overlook a third major factor in the show. Amos Burke is absolutely irresistible to women, no matter their age or martial status. The only reason Gary Conway and Regis Toomey (his underlings) are on the show are to exchange knowing looks and fake commiseration for Burke’s plight whenever the latest female guest star flings herself upon him.

   Cable Roberts, the victim in this, the third episode of the first season, is one of those legends of the western world who combine being a writer, a big game hunter and a producer of documentary films with being as unlikable a man as he can possibly be. He’s also rich, or does that go without saying? Rich enough to have a lithe and very limber wife like Lizabeth Scott and a maid with the strikingly exotic looks of a Zsa Zsa Gabor, not to mention a personal secretary (Paul Lynde) and a son (a very young John Saxon) whom he is very definitely on the outs with.

   Plenty of suspects, that is one thing that is for certain, and all the screenwriters have to do is pick one of them to be the killer, and then figure out a way for Captain Burke to put the finger on him or her with only a few minutes to go. The end result is pleasant way to spend the better part of an hour, but also very much forgettable after that. Except, that is, for Lizabeth Scott.

   And more than that, no one could ask.

   


   

   My opinion? This may be a fun series to watch, but just because they call it Perry Mason doesn’t make it PERRY MASON.

BANSHEE “Pilot.” Cinemax. 11 January 2013. Antony Starr, Ivana Miličević, Ulrich Thomsen, Frankie Faison, Hoon Lee, Rus Blackwell, Ben Cross. Created and written by Jonathan Tropper and David Schickler. Director: Greg Yaitanes.

   This is a pilot that pretty much does exactly what it’s supposed to do. It sets up the characters and the situation, tell a story as it does so, and makes the viewer want to  come back for more. In this case, though, it takes the entire hour’s length of running time to squeeze everything in, and the average viewer  (me) will still have a lot of questions. I guess I’ll have to watch the next one!

   I’ll start with the characters, then, and maybe fill in the situation as I go. It’s rather complicated, but I’ll try to make things simple, if I can. A man (an appropriately tough-looking Anthony Starr) is just out of prison, and with the help of an old friend (Hoon Lee) he’s is able to find his way to the small Amish town of Banshee PA, where a former girl friend and (as it turns out) accomplice (Ivana Miličević), who is now married to the D.A. (Rus Blackwell), who trying his hardest to put a local mobster (UlrichThomsen) behind bars. On the ex-convict’s trail back in Manhattan is a crime boss (Ben Cross) who has a powerful reason for finding him.

   I hope you’re still with me, since the most outrageous piece of the plot line is yet to come – and this occurs early, so I’m not giving too much away, I hope – the convict manages to take the identity of the new sheriff in town before he can present himself to the mayor who has just hired him, sight unseen.

   That’s enough story line for a full season of ten episodes, wouldn’t you say? The show was, in fact, popular enough to be on for four seasons, probably based on that last gimmick, but I’ve resisted temptation and not looked that far into the future. Except an unnecessary focus at the results of some ultra-violence, I enjoyed this one and will go along for the ride, at least for now.  You might even say I’m hooked.

   

MARTIN KANE, PRIVATE EYE “Black Pearls.” NBC, 27 March 1952 (Season 3, Episode 27). Lloyd Nolan as Martin Kane, Walter Kinsella, King Calder. Guest Cast: Mary Alice Moore, Edith King, Eugene Baxter, Richard Purdy. Writer: Donald S. Sanford. Director: Frank Burns.

   Martin Kane, Private Eye, starring William Gargan, started on radio for Mutual on August 7, 1949, then began on TV for NBC on September 1, 1949. When the radio show moved to NBC  on July 1, 1951, Lloyd Nolan took over the title role for a year on both radio and TV. Lee Tracy followed up on the radio version until the end of its radio run on December 21, 1952.

   Following Lloyd Nolan on the television series were both Tracy and Mark Stevens. The last TV episode was June 17, 1954. (I hope I have all these dates, networks, and actors correct. It got a little complicated on me.)

   I remember the radio show when it was on Mutual. As I recall, it was on Sunday afternoon, just before The Shadow. I never saw any examples of the television version until just now, and I wasn’t impressed. Even though it was state of the art the time, it was cheaply produced, and I somehow found it doubly so by the inclusion of the sponsor’s ads (Sano cigarettes and a couple brands of pipe tobacco) right into the program itself.

   Nor was the story anything for anyone involved to feel especially proud about. Kane is sent $500 in cash to come disguised as a news reporter to a yacht in the Florida Keys. The note is unsigned, but the money is good. Not surprisingly, the only reason he’s brought on board to to be the fall guy in a frame-up in a case of murder and stolen pearls. What was interesting was how one of those new cameras that not only take photos but also develop them internally is involved.

   There is some effort by the part of the screenwriter to make all four people on board look as guilty as possible, but in at least one case, the plot he/she/they had in mind in never followed up on. I usually like Lloyd in either the movies or on TV, but in this particular instance he flubs his lines rather noticeably two or three times. All in all, Martin Kane, Private Eye was not one of the gems of the Golden Age of Television.

PHILIP MARLOWE Philip Carey

PHILIP MARLOWE “The Ugly Duckling.” ABC. 06 October 1959 (Season One, Episode One.) Philip Carey (Philip Marlowe), William Schallert. Guest Cast: Virginia Gregg, Rhys Williams, James Griffith, Barbara Bain, Addison Richards. Writer: Gene Wang. Director: Robert Ellis Miller.

   It is difficult to say for sure, since very few of the series’ episodes have survived (a second one can be found below), but this early attempt at adapting Raymond Chandler’s iconic character Philip Marlowe did not really have a lot going for it. The star Philip Carey has the right first name, and physically he looks the part, but he has none of the star power that was needed to push the series anywhere near the top.

   It is a young Barbara Bain, pitch perfect in her role of a golddigger “other woman,” who makes this first episode of the season worth watching. She has her hooks in nebbish James Griffith’s character, and won’t let go. Not even the $10,000 dollars Marlowe offers ger on the man’s wife’s behalf will make her change her mind.

PHILIP MARLOWE Philip Carey

   It comes as no great surprise the, that she is a mysterious killer’s first victim. There are enough people in the story for the deceptive fans watching to puzzle over, but the fact remains that (again based on only this first episode) that it need not have been Marlowe who was the detective. Any generic PI would do just as well.

NOTE: Michael Shonk covered this episode very briefly on this blog quite some time ago. The accompanying video disappeared from YouTube very quickly thereafter, but as you see, it has returned, at least for a little while.

   Michael later did a more complete overview of the series. You can read it here, and I strongly suggest you do.

   

FOUR STAR PLAYHOUSE “High Stakes” Dante’s Inferno #5. 26 January 1956 (Season 4, Episode 15). Dick Powell (Willie Dante), Herb Vigran, Walter Sande. Guest Cast: Frances Bergen, James Seay, Morris Ankrum. Writer: Richard Carr. Director: William A. Seiter.

   After reviewing one of the episodes of Dante starring Howard Duff, I found that Alpha Video had released four of the earlier Dick Powell episodes of them on DVD, and not only that, but I had a copy.  While I’ve indicated below which four of them (*) are on the DVD, there were a total of  eight that Dick Powell did, but as it turns out, the one I watched is available on YouTube as well:

   Willie Dante is the owner and manager of a nightclub called, fittingly enough, Dante’s Inferno; it’s successful enough, but for patrons who are in the know, he has a casino in the back room, which is even more successful.

   Based on this single episode, which is all I’ve watched so far, Dick Powell demonstrated a lot more gravitas in the part than Howard Duff did. To me, Duff seemed to have a secret twinkle in his eye in the role, while Powell is a lot more serious and solemn. He is in fact a hands on micro-manager of his nightclub, knowing for example, exactly how much money he should extend as credit to a customer and when to cut her off.

   And this is what gets him into trouble in “High Stakes,” as when her angry husband comes in with a gun ablazing, Dante stays cool, fires back, and ends up seriously wounding the man. What the police can’t figure out, though, is that there is no gun in the room, nor any bullet holes.

   It’s an excellent, tightly knit episode, showing that good defective stories on TV can be done in only 30 minutes, and still have time to let the star’s personality show through.
   


   

      The Dante series on FOUR STAR PLAYHOUSE —

“Dante’s Inferno” October 9 1952
“The Squeeze” October 1 1953 (*)
“The Hard Way” November 19,1953
“The House Always Wins” April 28 1955. (*)
“High Stakes” January 26 1956 (*)
“No Limit” February 16, 1956
“A Long Way from Texas” May 3 1956
“The Stacked Deck” June 28 1956 (*)

DANTE. “Dante in the Dark.” NBC, Four Star Producions. 13 Mar 1961 (Season 1, Episode 22.) Howard Duff (Willie Dante), Alan Mowbray, Tom D’Andrea, Bert Freed. Guest Cast: Marion Ross, Troy Melton. Created by Blake Edwards. Director: Richard Kinon.

   This late in the season – it lasted only for one and 26 episodes – there was no attempt by the screenwriter or director to fill in any of the general background for the series, but starting with this one, as I did, it was easy to fill in some of the gaps. Howard Duff plays Willie Dante, owner of a nightclub called Dante’s Inferno, and while he and Det. Sgt. Rickard (Bert Freed) obviously know each other well, the relationship is very much a rocky one.

   Which comes into play as a major theme in “Dante in the Dark.” When a customer is gunned down in front of his club, the police are very reluctant to tell either him or the dead man’s fiancée  anything about the case, or even to let the young woman (a most definitely not very matronly Marion Ross) see the body. Even more strange is that the police allow a previously unknown cousin take the body for disposal to a crematorium without telling her.

   All is eventually explained, and it’s a torturous and interesting path getting there, but the good old boys joking around at the end seems even more forced than usual. No matter. It is always good to see Howard Duff in action. I only have to close my eyes and here the sound and cadence of Sam Spade’s voice on the radio with no difficulty at all.

      —

NOTE: For much more background on the series, including a mention of this particular episode, see Michael Shonk’s in depth overview of the show posted here much earlier on this blog.

NEWTON’S LAW “External Forces.” Australia, ABC TV. 60 minutes. 09 February 2017. Claudia Karvan (Josephine Newton), Toby Schmitz, Brett Tucker, Georgina Naidu, Sean Keenan. Original concept by Deb Cox and Fiona Eagger. Director: Jennifer Leacey.

   Another country (Dicte, Denmark, and The Coroner, UK), and another divorced woman trying to make a go of it on her own in her chosen profession, all the while facing the challenges bringing up a teen-aged daughter. The one small difference this time is that the daughter does not into boy friends, but may be something yet to come.

   Claudia Karvan, a well-known Australian actress, plays Josephine Newton, a neighborhood solicitor who is forced to go back to back to work for a large prestigious law firm, much against her wishes. It seems that her storefront office was bombed out by a former and thoroughly disgruntled client she unsuccessfully defended on arson charges.

   Her first case is kind of a set up one. She’s to defend the son of a client who is accused of pushing one of the partners of the firm off the top of their office building. Complicating matters is an eye witness, a nanny who saw the incident through the window of an apartment building across the way.

   It is up to Jane to uncover what was in the dead man’s life that may have contributed to his death, if indeed something is there. Which she does with all of the good humor and charm that a woman (and actress) in her mid-40s can have. The mystery and detective work are both good too. The series lasted only eight episodes, but the basis of this first one, I won’t binge, but I will see if I can’t watch all of them in short order.

« Previous PageNext Page »