Sun 27 Nov 2011
Reviewed by Mike Tooney
“Knife in the Darkness.” From the Cimarron Strip series (1967-68), Episode 18, January 25, 1968. Stuart Whitman (Marshal Jim Crown), Percy Herbert (Angus MacGregor), Randy Boone (Francis Wilde), Jill Townsend (Dulcey Coopersmith), David Canary, Philip Carey, Jeanne Cooper, Patrick Horgan, George Murdock, Tom Skerritt, Victoria Shaw, Karl Swenson, Grace Lee Whitney. Writer: Harlan Ellison. Music: Bernard Herrmann. Director: Charles R. Rondeau.
Since Jack the Ripper was never caught (at least publicly), it’s reasonable to speculate about what happened to him.
Science fiction maven Harlan Ellison chose to do some genre mashing with this script from Cimarron Strip, a relatively short-lived Western series (only one season of 23 episodes was produced). Ellison decided to have Jolly Jack (or someone who COULD have been the Ripper) immigrate to the United States and carry on his heinous activities — namely, slashing women to death.
For rugged and normally imperturbable Marshal Jim Crown, life is hectic enough without importing criminals from overseas, so when a local prostitute is murdered, Ripper-style, his nerves start to fray just a wee bit — as this exchange between him and inn keeper Dulcey Coopersmith (the delicately beautiful Jill Townsend) would indicate:
Jim Crown: “I’m always worried when I work this town.”
Dulcey: “No, this is something special — this girl getting killed tonight.”
Jim Crown: “I told you when you came to Cimarron there’d be more killin’ than laughin’.”
As in England, the Ripper follows his usual M.O.: targeting women in the dark. Unlike most shows in this series, nearly the entire episode takes place at night and is nicely photographed with deep, rich shadows and feeble light sources. Bernard Herrmann’s musical score adds even more dimension to the story. (It’s been said that nobody could do ominous like Bernard Herrmann.)
And this episode features a marvelous cast, including character actors who earned fame in other TV venues: David Canary (Bonanza, 94 episodes), Philip Carey (Laredo, 56 episodes), Jeanne Cooper (The Young and the Restless, 894 episodes), Patrick Horgan (Ryan’s Hope, 27 episodes), Grace Lee Whitney (Star Trek, 8 episodes and several movies), plus versatile and ubiquitous Karl Swenson and George Murdock, and Tom Skerritt before he made the big time.
Ellison’s script and Charles Rondeau’s careful direction keep the viewer guessing, as suspicion continually shifts from one likely suspect to another.
“The Mind Reader.” From The Rifleman series (1958-1963), Season 1, Episode 40, June 30, 1959. Chuck Connors (Lucas McCain), Johnny Crawford (Mark McCain), Paul Fix (Marshal Micah Torrance), John Carradine (James Barrow McBride), Michael Landon (Billy Mathis), Sue Randall (Lucy Hallager), Vic Perrin (Ed Osborne), William Schallert (Fogarty), Robert Bice (John Hallager). Writer: Robert C. Dennis. Director: Don Medford.
John Hallager and Billy Mathis get into a real dustup over Hallager’s daughter, Lucy. So when Hallager is shot to death from ambush, Marshal Torrance, with reluctance, arrests Billy as the only one with sufficient motive.
However, Ed Osborne, the town drunk, knows the truth, and he’s running scared. He begins to panic when James Barrow McBride brings his mind reading act into town, claiming that, with time, he’ll be able to name any eyewitnesses to the crime. For Osborne, that would be fatal.
Lucas McCain is able to piece together the few clues available to him, enough in his mind to clear Billy but not enough to finger the actual killer. Then Lucy makes things worse by engineering Billy’s escape from jail, further incriminating young Mathis in Marshal Torrance’s eyes.
Lucas latches on to Osborne, in the fading hope that he’ll lead McCain to the murderer. The suspense in the last half of the show ratchets up very nicely, as Lucas bounces from one suspect to another. Finally, McCain figures out who the killer is — all of three seconds before he has to shoot him dead.
It’s pretty rare to have a genuine whodunit plot in a half hour Western, so kudos to writer Robert C. Dennis (1915-83) for this one.
Dennis had a long career of writing crime dramas for television. His credits are truly impressive: China Smith (12 episodes), The New Adventures of China Smith (12 episodes), Passport to Danger (10 episodes), Alfred Hitchcock Presents (30 episodes), Markham (4 episodes), M Squad (5 episodes), The Untouchables (6 episodes), Checkmate (6 episodes), 77 Sunset Strip (15 episodes), Perry Mason (22 episodes), The Wild Wild West (7 episodes), Hawaii Five-O (6 episodes), Dragnet: 1967 (19 episodes), Dan August (5 episodes), Cannon (6 episodes), Harry O (5 episodes), and Barnaby Jones (3 episodes).