REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK


“The Ghost Goes East.” CBS. An episode of The Hunter, 24 September 1952, Wednesday 9:30 – 10:00 pm. Cast: Barry Nelson, Nita Talbot, Iggi Wolfington, Tiger Andrews, Henry Lascoe, Hy Anzel, Helen Penwell. Written by Phil Reisman, Jr. Produced by Edward J. Montagne. Directed by Oscar Rudolph.

   The Hunter is another series with a wacky backstory. It is a history that features two networks, two stars, and two different court cases. But before we get to the history, let’s examine the episode.

THE HUNTER Barry Nelson

   And let’s not bury the lead. This episode was awful. The Hunter was a Commie-bashing spy series. Nita Talbot was the single highlight of this episode, while the rest of the cast, including lead Barry Nelson, did a poor job with Phil Reisman’s terrible script that was burdened with weak dialog and a plot full of holes.

   “The Ghost Goes East” opens in the middle of a stakeout by the FBI. Being outdoors, and in a 1950’s TV-Film show, there was no dialog, just the camera to show what was happening. Director Oscar Rudolph told the story well with some dramatically effective camera angles. We watched as the FBI closed in on the Commie spies only to have one of them escape.

   The setting changes to inside some airport, aka typical 50s cheap generic set. Rudolph was never able to overcome the limitations of the cheap interiors sets to come close to the drama of the opening. He also failed to play fair with the two, granted lame, visual clues.

   Our hero’s (Barry Nelson) contact, Jane (Helen Penwell) arrives at the airport. He is watching a mysterious man watch him. He whistles his code sign “Frere Jacques.” While Jane updates our hero, the man disappeared. She tells him the Red spy is still on the loose and has passed his information to a Commie courier named William. While they don’t know what William looks like, they somehow know what plane he will be on as he heads east to pass the information to the Commies in East Berlin.

   The thirty-minute episode lacked the time for any characterization of our unlikable hero. On “The Ghost Goes East” no name was revealed for our Hero until he checked his passport, one for Jack Hunter, and when asked Hunter claimed his job was “exterminator.”

   He boards the plane and meets his fellow passengers, aka suspects. They include the man who had been watching him and a traveling showbiz troupe headed overseas. The troupe is made up of people who barely know each other, but the man-hungry half of a sister act (Nita Talbot) and the troupe’s leader and comic (Iggi Wolfington) happily gossip and do the exposition.

   Of course there is a murder during the flight. The twist at the end might have worked in 1952, but not today. In the final scene, after Hunter has saved America, the group notices Hunter has disappeared. As the dumbfounded characters wonder out loud where Hunter went, we hear him whistling his signature tune “Frere Jacques.”

   This episode is very easy to find on DVD. It appears on Lost Detective Classics from the Vault (Alpha Home Entertainment).

   The series’ backstory began when sponsor R. J. Reynolds wanted a summer replacement series for their CBS series Man Against Crime, a PI series starring Ralph Bellamy. The William Esty Agency handled the creative side of Man Against Crime and had producer Edward J. Montagne and writer Phil Reisman, Jr. do the same for the summer replacement series, The Hunter.

   The series began July 3, 1952, Thursday at 9pm. But Lucky Strike was able to push R. J. Reynolds off that time slot. CBS moved The Hunter to Wednesday at 9:30pm, a time slot held by Embassy’s series The Web. Embassy tried to stop the move and sued CBS for damages. The court refused to stop CBS.

   The Hunter on CBS starred Barry Nelson and 13 episodes were filmed. It was filmed in New York at the financially troubled Pathescope Studios. Ratings were not bad with the show ranked 22nd nationally by American Research Bureau during the week of August 1-7 and seen in 3,480 homes and 50 cities.

   Nielsen, for the two weeks ending 7/26/52, had The Hunter ranked 7th in number of homes reached (3,746), and 6th in percent of TV Homes reached in program station areas. At that time there were 65 markets, 110 stations, and 18,317,528 estimated TV sets in use in the entire United States.

   CBS’s The Hunter was opposite NBC’s Kraft Television Theatre and ABC’s Wrestling from the Marigold in Chicago (a series that also aired Saturday on the DuMont network). At the end of the summer of 1952, CBS let the series go. But that was not the end of the series, and in the summer of 1954 The Hunter returned to the air.

   But before that, in the summer of 1953 R. J. Reynolds decided to film 13 more episodes of The Hunter. Barry Nelson was now starring on My Favorite Husband, so Keith Larsen took over the lead. These episodes were kept “under wraps” with hopes there might be a demand for them in the future.

   Then R. J. Reynolds sold the CBS episodes with Barry Nelson to NBC as a summer replacement series that aired Sunday at 10:30 starting July 11, 1954. NBC then bought the never-shown episodes with Keith Larsen and aired them in the fall starting October 3, 1954. The Keith Larsen episodes would run once and then NBC replaced The Hunter on January 2, 1955, with The Bob Cummings Show (aka Love That Bob).

   In July 1955, Official Films sold the syndication rights for the 26 episode series to sponsor Tafon Distributors, and The Hunter made its syndication debut in 1955. Tafon, a maker of a “miracle” diet tablet, claimed the series would soon be in 250 markets (of the current 285 in the entire country).

   It is doubtful The Hunter ever came close to that number of markets. The series rarely found itself in the top rated programs in any market, and with just 26 episodes to air the series faded away.

   Official Films sued Tafon in September 1957 claiming Tafon owed them $97,169.37. They also claimed that no payments had been made since November 1956, and $100,000 remained to be paid from the original sale price of $234,000.

         SOURCES: (the usual suspects)

Billboard:   Accessible at http://books.google.com

Broadcasting:   http://www.americanradiohistory.com/Broadcasting_Individual_Issues_Guide.htm

TVTango.com

Editorial Comment:   “Rendezvous in Prague,” a second episode of The Hunter is currently available on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F67VJF74itw


    The opening four minutes of a third (no title provided):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=doLXwU14_Tw