Sun 5 Jan 2014
IRONSIDE (1967-75): 8 seasons, 195 episodes. Regular cast: Raymond Burr (Ironside), Don Galloway (Det. Sgt. Ed Brown), Elizabeth Baur (Officer Fran Belding), and Don Mitchell (Mark Sanger).
If you like your TV crime dramas with complications and the rare out-of-left-field plot twist, these two episodes might fill the bill. One is yet another variation on the “caper” trope, while the other involves the venerable locked room murder theme.
“All Honorable Men.” Season 6, Episode 21 (150th). First broadcast: 8 March 1973. Guest cast: William Daniels, Fred Beir, Johnny Seven, Sandra Smith, Leonard Stone, Henry Beckman, Arthur Batanides, Regis Cordic. Writer: William Douglas Lansford. Director: Russ Mayberry.
A bank manager closes the vault and activates all the security systems; sixty-three hours later, when it’s opened, the floor is littered with safety deposit boxes, some of them having been broken open — but the rest of them and even the stacks of money in the vault lie untouched.
Everything indicates that a handful of thieves tunneled up through the vault of the floor, selectively plundered the richest deposit boxes, and made a subterranean getaway, with a helicopter waiting to take them out of the country. Every bit of forensic evidence (including geological analysis of the sand at the crime scene and aboard the abandoned chopper) points to that inescapable conclusion.
Only that’s not how it went down — nowhere near it — and, although it takes him a while, eventually Ironside figures out what really happened.
Kudos to writer Lansford (1922-2013) for coming up with a nicely gnarly caper scenario (even if he did borrow elements from Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Red-Headed League”), as well as to actor Raymond Burr (1917-93) for pulling off what was clearly a very difficult physical stunt.
“Murder by One.” Season 7, Episode 2 (154th). First broadcast: 20 September 1973. Guest cast: Mary Ure, Clu Gulager, Herb Edelman, Michael Baseleon, Dennis McCarthy, Robert Van Decar. Teleplay: David Vowell and Sy Salkowitz. Story: David Vowell. Director: Alexander Singer.
An emotionally disturbed young man is found inside a locked room, a fatal gunshot to the head. He had been undergoing psychotherapy after his parents’ divorce, and his therapist can’t be sure he hasn’t missed some warning sign presaging the tragedy. In any event, there seems to be no compelling reason not to assume he committed suicide; a slip of paper with a quotation from A Tale of Two Cities next to the body can reasonably be considered a farewell note.
But when Ironside & Co. hit the scene, several seemingly unrelated bits of evidence turn up: the fact that the gun is found 8 feet 2 inches from the body; the merest trace of a not readily recognizable substance is detected on the door’s dead bolt lock; a large rubber band is found on the floor; $5,000 in hard cash is discovered inside a phonograph album sleeve in the kid’s music collection; the man hoping to marry the young man’s mother has a criminal record and is going under an assumed name; and the “suicide” note itself has a jagged edge that, to Ironside, seems out of character, contrary to the victim’s neat and orderly lifestyle.
Ultimately Ironside will uncover a plot to make a murder look like a suicide but with the real intention of making that suicide look like a murder.
There’s also some more borrowing from Conan Doyle here, in this case “The Problem of Thor Bridge.”