TV Drama



BOB HOPE CHRYSLER THEATER. “A Killing at Sundial” NBC, 04 October 1963 (Season One, Episode One). Stuart Whitman, Melvyn Douglas, Angie Dickinson, Joseph Caliea, Robert Emhardt, Malcolm Atterbury. Teleplay: Rod Serling. Directed by Alex Segal. Currently available for streaming on YouTube (see below).

   Sundial is a small Southwestern town slowly wilting under a drought that has bankrupted the town Boss Pat Konkle (Melvyn Douglas) has put most of the residence deep in debt and burdened with unpaid mortgagees. As the hot dusty town threatens to dry up and blow away under the onslaught of poverty and heat, an unlikely savior appears: Billy Cole (Stuart Whitman), an Indian whose father the town lynched before driving Billy out of town years earlier.

   Billy is bitter, ironic, and recently oil rich, interested only in putting a burr under Konkle, not even in renewing his one time interest in Konkle’s beautiful daughter Susan (Angie Dickinson).

   The only person in the world he cares about is Cagewa (Joseph Caliea), an old chief who was mentor and savior to Billy after his father was lynched, and Cagewa fears what it is Billy has come back for.

   That something is revealed at an impromptu service at his father’s unmarked grave Billy invites the town folk to. He has bought all their mortgages and save the town for a price — Pat Konkle dies before morning.

   How, who, none of that concerns Billy. All the wants is Konkle dead before the next sunrise.

   Cagewa is horrified, as much by the willingness of everyone to do the job. Susan tries to explain her father is a broken man who has lost everything. None of that matters to Billy. He will watch as the day winds down and the long hot night rolls by while Konkle becomes more and more aware his many years of Boss rule have won no champions, no friends.

   He is going to die before morning comes.

   “Killing at Sundial” was the first episode of the Bob Hope Chrysler Theater in the first season in color in 1963. Aside from a strong cast, it featured a strong teleplay by Rod Serling, touching on familiar Serling elements such as racism, hate, revenge, intolerance, small town prejudice, and broken men, Billy by his hate, Konkle by his arrogance and fear, the town by their greed and desperation.

   The anthology format was made for Serling, and throughout the Fifties and Sixties, he and writers like Abby Mann and Paddy Chayevsky brought high drama to the format, with Serling himself becoming a celebrity hosting The Twilight Zone and as screenwriter for films like Seven Days in May.

   Despite the usual White men in Red face common to the era, this one has a strong narrative line, and fine performances all around with Douglas getting to do some fine emoting as he falls apart ,and Caliea’s quiet dignified Cagewa stealing the whole thing as he did many a film in his long career.

   The finale is powerful even if predictable, ending on a surprisingly dark note for an anthology series episode from this era.

   Perhaps too on the nose for modern audiences at the time, there was a freshness and power to this sort of thing, a too rare look at a darker side of the uniform and bright world many of us had grown up in. As the optimism of the era gave way to questions and fears, even the relatively sedate world of the small screen began to acknowledge that the safe prosperous world we grew up in was not the only one.

   “Killing at Sundial” offers a glimpse of sunny hell, and as with most things Rod Serling did, it is worth catching.



THE LADY’S NOT FOR BURNING. Made-for-TV movie. KCET / Hollywood Television Theater / PBS, 1974. Richard Chamberlain, Eileen Atkins, Jacques Aubuchon, John Carradine, Keene Curtis, Scott Hylands, Tom Lacy, Stephen McHattie, Rosemary Murphy, Laurie Prange, and Kristoffer Tabori. From Christopher Fry’s play (1948). Directed by Joseph Hardy.

   With its frequent references to tumult and celebration off-stage, this cries out to be made as a movie, but the nearest it’s come is two made-for-TV tapings of the play, and the 1987 version was ruined by Kevin Branagh’s over-acting. This 1974 production, however, is a joy to watch: perfectly cast, well-paced, and directed with an affinity for Fry’s wit and melancholy in equal measure.

   Set in the Mayor’s house in a medieval village, the story builds itself on the contrasting characters who come and linger: Thomas Mendip, a wandering veteran back from some meaningless war, wants to be hanged; Alizon, a young innocent, is trothed to marry Humphrey, the Mayor’s snarkey nephew — or possibly his loutish bother Nicholas. Jenna, an alchemist’s daughter, arrives pursued by a witch-hunting mob, soon joined by a musical Priest and a hedonist Magistrate. Stir in the Mayor’s supremely serene sister, composed of equal parts Gracie Allen and Margaret Dumot, add a sensitive young Clerk smitten with Alizon, and you get a story that almost writes itself.

   Well actually, Christopher Fry wrote it, with his usual wit and obvious love of the characters. Nor does he stint on the action. There’s a lot of talk, to be sure, mostly about love, death, God and the Devil, but there’s more conflict than conversation here, and much more wit than piety. I particularly enjoyed Jenna’s debate with herself over whether to sleep with Humphrey or burn at the stake, and her carnal indignation when Mendip threatens to kill her option (“Sluts are human, too.”)

   I said this was perfectly cast, and it is, from Kristoffer Tabori’s callow swain to Jacques Aubuchon’s venal magistrate, but Chamberlain and Atkins rightly dominate the piece — his ghastly grin when she asks why he wants to be hanged and he replies, “I owe it to myself.” is a marvelous bit of sheer theater. They dominate, I should say until the last few minutes, when John Carradine staggers out onstage as old Skipps, the drunken Rag & Bones man, and proceeds to blow everyone else into the wings. A small part, but unforgettable.

   Try to catch this one. It’s one of those that manages to entertain and make you feel a bit smarter.

THE EDGE OF NIGHT. CBS, 16 October 1958. Cast and crew unknown.

   The recent HBO production of Perry Mason may be all the rage, but besides the books by Erle Stanley Gardner it was purportedly based on, most people are aware of the long-running TV series starring Raymond Burr. (There was a later and very short-lived series starring Monte Markham that no one remembers and even fewer saw.)

   Quite forgotten altogether was that Perry Mason was also a radio program that ran as a 15 minute soap opera on CBS radio from 1943 to 1955. When it became time to convert the radio serial to TV, Gardner did not care for the format and refused permission for the project.

   So some changes were made, and the producers of the would-be TV serial changed the title and all of the characters’ name and came up with The Edge of Night. As a soap opera with a harder edge than the competition at the time, it ended its 30 year run in 1984, there being over 7000 episodes before its finish.

   Being telecast live, most of the early episodes have vanished. Here’s one of the earliest ones I’ve discovered. You can watch it here.

   By watching it you can write your own review. Coming the middle of a couple of different stories, with no beginning or end to either, there’s little point in going over the story line, nor even to point out the fact that in the course of a 30 minute format, including commercials (not included), very little seems to happen. What are interesting are the quite inventive camera angles, the sometimes over-the-top acting (but not always) and the fact that everyone seems to smoke!


GOODYEAR THEATER. “The Victim.” 06 Jan 1958 (Season 1, Episode 8). Jack Lemmon, Doe Avedon, Lana Wood, Ross Elliott, John Eldredge, John Gallaudet. Writer: Marc Brandel. Director: Robert Florey. Currently available on YouTube here.

   A minor, moody semi-crime thriller. A man who has recently lost his wife is on the verge of losing his daughter as well, leaving her in the custody of his sister while struggling to find meaning in life once again. He keeps making promises to her but can’t follow though, and when she asks when she can come back home so they can live together, all he can summon up are the vaguest of promises.


   But then he finds himself being followed by two men, no matter where he goes. He has no idea why, and there’s nothing to take to the police. The mystery does give him some purpose in living, though, and although the plot gets really creaky at the end, all ends well.

   Jack Lemmon, one of my favorite actors, plays the “everyman” almost perfectly, as he did throughout his career. Lana Wood was only twelve at time this was filmed, and unfortunately has little to do – nothing to indicate that she had a long career on TV and the movies ahead of her. The rest of cast are old pros in the business, and it shows.


LONE STAR. “Pilot.” Fox, 20 September 2010 (Season 1, Episode 1). James Wolk as Robert “Bob” Allen, a Texas con man married to Cat, the daughter of one of his marks in Houston, while simultaneously maintaining a relationship with Lindsay in Midland, Texas. He is in love with both women and begins to wish for a normal life; Adrianne Palicki as Cat Thatcher, Clint’s daughter; Eloise Mumford as Lindsay, Robert Allen’s unsuspecting girlfriend in Midland; David Keith as John Allen, Robert Allen’s father, who raised his son to be a con man; Jon Voight as Clint Thatcher, a Texas oil tycoon and father of Cat and her two brothers. Written by Kyle Killen. Director: Marc Webb. Currently available on YouTube here.

   Thanks again to Wikipedia for the scorecard of players and their roles, somewhat condensed. If you were one of people who watched this show back in 2010, you are one of a very few, relatively speaking. An estimated 4.06 million watched this first episode, and only 3.2 the following week. Six episodes were filmed but only two were actually aired.

   This sort of TV drama with just a tinge of crooked activity at heart isn’t my usual watching fare, but I enjoyed this. The players are all personable, especially James Wolk (Mad Men, Zoo), the leading man, and that always helps. You can easily believe him as a smooth-talking con man who can separate investors in Texas-based oil wells from their life savings as slick and easily as an eel in a fresh water pond. You can also easily believe him as a man with both a wife and a girl friend, neither of which knows anything about the other. And when offered a chance at a honest life, and he tells his father he’s going to take it, you can easily believe that too.

   I don’t know why this didn’t catch on. It was heavily promoted ahead of time, but obviously no one paid any attention. Perhaps the shows it was on opposite had something to do with that. I’d surely like to know where the story was going to go from here, but I’ve resigned myself to the fact that the chances I ever will are very, very slim, if not outright none.

FOUR STAR PLAYHOUSE “Bourbon Street.” CBS, 09 December 1954 (Season 3, Episode 11). Dick Powell, Beverly Garland, William Leicester, Clarence Muse, Ed Platt. Writer: Richard Carr. Director: Roy Kellino.

   In many ways this noirish 25 minute play has more going for it than many a shoot ’em up, ultra violent neo-noir two-hour extravaganza in full color does today. Dick Powell is in full hard-boiled tough guy mode in this one, as a piano player who has managed to make his way out of the quicksand life of New Orleans, only to return when he learns that the girl he loved has committed suicide.

   He blames the young hoodlum who stole the girl from him, and the only thing on his mind is revenge. Along the way he meets another girl (Beverly Garland) who pleads with him to give it up and take her along with him. Does he? Not a chance. He walks out, closing (but not slamming) the door behind him.

   Right into an out-and-out beating and a twist that maybe you will see coming, but I didn’t. It’s beautifully set up, though, and if you decide to watch it (video clip provided), I hope you agree. I liked this one.




THE FUGITIVE “The Other Side of the Mountain.” ABC, 01 October 1963 (Season 1, Episode 3). David Janssen. Guest Cast: Sandy Dennis, Frank Sutton, Ruth White. R.G. Armstrong, Barry Morse, Bruce Dern. Narrator: William Conrad. Screenwriters: Alan Caillou & Harry Kronman. Director: James Sheldon.

   A few nights ago, I watched “The Other Side of the Mountain,” a season one episode of The Fugitive. In this episode, Richard Kimble aka The Fugitive (David Janssen) runs afoul of the local authorities in a dying West Virginia coal mining town. The sheriff is portrayed by R.G. Armstrong, while his deputy is played by a youthful Bruce Dern who, as of the time, had not yet appeared on the big screen. The episode is a fairly strong one, bolstered by the presence of stage actress Sandy Dennis, who plays a local girl who provides sanctuary to Kimble. She also, not surprisingly, falls in love with him and all but begs him to take her with him.

   I enjoyed the episode quite a bit. Seeing Dern as a smarmy lawman eager to pick a fight with Kimble was something else. Dern, unlike Armstrong, Dennis, and two others, was not given guest star status. He really was a supporting TV character looking for bit parts at the time.

   Fast forward six years. Or, in my case, one day. And I sit down for an episode of Lancer (“A Person Unknown”), the CBS oater recently brought back into public consciousness for its “appearance” in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019). In this episode, Johnny Madrid Lancer (James Stacy) runs afoul of a powerful man and his son. He not only is wounded in a fight. But is falsely accused of murdering his Mexican friend. A crime he did not commit. As it turns out, the injured Johnny has to hide out in an out of the way farmhouse in which he is provided succor by a young girl (Quentin Dean in her final acting role). Sound somewhat familiar?

   One more thing you should know. The person hot on his trail, the very same person who is the real murderer is portrayed by none other than Bruce Dern. One could not help but compared Dern’s performance in the 1963 episode of The Fugitive with that from this Lancer episode from 1969. Dern had, by this point, definitely come into his own as an actor. Here he had all but perfected the sneering, quasi-psychotic villainy that was so disturbingly effective in The Cycle Savages (1969) which I reviewed here.

   His scenes with Quentin Dean, who had appeared with Charlton Heston in Tom Gries’s excellent Will Penny (1967) which I reviewed here are just as effective as his first scene in which he taunts Johnny’s Mexican friend before killing him. All told, it’s a solid episode from a Western TV series that did not last very long, but benefited immensely from having some of the best character actors from its era as guest stars.

NOTE: Dern makes his first appearance in the video above at roughly the 7:00 mark.


ROUTE 66. “Black November.” CBS, 60m, 07 Oct 1960 (Season 1, Episode 1). Martin Milner (Tod Stiles), George Maharis (Buz Murdock). Guest Cast: Everett Sloane, Patty McCormack, Keir Dullea, Whit Bissell, George Kennedy. Musical theme: Nelson Riddle. Screenwriter: Stirling Silliphant. Director: Philip Leacock. Currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

   Chronicling the adventures of two roving buddies making their way across the width and breath of the United States, this was arguably the iconic TV shows of the early 1960s. Of its kind, while I personally missed it entirely, it was certainly the most successful. I was off in college at the time, and I think I had time to watch television at most two or three, with the choice limited to one TV channel.

   I knew about it, of course, even without access to our family’s subscription to TV Guide, which I was addicted to all though high school. (Who in the early 60s did not?) So when I learned that Amazon Prime was streaming it free to subscribers, I thought it high past time to catch up on a serious lack in my cultural heritage.

   I’m glad I did. This first episode’s a good one. The two buddies with a brand new car and two pair of restless feet to drive it find themselves in quite a predicament – at one time with ropes around their necks waiting to be lynched. This is not anything the Mississippi Tourist Bureau would want anyone to see! I suppose that in 1960, backward places such as the small town of Garth might exist, just like the most secluded rural parts of England, where strangers never come, and when they do, they are looked on by residents as Demons from Hell.

   One man rules the town with a iron thumb, and his name is Garth (Everett Sloane). The town also has a secret, but absolutely no one will talk about it. The daughter (Patty McCormack) of the local storekeeper is the only one who offers them a timid, shy smile. Everyone else has dark sullen faces, constantly staring at the pair with dark hostility. There is also, of all things, but it fits in perfectly, a creepy scene in which the townsfolk storm the grocery store with torches blazing away in the darkness.

   As the pilot episode, this certainly is an effective one. It starts, however, after they’ve already been on the road for a while, and it’s only in their conversation that we get hints of who they are and what set them on their way. If you are puzzled why they were heading for Biloxi before they got lost, a town nowhere near Route 66, I have often wondered that about the series myself. They ended up all over the US during the four years the program was on the air. I have finally assumed that the cross-country Route 66 was only a metaphor for anyone traveling here and there at whim and will, with no particular destination in mind.

OZARK  “Sugarwood,” Netflix, 21 July 2017. Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Sofia Hublitz, Skylar Gaertner, Esai Morales. Director: Jason Bateman.

   As a pilot for this series that’s now in its third season on Netflix, it does its job exceedingly well. Due to some serious lapses on the part of his fellow members in a plan to skim off a potion of the profits in a money-laundering scheme they are working on for a Mexican drug cartel, Marty Byrde, his wife and two children must pack up their bags overnight and leave Chicago behind so he can start anew in the area around the Lake of the Ozarks.

   I did not know that the shoreline of the lake is longer than hat of the entire state of California, did you? With tourists and other visitors from all over the world, it seems as though the area wold be a great spot to start business up again, or so Byrde manages to convince Camino “Del” Del Rio (Esai Morales) in a desperate attempt to save his life.

   It takes the full hour to set up the premise. It is assumed that things are Not Going to Go Well. Other than that, though, there is, however, no indication of where the story line will go from here. In fact I should not even pretend that I am reviewing the series at all, based on this first episode, which is well enough done that watching the second one is a must before passing judgment, so I won’t.

   I will say this, however. I found nothing interesting to say so far about the newly exiled father, who as a crook and not a very good one at that, is very nearly a cipher, even at episode’s end; nor his wife, who has been cheating on him; nor his daughter, a whiny teen-aged girl; nor his nebbish younger son.

   No, the standout at this point is Esai Morales, a loyal lieutenant in the drug cartel and a man who knows his job and does it well. He also knows the answer to the question he poses to Byrde and his associates when he first finds them out: If a loyal female clerk in a family business for many years is found taking the cash from the till, should she be fired, or should she be forgiven?

   I knew the answer, the crime boss knows, and by the end of this first episode, Marty Byrde has figured it out as well.


WIR£D “The Beginning.” ITV, UK, 13 October 2008. 60m. Part one of a three-part mini-series. Jodie Whittaker, Laurence Fox, Toby Stephens. Screenplay: Kate Brooke. Director: Kenny Gleenan.

   A single mother (Louise Evans, played to perfection by Jodie Whittaker) who has just been promoted at the bank where she works is surprised to learn that her new position was not earned on her own resume and what’s worse, it comes with some very nasty strings attached. It seems that she has a back story involving criminal activity she doesn’t want known now, but it engenders a little blackmail and a threat to her young girl, either of which on their own are enough incentive for her to comply when she’s asked to do a “favor” to he crummy boy friend (Laurence Fox) of a lady “friend” she has at work.

   The favor seems minor, but what do I know about banking? Enough to know that she’s up to her ears in deep stuff. There is already an undercover police officer (Toby Stephens) snooping around, threatening audits. Episode one is just the set up. Yet to come are two more episodes: “The Middle” and “The End.”

   As is often the case these days, it is the heroine of the tale that receives the most attention, but Jody Whitaker, the future Doctor Who, is more than up to the task. Which is not to suggest that the rest of the cast, most of whom I’ve left uncredited above, is not doing their job too. Somehow the British seem to do short series such as this a quantum level higher than most of those in the US. This is one series I know I’ll finish.


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