Tonight’s episode was “The Knightly Murders,” and David Chase was one of three co-writers, and it proved that while I may have said that I had seen sixteen of the twenty episodes, I really hadn’t. Not in full, anyway.
If you, dear reader, are in your fifties or older, then it’s possible that you first ran into this program on the The CBS Late Movie, which ran edited repeats of this series in the late seventies and early eighties. I first found the show on the Sci-Fi Channel’s Series Collection from around 1994. These were also edited, cut down to about 42 minutes to accommodate both commercials and the anthology show’s bumpers, which included soundbites from an interview with Darren McGavin. I wonder whether that full interview has ever been released.
Anyway, the Sci-Fi Channel’s editors had to chop out about six minutes from each installment, and I guarantee that they excised almost all of this wonderful scene between McGavin and guest star John Dehner, because I’m certain I would have remembered anything this delightful. Dehner is playing the police official of the week, but magically, this one hasn’t had it up to here with Kolchak. His captain is a slow and thoughtful fellow, prone to long speeches and long pauses, somewhere between Maigret and indolence, and he drives Kolchak bananas simply by talking too much about nothing at all. When a reporter presses him on what killed a fellow in his car, the answer isn’t “a jousting lance,” it’s “society.” As hilarious as Keenan Wynn’s yelling guy is, Dehner should have had this job almost every week, because Kolchak has almost no idea how to combat him.
The other amazing guest star this week is Hans Conreid, who plays a museum curator and who has the more typical task of bellowing at Carl. Conreid, as always, is completely wonderful to watch, but Kolchak knows how to handle loudmouths like him. It’s when somebody isn’t mad at Kolchak that our hero is out at sea.
This evening’s episode of Barbary Coast guest stars the awesome John Dehner as a frankly insane general who has become convinced that John Wilkes Booth wasn’t killed five years previously (the episode takes place around the time of Robert E. Lee’s death in October 1870), and he has set his sights on an actor who is Booth’s doppelganger to mete out some belated justice. It’s an interesting story, particularly when the actor starts to spin a very convoluted alibi about his secret life and where he actually was the night that Lincoln was killed. But it’s a little unsatisfying in the end, possibly because there’s at least one twist too many, and possibly because Dehner’s comeuppance is left offscreen even after we’d met a lieutenant in his command who has figured out that the general is not doing things by the book. We were waiting for that guy to show up and save the day.
So the story isn’t very lighthearted at all, although it’s certainly twisty, and the lack of any wit or humor marks this as a very off-key installment of the show, and we weren’t surprised that our son was much more restless than usual and very disappointed and bored with the hour. Well, there was one tiny bit of humor, and a great gag: Cash spots an old flame that he’d rather never see again in his casino. “That’s Tequila Lil. I spent five years with her one day.” That’s such a great line that I almost wish there was somebody in my own checkered past that I could say that about.
Tonight’s episode of The Twilight Zone gave us the opportunity to talk with our son about superstitions. That’s after we got him calmed down from this remarkably effective half-hour of horror. He was so frightened that he was shivering!
So this time, Charles Beaumont has written the script from one of his short stories. The great John Dehner – he played the villain in my all-time favorite episode of Maverick – plays an oil company executive who has paid careful attention to the superstitions and magic rites of a tribe in Africa who will be displaced by his company’s hydroelectric dam project. He’s a marked man and his fate is inevitable, but getting there is thirty minutes of quiet, growing terror as something in the silent, three-in-the-morning streets of New York follows him.
There’s a really terrific scene where Dehner’s colleagues scoff at his explanation of the curse that has been threatened, but he points out the hypocrisy in their use of rabbit’s feet and horoscopes and buildings that don’t have a thirteenth floor. “Why doesn’t it have a thirteenth floor,” asked our son. We mumbled we’d tell him later. When the episode was finished, he was too scared to really care.