Mystery Collection Disc 24

Four of these are Studio One episodes from the heyday of live b&w TV drama—thus, they’re kinescopes (filmed from the TV), and presented including Westinghouse’s ads. The live format and limited resources of the time can result in somewhat claustrophobic dramas, but it’s at least interesting historically. In a way, viewing these with contemporary equipment is unfair. They were made to be viewed on screens probably no larger than 15″ diagonal (thus 9″ by 12″); viewing them on the 4×3 portion of a 54″ screen—which is to say an area 27″ by 36″, or nine times the area—warps the original staging expectations.

There Was a Crooked Man, 1950, b&w (TV). Paul Nickell (dir.), Robert Sterling, Charles Korvin, Virginia Gilmore, Richard Purdy, Robert Emhardt. 0:56.

A small boarding house with eclectic—even strange—tenants: One young man who avoids everybody, an eccentric professor supposedly writing a 12-volume history of education, a young woman waiting for her husband to return, another young woman in similar situation (both of them, apparently, working in the rare book room of a library), the woman whose house it is who’s expecting her husband to return after six years away, and an upstairs boarder who’s room-bound thanks to an accident but called on by all sorts of people.

And who winds up dead. Suspicion falls on the professor, but there are reasons to believe it must be somebody impersonating him: His beard and hair were bushier when he was encountered just after the crime, and he was wearing high-heeled shoes, which he doesn’t normally do. Lots more plot, including the arrival of one woman’s husband, the truly eccentric husband of the owner (who was actually a few blocks away and claims to have long-term amnesia), and a conclusion that leaves a whole bunch of question unanswered. Some scenery-chewing, too much plot for the time, but not bad as a mini-mystery. Note that the running time includes two lengthy Westinghouse commercials (one for a big screen TV—well, big for the time, I guess); it’s probably around 52 minutes of actual program. $0.75.

Two Sharp Knives, 1949, b&w (TV). Franklin J. Schaffner (dir.), Stanley Ridges, Wynne Gibson, Theodore Newton, Abe Vigoda. 0:59.

A surprisingly ambitious live drama, with scenes set in a (patently phony) train, police station, railroad station and cheap hotel—and an intriguing script by Dashiell Hammett. A father and his daughter are on their way to a small town to meet the mother, who the daughter really doesn’t know at all—and, when they arrive, the father’s detained because the police just received a “Wanted for Murder” message with his photo on it. The father’s never heard of the supposed victim and has no idea what’s going on… The police chief’s daughter (who’s engaged to a police detective) takes the little girl home with her, while the police chief, detective and suspect go to the hotel where he expected to meet his wife—who isn’t there and nobody’s heard of.

Next thing we know, the father’s apparently hung himself in his cell—and the police have discovered that the wanted message was a forgery and the supposed victim doesn’t exist. Although the coroner tells reporters that it was a suicide (in part because a conniving DA is gunning for the police chief), he tells the police chief that it was clearly murder (oh, there’s politics at play too). The plot continues from there, and it’s a tight plot for the 50-52 minutes of actual program. (Ads this time are for the Westinghouse Laundromat and Dryer, with the pitch that your Westinghouse dealer will be happy to wash and dry a load of your clothes to show how great they are—and a prominent “damp” setting on the dryer, for all those clothes needing ironing.) Note: I mention Abe Vigoda because he became so well known; as with all but three actors, his only credit was a voice-over at the end of the episode. He was 28 at the time; this was one of his first two roles.)

Well done, well-acted; since it’s also well under an hour, I’ll give it $1.00.

The Inner Circle, 1946, b&w. Philip Ford (dir.), Adele Mara, Warren Douglas, William Frawley, Ricardo Cortez, Virginia Christine, Ken Niles, WIl Wright. 0:57.

This one’s not a Studio One kinescope—it’s a B film, humorous, fast-moving, complicated and thoroughly enjoyable. A private detective, Johnny Strange, Action, Inc., starts to call in an ad for a private secretary (young, blonde, good-looking, etc.), when the phone’s removed by…well, a young woman (Adele Mara, a stunner) who more than meets his criteria and says she’s there for the job. Before you know it, she’s calling to get his office cleaned—and on his other line there’s a call, which she answers (the first call’s busy), by a new client who informs the secretary that Johnny is to meet her in front of a jeweler’s at 7:30 that night.

This leads to a dead body, Strange being knocked over the head, the gun placed in his hand and the police showing up—and the secretary giving a thoroughly false story to clear him. He wants to know what’s actually going on, and this takes us through a bunch of characters, the secretary’s socialite sister (who she thinks might be the real murderer)…and eventually a re-creation of portions of the murder scene during a radio broadcast (the victim had a gossip radio show, with a side of blackmail). All fast, with snappy dialogue, the natural love interest between the private dick and the beautiful secretary. William Frawley—yes, that William Frawley (later of I Love Lucy, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, and My Three Sons) does a fine job as the police detective lieutenant pursuing the case. Great stuff—light-hearted and well-done. It’s only 57 minutes (actually just over 56), so I can’t give it more than $1.25.

Things Happen At Night, 1947, b&w. Francis Searle (dir.), Gordon Harker, Alfred Drayton, Robertson Hare, Gwynneth Vaughan. 1:19 [0:56]

The biggest mystery here is why this odd little farce is in the Mystery Collection rather than being filler in a comedy megapack. The plot, such as it is, involves a poltergeist who’s possessing the daughter in a too-big house and causing all sorts of mischief. An insurance investigator (Gordon Harker) arrives to evaluate a claim for a hole in a rug (caused by a burning cinder in a room where the fireplace wasn’t used and had a grille that wouldn’t have allowed the cinder to escape in any case) and, somehow, becomes an overnight guest, formal dress and all. A “scientist” also arrives to photograph the poltergeist (?).

Mostly the plot is an excuse for cheap special effects and lots of Gordon Harker’s odd expressions, and whether you’ll enjoy it depends on whether you think Harker is side-splitting. Since I don’t, I mostly found this to be a wasted hour. (Harker was much better in The Farmer’s Wife both because it was one of Alfred Hitchcock’s rare comedies and because there was a script, something that’s lacking here.) Maybe the missing 23 minutes would make this better, but the flick seemed overlong as it is. Add to the missing script sometimes-sketchy video quality (bleached at times) and some odd filming, and I’m being extremely generous to give this $0.75.

Flowers from a Stranger, 1949, b&w (TV). Paul Nickell (dir.), John Conte, Felicia Montealegre, Yul Brynner, Robert Duke, Lois Nettleton. 0:59.

The beautiful young wife of a psychiatrist has trouble sleeping, mostly because she keeps thinking about a tune that she can’t quite place—and that may be evil. As a typical young professional couple, they of course have a housekeeper/maid, and she’s having friends to dinner—an odd number, and suggests her husband invite someone. He thinks of an older colleague, a famous psychiatrist who survived the concentration camps and has one bad hand for it. The psychiatrist, Yul Brynner with white hair (29 years old at the time, but a credible elderly psychiatrist), is free.

In short order, we get several dozen white carnations sent to the wife by an anonymous sender—and she hates white carnations. When the older doctor arrives he is, of course, wearing…a white carnation. He’s charmed by her; she believes he’s evil…and he refers to her by a name her husband didn’t know, her stage name when she was giving piano concerts in Europe as a child. Next scene: A violent inmate escapes and, next thing you know, she’s being subdued by the housekeeper. The wife concludes that the inmate was brought there by the old doctor to kill her and that the old doctor pushed her mother off a train platform…and goes in to New York to get evidence of a sort (the old doctor was briefly married to the wife’s mother, and he decamped to the U.S. a few days before the death).

A word about lengths for these Studio One kinescopes: Yes, they were longer than today’s ad-saturated hour shows, but not that much longer. I fast-forwarded through ads on this one, and it seems to come to about 50 minutes including titles—thus, five to seven minutes longer than today’s adfests. There were only three ads, but they were long ads.

We get a climax in which the young woman, apparently frail and easily breakable, suddenly turns into a victim-turned-pursuer, breaking down the older psychiatrist. I found this scene so wholly unbelievable that it compromises what’s otherwise a minor psychodrama. For some reason, I was more aware on this little drama that doctors are portrayed as all being smoking fiends: It was a different time! Overall, I’m being generous with $0.75.

 

Plan For Escape, 1952, b&w (TV). Paul Nickell (dir.), Peggy Ann Garner, Frank Overton, Jean Carson. 0:59.

Another Studio One presentation, this time with Betty Furness doing the ads (one of them for a Westinghouse sunlamp so you can get your tan in winter, back when tanning was supposed to be as healthy as smoking). The plot: A very young (21 years old) trophy wife of a gangster hates being a bird in a gilded cage, wants out…and sees her chance when her husband’s gunned down. But her minder (who’s in cahoots with the gangster who shot her husband) is on her trail, since she could rat on the killer. She winds up in a tiny town on the rail line, befriended by a handsome young mail clerk who’s deeply philosophical. Her problem with him: He’s not Somebody, being more interested in living a good life than in being a big financial success.

Lots of talk, then more plot leading to a shootout of sorts. Will the girl-woman ever grow up? Perhaps… This one’s fairly well done, but I still can’t give it more than $0.75.

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