Original image: The Knowles Gallery
Starring: Santos Ortega
Originally aired: 31 July 1960
Plot synopsis: A small-town sheriff attempts to blackmail an accomplished chess master, who has accidentally run over a stranger in his car, into becoming his permanent chess partner.
Favourite line: 'Chess should never be played for stakes. It corrupts the purity of the game, and if there's anything I detest it's the corruption of what should be pure.'
Review: Despite a running time of no more than twenty minutes (sans commercials), this is a carefully constructed, intelligently plotted episode that delivers a satisfying tale of murder, blackmail ... and chess! The story, essentially a two-hander, is taut and well-written, with a novel premise: blackmail, not for money, but to force the protagonist to become the blackmailer's unwilling chess partner. Both of the main characters are remarkably well drawn given the limited time, and it is impressive how many twists in the narrative the episode manages to include. The use of chess as a metaphor for the characters' conflict is also handled with subtlety - rather than being continually accentuated - meaning that, all in all, this is a superior episode.
Rating: * * * *
The End of the String
Starring: Stacy Harris
Originally aired: 17 January 1956
Plot synopsis: A jeweller steals a million-dollar pearl necklace, only to discover that it is not so easy to dispose of such a valuable item.
Favourite line: 'It's a funny thing about money. You don't have a lot, so you wish you had more. Then, when you've got more you want more than that, so you won't go back to not having any. Trouble is, where do you stop?'
Review: Criminals who steal famous works of art, or - as in this episode - well-known pieces of jewellery, often fail to consider how exactly they are going to turn their purloined acquisitions into cold, hard cash. The difficulties involved in disposing of stolen goods may seem less exciting than the actual staging of a heist, yet nonetheless, this episode is a solid, entertaining tale. The characters are well drawn, the performances are fine and the script is efficiently written. Unfortunately, though, the episode is let down by the fact that after the basic dilemma has been established, the story fizzles out. In particular, the ending feels very throwaway, suggesting that the writer simply couldn't think of a decent resolution. Nonetheless, an intriguing episode, which deserves credit for exploring a less familiar aspect of the criminal's trade.
Rating: * * *
The Escape of Lacey Abbott
Starring: William Powell
Originally aired: 19 January 1950
[Another version of this story, starring Myron McCormick, aired 8 March 1959 - under the title Madman of Manhattan]
Plot synopsis: After spending two years in Bellevue psychiatric hospital, a man escapes to take revenge on the man who killed his wife.
Favourite line: None.
Review: The fundamental problem with this episode is that it is just very, very ordinary. There's nothing conspicuously wrong with either the plot or the script, but it is all so dull that it is difficult to remember much about the episode soon after it has ended. Much of the story is told through the protagonist's internal monologue, yet his inner life simply isn't interesting enough to make this device work. There is a twist, of sorts, at the end, but it's nothing very startling, and doesn’t save the episode from being quite forgettable.
Rating: * *
Starring: John Lund
Originally aired: 22 September 1949
Plot synopsis: An assistant hotel manager, tired of being second to an overbearing boss, seeks to rid himself of his superior by poisoning his daily coffee, using an undetectable yellow powder that causes the development of a deadly disease called '6-R'.
Favourite line: 'Really, Mr Brandt, live rats in a room? ... Fortunately, our other guests were not cognizant of the fact that we were for two days zoo-keepers of a sort.'
Review: This is a fun episode, which is well played and presented. John Lund gives a solid performance in the main role, though it is the character of the thoroughly unpleasant hotel manager who steals every scene he is in, dishing out delicious insults and withering putdowns. The plot, though, is completely far-fetched. What stretches credulity the most is the incredibly contrived set of circumstances that has to be engineered to get the fatal poison into the protagonist's hands. For this to happen, we are asked to believe that a scientist working on a cure for a deadly disease would bring a cage full of infected rats, together with quantities of the powder that cause the sickness, to a hotel room. Indeed, this man appears to be one of the most irresponsible scientists in the world, with a highly cavalier attitude to safety - thus, his idea of a sufficient precaution against inadvertent infection is to have the maid responsible for cleaning his room told not to go too near the rats' cage, so that she doesn't get bitten! No, you madman, the listener wants to scream at him, the way to stop this happening is for you not to have taken the rats out of your laboratory in the first place! (As a side note, another episode that features a similarly negligent scientist is Vial of Death.) There are further contrivances, too, such as the hotel manager's afternoon coffee regimen - he will accept it being made only by the assistant manager? - that are clearly present simply to facilitate the plot. Moreover, the ending, though it works well enough, relies upon a somewhat hackneyed twist. Nonetheless, the episode remains an enjoyable one, despite its improbabilities.
Rating: * * *
Starring: Howard Duff
Originally aired: 16 December 1956
[Another version of this story, starring John Lund, aired 12 July 1959]
Plot synopsis: During a prison riot, a newspaper reporter, along with a group of prison guards, is taken hostage by inmates, who threaten to harm their captives if their demands are not met.
Favourite line: 'What word do you want to use? Pandemonium? Chaos? Anarchy? They all fit.'
Review: A prison riot potentially makes for an interesting backdrop for a thriller, but unfortunately, this episode doesn't make very good use of it. There are some scenes of quite brutal violence, and also attempts at gritty social realism, which give the story a definite edge. However, the episode suffers from some real problems. First, the protagonist, in the shape of a newspaper journalist, is largely passive throughout - indeed, he doesn't even get very many lines of dialogue. Second, although we hear a lot from the prisoners about how terrible the conditions in the prison supposedly are - which is why, they claim, they are rioting - we never really learn if this is true. So should we sympathize with them or not? The ending is also fairly weak, with the way the prison governor engineers the prisoners' surrender being pretty far-fetched.
Rating: * *