Friday, December 2, 2011

Diagnosis: Unknown (TV, 1960)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The night before last Charles and I watched a rather intriguing TV show downloaded from the first of nine episodes from a 1960 summer replacement series called Diagnosis: Unknown which I suspect was the first TV series in history to dramatize the workings of forensic science. Yes, before Quincy (which this show resembles not only in the lead character but also in his having an Asian sidekick, though here he’s Indian instead of Japanese) and the CSI and NCIS franchises, here we got Dr. Daniel Coffee (Patrick O’Neal), smoking like a chimney (the fact that doctors are shown smoking and everyone smokes in enclosed rooms, even inside a hospital, dates these old TV shows big-time) and outfitted with a thin moustache and beard that usually belonged to the iconography of villains rather than hero. He’s outfitted with three assistants, Indian doctor Motital Mookerji (Cal Bellini), nurse Olivia Brenn (Millette Alexander) — whom Dr. Coffee treats as a bimbo even though she isn’t (indeed, she’s a good deal less annoying than the Pauley Perrette character on NCIS), and Link (Martin Huston), a teenager who’s going through various musical obsessions (in this episode he wants to reinvent himself as Lionel Hampton — I kid you not!) when he’s not being comically obnoxious and disruptive.

This quartet of forensic medicos are up against the murder of the mistress of multimillionaire Lester Farnum (Murray Matheson), and the suspects are Mrs. Farnum (played with just the right world-weariness by Patricia Barry), junkyard worker Don Harding (a slimmer, more muscular and decidedly hotter version of Larry Hagman than the one we’re used to) and wine merchant Freddie Ziegler (Tom Bosley, somewhat slimmer and less baggy-faced than the version who played Ron Howard’s father on Happy Days but easily recognizable: one can readily see why he was picked to play Mayor Fiorello La Guardia in the 1960 musical Fiorello! after the originally intended star, Lou Costello, died suddenly in 1959). The episode title, “A Case of Radiant Wine,” was a reference to a 1948 French wine that was radioactive due to contamination of the soil in which the grapes were grown with carbon-14; though it wasn’t enough to kill her, the victim had drunk some of the radioactive wine (which was supposed to have been recalled) and the killer had handled the bottle and left traces of its radioactivity on the curtains where he hid out just before he knocked off the victim, whom he killed for the all too common (in fiction and in life) motive that he had the hots for her but she had no interest in him “that way” whatsoever. It was a neat program and I’m sorry we can’t see more of the episodes — and the appearances of Hagman and Bosley in roles other (and far younger!) than the ones we know them for was a welcome bonus.