Friday, August 29, 2014

The Unexpected: “High Adventure” (Ziv TV, 1952)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2014 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I showed Charles the other episode of the early-1950’s TV series The Unexpected I’d downloaded from (which had an Alpha Video logo on it, leaving open the possibility that other episodes exist and Alpha’s catalog has them available). It was called “High Adventure” and was first aired October 15, 1952, and was set in the mountains of Southern California. Despite flood warnings, concerned mother Elaine Barlow (Paula Raymond, looking and sounding very much like the young Bette Davis even though she was dark-haired instead of ash-blonde) takes her sick son Tommy (Gordon Gebert) and the boy’s nurse, Miss Ryan (Virginia Carroll) to the family’s lodge cabin in the woods. Only a mysterious and unseen intruder clubs Miss Ryan to death, and Elaine is understandably freaked out by the sight of the body. For the rest of this compact half-hour show (as Charles and I have both noted before, it’s amazing that 1950’s writers and directors — here, Stuart Jerome and Eddie Davis, respectively — could cram so much drama into a half-hour time slot whereas so many TV shows and feature films today seem bloated and ponderous, artificially inflated into more running time than their meager plots can contain) the Barlows are terrorized by odd sounds, mysteriously opening and closing doors, and a so-called “Cat-and-Mouse Killer” who’s shown only as a pair of legs stalking the Barlows both inside and outside their house (Elaine is drawn as confused whether she and her son will be safer indoors or out).

She calls the police, then hears someone pick up the extension phone and overhear the call; the police tell her that due to the flooding they won’t be able to get to her until the morning, so she’ll just have to protect herself and her boy as best she can. There’s another complication in that the kid needs some medicine (a liquid she has to administer with a tablespoon) and it’s in the bathroom, which is upstairs where he is lurking. Eventually Mrs. Barlow is startled when she’s confronted face-to-face by [spoiler alert!] Captain Forrest of the local police, who tells her he’s already arrested the “Cat-and-Mouse Killer” and that he lied to her because he knew the killer was listening and wanted to fool him into thinking he would be able to have his way with the Barlows while the cops were in fact on their way to take him into custody. The Unexpected was one of many anthology crime and science-fiction shows on in the early 1950’s (including the quite remarkable Tales of Tomorrow, which anticipated The Twilight Zone and would probably be as well known if it had been shot on film instead of done “live” and surviving only via crappy-looking kinescopes) and it’s directed quite effectively by Davis, who uses overhead camera angles to make Elaine Barlow seem even more trapped than the script tells us she is. Raymond’s acting was a bit on the mannered side (a bit of a surprise given how effectively understated she was in the feature films I’ve seen her in) but she’s a powerful screen presence and manages to portray the terror the character is in as well as the depths of her concern for her son — who’s drawn as a wise-guy kid who enjoys Western stories and comic books. Any film from the first 30 years or so after Shirley Temple’s era that features a kid (of either gender) who isn’t drawn as a cutesie-poo stereotype in the Temple mold is welcome!