Saturday, July 21, 2018

Four Star Playhouse: “Face of Danger” (Four Star Productions: TV, 1955)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last Thursday night, when Charles came home from work unexpectedly early, I ran him a couple of 1950’s TV episodes I’d just downloaded from when I did a search under “Danger,” hoping there would be some episodes from that surprisingly compelling early-1950’s CBS-TV anthology series. There weren’t any, but I downloaded everything that came up with “Danger” in its title, including the 1937 Universal/Crime Club movie Danger on the Air and some quirky TV shows. One was from the last season of the generally quite interesting series Four Star Playhouse, an anthology show from the early 1950’s in which the titular four stars — Charles Boyer, David Niven, Dick Powell and Ida Lupino — took turns as the featured player in each episode. Charles and I had seen previous episodes in this series and had generally been impressed, but not this time: this one, “Face of Danger,” was a rather routine Western tale that begins in the 1950’s present with Ida Lupino, heavily made up to make her look 100 years old, gets pushed into the action in a wheelchair and flashes back to her past as a newly arrived Western settler from Illinois 70 years earlier. Triggered by a photo in an old book brought to her by reporter Johnson (William Schallert, stuck up as usual), she goes into a memory of her days out West when the rivals for her affections were bland, boring good-guy rancher Will Foster (Dick Foran, who must have been tired of these sorts of parts by then) and hot, sexy, exciting outlaw and murderer Laramie Cole (Paul Picerni). She sneaks out on Will for trysts with Laramie, while in the meantime Will joins a posse hunting for the outlaw, and eventually on the night Emma is about to run off with Laramie and he’s supposed to signal by whistling to her, Will hears the whistle, goes out and blows Laramie away. I was hoping for a denouement in which it would turn out that Laramie had got Emma pregnant and therefore all her super-respectable third-generation relatives were, unbeknownst to them all these years, really descended from the outlaw rather than the respectable guy Emma had married after Laramie’s death, but this was 1955 TV and the Standards and Practices people (i.e., the network censors) probably wouldn’t have let them go there. Also, given that we’ve recently been trolling in the interesting three-DVD boxed set of James Dean’s surviving live-TV appearances, it wasn’t all that surprising that I couldn’t help but wonder what this show could have been with Dean as Laramie Cole instead of Picerni, who’s tall, dark and good-looking in a studly way but really seemed just to be letting his good looks do his acting for him.