Saturday, July 21, 2018

Front Page Detective: “Seven Seas to Danger” (Jerry Fairbanks Productions: TV, 1952)

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

The other 1950’s TV show I ran was an episode of something called Front Page Detective which I suspect was an L.A.-area local show rather than a network production since the sponsor was Feld Chevrolet, which judging from their announcement seemed to be a local area dealership for Chevrolets rather than an actual branch of General Motors, and the production company was the L.A.-based Jerry Fairbanks Productions which supplied other local shows to L.A.-area stations. The star was Edmund Lowe, who had become a major name as Victor McLaglen’s partner in the 1926 Fox film of What Price Glory? but, as William K. Everson wrote in his book The Detective in Film, aside from his What Price Glory? role, “Lowe never seemed to attempt an in-depth characterization. Whether he was playing Chandu the Magician or Philo Vance, he was always exactly the same: the veneer was polished but there was no subtlety or differentiation between roles beneath it.” By 1952, when the Front Page Detective episode “Seven Seas to Danger” first aired, Lowe had lost his former good looks, and whereas other Hollywood pretty-boys of the 1930’s — notably Robert Taylor, Tyrone Power and Errol Flynn — responded to the loss of their looks by becoming richer, stronger actors, Lowe didn’t. 

In the Front Page Detective series he played David Chase, a local newspaper columnist who solved crimes, and in “Seven Seas to Danger” he gets mixed up with a gang of smugglers after his girlfriend, Sharon Richards (Paula Drew), gets him interested in doing a human-interest interview with Lil Carver (Kathryn Card), a waterfront character who runs a warehouse where shipping companies deposit bits of cargo that have gone unclaimed. One such piece of cargo is a bag containing abalone shells, and when David Chase is investigating this as part of Lil Carver’s collection, someone shoots him in the arm. He begs off calling a doctor and insists on reporting it to the cops immediately, and the cops inform him that a well-known smuggler named Dutch Schmidt (Otto Reichow) has been seen hanging around the Malay Prince, where the abalone shells were shipped (and contrary to what you might expect from the overall premise there’s no indication that the bag marked “abalone shells” contains anything else, like jewels or drugs, that might actually be worth smuggling; these days, abalones are sufficiently endangered one might make some money smuggling either the live creatures or their shells, but in 1952 they were so ubiquitous you could practically not walk across a beach without tripping over their shells). Schmidt stowed away on the Malay Prince as it sailed across the ocean but bailed out, along with a British confederate on the ship’s crew, swam to shore to avoid any legal complications from disembarking normally, then tried to break back into the Malay Prince to recover the abalone bag. Chase, Sharon and Lil confront the smugglers and get threatened but, with the aid of both local cops and the Treasury agents called in when the U.S. government got word of a smuggling operation based in a foreign country, tbey survive, the baddies get caught and all ends happily. The quirkiest aspect of Front Page Detective is the script by Irvin Ashkenazy, who obviously thought he was Raymond Chandler; he not only gave Lowe’s character a voice-over running through the episode, he had him say things like, “The centipede of perception was crawling down my spine.” Huh? The centipede of perception? On its way down, does it encounter the millipede of doubt crawling up the other way?