The great movie (and more) website Wonders in the Dark is currently running the second (and, according to plan, final) “TV Countdown,” in which a diversity of writers are penning essays about their favorite series and other TV items. I know very little about TV, so didn’t participate in the earlier countdown. However, WitD’s Sam Juliano, knowing me better than I know myself, told me that this time around I was going to be the one to tackle Kolchak: The Night Stalker—the series is, after all, in its way noirish.
Me being me, I went a bit overboard on the enterprise. So, while my piece on the series will be appearing in a few days’ time on WitD (and I’ll try to remember to put a link here when that happens), I’ve split off the individual entries on the two Kolchak movies—already posted on Noirish HERE and HERE—and will over the next few days be posting to this site my illustrated notes about the twenty episodes.
Episode 1: The Ripper
Aired September 13 1974
US / 52 minutes / color / Francy, Universal, ABC Dir: Allen Baron Pr: Paul Playdon Scr: Rudolph Borchert Cine: Donald Peterman Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Beatrice Colen, Ruth McDevitt, Jack Grinnage, Ken Lynch, Marya Small, Robert Bryan Berger, Roberta Collins, Mickey Gilbert.
A reworking of elements of the two Kolchak movies (both already covered on this site). The mashup is done, it has to be said, with no great intelligence or inventiveness.
Beatrice Colen as Journalist Jane Plumm.
Someone is killing masseuses (clearly regarded as little more than hookers) in Milwaukee and making off with their kidneys. Kolchak (McGavin) wants to investigate, but he has sufficiently antagonized Capt. R.M. Warren (Lynch) of the local PD that Vincenzo (Oakland) takes him off the story, assigning it instead to Kolchak’s colleague Ron “Uptight” Updyke (Grinnage), even though the latter goes all queasy at the very thought of murder.
Roberta Collins as undercover cop Susan Cortazzo.
Even though reassigned to manage INS’s “Miss Emily” agony-aunt column, Kolchak partners with supposedly rival journo Jane Plumm (Colen). She thinks the killer suffers from a “Ripper syndrome”; Kolchak, who is of course right, thinks it’s the original Jack the Ripper (Gilbert), who must periodically murder and mutilate five women. (Why? We’re never told.) In fact, the Ripper portrayed here bears more resemblance to the Victorian-era urban-legendary character Spring-heeled Jack, who terrorized London and surrounds and could jump on and off high buildings without suffering harm.
Ken Lynch as Captain Warren.
McDevitt, who plays an elderly witness in this episode, would return as regular character Edith Cowles (sometimes billed as Emily Cowles), responsible for the INS’s puzzle and “Miss Emily” columns.
Episode 2: The Zombie
Aired September 20 1974
US / 52 minutes / color / Francy, Universal, ABC Dir: Alex Grasshoff Pr: Paul Playdon Scr: Zekial Marko, David Chase Story: Zekial Marko Cine: Alric Edens Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Charles Aidman, Joseph Sirola, Val Bisoglio, J. Pat O’Malley, John Fiedler, Antonio Fargas, Scatman Crothers, Paulene Myers, Earl Faison, Carol Ann Susi, Ben Frommer, Roland Bob Harris.
Usually or unusually, an episode 2 of a TV drama series that’s more interesting than its episode 1. Someone is ruthlessly knocking off the personnel of Chicago’s white numbers rackets, led by Benjamin Sposato (Sirola) and his sidekick Victor Friese (Bisoglio). The obvious assumption is that the campaign must have been organized by the black numbers racketeers, led by Bernard Sweetstick Weldon (Fargas). But Carl Kolchak knows better!
Antonio Fargas as Bernard Sweetstick Weldon.
The truth is, of course, that an old voodoo mamalois, Marie Gillette Edmonds (Myers), whose grandson François (Faison) was murdered by the white gangsters, has resurrected him from the dead as a zombie with instructions to slay his killers. But why is the Chicago PD’s Captain Leo Winwood (Aidman) on the list?
Paulene Myers as Mamalois Edmonds.
This episode saw the introduction of intern Monique Marmelstein (Susi) and informant/morgue attendant Gordon “Gordy” Spangler (Fiedler) to the series; neither would last long, although Gordy would have a swansong in episode 19. There are bit parts for Scatman Crothers (billed as Scat Man Crothers) as the owner of a voodoo store and J. Pat O’Malley as a cemetery caretaker.
Charles Aidman as Captain Leo Winwood.
Episode 3: They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be . . .
Aired September 27 1974
US / 52 minutes / color / Francy, Universal, ABC Dir: Allen Baron Pr: Cy Chermak Scr: Rudolph Borchert Story: Dennis Clark Cine: Eduardo Ricci Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, James Gregory, Mary Wickes, Maureen Arthur, Dick Van Patten, Jack Grinnage, Carol Ann Susi, John Fiedler, Rudy Challenger, Fritz Feld.
Something’s killing animals at the zoo and sucking the marrow from their bones. Something’s leaving a strange, malodorous substance lying around that appears to be halfway between asphalt and vomit. Something’s stealing electronic components from all over the city with no rhyme or reason. Radio reception’s atrocious. Watches are stopping. A two-ton stack of lead ingots just disappears into thin air in front of witnesses . . .
Mary Wickes as Dr. Bess Winestock.
It can all add up to only one thing, at least according to Carl Kolchak (McGavin): an alien invasion.
Rudy Challenger as Dr. Stanley Wedemyer.
The requisite frothing police chief dead set on suppressing the story and, for preference, jailing Carl Kolchak is Captain Quill (Gregory). Pathologist Stanley Wedemyer (Challenger) is eager to help pull the wool over Kolchak’s eyes. Biochemist Dr. Bess Winestock (Wickes) helps Kolchak by analyzing the xenopuke. Maureen Arthur has a charmingly sexy bit part as a ditzy UFO contactee.
James Gregory as Captain Quill.
Episode 4: The Vampire
Aired October 4 1974
US / 52 minutes / color / Francy, Universal, ABC Dir: Don Weis Pr: Cy Chermak Scr: David Chase Story: Bill Stratton Cine: Ronald W. Browne Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, William Daniels, Suzanne Charny, John Doucette, Jan Murray, Larry Storch, Kathleen Nolan, Milt Kamen, Jack Grinnage, Anne Whitfield, Noel de Souza, Bill Baldwin, Alyscia Maxwell.
Kathleen Nolan as Faye Kruger.
Carl Kolchak is sent to Los Angeles to interview a fashionable guru but instead chases down a vampire—Catherine Rawlins (Charny), onetime Las Vegas hooker, now using her profession as a way of meeting supper. He ropes in Faye Kruger (Nolan), erstwhile reporter and now a realtor, to fake his interview feature for him . . . with unfortunate results. This time the apoplectic cop is Lieutenant Jack Matteo (Daniels) of the LAPD. There are cameos from Anne Whitfield as an implausibly sweet callgirl and Milt Kamen as gullible building supervisor Gingrich.
William Daniels as Lt Jack Matteo of the LAPD.
Where in earlier episodes the comedy was subservient to the drama, here it feels as if the balance has been shifted the other way—and not to the episode’s benefit. Add in that the dark-fantastical elements are numbingly unimaginative—the vampire, hissing and spitting, is a dreary caricature, as if no one involved could really be bothered to try for something more interesting—and there’s the sense that, for this series, the end has already begun.
Milt Kamen as Gingrich.
At one point Kolchak compares the vampire to Veronica Lake.
As if I’d willingly surrender my immortal soul to Catherine Rawlins.
Suzanne Charny as the vampire Catherine Rawlins.