Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-5), episodes #17-#20

Episode 17: Legacy of Terror

Aired February 14 1975

US / 50 minutes / color / Francy, Universal, ABC Dir: Don McDougall Pr: Cy Chermak Scr: Arthur Rowe Cine: Ronald W. Browne Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Ramon Bieri, Pippa Scott, Sorrell Booke, Victor Campos, Jack Grinnage, Erik Estrada, Carlos Romero, Udana Power, Sondra Currie, Cal Bartlett, Ernesto Macias, Robert Casper, Mina Vasquez, Dorrie Thomson, Merrie Lynn Ross, Scott Douglas, Craig R. Baxley, Mickey Gilbert.

Four “heroes” are savagely murdered and their hearts cut out: footballer Lenny Strahan (doesn’t appear), war hero Staff Sergeant Rolf Anderson (Baxley), pioneering female USAF officer Captain Madge Timmins (Power) and award-winning cop Earl Lyons (Bartlett).

Udana Power as Captain Madge Timmins.

Feisty investigative journalist Carl Kolchak (McGavin) traces all this activity to the mummy of bloodlusting ancient Aztec demigod Nanautzin (Gilbert), now stored in the basement of the chichi Sherwood Hotel. Professor Jaime Rodriguez (Campos) points Kolchak’s sleuthery in the direction of the Aztec millennium, scheduled for 2027, when Nanautzin will re-establish the cruel Aztec empire. Every 52 years before then there’s been a series of five human sacrifices: four unwilling heroes and then a final willing victim, treated to a year of lotus-eating and luxury beforehand.

Victor Campos as Professor Jaime Rodriguez.

Kolchak knows at once who this will be: talentless Pepe Torres (Estrada), bizarrely installed as vice-president of the Sherwood Hotel, showered with money, and supplied with three beautiful “personal staff”—Lona (Thomson), Nina (Ross) and Vicky (Currie).

Sondra Currie as concubine Vicky.

Ramon Bieri returns as the fulminating cop, but this time he’s Captain Webster rather than, as in episode 8, Captain Joe Baker. Sorrell Booke cameos as a taxidermist whom Kolchak consults, Mr. Eddy, and Pippa Scott plays the Sherwood’s PR flack Tillie Jones.

Sorrell Booke as taxidermist Mr. Eddy.

Pippa Scott as publicist Tillie Jones.

Clearly the makers put some effort into this, especially the culminatory sequence in a deserted sports arena, but the overall silliness transcends all persuasions that we should take it seriously.

Erik Estrada as the voluntary sacrifice Pepe Torres.

Episode 18: The Knightly Murders

Aired March 7 1975

US / 50 minutes / color / Francy, Universal, ABC Dir: Vincent McEveety Pr: Cy Chermak Scr: Michael Kozoll, David Chase Story: Paul Magistretti Cine: Ronald W. Browne Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, John Dehner, Hans Conried, Robert Emhardt, Jeff Donnell, Jack Grinnage, Shug Fisher, Lieux Dressler, Bryan O’Byrne, Sidney Clute, Gregg Palmer, Ed McCready, Alyscia Maxwell, Jim Drum, Don Carter, William O’Connell.

In a string of murders across Chicago, people are being knocked off using medieval weaponry—a crossbow bolt, a morningstar, etc. Dedicated investigative journalist Carl Kolchak (McGavin) traces the crimes back to the Hydecker Museum and its collection of knightly accouterments, curated by snooty Mendel Boggs (Conried).

Hans Conreid as museum curator Mendel Boggs.

It seems the spirit of monstrous yet puritanical 13th-century French aristocrat Guy de Metancourt is outraged over the plans of tycoon Brewster Hocking (O’Connell), abetted by interior designer Minerva Musso (Dressler), to jazz the place up a bit with dancing and booze.

Lieux Dressler as interior designer Minerva Musso.

Jeff Donnell, a site favorite, has alas only a very small part here, as Maura, wife and business partner of dubious coat-of-arms dealer Roger (Emhardt). Lieux Dressler has and is tremendous fun as the dahling interior designer, and Bryan O’Byrne entertains as the deceased Hocking’s butler, Charles Johnson.

Jeff Donnell as Maura and Robert Emhardt as Roger.

Bryan O’Byrne as stuffy butler Charles Jackson.

For once the cop with whom Kolchak has to deal, Captain Vernon Rausch (Dehner), isn’t obstreperous: instead he’s over-educated (Kolchak’s phrase) and prone to prolixity, perhaps one might say verbose, or (dare I add) loquacious, yea, one might almost (if uncharitable) deem him to be a soupçon on the grandisonian side . . .

John Dehner as Captain Vernon Rausch.

By this stage of the series everything seems to be being played for laughs—there’s even humor derived from the onscreen murder of Minerva Musso and the final battle between Kolchak and the Klanking Killer. The results are on occasion genuinely funny—Dehner’s Captain Rausch is a great comic creation—but thighslapping mirth isn’t really what we came to the Kolchak series for.

Episode 19: The Youth Killer

Aired March 14 1975

US / 50 minutes / color / Francy, Universal, ABC Dir: Don McDougall Pr: Cy Chermak Scr: Rudolph Borchert Cine: Ronald W. Browne Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Cathy Lee Crosby, Dwayne Hickman, Kathleen Freeman, Demosthenes (i.e., George Savalas), Jack Grinnage, Ruth McDevitt, John Fiedler, Eddie Firestone, Michael Richardson, Penny Santon, James Murtaugh, James Ingersoll, Reb Brown, Joss White.

Cathy Lee Crosby as eternally youthful Helen Surtees.

Drawing on the powers of the full moon and what looks like a plate of steaming hot takeaway, Helen Surtees (Crosby), owner of the Max Match computer-dating service, is using the company to identify perfect physical specimens whom she can sacrifice to the goddess Hecate in return for eternal youth for herself; the process also removes unsightly eye bags. In fact, as intrepid investigative journalist Carl Kolchak (McGavin) learns from his ex-academia taxi-driving pal Kaz (George Savalas, billed here as Demosthenes), she’s probably Helen of Troy, because “She resembles every statue of Helen I’ve ever seen.”

George Savalas as Kaz.

Hm. And there I’d been thinking that all the statues of Helen of Troy looked different from each other.

Helen gives herself away through leaving the incredibly ancient, desiccated corpses of people whose youth she’s drained all over town, and through her habit of giving a ring and a scroll to each of her intended victims, telling them they’re an Olympian and thus entitled to introductions to the red-hottest of the agency’s clients. We see a few of the youngsters turn supernaturally old, including jogger William Cubby (uncredited), convention hostess Cynthia Tibbs (uncredited) and yobbo Irvine “Lance” Mervin (Richardson), and these transformations are quite cleverly handled . . . although it’s a bit alarming to see young Lance apparently turn into Joe Biden.

Dwayne Hickman as Sergeant Orkin.

Ever since I saw Cathy Lee Crosby as the original screen Wonder Woman in the 1974 TVM I’ve been something of a fanboy, and the fact that here she spends much of the time wandering around in a fetching white off-the-shoulder toga gives the episode my vote. However, the comic interludes—as Carl shouts at Tony Vincenzo (Oakland) and Tony shouts back—grate more than a little. The primary cop, Sergeant J. Orkin (Hickman), as per John Dehner’s Captain Rausch in the previous episode, starts off friendly to Kolchak but soon turns antagonistic. John Fiedler is back as corruptible mortuary assistant Gordy Spangler, last seen in episodes 2 and 3. Kathleen Freeman has fun as Bella Sarkof, proprietor of a more old-fashioned dating agency.

Kathleen Freeman as Bella Sarkof.

We all know what’s going to happen to Helen when she gets her inevitable comeuppance at the end, and it does. Apparently Hecate has a tantrum on discovering that one of the “perfect” sacrifices had a glass eye.

Episode 20: The Sentry

Aired March 28 1975

US / 50 minutes / color / Francy, Universal, ABC Dir: Seymour Robbie Pr: Cy Chermak Scr: L. Ford Neale, John Huff Cine: Ronald W. Browne Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Kathie Browne, Albert Paulsen, John Hoyt, Frank Marth, Tom Bosley, Cliff Norton, Frank Campanella, Margaret Avery, Lew Brown, Keith Walker, Bill Deiz, Greg Finley, Tom Moses, Paul Baxley.

The Sentry boasts what must surely be by far the best and most intriguing opening sequence of any in the series. In visual style, this sequence and many of the later scenes set within the underground complex that is the focus of Kolchak’s final case are reminiscent of UK series like The Avengers and The Prisoner. Seated aboard an electric buggy, Carl Kolchak (McGavin) careers along a seemingly interminable blue-lit corridor, frequently casting his gaze behind him toward an unseen pursuer. When finally he pulls into a cul-de-sac tunnel, he explains to his omnipresent tape recorder—and to us—that this is one report he may not be able to deliver in person. “It,” you see, is after him . . .

Kathie Browne as Lieutenant Irene Lamont.

In the vast subterranean data-storage complex run by Merrymount Archive Inc., over 10,000ft beneath the ground, men are dying in “industrial accidents.” First to go is Howard Kimper (uncredited), assistant to government seismologist Dr. James Verhyden (Paulsen). Next is journeyman electrician Lawrence Earl “Larry” Coogan (Baxley). Kolchak smells a rat—or perhaps a photophobic upright crocodile, a possible survivor from the Age of Dinosaurs?—but the authorities, in the shapely shape of Lieutenant Irene Lamont (Browne), the darling of the Chicago PD, are keen to play the whole affair down.

Tom Bosley as Jack Flaherty.

So Kolchak infiltrates the complex, where he bamboozles company VP Jack Flaherty (Bosley), meets union rep Ted Chapman (Campanella) and systems expert Ruth Van Galen (Avery), and generally makes a pain in the ass of himself until he’s thrown (a) out and (b) into the slammer by Lt. Lamont and her men.

Frank Campanella as Ted Chapman.

So he infiltrates the complex again, this time with the help of crook Arnie Wisemore (Norton), who conceals him in a crate labeled “Sensitive Instruments” . . .

Unsurprisingly, the rest of the episode doesn’t really live up to the opening sequence, and the monstrous reptile is positively risible, seeming more like a fugitive from Sesame Street than an actual creature; Craig R. Baxley, something of a series regular, is the (uncredited) man in the rubber suit.

John Hoyt has a tiny part as coroner Lamar Beckwith. Frank Marth is the Water Department’s security boss for the complex, Colonel Brody.

John Hoyt as coroner Lamar Beckwith, flanked by an interloper whose identity we can guess.

Frank Marth as the Water Department’s security head Colonel Brody.

This was the first (and consequently only) time in which the relationship between Kolchak and the central cop is portrayed as borderline flirtatious—no way would the likes of earlier episodes’ Captain Joe “Mad Dog” Siska (Keen Wynn) have put up with this sort of stuff!—and indeed there seems some electricity between her and Kolchak . . . as there ought to have been, since in real life the two actors were married to each other. Their marriage lasted from 1969 until Browne’s death in 2003. (McGavin died in 2006.)

Margaret Avery as Dr. Ruth Van Galen.

In Kolchak’s final monologue there’s a sense of futility, as if McGavin were acknowledging that this was the end of the line, that the formula had delivered as much as could have been expected from it and indeed rather more: “Don’t walk, run to the nearest exit,” are his final words to us. The rumpled, rebarbative investigative reporter would be absent from our screens—aside from reruns, of course—for another thirty years or so, until the short-lived 2005 series Night Stalker attempted to breathe a new lease of life into him.

But Night Stalker would prove to be another beast altogether . . .

Night Stalker (2005)

2 thoughts on “Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-5), episodes #17-#20

  1. Pingback: #113 Kolchak, the Night Stalker | Wonders in the Dark

  2. Pingback: Kolchak: The Night Stalker — tying it all together | Noirish

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