snapshot: The Pigeon (1962 TVM)

US / 50 minutes / bw / Hubbell Robinson, NBC Dir: Don Weis Pr: Boris D. Kaplan Scr: Rik Vollaerts, Raphael Hayes Story: Rik Vollaerts, based on characters created by Ed McBain Cine: John F. Warren Cast: Robert Lansing, Ron Harper, Norman Fell, Gregory Walcott, Peter Falk, Roxane Berard, Frank Sutton, Morgan Woodward, Arthur Batanides, Harlan Warde, Nora Marlowe, Marjorie Bennett, Louise Lorimer, E.J. André, Richard Deacon, Harry Swoger.

Can a polygraph tell if someone’s lying if they’ve been hypnotized into making a false confession?

Gangster Tully Borgman (Sutton) hypnotizes sucker Greg Brovane (Falk) into believing that he was part of a supermarket robbery that left two guards dead, and feeds him with the names and descriptions of three invented confederates, then calls Steve Carella (Lansing) of the 87th Precinct with an anonymous tipoff.

Peter Falk as Greg Brovane.

Roxane Berard as Peggy Brovane.

As Tully tells his criminal buddies,

“The best part of the whole thing is the cops are looking for three guys that don’t even exist.”

Under questioning by Carella and Meyer Meyer (Fell), Brovane insists that what he’s telling them is the truth, and a polygraph test run by Dr. Ben Daniels (Warde) indicates the same. The DA, Nate Martin (Deacon), wants to go straight to trial with Brovane, but Carella insists he hold off. There’s something fishy about the way all of Brovane’s confessions are so very similar . . .

Ron Harper as Bert Kling (l) and Norman Fell as Meyer Meyer.

Robert Lansing as Steve Carella.

Peter Falk hams magnificently as the dimwitted patsy who wants to live up to the criminal achievements of his famed father Dan; bizarrely, from time to time he seems in speech and facial gesture to be channeling a much later crooked operator, Donald Trump. As I said before when talking about The Floater (1961 TVM), the pilot to the short-lived 87th Precinct TV series (30 episodes 1961–2), Norman Fell, despite his lack of baldness, is splendidly cast as Meyer Meyer; certainly he’s the stalwart of the 87th who’s most faithful to the incarnation portrayed by McBain in the novels. There’s excellent work here too from Roxane Berard as Greg Brovane’s sister Peggy, the Brovane family member who’s always been determined to stick to the straight and narrow,

The three crooks: left to right, Arthur Batanides as Clay Boudreau, Morgan Woodward as Matty Tremaine, and Frank Sutton as Tully Borgman.

Ron Harper, as Bert Kling, barely appears in this episode, despite getting second billing, and Gregory Walcott, who gets fourth billing as Detective Roger Havilland, doesn’t appear at all.

The Pigeon isn’t based directly on an Ed McBain original, just uses McBain’s characters in a new escapade. What’s impressive is how close in spirit it is to McBain’s vision.

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