Monday, January 9, 2012

Episode 3: They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be...

Episode 3: They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be aka U.F.O.
Original Airdate: 9/27/74
Guest Starring: James Gregory, Dick Van Patten
and The Universal Studios Wind Machine as The Alien
Written by Rudolph Borchert (from a story by Dennis Clark)
Directed by Allen Baron

Something strange is going on in Chicago. Animals and machinery are disappearing. Puddles of  black goo are left behind at the crime scenes. Government suits are making the rounds. It doesn't take a reporter of Carl Kolchak's questionable qualifications to point an accusing finger into the night sky...

PE: Cheesy Cheetah effects. Not a good sign. Shoddily staged street scenes. Bad omen.  Slo-mo back flips by stunt cops during a very phony explosion. Get out the shovel. Budget-aiding invisible aliens. Start digging.

JS: My first thought at a scene of cops being tossed through the air by an invisible force was UFOs? When pigs fly...

PE: Funny that the Chicago Cubs are invoked time and again in this episode. Carl Kolchak and the Cubs have a lot in common. Neither get respect and they're both also-rans. The idea that they were in the 1974 World Series was absolute fantasy, even more fantastical than a lead eating alien.

JS: Give the writers credit for acknowledging the location. And hey—it set up a great scene where Kolchak nearly ruins Vincenzo's meal by describing the details of the black goo. Which got me thinking. Everyone knows that Chris Carter points to Kolchak as a key inspiration for The X-Files. And it doesn't take a brain surgeon to point out that this alien visitor episode must have resonated in particular (God only knows why)... but I kept wondering if the black goo in this episode was in some way an inspiration for the 'black oil' that carried throughout that show's mythology.

PE: By the fifth Kolchak entry, the muzzling cop (here played by a sleep-walking James Gregory) has outstayed its welcome. I almost expect the chief to start his "Kolchak, get out of here... Kolchak, you can't print that... Kolchak, I'll have my men arrest you!" spiel before the monster shows up.

JS: Granted, it's part of the formula, but it's James Gregory. General Ursus! I only wish we could have seen Gregory and Claude Akins side-by-side in the law enforcement ranks.

PE: What's with the awkward two-minute drive after Kolchak's kicked off the premises of the lead ingot warehouse? I get that the radio voice is advancing the plot but wasn't there a less clunky way of doing it? That voice leads us to Dick Van Patten, a few years shy of his cheese TV classic, Eight is Enough. Proof that anything can last 124 episodes. Even as a teenager I was smart enough to know a dweeb like Tom Bradford had as much chance landing a sweet babe like Betty Buckley as the Cubs had of winning the World Series in 1974 (or any other year for that matter).

JS: You'll be thrilled to hear that the first season of Eight is Enough is available to buy at $1.99 per episode on Amazon Instant Video. Since, despite the cool teen that you would have us believe you were, you're obviously somewhat familiar with the show.

PE: This episode is a perfect example of why Kolchak's nemeses should be earthbound and horror-based like vampires, werewolves, and zombies, rather than science fictional. Never mind the bad special effects (wind has never come off less dangerous), the kid in us wants a boogie man not an invisible lead eater.

JS: I think the mistake was in putting all of the budget towards building an unconvincing flying saucer, instead of investing in a halfway decent alien costume. If you replace the wind tunnel shots with some decent shadowy alien footage, with an effective reveal at the end, I think we'd be talking about this episode in ratings of whole typewriters.

PE: More badly written voice-over by Carl Kolchak, when a purse snatcher is about to buy the farm:
Peter Hudson, wealthy beyond his dreams. A happy man. Peter didn't know that his parole was about to be canceled.
JS: They can't all be Matheson.

PE: Where are the enjoyable debates between editor and reporter? Our only bright shining moment in this otherwise dismal mess is the repartee between Carl and Howard Gough (Phil Leeds) at a UFO survivor's meeting. After listening to a female crackpot (Maureen Arthur) explain that she was abducted by aliens and made to drink a concoction that tasted "not unlike ginger ale and bourbon," the two men converse about UFO sightings until the nut pipes up again:
Woman: Their leader, a very smart looking alien, got a little fresh with me, but when I let him know that I was firm, determined... he kept his extensions to himself....
and then, later:
Woman: the destructive star called Wormwood is not a star, but a missile! Upside down and backwards it reads Doomrum.
Carl: Doom...
Howard: Doom... That doesn't spell doomrum.
Woman: Well, it certainly does,
Howard (to Carl): Does that spell doomrum?
JS: I haven't seen a hat that frightening since Silvia Slattery's in Thriller's The Terror In Teakwood! You're right though, Carl and Tony don't have as much of their standard bickering this time out, but we get a decent dose of Monique, who apparently returned from her cab trip to Brooklyn.


PE: Allen Baron, director of five Kolchak episodes (including "The Ripper"), wrote and directed the well-regarded hitman noir, Blast of Silence (1961), a "thinking man's crime drama" that garnered the Criterion treatment a few years ago.

PE Rating:










JS Rating:










Next up... Kolchak faces The Vampire!

23 comments:

  1. The craziest and most bizarre thing about this episode is not the UFO plot or any major event in the plot, but the insane idea that the Chicago Cubs were in the World Series playing the Boston Red Sox. This episode aired Sept 27, 1974 and by then it was obvious that the Cubs would end up in dead last place, with only 66 wins and 96 losses. They had not appeared in a world series since 1945, a depressing fact that still is true even today.

    I'm glad to see that our hosts noticed this fact because it just backs up our theory that the series was really a bizarre comedy. I hope there were no Cub fans watching this episode because they must have immediately committed ritual hari-kiri, sword and all. And I don't mean Harry Carey!

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  2. Not sure by what kind of new math Pete labels this "the fourth Kolchak entry" after two previous episodes and two telefilms, which I should think would make it either the third or the fifth, depending on how you look at it. Maybe he just decided to split the difference. Conversely, John gets extra credit for his sagacious observation, "They can't all be Matheson." Amen, brother.

    But seriously, folks, I always remember disliking this episode, and then every time I see it again, I like it more than I thought. Which isn't to say it's my favorite (that's on deck), it's just not the train wreck I'm expecting. Obviously, you guys disagree, but it's interesting that in both cases, one of the main reasons for our opinions is how different it is from other episodes. Sure, we'd seen a million flying-saucer stories over the decades before this one, but they don't have the same kind of specific litany of rules and regulations laid down for, say, vampires and werewolves. This enabled the writers to be a little looser with their "mythology," and to me, it made a nice change of pace, goofy though it may be. Mind you, I'm not defending a lot of the specific charges you gentlemen have legitimately laid at this episode's feet (e.g., the "special" effects).

    I can never see Leeds without thinking of his threat, on THE ODD COUPLE, to "blow the lid off the upholstery business." Go get 'em, Phil! No love for Mary Wickes here? And why did I somehow know I'd have to be the one to point out Len Lesser (of KELLY'S HEROES and BLOOD AND LACE fame), who had a couple of scenes as a patrolman?

    Funny that Monique and Gordy, who were in relatively few episodes overall, both did this and "The Ripper" back to back; perhaps they were originally intended to be a bit more recurring. I liked Kolchak's interaction with Gordy's smilingly tight-lipped boss, and of course the Tony/Fritz Feld scene was priceless.

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  3. "The Universal Wind Machine as The Alien" made me laugh long and loud! hahaha

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  5. I gotta say, fellas, that pointing out in every episode review that there is a repetitive formula to the show (i.e. a loud-mouth police captain that yells at Kolchak, etc...) is rather like shooting ducks in a barrel.

    I think we're all well aware of the formula, so it seems a bit lazy to keep using that as a critiquing point in every review ("Once again Tony argues with Kolchak. Once again we get a cop telling Kolchak to get lost, etc..."). We all know that.

    Dig a little deeper, perhaps. It's like Matthew says above, what about Mary Wickes and Len Lesser (Seinfeld's "Uncle Leo", for cryin' out loud!)? They're interesting actors! Tell us about them. And James Gregory as the Police Captain. How is he playing that part? How is he different than say, Captain Joe Siska, for instance? What little subtleties (if any) does James Gregory bring into the mix?

    And not for nothing, but Peter, if the show's formula has worn thin for you after only three episodes, one starts to wonder why you are even a fan of the show? I mean, that IS the show. The show IS that formula. The fun lies in what ingredients they throw into the recipe within the context and parameters of the formula, be it dialog, plot points, performances, guest stars, effects, what have you. And McGavin is *always* interesting. What interesting bits of business is he pulling in this episode?

    Sorry if this all comes off as harsh sounding (I don't mean it to). I really have been enjoying the Blog!

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  6. Well Doug, I have to agree with Peter and John so far about KOLCHAK. Though I have been disappointed with some of the episodes, I still enjoy the humor of the show and the character of Kolchak.

    I remember Peter and John during the THRILLER A DAY marathon, saying that they welcomed the diverse opinions and I'm pretty sure they still feel the same. Of course they said this after threats were made to form a mob, tar and feather them, and ride them out of town on a rail.

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  7. Reporting in from Chicago with a brief historical note:

    In 1974, Harry Caray was on the South Side, doing the White Sox games.
    The Cub games were in the charge of Jack Brickhouse on TV and Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau on radio.
    fans who go back that far will remember:
    "Hey! Hey!" (Brickhouse's catchphrase).
    "Holy Mackerel!" (Lloyd's catchphrase)
    "No Doubt About It!" (Boudreau's catchphrase)
    All three of these gentlemen had been calling the Cubs as far back as the '50s,which made them unfazeable. Boudreau had the added burden of being Denny McLain's father-in-law, as well as having served a brief term as the Cub manager in 1960.
    ... But those are other horror stories for other times ...

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  8. Rak, I know what you mean - but, as Walker Martin points out, Peter & John weren't afraid to offer their bracingly honest critiques of THRILLER - and OUTER LIMITS & BATMAN - so I never expected them to let poor Carl off the hook.

    As Gary Gerani pointed out some ways back, every TV show has its "formula" (like Columbo), but some just seem more flexible than others. Although there are several elements we seem to require of every Night Stalker, I'm not sure the dyspeptic police captain is one (we'll soon be getting episodes that do without the standard police captain character).

    I think they should have either brought back more police captains for return encounters (like Keenan Wynne's "Mad Dog" Siska), or gone with some alternate authority figures - probably both.

    In fact, they could have certainly done that here. Instead of getting a fifth straight police captain and only giving fleeting glimpses of the "Men in Black," why not have the government spooks make their presence known? (Although we'll kind of get that later with Mr. R.I.N.G.).

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  9. Gents ~ I think I've been misunderstood. I'm not asking the guys to go easy on the show. I can be as irreverent about it as anybody. I'm just saying that at this point in the BLOG, they're kind of just stating the obvious by continuing to point out that the show adheres to a repetitive formula, that's all. And using that again and again as a criticism is almost becoming as predictable as a Kolchak episode (!). All that said, I dig the BLOG a lot and look forward to reading it each day. Cheers!

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  10. Doug-

    Thank you for having your say.
    You are now banned from posting :>
    Seriously though, you're right on some of your points. I don't think the series is wearing thin yet (and we've actually just completed writing on the seventh show). If anything we've continually celebrated one of the "formulas" (the Tony/Carl dynamic) as being a highlight of the show. The cop thing sticks in my craw (and probably will remain stuck) as it's just a little too "easy" that the minute Carl meets the new constable for the episode, the cop wants him thrown out, but I'll try not to beat it into the ground.

    One thing that won't change though (and we said this on the previous blogs) is the "Robert Hamilton (who plays the vampire in this episode) made 14 westerns in 1959" notations. I've no interest in dragging the IMDB lake looking for every credit and, as Matthew Bradley says somewhere around here, that's for Mark Dawidziak, who doesn't need to consult a computer for his movie and TV history. Having said that, if I see an actor or actress with obvious genre ties, I'll talk about it.

    Not to give anything away but the graph that shows our opinion of this show going rapidly downward will show a spike upward in the very near future.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, Doug!

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  11. KOLCHAK's highly enjoyable "hot period" (term by DJS) begins four episodes from now ("The Devil's Platform" through "Mr. R.I.N.G"), so take heart -- and not in a "Legacy of Terror" kind of way...

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  12. @ Peter ~ LOL!!! Great answer! Looking forward to lots more mayhem here. Cheers, my friend.

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  13. John, your recommendations for this episode made me think of "The Architects of Fear" from Outer Limits, which had the shadowy alien footage and effective reveal at the end. It definitely would have raised the thrill factor if they'd done what you suggested.

    Still, I always enjoy Carl Kolchak's special flair for descriptive reporting. Favorite report this episode:

    "Leon Van Heusen, single, ambitious, slightly paranoid. By day, a television repairman, by night an observer--a man with a purpose. The author of Mathematico, a universal language that Leon has refined for use in unconventional communication. Unfortunately, on September 2 at 10 pm, Leon learned the oldest word in the universal language--"

    So, Leon learned the word GAAAAAAAAAAAH?

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  14. Just to stir the title pot a bit more ...

    KTNS originally had "coming next week" preview bumpers during network broadcast. Darren McGavin did the voiceovers for them. And I quote from the original audiotape I made of "The Zombie" in 1974:

    "'They Were, They Are, They Will Be' -- next on THE NIGHT STALKER!"

    Did a Universal grammarian butt in to inadvertently cause the teapot tempest of the title change from "U.F.O?"

    "Ya can't say THEY WERE, ya hafta say THEY HAVE BEEN ..."

    More likely, "U.F.O." was a working title. Closer to broadcast, producers would try to confabulate more "interesting" titles. This is not to say they succeeded in doing anything other than providing an equally generic roll call of what sounds like bad paperbacks from the 1980s, but after you have tersely titled episodes "Vampire," "Zombie," "Werewolf" and so on (through the classic monster types, succinctly indicating both method and plot in a single-word title), it would have been difficult for the KTNS crew to continue in that vein: "Rakshasa," "Peremalfait," "Matchemonedo," "Diablero" (although I think that was in fact the working title of "Bad Medicine") and so on. Those titles would have been a nightmare for the likes of TV GUIDE. No one would ever spell them correctly. Their meaning is not self-evident, as exotic and titillating as they are. And people are, above all, impatient.

    (And just for laughs, consult the IMDb for a few misspellings of the above monster names.)

    And as a side-question I think Mark D. may already have answered: I think the DVD set drops in the "KOLCHAK" opening titles to the early episodes, replacing those shows that were originally just titled THE NIGHT STALKER. As far as I can tell, they just replicated one title sequence over and over -- kind of like the mix and match merry-go-round the JONNY QUEST end titles were subjected to on that DVD (thereby depriving screen credit to a lot of voice talent). Which means, I think, that the only place the original credits (i.e., as-broadcast) can be seen for the early shows is on old tapes, or the stray 16mm print.

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  15. DJS: You're correct - All episodes on DVD carry the full Kolchak: The Night Stalker onscreen title.

    And not to worry - you'll be able to correct the JQ oversight when we embark on A Quest A Day... ;)

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  16. Spare me, please ... just reprint the damned JQ article I wrote for VW. I can't stand going there again, I tell you, I cannot!

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  17. FWIW, the Region 2 UK set of Kolchak retains the original title (The Night Stalker) for the first four episodes.

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  18. Nitpicking academic that I am, I was slightly annoyed by the revisionism of the DVDs (adding "Kolchak" to the early-episode titles), but am sure the Powers That Be were concerned that uninformed consumers might be confused by a discrepancy between the title as given on the package and in the various episodes.

    Regarding Pete's point about what we might call The Robert Hamilton Factor, my rule of thumb--which I feel free to break all the time--is that if I remember another credit that stuck with me for some reason, I'll invoke it. But I probably won't go trolling the IMDb or Wikipedia merely to turn up something for a given guest star. Make sense? Part of what makes us all so delightfully different is what we consider the important credits in someone's filmography to be. For me, of course, any Matheson connection takes precedence.

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  19. A new producer and the departure of "Kodiak" from ABC's Friday night lineup probably both contributed to the addition of "Kolchak" to the title. I'm sure Universal went to the one title sequences for the very reason Matthew suggests. Even more troubling to me about that box set (and the "Columbo" box sets for that matter) is the lack of extras. What a missed opportunity. Compare this frustratingly bare bones approach to the box sets for "Thriller" and "The Twilight Zone" (or the second season of "Night Gallery").

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  20. I know this episode is pretty lackluster, but it does contain what I consider to be the scariest shot in the whole series: at the planetarium, as the alien works the dials, there's one shot where you don't see it, you only see its shadow growing larger and larger over the console. I don't think there's ever been anything more unnerving in the series.

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  21. If you listen closely, you can hear Dick Enberg calling the World Series game on Kolchak's car radio.

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  22. Worst episode by far of the series, even has the worst title, its the only show that dealt with aliens from outer space, I guess for that we can be glad. The end is just rediculous, aliens capable of interstellar travel are thwarted by the NOISE FROM KOLCHAK'S CAMERA CHARGER?!?!? Give me a break.
    No stars/typewriters for that.

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  23. Though this may show the series format (not formula) and have some dated visual effects approaches, I will disagree with just about everyone here and state that this is actually one of the best episodes of the show. The idea is solid, the humor effective, it handles the theme of an isolated Kolchak better than most of the shows, has a great guest cast and some of the best music of any episode. I think you are all missing what does work and its atmosphere and even cinematic qualities.

    The camera twist did not hurt either, but...

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