Friday, January 20, 2012

Episode 12: MR. R.I.N.G.

Episode 12: MR. R.I.N.G.
Original Airdate: 1/10/75
Guest Starring: Julie Adams, Corinne Michaels and Craig Baxley as Mr. R.I.N.G.
Written by L. Ford Neale and John Huff
Directed by Gene Levitt

A doctor doing secret government work is killed by his robotic creation. Kolchak is out to determine if the real threat is the robot or the government agents on its trail.

PE: Usually we get a smirking Carl Kolchak bragging to us of the deadly danger he's just avoided like a driver through red cones at the DMV. To see him obviously disoriented and struggling for words is startling. But then we get into the story and it's the old Carl Kolchak narration, all business, as if the director had already forgotten that this guy's on the verge of forgetting the events he just lived through.

JS: It was a bit jarring, although the way the story unfolded, it's more likely that he wouldn't have recalled the events with such detail anyway.

PE: The scientist buying the farm in our opening scene is an obvious homage to the original Frankenstein (1931) but is Mr. R.I.N.G. himself an homage to Yul Brynner's Gunslinger character in Westworld? With the mask on, he reminds me of Michael Myers.

JS: When first introduced, he appears to be a hulking brute with no moral center. Once you add the mask, it's very easy to see how this could have been amongst the many influences on John Carpenter's Halloween.

PE: In this episode, we get our first documented case of "Going Postal." I'm not sure I understand the reasoning behind Mr. R stealing the mailman's uniform. Would it make him look less conspicuous wearing the Eagle instead of the Richard Simmons tights he was born in? I know it naturally wins the trust of anyone who sees that striking outfit but he might still have a problem with the fact that his face looks like a Lite Brite. I thought we might see him heading to a pub for a brew ala Cliff Clavin but no, he smashes a window to steal a bright blue mask. As Michael Caine said in The Dark Knight: "Much less conspicuous."


JS: I thought the episode started slow but finished strong, although the inconsistencies are hard to ignore. Mr. R.I.N.G. works well as a sympathetic monster, but sympathetic monsters don't tend to kill someone for their outfit. That's Terminator behavior.

PE: I liked the little throwaway bit about Kolchak going up to "the lake" to investigate a murder that he didn't think "sounded right" but "was right." I picture Carl looking for the Creature from the Black Lagoon and being disappointed that it was just another murder. Just as I found it hard to swallow Carl Kolchak wanting to spend several days on the open sea with a ship full of old geezers, it's difficult to picture Kolchak sitting still long enough to pull a fish out of the water.

JS: Since Carl is so often full of himself, I thought it was a nice twist for him to admit being wrong about the story, as you noted, and then miss a dream assignment (in the form of the trip to San Francisco) as a result. When he drops his head on his desk, you don't feel like he's just being overly dramatic.

PE: LOL-dialogue after Carl discovers that Tony sent Updyke to San Francisco to cover a high-profile trial and saddled Kolchak with an obit update:
Carl: Do you know, in the old days they gave the obituaries to the lowest form of animal life in the news room? Do you know that?
Tony: Some things never change, Kolchak. You should take some comfort in that.
JS: It was nice to see Julie (née Julia) Adams as the dead doctor's drunk and jealous wife. Not the most glamorous role, but she seems to be having fun with it.

PE: Even pushing fifty, she still had the kind of gams she put on display in her most famous role, that of Kay Lawrence in The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

JS:  Kolchak's exchange with the guard outside the gates of the Tyrell institute was great. Too bad the sign out front didn't have the motto: "More Human Than Human."

PE: It's nice to see that some workers don't stop their job just because a madman dressed in a blue mask and postal outfit is Bowling with Cops. Speaking of the movie theater (we were), is "The Fever" the only movie showing in Chicago? Those of us paying attention will note that this is the same flick that the old couple came out of in "Horror in the Heights." You don't need to rewind your VHS tapes. Take my word for it.

JS: Leslie Dwyer does a decent job as the brilliant creator the robot doesn't kill. Of course, he probably found her more attractive, too. But I think she goes a tad overboard when the machine gets put down.

PE: Just about the most humorless Kolchak yet, Mr. R.I.N.G. also moves at a snail's pace. It's hard not to admire its "grown-up" plot line even while you're wishing there were more thrills and chills. Kolchak: The Night Stalker's influence on Chris Carter and The X-Files has been discussed here quite a bit but this is the first episode where I really saw it. Carl could be telling Tony "The truth is out there" when he's making his pitch to the editor to keep his story alive. I can see the network ordering the producers to bring government cover-ups into the show to make it contemporary (Nixon had resigned just four months previous to this show airing) and "fer God's sake, get rid of the damn vampires!"

JS: One other aspect of the show that I thought was interesting was Mr. R.I.N.G.'s awareness that he wasn't human, and the effort he went to in order to appear human. The scene where he was crafting his face with the mortician's wax was particularly creepy.

PE: There's a bit of the "stuntman-tossing" going on here but, by and large, our monster stays out of the picture. The point being, I'm sure, that the real scary guys are the men behind the monster. Here we get our first kind-hearted "bear" (as they called the weekly monsters in Outer Limits). As Dr. Dwyer (Corinne Michaels) tells Carl, just before the Army shows up and does what the Army does best, R.I.N.G. went to the trouble of making a mask because he wants to fit in with the human race.  A robot who just wants to be a man. 

PE Rating:

JS Rating:

Next up... Kolchak faces The Humanoids!


  1. One month after Mr. R.I.N.G. aired, Universal Television's SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN show would do their first "robot imposter" episode.

    I think robots were always a "cheap" way to go when budgets were running high. Just put a guy in a body stocking, cover his face, and - for the few moments his real face is revealed - just stick some circuitry on a mask and presto - bear of the week.

    And even though "There Have Been, yada, yada" is an actual UFO episode, THIS really is the episode of NIGHT STALKER that comes closest to the feel of the X-FILES (instead of being disbelievers, the authorities are in cahoots all the way & seek to cover up the truth).

  2. The ending was kind of disappointing. After rampaging around and kicking ass, some soldier shoots the robot and bang, end of story. Not too scary. In fact, just about all the monsters are too easily disposed of.

  3. Peter and John: You guys are obviously on your game today, having anticipated virtually every point I'd have been inclined to make. The one other thing I got hung up on was this: as often as Tony is subject to, and caves in to, pressure from "the top" (be it his employers, the police, or whoever), every once in a while he gets his Veteran Newsman Dander up and refuses to be cowed. I'd have thought this would be one such time, but no such luck.

    Walker: And they didn't even poke him with a stick!

  4. Ugh. I'm disgusted with you guys. Here we are, at what is easily the worst episode of the show, and you guys give it 2 and 1/2 typewriters?! What's wrong with you people? Craig Baxley does a decent job as R.I.N.G., but that's about the only nice thing I could say about this episode.

  5. I've always gotten, dare I say it, choked-up at the end when Mr RING is dying on those stairs. I love when Carl asks him "Do you know the difference between RIGHT and WRONG?". The robot looks to his creator for help, obviously confused by the question. So awesome.

    Yes, Julie Adams is a huge bonus to this episode. She looks as beautiful as ever to me and plays a damn good drunk!

    Agreed that the scene where RING is applying the mortician's wax to his face is super creepy.

    Mr. RING was definitely the template for the Six Million Dollar Man/Bionic Woman's FEMBOTS, right?!

  6. Well, how much of a template do you really need? ;-) Last night my daughter watched her first episode of LOST IN SPACE, and it reminded me that that Fox TV show had a good number of androids popping up - stiff-walking, spandex or unitard clad, knobs & buttons face a-flashin'. As budget-conscious producer Irwin Allen could tell you, androids work cheap!

  7. In "Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep" the androids were made by Rosen Industries. In "Blade Runner" that was changed to the Tyrell Corporation. Was that a nod to the Tyrell Institute in Mr. R.I.N.G.?

    For me, the main snag here was the murders committed by Mr. R.I.N.G. Had the robot simply escaped, then, say, broken into a thrift store to get some clothes and obtain the mask, then our sympathies would be with the robot on the run. As it stands, when the authorities try to subdue him, it's not just to cover up his existence, he's a genuine danger to anyone who comes in contact with him.

    On the stock footage front, this is the third episode in which we see Kolchack drive past the "Monsen" sign.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

  8. Can't remotely hate this episode because it has one of my all time favorite Kolchak wiseass/contempt for authority moments when he pulls up to the agent tailing him and tells him he's going to be quizzed on the material and peels out smirking. Wonder if John Carpenter caught this episode while getting ready to go out to a drive in double bill of BLACK CHRISTMAS and BLOOD AND LACE. He then came homelater that night,scurrying for a notepad.

  9. KTNS straddled the sci-fi/horror/fantasy triumvirate -- this is one of the sci-fi episodes of "true things suppressed," as are "They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be," "Primal Scream," and to a lesser extent, "The Sentry." (Note that in this show and "Primal Scream," Kolchak has a lot more support from Vincenzo, who isn't so willfully blind when it comes to exposing governmental/corporate coverups.)

    Mr RING isn't a rampant killer so much as a confused newborn who doesn't know his own strength, and as Leslie Dwyer says, "didn't want to die." His fight/flight reflex is brand new. His learning curve is apparent throughout the show; by the time he gets to the mortician's, he only breaks a guy's arm ... and Dwyer is trying to counterprogram against the aggression factors she hints are part of RING's basic operating system, thanks to the war dogs. Practically the same plot is repurposed right away for 'Primal Scream" (watch the two episodes together and compare all the similarities).

    Kolchak seems to wax nastier from here on in -- I wonder if that meanness was reflective of McGavin's view of his own sinking series ship. Perhaps Mark D. can confirm the production order of episodes and reflect on the idea that KTNS still had two episodes to film by the time everyone knew the show had been shitcanned.

    Anything that utilizes Julie Adams (then 48) gets my vote!

  10. Whatever else might be said about this episode, it is indeed thoughtful and socially/politically relevant, ahead of its time in many ways. Additionally, as DJS points out, Mr. R.I.N.G. does have a legitimate learning curve, which is unusual and welcome for a NIGHT STALKER boogieman. He's actually a victim himself (the government's the real monster) and ultimately earns our sympathy. Finally, there's Julie Adams... still a dish at 48. BTW, a message for Tommyrot: You asked a trading card question a few days ago and I just happened to notice. For my typically long-winded answer, refer back to the TC essay...

  11. Now seems an appropriate time for a shout-out to Mr R.I.N.G. himself -- CRAIG BAXLEY, of the Baxley stunt dynasty, a roller-skating punk in THE WARRIORS while his cousin Gary (also a KNTS vet) was playing a "humanimal" in the 1978 ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU; later a director (his credit roll will amaze you), most notably of the gonzo movie STONE COLD, featuring Lance Henriksen's second or third-most berserk roll ever (after JOHNNY HANDSOME). Baxley was an integral part of the latter-season KTNS shows, and deserving of some sort of interview. Gary, too, for that matter. A two-fer!

  12. Super-extremely micro-trivium: Read Morgan, who appeared in this episode, played a robot himself, Adam Link, in the OUTER LIMITS episode, "I, Robot."

    1. Was Read Morgan the guy in the red bathrobe who interrupted his shaving to give Kolchak the bum rush out of the lady scientist's apartment?

  13. That's "role," above, not "roll" ... but you probably guessed that.

  14. Worst episode of the show? I can't believe I'm going to sing the praises of Mr. R.I.N.G., or what would more appropriately be called, Young Master R.I.N.G., since he's only a little R.I.N.G.let. This episode did not impress itself upon me when I first saw the series 15 years ago, so I'm surprised to find that I enjoyed it this time around. Maybe it's because computers are running me now.

    I like how we're led to believe it's the big, bad, evil robot, and that only after Carl meets it are we allowed to understand that it's just a misunderstood, youngling android. Can it help it if it was programmed to be an aggressive survivalist? It killed it's father to survive, though I suspect it may have had some Oedipal programming as well. Dr. Dwyer may have come off as going overboard when it gets shot, but you have to remember that she's its mother, which makes its senseless and tragic death all the more poignant.

    As noted, the real monsters are the Men in Black, who are a greater threat, and more powerful than any monster Kolchak's faced. Here's a monster he couldn't vanquish by poking it with a stick, and he's lucky he got away with just a memory wipe. He seems all the more brave in his willingness to confront them and pursue the story, despite the warnings and threats from all around. This story is uniquely different from the standard formula, and despite its inadequacies, there's a lot to enjoy about this episode. If nothing else, who doesn't enjoy seeing the advanced technology of 1975?

    Incidentally, it's the second episode of the X-Files, "Deep Throat," that seems to be directly influenced by this episode. The major difference in the story is that it's U.F.O instead of android technology, and Mulder had his memory altered more successfully than Kolchak.

  15. Tyrell Corporation... Androids... sounds familiar.... Blade Runner!

  16. As a much younger person, I watched my friend Kolchak dispense knowledge and wisdom every week...when I was allowed to stay up and watch.
    Mr. R.I.N.G., whose name shows the writers at least understood, or guessed correctly about neural networks.
    How I long to interact with a true A.I. And how I fear it will be treated by the ignorant.
    Our salvation or ultimate failure lies with our technology. Germany now has a probationary law regarding robot rights...we "knowing and superior" United States would laugh at the concept.
    Yet whom will the joke be told about when that day finally comes...I wonder.

    Sincerely yours,
    Samuel T. Draney, jr kolchak/ Prof. Quatermass

    1. Our salvation or ultimate failure lies with our technology?

      Someone needs to read
      "Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology" by Neil Postman
      "The Uses of Pessimism: And the Danger of False Hope" by Roger Scruton

  17. One of the biggest tragedies in the show's short run is that we never got a sequel to this episode. The beginning's whole 'they took me and brainwashed me and I'm not sure if I'm being accurate' bit is very effective and opens up the possibility that maybe this episode played out differently than shown, and would have been interesting to see in another episode. After all, this is an episode where Kolchak is an unreliable narrator to even himself, and it would be neat to see a sequel to see what really happened.

  18. Someone should have FDISK & reformatted Mr. Ring.

  19. There's some interesting parallels between this episode and Book #17 ("Funny Money") in the men's adventure series THE DESTROYER, which was also published in 1975. It concerned "Mr. Gordons", an android built by a female scientist who is also programmed for survival and who escapes the lab and rebuilds himself to look more human. One wonders if the authors Warren Murphy and/or Richard Sapir saw this episode when writing the book?

  20. Please, some knows what were the books the robot wanted to read and the names of the tapes for blind. And what he said when he died. He said "mother", and what else?