Thursday, June 22, 2017

Thriller Thursday: The Big Blackout

The Big Blackout

The spider web fills the screen, it's Boris Karloff's THRILLER!



Season: 1, Episode: 12.
Airdate: 12/6/1960


Director: Maurice Geraghty
Writer: Oscar Millard from a novel by Don Tracy
Cast: Jack Carson, Charles McGraw, Nan Leslie, Jeanne Cooper.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography:
Producer: Maxwell Shane




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Our friend is in big trouble, because his name is Burt Lewis... was he also once a man named Bill Logan? He doesn’t know. Because until he took the cure, he spent two years in an alcoholic black out, and for long periods of time he couldn’t remember anything. Did he do something in that time for which a man with a gun has come to get him? He doesn’t know. All at once his big blackout has caught up with him. That’s the name of our story: The Big Blackout. And our principle players are Miss Nan Leslie, Mr. Charles McGraw, Miss Jeanne Cooper, and starring Mr. Jack Carson. Sure as my name is Boris Karloff, I advise you to slide back in your chair and take a firm grip on it, because this, my friends, is a thriller!”

Synopsis: Somewhere between Travis McGee and Woolrich’s BLACK CURTAIN is this Florida based story of a charter boat captain who may or may not have been a criminal in the two years he can’t remember. Total alcoholic blackout. The story opens with Burt Lewis (the always manly Jack Carson from MR. & MRS. SMITH, THE MALE ANIMAL, MILDRED PIERCE) getting a phone call in the middle of the night from the local motel owner that they have a drunk. Burt is the local AA guy, a recovering alcoholic who knows the best way to handle drunks. He tells his sleeping wife Midge (Nan Leslie) he’s headed out...



The Paradise Motel looks a heck of a lot like the Bates Motel... except it’s in Florida, right? Hot motel owner Ethel (Jeanne Cooper) leads Burt to one of the rooms where a guy who checked in under the name “Adams” is passed out drunk on the bed. In really bad shape. Ether is the widow of Burt’s dead best friend... and she needs a man... now. Burt reminds her that he’s married and they search the drunk guy’s room for contact information while they wait for an ambulance to take him to a local rehab facility. Burt finds a gun... and a note in the drunk’s wallet that says “Bill Logan is using the name Burt Lewis at Sea Beach. He runs a charter boat. Find him and ask him things. When he tells you what we want to know, put him away”.

Ethel tells Burt that the drunk was asking all kinds of questions about him, so she thought they might know each other. Burt has never seen this guy before in his life... or has he? That two year blackout... what did he do back then?

The next morning Burt goes to his boat to grab his gun in case things go south... but is interrupted by a strange old man named Hawkins (Paul Newlan) who wants to hire him for a fishing charter and asks a lot of questions about Ben Logan. The old guy gives him two crisp $50 as down payment on the fishing trip... which is way too much. Burt leaves without taking his gun.

Burt goes to the rehab clinic to talk to “Adams”, but the doctor tells him “Adams” isn’t ready for visitors, yet. Burt pretends to leave, but heads to the back door and breaks in... passing an old drunk named Charlie Pringle (Chubby Johnson) who apologizes for falling off the wagon but asks if Burt could find him a bottle somewhere... and sneaks into “Adams” room. He approaches the man, tries to wake him... but when he rolls “Adams” over there’s a bullet hole in the man’s head!



Mean town cop Wright (the always growling Charles McGraw) accuses Burt of killing “Adams” and asks where he got a pair of crisp $50 bills... did he rob the dead guy? Wright just hates ex cons... and where do you think Burt dried out? Prison. He had fallen in with the wrong crowd while drunk... but what else might Burt have done while he was drunk? Who would send a hitman after him? Burt is prime suspect in Adam’s murder, even though he never saw the guy before in his life (or did he?).

Wright tells his deputy Burt’s backstory: they used to be friends, until Burt’s wife and kid were killed in a car accident and he became a drunk... then a criminal.



At home, Burt’s wife Midge is waiting with Ethel the slutty motel owner. Both want to know what happened... but Ethel’s questions make it sound like she thinks he did it. When Ethel leaves, two hoods enter the house. Burt recognizes Fisher (Robert Carricart) from prison, who wants to know about Logan. They grab his wife, start beating on Burt...

Conveniently cop Wright shows up, the two thugs leave through the back door... and Wright gets another chance to hassle Burt. When Burt says the two men were looking for someone named Ben Logan, Wright reacts for a moment... then goes back to playing tough cop. He says they’ve found the gun that killed “Adams” and shows it to him... it’s *Burt’s gun!* He says he’s never seen it before. When Wright leaves, Burt heads to the liquor cabinet... then stops himself.



Burt decides to take his wife to the motel just in case the thugs come back. He realizes that whoever killed “Adams” had to walk right past Charlie Pringle’s rehab clinic room, and that crazy drunk would ask anyone walking past to get him a bottle to help him dry out. Burt calls the clinic and is told Charlie skipped... so now Burt must go from bar to bar looking for Charlie. A great device, because Burt is faced with temptation again and again. In joint the bartender tells him that Charlie was there, but left because he had some big deal meeting that would make him enough money to pay off his bar tab...

That’s when cop Wright shows up to hassle him... Burt says he’s there looking for Charlie, and Wright says Charlie’s dead: the victim of a hit and run. Everyone Burt comes into contact with gets killed. Burt looks down at a drink on the bar... almost takes it, but resists.

Burt calls one of his prison pals to get some background, and is told a man named Ben Logan was smuggling drugs into the country and stole $700,000 worth of product... and Logan was using a fishing boat... and just happened to have the same initials as Burt Lewis. Hence, all of these hit men coming after him.

The next morning is his fishing charter with the old man named Hawkins, who questions him relentlessly about Ben Logan... Hawkins is the father of a man killed by Logan, and is out for revenge. And here’s the twist: Hawkins knows that Burt *isn’t* Logan, because his son sent a picture of himself with Logan in the background. That’s when he gets the call on his radio... the motel owner was beaten up and his wife has been kidnaped!



Thug Fisher calls: wife for information. Burt meets them in an abandoned boathouse and shows him the picture of Logan from Hawkins... that *is* the guy they are looking for. Burt explains that guy is dead: he was Ethel the motel owner’s husband. *Ethel* must have the $700k in drugs (or have sold it, since she always seems to have money). Fisher leaves to get the drugs or the money from Ethel, and Burt kicks some ass with the thug they leave behind to guard him and his wife. You have Jack Carson in your episode, there’s gonna be a fist fight!

Burt races to the Motel, gets there after an off screen gun battle where all of the thugs are killed and Ethel is seriously wounded. Burt now knows that Ethel was the one who killed “Adams” and Charlie and framed him... to keep her part in the stolen $700k in drugs secret. But what was *Burt’s* part in this? Was he involved during those 2 years of alcoholic black out? He asks Ethel on her deathbed (in front of cop Wright) if he was involved in the drug running... and she says he wasn’t. He was too drunk to be dependable. And also, too honest. She dies, and the spider web closes over the screen as the episode ends.



Review: Though not one of the best episodes, it works okay for TV... and you can tell it was condensed from a novel (because it has some crazy story short cuts here and there). The main problem ends up being the wife character, who is underwritten and has awful dialogue (and/or is an awful actress). But it keeps the mystery as to who is Ben Logan going throughout... with plenty of false suspects, especially officer Wright and Hawkins. Because we are looking for a *man* we never suspect that Logan might be the motel owner’s dead husband... and she is basically “Logan” at this point.

One of the great things this episode does is tie the protagonist’s emotional conflict (he’s a recovering alcoholic) into the story in many different ways. The idea that *he* could be Logan and not remember due to his alcoholic blackout is the engine that runs the machine, here... but every place Burt goes is somewhere booze is served (except for the rehab center, which is filled with his mirror images). This is a story where the physical conflict and emotional conflict are twisted together so tightly that every scene about the plot ends up also being about the character. Even the cop Wright’s antagonism is due to a past scuffle they had when Burt was drunk which has left Wright physically scarred. The motel owner Ethel is *constantly* drinking in front of Burt... but asking if it’s okay first (calling attention to it!). The assassin who calls himself “Adams” (fake name) is a drunk! And the witness to the murder Charlie is a drunk, which means Burt has to hang out in bars to find him. There are scenes where Burt is home, and tempted by alcohol in the liquor cabinet... he is surrounded by the thing that brought him down, and the constant pressure of that murder frame tightening on him has him looking at that escape the bottle provides.



Another great thing the episode does is use visual storytelling... Burt’s gun has two pieces of tape on the grip. When officer Wright shows Burt the murder gun, it has two pieces of tape on the grip. We *instantly* know this is Burt’s gun and feel the same thing the character feels. Burt doesn’t show any reaction at all, that would land him ion handcuffs. But we know what he’s thinking and feeling because *we* are thinking and feeling the same thing. “Crap, that’s *his* gun!” It’s those two pieces of tape that make it work, finding the specific that is easy for the audience to spot.

Next week on Thriller we’ll look at an episode reminiscent of “Strangers On A Train” that deals with gambling addiction.

Bill

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