After being renewed for a ninth season, executive producer Quinn Martin decided some major changes were in order for The FBI.
Once again, Erskine got a new sidekick, in the person of Special Agent Chris Daniels played by Shelly Novack. The actor was 29 when the season began, re-establishing the dynamic of a young associate for the inspector. Initially, there was no explanation made, similar to when William Reynolds came aboard in season three. However, Reynolds’s Tom Colby was not entirely forgotten. He shows up in two episodes and in one it’s made clear he was reassigned to the West Coast.
Behind, the camera, producer Philip Saltzman was reassigned to QM’s Barnaby Jones series. Martin brought in Anthony Spinner, who had written or plotted several episodes, as The FBI’s new producer. Robert Heverly, who’d been the in-house writer on the series since season five as either story consultant or associate producer, was also gone. Arthur Weingarten, who had written for Spinner when the latter was producer of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in the 1967-68 season, was brought aboard with the title of executive story consultant.
The first two episodes of the season would have the abbreviated main titles format of the eighth season. After that, the show went to a longer main titles that utilized the full FBI theme for the first time since season two. The music was played with images of the FBI building, the Ten Most Wanted List, fingerprints, pistols, microscopes and, finally, a helicopter, symbolizing how the bureau worked.
For the end titles, Erskine drives a large blue car through Washington this season. However, he’s driving on the wrong side of the road in the last shot, which takes place in front of the U.S. Capitol. Also, the “acknowledgement” title card now lists Clarence M. Kelley as the FBI director. Kelley, who had once been a bureau agent, assumed the office in July 1973.
By the time of the ninth season, Watergate was in full bloom. The adventures of an idealized version of the bureau didn’t hold the appeal they once did. As a result, ABC pulled the plug after the season concluded. Still, the series hadn’t “jumped the shark.”
Credits for the season
Executive Producer: Quinn Martin
Producer: Anthony Spinner
Executive Story Consultant: Arthur Weingarten
Supervising Producer: Adrian Samish
In Charge of Production: Arthur Fellows
Executive Production Manager: Howard Alston
Assistant to the Executive Producer: John Conwell
FBI Theme: Bronislau Kaper (as Bronislaw Kaper)
Music Supervisor: Ken Wilhoit
A QM Production In Association With Warner Bros. Television
Text and reviews (c) 2015-2016, William J. Koenig
219. The Big Job
Writer: Robert Malcolm Young Director: Don Medford
BANK ROBBERY, ASSAULTING FEDERAL OFFICERS, CONSPIRACY
Producer Anthony Spinner begins his run by tweaking the format. For the first eight seasons, we’d usually see the name(s) of the suspect(s) or, in few cases, the name(s) of the victims. Because this episode is a bit of a whodunnit (we see the caper performed but not who does it), we’re only shown the crimes in the freeze frame after the caper has taken place.
We get no explanation of how Erskine was assigned his new partner. When we first see them in Act I, they’ve apparently been working together for at least a while.
This episode also marks the return of director Don Medford to The FBI. He had directed some of the earlier installments, including two two-part stories (The Executioners and By Force And Violence).
Also, Medford had directed episodes of 12 O’Clock High and The Fugitive (including that show’s two-part finale). So he had the whole QM Productions gravitas down. Medford didn’t provide unique visuals. But he provided the perfect rhythm for a typical QM series. (Walter Grauman was another such director.) Medford would prove a big positive for The FBI’s final season.
While this is a whodunnit, it’s not that successful. All of the suspects were involved in the caper.
Based on this episode, it also appears there was a basic plan for Shelly Novack (a former professional football player) to take up some of the physical slack for Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (54 when production began for this season). Nevertheless, Zimbalist still appears fit even though, in real life, he was approaching retirement age for FBI agents.
Spinner & Co. appear to be trying to thread a needle. They’re trying to revamp the show at the margins without making major changes. The first episode of the season is as much trying to reassure viewers as it attempts to change things up. It’s reasonably entertaining, but not much more than that. The episode has a stock score. GRADE: B-Minus.
220. The Confession
Writer: Jack Turley Director: Don Medford
With The FBI, when in doubt, the default story line would be a kidnapping story. Such situations naturally are dramatic. That’s certainly the case with this episode and it’s one of the best of the final season.
Nancy Wilson plays diva performer Darlene Clark, who has a show in Las Vegas. By this time, it was familiar territory for the real-life singer (she played a similar character in a 1970 episode of Hawaii Five-O).
Here, Darlene has promised to secure the services of a surgeon for the son of her manager Abel Norton (Hal Linden). The son dies and Norton flips. So he decides to kidnap Darlene’s daughter. It’s as much to teach Darlene a lesson — and humiliate her — as anything else.
Erskine and Daniels take command of the bureau’s investigation. Norton runs Darlene ragged, setting up ransom drops but not doing anything about it. Eventually, Norton demands Darlene publicly confess to being responsible for a hit-and-run-accident in Indianapolis a few years earlier.
In previous seasons, Erskine is established as being sympathetic and compassionate to the families of kidnap victims. Darlene’s selfish behavior tests even the intrepid FBI inspector and he’s downright agitated with the singer.
Hal Linden as Norton is quite good and convincing as a man near the end of his rope. Nancy Wilson is OK early but hits her stride in Act IV when Darlene makes her public confession. A junior FBI agent is played by a clean-shaven Tom Selleck. He lurks throughout the episode but doesn’t get a line until Act III. The episode has a stock score. GRADE: A.
Writer: Norman Lessing Director: Marc Daniels
UNLAWFUL FLIGHT TO AVOID CONFINEMENT, BANK BURGLARY, CONSPIRACY, ASSAULT ON FEDERAL OFFICERS
Harlan Slade (Jackie Cooper) is sprung from a state prison by members of his extended family so he can plan a new job. Slade intends to target a bank in the upscale suburb of Scottsdale, near Phoenix, where Slade says there are “lots of rich people, lots of banks.”
Slade’s escape put him on the bureau’s Ten Most Wanted list. So Erskine and Daniels take charge of the investigation.
The FBI apprehend some members of Slade’s extended family in Kansas. But Slade, convinced this is the score of a lifetime, proceeds with his plan once he has identified the specific bank he wants to knock off.
This episode resembles Season’s Three The Tunnel because some tunneling is involved. Also, like a number of episodes, this episode is built around a villain, in this case Jackie Cooper’s Slade. Finally, producer Anthony Spinner repeats his basic producing M.O. When he was producer of the final season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Spinner brought back writers from the first season of the series. He does so again here, hiring Norman Lessing, who wrote three first-season episodes of The FBI.
Director Marc Daniels helmed early episodes of I Love Lucy as well as a number of episodes of the original Star Trek series.
Gunplay: A prison guard is wounded during Slade’s escape in Act I. One of Slade’s relatives is wounded when the Scottsdale bank job is foiled.
Willard Wood-Jones delivers an original score. Jackie Cooper turns in a decent performance, but it’s not enough to elevate the rating beyond this rating: GRADE: B.
222. The Pay-Off
Writer: Calvin Clements Director: Virgil W. Vogel
ASSAULTING A FEDERAL OFFICER, OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE
In Detroit, an undercover agent for the Immigration and Naturalization Service is shot by two hit men operating on behalf of the Criminal Organization. Before they can finish the wounded man off, the hit men spot Frank Rodman (Earl Holliman), who witnessed the attack. The hit men flee.
The bureau is immediately on the case because a federal officer was assaulted. Also, the FBI has been conducting a probe of the Criminal Organization centered on Earl Gilford (Joseph Wiseman), the mob boss for Detroit. Erskine and Daniels interview Rodman, who identifies the hit men. Soon, the hit men are apprehended by the agents. The hit men can be tied to Gilford, a big break in the bureau’s investigation. It’s so important that Assistant Director Arthur Ward travels to Detroit for grand jury proceedings.
Gilford lieutenant Bert Powers (Paul Richards) decides to buy Rodman off before he can testify before a federal grand jury. Rodman leaves town, heading for San Diego, where his estranged wife Patricia (Jacqueline Scott) lives with their teenage son.
Powers confers with Gilford, who’s vacationing in Miami. The mob boss wasn’t consulted about the payoff. He orders Powers to have Rodman hit instead.
In San Diego, Rodman tries to reconcile with his wife. He’s purchased tickets for a cruise to Mexico, intending to take his wife and son on the trip. He contacts Powers about his plans so he can collect the rest of his payoff. Instead, he’s telling the mob what it needs to know to silence Rodman permanently.
The story gets a little more complicated than usual for an episode of The FBI. The cruise ship gets delayed and there’s a case of mistaken identity. What hasn’t changed is the chance for the guest cast to excel. Joseph Wiseman, in particular, is very menacing but his role is relatively short, involving two scenes. Jacqueline Scott was always good playing solid women who sometimes suffered because of troubled husbands in earlier of episodes of The FBI as well as other series. She does so again here, giving a nicely balanced performance. Holliman is solid.
Trivia: In Act IV, we hear a radio newscaster. The voice belongs to Art Gilmore (1912-2010), who was the announcer on Highway Patrol and Red Skelton’s long-running variety show as well as the narrator on the first QM series, The New Breed.
Gunplay: The two hit men wound the INS agent. Erskine later wounds one of the hit men with agents apprehend the duo. The school teacher (who knows Rodman’s son) is wounded by Beckman, another hit man sent to San Diego by Powers. Erskine arrests Powers and two more hit men are apprehended without gunfire.
Duane Tatro provides an original score, some of which will show up later in the season in stock scores. GRADE: B.
223. The Exchange
Writer: Robert C. Dennis Director: Marc Daniels
INTERSTATE TRANSPORTATION OF A STOLEN MOTOR VEHICLE, ASSAULT ON FEDERAL OFFICERS
A pretty good, though flawed episode. The positives outweigh the negatives (which are of the nitpicky variety) but some of the negatives stand out.
Ray Curtis (Scott Marlowe) and Desmond “Murph” Murphy (Jess Vint), who served together in Vietnam, rob a horse racing track of more than $250,000. However, two significant problems occur. Murph shoots the security chief of the track and the duo are forced to hide the loot on the grounds of the track before escaping as authorities were closing in.
Curtis and Murph stole a pickup truck, which is found abandoned across a state line. That makes it a federal matter and Erskine and Daniels are on the case. The wounded security chief can only tell Erskine to, “Ask Ed Benson,” before lapsing into a coma. Benson (Ron Randell) is the head cashier of the track.
Erskine already suspects there was an “inside man” and his suspicions intensify after interviewing Benson at his home. What Erskine doesn’t realize is that Benson’s wife, Ada (Antoinette Bower), was kidnapped by the robbers to force the cashier’s cooperation.
Ed Benson, under instructions from the kidnappers, goes back to the track to retrieve the stolen money. But bureau agents had him under surveillance and he’s apprehended. It’s only now that Erskine finds out about the kidnapping.
Benson has gone to pieces so Erskine opts to impersonate the cashier to deliver the money and try to get Mrs. Benson back safely. Assistant Director Arthur Ward initially objects, but Erskine insists. She already has been kidnapped for a week and “time is running out,” the inspector tells Ward.
Erskine dons glasses and colors his hair gray to match Benson’s. But the inspector faces many risks, including not knowing what Mrs. Benson’s reaction may be.
Let’s get the negatives out of the way. Usually, the series is specific about locations (although a few episodes use fictional locations). This story appears to take place in California. there’s a California 16 road sign near one of the phones where Erskine waits for instructions and the dialogue refers specifically to the highway. But what state line did Curtis and Murph cross?
In Act III, Curis is apprehended. There’s a stock shot of the FBI’s then-headquarters in Washington, but the next scene is in a field office where Erskine and Daniels are questioning Curtis.
Finally, in the epilogue, Erskine’s hair has returned to its normal black from gray. Did the coloring wash out that easily?
Now for the positives. Erskine has impersonated people before but usually they’re calm, collected types. Here, the inspector mimics Benson’s agitation and nervousness. This allows Efrem Zimbalist Jr. to have some fun, or at least he seems to be really engaged.
We also have the final appearance of Scott Marlowe, one of the show’s go-to actors to play villains. While it comes a little too late, his Curtis character does sniff out he’s being played by Erskine. Also a major plus is Barbara Colby as Murph’s girlfriend Marti, who’s as tough as either Curtis or Murph and she’s definitely smarter than Murph. Jess Vint’s Murph is definitely the weak link in this operation. The character doesn’t come across as very bright.
Gunplay: Murph shoots the track security chief. It’s “50-50” whether he’ll survive but we’re told in the epilogue he did pull through. Curtis gets ready to fire at Erskine, but the FBI man kicks him, causing him to miss. Erskine dives away, then fires at Curtis but misses (!), although he didn’t have a good angle.
The episode has an original score by Albert Harris. It’s decent but, again, it’s clear the music budget was cut back compared with earlier seasons. GRADE: B-Plus.
224. Tower of Terror
Writer: Jackson Gillis Director: Don Medford
EXTORTION, BOMB THREAT
This episode threatens to run off the rails in Act II. It rallies, thanks to the QM Gravitas but it should have been better.
Jackson Gillis (1916-2010) was a versatile writer who excelled in shows as disparate as The Adventures of Superman and Columbo. Director Don Medford (1917-2012) was a master of the QM Gravitas on a number of series. Yet, neither seems to bring his “A” game here.
Michael Staley (Mario Roccuzzo) works as a window washer, lives at home with his mother and is mentally disturbed. He once served during the Korean War with Vince Riles (Victor French), who’s now in federal prison. Riles saved Staley’s life during the war and the latter hatches a bizarre plot. He plants a bomb in one of the Minneapolis buildings where he washes windows and sends a letter to the FBI director demanding Riles’ release or else the bomb will go off.
Erskine and Daniels head up the bureau’s investigation. Things get off to a slow start when Riles refuses to cooperate. Staley calls FBI headquarters to follow up his demands. Assistant Director Arthur Ward keeps him on the phone only long enough to get a partial trace, establishing the call came from Minneapolis.
The case takes another turn when another member of Staley’s Korean outfit — who actually designed the bomb for Staley — wants $500 that Staley owes him. Staley responds by trying to kill him. After nearly dying, the man identifies Staley as his assailant.
Erskine and Daniels now know who they’re hunting for but time is running out.
Here’s how Act II threatens to derail the episode. There’s a scene where Staley is washing windows. He’s outside an office with secretaries clad in miniskirts. One mocks Staley, pretending to come on to the homely man. It’s way, way over the top and is cringe worthy. Also in Act II, Erskine interviews Riles’ ex-wife. She’s a heavy drinker, but the scene is as subtle as a heart attack and is again over the top.
Once Act III commences, we’re back to a solid procedural. Roccuzzo’s Staley is suitably creepy. Richard O’Brien, who made a number of previous guest appearances, is present here as a Minneapolis police captain.
Duane Tatro provides an excellent original score, which emphasizes Staley’s tenuous hold on reality. GRADE: B-Minus. Act II is at least one full letter grade worse than that.
225. Fatal Reunion
Writer: Mark Rodgers Director: William Wiard
BANK ROBBERY, INTERSTATE TRANSPORTATION OF STOLEN PROPERTY, INTERSTATE TRANSPORTATION OF A STOLEN MOTOR VEHICLE, ASSAULTING FEDERAL OFFICERS
The guest cast, at both the guest star and supporting player level, is full of familiar faces, some of whom haven’t been in the series since its earliest days.
No. 1 on that list is Susan Oliver, who gets special guest star billing, as Margaret, the old flame of Robert Hamilton (Ed Nelson). Oliver, a versatile actress, was last seen in this series in episode 8, Courage of a Conviction. She played a pivotal role in the earlier story, here Margaret is almost secondary but Oliver, as usual, makes the most of it.
Also back in secondary parts are Ben Wright as a restaurant waiter (his previous appearance was as a ship’s captain in episode 5, The Insolents), and Alfred Ryder as a mobster who launders stolen money.
The case begins in New York, where Hamilton, Rene Parent (Michael Bell) and John Ormond (Hari Rhodes) steal more than $400,000 in bonds and securities from two bank messengers. They split up, with Parent to negotiate with mobster Fred Urban (Ryder) in Baltimore. Ormond goes back to his Newark home and Hamilton goes to his home town in Delaware, where his 20th high school reunion is taking place that weekend.
Erskine and Daniels arrive in New York the afternoon of the robbery, greeted by New York SAC Clayton McGregor (Mark Dana). Erskine has been assigned because this robbery appears to be the latest in a series of jobs in Eastern states. The bureau begins its methodical investigation and picks up the trail of each man one by one.
In Delaware, Hamilton is trying to revive his relationship with Margaret, which goes back to their high school days. Despite uttering how “it never works out” when you try to go home again, Margaret has always loved Hamilton and they rekindle their romance.
As the agents apprehend Ormond first and then Parent, the case will reach its climax at the Delaware high school reunion.
Mark Rodgers was the only writer to have a credit in every season of the series. Rodgers was adept at having characters explain their backgrounds and motivations without it being too obvious. We learn over the course of the story that Hamilton was an overachiever in school but failed to live up to that promise. The Hamilton-Margaret scenes are very good.
Gunplay: Parent shoots one of the bank messengers during the robbery, critically wounding him. The other messenger shoots at the car of the robbers as they get away. Ormond and Daniels shoot at each other in Newark, though neither hits the other. Erskine gets the drop on Ormond, who wisely surrenders. Parent shoots at Erskine, Daniels and other bureau agents trying to arrest him in a parking lot. Parent steals a cab. Daniels and another agent shoot at the fleeing cab. Erskine finally wounds Parent with a single right-handed shot, shooting him through the stolen cab’s windshield. Erskine draws on Hamilton as he tries to flee. The inspector doesn’t have to fire as Hamilton wisely surrenders.
Richard Markowitz delivers his 16th, and final, original score of the series. It’s a big plus for the episode and Markowitz (1926-1994) had a major impact on the series as his music was repeated in many stock scores. GRADE: A-Minus.
226. Rules of the Game
Writer: Ed Waters Director: Don Medford
EXTORTIONATE CREDIT TRANSACTIONS
Steve Ladera, Fred Kretschmer
OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE
The heat is being turned up on Tully Ladera (John Marley), part of the Reno branch of the Organization. The feds have turned up a witness who can tie Ladera into loan sharking (aka extortionate credit transactions). The witness is ambushed by a group of thugs, led by Tully’s son Steve. The witness is wounded severely and is in a coma.
The bureau doesn’t look kindly on murder attempts of federal witnesses, so Erskine and Daniels head up the FBI’s investigation. Tully, though, faces more problems with the Organization. The attempted hit wasn’t authorized by the Council. Mobster Daniel Brimmer (Anthony Zerbe) has a meeting with Tully, telling him Steve has to “take the fall.”
Brimmer isn’t sure whether Tully will go through with it, so he orders a hit on Steve. The younger Ladera eventually survives two attempts on his life. Erskine and Daniels are in pursuit of Steve. They keep missing him but get into shootouts with mob hit men.
Tully tries to force Brimmer to end the contract. He gets the drop on the mobster while Brimmer is having a nice, relaxing bath. Tully puts a telephone on the edge of the tub and tells Brimmer to call off the hit men. Brimmer instead phones a lackey. If Brimmer is killed in the next five minutes, the confederate is authorized to put out a contract on every member of Tully’s family. Tully has now run of options but Brimmer has one more demand — Tully is to perform the hit on Steve.
Zerbe takes his time to warm up as Brimmer but the wait is worth it. Early in the story, he seems like just another mob boss. But as the story unfolds, Brimmer’s sliminess intensifies.
He tells Tully he’s going to call the Council himself to change its mind about the hit on Steve. Brimmer goes into a conference room and calls for the time, letting the recording play. After a suitable amount of time passes, Brimmer tells Tully everything’s all set. Later, Zerbe has his best moment as Brimmer, naked, vulnerable and in a bubble bath, calmly phones the lackey about murdering Tully’s family.
Character actor John Marley (who in The Godfather played the movie producer who owns the horse that gets beheaded) is a little bombastic at times but he’s an old pro. Tully has some family issues. He doesn’t treat Steve well while looking upon his daughter as an angel. Late in the story, Erskine gets exasperated when Tully, yet again, won’t cooperate with time running out.
Random observations: Jerry Douglas, who played FBI agents in previous episodes, does so again here. In this episode he’s sporting long sideburns that would have driven J. Edgar Hoover crazy. Naomi Stevens, who played a mob wife in last season’s The Outcast, does so again here as Tully’s wife.
Gunplay: The witness is shot in the back trying to get away from the hit men in Act I. Steve and two hit men fire at each other during an attempt on Steve’s life at a motel but nobody is hit and Steve gets away. FBI agents, including Erskine and Daniels, then arrive. A shootout occurs. Erskine and Daniels wound the two hit men (Erskine gets his man in the knee). There’s another attempt on Steve’s life at a truck stop. Saul Elliott (Joe E. Tata), Brimmer’s main goon, is involved but Steve gets away again. The agents arrive. Elliott fires at the agents and a foot chase ensues. Erskine finally takes down Elliott, kicking him in the stomach as the thug is running by the truck the inspector is hiding behind. Tully tries to kill Steve with a shotgun but can’t go through with it.
The episode has a stock score. GRADE: B-Plus, elevated by Zerbe’s performance.
227. Fool’s Gold
Writer: Robert W. Lenski Director: William Wiard
INTERSTATE TRANSPORTATION OF STOLEN PROPERTY, ATTEMPTED MURDER, ASSAULT ON FEDERAL OFFICER
An OK episode, but not much more than that.
In St. Louis, the Cross of St. Croix is stolen from an art museum. The cross dates back to the 13th century and is made of gold with embedded jewels.
Before they can leave the museum, one of the thieves Arnold Brice (Stephen Young) sets off an alarm. As they try to get away, the other thief, Nick Parrish (Lou Antonio) is wounded in the arm by a museum guard. Parrish gets away with the cross while Brice flees.
Brice is wanted for a series of bank robberies in multiple states so the bureau is called in, with Erskine and Daniels heading up the investigation. The agents determine the thieves had “inside” help and discover that Barbara Saunders, assistant to the museum director, is the most likely candidate. She’s under surveillance when she has a meeting with Brice. Agents nab them both. Saunders provides information that helps determine Parrish’s identity.
Parrish, meanwhile, has looked up former cellmate Eddie Hudson (Leslie Nielsen), who’s living on a chicken farm with his younger wife Molly (Susanne Benton). Parrish forces the Hudsons to patch him up and drive him to Chicago, where Parrish has lined up a buyer for the cross.
Molly desperately wants a different life and gets Eddie to make a move. During the long drive, Parrish — who has been drinking whiskey to kill the pain — passes out and Molly gets his gun. Eddie wants to call the police but she tells him she’ll leave him. Eddie quickly reverts to his larcenous ways, dumps Parrish and heads to Chicago to make contact with Parrish’s buyer.
Erskine and Daniels get a line on the buyer by interviewing a former fence who’s gone straight. Meanwhile, Parrish has reached the buyer before the Hudsons. He tries to take the cross back but a fight ensues. The Hudsons get away but before Parrish can pursue, Erskine and Daniels arrive.
Now, the last task for the agents is track down the Hudsons. But Eddie plans to contact a metallurgist to melt the gold cross and separate the jewels.
One problem is none of the crooks involved are especially memorable. Parrish, Brice and Eddie Hudson are punks and not especially smart. If they hadn’t stolen the cross. they really wouldn’t be worth Erskine’s time.
The main sympathetic character is the metallurgist, played by Milton Selzer, who appreciates the religious significance (and non-monetary value) of the cross. Selzer’s character takes genuine risk trying to stall Eddie so the FBI can arrive before the cross gets melted. Carol Ohmart as Emily Rountree, the former fence, is an interesting presence but she only gets one scene.
Trivia: The series used fake newspaper names throughout, but one seen here comes close to reality. We see the front-page of the St. Louis Dispatch. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is the real-life newspaper in that city. Leslie Nielsen, last seen in The FBI in Season One, was the star of the very first QM series, The New Breed.
Gunplay: Parrish is wounded during the robbery. Parrish shoots Andy, a farmhand at Eddie’s chicken farm. Eddie shoots at Parrish. The latter apparently plays dead because he’s not depicted as having another wound. Eddie shoots at Erskine. But it’s an agent from the Chicago office who wounds Eddie, rather than Erskine (the normal turn of events). Meanwhile, Daniels catches up with Molly, but she’s unarmed.
The episode has an original score by Willard Wood-Jones. GRADE: C-Plus.
228. The Killing Truth
Writer: Irv Pearlberg Director: Lawrence Dobkin
Joseph Edward Holloway
ASSAULT ON A FEDERAL OFFICER, EXTORTION
This is as close as Season Nine would get to an espionage story. This episode revolves around the aftermath of an espionage trial 10 years earlier.
Joseph Holloway (Jack Bender) wants to kill federal Judge Harper (Lloyd Nolan), who presided over the espionage trial of Holloway’s father and uncle. Holloway tries to shoot Harper outside a U.S. Federal Courthouse in Los Angeles but he hits an assistant U.S. prosecutor instead.
Erskine and Daniels are wrapping up a case in Southern California and are assigned to head up the bureau’s investigation. It’s clear early on that Judge Harper was the intended target. While U.S. marshals act as bodyguards for the judge and his wife (Anna Lee), the FBI agents concentrate their efforts on tracking down Holloway.
Holloway’s uncle (Tim O’Connor) tries to convince him to get out of the country. But Holloway’s father died the week before, shortly before being eligible for parole. The younger Holloway is determined to kill the judge no matter the cost.
This is a very mixed episode. The basic plot sounds as if it was inspired by the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg espionage trial. But, this being 1970s television, Holloway’s uncle admits he and his brother were “guilty as charged.” As a result, Holloway’s quest — to avenge his father because the trial “was rigged” — is a hollow one.
Meanwhile, this episode represents a reunion of Erskine and his former partner, Tom Colby (William Reynolds). Except, Colby is only in two scenes (despite Reynolds getting guest star billing) and Colby’s name is never spoken.
Viewers who’d seen earlier seasons would recognize Reynolds as Colby. But any new viewers would have no idea of the significance, based on what we see here. My guess is this episode was actually produced before episode 234, The Animal, where we’re told Colby is now based in Los Angeles and he and Daniels engage in some banter about Erskine.
Still, the episode has some positives. Lloyd Nolan (1902-1985) was an old pro. Anna Lee (1913-2004) already had appeared in the series. They’re a convincing couple. Also in the cast is John Milford, here playing a U.S. marshal protecting the judge, who appeared in earlier episodes of the series. Ditto for Tim O’Connor, making his sixth and final appearance in the show. Finally, the FBI helicopter — piloted by James W. Gavin — is back in action.
Trivia: Writer Irv Pearlberg previously worked with producer Anthony Spinner. Pearlberg was an associate producer for the final season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., where Spinner was the producer. Also, we’re told Daniels went to law school (where the original espionage trial was discussed). That means he has a similar background as Erskine, who has a law degree.
Gunplay: Holloway wounds the assistant U.S. attorney and his uncle (the latter involving fighting over Holloway’s gun). Erskine apprehends Holloway without firing his weapon.
The episode has an original score by Nicolas Carras, his only contribution for the series. GRADE: B.
229. The Bought Jury
Writer: Barry Oringer Director: Alexander Singer (as Alex Singer)
Alex Felton, Leo Miles, Barry Ryan
OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE, ASSAULT ON FEDERAL OFFICERS
Mario Dracus, head of the Boston branch of the Organization, is on trial on various charges. But a mistrial is declared after the jury can’t come to a verdict. For Dracus (Frank DeKova), it’s a pleasant surprise — because it wasn’t his doing.
Instead, it’s part of a plan by Alex Felton (Joel Fabiani), head of Carpathian Industries and a member of the Organization. Dracus is viewed as old and weak. Felton believes if Dracus were convicted, he’d talk. Felton plans to have the old mobster hit before he can be brought to a new trial.
Two of the jurors were threatened by the bailiff (who was bribed by the Organization) and one of them contacts authorities. Erskine and Daniels head up the bureau’s investigation.
Dracus throws a party to celebrate but senses something’s wrong. A number of his mobster associates aren’t present. Erskine shows up, telling Dracus he may not live to see his new trial. Soon after, Felton tells his enforcer Leo Miles (Robert Gentry) to speed up the timetable for eliminating Dracus.
Felton also offers $100,000 to anyone who can help set up Dracus for the kill, an amount too much for Dracus aide Al Delgato (Frank Campanella) to pass up.
Erkine gets two really good moments in this episode. In the first, he banters with Dracus at the mobster’s own party. It appears the inspector is enjoying himself as Dracus realizes he’s in more trouble than if he had been convicted. The second takes place in Act IV at a construction site for a Carpathian project and the place Dracus has been brought to be killed. As all hell breaks loose, Erskine hops on an earth moving machine and rams it into a pickup truck Felton is driving to try to escape.
Frank DeKova, meantime, must have felt deja vu. He again is playing an aging mob boss targeted for elimination by younger confederates, a la last season’s Night of the Long Knives. As in the earlier episode, he’s very watchable. Dracus is starting to slip up and is beginning to realize it.
There’s also a nice last shot in the epilogue. Daniels is taking Dracus down a hallway as narrator Marvin Miller gives us the roundup of who was convicted of what. As the pair reach the end of the hallway, Miller says Dracus died before he could be tried another time.
Gunplay: Erskine wounds a hit man trying to kill Dracus. In the Act IV scene, there’s a shootout between FBI agents and mobsters but nobody gets hit. The mobsters give up when they see Felton has been apprehended by Erskine.
The episode has a stock score. GRADE: A-Minus, helped by the Erskine scenes.
Writer: Ed Waters Director: Earl Bellamy
Bernard Voyt, Clifford Tetlow
After more than 220 episodes (and about 18 months after the death of J. Edgar Hoover), we see a woman special agent when Special Agent Joyce Hanafin (Betty Anne Rees) substitutes for a woman who’s supposed to make a ransom drop. In previous seasons, women employees of the bureau occasionally helped out in the field in situations like this but they weren’t actual agents.
Bernie Voyt (Zalman King) and Cliff Tetlow (Jerry Houser) kidnap Tish (Jo Ann Harris), the moody 20-year-old daughter of a prominent Durham, North Carolina, businessman (Fred Beir). Tish’s mother is dead and she resents her stepmother Didi (Anne Francis).
Bernie has a long-standing grudge against Tish because she wouldn’t give him the time of day during high school. He calls her “Golden Girl,” and it’s not a compliment. Tish, reflecting her ill will toward her stepmother, suggests doubling the ransom demand to $400,000.
Meanwhile, the businessman is leveraged to the hilt and can only raise $85,000 on his own. Didi is wealthy in her own right, and raises the additional money. But the kidnappers want Didi to make the ransom drop, spurring Erskine to brining in S.A. Hanafin to perform the drop instead.
Other complications arise and Bernie is wound so tight that he’s likely to kill Tish regardless.
As noted elsewhere on this website, kidnap stories were always a standby for the series. Erskine is suspicious whether Tish helped organize the kidnapping, especially after the kidnappers say Didi’s first name, which is the stepmother’s “pet name” and not one she’s commonly called. As a result, we don’t get to see the Compassionate Erskine persona we saw in other kidnapping stories.
Zalman King is suitably creepy. Jerry Houser, similar to his turn in Season Seven’s The Game of Terror, is the weaker kidnapper who yields to a more dominant character. Jo Ann Harris is OK when her character is supposed to be smug but is less convincing when she’s supposed to be fearing for her life.
Gunplay: Cliff is wounded during a fight when two other men try to take the kidnap ransom away. Erskine wounds Bernie when the latter makes the mistake of trying to shoot it out with bureau agents.
The episode has a stock score. GRADE: B.
231. A Piece of the Action
Writer: Mark Rodgers Director: Don Medford
Victor Lamport, David Lamport, Max Horton, Henry Angell, John Kreddis
THEFT FROM INTERSTATE SHIPMENT, ASSAULT ON A FEDERAL OFFICER
Mark Rodgers provides his 31st, and final, scripting credit for the series. As mentioned before, he was the only writer to get a credit for all nine seasons of the show. He narrowly edged out Robert Heverly, who got 30 script credits from Season Four through Season Eight. Both men were story consultants (Rogers for Seasons Two and Three, Heverly for Seasons Five through Eight).
A St. Louis trucking company owned by Victor Lamport (Charles Cioffi) is being used by the mob to hijack shipments from competitors. The mob makes money from the hijackings, while Lamport gets a piece of the action (hence the episode title). That’s just fine for Vic’s spendthrift wife Nancy (Joan Hotchkis) and his brother Dave (George DiCenzo). But Vic’s conscience is bothering him, especially after the driver of the latest hijacked shipment is seriously injured).
Erskine and Daniels are sent to work with St. Louis SAC Wright (Anthony Eisley, who in previous seasons played New York SAC Chet Randolph). As the investigation proceeds, Erskine turns up the heat on Vic, pressuring him to give up information on his brother Dave and the mobsters they’re working with.
The Organization sends Max Horton (Val Avery) to protect its interest. Both Dave and Nancy are ready sacrifice Vic. The question is whether Erskine & Co. can get to Vic in time.
By this point in the season, Erskine is taking a more active role in the bureau’s investigations compared with the last few seasons. It’s not a huge change compared to the Philip Saltzman-produced seasons, but definitely noticeable. There’s no way to tell whether this is a direct effect of Anthony Spinner being at the helm. But it is consistent with Spinner’s “back to basics” approach for the final season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., where he was also the producer.
Erskine hair alert: Erskine changes the part in his hair twice during this episode. For most of the story, his hair is parted on his right. But when he goes out into the field to arrest subjects, his hair is parted on his left.
Gunplay: Erskine and Daniels separately wound the two men who performed the hijacking at the start of Act I. Daniels wounds his man first. Erskine exchanges shots with the other man. It’s not immediately clear that the inspector wounded the subject. But the man collapses after momentarily eluding Erskine. There’s also a shootout when the mob tries to kill Vic at a truck stop, but nobody is wounded.
The episode has a stock score. GRADE: B-PLUS.
232. Selkirk’s War
Writer: S.S. Schweitzer Director: Walter Grauman
Edward Henry Selkirk, Jr.
CRIME ON A GOVERNMENT RESERVATION, ASSAULT ON FEDERAL OFFICERS, BANK BURGLARY, THEFT OF GOVERNMENT PROPERTY
Walter Grauman and Don Medford were perhaps the two directors best suited to the QM Gravitas. Grauman also was the producer of the first QM series, The New Breed.
Edward Selkirk (Peter Haskell), recently was “separated” from the U.S. Army with the rank of major. He holds a major grudge. So, dressed as if he were still in service, Selkirk pretends to perform an inspection of an Army base in Arizona. Selkirk busts out “two incorrigibles” in the brig, Devlin and Carter (Richard Jaeckel and Roger Robinson) and flees.
This becomes a case for the bureau because the crime occurred on a government reservation. Erskine and Daniels lead the FBI’s probe. While the bureau agents proceed, Selkirk is running Devlin and Carter ragged with drills and training. There’s good reason. Selkirk intends to heist the base’s $750,000 payroll and he’s planning to do so as if he were conducting a military operation.
The guest cast also includes Lawrence Dobkin, who directed The Killing Truth a few episodes earlier. Dobkin also had a small role in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest as well as being the villain in the pilot for The Streets of San Francisco. Also in the cast is Norman(n) Burton, who played Felix Leiter in the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever. Uncredited is James W. Gavin, pilot of the FBI helicopter, who gets one line (“Yes, sir.”).
In Act III, Selkirk and his men perform a dry run before the big job. That includes planting plastic explosive at the base of an electric tower. When we see the explosive goes off, it’s clearly a miniature. The shot of the miniature appears to be from the 1960 version of Ocean’s 11 (a Warner Bros. release).
Gunplay: Carter is wounded in the leg during his escape. Selkirk and Devlin are wounded by agents in the climax in Act IV.
The episode has a stock score, which includes some Season One music in Act IV. GRADE: B.
233. The Betrayal
Writer: S.S. Schweitzer Director: William Wiard
Francis “Frankie” Geller
ESCAPED FEDERAL PRISONER
Frankie Geller (Michael Tolan) has escaped the federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Geller had agreed to take the rap in exchange for his family being taken care of financially by the Organization. But his wife recently committed suicide with sleeping pills. So Geller escaped to set things right.
Geller is marked for extermination by the Organization. His old friend Carl (James Olson), who’s part of the Pittsburgh arm of the Organization, provides him with a car to get away.
Geller is now on the run. Meanwhile there’s a conflict within different branches of the Organization concerning Geller. But Geller, who wants to get even, is determined to make public the Organization’s secrets. Erskine and Daniels head up the bureau’s investigation. The agents must tread lightly because Geller’s estranged grown daughter finds herself in danger. Before the investigation is over, she’ll be a pawn.
This episode starts out as a fairly routine affair. However, Carl is forced to betray his old friend Frankie. That’s because Price arranges to have Carl’s son abducted. It’s only for a few hours but Carl gets the message.
We get a glimpse of Compassionate Erskine when agents rescue Geller’s daughter from Organization thugs at the end of Act III. The inspector looks really happy the operation turned out as planned.
Gunplay: Ersine and Daniels separately wound hit men going after Geller. Erskine and another agent apprehend Carl before he can kill Geller, but no shots are fired.
The episode has a stock score. GRADE: B-Minus.
234. The Animal
Director: Walter Grauman
ESCAPED FEDERAL PRISONER, ASSAULTING FEDERAL OFFICERS
This is the best episode of the season, with high, QM-style production values, including Coast Guard ships, aerial photography and spectacular scenery. Oddly, there is no writing credit. Normally, if a writer doesn’t want his name attached, the scribe takes a nom de plume like Harlan Ellison’s “Cordwainer Bird.” Here, there’s no credit at all.
Also, of note, this repeats the title of episode 29. That story’s namesake, Earl Clayton (Charles Bronson), is arguably the show’s nastiest villain. Here, Gary Lockwood, tries his best to match Bronson. He doesn’t make it, but he’s as nasty as the limitations on violence ABC imposed on the later seasons.
Ben Sillman (Lockwood), a hit man with connections to organized crime, has been convicted of income tax charges in Tuscon. Anticipating the verdict, Sillman arranges to have a gun hidden in a rest room in the federal courthouse. The hit man shoots his way out and is on the run.
Sillman meets up with Organization big shot William Braden (Peter Mark Richman). The going price for a passport and transport out of the country is around $20,000. But Sillman is so hot, Braden demands $100,000. Sillman agrees, and moves to blackmail mobbed up businessman Steve Lathan (Roger Perry). Sillman still has “a little black book” with records that could put Lathan away.
Because federal officers were assaulted, the bureau is on the case immediately, with Erskine and Daniels heading up the investigation. We again see Erskine’s ex-partner Tom Colby (William Reynolds). This time, we’re told Colby is the new agent in charge although the specific office isn’t mentioned. Colby and Daniels briefly engage in some banter about Erskine, with Daniels saying the inspector is “nothing but trouble.” Colby responds he’s glad things haven’t changed.
This probably was filmed before episode 228, The Killing Truth. Clearly, the shot for William Reynolds’ guest star billing in the main titles of both episodes was taken from this one.
Meanwhile, Sillman takes a hostage (Meg Foster) when the killer sees her making a telephone call to the bureau. While she didn’t leave her name, Erskine & Co. figure out the likely identity of the hostage. This forces Erskine & Co. (including Coast Guard officials) to approach the situation even more carefully than before.
Braden, after a visit from Erskine and Daniels, tells Sillman the deal is off. Sillman ups the price to $125,000. Braden agrees, but prepares a double cross.
This episode starts in high gear (Sillman’s escape at the start of Act I) and doesn’t let up. It helps that Lockwood’s Sillman is genuinely nasty, thus making him more than worth Erskine’s time. At the same time, we get some of Sillman’s backstory, including how his father was also a killer who “shoved a gun in my hand when I was 15.”
The bit with Daniels and Colby, which is short, also is a nice addition for a series that never worried about continuity otherwise. Finally, we have the final series appearance in the series of Peter Mark Richman, one of the most dependable actors for playing villains. In short, if you like The FBI, this episode has the elements and more or less in the right balance.
Gunplay: Sillman wounds four people (the two U.S. marshals, a guard in the courthouse and Lathan). Erskine and Daniels have their handguns ready but don’t have to fire.
Trivia: When ABC reran this episode in late summer 1974, it was the network’s final broadcast of The FBI. The cast also includes Majel Barrett, who played Nurse Chapel in Star Trek and who by now was married to Gene Roddenberry. She plays the wife of a man (Ken Lynch) that Sillman has beaten up.
Duane Tatro provides an original score, the last one for the series. GRADE: A.
235. The Two Million Dollar Hit
Writer: Calvin Clements Director: Robert Douglas
Stanley Chasen, Ronald Selwyn, Alan Nevins
THEFT FROM INSTERSTATE SHIPMENT AND INTERSTATE TRANSPORTATION OF STOLEN PROPERTY AND AIRCRAFT
A gang led by Stanley Chasen (Henry Silva) hijack an aircraft carrying a shipment of $20 million in travelers checks. They’ve been promised 10 cents on the dollar, or $2 million, by John Chong (Khigh Dhiegh), who will send the shipment from Seattle to Hong Kong, where it will be fenced for $7 million.
It’s determined almost immediately that the hijacked aircraft crossed state lines. Erskine and Daniels head up the bureau’s investigation, but Chasen’s gang has a long head start.
Chong double crosses Chasen, agreeing to only pay $500,000. Chong seems to have the upper hand but Chasen already is plotting his own double cross — not only of Chong but his fellow gang members.
The main highlight of the episode is Henry Silva’s Chasen. As usual, Silva plays a nasty villain. He’s held back somewhat by the no killing policy in effect since Season Six (presumably an ABC policy, since characters got killed in other Quinn Martin shows of the era). Also a plus is the presence of Khigh Dhiegh. If you’ve ever seen him in either the 1962 version of The Manchurian Candidate or the original Hawaii Five-O series, that’s basically what you get here. During this particular season, Five-O didn’t have an episode featuring Wo Fat, the villain Dhiegh played there.
On the bureau side, it’s a basic procedural. The episode also seems a little padded in places.
Gunplay: Chasen separately wounds Richard Bishop (Burr DeDenning), a driver hired by the gang, and Chong. Chasen fires at Erskine five times and at Daniels once. He looks quite distressed when his revolver clicks empty as he tries to fire at Erskine again. The inspector punches out Chasen and doesn’t have to fire his weapon.
The stock score includes some Duane Tatro music from The Animal. GRADE: B-Minus.
236. Diamond Run
Writer: Arthur Weingarten Director: Michael Caffey
ASSAULT ON A FEDERAL OFFICER, INTERSTATE TRANSPORTATION OF STOLEN PROPERTY AND STOLEN AIRCRAFT, CONSPIRACY
James Danzer (Laurence Luckinbill), an American employee of a Belgian jewelry company, is on the run after a daring robbery of $1 million in precious stones from his employer. He already has killed a man in Europe.
Danzer is being pursed by both the law and Gustav Becker (Eric Braeden), a one-time mercenary hired by the company. Becker is merciless and has his own ideas for the stones.
Danzer has gotten as far as the Phoenix airport, where he’s supposed to have a buyer for the stones. But the deal has gone sour, With Becker in close pursuit, Danzer steals a single-engine propeller plane. Danzer gets away but not before Becker shoots twice into the engine. Danzer flies into Southern California but the engine cuts out, forcing the fugitive to crash land.
The bureau is now on the case, with Erskine and Daniels coming in to coordinate with Los Angeles agent Winston Rogers (John Considine, who’s played a number of FBI agents over the course of the series). Danzer makes his way to San Diego, seeking to set up another deal.
To get away from the law, Danzer takes a Thunderbird convertible with Claire (Elizabeth Ashley), inside. Danzer opts to use her as a possible hostage. But they’re both in peril from the ruthless Becker.
Luckinbill’s Danzer behaves erratically. He tries to come off as cool and calm, but Claire can sense he’s afraid and in over his head by his voice. Eric Braeden’s Becker is the real threat in the episode. A good enough episode, but there’s so much chasing around it comes across as a bit padded. Fred Holliday, who has played bureau agents during the series, appears here as San Diego SAC Walt Davis.
Trivia: In the Act I narration, we’re told that Considine’s Winston Rogers is the Los Angeles SAC, which raises the question (at least on this website) what position Colby now holds. In the end titles, however, Considine’s character is listed as SA (for Special Agent) Winston Rogers.
Gunplay: Danzer wounds a California Highway Patrolman just before stealing the car with Claire inside. In the climax, Becker wounds Danzer. Erskine, close behind, wounds Becker.
The episode has a stock score. GRADE: B-Minus.
237. Deadly Ambition
Writer: Robert W. Lenski Director: Don Medford
BANK ROBBERY, THEFT OF GOVERNMENT PROPERTY
An armored car is robbed of $700,000 in securities while making a run between two banks near Detroit. The robbers, led by ambitious Ernie Cahn (Harvey Keitel), use grenades and plastic explosives that were stolen from a National Guard armory.
Erskine and Daniels were already investigating the heist from the armory and immediately check out the crime scene with the armored car. It turns out Cahn was “separated” from the Army for “the good of the service” and is experienced with explosives. As a result, he becomes the prime suspect for the agents.
Cahn lives in a crummy Detroit apartment but fancies himself a man on the rise. He pulled the armored car job for Sid Alpert (Don Gordon), a lieutenant of mobster Ted Wilcox (Robert Hooks). The brash Cahn calls up Alpert to volunteer for future jobs, even though Alpert instructed him not to call.
Cahn, meanwhile, tries to impress Judith Grinnell (Claudia Jennings). He rents a Rolls Royce limousine to take her out on a date. But things go badly almost right away as Cahn acts possessively toward her, including saying she’s now not to go out with any other boyfriends. He also shoots off his mouth about how he pulled the armored car job.
The next day, Erskine and Daniels pay a call on Cahn. He initially gets ready to make a run for it, but the FBI men have backup waiting behind Cahn’s apartment. Instead, Cahn goes into full arrogant mode, which doesn’t sit well with Erskine. At this point, however, the agents don’t have enough to make an arrest
Judith (who has committed some thefts of her own) grows repulsed when, later, Cahn tells her they’re going out of the country until things cool off. So, she goes to Wilcox and Alpert, who are skeet shooting at a private club. She tells the mobsters about how talkative Cahn has been. After he leaves, Wilcox instructs Albert that both Cahn and Judith are to be killed.
Judith is almost killed when she’s been attacked in her apartment with the gas stove running. She’s saved only because Erskine and Daniels arrive to interview her. She’s taken to the hospital but can’t identify her attackers.
Cahn calls Albert for a meeting. Instead, two hit men are sent but Cahn prevails. He catches up to Albert and shoots the mobster at his own apartment. Now, Cahn seeks a meeting with Wilcox.
Harvey Keitel had already appeared in the Martin Scorsese-directed Mean Streets when this episode aired and two years later would be in Taxi Driver. Keitel’s Cahn — arrogant, narcissistic and deadly — is the center of attention. What Cahn lacks for brains, he more than makes up for in nastiness. Cahn has a thing for Humphrey Bogart (he has a large picture in his apartment). As he leaves for his date with Judith, he gives Bogie a little salute.
One of the best scenes in the episode is when Cahn briefly visits his father in a nursing home. The father is just about as repulsed by Ernie as everybody else.
In the epilogue, Cahn boasts to Erskine that it was “just luck” the inspector apprehended him.
“You’re going to hear more from me,” Cahn tells Erskine. “You know why? Because I’m the kind of cat who learns from his mistakes.”
Throughout this, Erskine has been leaning against a window sill, his arms crossed with an expression of contempt. “I hope so,” Erskine says, getting in the last word. “I doubt it.”
This was director Don Medford’s 32nd, and final, episode of the series.
Gunplay: Two hit men in a car try to kill Cahn. Gunfire ensues. Ernie plays dead. When the hit man approaches Cahn, the latter shoots him. The other takes off. Ernie later wounds Alpert, who improbably survives. Cahn goes to a country club to meet Wilcox, but the latter has double crossed Ernie and has hit men waiting. Erskine and Daniels are in a helicopter approaching and see the hit men leading Cahn to their car. The hit men fire at the helicopter. They’re taken into custody by arriving police. The helicopter lands and the agents take off on foot to get Cahn, who’s trying to get even with Wilcox. Cahn fires at Erskine. A foot chase ends with Cahn in a sand bunker. Erskine gets the drop on Cahn, who drops his gun and tells Erskine to shoot him. “You’ve seen one too many gangster films,” Erskine says.
The episode has a stock score. GRADE: A-Minus
Here’s a preview of the episode, which Warner Bros. Digital uploaded to YouTube:
238. The Lost Man
Writer: Judy Burns Director: William Wiard
ESCAPED FEDERAL PRISONER, INTERSTATE CAR THEFT
When this episode aired in March 1974, the reputation of journalists was at an all-time high. While Richard Nixon had not yet resigned as president (that wouldn’t take place until August), The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were in the process of becoming heroes, not just among journalists but among the general U.S. population.
This episode involves prominent journalist Mason Hammond (Don Porter), who had blackmailed a Congressman as a way of getting out from under his gambling debts. Hammond utilized a patsy, Greg Davidson (Robert Foxworth), who was convicted while Hammond was never suspected.
Davidson escapes a federal prison with just one year left to serve. Davidson wants the $250,000 share he’s due from Hammond. But the columnist lost the money gambling on horse races. The bureau, led by Erskine and Daniels, races to find Davidson before he can kill Hammon.
This episode is another example of how the QM Gravitas works. There’s not much of a mystery in the story. However, the location filming in snowy California mountains is compelling. Clearly, Don Porter and Robert Foxworth *really* experienced a lot of discomfort in Act IV as the actors go through snow.
Trivia: The cast includes character actor John Carter, who would be a regular on QM’s Barnaby Jones series. Also in the case is Annette O’Toole, who plays Carter’s daughter and who would play Lana Lang in 1983’s Superman III and Ma Kent in the Smallville television series.
Gunplay: Davidson shoots at Hammond twice. Erskine has the drop on Davidson. But Davidson is well above Erskine and there’s nothing Erskine can really do to pull Hammond to safety. Erskine prevails, strictly through force of will.
The episode has a stock score. GRADE: B.
239. The Vendetta
Writer: Richard Landau Director: Virgil W. Vogel
UNLAWFUL FLIGHT TO AVOID PROSECUTION, MURDER
Rudy Keppler (John Vernon), head of the New Orleans branch of the Organization, has been hiding out in Haiti for a year following the murder of his brother Ritchie. Keppler is supposed to be receiving $1 million a year “in tribute” while in Haiti.
One of his lieutenants, Frank Bonner (James Gregory), travels to Haiti to tell Keppler that Nick Thomas (Vic Mohica) was responsible for killing Ritchie and that Keppler needs to return to New Orleans immediately.
Keppler arrives via a private plane at a “remote airstrip.” Shortly after arrival, a hit is attempted on Keppler. With a mob war brewing, the bureau begins an investigation headed by Erskine and Daniels.
As the series winds down, the QM casting operation brings back actors who had appeared in previous episodes of The FBI. This is one of John Vernon’s best roles in the series. Joan Van Ark, another previous guest star, plays his girlfriend. John Conwell’s casting department even brings back James Gregory, who hadn’t been seen here since the earliest episodes of the show.
Once more, the “no fatalities” policy imposed by ABC is stretched to the limit. There is one off-screen death (one of Thomas’ men was killed by Keppler’s bodyguards when approached about a bribe so Keppler could be killed) despite the all-out gang war.
For director Virgil W. Vogel, this was his 37th, and final, episode of the series. There is a nice touch in the epilogue. As narrator Marvin Miller tells the audience about who was convicted for what, we see shots of the characters. There are so many, it’s a nice way of helping viewers keep it all straight.
Gunplay: A hit man trying to intercept Keppler at a remote airfield outside of New Orleans *is shot in the head* but (improbably) survives. (We’re not told if he regained consciousness.) Keppler shoots a rifle to Nick Thomas outside his health club but misses. Later, Keppler shoots Thomas before Nick can give him the kiss of death. Frank Bonner wounds Keppler. Frank Bonner is wounded by Daniels try to flee. About the only person who doesn’t fire his gun is Erskine.
The episode has a stock score. GRADE: B.
240. Confessions of a Madman
Writer: Richard Landau Director: Philip Abbott
CRIME ON A GOVERNMENT RESERVATION, ASSAULT WITH INTENT TO COMMIT MURDER
This episode looks as if: 1) It was intended as a “back door pilot” for a series featuring Mary Frann as young woman FBI agent Pat Driscoll or 2) A preview of how a 10th season of The FBI would have been, with Driscoll and Daniels doing the heavy lifting while Erskine got promoted upstairs.
A young woman Maryland university student is stabbed on a Saturday night and left for dead. The attack occurred on the grounds of a U.S. military installation, making it a crime on a government reservation, so the FBI is called in.
Assistant Director Arthur War (Philip Abbott, who also directed the episode) summons Pat, who’s still in training. She recently graduated from the university and belong to the same sorority as the woman who was attacked. Earlier, two women from the same sorority were murdered under similar circumstances.
The story quickly becomes a whodunnit and there are three main suspects (Daniel J. Travanti, Robert Pine and Elliott Street). One of them is obvious and a red herring. So the bureau’s task becomes figuring which of the two real suspects did it.
This comes across more like an episode of Kojak than The FBI. Also, we see Pat a lot. She’s either with Erskine or Daniels and gets a fair amount of screen time. When the real killer is revealed, Pat is in peril but not that much. She gets out of it without that much effort.
The episode has a stock score. GRADE: C-Plus.
Writer: Irv Pearlberg Director: Seymour Robbie
ESCAPED FEDERAL PRISONER, ASSAULTING A FEDERAL OFFICER
The series finale isn’t the best the show had to offer. Erskine had been in trouble in isolated areas before. Still, this story takes the regular cast out of their comfort zone. When done well — and this qualifies for the most part — putting your heroes in jeopardy far from civilization can be a compelling story line. Thus, there’s more variety compared with episodes in the later seasons.
Erskine and Daniels are leading the manhunt for escaped prisoner Sam Belson (Jon Cypher) in Arizona. Belson was only a few months from being released but his desire for freedom was so strong he couldn’t help himself from escaping.
Belson is laying it wait for the FBI men to catch up with him. He shoots at the vehicle Erskine and Daniels are in. Belson’s shots shatter the radio. Erskine and Daniels split up to get to Belson. Daniels, while trying to get to Belson, falls from an high rock. Meanwhile, Belson actually catches Erskine unaware. But Belson has miscounted his rifle shots. So, when he pulls the trigger, the rifle doesn’t fire. A nice exchange follows:
BELSON: I’m not the kind of fella to shoot a man in the back.
ERSKINE: So I noticed.
Erskine’s moment of triumph is short lived when he discovers the seriously injured Daniels. Efrem Zimbalist Jr. channels the Stubborn Erskine of Season One. He’s determined to both save his partner and bring Belson back. At one point, in one of the highlights of the episode, Erskine tells Belson he won’t use any more force than is necessary but he “won’t use any less either.”
As Erskine tries to bring both his prisoner and partner back, things go badly. Erskine’s vehicle breaks down (also the result of Belson’s rifle fire). Erskine encounters a woman who is supposed to be camping. But her husband has gone back into town to get supplies. The inspector doesn’t know whether to trust her or not.
Act II has the best Erskine-Daniels exchange of the season. Erskine tries to give a “stiff upper lip” talk but Daniels cuts him off. The junior FBI man *knows* he’s seriously hurt and could die. It’s too bad the duo couldn’t have had similar scenes in other episodes.
You can tell this wasn’t a *planned* series finale. Poor Philip Abbott’s Arthur Ward only has one scene. The series’ ace helicopter pilot, James W. Gavin, gets more lines in this episode. (He’s billed as “Gavin James” in the end titles.)
Yet, in a lot of ways, this episode is an example of the strengths of The FBI. There are high production values compared with other shows of the era. The scenery is spectacular. As with many episodes, the actor playing the villain gets a chance to do real acting to explain the character’s motivations. On top of everything else, Dabney Coleman (who’s participation in the series goes back to episode 4) is present, playing an FBI agent.
During this season, producer Anthony Spinner didn’t get the chance to make dramatic changes. But there is some tweaking on the margins. In this episode, narrator Marvin Miller’s opening comments come later than usual. Also, there are moments when we see Erskine is *tempted* (though he clearly doesn’t do so) to kill Belson.
Not a perfect ending. But, in many ways, appropriate.
The episode has a stock score, that includes some music by Albert Harris from Season Eight’s Canyon of No Return. GRADE: B-Plus.
Behind the scenes: With the series coming to an end, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. accepted an invitation to address graduation ceremonies at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, on March 28, 1974.
The actor’s prepared remarks (which were included in his own real-life FBI file) included the following:
“Nine years ago, at the outset of ‘The FBI’ television series, I had the pleasure of meeting J. Edgar Hoover for the first time. During a conference lasting nearly an hour, he told me to expect increasingly greater pressures in my personal life as the television series unfolded.
“‘You’re going to be identified in the public mind with the Federal Bureau of Investigation,’ Director Hoover said. ‘And soon you’ll begin to feel and to understand what the American people expect of their law enforcement officers — 24 hours a day, seven days a week.’
“The past nine years have been a genuine experience for me. In all areas of my personal life…people recognize me as Inspector Erskine of the FBI.”
FBI Director Clarence M. Kelley’s prepared remarks displayed a bit of humor for the occasion.
“Other than the late Director Hoover, no person associated with the FBI those nine years has received more fan mail than Efrem Zimbalist. And it is fitting that this is so, because no one in the history of the law enforcement profession has compiled a more remarkable record: 240 major cases tackled, and 240 major cases solved…some of them twice…each one in the space of 60 minues…since September 1965.”