Season Six (1970-71)

One of two Ford models that Erskine drove in season six end titles.

One of two Ford models that Erskine drove in season six end titles.

For Quinn Martin, his top priority for the 1970-71 season of The FBI was securing the continuing services of Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

The actor originally signed a five-year contract and was ready to move on. The producer convinced Zimbalist to continue and the actor signed another five-year deal. According to the book Quinn Martin, Producer, neither Martin nor Zimbalist thought the series would go another five years. As it turned out, it almost did.

Meanwhile, there were no major changes either in front, or behind, the camera for the 1970-71 season. With Zimbalist signed, the cast remained in place. So did the primary members of the crew: producer Philip Saltzman, associate producer Mark Weingart and story consultant Robert Heverly were all retained. Heverly wrote many of the scripts for the season, usually directed by Virgil W. Vogel.

Quinn Martin, meanwhile, had other matters demanding his attention. There a new series on ABC this season: the police drama Dan August. That show, featuring Burt Reynolds, Norman Fell and Richard Anderson — all of whom had been guest stars on The FBI — would only last the season. The producer for Dan August was none other than Anthony Spinner, a writer who had worked on other QM shows, including The FBI.

At The FBI, Saltzman & Co. opted not to deviate what had been a winning formula. The series avoided going into the personal back stories of Inspector Lewis Erskine, Special Agent Tom Colby or Assistant Director Arthur Ward. There were still meaty parts for guest stars. Often, the actors playing villains would get at least one scene where viewers would get a chance to see how the characters went bad.

Even the main and end titles were largely unchanged. One difference was two different Ford Motor Co. cars alternated being featured in the end titles. With a red, two-door Mercury Cougar, it appears a lamp was installed to light up Efrem Zimbalist Jr.’s face so viewers could see he was actually driving the car. Other than that, the end titles more or less repeated the same three shots from the fifth season.

Credits for the season

Executive Producer: Quinn Martin

Producer: Philip Saltzman

Associate Producer: Mark Weingart

Story Consultant: Robert Heverly

Supervising Producer: Adrian Samish

In Charge of Production: Arthur Fellows

Assistant to the Executive Producer: John Conwell

FBI Theme: Bronislau Kaper (as Bronislaw Kaper)

A QM Production In Association With Warner Bros. Inc.

Text (c) 2014-2016, William J. Koenig

141. The Condemned

Writer: Robert Heverly  Director: Virgil W. Vogel

Perry Allan Victor, Shephard Buford, et al

BANK ROBBERY

Perry Victor (Martin Sheen) and Shep Buford (Tim McIntire) are an Odd Couple who’ve successfully conducted a series of bank robberies. Perry is the brains of the operations while Shep has the nerve the pull off the jobs.

The duo are building gradually to their biggest job yet, a heist related to the construction of a tunnel in Oregon. However, Shep is wild card. Perry’s plans go askew when Shep “falls in love” with Cynthia Scott (Joan Van Ark). Cynthia is cunning and manipulative, causing havoc in the Perry-Shep partnership.

Erskine and Colby pursue the bank robbers from one end of the country to the other. The question is whether the intrepid bureau agents can capture the criminals in time.

Perry and Shep aren’t the greatest foes Erskine would face. Still, the episode gives Tim McIntire a chance to chew all the scenery he can. Martin Sheen also is worth watching, though one suspects he envied McIntire. Joan Van Ark as Cynthia also does a bit of scenery chewing. On top of all that, veteran character actors Royal Dano and Joe Mantell make the most of their screen time.

My main quibble is that Efrem Zimbalist Jr. almost comes across as the host of an anthology show, rather than the star of the series. On the other hand, in Act IV, we get a great look at James W. Gavin, the show’s lead helicopter pilot. There are repeated two-shots of Zimbalist and Gavin in an FBI helicopter. Gavin was an unsung hero of Hollywood, performing helicopter duties on numerous productions, including the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever.

The highlight of the episode takes place in Act IV where Perry and Shep flee into the tunnel construction site just in time for a test flooding. The art department, led here by art director Dale Hennessy and set decorator Hoyle Barrett, comes through with flying colors.

Gunplay: There’s a shootout at a St. Louis currency exchange where Joe Mantell’s character is wounded. Erskine and Colby take Perry and Shep into custody without gun fire.

Duane Tatro provides a good original score. GRADE: B.

Here’s a preview of the episode, which Warner Archive uploaded to YouTube:

142. The Traitor

Writer: Gerald Sanford  Director: William Hale

Donald Willis, Alex Keeler, Bryan Carlson, Neil Stryker et al

ESPIONAGE

A spy ring has targeted data related to a “ruby laser” system. Donald Willis, an employee at a Boston-area company developing the system, is suppying information but is injured during an elevator accident at a cheap hotel. Now the ring is wants to get its hooks into someone else at the company.

The new target of the spy ring is Neil Stryker (Bradford Dillman), another scientist at the company. Stryker is a dutiful employee but is in debt and was counting on a promotion. However, because of belt tightening, promotions are now hard to come by. This gives spy Bryan Carlson (Wayne Rogers), who has already loaned Stryker money, more leverage to get Stryker to provide information about the system.

Carlson initially fools Stryker into believing this is merely industrial espionage, rather than betraying his country. Stryker discovers the truth too late and is forced into cooperating.

Meanwhile, the case is a top priority for the bureau. Early in Act I, we see Assistant Director Arthur Ward on the phone with “the Director” (J Edgar Hoover, naturally). Erskine and Colby go to Boston to supervise the FBI’s investigation.

Gunplay: Erskine and Colby wound Carlson in a climatic gunfight in Act IV, but Carlson survives.

Hugo Friedhofer (1901-1981), composer for the 1946 film The Best Years of Our Lives, provides his only original score for the series. A solid episode overall. GRADE: B.

143. Escape to Terror

Writer: Don Brinkley  Director: William Hale

George C. Breen

FUGITIVE, FRAUD AGAINST THE GOVERNMENT, CONSPIRACY, BOND DEFAULT

George Breen, an accountant who has been doing work for La Cosa Nostra, flees after being indicted. At the last minute, he agrees to take his pregnant wife with him as part of a plan hatched by Cosa Nostra chieftain Al Eubanks (Harry Guardino). Breen and Eubanks have family ties so everything seems to be clear sailing.

However, the Cosa Nostra High Commission has decided that Breen needs to be eliminated. Mob boss Michael Frost (Ken Lynch) informs Eubanks he needs to take care of the matter.

Erskine and Colby are on Breen’s trail. The bureau and the Cosa Nostra are in a race to see who can reach Breen first.

Breen was supposed to leave according to a pre-arranged plan but his wife, who is seven months pregnant, leaves at the last minute. She encounters complications with her pregnancy.

Fred Mandl subs for William W. Spencer as director of photography for this episode. Spencer would only photography about half of this season’s episodes and Mandl would be one of the main substitutes.

Gunplay: Erskine and Colby wound Eubanks before he can kill Breen. No fatalities in this episode.

This episode has a stock score. GRADE: B.

144. The Architect

Teleplay: Robert Heverly  Story: Jonathan Box

Director: Virgil W. Vogel

Arthur McBride, James J. Borden, Howard Lawson Deal

UNLAWFUL FLIGHT TO AVOID CONTAINMENT, FUGITIVES

Monte Markham plays Arthur McBride, a character similar to the one he played in Season Five, except more so. McBride is brilliant (IQ of 142, borderline genius) but also a remorseless psychotic. His nickname is “the Architect,” because of his elaborate robberies.

McBride, James Borden (a first time offender) and Howard Deal (a long-time criminal) have escaped from prison, fleeing a bus coming back from a work detail. Because the trio are suspected of crossing state lines, the bureau is called into the case. Also, McBride immediately goes on the Ten Most Wanted List.

McBride & Co. make it Omaha. They quickly abduct John Prysock (veteran character actor Ford Rainey), a local man and take him back to his house. The escapees prepare their next moves. Prysock is forced to take an overdose of sleeping pills by Deal. Luckily, the FBI gets a tip and Erskine, Colby and Mark Kress (Fred Holliday), an Omaha-based agent, find Prysock in time to save his life.

Nevertheless, the escapees are again on the run. McBride orders Borden (Billy Dee Williams) to kill Deal. Borden can’t do it and sends Deal (Dabbs Greer) on his way. McBride travels to Chicago where he blackmails businessman Stacy Merriman into supplying $30,000 for upfront funds for a new job. Merriman, when it’s time to hand over the cash, shoots McBride. Merriman is arrested but the wounded McBride gets away.

McBride meets up with Borden in Miami. The job McBride has planned is to knock over an armored car after it makes its daily run to a horse race track. McBride is mostly in control, but late one evening, after some heavy drinking, he’s barely holding on when McBride returns to the hotel room. McBride, the ultimate loner, reaches out to Borden to “not leave me.” It’s implied that maybe there was something more. The next day, Borden says, “Forget about it.” McBride tersely responds, “You forget about it!” This being 1970 television, it doesn’t go beyond that.

In the interim, Deal has been apprehended. Erskine and Colby lead agents trying to get McBride before he can pull off the armor car job.

Markham delivers a pretty intense performance and the McBride characters gives him a lot to work with. Billy Dee Williams also is fine. Nice moment in the epilogue when McBride asks Erskine what mistake he made. “When you robbed your first bank in Mount Vernon,” Erskine replies.

Gunplay: McBride fires a shotgun at FBI agents. Erskine wounds him in the chest with a single, right-handed shot.

Willard Jones provides his first original score for the series and he’ll do more in subsequent seasons. GRADE: B-Plus.

145. The Savage Wilderness

Writer: Robert Malcolm Young  Director: Virgil W. Vogel

Walker Oborn

CRIME ON A GOVERNMENT RESERVATION

Mentally disturbed Walker Oborn (Don Stroud) abducts 18-year-old Emily Harris (Darlene Carr). The crime takes place in a national forest in northern California and the bureau is called in immediately.

Erskine and Colby are already in San Francisco and lead the FBI’s investigation. Assistant Director Arthur Ward tells Erskine that “the Director” is following the case closely, so there’s extra pressure on the intrepid inspector.

Oborn is a contradictory figure. He’s capable of making intricate carvings as well as violence. He has obsessed over Emily for two years. Deep in the forest, Oborn has refurbished a cabin, intending to live there with Emily for the rest of their lives. Erskine & Co. have few clues, except for a trail of trash Emily is leaving.

A mixed episode. The scenery is impressive. But the story also seems drawn out, as if there wasn’t really enough story to fill out an hour. The FBI helicopter gets more exposure than normal as part of the long, long search for Oborn and Emily and we see plenty of pilot James W. Gavin.

Stroud is good, alternating between menace and kindness. This also marks the fourth appearance of actor David Macklin in the series, here playing Emily’s boyfriend. It’s also Macklin’s first appearance on the show without Louise Latham playing his mother. Meanwhile, footage from this episode would be used for the main titles for Efrem Zimbalist Jr., William Reynolds and Philip Abbott.

Gunplay: Colby exchanges shots with Oborn to give Erskine a chance to sneak up behind the kidnapper. It takes Erskine more effort than usual to subdue Oborn. In the epilogue, we’re told Oborn was committed to a mental institution until he could stand trial.

Music supervisor John Elizalde once again contributes an original score.  GRADE: B-Minus.

146. Time Bomb

Writer: Robert Malcolm Young  Director: Virgil W. Vogel

Eric Stone, Gilbert Manning, Karen Wandermere, Knox Hiller, Alan Hiller

DESTRUCTION OF GOVERNMENT PROPERTY

This is a very mixed episode. It was an attempt by producer Philip Saltzman to incorporate current events into the show. In this case, the episode’s story is based on the Weather Underground, which advocated revolution and conducted a series of bombings at government buildings.

However, with the real-life FBI keeping a close watch on the series, plus the general limits imposed by commercial networks by ABC, it was doubtful things could be too close to reality. The antagonists here are a small group of young people. In the pre-titles sequence, they’ve planted a bomb in the annex of a federal building in Los Angeles. Only one person injured after the bomb goes off. The authorities received a tip shortly before that. Now, the bureau, led by Erskine, tries to find those responsible.

The group is a mixed bag. Eric Stone (Geoffrey Deuel) as the episode unfolds grows increasingly flaky. He wants to set off another bomb, this time set off at a time that will be sure to kill people. Karen Wandermere (Diana Ewing) comes from wealth but feels radical action is needed. Knox Hiller (Wayne Maunder) has the explosive know-how. Gilbert Manning (Tom Falk) is little more than a thug who follows Stone’s orders.

Meanwhile, Knox’s brother Alan (Mark Jenkins), was involved briefly with the group but was able to see trouble was ahead. It was Alan who called the authorities. He’s also in a relationship with Karen.

The dialogue among the group is often clunky. At one point Karen says, “I don’t want to be a housewifey housewife.” And there are plenty of utterances of “man” and “baby.” Most likely, both ABC the real-life FBI stressed to Saltzman’s crew that the bombers not look too sympathetic.

The procedural sequence of the show fare better as the usually well-oiled bureau relentlessly pursues the case. One key lead is how remnants of an extremely expensive purse were found at the explosion. That puts Erskine and Colby on the trail of Karen and things begin to unravel for the bombers from there.

Gunplay: Manning, while trying to kill Alan Hiller, tries to shoot it out with bureau agents. Both Erskine and Colby return fire, wounding him.

The episode has a stock score, including some Richard Markowitz music from Season Five’s Scapegoat. Saltzman deserves credit for bringing real life into the show, but given the controversial nature of what was happening, it’s not surprising it’s a mixed bag. GRADE: C-Plus.

147. The Innocents

Writer: David W. Rintels (as Pat Riddle)

Director: Gene Nelson

Frank Raphael Colling, Elizabeth Dulcie Colling

KIDNAPPING, EXTORTION

This episode marks writer David W. Rintels’ final episode for The FBI and he goes out on a high with another kidnapping story. This time, the victim is a 7-year-old boy, Timmy Bowden, the son of a wealth, estranged Washington couple.

The kidnappers are Frank Colling (Larry Blyden), an uneducated, alcoholic loser, and his wife Elizabeth (Lois Nettleton). She works at the same hospital as Timmy’s mother, Dr. Anne Bowden (Joan Hotchkis). It was her idea to kidnap Timmy and both Collings view the ransom as their last chance to finally get ahead.

Frank Collings’ desire for alcohol messes their plans more than once. Meanwhile, Timmy has come down with a strong case of the flu and he’s getting sicker by the minute. Eventually, Frank is apprehended by agents led by Erskine and Colby. But Elizabeth and Timmy are missing. Now, the clock is ticking as Erskine tries to find the desperately sick boy.

Gunplay: None. Frank Colling at one point implies he might kill Timmy but nothing comes of this.

Lois Nettleton gets the bulk of the big acting moments. The Collings had a son who died (no specific explanation is given). As Timmy gets sicker, Elizabeth begins to exhibit a tenuous hold on reality. Finally, Elizabeth takes Timmy to the hospital. By this time, Erskine catches up to her, Elizabeth thinks of Timmy as her own son. Not for the last time in the series, Erskine must gently deal with a woman who has gone insane.

The episode has a stock score that includes Bronislau Kaper music from Season One (heard in The Baby-Sitter) as well as a snippet of Richard LaSalle’s score from Season Three’s Counter-Stroke. The latter is played when Elizabeth turns on a movie playing on a television station. GRADE: A-Minus, much of it due to Nettleton’s performance.

148. The Deadly Pact

Writer: Robert Heverly  Director: Virgil W. Vogel

Daniel “Ginger” Dodds, Ernest Gieger, James Steen et al

ORGANIZED CRIME, EXTORTIONATE CREDIT TRANSACTIONS, ATTEMPTED MURDER

La Cosa Nostra is running a test whether it can take over African American-owned businesses and “bleed them dry.” Ginger Dodds (Hari Rhodes), a loan shark, has been recruited by Cosa Nostra enforcer Alex Poland (Robert Loggia) to target black businessmen who’ve run into financial trouble. Once they’re on the hook, the businessmen are forced to sign over a controlling interest to the Cosa Nostra.

One such businessman in Los Angeles is severely beaten when he refuses to pay what he owes. Erskine already heads up the bureau’s investigation in the matter. Dodds has been identified as the middleman between the businessmen and the mob. The bureau brings in Special Agent Harry Dane (Booker Bradshaw), last seen in Season Five’s Sanctuary, to go undercover.

The Cosa Nostra’s new target is Terry Maynard (Ivan Dixon), who frequently hires ex-cons for his industrial business, telling his employees they have one chance to make good. His No. 2, Les Cutts (James McEachin) tells one new hire than he had the longest rap sheet of all of Maynard’s hires.

The mob gets its leverage on Maynard when his company loses a key government contract to another company called Colton Industries (that name name again, see Season Two’s The Camel Nose). Now, Maynard is forced to seek money from Dodds. But the mob wants to collect much sooner than Maynard expects. Maynard eventually moves to cooperate with the bureau and provide key evidence. But the wife of himself and his family is now threatened.

This episode essentially is a remake of Season Two’s The Scourge, where the Cosa Nostra was gaining control of various white-owned businesses. Scribe Robert Heverly even has the term “juicer” (the front man who gains control of the business for the mob) uttered here, just as it was in the Season Two episode, which was written by Norman Jolley. Besides the return of Bradshaw, Dean Harens is back as Los Angeles SAC Bryan Durant.

Gunplay: Erskine and Colby simultaneously shoot, and wound, a hood who has abducted Mayard’s children to pressure him into cooperating with the mob plan. In Act IV, Erskine wounds another thug with a single, one-handed job, before the thug can kill Maynard.

Trivia note: the house where Loggia’s character is staying was used by various television shows in the 1960s and ’70s, including the first Columbo pilot, Prescription: Murder, in 1968.

Sidney Cutner provides the final of his 14 original scores for the series. It’s not spectacular, but effective. It also sounds as if fewer musicians are being deployed compared with earlier seasons. The cast is solid and holds the viewer’s interest. GRADE: B-Plus.

149. The Impersonator

Writer: Don Brinkley  Director: William Hale

Wesley W. Ziegler

IMPERSONATION, INTERSTATE TRANSPORTATION OF STOLEN PROPERTY

A basic procedural episode, but not much more. Wesley W. Ziegler (Stuart Whitman) likes to seduce lonely, rich women and take them for as much as he can. Assistant Director Arthur Ward refers to Ziegler as a parasite, and assigns Erskine the task of bringing the criminal in.

Whitman, his abandoned wife (Marj Dusay) and his next target (Mariette Hartley) collectively get the majority of screen time while, at times, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. seems to have little more than a cameo in his own show.

Ziegler is a moderately interesting character and Whitman plays him smoothly. Also, Ziegler is suspected of killing one of his previous victims. But that menace isn’t explored very deeply. As usual, the guest cast is fine, but writer Brinkley’s script seems underdeveloped.

Gunplay: Erskine and Ziegler exchange a few shots, but nobody gets hit. Ziegler is apprehended by Erskine and Colby without anyone being wounded.

Trivia: For much of the episode Whitman drives a lime green Mustang, a color not seen on Ford vehicles on the series.

The episode has a stock score, mostly from music composed for earlier Season Six episodes, although the music cue from the start of Act III is from Season One. In the epilogue, we’re told Ziegler was convicted for murder, along with his lesser crimes. GRADE: C-Plus.

150. Antennae of Death

Writer: Robert Heverly  Director: Virgil W. Vogel

Arthur Majors, Kirby James Jarret, Paul Willard, Oren Willard

ASSAULTING FEDERAL OFFICERS

In the 21st century, the 150th episode of a series would be a major event. For The FBI, the 150th epsidoe proved to be a coincidence that William Shatner would make his one and only appearance.

Shatner’s Arthur Majors is both a pusher and an addict. Shatner gets the bulk of the screen time here. Arthur Majors is, figuratively, walking a high wire between the mob (for a change the term Cosa Nostra is not used) and drug users.

Shatner, when this episode was produced, had not yet become an icon despite starring in the original Stark Trek television series. For viewers of many television series of the era, he was a familiar face, but was not yet a superstar.

Regardless, Statner’s character does dominate the episode. The actor, for the most part, does not over act. Thus, he successfully threads the needle.

Efrem Zimbalist Jr.’s Erskine doesn’t get to do as much as he should until Act IV, when he finally gets some “bits of business.” Dean Harens once again appears as Los Angeles SAC Bryan Durant.

Gunplay: Some, but not a lot. Nobody gets wounded.

The episode has a stock score, including some Sidney Cutner music from Season One. Overall, a decent procedural story, Shatner and the guest cast are fine. GRADE: B.

151. The Target

Writer: Gerald Sanford  Director: William Hale

Nicholas Blok, Howard Denham and Ruth Denham

FOREIGN AGENTS REGISTRATION ACT

The economics minister of a Communist nation has defected but the news hasn’t become public yet. His daughter, Maria (Karin Dor) is visiting the United States and even she doesn’t know about the defection.

Nicholas Blok (Eric Braeden), a top-ranking Communist agent who specializes in “abduction and assassination,” has been assigned to enter the U.S. and kidnap Maria to force the minister to return to his nation. Blok forces a married couple, Howard and Ruth Denham, who are deep-plant agents to assist him.

Blok is discovered entering this country from a ship at the port of Tampa. He gets away but left behind a knife with microfilm in it. This brings the bureau into the case. Blok travels to Charleston, where Maria currently is staying. He tricks her into going with him, saying her father “has had an attack” and is severely ill. Eventually, Blok admits to Maria that the father is fine. He plans to charter a fishing boat to meet “a Communist trawler” and take her back to her home country.

This episode is a good example of the QM Gravitas when it fires on all cylinders. The storytelling is lean, while working in the back stories of the principal characters. Blok thinks of himself as a soldier fighting for his. He can be ruthless but isn’t an automation.

Guest star Karin Dor is an alumnus of the James Bond film series, playing femme fatale Helga Brandt in You Only Live Twice. Many of the supporting cast have been in previous episodes of The FBI, including John Kerr and Jerry Douglas as two bureau SACs.

Trivia: The fishing boat is tied to a dock that looks like the same dock used for the Bat Boat in the 1966 Batman movie (Some of the terrain around the dock also shows up in that film.)

Gunplay: Blok wounds Howard Denham, when the latter tries to prevent him from taking Maria. Blok fires once at Erskine but wisely gives up.

In the epilogue, we’re told the Denhams were granted asylum in return for detailing their spying activities. We get a hint of Compassionate Erskine when he talks to Maria in the sequence. He had been very no-nonsense up until then.

There are enough action sequences that Carl Barth gets a second unit director credit. The episode has a stock score, which includes using Richard Markowitz music from Season Three in Act IV. GRADE: A-Minus.

152. The Witness

Writer: Mark Rodgers  Director: William Hale

John McElroy, Yvonne Demarest

CRIME ON A GOVERNMENT RESERVATION

This episode have a bit of everything. The Cosa Nostra! The FBI helicopter! Shootouts! But at the heart of the episode is a very strong performance by character actor Murray Hamilton, always a dependable member of QM casting boss John Conwell’s “QM Players.”

Doug McElroy (Hamilton) is a successful San Diego businessman who’s been known to cut corners now and then. He has a “semi-invalid” wife (June Dayton, who played Erskine’s secretary in early Season One episodes) and a hell raiser son, John (Don Grady).

John and Yvonne Demarest, after a long night out drinking and partying, wander onto a U.S. military depot. A chief petty officer tries to apprehend them. In a weird accident that results from a foot chase, the CPO is severely burned by exploding fuel that had spilled on the ground. John and Yvonne get away, but not without John damaging his bright yellow Mustang, which will need repairs.

Meanwhile, the Cosa Nostra is targeting Doug McElroy’s business, as part of a familiar M.O., i.e. lending money so it can seize control and use the business for its own ends. The front man is George Petrarkis (John Vivyan, star of the Blake Edwards Mr. Lucky series) for up-and-coming Cosa Nostra operator Jerry Leigh (Roger Perry). Eventually, the mob learns of the incident at the depot and uses it to blackmail Doug McElroy.

What sets this apart is Hamilton’s performance. His character really does want the best for his family. He’s gotten his son out of scrapes before. But when McElroy realizes the depth of the fix he’s in he realizes for once in his life there’s no way to make a deal and live with himself. Hamilton is particularly good in a scene where he and John meet to talking things out. The businessman says it’s his failure because of the values he instilled in his son but John will have to actually pay the price. Don Grady also is good in the episode (and his character is very different from his My Three Sons persona), but especially in this scene.

As the situation turns sour, Leigh is told by a Cosa Nostra bigwig (Edward Colmans, who’ll turn up as a Mafia counselor in Season Eight) to clean up the mess. The question is whether Erskine, Colby and the bureau will get to the father and son in time.

In Act IV, both Erskine and Colby get to ride in the FBI helicopter and pilot James W. Gavin’s face is visible in a few shots. Besides June Dayton, there’s another actress from the past: Barbara Baldavin, who plays Mrs. McElroy’s nurse. She played the widow of a slain FBI agent in Episode 4 and appeared in other episodes of the series as well.

Gunplay: Two hit men (one played by familiar character actor Robert Phillips) surrender without firing a shot. Leigh, however runs off, firing several shots at the FBI helicopter. Once Erskine and Colby are on the ground, Leigh unwisely fires again. Erskine and Colby return fire, wounding Leigh. We’re told in the epilogue he recovered from his wounds.

The episode has a stock score. Hamilton’s performance is a highlight and adds to the usual procedural and action scenes. GRADE: A.

153. Incident in the Desert

Writer: Mark Weingart  Director: Bernard McEveety

John H. Elgin, Frank V. Taylor, Harold D. Boggs, Collier M. Sampson

INTERSTATE TRANSPORTATION OF STOLEN PROPERTY, MAJOR THEFT

A bit of an off-kilter episode. A gang, led by John Elgin (Steve Ihnat) steals $270,000 from a wedding reception hosted by a prominent Texas philanthropist. The gang crosses states lines, bringing the bureau into the case. Assistant Director Arthur Ward says “the Director” wants Erskine to take the lead of the investigation, spoiling the inspector’s plans to play golf with Colby.

Eventually, the Elgin gang — after evading the authorities — ends up in a remote desert town in New Mexico. Things don’t go well and the gang is forced to take hostages.The FBI helicopter sees action, except that Erskine never rides in it, which seems odd somehow.

The guest cast is good, led by Ihnat, who oozes his usual sense of menace. Dabney Coleman also is on hand in a sympathetic role and we also see then-child actor Clint Howard as well as veteran character actor Paul Fix. One positive: the desert scenery is spectacular. Still, the situations are pretty routine.

Gunplay: The philanthropist is wounded in the robbery by Elgin. Erskine wounds Banjo, one of Elgin’s gang, in the climatic sequence.

Duane Tatro provides a very 1970s-sounding original score. It’s good, but it’s clear the Bronislau Kaper music template is fading by this time. GRADE: C-Plus.

154. The Inheritors

Writer: Alvin Sapinsley  Director: Jesse Hibbs

Glen Frye, Lester Hunter

INTERSTATE TRANSPORTATION OF STOLEN PROPERTY, MAJOR THEFT

Conman Glen Frye (Ray Danton) and his partner Lester Hunter flee when a scam goes bad. Frye double crosses Hunter and moves to reunite with Temple Alexander (Suzanne Pleschette), another con artist.

Temple is busy seducing prominent vineyard operator and widower Harlan Franciscus (Gene Raymond). Frye wants to get in on the action as well. However, things are complicated because Franciscus’ son (Larry Linville) is suspicious, even to the point of hiring a private investigator.

Frye threatens to kill the private detective unless he gives Temple a clean bill of health.After that, Frye shows up, posing as Temple’s brother. Now, Frye puts the squeeze on Temple just as she’s reaching for what could….wait for it…be her last chance at happiness.

The FBI specialized in little monologues where a guest star talked about how they reached this particular point in their life. Pleschette gets one of those in Act IV and she does extremely well with it. Her performance (the final of three appearances in the series) is one of the highlights of the series.

Two familiar faces return in smaller roles: Lew Brown, again playing San Francisco SAC Allen Bennett, and Paul Sorensen (who first appeared way back in episode 1).

Also, this was the only episode of the show written by Alvin Sapinsley. He’d go on to be one of the best writers on Hawaii Five-O, starting with the 1971-72 season.

Gunplay: A suspect (Sorensen) being pursed by Erskine and Colby opens fire on the FBI men, but is apprehended without being wounded. Erskine wounds Frye with a single shot.

Efrem Zimbalist Jr., in his early 50s when this was filmed, still seems pretty spry, particularly in a scene where bureau agents apprehend Frye’s partner The episode has a stock score. GRADE: B-Plus.

.155. Unknown Victim

Writer: Mark Weingart  Director: William Hale

Thorn Hazard, Bryan Hazard, Shiela Waters

EXTORTION, KIDNAPPING

Kidnapping stories were always a strong point for The FBI. Here, writer-associate producer Mark Weingart provides a twist where kidnappers snatch the wrong girl. Their target is the daughter of a rich man, Owen Singer (John Lassell), but they mistakenly abduct the daughter of a family in much more humble financial circumstances.

The mistake isn’t immediately evident. A ransom note has been received by the rich family but their daughter shows up while Erskine, Colby and New York SAC Chet Randolph (Anthony Eisley) are still present. Now, the bureau has to start afresh to figure out what happened.

The kidnappers are a pair of brothers, Thorn and Bryan Hazard. Thorn (Tom Skerritt) dominates his younger brother (Fabian). He even makes at a pass at Bryan’s girlfriend, Shiela Waters (Lynne Marta) when Bryan isn’t around. Shiela is fully aware that Thorn is wound too tight. It was Shiela who helped them pick out the daughter of the rich family for kidnapping. Shiela, rightfully, fears Thorn will kill the girl who was kidnapped by mistake once he discovers the error.

Things get even more complicated when Singer refuses to help out with the ransom. That leaves the father of the kindapped girl, Harry Oliver (Woodrow Parfey) at the end of his rope because he has no hope of raising the ransom otherwise.

There’s some interesting notions presented, but they’re not necessarily as developed as they could be. Owen Singer says he’s refusing to help raise the ransom as a matter of principle, because paying off the kidnappers will only encourage other criminals. This creates tension in the Singer home (his daughter threatens to move out of the house) but everything gets papered over after Owen has a change of heart. Parfey, a dependable character actor, provides his usual professional performance. Skerritt is suitably creepy as Thorn.

Gunplay: In Act IV, Erskine and Thorn exchange gunfire. Erskine wounds Thorn with his second shot.

Music supervisor John Elizalde assembles a stock score from some first-season music, some of Sidney Cutner’s score from Season Two’s The Escape and some of Richard Markowitz’s music from Season Five’s Scapegoat. GRADE: B-Plus.

156. The Stalking Horse

Writer: Jack Turley  Director: Nicholas Webster

Lee Barrington, Marie Roska, Yanos Lobler

ESPIONAGE

This espionage story has a “been there, done that” feel. Someone is tricked and/or seduced into thinking they’re making extra money for industrial espionage when it’s really plain old espionage.

The dupe here is Lee Barrington (Steve Forrest), son-in-law of Vincent Millard (Harold Gould), head of Millard Industries, which is working on a top secret rocket fuel for the U.S. government. Barrington has been seduced by Marie Roska (Diana Hyland), who’s really an agent for the “Code Green” Communist bloc nation. Barrington was interrupted after stealing only half of the rocket fuel formula, but Marie and her superiors want the rest.

Erskine goes undercover as a “quality control specialist” assigned to Millard Industries, while Colby assists him. The FBI men investigate, trying to determine who among those who had access to Millard Industries’ computer room attempted to steal the formula. The title stems from how Barrington and the espionage ring frame a chemist at Millard who quit after being passed over for a promotion.

The cast is fine. Diana Hyland, who normally played more sympathetic roles, is good as a femme fatale. The story’s pace is a bit slow but speeds up in Act IV, when Barrington’s wife discovers her husband’s duplicity.

Gunplay: In the climax, Yanos Lobler, the spy running the operation, wounds Barrington in the arm. After a foot chase, Lobler fires on Erskine. The inspector returns the fire and the spy goes down. It doesn’t look like he’ll get up, but we’re told in the epilogue he survived his wounds. There’s enough action in Act IV that Carl Barth gets a second unit directing credit.

Trivia: We briefly see Erskine smoking at a party scene toward the end of Act I. The FBI man, who smoked quite a bit in the first two seasons, hadn’t been smoking much on camera since.

The episode has a stock score. GRADE: B-Minus.

157. Center of Peril

Writer: Robert Malcolm Young  Director: Carl Barth

Porter Bent, Mark Donald Gaynor, Jay Richard Yarborough

INTERSTATE TRANSPORTATION OF STOLEN PROPERTY, MAJOR THEFT

Another “been there, done that” episode where Erskine has to engage in a “crash course” to pass as an art expert.

In this story, a priceless painting is taken from a Kansas City, Missouri, museum. The thieves have a buyer lined up, but that man dies. The thieves has to change course and try to sell it back to the museum.

The episode is solid, but seems padded. Carl Barth, QM’s long-time second unit director gets to sit in the director’s chair this time. Meanwhile, ace pilot James W. Gavin gets to assume to the second unit director duties. Evidently, Gavin (once again piloting the FBI helicopter) seemed aware of this. Unlike most episodes where you could see Gavin in the pilot’s seat, here he doesn’t wear sunglasses.

Gunplay: The lead crook, Porter Bent (Vic Morrow) gets into a long foot chase, with the FBI helicopter shining a spotlight on him. Bent opens fire on a couple of anonymous bureau agents. They return fire and Bent is wounded.

A basic procedural show. The main twist is that Erskine helped apprehend a member of the gang, similar to previous episodes.

The episode has a stock score. GRADE: C-Plus.

158. Eye of the Needle

Writer: Robert Heverly  Director: Virgil W. Vogel

Eugene Fordyce, Paul Menard, James Lee Vaughn

EXTORTION

Prominent Utah surgeon Dr. Herbert Barth (Richard Kiley) is vacationing by himself in a remote area of the Cascades in Washington state. Three men attempt to abduct him but Barth escapes. One of the trio, Paul Menard (Michael Baseleon) tracks Barth while ringleader Eugene Fordyce (Robert Yuro) plans to go to Utah and press extortion demands of the ill Mrs. Barth (Coleen Gray).

As it turns out, the final member of the trio, James Lee Vaughn (Jerry Ayres) was already wanted by the bureau for bank robbery and is nabbed by agents when he, too, returns to Utah. The arrest alerts the FBI because Vaughn was found with Barth’s wallet and camera. The would be kidnappers had taken Barth’s photo moments before he escaped to use in the extortion demand.

Erskine and Colby are now on the case. They discover Barth previously received letters demanding $200,000. Barth had instructed his secretary to have them destroyed but she kept them, providing the FBI men with an additional clue. While the agents try to pursue leads, Barth and Menard are playing a deadly game of cat and mouse in the Cascades. Menard is an expert tracker, but Barth is smart and tough, even preparing a trap that results in Menard being stabbed in the leg with a sharpened piece of wood.

Fordyce sets up a ransom drop that bureau agents are monitoring. But things go awry when Fordyce gets into an auto accident and pulls a gun on the other driver. He picked the wrong guy because that driver clocks Fordyce, who receives a incapacitating head injury. Erskine presses on, figuring that Barth’s chances for survival are diminishing with each passing minute.

Solid procedural, helped by location shooting. It’s not explained how Barth developed such good survival skills, but given his age and the fact the U.S. still had a military draft, the surgeon likely had military training at some point. He’s not a superman by any means (Kiley looks pretty beat up by the end of Act IV), but he clearly doesn’t panic. Meanwhile, we briefly see Compassionate Erskine as he tries to reassure Mrs. Barth that her husband may still be alive. We see a very steely looking Erskine when he stares down a man suspected of providing Barth’s personal financial information to the criminals.

Trivia: At one point, Erskine and Colby show Mrs. Barth a list of names of men who knew her husband. One of the names on the list is set decorator Hoyle Barrett. In the ransom drop sequence, a decoy is substituted for Mrs. Barth. The decoy is played by Lynette Mettey, who shows up in a lot of series in the 1970s and ’80s. In Act IV, we get to see two helicopters. As usual, James W. Gavin pilots the one where Erskine is a passenger. In the epilogue, the shadow of a microphone can be seen briefly on Richard Kiley’s face.

Gunplay: Menard shoots a rifle several times at Barth but never hits him. Erskine subdues Menard without drawing his weapon.

The episode has a stock score, consisting of both Season Six and Season One music. The combination is a little jarring at times. GRADE: B.

159. The Fatal Connection

Writer: Ed Waters  Director: Nicholas Webster

Albert Rendich, Raymond Bergan, Anthony Sprague

INTERSTATE TRANSPORTATION IN AID OF RACKETEERING, EXTORTION, INTERSTATE TRANSPORTATION OF STOLEN VEHICLE

Nationally syndicated newspaper columnist Frank Conner (Andrew Duggan) is wounded in his Dixon Park, Indiana, home during a murder attempt. His son was home when the attempt occurred. He smashed a milk bottle against an open door where one would be killer Duke Bergan (Scott Marlowe) was standing, the glass going into Bergan’s face. Bergan and his accomplice, Al Rendich (Gary Crosby) flee, abandoning the van they were driving 300 miles away in the Flint, Michigan, area. They crossed state lines, bringing the bureau into the case.

First, Erskine and Colby have to apprehend Bergan and Rendich. Bergan has terrible eyesight and requires special contact lenses to see clearly. One of the lenses was found in the Conner home, giving the bureau a lead and the FBI men catch the duo. The problem is Bergan doesn’t really know much. He only dealt with a middle man and only saw him from behind in a car.

Meanwhile, there’s still a contract on Conner. Erskine must figure out who wants Conner dead. The columnist has been writing about “enforcer” Anthony Sprague. But he’s only the muscle, not the brains behind the criminals Conner has been writing about.

Overall a solid cast. Scott Marlowe plays his usual heavy and Andrew Duggan is solid as the columnist. However, we’re told Conner pays informant Chip Tyler (Sorrell Booke), which then and now is a big no-no among journalists in the U.S. The cast also includes Barbara Billingsley as Mrs. Conner. She has as much, if not more, screen time than Dana Elcar, who plays a prominent businessman with a secret. But she doesn’t get guest star billing, while Elcar does.

Gunplay: Colby wounds a thug in Act IV with a single shot. Erskine doesn’t fire his weapon.

Episode suffers from some so-so rear projection in Act II during a chase sequence where Erskine and Colby follow Bergan, who’s on a motorcycle. Pacing of the chase sequence seems a little padded. But the second half is more tense as Chip Tyler is forced to try to kill Conner. Erskine has an “if looks could kill expression” as he gets frustrated trying to question Bergan about the appearance of the middle man.

Trivia: In Act I, we see the display window of a book store named Barrett & Hoyle. Undoubtedly, that’s a reference (yet again) to set decorator Hoyle Barrett and this is the sort of thing a set decorator does.

The episode has a stock score, mostly earlier Season Six music. But there’s a scene in Act I where Gary Crosby is supposed to be watching an old movie on television. That scene uses Richard LaSalle’s score from Season Three’s Counter-Stroke. GRADE: B-Minus.

160. The Replacement

Writer: Gerald Sanford  Director: Philip Abbott

Valerie Hendricks, Paul Stoner, Karl Elman Et Al

ESPIONAGE

This episode is a semi-remake of Season Three’s Counter-Stroke. In both cases, an incoming spy arrives at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport. Something goes wrong and the spy is taken into custody. The FBI is able to decode part of a message. And Erskine goes undercover, not knowing the fully story. Also, Erskine’s disguise includes a fake mustache and speaking in an English accent (part of a template extending back to Season One’s The Spy Master).

Regardless, this is still a very tense story. The bureau is seeking the true identity of a Communist spy master with the code name Constantine (Phyllis Thaxter). Erskine goes undercover as Eric Cross, the operative intended to be her replacement. It turns out that Constantine suffers from an inoperable brain tumor and only has months to live. 

In the middle of the case, however, Col. Kubrik, the head of the “Eastern Zone” espionage apparatus has been “liquidated” in a shakeup. Now, Karl Elman, the No. 3 man in the espionage ring headed by Constantine, has been ordered to take charge and Eric Cross is to go home. The Eastern Bloc wants Constantine killed as soon as she can pass on necessary information to Elman

As usual, the guest cast, which also includes Charles Korvin as the spy ring’s No. 2 man, is very solid. Thaxter’s and Korvin’s characters are supposed to be in love with each other and the actors sell you on that premise. The plot twists are presented in such a way they enhance the story and arent’ done as cliches.

Gunplay: Erskine wounds Elman with a single, right-handed shot.

The episode has a stock score. Despite the similarities with the Season Three episode, this installment is very solid. GRADE: B-Plus.

161. Death Watch

Writer: Robert Heverly  Director: Robert Douglas

Arthur Blaisdell, Timothy Lee Gage

CRIME ON A GOVERNMENT RESERVATION, ASSAULT, THEFT OF GOVERNMENT PROPERTY, CONSPIRACY

This is another example of how viewing a 1970s episode can be difficult in the 21st century. In this case, one of the guest stars is Diane Keaton. This installment aired the year before Keaton appeared in The Godfather and two years before Woody Allen’s Sleeper. At some point, you almost expect Allen to pop up. “Why are you going out with him, when you should be going out with me?!”

In this episode, Keaton plays Diane Britt, girlfriend of villain Stan Mayberry (Glenn Corbett), who is stealing M16 rifles from National Guard armories for “militants.” In the pre-credits sequence, Mayberry’s men bungle one theft, but stab a Marine sergeant (Richard Jaeckel) just after he has proposed to girlfriend Polly (Angel Tompkins).

Jaeckel’s character has a history of working at the bureau’s training academy at Quantico, Virginia. Assistant Director Arthur Ward already is on the West Coast, conducting inspections of FBI offices and he initially takes command of the investigation. Ward soon is called back to Washington by “the Director,” and Erskine is placed in charge.

This isn’t the best the series has to offer. You can tell who the militants are (they’re the guns with hair grown over their ears). But it’s totally unclear what they intend to do with the weapons. We do know they’re bad guys, because the militants plan to kill Mayberry and his men after they’ve gotten the weapons.

There is also a fair amount of padding. Erskine and the FBI establish there’s another attempt to seize weapons from another armory. The sequence, which takes place in Act II, is long. However, we do see Erskine in a heliicopter, along with pilot James W. Gavin. The ace pilot, for a change, isn’t wearing his his trademark sunglasses. Also in Act II, there’s a shot of Mayberry looking through binoculars at a stretch of road that’s part of his plan to seize weapons. In real life, it’s a stretch of Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles used in the filming of the Batman television series.

Apparently, there’s been a change in the San Francisco field office. James Day (Len Wayland) is now the SAC.

Gunplay: Quite a bit, although it doesn’t appear as if anybody was actually hit. Erskine doesn’t fire his weapon.

The episode has a stock score, utilizing various sources, including some Season One music, a bit of Richard Markowitz’s score from Season Five’s Scaegoat and some Season Six music. GRADE: C-Plus.

162. Downfall

Teleplay: Shirl Hendryx and Robert Heverly

Story: Shirl Hendryx  Director: Virgil W. Vogel

Holt Campbell alias Mike Keller, Martin Ashton

INTERSTATE TRANSPORTATION OF STOLEN PROPERTY, MAJOR THEFT

Holt Campbell (Michael Burns) is a cat burglar who executes robberies of large collections of jewelry or particularly valuable jewels. He’s backed by Martin Ashton (Carl Betz), a seemingly respectable New Orleans businessman who has a hidden past as a member of “the Chicago organization.”

Further complicating the picture is how Campbell, under his alias of Mike Keller, is also seeing Ashton’s daughter, Lynne (Anne Archer). She’s in love with the thief. But she doesn’t know the true story behind her boyfriend or her father.

Erskine and Colby are on the case after Campbell’s latest heist, involving the theft of more than $100,000 in jewels from a wealthy couple staying at a Houston hotel. There are enough clues — a lost watch, fibers, footprints — to get the bureau started.

At the same time, the relationship between Lynne and Campbell is heating up, with her wanting to run off with him. Ashton, though, still has enough underworld connections to hire a hit man — a move that endangers the life of his daughter.

For a change, Michael Burns doesn’t play a mentally unbalanced character (as he did in Season Five’s Scapegoat or as “Blue Boy” on Dragnet). Betz, by now years removed from The Donna Reed Show, is settling into a common role of playing a heavy. Anne Archer occasionally overacts but is solid as the daughter. The story, though, gets a bit soap opera-ish at times.

Trivia: During this same television season, Anne Archer played Dan Williams’ doomed girlfriend in an episode of Hawaii Five-O. In Act I, in Ashton’s office, we see a photograph of Archer. That same photo appeared in the Five-O episode. In that episode, the photo was in Danno’s apartment and he looked at it a lot after her character was killed. Also of note is that the New Orleans SAC is played by Morgan Jones. He was a semi-regular the first season of Mannix (1967-68) as a “by the book” Intertect detective who worked with Joe Mannix. Finally, the hit man affixes a silencer to his revolver. Silencers don’t work on revolvers, but this happened a lot on various QM shows.

Gunplay: The hit man hired by Ashton shoots Campbell once (with the silencer working when it shouldn’t). Erskine wounds the hit man with a single shot. Both survive.

The stock score includes Season One music by Bronislau Kaper and Season Two music by Richard Markowitz. A basic procedural. GRADE: B

163. The Hitchhiker

Writer: Mark Rodgers  Director: Virgil W. Vogel

Jerome Williams

BANK ROBBERY, UNLAWFUL FLIGHT TO AVOID PROSECUTION, ATTEMPTED MURDER

The main point of interest for a 21st century viewer is the chance to see an early, relatively raw, performance by Michael Douglas. Here, he’s Jerome Williams, AWOL from the Army and a misfit. He pulls off a bank robbery a few days after the bank in question refused him a car loan. The crime essentially was a performance, from a misfit wanting attention. In that regard, his character is somewhat like the bank robber back in Episode 4 (in that case the illegitimate son of a 1930s bank robbber).

Williams picks up hitchhiker Mary Ann Collins (Donna Mills) and another hitchhiker, Chuck Davis (Richard Kelton) to help him get through road blocks. Eventually, Williams and Davis get into a fight, with Williams shooting Davis and leaving him for dead. (Davis is found and survives.)

Erskine and Colby lead the bureau’s manhunt for Williams, who keeps getting in deeper and deeper. Mary Ann goes with him. Essentially, she, too, is running away from her well-to-do Omaha parents (Robert Brubaker and Peggy McCay).  Douglas does get a nice scene where his character explains how he went AWOL from the Army, despite wanting to join in the first place.

There is one very odd scene. Erskine and Arthur Ward (out in the field for a change) visit Mr. and Mrs. Collins. The walls are orange and yellow. Mr. Collins wears an orange sweater with a yellow shirt. In comes Petty McCay with her red hair. Maybe art director Richard Y. Haman and set decorator Hoyle Barrett were having a little joke. Regardless, it’s a very weird effect. When Collins talks about why his daughter went away, I half expected Erskine to ask, “Did she really not like the color orange, Mr. Collins?” Later, Collins wears orange ties.

Later, Mary Ann manages to get away from Williams after the AWOL soldier has robbed a traveling salesman of his jewelry samples. But she makes another wrong move when she accepts a ride from a motorcyclist (Skip Ward, who’s appeared in previous episodes) and his buddies. They know all about Williams and want the jewelry.

Gunplay: In addition to the man wounded by Williams, the soldier and the motorcyclists shoot at each other. Erskine wounds one of the motorcyclists with a single shot.

Questionable decor and wardrobe aside, the episode is solid and the tension does build up. One oddity: Robert Brubaker has a fair amount of screen time, certainly more than Peggy McCay. But McCay gets guest star billing (along with Michael Douglas and Donna Mills), but Brubaker only gets “with” billing in the end titles. While this isn’t Douglas’ most polished performance, you can see he did have promise. It’s no surprise that QM got him in on the payroll for The Streets of San Francisco.

In the climax in Act IV, we get to see two FBI helicopters. The episode has a stock score. GRADE: B.

164. Turnabout

Writer: Don Brinkley  Director: Robert Douglas

Richard A. Billings

INTERSTATE TRANSPORTATION OF STOLEN PROPERTY

An armored car robbery in Monroe, Michigan, goes bad but one of three robbers, Richie Billings (Warren Oates), gets away. The trio was doing the job for Joe Salka (Barry Russo). Salka deliberately misled the robbers. They thought the haul would be less than $100,000. It turns out to be $500,000.

Billings abandons the car he was driving near Toledo, making it a federal case and bring the bureau into the investigation.

Billings entices his girlfriend Alice Kranz (Joyce Van Patten) to run off with him. He also calls Salka to set up a meeting deliver the money. Billings wants $20,000 instead of his original $5,000 payment. Salka grins at how little Billings wants. But Salka still sends a hit man after Billings. The hit man underestimates Billings, who gets away with the $500,000.

The robber travels to Cleveland to try to set up a trip out of the country, contacting the owner of a trucking company who’s done shady business on the side. The businessman also moves to double cross Billings and contacts Salka.

By the this time, Erskine, Colby and other FBI men are closing in. Salka and the trucking company owner are apprehended but Billings gets away. Now, he and Alice go to Buffalo, searching out a “paper man” who can make them phony passports. The paper man, though, has a sexy daughter interested in Billings and the relationship between Richie and Alice begins to fray.

Another episode where things get a little soap opera-ish at times. The Billings-Alice relationship is at the center of the story. Their love has trouble withstanding Billings’ sudden wealth.

Gunplay: One of the three robbers was critically wounded in the armored car robbery but survives. Billings shoots his gun quite a bit throughout the episode but never actually wounds anybody. Erskine separately wounds Salka and Billings with a single shot each.

The episode has a stock score. Many of the Billings-Alice scenes utilize Leo Arnaud’s music from the scene in episode 4 where Lee Meriwhether’s Joanna Lauren was trying to tell Erskine she loved him but the inspector was oblivious.  GRADE: B.

165. The Natural

Teleplay: Ed Waters  Story: Norman Jolley

Director: Virgil W. Vogel

John Nesbit, Chester Hanzer, Rudy Waldron, et al

INTERSTATE TRANSPORTATION IN AID OF RACKETEERING, EXTORTION, SPORTS BRIBERY

The basketball team at a college in Jefferson City, Kentucky, has become involved with a gambling syndicate based in New York. Some members of the team have taken money to shave points (winning games by less than the point spread).

The syndicate now turns it attention to Billy Blaik, one of the team’s best players, who’s barely getting by financially because he also has to take care of his deeply ill mother. Billy initially accepts a bribe but balks. The syndicate then kidnaps his sister to force his cooperation.

Basic procedural, with nothing fancy. Billy (Anthony Costello) comes across as genuinely conflicted. Erskine gets a few good moments as he prods witnesses and suspects. There’s no yelling but there’s a hint of the legendary Erskine stubbornness. We also again see Peter Mark Richman as a sleezy bad guy.

This episode is the last contribution to the series by Norman Jolley, associate producer during the first two seasons and a major writer during that time. He only provides the plot here.

Gunplay: Erskine and Colby wound a thug when they and other FBI men go to rescue Billy’s sister. That sequence takes place at an amusement park. Part of a Pepsi sign is hidden, presumably for copyright and trademark reasons.

The episode’s stock score draws quite a bit from Richard Markowitz’s music for Season Two’s The Price of Death and Season Three’s By Force and Violence. GRADE: B.

166. Three-Way Split

Writer: Gerald Sanford  Director: Philip Abbott

Eliot Fielding, George R. Whelan, Roy Mills

BANK BURGLARY

Co-star Philip Abbott once again directs a season-ending episode. At one point, Abbott’s Arthur Ward assigns Erskine to the robbery of almost $1 million from a Denver bank because “the Director” wants results. After Erskine leaves, Ward walks past a portrait of J. Edgar Hoover, just in case there’s any doubt.

At times, there’s a mix-and-match feel. The story involves three men who tunneled into the bank vault to steal the money. That’s not unlike Season Three’s The Tunnel, except there the crime wasn’t completed. One of the thieves, Roy Mills, is played by Albert Salmi, not unlike the character he played in Season One’s The Plunderers. And some parts of the story take place at an exclusive Florida country club, not unlike Season Four’s Death of a Fixer.

Despite all that, there are some bits that elevate the proceedings. Another one of the robbers, George Whelan (Richard O’Brien), is a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for four years. O’Brien turns in a nifty piece of acting in Act III, when he falls off the wagon, which eventually leads to him being apprehended by the bureau.

The twist in the story is that neither Mills nor Whelan know who is the ringleader is. He’s Eliot Fielding (Peter Haskell), who has researched both of his confederates. Fielding is operating under an alias and he assigned fake names to his accomplices. A similar concept would be used with next season’s two-part episode The Mastermind.

Naturally, this makes things more difficult for Erskine and Colby but the bureau’s relentlessness turns up clues that enable it to capture the two accomplices and puts them on the trail of Fielding.

Veteran character actor Edward Andrews has a small role, but gets guest star billing. Meanwhile, Don Keefer, recognizable to fans of The Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life” (he’s the guy Anthony transforms into a Jack-in-the-Box), only gets “with” billing even though he has as much screen time as Andrews.

Gunplay: Mills fires once at Colby. He turns toward Erskine, but Colby tackles him. Fielding fires at the FBI men. Erskine wounds him with a single shot.

We get just a hint of Compassionate Erskine in the epilogue when the inspector tries to reassure Fielding’s girlfriend. The episode has a stock score. GRADE: B.

 

 

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