Monday, July 28, 2008

Can A Dead Man Strike From The Grave?

Shatner fans should check out this episode of THE SIXTH SENSE, even though it isn't very good. Produced by Universal in late 1971 and first aired by ABC February 26, 1972 (my brother's third birthday), "Can a Dead Man Strike from the Grave?" casts the former Captain Kirk (wearing longer, wavier hair) as Edwin Danbury, a wealthy architect living with his beautiful younger wife Elizabeth (Anne Archer, who was stunning then) in the family mansion where his grandfather lived decades earlier. Elizabeth becomes worried by the temperamental Edwin's increasingly frequent bouts of unexplained behavior, where he speaks using a strange voice, plays classical music on the grand piano (even though he doesn't know how), or just stares at something happening in the room that she can't see.

She contacts Dr. Michael Rhodes (series star Gary Collins), a university professor specializing in parapsychology. While poking around the Danbury house, where Edwin does not make him feel welcome, Rhodes meets Elizabeth's sister Helene (Bettye Ackerman) and niece Stephanie (Pam Peters), as well as Edwin's busybody assistant Phyllis (Allison McKay), who attempts to stir up trouble by insinuating to her boss that Elizabeth and Rhodes are having an affair. Stephanie tells Rhodes, who has begun to suspect Edwin's late grandfather of being involved in the spooky happenings, that no one is allowed in the family attic, where the Danbury history is suspected to be stored. Who's haunting whom and why, are the questions nagging at Rhodes, who apparently has no classes to teach and plenty of free time to hang around the Danbury estate.

Surprisingly, considering the script is by a good television writer, Gene L. Coon (a former STAR TREK producer), and directed by action specialist Alf Kjellin, "Can a Dead Man..?" is lifeless and dull. It looks as though it were shot on leftover THRILLER sets (I swear some of those props I've seen a dozen times in other shows) and a back corner of the Universal lot. All the roles are basically thankless ones. Collins, a genial but bland leading man, provides Rhodes with nothing indicating a history or personality. Besides his professional interest in the paranormal, he seems to have no likes, dislikes or traits of any kind. No Fox Mulder, he.

As for Shatner, less than three years after STAR TREK completed production, he gets to rant and rave, like he does so well, and act generally weird through most of the running time. And make out with Anne Archer, which I'm sure he didn't mind. It's one of the few Shatner TV performances of that era I hadn't seen, so it was nice to finally catch up with it, even though the show is pretty lame.

For some reason, as boring as it is, THE SIXTH SENSE has almost always been in syndication. That's because Universal, looking to boost the sales of its ROD SERLING'S NIGHT GALLERY, another NBC series about spooky stuff, mixed THE SIXTH SENSE into its episode bunch, even going so far as to hire Serling to provide introductions to SIXTH SENSE segments as if they had always been part of NIGHT GALLERY.

Those who have seen NIGHT GALLERY in reruns know well how poorly Universal treated it, chopping up the one-hour episodes and mixing up the individual stories to make 30-minute episodes, meaning some stories of the anthology series were seen apart from the stories they originally aired with, and some never aired at all. In the case of THE SIXTH SENSE, well, you can imagine what would happen if you took an hour episode of your favorite show and cut 25 minutes out of it to fit it into a half-hour timeslot. THE SIXTH SENSE has probably gotten something of a bum rap over the years, because the half-hour versions are literally incomprehensible, but the original hour shows are nothing special either. Strangely, the Chiller cable station is currently running NIGHT GALLERY in a one-hour slot, but with the SIXTH SENSE episodes still as part of it in its original form (and when I say "original form," I don't really mean that, as Chiller has cut all their shows of several minutes to add more commercials).

THE SIXTH SENSE managed to run for two half-seasons, beginning in January 1972 and leaving the air about a year later with 25 episodes altogether. Collins remained an incredibly popular TV actor throughout the 1970s who eventually reinvented himself in the '80s hosting daytime talk shows and the Miss America pageant.

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