Thursday, October 29, 2015
Nightmare in Chicago
Altman avoids the usual touristy spots and downtown Chicago glitz to showcase the stark Illinois winter and tollroads appropriate for writer David Moessinger’s (QUINCY, M.E.) crime drama, which takes place mostly at night. Based on William McGivern’s novella “Killer on the Turnpike,” NIGHTMARE IN CHICAGO’s first half plays sans musical score to play up the realism. It isn’t until the episode turns into a manhunt that composer John Williams (STAR WARS) brings up the score to punctuate the suspense. It looks very little like a typical ‘60s television show and very much like the experimental cinema coming out of Europe. Some performers are obvious amateurs Altman picked up in Chicago, and the stars — talented as they are — were likely chosen because they could blend with the scenery.
Philip Abbott, who played Efrem Zimbalist Jr.’s blandly efficient boss on THE FBI, uses that anonymous quality to good effect as “Georgie Porgie,” a serial killer strangling women in the Midwest. He’s already struck four times by the time the story picks him up in a small Indiana town just outside Chicago. After leaving his fifth victim sprawled in her own bed, Georgie quickly adds number six, whom he shockingly strangles during a makeout session in the front row of a crowded strip club. As if a deranged serial killer isn’t enough to keep cops Charles McGraw (THE NARROW MARGIN), Robert Ridgely (BOOGIE NIGHTS), and Ted Knight (THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW) busy on a brisk night just before Christmas, they also have to contend with an Army convoy carrying nuclear weapons that’s making its way down the same tollway Abbott is on.
“Once Upon a Savage Night” was the second and last KRAFT SUSPENSE THEATER directed by Altman, who was busy on other shows like COMBAT, BUS STOP, and THE LONG HOT SUMMER at the time. While I suspect the episode plays better at an hour (one scene in particular involving two waitresses and the boyfriend of one of them has nothing to do with the story and is obvious padding) than at 79 minutes, NIGHTMARE IN CHICAGO is crisp suspense on par with another of Altman’s finest works of the 1960s, BUS STOP’s notorious “A Lion Walks Among Us” episode.