There were radio shows that suited Kathleen
Hite's sensibility and talent, and others that did not.
As shocking and blasphemous as it may sound,
radio Gunsmoke was somewhere in the middle
(Hite's best work in Gunsmoke was on tv, in the b&w hour era).
Hite bloomed in the shows Rogers of the Gazette
and Fort Laramie, where she was left to her own devices
(or rather, everyone left town and left the shows to Hite's devices).
Not that throwing the remainder of a show on Hite's lap necessarily
worked every time--the return of Philip Marlowe
died by misadventure, stuck in a dead end of an alley
fitting for this radio incarnation who was more gum than shoe.
Kathleen Hite's participation in Escape was more toward
the end than the end itself. She wrote four episodes
that might be described as... dreadful.
(Okay, an Escapist would spell it dread-full.)
It is a dangerous dare and deed to demean Escape in any way.
People have been murdered in radio conventions
for careless comments made toward this hallowed show,
considered by many to be one of radio's best.
It is revered as great adventure and great drama,
done with great realism. All this greatness
should be obvious to you from the overwrought
music packed with foreboding and threatened terror.
(In the pop culture world, when a pop culture show makes use
of pseudo-classical pop culture, e.g. pap pop from the past
like "Night on Bald Mountain" on Escape
or "The William Tell Overture" on The Lone Ranger,
it earns a significant amount of air cred.)
As one of Escape's claims to greatness, its fanatics point
to the fact that it made voice versions of many literary classics.
Of course, the covering of a classic does not a mountain pass make,
and each of these episodes must meet Rudyardian muster,
just as every 'article' which supposedly made Playboy a 'literary magazine'
ought to be weighed in the balance with each breast.
Escape did produce some memorable episodes,
but Escapees conveniently overlook that the majority
fell into thriller territory, like exotic versions of the short stories
from The Alfred Hitchcock Magazine, crossed with horror comic books.
It is precisely this quality that makes the episodes boringly alike
and humdrum, despite the very fact that each was supposed
to take place in a uniquely strange foreign locale.
Just how many times can you have the week's episode debark
from a Heart of Darkness-like beginning?
Irony of ironies and coincidence of coincidences,
Kathleen Hite's "A Good Thing" starts out with a hotel scene
that pre-echoes the Martin Sheen hotel scene
in Apocalypse Now twenty-six years later(!).
Your assessment of the rest of the episode will depend
on whether you are an Escape devotee or not.
This is almost an anti-Hite episode, in the sense
that there is ultimately no sense or meaning, just... horror.
Not "the horror, the horror," but just the kiddie kind of horror,
the type that emanates from balloons and ghoulish faces
in comic books.
So why exactly should the Gunsmoke fan check out Escape?
Because just about everyone connected with radio Gunsmoke
worked previously on this CBS show.
Would Gunsmoke have been any good,
had its producer, technicians, writers, and actors
not sharpened their pickaxes on this lode of... uh, horrific material?
Would Dodge be so perfectly peopled, and the gunsmoke as sharp,
had it not been for this pile of pyrite and pirates?
In a word, no.
Another reason for being 'obliged' in a shucks way to Escape,
is that it confirms the inexhaustible and ever-recharging power
of the fictional West to interest us.
How can a show set in a different exotic locale every week
be so boring,
and a show set in the same western town every week
be so riveting?
April 7, 2006
Copyright © 2006-2011 E. A. Villafranca, Jr.
All Rights Reserved