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The Case Of The Talkative Dummy
Reviewed by Bruce Dettman

Ventriloquists seem to be a dying breed these days, but in the 1950s they were a staple of television seen regularly on variety shows, commercials, and sometimes even headlining their own series. On the national scene there were the big names: Edgar Bergen with Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd, Senore Wenches, Paul Winchell with Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff, Jimmy Nelson with Danny O'Day and wooden canine Farfel and Shari Lewis with Lamb Chop. While I liked all of these-well, in truth I wasn't all that nuts about Sherri and Lamb Chop (a bit too sweet for my tastes)-my real preference was for the kiddie show hosts who were featured in my video neck of the woods, the San Francisco Bay Area. We only got four channels then, but the stations were saturated with ventriloquists and their entertaining dummies. Just a few of these included Mr. Bob who gave us the Three Stooges and was joined by his pals Lester the Lion, Leroy the Dragon and Happy, the Boy, Skipper Sedley and his dummy King Fuddel (I once met the King and up close he didn't look quite as pristine-shaking his hand was like pumping dry rot and his face was lined with spider web-like cracks). The most bizarre of all Fireman Frank (aka "Skinny in the Pit") who hung out with Dynamo Dudley (a robot) and Carl the Carrot (complete with sunglasses and beret). Remember, this was a San Francisco station.

Ventriloquists and their sometimes bizarre duplicitous relationships with their dummies could also be on the creepy side, a fact often exploited in both film and television in such macabre exercises as the British horror anthology Dead of Night, Masquerade with Anthony Hopkins and The Twilight Zone.

Not surprising then, given the high visibility and popularity of ventriloquists that the first season of TAOS would build an episode around one, the result being The Case of the Talkative Dummy.

Things start out innocently enough with Lois (Phyllis Coates) and Clark taking Jimmy out for his birthday to the Gaiety Theatre where they have box seats to see the act of Marco and Freddy. For the record, Lois looks mighty fetching in her basic black and pearls and even Jimmy has dropped the bow tie for the occasion. Clark, however, is in his tried and true working suit. Perhaps there's something special about it which precludes him wearing regular clothes. In the later comics, it folded into a pouch in his cape but who knows.

Lois looks sharp all right, but so is her tongue. Right off the bat she's got the barbs waiting for Clark who innocently remarks to Jimmy that:

"A guy's birthday only comes once a year."

"Now there's a sharp observation." Ouch.

Judging by both her barbed banter and her rolling eyes, Lois is obviously not having a very good time. Things get no better when Marco (Syd Sailor) and his dummy Freddie show up on stage with an act that is even tired and corny by 1950 standards.

You couldn't prove it by Jimmy, who seems to be having the time of his life. Clark meanwhile is also all smiles, mostly noting with glee as Lois winces at every bad joke. Then something odd happens. Freddie seems to be going off on his own tangent with no help from the visually flustered and confused Marco who eventually terminates the act. Someone else is obviously putting words in the dummy's mouth and Lois and Clark want to figure out just who it is.

The whole thing turns out to be part of a series of armored car heists rigged by the company's very own president Harry Green (Pierre Watkins, Perry White in the Columbia serials). Tris Coffin is along as the red herring Davis and the second string henchman is Philip Pine (who appeared with Coffin in the same season's Mystery of the Broken Statues). The details for the secret routes the company changes daily is supplied by Watkin's co-hort Pine, another with ventriloquist skills, who transmits the information through the dummy Freddie for the robbers in the audience to hear. Seems a rather clumsy and complicated means of getting things done (haven't they ever heard of a telephone?). But Dennis Cooper and Lee Backman's script is ok as is Tommy Carr's steady direction.

Reportedly, this was the first show that Jack Larson filmed so it's of added interest to watch his performance. His first scene is where he's imprisoned in a safe and lowered out a window (sweating heavily in the process-I can imagine what those early day studio lights were like)-supported only by a pretty feeble rope that breaks on the way down. This would have ended the cub reporter's life except that Kent spots the scenario from blocks away in Lois car and races as Superman to the rescue. Why Lois doesn't find it odd that Clark spotted Jim through a locked safe is never explained. In any case, good thing that safe wasn't made of lead. Inspector Henderson (Robert Shayne) has a larger part than usual in this particular episode-It too must have been one of his earliest appearances-and seems very stuff and extremely obstinate (pigheaded might be a better description). He does have a particularly good line when watching with Lois as Kent dashes off with little explanation she asks him where Clark is always running off to.

"I don't know. Maybe he runs into an alley, takes off his glasses and turns into Superman."

Well, of course this is exactly what he does as well as figuring out the scheme and nabbing all the guilty parties.

Proving once again that Superman is no dummy.

March 2007
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