10/25/16

Fade Away Lane


"Hm! Yes. Ruination Street. No, I don't believe I shall find it in my maps..."
- Dr. Pilgrim (John Dickson Carr's The Lost Gallows, 1931) 
In one of my recent blog-posts, I alluded to my intention to start looking at the locked room mysteries of both the silver and small screen. I found an enticing case in the comment-section in favor of Banacek, but I had an episode from another series, namely Blacke's Magic, queued since 2013 – when I reviewed Ten Tons of Trouble (1986). A very ambitiously written, if flawed, episode about the miraculous disappearance of an enormous marble statue from a closely guarded museum.

The Street That Doesn't Exist
This short-lived NBC series ran for only one season, comprising of a pilot and twelve 45-minute episodes, which starred Hal Linden as a famous stage magician, Alexander Blacke, who moonlights as an amateur sleuth. He was basically a 1980s prototype of Jonathan Creek. Harry Morgan played the Maddy Magellan to Blacke's Creek, which he did in the role of his father and as a semi-retired con artist of the old school. So they can be added to the short list of father-and-son detective teams I mentioned in my review of Clifford Orr's The Dartmouth Murders (1929). 

The episode I had queued is the seventh entry in the series, entitled Address Unknown (1986), which has a plot revolving around one of the most alluring and rarest of all impossible problems: an entire street and a alleyway that inexplicably disappears from our plain of existence! From the top of my head, I know of only two examples of vanishing streets and added one of them only recently to my TBR-pile. So there you have another reason for my renewed interest in the episode. 

During the first 15-minutes, the groundwork for the plot is laid down and concerns a potential government scandal, one with ties to the army, which runs straight to the high-placed and distinguished General Wersching – who has no compunction to (covertly) threaten Blacke when he comes to the aide of an old friend. Dale Richmond is the friend in question and hot on the trail of a corruption scandal, which he hopes to substantiate with certain documents and letters. He expects these documents from one Billy Maddox. The episode actually opens with a surreptitiously meeting between these two characters, inside a dark parking garage, but Maddox needs another day to get his hands on the incriminating papers. 

However, the details about this particular plot-thread is somewhat muddled, but the first ten minutes show the brewing scandal plays havoc with Dale's personal and professional life – as his character is slandered in the media as mentally unstable. They also planted a federal marshal across the street of his home. So Dale is understandably on edge, but a telephone call from Maddox lightened his mood. This is followed by a short sequence (i.e. filler) which sees Blacke using the misdirection of the stage magic to help Dale escape the attentive eye of the marshal on his doorstep.

Dale is lead to a dark, empty street, called Republic Lane, where Maddox waves him towards a dark alleyway and into an abandoned storehouse, but before any papers can change hands a shot is fired and Dale has to run for his life – until he sees two cops in a coffee joint called The Donut Hole (of course!). But here's where the whole situation becomes an impossible one. The police officers have never heard of Republic Lane and Dale is unable to retrace his steps. Eventually, they managed to find his car, but the street where the car is parked is not the same as the street where he left it. As Dale said himself, "the whole damn street is gone."

So who killed Billy Maddox and what happened to his body, but, equally important, how did an entire street disappeared into the dark of the night? Simply wiped off the face of the earth! The answer is very simplistic and something to be expected from cheap 1980s television, but I managed to miss the obvious. My explanation was far too complex and involved for this kind of television. I assumed Republic Lane was one of those realistic "stage sets" used for military exercises, which was put together and taken apart by a platoon of soldiers. After all, the scandal was connected to a high-ranking general and the shooting scene was very reminiscent of the witnessed shooting from Carter Dickson's "The New Invisible Man," collected in The Department of Queer Complaints (1940), which also involved a vanishing room. So I assumed the general had called upon a few of his man to put a mere civilian in his place. Well, I was very wrong.

The rest of the episode is either cluttered or not very engaging: the plot-threads about the shooting and scandal are merely ornamental, which seem to have been written around the problem of the vanishings street and meant to eat up those minutes – until Blacke can work his magic and explain how the trick was pulled off. Same can be said about the "comedic" sub-plot: Blacke's father, Leonard, enters the picture and is followed by a string of bills pertaining to their New York apartment. But the source of those costs is not revealed until the final scene, which ended the episode on a light note. Not overly hilarious, but Leonard is a fun and loveable crook. His best scene from the episode was reminiscing how he once made a banking company disappear after taking a large deposit from a bootlegger in the 1930s. 

I should also note that Blacke performed the famous bullet-catch trick when he cornered the murderer and this person attempted to shoot a way to freedom.

So, as a mystery, Address Unknown is a fairly weak and messily told detective story, which perhaps showed why the series got canned, but, regardless, I did not experience watching it as a drag. I guess the vanishing street gimmick playing out in front of me, which was the one part of the episode that was reasonably well done, intrigued me and I had fun imagining my own explanation. You've to decide for yourself whether you want to give this one a go.

Finally, allow me to draw your attention to my previous blog-post from yesterday, which is a review of Paul Halter's Le cercle invisible (The Invisible Circle, 1996).

11 comments:

  1. I haven't heard of this series! It sounds like an interesting missed opportunity.

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    1. Interestingly enough, the series was created by William Link and Richard Levinson, who were also responsible for Columbo, Ellery Queen and Murder She Wrote, but this time their magic did not seem to have worked. It certainly did not garner the success or following of some of their other creations.

      But who knows. Maybe there's a gem, somewhere, in this series.

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    2. Would you believe that I've never watched a single episode of Murder She Wrote? I guess I assumed it would be too cosy for my tastes.

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    3. There were a few episodes in the first season of Murder, She Wrote that were (plot-wise) obviously intended for the cancelled second season of Ellery Queen.

      You can easily see how the Ellery Queen character would've fitted We're Off the Kill the Wizard, which also happened to be a locked room mystery. Murder Takes the Bus stands out for its double-edged, Queenish-style solution that was somewhat unusual for the admittedly coziness of the overall series.

      I should also note that the joke from the last scene of the EQ pilot, Too Many Suspects, was reused in the first Murder, She Wrote episode, The Murder of Sherlock Holmes. Nobody else seems to have noticed this.

      So, while Murder, She Wrote is not always of the same quality as Columbo or Ellery Queen, I always enjoyed them for what they were. Simple, fun whodunits in the classic mold.

      I remember particular loving the episodes Joshua Peabody Died Here... Possibly and The Last Flight of the Dixie Damsel, but I've to rewatch them to tell you exactly why.

      Anyway, I recommend at least watching We're Off the Kill the Wizard and Murder Takes the Bus, because they better than usual stories for this series.

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  2. Hey TC - Where did you find a copy of Blake's Magic?

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    1. I grabbed this episode off somewhere, can't remember where, but it has been pointed out to me that the episode can also be watched on YouTube. So it's out there to be enjoyed.

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  3. Pardon my belated arrival ...

    Blacke's Magic was a "lost" favorite of mine, from Levinson & Link, and their protege, Peter S. Fischer, who actually did most of the work here.
    L&L&F wanted to bring the "impossible crime" to prime time.
    In a recently published memoir, Fischer recounts a number of obstacles that Blacke's ran into at the production, including an odd instance of movie studio politics that kept the show from a second year.

    The episode "Address Unknown" has an odd history of its own.
    Some years before, there was a daytime drama ("soap opera", if you like) called Edge Of Night.
    For years, EON was the only soap that was primarily a mystery; it had a long run, spanning twenty-eight years and two networks.
    In 1984, the head writer, a man named Lee Sheldon, received the cancellation notice from ABC, but decided not to go down without a fight.
    In the final episode, Sheldon set up an "impossible crime" involving a disappearing street; it was his hope that enough interest would be stirred up to get another network or a cable outlet to pick the show up. Alas, that didn't happen, and Edge went dark.
    A couple of years later, Lee Sheldon hooked up with Blacke's Magic; they were doing impossible crimes, and so Sheldon pulled out his vanishing street and reworked the details to suit the new show.
    With only 45 minutes of show to work with, Sheldon had to rush things a bit; Edge had been a daily half-hour, so the story would likely have played out over a period of weeks, with lots of added detail and other characters involved.
    I was a big fan (long-term) of Edge Of Night, and its cancellation was a blow for me. When I saw the logline for "Address Unknown", I somehow suspected that Lee Sheldon had resurrected the gimmick from his last Edge cliffhanger.
    In USTV, there's precedent for this: the two-hour Blacke's Magic pilot lifted its impossible murder from a twenty-year-old episode of Burke's Law, written by Levinson & Link, adapted and revised by Peter Fischer.
    (I have all of this on C2C DVDs, so I can compare at my leisure.)

    So anyway - there you are.

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    1. You might be late to the party, but you certainly brought some interesting background information with you. Thanks for that! I never heard of Edge of Night, but it sounds like a soap opera I could actually watch.

      By the way, I followed up this blog-post with a review of Paul Halter's The Phantom Passage, which has an entirely different explanation for the mystery of the vanishing street. Just in case you might be interested in a different take on that premise.

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    2. Three-months-later follow-up:
      In recent times I've been able to see many British shows on YouTube, and from reading your blog and others, I gather that you've done the same.

      I don't know if you'll be able to find what I'm telling you about, but here goes:

      Several enterprising souls have managed to track down many episodes from the latter years of The Edge Of Night - including nearly all the daily episodes from roughly mid-1981 to the show's cancellation in December 1984.
      The episodes of December 26 and 27 of '84 were the final two broadcasts of Edge, concluding a 28-year run (first on CBS from 1956, moving to ABC in 1975).
      These were Christmas-themed shows with characters getting married, getting set to leave Monticello (Edge's "locale"), setting up their respective "happily-ever-afters" -
      - and Detective Chris Egan (Christine, that is), who is by herself for the holiday, when a missing character from a year-old storyline turns up and lures her to "Wonderland Lane", the Disappearing Street.
      What happens when Chris the Cop gets there - well, Lee Sheldon no doubt had something in mind ... but the mechanics of it all would have played out over several months at least, with the involvement of many more characters and different situations.
      When Lee Sheldon hooked up with Blacke's Magic several years later, The Disappearing Street was in his back files, ready to be applied to a different plot, which he did.

      I mention all this frankly to pique your curiosity; again, I don't know whether these Edge Of Night shows are as readily available to the UK as they are here in the US.
      If they are, may I make the suggestion that as a start, you just watch the final two shows - December 26 and 27, 1984 - containing the Wonderland Lane setup.
      I think I can promise that you'll have a time of it trying to sort out all the characters (more than 20, if I recall correctly), but it might make an interesting evening at least (invite your friends, make an party out of it, or something) ...
      As an added suggestion, you might like to stay through the closing credit crawl - just out of curiosity.
      ... And if you're sufficiently intrigued, there are all those other Edge Of Night shows, several years worth, all neatly dated, and many in surprisingly good condition, given their age.

      I think I'll be heading back to YouTube right now ..

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    3. And now I'm just back from YouTube with a correction:

      The final episode of The Edge Of Night was December 28, 1984.
      Actually, what you ought to do is watch the whole final week, December 24 -28; five shows, which wrap up one storyline and build to the Christmas happy-ever-after - with the detour to Wonderland Lane.
      I forgot to mention that most of these YouTubes include the original commercials, which of course you're free to skip.
      (And in 33 years, most of the advertisers have gone out of business anyway ...)

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    4. Thanks for the recommendation and background information, Mike. I'll probably give the two-part series finale a shot, because of the impossible situation with the vanishing street. Not sure if I'll persue the rest of this (now) incomplete drama series, but we'll see.

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