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Ironside: The Past Is Prologue

Our look back on the debut season of Ironside continues.

*

Episode: The Past is Prologue

Airdate: 7 December 1967

Plot: Ironside must help an old friend beat a 19-year-old murder conviction before the fugitive is extradited back to New York State where an electric chair waits with his name on it.

Guest stars: Harrison Ford! Harrison Ford! It's Harrison Ford! Oh, and some other guy named Victor Jory.

It's Harrison Ford! The episode opens with a very young and nearly unrecognizable Harrison Ford yuk-yuk-yukking it up as the center of attention at his college graduation party. Ford plays Stanford valedictorian Tom Stowe, who regales party guests with the story of how years ago - when Tom was a dumb, hubcap-stealing punk - Chief Ironside put him on the straight and narrow. Ford's acting style has all the subtlety of Ron Howard's Richie Cunningham.

Okay, I know it's a graduation party, but why is everyone acting so drunk? First Tom yells his story to the group, then a glowing Ironside winks at him, and finally Tom's father Walter, when encouraged to give a speech, waves a half-eaten cocktail sausage around the room while violently gesturing with all the gusto of the inebriated blue-collar guy he's obviously supposed to be.

Someone needs to cut this man off: "What's there to say except how proud I am a'him, eh? He-he-he, my kid at the top of his class. Heh-ahhh-how'm I ever gonna make a CAR-penter out of him nowwwww, huh?"

Hokiest dialogue this side of The Andy Griffith Show:
Proud Son: "I'll build a stairway to the moon, Pop!"
Proud Father: "You got aaahnny idea how much LUMber that would take, eh? Haa haaa."

Timing is everything: Just as dad's speech is about to get really embarrassing, cops walk through the front door looking for Walter Stowe, alias Frank Tomachek. Cue ominous dulcimer music.

Major buzz kill: Seems Tom's dear old dad is a fugitive, convicted of murder 19 years ago and wanted back in the state of New York for execution. I certainly hope Tom's degree is in law.

You say Tomachek, I'll say Tomlachek. Let's call the whole thing off: I have no idea what this character's name is really supposed to be. For every time that someone pronounces it one way, another person says it the other.

Why, oh why, do they always pick up the gun? Wally tells Ironside his sad story. It's a classic case of an innocent guy stumbling upon a dead man, picking up the murder weapon, and getting caught red-handed. And don't they always say, "I don't know why I did it."

Why hello, Chief Ironside. I hear you're the nice man who's trying to set my husband's killer free: The widow Chase welcomes Ironside into her home with all the smiling graciousness of a woman hosting a tea party. She doesn't seem in the least upset by the Chief's request that she write a letter of clemency on Wally's behalf. "I suppose I could write a letter of clemency. I mean, as a Christian I believe in forgiveness."

Oh, she's that kind of Christian: "But I also believe one must pay for the sins one commits. No, I won't write your letter."

I've never seen such fake eyelashes that weren't attached to a sleepy-time baby doll: You know, the kind where the eyes close when you lay the doll down and pop open when you pick her up. The murdered man's daughter, Phyllis Chase, enters the room wearing a complete riding outfit - tweed coat, jodhpurs, knee-high boots and riding crop, finished off with a cravat secured at the neck with a big gold stick pin. When she blinks or looks down, her ice-blue eye shadow sets off the two-inch long caterpillars hanging off her eyelids. Even when she looks up, her eyes look closed.

Reduce, reuse, recycle: Ironside's next New York visit is to the widow Chase's lawyer, Mr. Whittier. The law office set is too familiar, having been used in at least three previous episodes.

The classic legal opening power move: When Ironside rolls into the lawyer's office, Whittier shows him who's boss by completely ignoring the Chief. The lawyer makes a big show of shuffling papers as Ironside waits. And waits. Shuffle, shuffle, wait, wait, shuffle, shuffle.

Ready for her close up, Mr. DeMille: In the original case file, Ironside finds the most ridiculous crime scene photo. In the background, two cops hover over the dead man's body, while the distraught widow stands prominently in the foreground, clutching her hand to her mouth in a stagy pose of exaggerated grief. It looks very contrived. And guess what? It is, as we'll see later in the episode.

Who's a quitter? Ironside meets with Malcolm Henderson, the New York governor's legal aide. He succeeds in buying his team 24 hours to gather evidence to get Wally a pardon from the governor. Ironside knows it's a gamble but one worth taking, since Wally's life hangs in the balance. And yet, in the very next scene, after discussing one - and only one - theory with his team, Ironside gives up ("We're dead") and sends everyone home. What, no all-nighter? Shouldn't Eve be making coffee? What happened to that fighting Ironside spirit?

Oh man, in nearly every episode Eve wears an outfit that makes me bust out laughing: This time, it's a mustard yellow suit with pumpkin orange banding around the cuffs and neck, and two wide stripes on either side radiating from her neck to the shoulders. The jacket zips up with a gold hoop zipper pull. All she needs is one of those bright orange foot-high equestrian hats and she'd be all set for her job at Orange Julius.

A woman, a dead body and a wristwatch: In trying to account for a missing hour to corroborate Wally's sworn testimony and gain his acquittal, Ironside's evidence all comes down to the crime scene photo that so prominently featured a distraught Mrs. Chase. Now we know why.

Thank god the crime scene photo lab is open 24 hours: Ironside has commissioned a series of photos blown up from the original. Of course, in the interest of suspense, no one in the room has had a chance to look at them prior to Ironside's meeting with the governor's aide to see if they confirm or refute his theory. The first two viewed aren't zoomed in enough or clear enough to show the time on Mrs. Chase's watch. But wait, there's more!

This just in: Ed rushes out and re-enters with two more blown-up photos. Everyone cranes forward, squinting at the screen as Mark fiddles with the focus on the overhead projector. You can cut the tension with a knife.

Moral of the story: Don't forget to reset your watch when daylight savings hits. It could save a life!

-

Previously:
* A Cop and His Chair
* Message From Beyond
* The Leaf in the Forest
* Dead Man's Tale
* Eat, Drink and Be Buried
* The Taker
* An Inside Job
* Tagged For Murder
* Let My Brother Go
* Light at the End of the Journey
* The Monster of Comus Towers.
* The Man Who Believed
* A Very Cool Hot Car



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Posted on February 4, 2009


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