In this, the first episode of Kolchak the TV series, newspaper reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) starts out in trouble with his editor (Simon Oakland) and the police for being too pushy. As punishment, Kolchak must write the paper’s advice column while the regular writer, Miss Emily, is on vacation. Fortunately for the story line, one of Miss Emily’s correspondents has seen our first monster of the week, a murderer of sex workers called the Ripper (Mickey Gilbert).
Unfortunately for Kolchak’s colleague from another paper, Jane (Beatrice Colen), the Ripper is also writing letters, to her, and she is set to meet with him. Kolchak not-so-secretly investigates as well although the story has been assigned at his paper to the squeamish financial editor (Jack Grinnage), and finds that the Ripper is actually The Ripper, as in Jack from London in the 1880s. Unless of course, he is a reincarnation or a ghost, both equally plausible explanations.
The killer, who has x-ray vision, can walk through walls, survive a fall or a car crash, and fight off any number of Chicago’s toughest cops, but Kolchak is the one who is nuts for pointing these things out. Will anyone believe him as he chases the Ripper through the streets, the massage parlor and even the jail? Will he lose his job? Will Jane survive her weird coffee date with the killer? Does Kolchak actually have any advice for the readers? Most importantly, how will the screenwriter make sure there’s no evidence of supernatural activity at the end of the show?
The show does a lot here with what appears to be very little money. The special effects seem to be limited to making sure the Ripper is in shadow at all times, and I don’t even think I saw any fake blood. It’s always fun to watch McGavin hamming it up; I love how the character doesn’t mind screaming and running in fear. And I have to admit I enjoyed watching the old style dramatization of what goes on in the world of print journalism, or what went on when they were interested in reporting facts. At least in this beginning episode of the show Kolchak wasn’t trying to find an extraordinary solution, he just wanted to tell the truth.
It occurred to me while watching tonight that a reporter of today who insisted that a killer was 130 years old might not even get in trouble as long as the readers liked the story enough to bring in the ad dollars. Weird news is pretty much the new normal. You could almost say that a show airing in 2012 about a reporter who sticks to serious investigation would be as much of a novelty as Kolchak was in the 70s! But fortunately for me, that doesn’t make watching old episodes of this show any less fun. I look forward to checking out the two TV movies that preceded the show, if I can find them.