Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Incredible Hulk S1 Ep5: Of Guilt, Models And Murder

Despite the success of The Incredible Hulk Pilot and its follow-up Death In The Family, executive producer/ writer/ director Kenneth Johnson has always been candid that the series was never an easy sell.

Of course, there was the business of casting the Hulk himself. Universal was interested in Arnold Schwarzenegger, but he was unavailable. Lou Ferrigno was considered and Johnson liked the man, but wasn't certain of his acting capabilities, despite the fact he was perfectly six inches taller than Arnold at 6 foot four inches.

According to an interview in Starlog Magazine #312 Johnson eventually settled on actor Richard Kiel, who played the villain Jaws, in the classic James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me [1977] and Moonraker [1979], who came in at a hulking seven foot four inches.

Fortunately for Ferrigno the son of a Universal executive, a comic book fan, allegedly proclaimed that Kiel "doesn't look like the Hulk!" Kiel was ousted in favor of Ferrigno after just a few days of filming. About the only relatively known big guy who never made the cut was Ted Cassidy, who played Lurch on The Addams Family and he received the role of narrator for the opening theme of The Incredible Hulk.

Following the establishment of Johnson's Hulk, the creative team had their issues with the green make-up applications and getting the hair right. Of course, even as viewers, you always got the sense from the eyeball test alone, that creators had their problems with that wiry hair. Johnson felt it looked like a "fright wig."

Then of course, without CGI, there was the business of the eyes. Personally, for me, the eye transformation process was always one of the most effective of the traditional effects that populated the series. The credibility of that transformation between the eye inserts, Bixby's performance, music, editing made for one of the most truly moving moments each week ensuring that the audience accepted this man to monster transformation process.

So there was plenty to get right for the series to establish itself. Clearly, despite some push back from executives, Johnson generated the right ingredients to prove The Incredible Hulk had "potential" as an ongoing series. The Incredible Hulk would inevitably premiere in March 1978 with its first official series episode Final Round almost four months following the second pilot Death In The Family. The men and women that made the series go gave us a winner for five seasons.

Thankfully, here we are with The Incredible Hulk, Season One, Episode 5, Of Guilt, Models And Murder. At this point David Banner has been a maintenance man at a boxing facility [Final Round], a zoo grounds keeper [The Beast Within] and now an industrialist's valet. By now, you begin to get the general rhythms of the series approach.

1. David Banner makes new acquaintances/ friends. 2. Banner lands himself a new job for approximately 50 minutes. 3. Banner makes attempts to help himself at finding a cure or help someone in jeopardy or danger. 4. Banner is harmed by thugs of the week twice. 5. Banner must say goodbye to new found friends in a tearful goodbye. Come on, does it get any better?

All humor aside, we've covered this before and we'll do it again and sometimes episodes certainly diverge from formula like elements found within Of Guilt, Models And Murder whereby Banner must work to clear his name and test himself psychologically.

Werewolf by night. The success of The Incredible Hulk undeniably resides within the nuanced performance provided by Bill Bixby and his self-effacing, seemingly tortured emotional and psychological journey. Without it, The Incredible Hulk would lack the emotional weight that makes the series incredibly, well, credible. After all, as kids we certainly adored those Lou Ferrigno moments, but as children we were also incredibly insightful to the conflicts within Bixby's performance and attuned to the world of a man locked in an emotional struggle. Bixby as Banner gave new meaning to inner demons and we understood that. Johnson and company ensured those stories were somehow understandable for children, but seemingly complex enough on an emotional level that adults could appreciate them then and now.

The latest entry featured guest star Loni Anderson. The American actress and blond bombshell was best remembered as Jennifer Marlow on a TV series called WKRP In Cincinnati. I also remember her hot and heavy, on-again off-again relationship with actor Burt Reynolds. She's the face of the latest Hulk entry filled to the hilt with buxom babes.

The story opens with a moving, sobering sequence of David Banner post-transformation. With his clothes shredded and his eyes receding back to normal, Banner wipes his face in a stranger's bathroom. The opening works brilliantly because Bixby brings the humanity in full to the character. We also haven't seen The Incredible Hulk open post-transformation leaving viewers with real questions.

Banner looks around a room and sees a woman lying on the floor with furniture thrown about. The visual suggestion is clear. The Hulk has been here and as Bixby checks for a pulse on the woman, he believes, as we are led to believe, the Hulk may have died at his hands.

A flashback takes us to Bixby walking the street and hearing a woman screaming for help from a nearby gated mansion. Two dobermans attack David and in bloodied pain he transforms into the Hulk.

As he sits in contemplation he remembers the voices and words of Doctor Elaina Marks from the Pilot of The Incredible Hulk. In his mind he replays those events that assure David that the Hulk "won't kill because David Banner won't kill." What happened in this room just minutes earlier? Banner hurries off in fear horrified at the possibility of what he may have become.

The next day reports of a murder at a cosmetic entrepreneur's home circulates on streets.

Banner is knowingly ashamed and concerned about his alter ego's potential actions, which of course, Banner cannot remember, because Banner never remembers when he transforms back.

Reporters like Jack McGee arrive on the scene.

The cosmetics mogul, James Joslin, informs reporters of the events that transpired. His wife was acting, rehearsing and screaming out the window all for a part in a film. According to Joslin the Hulk entered their home and killed his wife. The Hulk picked up the woman and crushed her. Banner watches the news coverage and closes his eyes in shame and guilt. Cosmetics tycoon Joslin is spotted being consoled by Sheila Cantrell, played by Anderson, and Banner, watching a television news report, begins to question the reality of the story as he assimilates the information.

A quick flashback in Banner's mind reveals another woman spotted behind the screaming woman, Terry, in the window, the night of the murder. What really happened? A manhunt for the Hulk is on.

Once upon a time Loni Anderson was considered the hottest thing in the world. I never did get that one. With the creature on the loose, a young, female hiker, inquires if Banner is a fellow traveller and wonders if they shouldn't travel together? Can you imagine a cute female asking a male stranger to hike together in today's world? There was a stunning innocence and freedom during the 1970s.

This is a terrific little piece of editing as Banner is torn between guilt and something that just doesn't seem to quite add up.

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Time to take a position with Joslin. Funny enough, Banner arrives at the man's residence carrying a bag. He informs a guard he's there to apply for a vacant position and the man actually lets him in despite all of the reporters being held at the gate. Can you imagine that today? N-O! With absolutely no identification Banner is allowed ont he property and with no references Banner is hired at Joslin's behest as a valet. Joslin recognizes Banner as the intruder from the evening earlier subscribing to the old adage, keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Joslin informs Banner that the "fringe" benefits can be a real attraction noting the plethora of models that appear to dart about the residence. Joslin receives a phone call from a man named Sanderson whom Banner has replaced. He is essentially blackmailing Joslin for a payment, but why?

Big Hulks DO cry! Queue Roy Orbison Crying. Joslin leaves Banner in the care of Cantrell. Yet, interestingly, Sheila warns David that Joslin can be "vicious" and warns him to use care essentially stabbing Joslin through the proverbial back or is she?

Banner probes Cantrell for answers and even calls her out regarding her presence in the window with Terry the night of her murder. She's stunned, but confesses Joslin killed Terry.

Cantrell explains the events of the evening earlier as she sees fit to craft them, just as Joslin crafted them earlier. She tells David Banner [Blaine] of the abusive confrontation between Joslin and Terry in classic primetime, retro, classic soap opera-like 70s style. Sanderson also witnessed the killing, which lends insight into the blackmailing. Cantrell believes the Hulk creature picked up Terry and exhibited tenderness - even tears. Could the Hulk have been reliving holding Doctor Elaina Marks in those final moments of the first Pilot film?

Joslin's henchman tries to kill Banner using a silencer but misses. Banner and Cantrell run and grab McGee's vehicle outside the residence to find Sanderson.

Just when we think Cantrell had Banner's best interest at heart we discover the truth.

At a junkyard, Banner asks Sanderson to go to the police with Cantrell rather than blackmail him. He laughs and tells Banner that Cantrell would never betray Joslin as she and Joslin appear holding Sanderson and Banner at gunpoint. Cantrell admits she killed Terry. It's clear, the Hulk's unexpected arrival was the perfect cover for the murder of course.

Time for Banner and Sanderson to disappear, gagged and hand-tied and to be crushed inside a car at the junkyard. This is David Banner of course and the Hulk is never far behind.

The twists are rarely startling, but the episode has its dramatic moments with Bixby delivering the highlights. In fact, the first half is particularly strong. In one cool twist Banner actually steals McGee's hand held tape recorder from the car which he uses to record Cantrell's confession at the junkyard. Miraculously, somehow, through the transformation and the absolute disintegration of clothes, Banner manages to hang onto that recorder. The end is near with the evidence in hand.

Banner slips the tape back to McGee and gleefully plays the hero exhibiting a clear predisposition toward slime and dishonesty.

The closing score by Joe Harnell, The Lonely Man, is perfectly appropriate here as David never shares a tearful goodbye to anyone, but rather accomplishes his mission of clearing his good name and that of his alter-ego. While Banner is believed to be dead by the public-at-large, this is clearly a psychological response. This self-accountability speaks to the character of a man. It's clear that, while Banner may not know of the actions of his alter-ego entirely, Banner holds himself accountable and responsible for his actions and those of the Incredible Hulk. Now that is a hero for the ages and one rarely portrayed in television programming today. Of Guilt, Models And Murder: B-.

Next Blog Issue: Terror In Times Square! Be afraid pilgrims!

Hulk Transformation Reason #1: Hitchhiking leads to a damsel in distress and a dog attack by Doberman Pinschers.

Hulk Transformation Reason #2: Anger at the thought of being crushed inside a car compactor at a junkyard.

Actress footnote: Loni Anderson [1945-present]. Actress best known as jennifer Marlowe in WKRP In Cincinnati [1978-1982]. She also starred opposite Wonder Woman's Linda Carter in Partners In Crime. She also featured in the final season of Nurses [1993-1994]. She also appeared for an episode in the classic Three's Company [1978] and starred in the film The Jayne Mansfield Story [1980] opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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