Kolchak Blogging: "They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be" (September 27, 1974)




As the World Series begins, Kolchak (Darren McGavin) is drawn into an investigation of several animal deaths at the Lincoln Park Zoo, as well as the unusual theft of two tons of led ingots from a local warehouse, one owned by Raydyne Electronics.

The story leads Kolchak to a resident on Mariposa Way, Mr.Brindle (Dick Van Patten), who complains about a foul-smelling substance on his lawn, which he believes the local government left there.

All these incidents relate to an extra-terrestrial incursion on Earth by apparently-invisible aliens. They have been eating the bone marrows of the zoo animals, and leaving the strange black muck behind, which Kolchak surmises is an alien digestive secretion.

Kolchak tracks the aliens to their flying saucer.


In inescapable cheapness hangs over “They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be,” an early episode (sometimes known by the alternate title of “U.F.O.”) that qualifies as Kolchak: The Night Stalker’s (1974-1975) most disappointing installment.

The visiting aliens are invisible (a cheap expedient), and so there is no visible monster-of-the-week to speak of. The episode’s last act reveals the alien saucer, and it’s a silver-plated jalopy, too, a chintzy vehicle that fails utterly to capture any sense of mystery, wonder, majesty or terror about the beings that have arrived on our world.


There are a lot of fireworks, stunts, and slow-motion photography in this “They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be,” and yet none of these bells-and-whistles do anything constructive. They only slow down the narrative. 

Basically, Kolchak puts all the disparate pieces together, and recounts (a fascinating) summation about “a traveler who has a break down, and stops for a bite to eat” on Earth, but the individual pieces involving led, hydrochloric acid, and bone marrow, don’t amount to much, individually-speaking, or together. There is some interesting discussion of “Wormwood” and the fact that there is no existing U.S. government agency dedicated to the study of UFOs, but not much else of interest occurs. An X-Files (1993-2002) episode in the 1990’s, intriguingly includes some of the same elements. “Fearful Symmetry” from the second season also features zoo animals, invisibility, and aliens.

The high-points of “They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be” are all non-genre related. Dick Van Patten puts in a great guest-appearance as an argumentative Chicago-an, dealing with an unwanted mess in his yard. Gordy the Ghoul is also back, running his illegal gambling pools from the city morgue, and acerbic, gravelly-voiced James Gregory plays Quill, the stone-walling police captain of the week. Gregory is suitably caustic and condescending to Kolchak, warning hi that “responsible journalists” risk “losing credibility” when reporting on a story-like this one.


The episode’s best moment involves the repartee between Kolchak and Vincenzo (Simon Oakland). Vincenzo of the “cast-iron” stomach is tested mightily, eating his gourmet dinner, as Kolchak goes over the nauseating tales of eaten bone marrow and the black excrement consisting of the marrow and hydrochloric acid.

It’s intriguing that Kolchak: The Night Stalker typically exceeds in sharp language, and crafting distinctive, memorable characters, even when the horror (or in this case, sci-fi…) aspects fail egregiously. That’s the case in this episode, and some of the scenes featuring the invisible extra-terrestrial border on the ridiculous.

Next week: “The Vampire.”



Comments

  1. When we were kids in the Seventies my brother and I stayed up late to watch this series. Our imaginations filled in the stuff that the budget couldn't provide.

    I tried watching some of the series when it ran on Netflix a few years back. McGavin is still wonderful. The scripts were still pretty good. But, damn, the $1.97 effects and makeup budget lets the show down. I made it through The Ripper and The Werewolf (two episodes that we'd missed as kids) and The Spanish Moss Murders (my favorite episode) but gave up after that. The show still shines bright in my memory.

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  2. Kolchak was and still is one of the great television series.

    SGB

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