05 March 2010

The Ghost-Grey Cat Presents: (5) The Ghost-Grey Bat

Episode 1176:  The Ghost-Grey Bat
First aired:  25 March 1981
Author:  Ian Martin

Meet the bats
I knew it was too good to be true. -- Dr. Alec Grant

Episode 1176 of CBS Radio Mystery Theater is, as you can easily guess, one of the namesakes for this blog.  (The other is Scooter herself, my 12-year-old cat of many colors.)  It's not a particularly innovative horror story, but the plot is an interesting variation on the haunted-house theme.  Without lead actor Don Scardino's outstanding performance, "The Ghost-Grey Bat" would be merely average.  Thanks to Scardino, it's one of my favorite episodes, in that guilty-pleasure sort of way.

At least on RMT related message boards, this episode is a fan favorite.  It actually is well done, but it misses my top-ten list.  To me, it's a bit like The Empire Strikes Back, which had hit movie screens less only ten months earlier.  Without the John Williams soundtrack, it's merely good; with it, Empire is one of my favorite movies.  That's how important lead actor Don Scardino's performance is to "The Ghost-Grey Bat."

Ian Martin, RMT's second most prolific writer, penned this tale of a time-share arrangement gone wrong.  He tells it through the eyes of Dr. Alec Grant (Scardino), a New York City professor.  The time has come for Dr. Grant to take a sabbatical, and with a nudge from his new wife, Maura (Jennifer Harmon), he has arranged to swap living quarters with an Austrian couple.  Even though they never meet the Austrians, they push on with their plans.

Soon enough, the Grants have settled into a comfortable but isolated cabin in the Alps.  Their only companions are Frau Zauber (Joan Shea), a kindly, elderly housekeeper who maintains the cabin, and an odd creature that flies around it.  Frau Zauber first raises Alec's suspicion when, at the end of Act I, he notices that she isn't casting a shadow.

More red flags go up when Alec decides to check how his Austrian time-share partners are doing in New York.  To do this, he must travel several kilometers to the nearest phone; but Frau Zauber keeps insisting that he remain in the cabin.  Meanwhile, the flying bat has attacked Maura, who, in turn, has been rapidly losing energy.  What started as a effort to contact the Austrians has mutated into a rescue effort -- one that Frau Zauber is determined to thwart.  Alec does escape the cabin, and he does get help.  By then, the truth about Frau Zauber, the bat and those Austrians has become all too apparent.  Sooner than anyone, including the listener, realizes, the story becomes a desperate race against time, as Alec must save not only Maura but also himself.

"The Ghost-Grey Bat" works well enough as a suspense story.  Minute by minute, element by plot element, our picture of Frau Zauber and that bat puts itself together.  By the time it becomes clear enough, it's almost too late to save anything.  As a horror story, it doesn't work as well.  Frau Zauber is supposed to emerge as a horrible, monstrous figure, but the timing that provides the suspense is just too slow for that.

What saves the episode is Don Scardino's turn as Dr. Grant, who recounts the incident in narrative fashion.  Scardino's delivery dazzles listeners, keeping them focused on Alec's emotions -- and distracting them from a basic plot hole.  It would've been better for the Grants to verify that their time-share partners actually exist before they shipped off to Austria.  Despite Alec's best efforts, that doesn't happen, and it subtracts enough from the story to keep it off my top-ten list.

Score:  86/100.

Some bits about the lead actors

If Don Scardino showed up in an RMT episode, it was a good sign.  Except for Fred Gwynne and Mercedes McCambridge, no one did a better job of selecting RMT scripts.  Scardino played in just 29 RMT episodes, but most of them are very good.  For a Scardino episode, "The Ghost-Grey Bat" is actually a bit below average.

Time has been kind to him.  These days, he's a director, working mostly on the hilarious 30-Rock.  When he's not putting Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin and company through their paces, he's lending his still-youthful voice to TV and radio ads for the likes of Geico and KFC.

Jennifer Harmon, who played in 21 RMT episodes, is also alive as of this posting, but her most recent TV role was on Oz as a counselor.  It's rather easy to mistake her for perennial poker champion Jennifer Harman.  Poker fans insist on spelling "Harman" with an 'o,' confusing Internet search engines to no end.  Looking for the actress (Harmon) often turns up the poker pro (Harman) instead.

1 comment:

Matty Boy said...

Good stuff, Art. By the way the site is back to normal.