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Cimarron Strip - Knife In The Darkness (1968)

01/01/2012. Contributed by Rod MacDonald

Buy Cimarron Strip - Knife In The Darkness (1968) in the USA - or Buy Cimarron Strip - Knife In The Darkness (1968) in the UK

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Region 2 DVD: pub: Pegasus Entertainment B0031XG0PC. 70 minute film. Price: GBP 4.99 (UK) if you know where to look. cast: Stuart Whitman, Tom Skerritt and Patrick Horgan.

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‘Cimmaron Strip’ was a Western series produced by CBS in the late 60s. 23 episodes were made, each 90 minutes long, and the setting was the area in the Oklahoma Panhandle in the year 1888. A time when the Wild West was calming down perhaps but this region was quite volatile because it was a battleground between cattle ranchers and incoming settlers. In the middle of this was the Marshall, a man named Jim Crown played by Stuart Whitman. With him were a couple of deputies, MacGregor, a retired colonel from the British Army played by Percy Herbert, and Francis Wilde, a young photographer and journalist played by Randy Boone. Jill Townsend also appeared as Dulcie Coppersmith, the young English woman in charge of the hotel/saloon.

The series had intelligent scripts. This wasn't cowboy and indian stuff because that period in American history had passed by and they were entering a more civilised era. Marshall Crown had a difficult job in that he was trying to keep the peace between rival factions, with only a couple of deputies to help out. The story endings were not always happy and, in general, the scripts reflected real life as it was then and still is now.

Okay, so why are we talking about Westerns on a Science Fiction magazine? Well, one of the episodes was written by the enigmatic and sometimes controversial author, Harlan Ellison. Entitled ‘Knife In The Darkness, it's the story of Jack the Ripper appearing in a western town. Despite being rather dated by our standards, this episode is really quite good and it deserves to be brought out into the daylight once again.

Actually daylight doesn't exist in this episode. Freak weather conditions mean that the town is shrouded in fog and mist. This is set at a time a few months since Jack the Ripper killed several women in London and it is theorised that he escaped to America, only to continue his murderous ways. It's not long before a prostitute is brutally killed with a knife. The whole town becomes involved and there are lots of suspects, including the doctor, an indian, a travelling gambler and a strange man from England.

Further into the story, an old girl-friend of Marshall Crown is also slashed to pieces by the mysterious fiend. They think they find someone responsible but he turns out to be a man with a mission to find the Ripper. This dark and mysterious tale is quite gripping in its nature and all the characters are put under strain in trying to deal with the situation. The continuing fog only makes matters much worse and as the night goes on, the sense of danger and horror increases.

At the time of production, the budget for each episode was $250,000, a considerable sum which allowed for good scripts and plenty of well-known guest actors, including Joseph Cotton, Telly Savalas, Warren Oates, Broderick Crawford and Richard Boone. The entire series was re-released on DVD a few years ago and is readily available from lots of merchandisers for only a few pounds each. From a Science Fiction perspective, this particular episode is definitely worth watching again. In fact, purchased individually, I've seen some episodes selling for under a couple of pounds, a definite bargain!

Rod MacDonald

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