60s’ #45: ‘Cimarron Strip’

Every Saturday, The Savvy Screener’s Boomer Box is counting down “The 50 Greatest Television Episodes of the 1960s,” in reverse chronological order, as researched and written by Todd M. Pence. (This series ran originally in the Classic 1960’s TV Facebook group.)

#45: Cimarron Strip: “Knife in the Darkness”

One of the more ambitious examples of that ubiquitous genre of primetime American dramatic television programming, the western, arrived on the landscape in the fall of 1967. CBS’ Cimarron Strip starred Stuart Whitman as Marshal Jim Crown, whose territory was that southwest area, the last frontier space still unincorporated by the U.S. Government.

Cimarron Strip
(Source: YouTube video)

The series emulated The Virginian by adopting the 90-minute format, but in the end was less successful, being canceled after this one season due to high production costs and the lack of the ratings to justify them. But before riding off into the sunset for good, Marshal Crown left us with at least one exploit worthy of enshrinement on this list.

“Knife in the Darkness,” airing January 25, 1968, effectively brought the sensibilities of gothic horror to the wild west, with a fine script by multiple-Writers Guild award winner Harlan Ellison.

After two dance hall girls are brutally stabbed to death, Crown seeks out the killer among a bevy of suspects. The town citizenry is eager to pin the blame on a local Native American who tragically winds up as the victim of a vigilante posse.

But local Francis Wilde [Randy Boone from an Ellison favorite, It’s a Man’s World]) notes the similarity of the killings to a string of murders of women recently committed in London. And this angle is strengthened when one of Crown’s chief suspects, a tourist named Tipton (Patrick Horgan) claims he has indeed trailed the killer across the world from London – and that said killer goes under the nom de plume of Jack the Ripper. (Another guest star is Tom Skerritt, who coincidentally also guested in the Run for Your  Life episode we covered last week!).

Tom Skerritt, Patrick Horgan, Cimarron Strip
(Tom Skerritt and Patrick Horgan in ‘Knife in the Darkness.’ Source: IMDb)

The episode races toward a frantic climax as more suspects are eliminated (some of them terminally) and the body count rises. Will Crown discover the killer’s true identity? And if he does, will it prove to be Jack the Ripper himself? A musical score by the legendary Bernard Herrmann is the cherry on top of this prime offering.

(Top: Stuart Whitman in ‘Cimarron Strip.’ Source: IMDb)

About Todd M. Pence

Todd M Pence has been an amateur historian and scholar of American television for the past 35 years. “The 50 Greatest Television Episodes of the 1960” is the product of decades of research, not just in active viewing but in extensive combing of newspaper and magazine archives to read the original reviews of programs at the time they aired. He has also reached out to fellow television researchers to get their opinions. Pence maintains that the decade of the 1960's constituted the zenith of American primetime television drama, and that we will probably never see its like again. His purpose in compiling this list was to preserve this history and to spotlight many exceptional programs which have been forgotten and consigned to the dustbin of history. Pence holds a BA in Journalism from West Virginia University and has worked for the past 20 years in the Fairfax (Virginia) County Public School system

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