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.)
The fall of 1967 brought a courtroom drama which had a brief but memorable existence.
In ABC’s Judd for the Defense, Carl Betz played the role of nationally-renowned defense attorney Clinton Judd, based in Houston. Like other legal dramas of the decade, the show was noted for tackling controversial topics.
In the pilot episode, “Tempest in a Texas Town,” (September 8), Judd returns to his small home town of Amos, TX, having been retained to take up the case of a local youth charged with a double murder by his absentee mother. We learn that years earlier, Judd’s own father had been murdered.
Judd’s client is Brandon Hill (Christopher Jones) a James Dean-esque character who was the last person seen one night in the company of two young girls who have since disappeared, although no bodies have yet been found. The elders of the town disdain Hill for his n’eer-do-well ways, while the youth idolize him.
The prosecuting attorney is played by the venerable Pat Hingle, who brings all the expected tropes of the role to his performance, as the show treats us to the required courtroom fireworks. Things look bad for Hill when a shovel with hair and blood on it is found in his house, and then a surprise witness (James Davidson) comes forward who claims that he saw Hill murder at least one of the two girls. It is up to Judd to discredit the testimony of the witness, which brings him into a personal conflict – the man had come to the aid of his father after he was shot.
The trial takes an unexpected turn when one of the missing girls turns up alive. The story she gives about her whereabouts in the interim is fishy, and there is obviously more going on than meets the eye. Judd’s digging for the truth will uncover many of the townspeople’s secrets and will end with a devastating denouement.
“Tempest” is an outstanding start for what would prove to be an exceptional series. The script by Harold Gast and Leon Tokatyon won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. By the time the series ended its two-year run it would be showered with several other accolades, including a Writer’s Guild honor for Robert Lewin (for the episode “To Kill a Madman”) and both Golden Globe and Emmy Awards for Betz.
But the series has slipped into undeserved obscurity in the years following its run.
- ‘60s #37: ‘The Time Tunnel’ - May 15, 2021
- #38: ‘Mission: Impossible’ - May 8, 2021
- Best ‘Star Trek’ Episode! - May 1, 2021
- #40: ‘Judd for the Defense’ - April 24, 2021
- ’60s #41: ‘Mannix’ - April 17, 2021
- #42: ‘Journey to Babel’ - April 10, 2021
- ‘60s #43: ‘Gunsmoke’ - April 3, 2021
- ‘60s #44: ‘The Invaders’ - March 27, 2021
- 60s’ #45: ‘Cimarron Strip’ - March 20, 2021
- #46: ‘Run for Your Life’ - March 13, 2021