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Jackie Cooper gave a superb performance as a tough Korean War POW who was held by the commies for 10 years after the war ended.
Cooper is a two-fisted, angry young man who is ready for a fight. This whole episode had something of a film noir feel to it.
Jackie Cooper returns to his hometown. Everyone thought he was dead. Most people are not pleased to see Cooper back because they remember how much trouble he was as a youth. Dewey Martin, who is now the town sheriff, gives Cooper a cold reception-suggesting that maybe Cooper should leave.
The only person happy to see Jackie Cooper is his old boyhood friend, played by David Janssen. Janssen is now mayor of the town. Janssen seems to have it made as a young mayor with a beautiful secretary (Susan Oliver) and a motherly housekeeper (Ellen Corby), but why is Janssen drinking so much and why does he seem ill at ease?
Housekeeper Ellen Corby finds Janssen dead from a gunshot wound, and sheriff Dewey Martin decides it is a suicide. Jackie Cooper refuses to believe his friend commited suicide and starts poking around-much to the anger of some townspeople. Jackie Cooper has a great climactic fist fight with town tough Gary Crosby.
It turns out that mayor Janssen was on the take, and he committed suicide out of guilt.
This was excellent noir television. The direction by Bernard Kowalski and the script by Richard Carr were excellent. (Richard Carr had been a producer and Bernard Kowalski a director of David Janssen's fist series "Richard Diamond". Bernard Kowalski and Richard Carr would work again with David Janssen on "Macho Callahan" (1970)).
Janssen had already made the pilot for "The Fugitive" when he did this show, and his low key, underplayed, appealing performance gives a hint of Dr. Richard Kimble.
Jackie Cooper's company produced this episode along with Dick Powell's Four Star productions. The episode might have been a pilot for a TV series where Cooper would take over as town mayor with sexy Susan Oliver as his secretary, Ellen Corby as his housekeeper, and Dewey Martin as sheriff. Cooper had already done two fine sit-coms and apparently he could have also made a fine dramatic series lead. Cooper was underappreciated as an actor.
Four Star originally announced that Jackie Cooper would star in "Burke's Law", but that fell through-probably because Cooper wanted to co-produce the series as he had done with "Hennessy". Four Star didn't want to share the profits.
David Janssen and Jackie Cooper became close friends. They were co-owners of a commercial airplane that made trips between LA and Palm Springs. Janssen's ex-wife Ellie recalled an incident that happened when the Janssen's and the Cooper's were driving back to LA from Palm Springs. Janssen kissed his wife. Ellie usually closed her eyes when she was kissed but this time she kept her eyes open and saw David put his hand up Barbara Cooper's dress. Hollywood! This must have put a strain on their friendship.
But Jackie Cooper and David Janssen were marvelous actors. Their performances in "Thunder in a Forgotton Town" were masterful and helped create a memorable pulp melodrama.
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