So I was watching The Red Riding Boots on my local station last night. And while I’ll always love it for being one of the Mr. Sampson episodes, there is one plot twist that has always disturbed me.
After Joe Dixon’s arrest for Rita Conover’s murder, Burt Farwell is apparently determined to quite literally let him hang. His ex-wife Jill comes over and insists something has to be done, that Joe must be innocent, but Burt adamantly objects and insists that they can’t know he’s innocent and they shouldn’t interfere. Jill correctly deduces that Burt is afraid for some reason and calls Perry to help Joe.
Of course, once everything comes out in the climax, we know that Burt’s feelings are because his and Jill’s daughter Ann told him she killed Rita (who in turn was trying to protect Jill, whom she saw leave the ranch that night). Jill didn’t kill Rita either, but kept quiet about being there because apparently she thought Burt did it (perhaps thinking so because of his fear). Oy vey. So we have quite a twisted mess there.
But seriously, what in the world is Burt planning to do? Surely, even if Ann had killed Rita, it would have been an accident (or even self-defense) and they would have gone easy on her. But the way it’s set up for Joe, it’s being called murder one and he would have gone to the gas chamber if Perry had lost. Would Burt have really let it go that far? Would Jill or Ann?
I can’t believe Ann would have, at any rate. She probably would have had a breakdown long before the execution and the truth would have finally come out. Her immense distress throughout the episode is two-fold, wanting so badly to help Joe but at the same time fearing that then her mother would be arrested and perhaps eventually executed.
As for her parents, though, I’m not sure what they would have done. Jill surely, hopefully would have spoke up, since she’s insistent on getting Perry to help Joe instead of doing nothing, but on the other hand she still doesn’t reveal the truth about her having gone to the ranch. And Burt, well . . . considering his strenuous protests, it’s hard to say if he would have ever revealed what he thought was the truth. Although he doesn’t insist that Jill not call Perry when she picks up the phone to do so, so that’s something in his favor that suggests he’s hoping Perry can get Joe off without exposing Ann’s part in the murder.
It’s certainly understandable that Burt doesn’t want to see his daughter be arrested and possibly convicted, for any length of time, but especially when Joe’s very life is at stake and Ann’s likely wouldn’t be, it does disturb me that he likely wouldn’t have lifted a finger to help Joe if Jill hadn’t pushed it.
I wonder if any member of that family is prosecuted for withholding evidence?
Also, this episode certainly features one of the most intense and alarming climaxes, as Ann can’t stand choosing between her mother and Joe and runs out of the courtroom, apparently intending to jump out one of the courthouse windows. The shots of her poised on the windowsill and peering out at the traffic several stories below are unnerving. Thankfully, Perry unravels the truth and startles Ann by asking her which parent she’s protecting, thus giving him the chance to grab her and pull her down.
While not something that disturbs me as much as the other plot twist, it is heartbreaking to see how far Ann is willing to go out of her desperation and confusion, particularly considering how young she is. Elen Willard delivers an amazing, heartfelt performance throughout the episode, especially in the courtroom scenes. Her agony and indecision are clearly brought to the forefront.
And it just occurs to me to wonder if the sickening actions of the murderer, Rennie Foster, to incriminate the stepbrother who always tried to protect him, were meant as a deliberate parallel to the broken Farwell family, who are all bending over backwards trying to protect each other. Deliberate or not, it definitely stands to showcase this episode as depicting extremes on both ends of the spectrum: Burt willing to let Joe take the fall to protect Ann, and Rennie willing to let Joe take the fall to protect himself.
Poor Joe. His words in court about Rennie are so ironic: “He’s wild, but he ain’t bad.” What a crushing blow for him when the truth comes out. We don’t see what his reaction is, but it must be a horrible feeling. He apparently doesn’t have anyone ready to go to bat for him as much as they should have. His ex-wife is Rita, a femme fatale to the core, his stepbrother kills her and deliberately frames him, and the Farwells are all torn between letting him die and letting each other die (or be otherwise punished). Even though the whole mess is so tragically ridiculous and could have been avoided if everyone would have just told the truth, and it definitely shouldn’t be repeated in any form, I do hope Joe finds someone who cares about him as much as the Farwells care about each other.
And it prompts me to wonder if that manslaughter charge in Tennessee accurately reflects that case or if that was another of Rennie’s deliberate murders, covered up as such when the police decided it was manslaughter.
I do kind of wonder what the deal is with Rennie telling Sampson about the manslaughter charge and being allowed to testify without Sampson intending to reveal that fact. I assume it has to do with the manslaughter charge not being relevant to the case and that since Rennie hasn’t actually been convicted of it, he is still legally able to testify. And I assume that since Sampson insists he did not offer immunity, the plan is to turn Rennie over to the Tennessee authorities after Joe’s trial.
The court scenes are definitely fun as Perry and Sampson clash and Sampson reveals several key parts of the case that Joe hasn’t told Perry. It’s terrible for Perry, but I do like seeing the prosecution get some good points in, showing that they’re really not so incompetent. My opinion that Sampson gets to build some of the best cases of the deputy D.A. episodes still stands.
And I’m always enthusiastic over H.M. Wynant’s delivery of the lines, too. As far as I’m concerned, what makes Sampson so memorable is all on H.M., since the dialogue isn’t any different than what would have been given to Hamilton or another deputy. H.M. really takes the character and makes him his own and makes sure he stands out.
In spite of any unsettled feelings about parts of the episode’s execution, I will definitely continue to watch it any chance it’s available (and any other time I want). It is a solid case, one of Perry’s most baffling, and certainly one of the most heartwrenching.