Thursday, August 9, 2018

Fredric Brown on TV Part Eleven-I'll Cut Your Throat Again, Kathleen

by Jack Seabrook

Fredric Brown's fondness for clever titles is evident in "I'll Cut Your Throat Again, Kathleen," a story that he completed by January 21, 1947, and sold by February 21, 1947, for $140, according to his logbook. Published in the winter 1948 issue of Mystery Book Magazine, the story's title was a play on an old song called "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen," which had been recorded by Bing Crosby and released as a single in 1945.

The story features Johnny Marlin, a jazz musician, who is being kept in a private sanitarium after having cut first his wife's throat and then his own wrists. As the tale opens, Johnny is visited by an intern named Red, who helps Johnny piece together bits of his memory, recalling his career and his marriage to society girl Kathy Courteen. Johnny is examined by a panel of doctors and, when he recognizes band mate Tubby Hayes, he is allowed to go home.

Afraid to confront his wife, Johnny visits a bar with Tubby and is upset when he hears a recording of himself playing Mood Indigo, since his self-inflicted injury will prevent him from resuming his career as a musician. Johnny returns home and finds two straight razors in the bathroom cabinet; he pockets them with the intent of discarding them. Kathy rushes into his arms and expresses her excitement at the prospect of doing what she wants to do now that his band will no longer come between them. As St. James Infirmary plays on the phonograph, Johnny's memory returns and he realizes that he did not attack his wife or wound himself. Instead, he came home to find her with her throat cut and then he passed out. While he was unconscious, Kathy awoke and cut his wrists to end his music career, certain that he would awaken and think he had done it himself. In fact, her jealous brother had attacked her and fled.

When Kathy does not deny her crime, Johnny snaps, takes a razor from his pocket, and cuts her throat for the last time.

David Niven as Johnny Marlin
"I'll Cut Your Throat Again, Kathleen" is set in Chicago, where some of Brown's best work from the mid-1940s takes place (The Fabulous Clipjoint, The Screaming Mimi) and the author's interest in jazz is evident, as the main character is a jazz musician and jazz standards play at key moments in the story. Johnny Marlin grapples with insanity or the fear of it, something many other Brown protagonists struggle with. In her autobiography, Oh, for the Life of an Author's Wife (recently published in paperback and available here), Brown's wife Beth wrote that actor David Niven read the short story in the British magazine Argosy (where it was published in the February 1954 issue) and bought the rights to adapt it for television. Beth writes that it aired on Four Star Playhouse, but that is incorrect--it aired as an episode of The Star and the Story, a syndicated drama anthology series produced by Four Star Productions.

Joan Camden as Kathy
Founded in 1952 by Dick Powell, David Niven, Charles Boyer, and Joel McCrea, Four Star Productions was responsible for a number of television series in the 1950s and beyond. "I'll Cut Your Throat Again, Kathleen" was adapted under a new title, "The Thin Line" and, though online sources claim that it was the 19th episode of the second season of the series, the print available for viewing online lists it as the fifth episode of the first season. Even more curious are the comments by David Niven, who is both host and star, at the beginning of the show, since he seems to be introducing a new TV series, where the star selects the story. The copyright date at the end of the episode is 1954, suggesting that this episode could have been the pilot for the series.

The adaptation is excellent, for the most part, though it is not surprising that the TV show ends happily with a conclusion rather different than that on the printed page. In the first scene, Red visits Johnny in his room at the sanitarium and the conversation is similar to that in the story, with some lines of dialogue lifted from page to small screen. Johnny is self conscious about the scars on his wrists and keeps looking at them. He says that his parents were "poor but honest scholars" and that he comes from Boston, though there is no explanation for David Niven's British accent.

Herb Vigran as Smiley
In the scene that follows, a single doctor speaks to Johnny and Johnny does not have to figure out on his own that his band mate has entered the room and that the doctor is testing whether Johnny recognizes him; in the TV version, this bit of intelligence has been conveyed to Johnny by Red in the prior scene, using dialogue to give the viewer information that was provided through narrative in the story. In the story, Johnny sees a fat man and guesses that he is Tubby Hayes; in the show, he sees a man smiling broadly and guesses that he is Smiley Hayes.

Johnny and Smiley then go to a bar together, as in the story, but the TV version eliminates references to a band mate on heroin or to Kathy's brother. The teleplay is well-written: "Skip the improvisation, just give me the melody," says Johnny when Smiley begins to go into too much detail. Johnny wonders: "Who is this man in here? What is this thin line that divides me from him? How thin is it? Is it as thin as a tight rope and if I fall off do I fall on his side or my side?" Like the initial scene between Johnny and Red, this scene between Johnny and Smiley is well played, especially when Johnny nearly smashes the jukebox that plays one of his records.

At home, when Johnny embraces Kathy, he looks at her neck and remarks, "Just a thin line." Retitling the story "The Thin Line" is a clever choice, since the new title has multiple meanings. There is a thin line between the truth of what happened and the lie Kathy tells, a thin line between sanity and insanity, and the scars on Kathy's neck and Johnny's wrists are thin lines as well. The short story is an example of crime fiction, with references to drugs and a brutal if subtle conclusion. For television, the drug references are removed, the story is simplified by the removal of Kathy's brother, and the conclusion is completely altered.

Chuck Connors as Red
In the final scene, Kathy puts on a record that skips and triggers the return of Johnny's memory. He recalls that he came home and put on the same record; Kathy woke up, came out of her room, and "ripped the arm off the music." They argued about his music taking him away from her, then he blacked out and woke up to find his wrists and her throat had been cut. There is no mention of her brother trying to kill her or being high on heroin, as there is in Brown's story. In the TV version, Kathy argues at first but soon confesses. Instead of killing her, Johnny pities her. He wants her to tell the truth to the police, the newspapers, and his fans, but he relents, realizes that she is sick, and promises to help her. "You'll have to find your own way back," Johnny tells Kathy, "it might be easier if I walk with you."

"The Thin Line" is a faithful adaptation of Brown's short story, with minor changes along the way to remove elements unfit for television, and with a happy ending replacing the story's violent conclusion. I prefer the end of the short story to the sappy finale of the TV show, but it hardly detracts from what is a very good episode overall.

The teleplay is by Frederick Brady (1912-1961), who started out as an actor in film from 1943 to 1950 and then became a writer, scripting films from 1950 to 1953 and numerous TV episodes from 1954 until his death in 1961, including 14 episodes of The Star and the Story.

Directing this episode without much vigor is Roy Kellino (1912-1956), who was born Philip Roy Gislingham in London and whose father, W.P. Kellino, directed silent and early sound films. Roy Kellino worked as a cinematographer from 1935 to 1945 and began directing in 1937, moving into television in 1955 and directing nine episodes of The Star and the Story. He married actress Barbara Billingsley (of Leave it to Beaver) in 1953 and died of a heart attack in 1956.

Joseph Forte as Dr. Glasson
David Niven (1910-1983), who read the story and bought the rights, acts as both host and star of the show, playing Johnny Marlin. Born in London, Niven's screen career lasted from 1932 to 1983 and he was a major film star, appearing in movies such as The Bishop's Wife (1947), Around the World in 80 Days (1956), The Guns of Navarone (1961), The Pink Panther (1963), Casino Royale (1967), and Murder By Death (1976). He won a Best Actor Oscar for Separate Tables (1958) and was a regular in a TV series called The Rogues (1964-1965). This was his only appearance on The Star and the Story, though he did appear in 33 episodes of Four Star Playhouse, which may have been the source of Beth Brown's confusion about where this episode aired.

Johnny's wife Kathy is played by Joan Camden (1939-2000), whose performance is a bit wooden. Born Joan Louise Creears in Los Angeles, she was on screen from 1952 to 1963 and her last credits are a couple of episodes of The Outer Limits.

Dr. Glasson, who speaks to Johnny and lets him out of the sanitarium, is played by Joseph Forte (1893-1927), whose many credits from 1924-1962 include that of a doctor in the camp classic, Reefer Madness (1936).

Familiar face Herb Vigran (1910-1986) plays Smiley. Vigran has over 350 screen credits in a career that lasted from the early 1930s to the late 1980s. Perhaps he is best remembered today for his six appearances on The Adventures of Superman, playing characters with names like Legs Lemmy, Georgie Gleap, and Mugsy Maple.

The biggest casting surprise in "The Thin Line" comes in the opening scene, where none other than Chuck Connors (1921-1992) plays Red, the sanitarium intern. Born Kevin Connors in Brooklyn, he played Minor League baseball in the early 1940s, was on the championship Boston Celtics team in 1946, and had a brief stint as a Major Leaguer from 1949 to 1951 before becoming an actor. His screen career lasted from 1952 to 2001 and he starred in several TV series, but it was The Rifleman (1958-1963), a series produced by Four Star Productions, that made him famous. There is a website all about him here.

"The Thin Line" is available for online streaming purchase here and is well worth a look.

Brown, Elizabeth Charlier. Oh, for the Life of an Author's Wife., 2017.
Brown, Fredric. “I'll Cut Your Throat Again, Kathleen.” Carnival of Crime: The Best Mystery Stories of Fredric Brown, Southern Illinois University Press, 1985, pp. 146–163.
The FictionMags Index. 10 July 2018,
IMDb,, 10 July 2018,
Seabrook, Jack. Martians and Misplaced Clues: the Life and Work of Fredric Brown. Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1993.
Stephensen-Payne, Phil. Galactic Central, 10 July 2018,
“The Thin Line.” The Star and the Story, 17 Mar. 1956.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 July 2018,

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