Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 160 — ‘Hush, Hush, Sweet Jessie’

Alexis Smith, Dallas, Hush Hush Sweet Jessie, Lady Jessica Farlow Montford

How sweet she is

What do I love about the final scene in “Hush, Hush, Sweet Jessie”? Oh, pretty much everything. The Ewings stand in the Southfork driveway, panicked because no one knows the whereabouts of Miss Ellie and Jessica, whose murderous past has finally come to light. Suddenly, Donna arrives in Ray’s pickup truck. She gets out, bloodied and shaken, and explains that she’s just come from the Krebbs’ home, where Jessica knocked her out, swiped one of Ray’s handguns, took Ellie and drove who-knows-where in Donna’s car. J.R. looks stricken. “We’ve got to find them,” he says. “Jessica has killed once. Who knows what she’ll do with Mama?” Duh-duh-duh!

Is this a moment of pure camp? Yes, of course. How could any scene that requires the audience to imagine Alexis Smith abducting Barbara Bel Geddes at gunpoint not be campy? And what about the way Donna announces her news? Shouldn’t she hop out of Ray’s truck and offer the most important facts first: “Hey, everyone, Jessica has kidnapped Miss Ellie!” Instead, Donna tells the story chronologically; this allows the episode to end with the dramatic revelation that Mama has been abducted, but it isn’t very realistic. There’s also this: After Larry Hagman delivers his “We’ve got to find them” line, we get a reaction shot from Howard Keel and Patrick Duffy, who stand side by side and turn their eyes to the camera in near perfect unison. It’s priceless.

And yet despite all this, the scene is undeniably thrilling. The most valuable actors are Hagman, who makes J.R.’s concern easy to believe, and Susan Howard, whose halting, anguished delivery is pitch-perfect. She gets a big assist from the brilliant composer Richard Lewis Warren, whose underscore lends urgency to the entire sequence. I especially love how there’s no music during most of Donna’s monologue until she recalls awakening after Jessica knocked her out. Warren slowly brings in the orchestra when Donna says, “And then when I came to … they were both gone.” By the time she gets to this line — “Ray, she took one of your guns!” — the music has swelled. Can any “Dallas” fan watch this part without getting goose bumps?

The rest of “Hush, Hush, Sweet Jessie” is almost as good. Smith is as over-the-top as ever when Jessica finally unravels in Ray and Donna’s kitchen, but Bel Geddes, with her believably bewildered expression, manages to keep the scene grounded. Meanwhile, Katherine proves she can wheel and deal with the best of them when she agrees to buy Cliff’s share of Wentworth Tool & Die at a bargain-basement price, and it’s great fun to see Morgan Brittany deliver lines like “Oil, oil, everywhere, and not a drop for Cliff.” Also, how can you not love the long-awaited moment when Pam confronts Katherine after learning she forged the letter that broke up her marriage to Bobby? The slap Pam delivers must be one of the most cathartic moments in “Dallas” history, and isn’t it nice to see Victoria Principal demonstrate some of the spark that once made her character so compelling?

“Hush, Hush, Sweet Jessie” raises a few other questions that probably wouldn’t occur to anyone but “Dallas” devotees. Here’s one: At the beginning of the episode, Lucy speaks on the phone to Jackie, Cliff’s secretary. Is this the first, and perhaps only, time these two women interact? Here’s another: After J.R. confronts Clayton and Ray with Jessica’s diary in a Braddock parking lot, the three men hop into J.R.’s Mercedes and hightail it back to the ranch. Is this the first time we’ve seen J.R. and Ray share a ride since they palled around in the first-season episode “Winds of Vengeance”?

There’s also this: When the producers named this episode, they were surely offering a loving nod to the 1964 thriller “Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte,” which starred Bette Davis as a wealthy spinster driven mad by her scheming cousin, played by Olivia de Havilland. (Future “Dallas” star George Kennedy has a small role too.) The film, which received seven Oscar nominations, is now regarded by some as a camp classic. Did the “Dallas” producers know this episode would achieve a similar distinction?

Grade: A

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bobby Ewing, Charlene Tilton, Clayton Farlow, Dallas, Donna Culver Krebbs, Hush Hush Sweet Jessie, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Lucy Ewing, Patrick Duffy, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly

Through the looking glass

‘HUSH, HUSH, SWEET JESSIE’

Season 7, Episode 29

Airdate: May 11, 1984

Audience: 20.4 million homes, ranking 4th in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Gwen Arner

Synopsis: Pam learns Mark knew he was dying and killed himself. Cliff reluctantly sells his share of Wentworth Tool & Die to Katherine, whom Pam slaps after she discovers Katherine’s role in ending her marriage to Bobby. Clayton tells Ray and Donna that Dusty is actually Jessica’s son. After J.R. uncovers evidence Jessica killed Clayton’s first wife, she kidnaps Miss Ellie.

Cast: Mary Armstrong (Louise), Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), James L. Brown (Detective Harry McSween), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Bill Morey (Leo Wakefield), Charles Parks (Fred Robbins), Edmund Penney (doctor), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Alexis Smith (Lady Jessica Montfort), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), D.J. Zacker (Louis)

“Hush, Hush, Sweet Jessie” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Comments

  1. I really liked the scene with Pam and Bobby talk at her home just after Afton leaves. It’s so sad and lovely and well acted. The penny drops.

    • Yes, that is a good scene, Dan. I also like the scene because it suggests Pam and Afton are friends outside of their relationship with Cliff.

      Thanks for your comment.

      CB

  2. Anonymous says:

    Had to watch the “Jessie” episodes of this season again on DVD. They look so great for 30 years old.

    I never realized before but you are so right about Donna. She takes ages to get to the point and even with a head injury you would think she could state the facts sooner. Not that I’m complaining as that would deprive me of that step-by-step, what happened next chronological history that she delivers as only Donna can.

    I’ve got to say the writers escalated Jessica to unhinged straight away – no messin! When she first meets the family I am taken aback by how forward she is with everyone. And given that Dallas starts many scenes with the actors offering each other a drink, it is wonderful to see that five minutes after Clayton introduces Jessie, it is SHE who actually has to ask for Bobby to fix her a little bourbon and branch. Wonderful delivery and a complete turnaround from the norm. Where were the Ewing manners?!

    And this version of Jessica – whilst theatrical and camp – is still a joy to behold compared to when she was brought back . Sad to say that the character of Jessica is directly responsible for two of Dallas rather more lame storylines. First, the overbearing “Murder She Wrote” homage where Ellie and Clayton tried to solve who was killing all their friends and second, the even worse “JR flies over the cuckoo’s nest” fest. Dallas had already jumped the shark by then, but they perhaps stumbled over it a couple more times with those two.

    • Great observations, especially about how Jessica asks for the drink. I agree the character, as campy as she is, is much more interesting during her visit to
      “Dallas.”

    • Dan in WI says:

      I don’t believe Jessica had any involvment in the Murder She Wrote storyline. She would have been safely tucked away in the sanitarium awaiting JR’s visit at that point. Or am I forgetting something?

      • Oh, she was involved all right. She was the culprit behind the murders, right?

      • Dan in WI says:

        Okay Chris I’ll take your word for it. It just shows how much I like the camp of the character that I must be blocking the conclusion of that storyline. Since she was a much bigger part of the Ellie obduction and JR in the sanitarium storylines it’s much harder for me to block those.

      • I’m fuzzy on the “Murder, She Wrote” story too, but I’m pretty sure Jessica killed at least some of those old dudes, including one who was revealed as Dusty’s biological father.

        Can someone confirm this? Where’s our pal Chris Donovan, who’s an expert on the original show’s later years?

      • Jessie was indeed the driving force behind the whole “Murder She Wrote” homage. By this time (1988-89) Dallas was no longer a ratings winner, in fact it was no longer even in the top 10 watched shows in the USA and was tumbling down the ratings fast. But in the same period millions of viewers stacked up when it came to watching Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher in “Murder She Wrote”. So whilst viewers were abandoning the antics of Dallas in their droves, they were staying loyal (even increasing) for their weekly dose of amateur pensioner sleuth.

        I think it was at this point Dallas writers had a “lightbulb” moment. They were already scratching their heads about what to do with Ellie and Clayton. So they did something which, in retrospect, was ridiculous. They turned them into armchair detectives. Their first story line in this mould involved them pondering over a letter addressed to Jock and a mysterious key which led them to an ol’ western town where Jock was revealed as a war hero. That went on for a few weeks and allowed Ellie and Clayton to have a few lines each show. Then came an even more preposterous story line where Clayton’s friends were murdered week by week following the reading of a will. Again Ellie was required to do the “Jessica Lansbury” bit whilst Clayton looked suitably bewildered. It was drawn out for several weeks (with several episode cliffhangers) and after lots of ramped up mystery and murder it turned out Jessica was behind the whole thing. She even made attempts on Clayton’s life but was eventually caught and then committed to the state sanitarium. The “Murder She Wrote” homage was thus very much Jessica driven.

        Of course Dallas weren’t through with using her for yet another desperate storyline – the one where JR pretended to be insane to get committed to the same state sanitarium to get her to sign over some West Star stock. Whilst he was there the writers tried to make him a Jack Nicholson character (hence “JR Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest”) but it was all ludicrous and should never have made the screen.

        Suffice to say Jessica is thus a driving force behind not one but two story arcs which are best forgotten and are very far removed from the golden days of early Dallas. The writers should have left Jessica well alone after her initial visit to Dallas for Ellie and Clayton’s wedding – where she was theatrical but very watchable as the villain.

      • Thank you for this history lesson! I remember how popular “Murder, She Wrote” remained in the late 1980s and early 1990s. CBS tried to emulate its success with “Over My Dead Body,” another armchair sleuth series that starred Edward Woodward (previously of the darker “The Equalizer”). It was briefly paired with “Dallas” on Friday nights at the beginning of the show’s final season.

      • Like I said I guess I was blocking. I certainly remember the storyline. It was just the reveal of her being behind it I have zero recollection of.

        It just goes to show that doing copycat story lines rarely works. If people want to watch Murder She Wrote they are going to watch Murder She Wrote. They aren’t likely to watch Dallas reduce itself to reacting and playing copy cat.

      • You can see why CBS wanted to replicate the success of Murder She Wrote, which was, after all, their own show. I think Over My Dead Body must have been another attempt that went astray! Whilst Ellie always looked good peering over half moon glasses, and could make a good attempt at being a Jessica Fletcher, a lot of it just didn’t make sense. I think during their first mystery she ended up buying a part of the town of Pride just so she could get a fleeting piece of information. That was just not true to the character of Ellie and was more an attempt to fill airtime and give Ellie and Clayton some lines by dragging it all out. The multiple killings of the later story line were just as far fetched. One of the victims was drowned in his own fish tank and it was more about how macabre they could get. All this occurred in the 1989-90 season where Dallas ended 43rd in the year end ratings (Murder She Wrote ended at 13th). Ten years after the shooting of JR, Dallas was sadly in decline. And yet…..and yet….I still watched it religiously hoping for a glimmer of past glories.

      • I remember liking the final years of the show. I’ll be curious to see how well they hold up when it comes time to critique them.

    • Yes you can understand CBS wanting to replicate the success of one of their own shows…..though it didn’t work. I have double checked and Ellie and Clayton becoming armchair detectives occurred in the 1989/90 season – when Dallas ratings for the year plunged to 43rd (!)…..a far cry from ten years previous. Meanwhile Murder She Wrote was at number 13 in the 1989/90 rankings so a good 30 places above.

      Ellie made a good job of peering over half rim spectacles (she always did) and Clayton was always a good sidekick. But the two mysteries – first the town of Pride and second the Jessica murders – both bordered on the ridiculous. I seem to remember Ellie buying a hotel (it could have been the whole town) just to get a piece of information. And the Jessica murders ended with one victim in his own fish tank. This was Dallas on a downward curve althoug one I still watched religiously !

  3. FridaySoaps says:

    Had to watch the “Jessie” episodes of this season again on DVD. My oh my they are still so GREAT !

    I never realized before but you are so right about Donna. She takes ages to get to the point and even with a head injury you would think she could state the facts sooner. Not that I’m complaining as that would deprive me of that step-by-step, what happened next chronological history that she delivers as only Donna can.

    I’ve got to say the writers escalated Jessica to unhinged straight away – no messin! When she first meets the family I am taken aback by how forward she is with everyone. And given that Dallas starts many scenes with the actors offering each other a drink, it is wonderful to see that five minutes after Clayton introduces Jessie, it is SHE who actually has to ask for Bobby to fix her a little bourbon and branch. Wonderful delivery and a complete turnaround from the norm. Where were the Ewing manners?!

    And this version of Jessica – whilst theatrical and camp – is still a joy to behold compared to when she was brought back . Sad to say that the character of Jessica is directly responsible for two of Dallas rather more lame storylines. First, the overbearing “Murder She Wrote” homage where Ellie and Clayton tried to solve who was killing all their friends and second, the even worse “JR flies over the cuckoo’s nest” fest. Dallas had already jumped the shark by then, but they perhaps jumped it a couple more times with those two.

    But for now Jessie is a delight and a worthy addition to a great season.

  4. What a fabulous episode! On top of all the excellent scenes already mentioned, there is also the one where Clayton explains to Ray and Donna that he is only Dusty’s uncle – a revelation that somehow rocks the boat of DALLAS mythology where Clayton only existed because he was Dusty’s father…
    I also love how Katherine continues to taunt Pam even after the truth has come out: She would have deserved the slap just for the way she holds that scarf!
    And of course, the final scene does such an excellent job of making sure that people will tune in for the next episode – a must if the cliffhanger is supposed to work. I do remember wondering why the fight between Jessica and Miss Ellie is only reported by Donna, why we don’t actually get to see it. Was it out of consideration for the actresses’ somewhat advanced age (and possibly ill health in the case of Barbara Bel Geddes) or because the producers were aware that showing a cat fight between Jessica, Donna and Miss Ellie would risk over-egging the campy pudding?

  5. I love it when Pam finally sees through Katherine and gives her one of TV’s greatest slaps ( all the more effective because Dallas, unlike a certain other show I could mention, didn’t generally lower itself to cat fighting/bitch slapping.) But what took her so long?

  6. Pam b**** slapping Katherine was a great, great moment and one of the best on Dallas. It was also sad because Pam lost a sister who she wished she had growing up with an alcoholic father and an absentee mother. Pam was so glad to know she had a sister when she found out about Katherine and to be betrayed by her like this is so sad. VP portrayed Pam’s fury and sadness so well in her eyes during that conversation with Katherine.

  7. I love the scene where they were back at Cliff’s townhouse and he read the letter Mark wrote her. The acting was superb; especially Afton’s.
    The look on Pam’ face, when she heard the part that Mark got Jerry to tell him that she knew about the sickness.
    Then the part that Mark says Pam will find happiness again, maybe with Bobby because he thinks they still care for one another. Do you think Mark knew Bobby didn’t wnt to be with Jenna as much as he did Pam?
    Such a poignant scene!

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