Monday, January 11, 2021

Purchase or Pass: The Eleventh Hour


Full disclosure: I do not own any medical shows on DVD. There are several I like, and I’ve watched episodes here and there online and on nostalgia networks, but for me they don’t have the “re-watchable” factor that makes a series worth purchasing. Plus, I’ve always been a little skittish about doctors and hospitals, so that’s not a setting I find applicable to comfort TV.


However, having read some persuasive praise of its quality, I made a blind buy on The Eleventh Hour, a short-lived 1962 series that focused on patients struggling with mental health issues, and the doctors who try to help them. After 2020 tested our individual and collective sanity, this is either the most appropriate show to explore, or the least. 



Wendell Corey stars as Dr. Theodore Bassett, a psychiatrist on staff at County General Hospital. On many cases he collaborates with Dr. Paul Graham (Jack Ging), a clinical psychologist. Together, as it says on the DVD box, they “boldly venture into the last great frontier – the human mind – to help the desperate, heal the mentally ill, and aid the forces of law and order.”


Corey was a journeyman actor and a decorated officer in World War II, who could use his commanding demeanor to stare down a violent patient, but also show the patience and compassion necessary to work with the troubled souls he met. Ging had more conventional leading man appeal, though Dr. Graham often fell into the cliché that many TV psychologists do of answering questions with questions.


“What do you think, Doc?”

“I don’t know, what do you think?”


The two rarely differed in their patient assessments, though Graham was more open to trying new methods like family therapy and group therapy, as was explored in the episode “Five Moments Out of Time.” 



Both leads are sufficient guides into this type of medical practice, but they’re not the reason The Eleventh Hour works. The series earns an enthusiastic “purchase” recommendation from me for its intelligent scripts and truly remarkable array of guest stars in nearly every episode.


“There are Dragons in This Forest” features Steven Hill as a World War II deserter who may have been insane at the time of his desertion; in “Make Me a Place,” David Janssen portrays a husband concerned about the fragile mental state of his ex-wife (Barbara Rush); George C. Scott plays a former Communist agent, defected to the U.S., who suddenly decides he needs to return home, much to the chagrin of his wife (Colleen Dewhurst).


Television A-listers abound: Robert Vaughn and Inger Stevens in “The Blues My Babe Gave to Me,” a powerful portrait of post-partum depression; a family seeking therapy for their troubled youngest son is comprised of parents Angela Lansbury and Martin Balsam, and siblings Roy Thinnes, Tuesday Weld and Don Grady. 



Two episodes stood out for me among this distinguished field. “Hooray, Hooray the Circus is Coming to Town” stars Burgess Meredith as the free-spirit black sheep son of a wealthy family, who inherits the family business and family fortune even though he has no interest in either. Does not caring about money or responsibility make a person crazy? Dr. Bassett has to find out, and seems to have a great time doing so in this, the only show in the season that offers a few moments of comedy. Meredith is amazing – this should rank alongside The Penguin and the Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough At Last” as his best TV work.


Even better is “A Tumble From a High White Horse,” in which Walter Matthau plays a father who kills the pusher that turned his son (Frankie Avalon) into a heroin addict. His lawyer (Telly Savales) wants him to plead temporary insanity, but Matthau insists he did the right thing. Possibly the most impressive hour of television I watched all of last year. 


And in case you haven’t picked up on it already, this series also specialized in unique episode titles. Season one gave us “Beauty Playing a Mandolin Underneath a Willow Tree,” “Try to Keep Alive Until Next Tuesday,” and my personal favorite, “I Feel Like a Rutabaga.”


One aspect of the series I found interesting is how these doctors rarely prescribed drugs to their patients. I’m not an expert but it seems like many people in therapy now get pills to alter their moods or help them cope with stress. But here the approach is to find the root cause of a patient’s problem, and help them to confront it and overcome it without pharmaceutical assistance. Did they do that because better drugs weren’t available back then, or did they understand that mood-altering prescriptions might be exchanging one problem for another?



Another surprise is how hypnotism was considered a mainstream course of treatment. One day I’ll research if that was really the case in the 1960s, or if the show went there for dramatic license. Is it still widely used? I’ve never been in therapy (shocking to some, I’m sure) so I wouldn’t know.


One last point: I read the positive reviews of The Eleventh Hour on IMDB and noticed several commentators who wrote “They don’t make television like this anymore.” One reviewer took exception to that, believing shows from different eras should be judged on their own merits, and based on the times in which they were made. Fair enough. Would be nice if we applied those same criteria to historic figures. 




  1. This sounds interesting. Myself, I purchased MEDIC on DVD and thought it was neat seeing Richard Boone playing a doctor instead of a cowboy.
    I imagine Don Grady was very intense as the troubled youngster. I've seen him on a pre-MY THREE SONS episode of THE RIFLEMAN, and he was angry in about every line. He carried that over to the early B&W years of M3S until he became the oldest brother and had to calm down.
    From what I remember, Wendell Corey left this show after Season 1, and Ralph Bellamy replaced him. Bellamy I'm sure made an interesting doctor too.

    1. As I recall, Corey left because of problems related to his alcoholism, which is a shame because I enjoyed his performance in this immensely; there's a sensitivity and compassion in his character which can really be quite moving. Bellamy's Dr. Starke does not have the relationship to the Department of Corrections that Dr. Bassett did, so there's more of an emphsis on private practice. I wish the second season would become available, as I'd like to see how Bellamy does in the role.

      I think David's review is spot-on; The Eleventh Hour quickly became one of my favorite series, because it presents the idea that not everything is what it seems in a provocative manner: not by promoting a theory of relativism, but by reminding us how complex humans are, and how fragile the mind can be.