“Beat the Clock” (January 31, 1991)
Writer: Jim Trombetta
Director: Mario Azzopardi
Editor: Greg Wong
Synopsis: Jazz musician Wayne Cotrell is playing his saxophone on death row, waiting as the clock counts down to his midnight execution. A last-minute phone call suggests to Barry Allen and Julio Mendez that the man is innocent, however, and that the tragic killing of his lover was staged! The two police scientists must move fast to unravel the mystery behind legendary jazz diva Linda Lake’s disappearance and save Cotrell from the electric chair.
Commentary: It is remarkable how diverse The Flash’s stories are. “Beat the Clock,” like many of its predecessors, is unique and distinctive in comparison to other episodes of the series. This was a television show that continually proved that it was capable of successfully combining superhero action with a variety of other dramatic genres. Interestingly, this installment nearly takes place in real-time; the episode opens less than an hour before jazz musician Wayne Cotrell’s appointment with the electric chair and counts down to the scheduled moment of his execution. In the realm of cinematography, the plot’s emphasis on time prompts a number of creative shots that draw our attention to a variety of clock faces; nearly every scene contains a clock, maintaining our focus on the passing of crucial moments. Despite this set-up, however, there are more than a few moments when the drama seems to be unfolding at an unnaturally slow pace. The episode’s guest stars--including Angela Bassett as jazz singer Linda Lake--offer up some fine performances. Ken Foree is particularly entertaining as Whisper, the villain’s menacing henchman. More importantly, however, the script grants both Alex Désert and Amanda Pays the opportunity to bring some dimension to Julio Mendez and Dr. Tina McGee. All too often these supporting characters are mere caricatures, supplementing John Wesley Shipp’s strong performance by offering shallow comic relief. For evidence, look no further than the disappointing “Shroud of Death.” Here, it’s a relief to watch the show’s co-stars acting as believable characters with something to contribute to an engrossing plot. Shirley Walker’s soundtrack is more important than ever in a story inspired and driven by jazz music. The score contributes a great deal to the tale’s unique tone. The episode carries its share of minor flaws but, with its emphasis on character and atmosphere, “Beat the Clock” is an entertaining and well-scripted drama.
High-Speed Highlight: As the prison executioner pulls on his lethal switch, the Flash arrives in the nick of time to speedily unravel a series of restraints, releasing an innocent man from the electric chair with barely an instant to spare!
Quotable: “You’ll never make it in time. I can do it. Listen! Listen! I can make it, because I’m…” --Barry Allen attempts to reveal his secret identity to his partner only to be interrupted
Special Thanks: Thanks, as always, go out to Kelson Vibber for the screen captures featured here.