6 September 2006 | dinky-4
A sure-fire "chain-gang" story
Heroes on chain-gangs always provide the makings for a good plot and "Break Out" is no exception. The three stars of the show (Keith Larsen, Buddy Ebsen, and the underused Don Burnett) fall into enemy hands at the start of this episode and are promptly confined in a stockade for prisoners-of-war. (The war being the French and Indian War of the mid-1700s.) Major Rogers decides that trying to climb over the stockade's wall will be too risky an escape route so he and his fellow prisoners begin to tunnel under it at night.
During the day they must work to build, under the watchful eye of French overseers, a road through the forest from Riviere Richelieu to Port St. Jean. In order to obtain a digging tool for the tunnel project, Rogers "accidentally" breaks off two tines from the pitchfork he's been given. This arouses the wrath of a French sergeant who accuses him of sabotage and sentences him to 30 lashes which he will deliver personally and with more than a bit of enthusiasm.
The whipping scene may be the highpoint of "Break Out" but it's surprisingly mild. We see Rogers's shirt being pulled off -- giving us a quick moment to admire the suntanned torso of 33-year-old Keith Larsen -- and we see him being placed against a slender tree trunk with his hands held on the other side by a French soldier. Then we see the sergeant snap his whip three times in the direction of his victim's bare back but Rogers is out of camera-frame by this time so we never see leather touch flesh. After the third lash there's a discreet fade-out to a night-time scene back at the stockade and, what do you know, Rogers shows absolutely no ill effects for his 30-lash sentence! He's wearing a shirt, moving around without the slightest sign of stiffness or pain, and even manages to loll casually on his cot. Such powers of recuperation! The flogging of Major Rogers ranks 87th in the book "Lash! The Hundred Great Scenes of Men Being Whipped in the Movies," which goes on to state that it began the trend in TV westerns to have the series hero tied up and whipped. However, while "Break Out" aired in October of 1958, Scott Forbes' back felt the sting of a lash in an episode of "Jim Bowie" (titled "Gone to Texas") which ran in May of 1957.
As usual for "Northwest Passage", this episode is handsomely photographed with a lot of location work and it's directed by the esteemed Jacques Tourneau.