Married Alive, a Prudential's On Stage special for NBC, gathered in the sun and returned it with dappled ease. An original comedy for television by John Mortimer, the production teamed Robert Culp and Diana Rigg in one of the more interesting television comedies of recent memory.
Credit director Stuart Burge for dispensing style and wit with accumulative effect. A London Weekend International and Talent Associates production as in association with NBC-TV, the play marshaled the flavor of its British diggings (Culp was the only American involved) and the result was an English countryhouse comedy hard to resist.
As a man claiming to be Miss Rigg's long-lost explorer husband, Culp invades the wealthy manor of Miss Rigg like the "great hunk of Australian beef" she later calls him.
Miss Rigg, biding her time and acting like he's the real thing, amuses herself with the endless possibilities of the situation while Culp genuinely wins the love of her children, her tolerance and, ultimately, her love.
Miss Rigg's wardrobe is a knockout, and she's a knockout, period (in, among other clothes, a sleek red raincoat and a brown felt hat). Culp, wearing a collection of heavy sweaters and turtlenecks, is an occasional bull in a manor house, his swaggering speech at one point turning a dinner party into the production's high point. Cleaning his utensils with a napkin, he shouts for ketchup because, as he snorts, "what's a wife for if not to haul her fat bottom down to the kitchen!"
In gentler moments, Miss Rigg baits him with recollections of their - her? - romantic past - when she was 17 and "a whisper away from carnal knowledge." Later, with director Burge framing the pair in lazy-precise two-shots, almost magazine cover close-ups, she recalls "we weren't technically lovers until nine months after our marriage and even then I had to surprise you in that last precious second before you fell asleep."
Culp, growing restive, handles all this with growing anxiety and then attempts to bug out. She haughtily whirls on the stairs and tricks him into her bedroom. There, NBC, with (per Mortimer) less freedom than the more snuggly version aired by BBC, fades on a warm and completely sufficient note, with Miss Rigg in a nightgown doubled up on the bed and Culp, too nervous to take off his jacket, pitched precariously on the bed's edge.
"What am I going to do?" Culp had asked seconds before. "Go to bed," she had smiled. "When you tell those gigantic lies, you're running a terrible risk someone will believe you."
Notable was Gwen Nelson as Miss Rigg's maid and, and a funny story Culp drunkenly tossed off about a pregnant girl on a bus.