The Fire Dancer - Recap
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This episode appeared on a series called "Empire." Richard Egan was the series star, as Jim Redigo, the manager of a vast, modem, Arizona ranch. He was the characteristic strong father figure, who could ride a horse, fly a plane, shoot a bad guy—and yet identify sensibly and personally with human problems.
A spitting torch of fame fills the screen for the opening
scene. This is an oil-well fire, blazing out of control. Redigo's problem is to put out the fire before it destroys the ranch's field of oil and gas wells.
He telephones oil fields in Texas for a human extinguisher. Apparently that profession is highly skilled, and a small one. None of the experts is available.
As the burning well blazes hotter, a stranger arrives at the Empire Ranch. With him, in his camper, are an experienced assistant fire-fighter, and a worried wife. The stranger (compellingly played by Frank Gorshin) has heard about Redigo's fire, and offers to extinguish it.
Redigo mistrusts his credentials. But with the fire running wild. he is forced to the risk. He hires him.
As they inspect the flaming well, the danger mechanics are revealed. A small blast of dynamite will kill the flames for fifty seconds. The stranger and his assistant, in flameproof suits, will go in and put a metal cap on the well. If they fail in those fifty seconds, the fire will reignite and blast them to cinders.
Now we get a private look at the stranger and his wife. He is an extravagant dreamer. He aspires to be the best, as we are all gods or goddesses in our dreams. Moreover, he has brought all the equipment, and he knows all the moves. But he has never actually put out an oil-rig fire before. We realize that he can't face the moment of truth.
So does Redigo. But he gets a break. Unexpectedly, the top pro in the oil-well fire-fighting business, an old friend of Egan's, flies in from Texas. He takes over. The stranger is discarded.
But this new expert came alone, and has no assistant. He hires the stranger's old pro partner. They go in together, dynamite the fire, and start to cap the well. But something goes wrong: the cap breaks, the fire erupts and kills them both.
Now Egan, deeply shaken, faces his ultimate dramatic
crisis. The blazing well is about to run wild and destroy billions of feet of precious natural gas.
He goes to the stranger's camp. The man and his wife are preparing to pull out when Egan confronts them. The one thing that he knows for sure is that, technically, this stranger understands the job. Egan warns him that if he takes the back road now, he will never be a fire-fighter. He will never be anybody but a guy who ran away from his chance. The wife knows this is true. She joins forces with Egan. Together they persuade him to face the truth, accept the risk.
But one man can't cap the well alone, and his professional assistant is dead. Egan volunteers to go in beside him. Thus Egan commits himself equally. Now he, too, faces life or death.
They put on the fire suits and go in together. Total suspense, because we have seen that same fire kill two people. They dynamite the flames. They put the cap on the well, twist it down tight. Success. The fire is out!
Thus Redigo risks his life to resolve a crisis. In addition, he treats a human problem. He brings the stranger to grips with himself and reality. The man's wife knows what it means to their future—and so does the audience.