Starring Mildred Dunnock, Harry Townes, Jack Weston, Paul Newlan.
Written by Donald S. Sanford from a story by Robert Bloch.
Directed by Jon Brahm.
Dirk Van Prinn (Henry Daniell) creates a special pair of spectacles: when donned, they reveal the truth in others. We follow "the cheaters" from owner to owner, as they finally end up in the hands of a writer determined to understand exactly what they are meant to do.
JS: Let me to be the first to say, "Now this is a Thriller!" From the first note, Jerry Goldsmith establishes the tone with his original score, a welcome relief from the all too familiar jazzy riffs of Pete Rugolo that we've grown accustomed to. He's certainly an important ingredient to the success of the episode.
PE: In addition to the Goldsmith score, "The Cheaters" represents several other firsts:
1) the first appearance of Robert Bloch, arguably, the greatest horror writer who ever picked up a pen. You won't find me arguing that point: I'm firmly in the Bloch camp. I'm a big Steve King fan but I'll take a 10-page Bloch nightmare any day. Bloch contributed to 10 Thrillers in all. (Allow me to argue the point. Bloch's done some great stuff, but he's no Richard Matheson, one of the greatest writers—period—of all time. -JS)
2) the first adaptation of a story that originally appeared in Weird Tales, inarguably the greatest horror and fantasy magazine ever published. Its pages saw the best of Bloch, Robert E. Howard, and August Derleth (all Thriller alumni). 18 stories from "The Unique Magazine" became Thrillers. "The Cheaters" appeared in the November 1947 issue.
|Townes delivering a performance far superior to the lamp.|
3) the first classic Thriller. "The Cheaters" is widely regarded as one of the two best episodes of the run (the other being "Pigeons from Hell"—stay tuned for our thoughts on that) and it's hard to disagree. It's a very solid production. John Brahm makes up nicely for the previously put-upon "The Watcher." The performances are all top-notch. It's hard to zero in on one in particular but Harry Townes is Emmy-worthy. His final scene could have been disastrous if handled by a lesser actor. We can feel, as well as see, his character's sanity shredded. (Along with his face! -JS)
JS: As a horror episode, "The Cheaters" certainly delivers the goods where "The Purple Room" petered out (if you'll pardon the expression), but it's my turn to pick a few nits in this otherwise excellent episode:
I'm willing to accept that the veritas spectacles allow the wearer to hear the innermost thoughts of the people around them. I have trouble suspending my disbelief when other characters start to carry on conversations in their innermost thoughts the way Joe Henshaw's wife (Linda Watkins) does with her secret beau, Charlie (Ed Nelson). Or how, like ventriloquists, they try to impress us by holding up a drink to their mouths while they keep talking. Um, it's a voice over, so your lips wouldn't be moving anyway. Whatever the reason, they must not have been too fond of whatever the prop guys gave them to drink.
And is it just me, or does Edward Dean's (Weston) death by candelabra seem rather forced when compared to the rest of the murders? It's as if they needed some way to connect the dots to get to the final reel and just ran out of ideas.
PE: It was nice to see John Mitchum in uniform as a beat cop before he graduated a decade later to Inspector Frank DiGiorgio in the first three Dirty Harry movies. (Before he had too much linguini. -JS)
JS: It may be purely coincidental, but I would be curious to know if Edward Dean inspired the name of Thriller-fan Stephen King's Dark Tower protagonist Eddie Dean.
And can anyone reading this believe that Peter went an entire episode review without mentioning the presence of a bedridden old biddy? (Crap, it's in my notes! -PE)
OUR COMMENTS ON THE COMMENTARY:
Gary Gerani's commentary is a delight, much like his duet with Lucy Chase Williams on "The Prediction." His comparison of "The Cheaters" to Winchester 57 is spot-on, but I have to draw a line in the sand at Gerani's opinion that Townes' reveal at the climax is the "#2 most shocking moment of TV horror" behind only the Gremlin from "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" (The Twilight Zone episode adapted by Richard Matheson from his own story). I won't get into that hot tub, nope. I offer up your choice of Zanti Misfits, Zuni fetish dolls (Karen Black's little buddy deserves the #1 slot. -JS), and a killer scarecrow named Bubba, among others (yeah - don't forget the murder of Madeleine Ferguson [Sheryl Lee] from the second season of Twin Peaks! -JS). The big stuffed animal at 20,000 feet? I don't think so. Good commentary otherwise, Gary.