Starring Leslie Nielsen, Natalie Trundy, George Grizzard.
Written by James P. Cavanagh, based on a novel by William O’Farrell.
Directed by Arthur Hiller.
Dashing and successful businessman Alan Patterson (Nielsen) has more stalkers than Jennifer Aniston. One, the gorgeous Lily Hanson (Trundy), has a mega-crush on Alan and makes no bones about wanting to be his squeeze. That doesn’t sit well with Alan but absolutely cheeses his grating wife Judy (Dianne Foster). Despite years of love and trust, Judy almost immediately suspects her husband of foul play. Speaking of foul play, there’s Alan’s other admirer, Merle Jenkins (Grizzard), victim of a clichéd childhood, who’s decided he wants to be Alan! All three ships converge when Merle attempts to romance Lily and is spurned. In a rage, he strangles the girl and frames Alan.
PE: Most of the non-horror episodes of Thriller have a bad rep. They’re boring, they’re slow, they’re The Alfred Hitchcock Hour rejects, they’re better left unreleased. You’ll hear a lot of this and more from us in the next few months but “The Twisted Image” is not a bad episode, it’s just not compelling or exciting. It’s certainly not a “thriller,” but then Boris Karloff's Yawn might not have attracted quite so many viewers. It’s got weak elements: it’s slow and padded; some of the scenes change abruptly; Natalie Trundy is a babe (and director Arthur Hiller surely agreed since a majority of Trundy’s scenes are shot in close-up) but not much of an actress (much better years later in the Planet of the Apes flicks); and the story doesn’t so much have a climax as a “stop at 49 minutes.”
JS: Go figure. Peter is wrong, and then absolutely right in the same paragraph. Natalie Trundy a babe? Perhaps in her other roles, but not from the wide-eyed staring that makes up her performance here. He does hit the nail on the head when he describes the episode ending abruptly - I thought for sure we'd get some sort of denouement, or perhaps even an apology from Boris. As Peter points out, the episode is not all bad - in fact, it was refreshing that it did not travel straight down the predictable Fatal Attraction path of a contemporary TV show.
PE: Leslie Nielsen is just as passable in this as he was in most of the 1960s TV shows he appeared on, including The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (in fact the three top-billed actors all appeared on Hitchcock at one time or another), Peyton Place and Dr. Kildare. It’s hard to see any hints of the comedic actor he’d become years later.
JS: I thought Nielsen was fine, and while this episode might have benefited from some of his later career one-liners in the opening sequence in his office, I thought he did a more than passable job.
PE: Overall, if I’d have tuned in to the first episode of Thriller on September 13, 1960, I don’t know that I’d return for a second helping the following week. It certainly doesn’t hint at what was to come.
We plan to rate each episode on a scale of 0 to 4 Karloffs, with the occasional half-Karloff as necessary. We're just warning you in advance so you don't freak out.
While we're at it, now is a good time to lay down the rules for this blog.
PE: John and I are not historians. We leave the detective work to Tom Weaver and the other boys who do good work for McFarland. We’ll throw in a nugget now and then but don’t expect a complete history of the Thriller series. It would only be plagiarism on my part anyway. And unless the second unit caterer worked on Star Wars Episode III: Return of the Jedi, John couldn’t care less.
JS: Okay, so he had to get the first anti-Lucas jab in early. But seriously, as Peter tries to communicate above, we're just signing up to give you 'two guys' review of the series. Hopefully, our comments will inspire you to check out the episodes for yourselves. And when you do, we hope you'll add your comments to the discussion.
OUR COMMENTS ON THE COMMENTARY:
PE: In the audio commentary, director Hiller denies there are gay overtones to the Jenkins character but I don’t buy it. Merle’s overbearing sister comes to visit and berates him as “a pretty boy” and slaps him around, making it clear she’s been doing this to him all his life. This is why he’s as screwed up as he is. The commentary itself (by Hilller and Steve Mitchell) mostly covers Hiller’s career in television (and THRILLER particularly) but does touch on the episode itself. Mitchell does a decent job of keeping the rambling (87 year old) Hiller on track.