Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Worse Than Murder: Season 1 Episode 3

First telecast: 9/27/60
Starring: Constance Ford, Harriet MacGibbon, John Baragrey.
Written by: Mel Goldberg from a story by Evelyn Berckman.
Directed by: Mitchell Leisen (who gets his screen credit with a signature, no less).

Connie Walworth (Ford) always seems to get the shaft. First, her rich husband dies in a car crash and Connie’s left on an allowance from her mother-in-law, Myra Walworth (MacGibbon). Then her “favorite uncle” dies intestate and Connie’s left holding nothing but one of the man’s diaries. This proves rewarding however when it leads Connie to believe that Myra may have been involved in a murder. Connie wastes no time in attempting to extort the frail old lady.

PE: I could be a lazy blogger and whittle this review down to two succinct words: boring crap. I’ll accentuate the positive instead. There are several instances of…startling thespianism and atmosphere. Take for example the mere fact that every male in the cast ostensibly must change their boxers whenever Connie walks into a room. I gotta say (without being a male chauvinist pig, mind you) that Connie Walworth is the homeliest Jezebel I’ve ever seen (and, mind you, I hail from Arizona where a full set of teeth will get you $40 an hour on Van Buren Street). The men aren’t that much better - our hero, Dr. Ralph Mitchell (Baragrey) is banging Myra’s beautiful daughter Anne (Christine White) despite being the spitting image of Jerry Orbach. Connie’s landlord (Dan Tobin) has seen the underside of the tart’s sheets more than a few times yet dresses as if he rakes hay or cleans the Clampetts’ cement pond (and speaking of the Clampetts’ – we were – Harriet MacGibbon spent eight years playing Mrs. Drysdale on The Beverly Hillbillies).

JS: In his haste, Peter failed to mention mousy daughter Anne's transformation to a hip-young-sixties chick. An important element to work into the plot, to be sure, since no one is interested in seeing a cat fight between a cougar and a mousy girl. Eagle-eyed viewers may recognize Ford from her role as the domineering, brother-slapping sister from the first episode, "The Twisted Image." Perhaps that was her audition for the role of Connie.

PE: A few items on your to-see list before I close (note that, like the professionals, I provide placement times so you have an excuse to skip the rest of this bilge):
  • 22:22 - Connie gets important information from a former nurse and then has a campy faux orgasm. Hey Meg Ryan, I’ve got a little secret for you. Cat’s out of the bag where you got your inspiration.
  • 28:45 - Dr. Mitchell delivers a stirring speech and I suddenly realize that the acting in the first two episodes wasn’t all that bad after all.
  • 32:45 - The most unrealistic display of talking in one’s sleep as Myra basically retells the whole plot for those who’ve been dozing. (I was just resting my eyes -JS)
  • 38:48 - Some tight action choreography as Myra and Anne fight the battle of the she-cats. Weeks must have been spent on this 20 second shot. (When Connie started snapping her fingers, I kept waiting for music from West Side Story to kick in. -JS)
  • 44:40 – More hellcattery and the strangest fire ever captured on film. While fighting in front of Myra’s fireplace over a burning diary, Anne and Connie inadvertently set fire to the room. From one scene to the next, the blaze seems either out of control or nothing more than a misunderstanding.
JS: Is it just me, or did the actress playing Anne steal Ford's screen direction, as she's the one to kick the burning diary into the curtains as she screams, "Don't, Connie, you'll set the whole house on fire!" (Can't rightly say, John, as I was transfixed by Connie's beauty. -PE) For what it's worth, it seems to me that the most interesting crimes in this particular episode took place before it started. Despite the fact that the quality of the episodes has been trending down since we started, I'll take that as a positive sign that the best is yet to come.

PE: Uh, don't mean to pee in your cornflakes, Scooter, but I've seen the fourth episode already. Picture the two of us in an inflatable raft, no water, with a slow leak. But look on the bright side: only 64 days until Alfred Hitchcock Presents Season 1 Episode 1.

OUR RATING:
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.

20 comments:

  1. Here's what I had to say about "WTM":

    Constance Ford plays a bitchy harridan who's furious that her late
    husband has left her nothing – not surprising, since he was apparently
    pretty well-loaded. But, she has something – a diary – with which she
    may be able to blackmail monies out of her ailing mother-in-law.

    This episode was panned in the trades at the time: Cleveland Amory
    famously argued that the episode lived up to its title. Really, this
    is unfair. "Worse Than Murder" is a fairly routine, genteel crime
    thriller which does have a very strong performance from Ford as a
    memorable villain. Otherwise, it is neither especially good nor
    especially bad. I found the story engaging and enjoyed it – it's far
    superior to either "Child's Play" or "The Watcher" (the two worst I've
    seen).

    If "Thriller" had never transformed itself, and had continued to grind
    out eps like this, no one would remember it today. But, to be fair,
    "Worse Than Murder" is an enjoyable enough crime thriller and quite
    watchable. Nothing more, nothing less.

    3 out of 5.

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  2. Your comments really cracked me up on this one. But, as anyone who knows of Thriller's early identity crisis realizes that you have to endure a lot of turgid, dreary stuff before William Frye was brought in to produce the horror episodes. Believe me, your patience will be rewarded.

    Besides.....if you think "Worse Than Murder" is bad, wait 'til you sit through "Mark of the Hand", or Mort Sahl's dramatic tour-de-force in "Man in the Middle"; you may just shoot yourself before the final credits.

    The only bright spot for me in "Worse Than Murder" is the apperance of Dan Tobin, one of my favorite character actors; he always brightened up the screen when he was on...not that he was able to do much to elevate the quality of this episode.

    I had the pleasure of encountering "Thriller" during its initial run, starting with "The Devil's Ticket" in April of '61; if interested in my overall comments, check my Amazon review (Lawrence Rapchak...that's me).

    My pal David Schow tipped me off to you guys and your epic quest/journey into Thriller-dom. I'll be checking in often.

    PS-- I'd sign in with a user ID, but none of the profile options apply to me, a simple e-mail-type guy.

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  3. Oops... delete the word "AS" from the second sentence in the post above ("But anyone who knows of Thriller's identity crisis...")

    LR

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  4. Hi Lawrence -

    Thanks for posting! Peter and I are painfully aware things will get Worse Than Murder before this is over... but we haven't given up yet! ;)

    Don't hesitate to point out any other bright spots we overlook on this bumpy road.

    John

    P.S. In the absence of any other sign in, I recommend choosing Name/URL (you can leave the URL blank), as that will at least allow you to identify your posts by name.

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  5. Actually I enjoyed this one more than you guys. I thought it was a comedy because Constance Ford was so funny. Then I read your comments and now I think maybe she is scary. At least it had no annoying kid in it like "Child's Play". Still, it's obvious the show is not a success at this point and something need to be done.

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  6. I did like WORSE THAN MURDER quite a bit, and felt Constance Ford made for a really terrifc and somewhat frightening villainess. I loved the way she roughed up that former nurse in her own apartment. And I thought the snapping of her femme fatale fingers during that catfight sequence was really delightfully weird. She was a complete nutjob!

    I'm only seeign these for the first time. No way are any of these early ones exceptional episodes, but so far I haven't seen a "terrible" one, and I'm glad because I've heard so much bad about these.

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  7. Joe-
    Thanks for posting your comment. One of the wonderful things about doing this blog is hearing all the different points of view. There's a fan for everything, someone once said. The episodes I think are dogs may be enjoyable to others. On the other hand, there may be some episodes (oh, say "The Purple Room") that are widely regarded as "one of the handful of classic Thrillers" that I shake my head at and wonder why.

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  8. I think my favorite moment in Worse Than Murder is when old auntie perfume face dies in a "I'll stop talking and close my eyes" sort of way. Dr. Ralph casually checks her vitals with an ear to the breast, offers a solemn nod to the attending nurse, then almost trips on something as he walks off camera.

    A little CPR and mouth-to-mouth in this scene would have kept me from drooling all over myself while watching this turd.

    Constance Ford was pretty sinister and weirdly sexy. The kind of woman that pulls out a switchblade during sex.

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  9. Constance Ford was in some Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes and I was always struck by her homeliness. It was bizarre how she tried to be a sexpot here. How about her snuggling up to the doctor in his car, or "getting comfortable" in his office? How about when she rubbed the mink on his face? He was one slimy boyfriend to the 60s chick!

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  10. I just came across this blog 2 days ago. I bought the box set and have watched the first 3 episodes. Not what I expected. I had only heard the good stuff about Thriller and have been wanting to see the entire run for years. It never seemed to be in syndication when I was growing up. I had seen maybe 2 or 3 episodes prior to this purchase. Anyway, I am anticipating the change in direction of the show because these early episodes are turgid fare indeed.

    Anyway, I'm enjoying the repartee that you 2 have and look forward to further reviews as I watch the series.

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  11. Completely agree - coming back to this after having tasted some of the 'black gold' of later episodes really makes me appreciate the pain you two endured during the early run. This is worse than murder, with a clumsy plot, lousy dialogue, mediocre acting (where the heck did Jocelyn Brando go? How did she fall to just this walk-on when she was something nifty in The Big Heat - she blowed up good!) and a tape-measure finish... There was a tv actress with similar looks as Ford, who often played the loony in love with Rockford or some other star - wish i could remember her name - and she had the same sexual appeal, sort of a cornflakes' box dressed up as raisin bran.
    I'm afraid it was -- Three K's out of 10...

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  12. Another THRILLER episode that was difficult to watch. For the most part it's bland and boring. Apparently I like Constance Ford more than others. Always thought she was a fun character actor to watch.

    SoSo Cinema gives WORSE THAN MURDER "1 Karloff" and that's based on the quasi-catfight over the diary and the always welcomed presence of Boris.

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  13. Another episode featuring psycho cat. That's two out of the first three. Was it the frustrations of the waning months of the Ike era?

    I'm on the side of the Constance fans. I really enjoyed watching her chew the scenery in a campy almost John Wateresque manner. So she wasn't a bombshell, but as the saying goes, "I wouldn't kick her out of bed". Connie distracted me enough from the overall blandness of the episode.

    Most of the cast was quite dull and the acting perfunctory. Outside of Connie, I thought that the former nurse played her part the best. Also, Dan Tobin was amusing as the hew haw landlord with the booty call for rent agreement. Christine White was vanilla, but at least nice to look at.

    So, yeah, not much to write about in regards to the actual plot. My only question about the storyline is what exactly was the deal with Connie and Dr. Ralph? I was getting the impression that those two were secret lovers and were plotting together to first get rid of the old lady and then work on draining Anne's bank account.

    I'm with the reviewer above me in regards to the cat fight. An extra half star bumps it up to one and a half Karloffs for me.

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  14. I can never decide if Constance Ford is attractive or not - believe it or not, she got her start as a model (honest). I remember her best as Sandra Dee's sub-zero ice queen mother in "A Summer Place"...it was as if they had carved a sneer on her face before the shooting started, and made it a contractual obligation that it remain until the thing was done.

    UT

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  15. I grew up watching Constance Ford on Another World, so I'm pretty much her bitch. I thought she was great, partiuclarly the orgasm and the cat fightHers was a '50s kind of sexuality, very similar to the young Shelley Winters.

    According to that massive Marlon Brando biography, Jocelyn's career was hindered by troubles with drinking. She could be really good but also really mannered.

    Mitchell Liesen was a Hollywood veteran specializing in decor, which may explain the look of a lot of the film (love the night scenes). He was also very, very gay, which may explain why the landlord who keeps wanting to do the horizontal mambo with Connie doesn't seem like much of a sexual threat.

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  16. Its pretty bad- 1/2 a Karloff seems right- I've read that some people rate it as the very worst episode of the series- I acturally have it 1t #58 of 67, so I found 9 that are worse, which helps is that Constance Ford is a pretty good
    actress, so it is hampered with a terrible lead performance the way Man in the Middle, A wig For Miss Devore (yeah I said it), The Mark of the Hand (whoever the lead is in that, they're all bad) and The Bride who Died Twice.

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  17. This was pretty lame except for the cinematography.

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  18. I couldn't figure out why Anne was still with Dr. Mitchell at the end of the episode, even though she caught him kissing Connie. Also, it looked like that fire headed in a straight line from the burning diary to the curtain, almost as if someone had left a trail of gasoline.

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  19. Oh God! Placement time commentary had me literally laughing out loud! Watching the episode on Me TV. Terrible!

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  20. what is the name of the child actor in this episode?

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