Friday, October 29, 2010

La Strega: Season 2 Episode 17

Originally aired 1/15/62
Starring Ursula Andress, Alejandro Rey, Jeanette Nolan.
Written by Alan Caillou.
Directed by Ida Lupino.

After being attacked by a group of men and left for drowned, Luana (Andress) is rescued by Tonio de la Vega (Rey). The young man is smitten by the beauty and agrees to shelter her from her grandmother, the witch known to the villagers as La Strega (Nolan). After the old woman curses Tonio, he begins to wonder if letting Luana shack up with him was a good idea after all.

PE: And there they are in the very first scene—Ursula Andress!


JS: And what a lovely pair of eyes she has! Lupino sure has a way of capturing the majesty of the rolling hills of Italy. Of course, her talents aside, fortunately as Luana she doesn't require the acting chops of La Strega, Jeanette Nolan.


PE: From start to finish (with only one minor stumble along the way), this is among the best and most atmospheric of the horror episodes. There's a sense of creeping dread in every scene following the arrival of her majesty, La Strega. And how about that Jeanette Nolan? I'm ready to give her the Golden Karloff for this season's best actress without even seeing the rest of the shows. I thought she was mildly creepy in "Parasite Mansion," but here she's the real deal. Not a cackling old biddy or one of Samantha Stevens' kooky relatives, there's nothing remotely human about the old gal. Had to be influenced by The Old Witch from The Haunt of Fear!

JS: When I saw her in the cast intros, I thought, here we go again, but you're absolutely right. This time there's no kidding around. She's a creepy scene stealer every time she's on screen. When she's able to provide some of the scariest moments of the series without speaking a word— that's saying something.

PE: That aforementioned stumble is my Thrillah-Moment: the trio of Luana, Tonio, and his mentor, Maestro Giuliano (Ramon Novarro) go looking for a Sabbat and stumble onto the kids of Glee, rehearsing next week's show in black leotards. The scene is so incongruous with the rest of the episode, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my desire to see some very scary figures writhing around a boiling pot rather than the Denny Terrio Dance Fever squad. It didn't ruin the episode but it was damn distracting.


JS: Welcome to witchcraft through interpretive dance. It definitely does break the tone of the rest of the show, but not irreparably. What I want to know is how come you don't mind Tonio's speed sketching abilities (Italians are known for their speed. -PE)?

PE: Great downbeat climax (and no Karloff epilogue to let us know that the old witch was later arrested and put on trial for her crimes), solid supporting performances, and a teleplay that doesn't drag, compliments of Allan Caillou (who would, years later, star as "The Brain" on the wacky SF TV show Quark).

JS: When you look at this episode, from the introduction of 'La Strega' in the prologue, to her discovery by Antonio, his taking her in, their seeing the old woman, right up through the climax—the pacing is just right, with an excellent payoff. Again, if not for Dark Night of the Black Leotards, I think we'd be looking at a 4-Karloffer. Instead, we have to settle for 37-22-35 Karloffs.

PE: Ursula Andress was just a year away from her star-making role as Honey Ryder in Dr. No.

JS: I prefer her young beauty in this episode over her look later in her career—watch for a special installment of The Lovely Ladies of Thriller later this afternoon.

OUR RATING:

33 comments:

  1. What can one say? An excellent episode, one of THRILLER's finest, for all the reasons mentioned above. Add to this an unexpected capture of the European locale that seems genuine, not theatrical. Nolan's Stega is a unique and original creation (she's equally convincing playing a very different kind of witch in TWILIGHT ZONE's "Jess-Belle," the very best of Earl Hamner Jr.'s scripts for that series). As for the much-goofed on Sabbat sequence, I suspect it was viewed as a contemporary (for its day) take on the traditional toil-and-trouble cavorting from old movies, similar to what Roger Corman attempted in his "dance routine" from THE UNDEAD. Stylized, yes, and perhaps silly-looking now... but, like La Stega herself, it earns some points for being bravely different. Let's also not forget Morton Stevens' lovely score, deftly covered in the Burlingame-Mitchell commentary. And speaking of commentaries, we somehow managed to provide TWO for this episode (music and make-up), while still missing a full story/production analysis overview. My solution? Bring on the blu-ray, so that this show, along with "Terror in Teakwood," "Weird Tailor," "Devil's Ticket" and a few others, can be given their just due.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I liked this alot also. I also was impressed by the commentary on the music. It's easy to forget just how much talent was needed to provide the music for each episode, an area that we may take for granted or not even think about.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm glad we all have the opportunity to re-evaluate Thriller via this new set, because "La Strega" now comes across as a MUCH stronger episode than I recall from my former viewings.

    Lupino's work is first-rate; once they arrive in Tonio's bachelor pad, every shot and camera movement enhances the story-telling in an interesting way (yes...even the fact that there is a conspicuously-placed mirror behind Urusla as she change clothes, supposedly "out of view"). And yes, Ursula Andress is made-up and coiffed in a too-60's style, and always dressed in a manner to highlight the rolling....(what was it that JS said?); these things were very common in film and TV and ALWAYS bug me in a major way but, in this case, I just decided to "roll" with it, since the rest of the show is so strong.

    Jeanette Nolan's shuffling through the darkened, quasi-German impressionistic street is nightmarish (now THAT's scary!), as is her scene with Tonio. Her make-up job is obvious, but entirely unearthly in its effect (excellent commentaries, guys, on both make-up and music). The tight shot of Tonio's fever-ridden, blackened face with Ursula's pressed against his is another simple but powerful director's way of making the point. Kitty in the stove also very spooky. My former impressions of this episdoe where that these artist's-living-quarters scenes dragged on forever; now they only seem somewhat leisurely, and not annoyingly so.

    This is one of the very rare times when our hosts get it right (well, not really..)--the sabbath scene is more than a distraction for me; in fact AT LEAST one full Karloff head must be lopped off for this silliness! C'mon--it's the big "production number" of the show, and everyone HAD to know at the time that a "moderne", Greenwich Village-style, leotard-clad, Cat-Women-on-the-Moon thing was TOTALLY wrong for this otherwise carefully designed, authentically-period episode. Daring? --ohhh..possibly. Ridiculous?--Absolutely! Thank god when they all are blown to bits by Jeanette. But it's one of those classic "why did they have to do that?!!?" moments that really damages this show for me.

    Final scenes are first-rate (they even got in the old knock-over-the-vendor-in the plaza shot with the bread guy, before Alejandro takes a very real looking tumble); terrific conclusion, one of the most striking shots of the whole series.

    Morton Stevens' fine score plays a MAJOR part in this show; John Burlingame's commentary tells us that Stevens was allowed 16 musicians for the recording session (in reality a very small number) but, as always, the expertise in scoring, miking and mixing creates the impression of a far larger symphonic ensemble. I recall from past viewings Stevens' grand, folk-like, Italianate love theme from this episode as being merely pleasant; upon re-watching and experiencing the full dramatic impact of the show, I'd describe this lovely tune (especially after that devastating final shot, when we hear the melody as the closing credit underscore) as heartbreakingly beautiful. VERY effective, and the only thing in the entire series of its kind.

    EIGHT and 1/2 you-know-what's; I'll try my best to get over that sabbath-scene.

    LR

    ReplyDelete
  4. This episode was like out of a Grimm Fairy Tales book. The old unedited stories that usually had gruseome, depressing endings.

    Ursula Andress is pretty hot. One night while walking home drunk from a tavern, i noticed this girl walking her dog and she looked exactly like Ursula! The cops later told me it wasn't her though. Man, that was a bad night for me. Luckily I had a good lawyer. My parents still have trouble looking me in the eye. Anyway, enough about me. Keep up the good work guys!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Quite obviously a THRILLER of dintinction. Jeanette Nolan's work (moving from chilling austerity to humor) is among the best individual performances of the series. I second Mr. Gerani's appreciation of Morton Stevens' score.

    ReplyDelete
  6. A further point about the pace of this show. The dialogue scene between the young lovers after the river rescue is about 20% longer than it needs to be, in my opinion; if the "Waxworks" police office scenes deserve this criticism, then "Strega" does as well. What's fascinating is that Thriller's chief viewers/critics are, and always have been, men--young, old, teenaged (when many first saw this episode); yes, good hearty, red-blooded MEN, and I suspect that there's definitely a willingness to overlook the leisurely pace of the scenes in this episode that feature a certain bombshell actress----due to her....attributes.

    LR

    ReplyDelete
  7. For the record, I just re-watched the scene with every fifth word edited out and Larry's absolutely right. She's a bombshell. Correction—two bombshells.

    Pete, back me up on this.

    ReplyDelete
  8. For the record, I just watched the scene on slow-mo and paused it every time we got a shot at those gorgeous Italian hills. Verrrrrry effective.

    I tried the same thing with the "dopey cops in the precinct" scene in Waxworks. I fell asleep.

    Eight Karloff heads and two Ursula mammaries for "La Strega."

    ReplyDelete
  9. I see Gary Gerani just left his scene specific audio commentary for the aforementioned clip under the Ursula Andress LLOT Comments.

    ReplyDelete
  10. The "Sabbat dance" had been attempted in several other films depicting witchy hijinks, but never so sexlessly as in "La Strega" — even Corman's THE UNDEAD wallops it, with equally fully-clad sorceresses. Hammer Films would soon render this sort of thing much better. The "La Strega" crew writhes around like a gang of off-Broadway interpretative-dance-class rejects — somewhat equivalent to the misbegotten Beats of "Your Truly, Jack the Ripper" — providing a sore-thumb false note that stands out only because so much else in the episode is pitch-perfect for THRILLER.

    Truly, the only other stumble comes, I think, at the very beginning, where the lumpen villagers advance menacingly and say "strega" so many times it almost rings comical. In truth we know Luana probably got multiply-raped and beaten so savagely that she would have washed out of the river looking like a gargoyle, which would have been a sweet reveal, as she "heals" into a statuesque beauty ... which would also have said more for Tonio's humanity. As-is, he merely rescues her because, well, she's hot. The speculation is tempting, but doesn't distract from the achievement on-view.

    Even more astonishing is to witness Pete's capitulation to the Ten Karloff Scale. I knew he'd cave.

    ReplyDelete
  11. An outstanding collaboration. When two great elements come together and hit their peaks at the right time, the end result is a tremendous pinnacle. You have a well-directed, near-perfectly paced story, and a statuesque, towering performance from the 5'1 Jeanette Nolan as La Strega. Lupino shook off a rather too-gentle opening scene, where its obvious that the men were treating Undress, er Andress with kid gloves, and unsheathed some deliciously macabre framing of Nolan in what was to me the most effective makeup job of the whole series. Rey was solid as the Latin painter who's luck first turns to terrific to not-so-good due to his new lady 'companions'. When Nolan walks right up to the camera and looks up to the window, I really shivered.
    That dance scene -- I guess the June Taylor dancers had a free week, but credit where credit's due, there's a brief shot of all the witches weaving their hands over the burning coals that was truly eerie in a more-than-halloween way.
    I can't say the ending surprised me, but it was how we got to the ending that made the episode solid gold for me. My wife, who's sat through just a couple of these shows, however was not as enamoured with it -- I did try to point out that Rey was quite the hunk, but I think even she was amazed at the aerodynamics of the early-60s brassieres. All I could think of was how this was a missile crisis that President Kennedy would have preferred to address.
    Nine and a half Karloffs, never mind the kleavage!

    ReplyDelete
  12. "Even more astonishing is to witness Pete's capitulation to the Ten Karloff Scale. I knew he'd cave."

    Damn the mammaries! I was hoping no one would notice that. Clearly it was beauty who killed the Pete.

    ReplyDelete
  13. >>All I could think of was how this was a missile crisis that President Kennedy would have preferred to address.

    A full Ten Karloffs on the Griffith Park Outlaws scale for Best Thrillah Laugh of the Day!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hey---come to think of it, that big dude with the floppy sock hat (in the opening) smacked the snot out of Ursula/Luana, yet not even her eye liner or mascara were mussed up. Maybe she had a clause in her contract covering such things.

    LR

    ReplyDelete
  15. Well, I'm not sure how much farther they could have gone on TV in those days with either the opening or the dance. However, they could have salvaged the Sabbat with a solution that I'm surprised the visually-oriented, camera-savvy Lupino didn't think of; going high contrast and expressionistic, all dancing lights and shadows. Less would be more.

    Though not one of my personal favorites, it is a very well done episode with a beautiful score, and Nolan is scary-fantastic.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Once per Thriller season, Jeanette Nolan flies in on a broom to play a creepy, crazed crone.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I found this one entertaining, but rarely "thrilling". The cast were certainly good looking (with the exception of Jeanette Nolan!) and proficient, and the Mediterranean setting well realised, with a story reminiscent of a folk tale. Morton Stevens' score helped to reinforce this aspect, but its "romantic" aspects began to grate on me eventually. The production team was wise to add a reference to Alejandro Rey's character coming from Spain rather than Italy, as he sounded so obviously Spanish. Two and a half Karloff heads.

    ReplyDelete
  18. While I love this episode, no one seems to wonder why such an effective witch aids in killing her own grand-daughter, whom she wanted back so dearly.... a plot non-sequitur

    ReplyDelete
  19. Such extremes. Scariest witch ever. Hottest woman ever. (Don't even try to argue that one.) Worse dance scene ever. Best cat in the fire ever. Outstanding episode. Other than the sabbath debacle, my only complaint is that we didn't get at least a final cackle from la strega. Nolan was so good, and we knew it was coming, and it was gonna be awesome, and...nope. Cackle interruptus.

    ReplyDelete
  20. 'Tis just past the anniversary of my first viewing of the peaks of "La Strega". Those Swiss-like alps are a yodeller's paradise worth revisiting time and time again... And with my new haunt providing extra servings of Newmar on the menu in the coming weeks, a good reminder of this eps., one of Karloff's most sexy 'thrillers' of all time...

    ReplyDelete
  21. DJS said "I think, at the very beginning, where the lumpen villagers advance menacingly and say "strega" so many times it almost rings comical." *Almost*??? It's practically a Monty Python routine!!! -In addition to Andress' repetition of "No, no, no!" it robs the episode of some of its serious tone.

    ReplyDelete
  22. A potent combination of Nolan and make up, a beautiful Andress, and good Lupino direction. But the witches ballet and the ending just make the episode a disappointment. The ending makes no sense to me. I can come up with explanations in my head, but none that seem grounded in the story itself. It's too much like a lot of modern storytelling. "Wouldn't it be cool if we did flibbertygit?" "But logically flibber couldn't git. It's gibberish." "That's why it'll be a surprise!" "Brilliant!"

    ReplyDelete
  23. La Strega? Does that translate to babelicious? Wow! La Strega contains THE Thriller babe. No, not Jeanette Nolan, but future Honey Ryder Ursula Andress. Ursuala's presence is worth at least one extra Karloff noggin.

    The overt gang rape overtones in the prologue were a bit disturbing and I was surprised that the village goons only chucked La Strega in the river. After that us male viewers were treated to some serious drool camera shots. Hell, I was so focused on the Luana mountain range that I didn't really know what else was going on the episode.

    Ok, time to settle down. I like me a good witch tale and a good witch tale we get. The brewing romance subplot was a bit syrupy, but thankfully Jeanette Nolan was hideous enough to to mask the artificial sweetener. The good folks at Thriller did well in not only getting Jeanette, but also applying the perfect evil witch makeup to make her the ultimate Strega. Nolan's arrival at Tonio's artist bachelor pad is grade A nightmare stuff.

    The Sabbath dance is deliciously cheesy. I was hoping to catch Dio or Ozzy, but all I saw were some early 60s ballet beatniks doing their interpretation of the demon dance. I took this scene with a grain of salt and wasn't too put off.

    The final act was a bit confusing and Alejandro Rey's Romeo act occasionally steered things towards harlequin romance territory, but the final camera shot of Luana jolted me back to Thriller land.

    La Strega was a very good, but not great Thriller. Nolan's witch was top notch and Ursula brought the tastiest Thriller eye candy, but Rey and his romance were a bit too sappy. The musical score was excellent.

    I'll cast three Karloff heads for La Strega.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I think testosterone poisoning may have beset our reviewers here. After deeming Waxworks slow moving, they praise the utterly glacial La Strega as one of the better episodes. Lupino does generate some solid atmosphere and, as a director, she clearly understands what a visual gem she has in Andress. The camera positively licks Ursula in some shots. But the story is protracted, stretched thin, and poorly resolved (even though Andress even looks good in the dirt.)

    Further, the sudden appearance by the Jewel Homeier Dancers doesn't help anything. I bet there's a budget cut story behind that scene, or perhaps they originally had flesh-colored body stockings that were nixed by Standards and Practices.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. barsh1956@sbcglobal.net

      Agree with above. I missed this episode when first aired and I was 12 at that time. Imagine what the first James Bond girl did to us young lads via fantasies in 1963. The play off of beauty vs ugly--Andress and Nolan--expertly interpreted by Lupino. Yes--Ida was a very convincing gospel Country Singer in the Columbo Episode where Johnny Cash did her in in about as much time as Janet Leigh appears in Psycho.

      Delete
  25. Andress was so exquisitely beautiful (and I'm talking about her face here) that you believe Rey will do everything he shouldn't to protect her. Who wouldn't? Even I would, and I'm gay. A great beauty-and-the-beast tension, as someone mentioned above. And excellent, detailed direction from Ida Lupino, as usual.

    The interpretive dance was hilarious -- great to know that Modern Dance seemed the work of the devil even hundreds of years ago.

    But I demur about Ms. Nolan. She was a good actress, no doubt. But she was inclined to go overboard and become a ham if she wasn't reigned-in (and she almost never was) and this was one of those times. I also disliked the makeup, which I found too exaggerated to be frightening. No doubt they wanted her to look like the old woman the wicked Queen becomes in SNOW WHITE. But I will agree that she didn't cheat the implacable cruelty of La Strega, The Elder. Nolan never cared about being liked or looking ugly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree. Concerning the ranking of Thriller beauties Andress vs Montgomery. And the also rans.

      I digress. Docktor Markeson fell flat with Dick York sans Liz M.

      Now Ursalla, the name invokes a dangerous chemistry, was in a not very highly regarded class B sexploitation film, "She." Too bad--she hasn't aged as well as Sophia Loren or Racquel Welch--blondes just have it tough. Well, Ms Angie Dickinson--Tnever on thriller.

      Delete
    2. Agree. Ms Andress was a real beauty in her time. We also have Catherine Deneuve, Sophia Loren, Angie Dickinson, Liz Taylor, Ava Gardner, and bit less M Monroe.

      Delete
  26. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So torn on this one-- camp-wise it deserves four+ Boris Heads, yet scare-wise...to paraphrase Oscar Madison giving his revue of Felix Unger's pasta dinner-- "this episode is gah-bij!" Hmm, ya couldn't see from the get-go that the Ursula/Jeanette character(s) were one and the same? I will always love this series from my childhood-- but in regard to this episode I've seen better... the Bob Fosse sequence was fugging fantastic!

      Delete
    2. Back again, ME TV does Thriller at 3:00 AM on Saturdays in old San Antone, Tejas. Many hours after hearing "Live w/ the Cowboys" on A Prairie Home Companion. Keillor, that sly devil and not quite dirty old man.

      I agree with, "PE: That aforementioned stumble is my Thrillah-Moment: the trio of Luana, Tonio, and his mentor, Maestro Giuliano (Ramon Novarro) go looking for a Sabbat and stumble onto the kids of Glee, rehearsing next week's show in black leotards. The scene is so incongruous with the rest of the episode, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my desire to see some very scary figures writhing around a boiling pot rather than the Denny Terrio Dance Fever squad. It didn't ruin the episode but it was damn distracting.

      Yup--be that as it may, any other Thriller episodes with dance scenes--it ain't Ballachtine (sp)! or Fosse.

      Delete
    3. Correct spelling:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Balanchine

      Delete