Monday, October 18, 2010

Masquerade: Season 2 Episode 6

Originally aired 10/30/61
Starring Elizabeth Montgomery, Tom Poston, John Carradine.
Written by Donald S. Sanford, based on the short story by Henry Kuttner.
Directed by Herschel Daugherty.

It's a dark and stormy night. When Charlie and Roz Denham (Poston and Montgomery) get lost on the way to their second honeymoon at a trailer park(!), they stumble upon the old Carta place. When Jed Carta (Carradine) talks of his strange family members and the Henshaw vampire curse, the Denhams have to decide if he's just pulling their leg, or if something else is going on altogether.

JS: Hey everybody, it's the Psycho House again! Do you think they were contractually obligated to dust that off for an episode every Halloween?

PE: I do love that tracking shot of the house that opens the episode.

JS: Boris gets to chew up the scenery in his intro, although it's sad that he has to move the fake bat's wing with his finger. I had to laugh every time the fake bats were onscreen in this episode, as they were accompanied by the sound of a wind-up toy, doing little to add to their credibility.

PE: I thought the fake bats went well with the fake laughs. Another episode that I had to double check to make sure there was no Bloch involvement (either original story or teleplay) as it's got that Bloch feel to it. Fast snappy dialogue, humorous characters, goofball twist ending. That's where the similarity stops though. This show is essentially a 5 minute joke padded to 47. The Denhams seem to do nothing much more than wander from room to room squawking about how scary the house is and whether they'll make it out alive. Anyone watching this show (or reading the blog) will know what the big twist is the second the word "vampire" is spoken. But who cares? It's got Elizabeth Montgomery.

JS: Elizabeth Montgomery is cute as a button, and the witty banter between she and Poston works for the most part. The fact that they believe the Cartas are just trying to scare them works to support why they didn't make a more concerted effort to get the hell out of the house immediately. Unfortunately, in doing so, it deflates just about every opportunity for this old dark house tale to actually become scary, making it a somewhat benign Halloween episode.

PE: Tom Poston's always been a favorite of mine and he does a good job with what he's given. (Give him a drink and he does a great Dean Martin impersonation. -JS) He's got great comedic timing. You can see why he had a recurring role on all three of Bob Newhart's TV shows. Genre fans will probably remember Poston best for his performance as the loony professor in the fantasy comedy, Zotz! (1962), directed by William Castle. I'm sure we don't have to spend too many lines on Montgomery's Bewitched other than to point out that, though a sit-com like Bewitched is easy to take potshots at, Montgomery always delivered. And hell, she was arguably the most beautiful woman on TV. Can you think of anyone on TV today that stands out like she did? And she proved she had dramatic roots under that blonde mane after her long stint as Samantha Stevens with The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975). Hard to believe she's been gone 15 years.

JS: The ending might have worked better had this been a short segment on Rod Serling's Night Gallery, here it just reinforces that there was a whole lot of nothing going on for the first several reels.

PE: Good God, we agree! I was starting to worry you were going to bring out that old "Masquerade is clearly the inspiration for Dan Curtis' The Night Stalker" argument again.

JS: I know it's easy to take potshots at John Carradine, but I'd argue that he's at the top of his form in this episode. (if Carradine ever had a "top of the form" then we agree that this is it. -PE). If there's one performance I found particularly lacking, it's Dorothy Neumann as Ruthie. There's more to acting than opening your eyes wide and laughing hysterically.

PE: Yeah, I mean all you have to do is go back to the last episode and watch Sarah Marshall's wide-eyed and laughing routine to see real acting.

JS: You're so funny! I'm surprised you didn't call out the Thrillah moment where Roz takes offense at being called a vegetarian! Or did that hit too close to home?

PE: "Masquerade" first appeared in the May 1942 Weird Tales. The teleplay sticks very closely to the short story (which is very tongue-in-cheek "Old Dark House"-style). In fact, at times, Sanford takes exposition and makes it into dialogue effectively. The only difference really between the original story and the Thriller show is its ending. Whereas Sanford goes for laughs, Kuttner ends his laughter with an abrupt reveal.

Henry Kuttner was a member of the famous "Lovecraft Circle" and wrote many stories for the "Cthulhu Mythos." His tale "The Graveyard Rats" has been anthologized several times and filmed as one-third of Trilogy of Terror II (1996). Under the pseudonym Lewis Padgett, he wrote the famous science fiction stories, "Mimsy Were the Borogoves" and "The Twonky" with his wife, fantasy writer C. L. Moore.

OUR RATING:

17 comments:

  1. No need to deploy the spiked, iron fist on something intended to be as feather-light as cotton candy.

    "Masquerade," in many way, is analogous to the OUTER LIMITS episode "Controlled Experiment" — wistful, light-hearted, banter-y ... and therefore either loved beyond its flaws or despised unconditionally, when each extreme is inappropriate, because it is not the sort of thing intended to court an extreme reaction. It has all the other time-tested THRILLER requisites: whole metric tons of atmosphere, that darned PSYCHO house again, and a spooky, remote lair full of quaint character actors. BUT — and this is where the easily-offended will take umbrage — it's intended to be funny. Not laugh-track, slap-your-thighs funny in the manner of other 1960s "classic" TV written for chicken-plucking morons, but more strangely, it's an entire THRILLER that maintains Karloff's avuncular "wink" for the whole show.

    It was also inevitable. Sooner or later, THRILLER was going to try light comedy, comedy apart from the wisecracking, nudge-nudge variety endemic to the guys-gals-and-cops imported to the series from World War 2-era source material ... so the entry might as well be "Masquerade." IT COULD HAVE BEEN WORSE!

    Elizabeth Montgomery, doomed to be remembered primarily as a thornless witch on just such an idiotic (and seemingly interminable) TV sitcom, hints at a home-run range here — it's impossible to take your eyes off her when she's onscreen. (The abbreviated skirt and spectacular heels also help.) Watch her reactions, particularly when they're not dialogue-dependent. They're loaded with nuance. Tom Poston is more of an acquired taste, but he's perfectly serviceable here.

    Has anyone else noticed that Goldsmith's jaunty score is basically a retread of his themes from "Well of Doom," as if rendered by piccolo rather than lowering trombone? (Larry would know. I mean the other Larry.)

    And just remember ... NIGHT GALLERY would have made a five-minute version of this that would have seemed twice as long as "Masquerade," so count yer blessings!

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  2. Also: Check out Liz in JOHNNY COOL (running every so often on TCM), where she's a bad girl who gets the hell slapped out of her by thugs, and her stand-up dude turns out to be none other than ... Henry Silva!

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  3. A perfect HALF-HOUR show if there ever was one!
    Way, WAY too much wandering around the house, repeating the same basic dialogue over and over
    ("I'm serious; I'm really scared!"). Tom Poston's act gets REAL wearying by mid-show; I can't say the same about Ms. Montgomery, since she possesed....um....qualities which Tom did not.

    On the other hand, the rest of the show is solid. It's GREAT to look at -- absolutely first-rate design and visual style; amazing for a weekly show, which goes a long way towards overcoming the pointless, repetitive screenplay.

    I LOVED Boris' intro; one of his absolute best. His expert sense of timing and camera savvy has now become one of the real highlights of the series. (Incidentally, I feel that Karloff's narration for the 1966 "Grinch" animated special is one of the truly GREAT treasures of 20th-century pop-cultural-entertainment-art. Seriously. Get the cd, put on the headphones and just LISTEN to what the man accomplished in a standard, run-of-the-mill TV recording session).

    I LOVED the flying bats. Maybe it's just me, but I couldn't figure out how the 2-flying-bat effect was accomplished in Act 1, even on slo-mo. They didn't appear to be a wires, which would have been obvious. Anybody know how it was done...and on a miniscule budget at that?

    Just when you think that Goldmsith has resigned himself (due to the cruel and impossible weekly schedule) to cranking them out, he reaches back and comes up with an unusual and distinctive score, which uses only a large band of woodwinds, and a very modest amount of harp and light percussion. "Sardonic" would be my best attempt at a one-word description of the jagged, militaristic main theme of the score.

    In the end, the weak, repetitive script significantly hinders the overall effect of "Masquerade". A 7-out-of-10 Karloffian tally, in my opinion.

    LR

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  4. When asked our least favorite THRILLER--as I was in my Thriller Three-Way interview--I think we tend to mine what's freshest in mind, and I had just seen "Masquerade". Having just dug into the THRILLER box and seeing Kuttner and not knowing the episode, I'm sure I was expecting more (scary) meat and (creepy) potatoes. So I've mellowed my opinion with time and while I still don't care for this show, I do indeed think there are far worse ones out there.

    DJS: I think "Controlled Experiment" better serves the OL universe than "Masquerade" the THRILLER one; CE is a better piece of work all around. However, your point is spot on.

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  5. I've always loved this beautiful episode and have probably seen it at least 15 times over the years:

    Humour very rarely works this well fused in horror.

    On the one extreme, there are the laughs of 'Young Frankenstein' (and it's tv miniture, 'Mummy, Daddy') and 'The Bride of Frankenstein' (a magnificent achievement but hardly scary), on the other end, the Bob Hope vehicles like 'The Cat and the Canary' and 'The Ghost Breakers' with wisecracks galore. It places towards the Hope spectrum.

    Kuttner was one of the giants of speculative fiction, from supernatural to SF to fantasy, writing some of the greatest tales in the field. He married the equally talented Catherine Moore and together, they populated the pulps of the day with a whole host of
    pseudonyms...they been cited as influences upon, among others: Marion Zimmer Bradley, Roger Zelazny, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Robert Silverberg, Robert Sheckley and William Tenn.

    At times, the subtext of the 'Masquerade' reads as if Kuttner and Moore had stumbled into the house, with Poston's biting remark about 'something a story editor' would have said...and their wisecracking, smart, feisty banter between Montgomery & Poston comes across as organically real and is intoxicatingly vibrant. The chemistry between the two may be one of the best couplings in the annals of TV and film history. One thinks of 'Moonlighting' or Nick and Nora Charles, especially with Poston inbribing moonshine covertly, but this really works on another level. They really do seem to be in love and following their misadventures from room to room in the old creaking 'Psycho' house, full of menace, the quirky flights of fancy of the writer is joy to behold in the same way as Chaplin or Keaton (who were often placed in highly dramatic, edgy environments and situations to give an edge to their laughs).

    The glistening, glinting black and white and the jauntily driven score fused with the perfect camera-work mesmerises. And a marvellous host of character actors give sparks to the larger than life hill-billy eccentrics to utterly delightful effect.

    This segment really has a rare alchemy that the very finest Thrillers have; a mercurial rhythm and tempo, in which mood and menace combine, here with a with playful, joshing banter.

    By the way guys, in the spirit of David's postings of all things Thriller, here is a superb article - worthy of Warren's book, probably the best I've come across over the years on the internet and full of original quotes by the makers

    http://gammillustrations.bizland.com/monsterkid5/bkrem1.html

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  6. Fantastic comment here by Bobby J.

    Even the head honchos at Universal thought enough of this tongue and cheek episode (think "The Devil is Not Mocked" from NIGHT GALLERY and the comedy homage from "Twilight Zone's" third season with Buster Keaton, "Once Upon A Time") to include it in among the six episodes that were released on laserdisc and VHS in the late 90's. Warren claims the twist ending can be "easily foreseen" but I found this to be true on repeat viewing and not on the initial experience. Warren also laments that there "isn't anything intrinsically frightening" about the situation at hand, but a send-up doesn't really have to be earnest in all instances. John Poston and Elizabeth Montgomery bring a naive and goofy television sit-com sensibility to the material, while John Carradine holds up the active counter-current. It's all a fun time, and the various cinematic references are an added bonus.

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  7. THAT HOUSE ...

    As we continue to cite the PSYCHO House on the Universal backlot, the most important point to be made is that the facade seen in numerous THRILLER episodes is, in fact, the for-real, bona fide, original Bates manse from the classic PSYCHO, in the same space it occupied when Hitchcock filmed it.

    The facade did not a have "right side" at all — or east side, if you're standing in front facing the porch — until 1964, when it was made part of the Universal tour.

    Then the house-shell was moved all over the lot several times, before being renovated / rebuilt in 1998.

    The original Bates Motel exterior was demolished in 1979.

    The Psycho House interiors were built on Stage 18-A and then struck after shooting. Since PSYCHO's final day of principal photography was 1 February 1960 and THRILLER did not premiere until the following September, it is highly unlikely that any PSYCHO sets were used "as-is" since they would have been disassembled. THRILLER's pilot script, "The Twisted Image," was still being rewritten in early March, 1960, and series episode production did not commence until that summer. HOWEVER, it is quite likely and very possible that many elements of the PSYCHO sets were recycled in THRILLER — whatever was lying around as flats, or stashed in the prop locker, including the staircases.

    For more, see:

    http://www.thepsychomovies.com/psychohouse/about.html

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  8. And here I thought Peter was joking about you living on the Universal backlot. That's a lot of very cool trivia.

    Of course you've also broken my heart. I now know that I never actually saw the REAL Psycho house/Purple Room house/Masquerade house...

    Nothing but a facade of a facade...

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  9. Like bobby j, the first I thought I had was that Kuttner wrote himself and his writer wife, C. L. Moore, into the story. Which makes me think that C. L. was likely a quick wit.

    The separate sound effects and music track could be a great source for haunted house sound effects.

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  10. I thought Montgomery, Poston, and Carradine put it over- they're fun to watch even though the ending makes no sense in light of what proceeded it, i.e. there's no reason for Montgomery and Poston to act scared when there's no one watching them. I agree- its one of the best decaying house sets, along with Merkeson and Parasite Manor. 3 1/2 Karloff's.

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  11. Another dark house adventure. Not only that, but it's set in the Psycho house!

    I found our leading lady luciously bewitching. Actually, the first phrase that popped in my head was, cute as a button. Reading the comments, I see that I'm not the only one who thought the same. Miss Montgomery and Tom Poston made a great couple. Masquerade was the first Thriller episode to play as a sitcom, but it was done very well, and I enjoyed this quirky diversion. It was certainly better than having to endure another crime drama. Until I read this review I didn't realize that Masquerade was the Thriller Halloween episode. Looking back, Masquerade did a wonderful job of capturing the Halloween spirit.

    Shortly after the young couple enters the old Bates hotel, we get a sense that their is a twist to this situation. I'll admit that, even though I tried to look for clues, I still didn't figure out the surprise until much later.

    John Carradine did a great job as the Jed "is he a murderer or isn't he" motel host. Jed was more Deliverance than Norman Bates. Jack Lambert was servicable as Jed's younger and slower brother Lem. Dorothy Neumann played the crazy Ruthie with one hysterical note, but in this sitcom context, the note was not out of tune.

    I see a lot of complaints about this episode essentially being a half hour show that is unecessarily stretched out to double its length. Yeah, Masquerade could use a trim here and there, but since I enjoy the old dark house genre and loved the characters, the padding didn't bother me at all. Plus, the haunted house set was so fun to see them running around in.

    As the show progressed I kept trying to figure out the twist, but either I'm too dumb, or it was too obvious. It was only until our "normal" couple was in their honeymoon trailer did I get it. Doh! I love those honeymoon coffins and wished that I could've shared one with our future Samantha.

    Masquerade was a fun time with a great cast and a great set. I'll give the Denhams three Karloff heads to bite into.

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  12. This seems to me to have been a fresh, inventive and ultimately influential episode. Not everyone would have tried a screwball comedy horror story as a Halloween episode, and it comes off wonderfully.

    Why has no one noted that the set-up here was clearly the inspiration for ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, right down to having the leading lady in her slip? And the comic-macabre ending must have influenced the idea of doing the TV series THE ADDAMS FAMILY, don't you think? Montgomery and Poston were a delicious couple, and to hijack a comment of Katharine Hepburn, having the wildly sexy and sophisticated Montgomery banter with the homely Poston made him seem more attractive and worldly than he ever did before (or after). Why wouldn't this have given someone at ABC the idea that having a sexy leading lady in ADDAMS FAMILY could make all the difference in selling a macabre high concept sitcom?

    I agree it's a little long and drawn out, but it's witty and completely redeemed by the lead performers. This is a gem, and feels very modern, both in its deadpan style and in the content and comic reveal.

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  13. I should have added that having highly attractive and accomplished lead performers playing a married couple that anyone would have wanted as next door neighbors, who then turn out to be vampires, could easily have added to the inspiration for THE MUNSTERS and BEWITCHED just as much as THE ADDAMS FAMILY. Clearly something was in the wind in the early-mid '60s, and it often needed two excellent performers to show nervous studio executives how a daring idea might actually work as entertainment.

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    1. barsh1956@sbcglobal.net

      Missed this episode when first aired in the '60s. Arguably the most different Thriller. I didn't know, at that time, that Liz and Tom would go on to do more lucrative venues as they did. Just a good fun episode. Only one scene where Liz exposed a bit more than the legs-say the lower thighs in a nana second. Both Caradine, David son of John and Liz Montgomery, daughter of Robert, both gone. Am I old or what? .

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  15. Reliving these Thriller episodes, some not remembered, others fondly so (all almost five decades on)-- this one sticks. I've always loved vampire themes as a kid, especially exceptional installments done in a light-hearted ((ahem)) vein. The scenery-chewing, and deftly comedic screenplay in this chapter will never be matched by any series of this era.

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    1. Right on. Youse guys and goils out dere--keep up the banter.

      Let's give this 65 year old refugee from NY, NY taken to the swamps of St Petersburg, Fl as an 8 year old some slack. One of my favorite puns was the "Vampire State Bldg!" God, how innocent before 9/11 and the World Trade Centers.

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