Thursday, October 7, 2010

Mr. George: Season 1 Episode 32

Originally aired: 5/9/61
Starring Virginia Gregg, Howard Freeman, Lillian Bronson.
Written by Donald S. Sanford, based on the short story by Stephen Grendon (August Derleth)
Directed by Ida Lupino.

Young Virginia (Gina Gillespie) has inherited a fortune and her three guardians are not very happy about it. They'll do anything they can to lay their hands on the girl's half-million dollar purse. It's a good thing Virginia has Mr. George to watch over her.

PE: And in the role of Mr. George is Les Tremayne's voice. Tremayne, one of the genre's leading go-to guys (how about The Angry Red Planet, The Monster of Piedras Blancas, The Monolith Monsters, and one of the most prophetic horror films of all time, The Slime People, which foretold the coming of pollution and its effects on the environment—if we had only listened!), sounds so much like The Shat that I ran screaming for my front door before remembering I had an important message to bring to our loyal readers, Shat or no Shat. Thank goodness for the IMDB. After soothing my nerves with three or four shots of whiskey, I relaxed to listen to the soothing tones of Les Tremayne. You know, think about it (I sure did, while I finished the bottle), Les pulled our fat out of the fire so many times and how did we repay him? Crappy cartoon voice-overs the last ten years of his life. Really, how could Major General Mann (from War of the Worlds) and Colonel Daniels (of Francis Goes to West Point) be reduced to food stamps and Gummi Bears and Pirates of Dark Water (with the immortal characters Tula the Eco-Mage and Nibbler the Monkey-Bird)? Pissed off? Damn right I'm pissed off!

JS: Better the soothing tones of Les Tremayne than the lovely melody you may recognize as "Strangers in Paradise." For those of you keeping score at home, that post will be off the main page after this afternoon's Lucy Chase Williams interview (not if I can help it! -PE). You're welcome. Back to business at hand, how about Karloff's great entrance, stepping out of the back of the hearse? I'd like to see your pal Hitchcock try that.

PE: The acting is fine across the board (with the exception of Bronson, who wears out her welcome very quickly) and Gina Gillespie (as Virginia) is one of those rare Thriller child actors who actually can act and doesn't come off as cutesy and annoying. Gillespie's other claim to fame (before retiring at a very young age) was playing young Joan Crawford in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

JS: I know we've discussed this in prior episodes, but from the top of the stairs, I'd swear we were back in the Bates place. At least the stair tumble didn't rely on the silly Balsam-cam; clearly Ida knew better. Frankly, Lupino handled the dispatching of all the bad apples in this family tree in an interesting manner. Even in those cases where death seems a pretty extreme outcome of the 'accident', the way they were shot was always interesting.

PE: Lupino definitely has a flair for great camera angles and shadows, especially in the show's opening scenes in Virginia's bedroom. The viewer has the sense that they are actually perched above the little girl, listening in on her private conversation. Having said that, the slow pacing and padding (yet again) is the episode's downfall. To be fair, the original story wasn't all that great either. I can't imagine Weird Tales fans of 1947 shivering in their boots at, goshamighty how original, an invisible and malevolent guardian.

JS: What's interesting is that he's benevolent towards Priscilla, and only malevolent to those who would do her harm. I would think that would have been particularly appealing to the kids watching this show growing up. How cool would it be to have a ghostly bodyguard protecting you? And once again Goldsmith's score was a perfect match to the material.

PE: "Mr. George" first appeared in the March 1947 Weird Tales under the byline of Stephen Grendon. This was a pseudonym used by August Derleth, one of the so-called "Lovecraft circle," a group of writers influenced by HPL that also included Robert Bloch, Clark Ashton Smith and Frank Belkanp Long. The writers would contribute to Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos with new stories, demons, and myths. When the story appeared in WT, someone neglected to tell the cover copy guy that the whole Grendon/Derleth thing was a secret and Derleth's name was credited to the story. On the contents page, a disclamer ran: "Through a regrettable error, this story is announced on our cover as by August Derleth. Mr. Derleth acted as agent for Mr. Grendon's story, and someone in our office confused the agent's name for the author's. The error was discovered too late to stop printing of the cover." The story was later published in Mr. George and Other Odd Persons (Arkham House hardcover, 1963/Belmont pb, 1964) and more recently in Weird Tales (Nelson Doubleday, 1988) edited by Marvin Kaye.

OUR RATING:

25 comments:

  1. It's tough to resist the charm and beauty of this episode, Thriller's one-and-only Fairy Tale. It's got all of the classic elements: an innocent child, alone in the world, who survives the evil intentions of three monstrous things, thanks to the intervention of a kindly, supernatural friend.

    It's only the very slow pace of the show that holds it back, as the three adults methodically plan Priscilla's demise. And yes, Aunt Adelaide was too broadly played, especially considering the low-key, subtle approach of her two cohorts; at least she's the first to go.

    I went back to listen carefully to the Mr. George voice, and it may indeed be Les Tremayne (the best spot to hear the voice clearly is the scene in the garden with Priscilla and her doll). IMDB is generally reliable, but in a case like this, they will sometimes print what sounds the most convincing; we've probably all submitted corrections to their listings over the years. Coincidentally, this past spring I did a Les Tremayne discussion/identification thing with author/animator Darrell van Citters re: Les' voices work in the excellent "Mr Magoo's Christmas Carol" (1962). It makes perfect sense that he would have been called in to voice Mr George, and I think it's a good call by IMDB. (Hopefully, they have had some definitive info on this).

    Jerry Goldsmith's score is another winner. Here he takes one of his most trusty devices--a gentle, harp/glockenspiel "music-box" style theme associated with the kid in the cast--(examples from TZ's "Big, Tall Wish" on down to "Poltergeist" come to mind), and builds almost the entire score on that tune. It works beautifully, since we are drawn into Priscilla's world from the outset, and identify strongly with her. Goldsmith then continues to keep her music in our mind (and ear), working his variation magic on the tune as the story proceeds. And the lullabye version of the melody, played by harp and celeste over a soft cushion of strings, never fails to bring a tear to the eye (mine), especially at the end; part of the innocence of the time this show was made, I guess (I remember well watching this episode with my mother and brother the night it premiered).

    An enjoyable, wistful little interlude before the onset of Thriller's final first-season assault on all that is holy!

    I'd give "Mr George" a solid 8 out of 10 You-Know-Whats.

    LR

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  2. Some people who only define "horror" as "wrenching supreme moments of fear and dread" will have difficulty reconciling "Mr. George," which deserves its own place in the Thriller canon anyway. It's that definitional disconnect, again.

    It's a fragile story that miraculously does not get crushed in the telling. It plays weirdly like an inside-out version of that horror classic, "Idol of the Flies" by Jane Rice ... and for that reason alone it deserves a slot in the upper echelon of Thriller episodes.

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  3. The previous poster's description of the IMDb as a site "that print the info they've determined is the most convincing." Ummmm ... I could submit to IMDB that the voice is Karloff, June Foray, Mahatma Gandhi, Helen Keller or alllll of the above, and that "information" would be on IMDb by Saturday.

    I still say the voice is William Shatner.

    The house, when we see it from the outside, is the future MUNSTERS house.

    The Lucy Chase Wms. commentary is four-star, IMHO.

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  4. Oh, and you mention that Les Tremayne's "thank you" for years of radio and movie work was working as a cartoon voiceover guy toward the end of his life. Well, there was another thank-you: At an AFTRA meeting, 80-something Tremayne got pounded by two other members who deliberately provoked him into an argument, injuring his spine so badly he was semi-paralyzed the rest of his life. And when charges were filed, AFTRA got behind the two beater-uppers. Tremayne sued and won, which resulted in the union he helped to found treating him like crap the rest of his life. "Thanks," Les!

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  5. Lucy Chase WilliamsOctober 7, 2010 at 4:26 PM

    <>
    If it is -- and I hope it is -- that's due in large part to Gina Gillespie's graciousness in reminiscing for me about her THRILLER days, and to some nifty background items provided by my modest colleague, Prof. Weaver. (And Gary Gerani was there, too .... :)

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  6. A note about the commentary--
    John and I were overloaded with work this week and couldn't get to the commentaries. Our apologies. I did listen to the Chase-Gerani commentary this afternoon and thought it was, as usual, very good. Gina Gillespie's memories of her days on the set of Thriller are fascinating--the comment about having to go to the "westerns" section of the Universal wardrobe department to be fitted for Mr. George outfits made me laugh out loud. I also found her candor in regards to her early retirement from the biz to be refreshing but then how many "kid stars" actually retire at the top? Well done, Lucy, and you too Gary.

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  7. Always liked this episode. Gina was a delight, Ida's swing shot is brilliant, and Mr. George? I always got the impression that he was a relatively young, handsome, and amiable father figure type -- if there was a framed photo of him in a throwaway moment, for example, I'd picture someone like Robert Sterling in the part. If it was Les Tremayne, he managed to convey a youthful strength and vigor I generally don't associate with this older actor's persona. Hey, whoever the heck voiced the part, it worked beautifully. And I still feel story for ghostly Mr. George himself, slowing fading into nothingness in that empty old house, his beloved charge now safe and beginning a new life... (sob!) Guess he could always hang with the Munster family a few years down the line...

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  8. ...and, of course, working with Lucy was once again a delight. Thanks so much, LCW, especially for bringing Gina into our orbit!

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  9. I found the whole piece very atmospheric, exacting in its period setting. It was no doubt the basic set locale, but the art and scenery people did a tremendous job of creating a 'down the street from the magnificent ambersons'... By the title and theme, i had low expectations, but Lupino pulled out some simple tricks to create some ominous and adversarial situations with each 'death' scene having just enough of a jolt to keep me on the edge of my seat. I'd never have guessed it was Tremayne doing Mr. George, he certainly wasn't using his auctioneer's voice from North by northwest...
    7.5 karloffs out of 10

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  10. Tom et al: As sure as my name is Richard Heft, "Mr. George" is voiced by Les Tremayne. It's Les Tremayne with his foot on the brake, as it were, but Lupino got a way-subtler-than-usual performance from Virginia Gregg, and I say she got the same from Tremayne.

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  11. Atta boy, Heft!

    I can see us now in our version of Thriller: "HELL'S WEST SIDE STORY," with The Tremaynes on one side of Griffith Park with our shining pates and oiled up biceps and on the other side, The Shats, with their sissy ponytails and Star Trek phasers. Time ta rumble, boys!!

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  12. I was completely charmed by this episode, from the opening scenes where Priscilla (in gloves and spats) visits the graveyard all the way to the end. And what a pleasure to see John Qualen as the trolley car driver--I don't think I've ever seen him give a bad performance, even one so small as this.

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  13. It's a fragile and tender story with strong echoes of 'The Curse of the Cat People', let alone, 'Harvey', and 'The Ladykillers'.

    Lupino sure gives the guys a run for their money. No wonder she returned to helm some more segments in the 2nd season. It's a master class in direction and getting the maximum out of every shot; from conspiritorial framing of the three villains of the piece, to the splendidly visual dispatching of the first two, one with flowing camera moves, the other a black-out followed by a swing shot. I imagine Frye and Benton must have been pleasantly with the results checking the dailies.

    The three villains get the acting honours. The plot doesn't surprise in any way but it's pushed to the next level by Sanford, Goldsmith and the superb photography, making it rank it very high up.

    3 out of 4 Karloffs.

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  14. This was one of the THRILLER episodes I fondly remembered seeing as a youth. Watching it now, I was somewhat disappointed. The two problems for me were the voice of Mr. George (he sounded too young as the protective guardian) and the syrup-y performance by Gina Gillespie. I understand the obvious inexperience that child actors face, but felt her performance was more in line with a school production.

    Virgina Greg is awesome as always. I loved watching her in the old DRAGNET television series.

    "3 Karloffs"

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  15. Bobby J. mentions "Curse of the Cat People." Isn't the house in fact the one that Julia Dean and Elizabeth Russell live in? I'll have to check later; my apologies if I'm wrong.

    And it was indeed a pleasure to see John Qualen. And no one has mentioned that Gina Gillespie is the sister of Darlene--one of my first crushes.

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  16. I purchased the Val Lewton DVD box set last year and "yes", Mr. George evokes much of the same mood of childlike wonderment as Curse of the Cat People.

    Mr. George is a pleasant diversion from the Thriller crime dramas and gothic type horrors. I don't know how willing I would be to sit through other Thriller episodes in the Mr. George vein. Mr. George's voice was a bit too syrupy for me to hear for close to an hour. That and Ms. Gregg's goody goody performance almost resulted in me having a sugar overdose.

    I liked the late 19th century setting and the various stage sets and backgrounds did a very good job in evoking that time period. The characters were a bit cliched in a early 20th century film villiany manner, but the acting made it fun to watch their scheming and eventual demises. The swing set scene reminded me of Robert Florey's "look at me" shot in Murders of the Rue Morgue.

    Mr. George says, "2 1/2 Karloffs!"

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  17. I'm surprised there isn't more love for this episode other than from LWC, I think its easily
    the best episode of the series (runner ups- The Hungry Glass and Pigeons from Hell), even though as one commentator points out it lacks the suspense of the other great episodes in that early on you realize the girl really isn't in danger. Still every performance and Ida Lupino's direction are fantastic. 4 Karloffs out of 4.

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  18. Another total charmer! I agree with Cmac. There's never any doubt that little Priscilla will come out of this fine, which may make the deaths of the murderous cousins predictable, but didn't keep me from enjoying each one. I actually hooted with laughter as each aspiring child killer bit the dust.

    Nobody's mentioned that Goldsmith's main theme is a riff on "Au Clair de la Lune," the same music associated with equally sweet (in pigtails and bangs yet) Rhoda Penmark in "The Bad Seed." That provides a nice little shiver for me as Priscilla blindly benefited from each act of homicide.

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  19. Only one thing to add: As a fan of the old radio shows, I know Virginia Gregg as one of the most prolific actors of that era and may never have seen her on television until now. Alongside people like Howard McNear and William Conrad, it is a pity they are only remembered for later TV works when the true zenith of their careers was during their radio years...the original Gunsmoke anyone?????

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  20. Quite a change of pace. Viewed on ME TV, 14 Jul 13. Missed it on the first run in 1961 when I was 12. Goldsmith score is primo as usual. The story line smacks of Dicken's characters. Or ?

    For those of you who were avid readers of MAD magazine circa this time period-I don't recall a satire on Thriller, but Hitchcock got some airplay in MAD. As did Star Blech!

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  21. Remembered the bit with the trunk lid from childhood. Very well done, though we know exactly where it's going from early on. And why fault the pacing? This was a story that might better have been done in 1/2 hour format which had to fill almost an hour, yet I was never bored.

    But one thing does bother me: Apart from the first death (which could have been written off as a freak accident) the others would have clearly implicated the little girl. Did no one investigate? Did the surviving siblings lie about the cause of death?

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  22. Beautiful, charming episode, I remember seeing Mr. George when it was first aired (or in first rerun) and loved it then. It holds up beautifully, and John Qualen and his horse drawn trolley thingie was a plus.

    There were so many nice touches in this episode. Virginia Gregg rocked as maybe the best female villain of a Thriller. She's up there with Jeanette Nolan. Solid, solid performance. Is it me or does it appear that she's made up to resemble Martha Mattox in the 1927 Paul Leni silent version of The Cat and the Canary. Her hair is nearly identical to Miss Mattox's in that early (and charming) old dark house thriller.

    Hats off to director Ida Lupino and the Uni art department. Most (all?) of the sets and props were familiar but they were used in a different way than in other shows and movies. As has already been noted, great turn of the (20th) century atmosphere, some theatrical playing by the adult actors, nice work from little Miss Gillespie. The Goldsmith score was perfection, the ending, wistful without being overly sentimental. Actually, it was just perfect.

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  23. Well done episode. Any others out there wish to comment?

    And--who remembers the Topper series in the '50s with--Leo G Carroll?

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    1. Leo G Carroll? You mean the same guy who played Mr Waverly in the Man from U.N.C.L.E?

      Also an elderly Catholic Priest in the series on TV, "Going my Way."

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  24. How could anyone forget Leo G. Carroll? He was in another Thriller which featured a nasty but much more attractive family as well as a young person, in this case a young woman, in peril; and it also featured some of the same props, and the Psycho house, too! Carroll was rather the Mr. George of this episode, more lighthearted than Mr. George, its charms, and it had many, were geared more toward adults, while a child can watch and thoroughly understand Mr. George.

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