Starring: John Ireland, Jeanne Bal, Robert H. Harris.
Written by: John Kneubuhl based on the story by Cornell Woolrich.
Directed by: Ted Post.
Bandleader Eddie Wilson (John Ireland) stumbles into a Caribbean police station claiming that he's just murdered a man known as "Papa Benjamin." When asked why he's committed the murder, Wilson tells the cop that "Papa Benjamin" was murdering him... with voodoo! Eddie narrates his story of how he became obsessed with composing a "Voodoo Rhapsody" stolen from actual ceremonies. Though he'd been warned with death, the bandleader soldiered on and brought down some bad juju.
PE: I dig these crazy jive talkers! Are you down with that?
JS: Cut me some slack, Jack—I don't speak jive. But I'm no fool. Even I understand the international language of the chicken foot (and herewith begins my captivation of chicken feet in consecutive episodes, which follows in the footsteps(!) of my lamp fixation from "Man in the Middle" and "The Cheaters").
PE: What was with his wife Judy (Jeanne Bal)? Total babe, but in their "lovemaking" scene, she can't seem to look Eddie in the eyes, always glancing up around his forehead. Was this where Thriller actors kept their dummy cards?
JS: Maybe it was foreshadowing for when he would have a cross up there...
|He must be double-jointed...|
PE: If Eddie Wilson is such a great bandleader, why does it seem like he's directing the audience more than his "guys?" And how about that crazy sound that leads Eddie down that dark road? I must confess to a tin ear when it comes to Voodoo Rhapsodies. It sounded to me like Liberace with a Charlie Watts backbeat and a little Ian Anderson on flute. I'm just glad I stayed to the end of the show when we get to see the full Rhapsody played out to its tragic coda. Was that the Pete Rugolo orchestra playing that noise?
JS: While the audience kept yelling, "Voodoo Rhapsody," I was yelling, "Free Bird!" Listen to the commentary to find out just how Thrilled Ted Post was with Rugulo's Voodoo mix. And say what you will about Ireland, but the man sure knew how to sell a white suit.
PE: Despite the goofy stuff I always find in these Thrillers, I have to admit that the scenes of the voodoo rites are very well done. There's a sense of unease to them that's not found with the rest of the production. Though I must say that this is the most humorless episode I've yet seen. Even the grimmest of episodes ("The Cheaters," "The Hungry Glass," etc.) have some bits of whimsy to lighten up the proceedings. Not so here.
JS: It does seem to have the feel of a secretly shot real-life voodoo ritual. Since this isn't One Step Beyond, I'll assume credit is due to the master behind Magnum Force and Beneath the Planet of the Apes. I did have one good chuckle early on, when Wilson's in the police station and he says they're killing him with voodoo. They immediately cue Rugulo's voodoo theme, cut to a close up of Inspector Daniels (Peter Forster), who looks around the room as if to say, "where's that crazy music coming from."
PE: Based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich, originally titled "Dark Melody of Madness," that appeared in one of the great shudder pulps, Dime Mystery (July 1935). It was later retitled "Papa Benjamin" when it was reprinted in I Wouldn't Be In Your Shoes (1943) as by William Irish (Woolrich's psuedonym). Woolrich was hugely popular on radio ("Papa Benjamin" was dramatized on Escape on January 24, 1948) and several of his novels and stories have become classic films (Rear Window, The Night Has a Thousand Eyes, Val Lewton's The Leopard Man). This was the first of three adaptations of Woolrich's work for Thriller.