Friday, October 8, 2010

The Terror in Teakwood: Season 1 Episode 33

Originally aired 5/16/61
Starring Guy Rolfe, Hazel Court, Charles Aidman.
Written by Alan Caillou, based on the short story by Harold Lawlor.
Directed by Paul Henreid.

Famous concert pianist Vladimir Vicek (Rolfe) is determined to show the world that he is the greatest pianist in the history of the universe. To do this, he must play the near-impossible Polovetzian Dance #2 by Borodin before a live audience. Fearing he needs a little help, he severs the hands of his dead rival and uses them to achieve his goals.

PE: In a world where everyone knows how to play the piano... (Should I re-link the 150 Musical Masterpieces video? -JS)

JS: This was the first Thriller I ever watched when I got the six episode LaserDisc set, and it remains one of my favorites. Put Mr. Sardonicus and Barlow the vampire together and I think you've got a real recipe for terror. I'll go so far as to say that if there was ever a need to crown a scream king, Guy Rolfe would get my vote.

PE: I'm not sure what was supposed to be more terrifying: what's in the teakwood box or Silvia Slattery's hat. And it's never made clear why these hands want to kill or how they can kill in the first place. Usually in these "dead hands on the loose" dramas, there's a rite of witchcraft involved. Here it's not even clear if the souvenirs are actually hands or casts. But who cares? "Teakwood" is so full of atmosphere and good performances, I can excuse the ambiguity.

JS: How kind of you. I was beginning to think you needed everything explained for you in your old age. I picture you sitting on your ottoman, pipe in hand and dog at your feet, pontificating, "Perhaps if I understood the motivation of the crawling hands I could buy into this..." Do you think that maybe they were acting on the behalf of the previous owner???

PE: Charles Aidman, so good way back in "Knock Three-One-Two" seems lost throughout the running time of "Teakwood." He looks, in some scenes, as though he's got this really great joke and he can't wait to get through the scene to tell it.

JS: Greg Brady? I think he was just excited that he was starring in one of the best episodes of Thriller—one that would still be talked about long after he shuffled off this mortal coil.

PE: It's always nice to see Vladimir Sokoloff in a cast. His Glokky could very well be a second cousin to Pepe the janitor (from I Was a Teenage Werewolf). He was also in Mr. Sardonicus with Guy Rolfe the same year "Terror in Teakwood" was broadcast.

It's a dream genre cast (well, if you can't have Karloff, Chaney and Ankers): Guy Rolfe (who was about to be seen as the ghoulish Mr. Sardonicus), Reggie Nalder (later seen in Thriller's "The Return of Andrew Bentley" and best known as the vampire Barlow in Salem's Lot), and the gorgeous Hazel Court (who would go on to make the Poe-Corman flicks The Masque of the Red Death, The Raven, and Premature Burial) and, of course, the real star: the disembodied hands. These hands were everywhere in the sixties (The Crawling Hand, Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, etc.). It's lucky for the inhabitants of these pictures that it was the hands that got so popular and not the feet. At least you had a chance to outrun those fumbling, bumbling digits.

JS: I'm beginning to think you don't have an open mind when it comes to William Shatner OR crawling hands. Did Tom Weaver write somewhere that these are in fact Shatner's hands? Is that the problem?

PE: What we needed, in the end, was for Jerry to accidentally knock over a candelabra while he and Vicek are scuffling. This would lead to the inevitable shot of a Corman mansion burning to the ground as Leonie and Jerry look on from a distance, arms around each other, looking forward to a life together free from mad pianists. What we get is a strangely homo-erotic scene where Vicek lops off Jerry's shirt buttons with a very large knife. More subtle sexual undertones? You be the judge. Am I the only one who would rather have watched the scene played out with Hazel Court?

JS: What about Rolfe's tussle with Nalder? "It's because of me you came out of the grave, and because of me you shall return!" And as we have come to expect, Goldsmith spins gold once again; this time, I found the music reminiscent to his Planet of the Apes score.

PE: "The Terror in Teakwood" by Harold Lawlor originally appeared in the March 1947 Weird Tales, the same issue that featured Derleth's "Mr. George." This all-star issue also featured Theodore Sturgeon, Seabury Quinn (who wrote more stories for WT than any other author), and Robert Bloch. The Bloch story, "Sweets to the Sweet" would be adapted nearly 25 years later (by Bloch himself) for The House That Dripped Blood (which also includes a second filming of Bloch's "Waxworks," - stay tuned for coverage of the first version).

THE COMMENTARY
A very different kind of commentary here, not focusing entirely on the episode but Thriller's composers. I cannot stress more how boring soundtrack talk is to me. Scoleri will ramble on to me on the phone about John Williams' score for Harry and The Hendersons for hours. (Bruce Broughton was responsible for the original music in Harry and the Hendersons. - JS) Unbeknownst to him, I put the phone in the fishbowl and go to the market while he's prattling. So how Steve Mitchell and Jon Burlingame make the fifty minutes fly by is a wonder to me. Especially enlightening is the early conversation about the exit of Pete Rugalo and entrance of Jerry Goldmith.

OUR RATING:

28 comments:

  1. This was one of the best episodes yet and Hazel Court is right up there with such girls of THRILLER as Beverly Garland and Ida Lupino. Also reminded me of MAD LOVE with Peter Lorre(1935) and THE HANDS OF ORLAC with Christopher Lee. Those mad pianists are always chopping hands off...

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  2. Before i got my dvd package, a coworker told me about one scary episode he saw in the 70s where he had to lock the doors afterwards because it fightened him so -- about a pair of hands.
    This is the episode that gives the show its title -- a real thriller! Sure, there are elements left unexplained but the mood, the acting and the music mesh with the story. Really gripping, if i don't say so myself. I had to chuckle once when Greg Brady opened the box and saw those giant, clay-like mitts... i had a flashback to sctv's dave thomas, impersonating michael caine in 'my bloody hands'...

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  3. "It's lucky for the inhabitants of these pictures that it was the hands that got so popular and not the feet. At least you had a chance to outrun those fumbling, bumbling digits."

    Aha, you obviously have not seen the "Voodoo Feet of Death" episode of DR. TERRIBLE'S HOUSE OF HORRIBLE.

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  4. Part 1-
    Hard to believe that you're watching a 50-year old show that was cranked out weekly; this episode is beautifully made, from the very first shot -- which looks as if it was filmed at Hell's gates.

    Interesting - Paul Henreid directed two Thrillers: "Mark of the Hand" and "Terror in Teakwood"; big differnce. I think I'll add the name William Frye to my "now I lay me down to sleep" evening prayer of thanks.

    Guy Rolfe - Imperious, regal, cold, statuesque; a truly impressive performer.

    Hazel Court - babe, and an elegant and talented one at that.

    Aidman-- does his low-key, naturalistic, Actor's Studio thing throughout, and very convincingly.

    Vlad Sokoloff-- a real bonus in this show, and perfectly cast.

    Alain Calliou's screenplay is first-rate; I was literally hanging on every word when re-watching this show. And what other show would allow Reggie Nalder to really display his acting chops, spouting all of that high-flown rhetoric in a junk-strewn alley?

    Great tension in the dialogue scenes throughout; Aidman and Court, Aidman and Sokoloff, Aidman and Watkins in her office; Aidman and Nalder, Rolfe and Nalder; the tension builds beautifully to the big concert night, with Watkins pacing around outside the stage door like a hyena waiting for the kill. Oppresive, almost suffocating tension as Guy Rolfe slices off Aidman's shirt/collar buttons; Aidman looks like he's about to burst out crying in this scene. Then the stunt doubles are turned loose for the big fight (Aidman was becoming quite the fighter in this series, it seems).

    Goldsmith outdoes himself, with a score featuring mostly brass and those awful-sounding, Herrmannesque low woodwinds. I think the very opening clarinet melody is a styilzed easternEuropean/gypsy thing that connects with Gaafke and the graveyard, and those bizarre, low metallic sounds heard throughout are made by scraping the heavily-miked low piano strings; pretty cool idea-- to represent the demented Vicek by distorted and "perverting" the sound of a grand piano on the sountrack.

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  5. Let's see... disembodied feet race after their quarry and then kick the screaming victim to death. Somehow, INGROWN TOENAILS OF ORLAC doesn't quite cut it.

    As for "The Terror in Teakwood," it's one of the all-time THRILLER greats, a memorable blend of horror, melodrama, and wonderful music. The cast is to die for and once seen, those trundling hands are never forgotten.

    I think the Burlingame-Mitchell commentary is excellent; John's a celebrated authority, and Steve sure knows his Goldsmith. Still, I wish we could have provided a second commentary track that dealt with story, actors and other creative specifics apart from the music. Same is true of the upcoming "La Strega" commentaries; we have two, one covering the score (Jon and Steve) and another the show's make-up (Craig Reardon, Steve and me). But again, there is no actual story analysis in these tracks, which both seminal episodes deserve.

    Paging Standards and Practices: Are they his hated rival's actual hands or merely "gloves" made from plaster casts that Vicek uses to play the Seventh Sonata? THRILLER seems to want it both ways. Certainly Reggie Nalder's horrified reaction in the crypt would suggest that Vladimir literally cuts these hands from their corpse body, rather than dipping them in plaster; later dialogue makes a case for both approaches. I suspect THRILLER was winking at its audience: "Of course they're the real hands, but we had to make up this 'plaster cast' malarky to get the damn story on the air in the first place. So live with it."

    Hey, no problem. This is a great episode that stands alongside the very best THRILLER has to offer. And scantily-clad Hazel Court never looked more inviting (see above photo).

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  6. Part 2-

    The only unfortunate element in this show, for me, is the HANDS effect. After such an incredibly powerful, expertly wrought build-up...from the very first shot....it's a real bummer to have the ending undermined by the big effects scene at the climax. It's not even the crawling effect which, though primitive, is still pretty creepy. It's the design of the hands THEMSELVES, which look like somebody ran down to the hardware store and grabbed a pair of work gloves, painted them with those funky stripes and started filming. And yes, I can appreciate the hokey-ness and "charm" of such things in early TV production, but not in this case; the entire show up 'til that point is SO DAMNED GOOD that its' hard to take. They could have at least altered the fingers of the gloves to resemble those huge, magnificent, freakish, slender digits that we keep hearing about throughout the show. Too bad.

    Incidentally, for anyone interested in Charles Aidman, there is a video of a studio/stage production of "King Lear" from 1982, released by Kultur. He plays the tragic Gloucester--the dude who has his eyes ripped out; he's excellent and WOULD have been the highlight of the production, except that Lear himself is played by Mike Kellin--- if you can possibly imagine that. Worth a look.

    "TERROR IN TEAKWOOD" - 9 and-a-half Karloffs

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  7. Re: the Hands issue.

    I have always thought that when Aidman opens the teakwood box at the end of Act 2, he ASSUMES they are a plaster cast; he doesn't touch them, and can't imagine that Vicek would be capable of anything beyond making a cast. So when he tells Hazel about the hands backstage, he's still in the dark about the true nature of the desecration.

    Then, at the end of Act 3 during the applause, Hazel is the only one to realize the ghastly nature of the crime when she notices the dripping blood. And since she's out of commission in Act 4, she is unable to reveal the true horror of the situation to anyone; it only becomes clear when Guy Rolfe himself spills the beans to Aidman. Thus, there's a nice sense of progression to the nature of the actual corpse mutilation. The final scene of the screenplay seems to make clear that Vicek actually "skinned" the hands to create gloves which come alive when worn; why else would they be dripping blood if they weren't part of Carnovitz's actual body? At least, that's the way I've always perceived it.

    LR

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  8. Without question, they are the actual hands, "skinned" to be worn by Vicek. As Larry points out, Rolfe literally states this in his extended speech to Aidman which pretty much sums up everything that has happened. Still, the "plaster cast" red herring, if you will, seems to have been invented to take the pressure off the reality of this horrific situation, or at the very least to confuse and misdirect the censors. Since we know from the teaser that these precious hands were indeed severed, using the plaster-duplication gimmick as a suspense-building device (first Aidman thinks they're just casts, then he realizes-- yikes!) really doesn't work for me. Anyone looking into this dark situation who opens that box and sees those horror-inspiring hands is bound to examine them a bit more closely, just to make sure he knows exactly what he's uncovered. To leap to the bizarre conclusion that Vicek has somehow managed to merely make casts of those original hands seems not only a reach, but it makes their great "horror reveal" a tad ridiculous -- oh my God, he's staring at...PLASTER CASTS OF HANDS! I guess if Aidman had discovered a plaster life-mask of Carnovitz in that box, he probably would have fainted dead away.

    Whatever the truth may be here, "The Terror in Teakwood" is still a first-rate THRILLER, one of the episodes that people remember because of the disturbing impression it made on them way back when. And yeah, maybe the walking hands do come across as a little glove-like (hey, they were just used as gloves!), but seeing them walk at all, with that amazing Goldsmith music spurring them on, more than did the trick for me -- especially back in '61, with imperfect TV reception masking the prop flaws.

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  9. Incidentally, in the interesting trivia category (and since this blog provides a great opportunity to "immortalize" this great series and the legacy of the people who worked on it), the actor John Craven who played the minor role of the doctor in Act 4 of "Teakwood" made his Broadway debut in 1938, creating the role of young George Gibbs in Thornton Wilder's "Our Town", the role which would go to William Holden in the movie version.

    Craven's father Frank (who appeared in Universal's 1943 "Son of Dracula" --oops..I mean "Alucard"), also created the central role of the Stage Manager in Wilder's famous play, thus teaming father and son in the same historic production.

    LR

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  10. In the end the 'hands" didn't bother me that much. Come on...this was 50 years ago, and the budget for effects was probably 50.00 or some similarly low number. Back then the effects only had to "work" that week and not have to stand the test of time.

    How ironic that we are commenting, in depth, about their "effectiveness." What bothers me about this show is that like many really good THRILLERS, it is marred by the out of sync casting of CHARLES AIDMAN, who is the show's weak link. Normally, Aidman, is money in the bank, and he had a long career to back that opinion up, but to me he was a poor fit as a guy in the classical music world. Not unlike the tragically un-hip JOHN IRELAND in PAPA BENJAMIN. As I have said before, the casting in THRILLER did not always work.

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  11. Casting calls: I completely agree about granite-jawed John Ireland in "Papa Benjamin"; Charles Aidman in "Teakwood," not so much. Aidman's stock-in-trade was decency and loyalty, with an easy intelligence that made him kind of endearing -- the nice guy next door that you can trust in a pinch (see TWILIGHT ZONE's "Little Girl Lost'). It's not surprising that, years later, it was his comforting voice that narrated ZONE in its 1980s incarnation. These qualities seem to be exactly what the desperate Hazel Court character requires. Besides, his unsnobby American 'everyman' music professional nicely contrasts with Rolfe's classically obsessed European sophisticate. Bottom line: I'm glad they went with empathy rather than accuracy and saved Lloyd Bochner for "Prisoner in the Mirror"!

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  12. Steve and Gary--

    As a guy who has worked amongst musicians for many years, I have known LOTS of people in the classical biz who fit the Charles Aidman persona to a tee. Aidman's character could be anything---an arranger, copyist, proofreader, vice-president of a publishing house who composes and arranges on the side, etc etc. Believe me, many of these guys--even the composers themselves---are often unobtrusive, nebbish types who fade into the woodwork at rehearsals, concerts and recording sessions (as opposed to the general perception of musicians as flamboyant, eccentric wierdos). I think Aidman is a perfect fit for this great ensemble cast, and agree with Gary that he very effectively offsets the ego-manaical, vain Guy Rolfe.

    I can buy the argument far easier in the case of John Ireland who is, after all, supposed to be a bigtime, charismatic performer. The most he seems to be able to accomplish in "Papa Benjamin" is a limp, half-hearted attempt at beating time, just prior to his patended collapse to the stage floor; what an act!

    However, the brooding, self-obsessed nature of his character OFF-STAGE works for me, as he locks himself up, ignores his wife, and forges ahead with his magnum opus, the "Voodoo Rhapsody!" But, in the end, it's a dreadfully dull portrayal.

    LR

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  13. An all-around fun episode, though it's not good to think too hard about it. When Aidman opened the box, I was really surprised, and the show had me from then on.

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  14. A watchable episode marred (as THRILLER often is) by an underdeveloped, talky script and unconvincing effects, but saved by great performances and music (both Jerry Goldsmith's and Caesar Giovannini's). Two out of four Karloffs.

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  15. If I was a kid watching this way back when it was first broadcast, it would have scared the crap out of me. Those hands were CREEPY and well done for the time. This was an excellent episode. Gothic, well acted, noirish. I want that graveyard set for next Halloween! I didn't know Reggie Nalder played Barlow, but I did recognize him from his portrayal of the Andorian ambassador from Star Trek. I loved that character and wished they had used him more than once.

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  16. Up there in the initial plot synopsis: where did the bit about Borodin's "Polovetzian" (correct spelling : Polovtsian) Dance come from? The "impossible" piece was Sonata #7 by Vicek's now-handless rival. Nothing by Borodin is head in the score.

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  17. I missed the boat on this one. I wasn't impressed when I saw it years ago and still don't get it's appeal. This must be my PIGEDONS FROM HELL critical low score for an apparently loved episode. Maybe it was the frequent piano interludes that constantly broke the mood and tension for me.

    While it was sell acted by everyone, the idea that only one man can play a particular piece of music was a bit too much for me. Grim reapers and kids with hatchets in their heads is unbelievable too, but experienced by only a few which thus creates the story. Here, we are to believe that the entire world accepts the fact that only one man can ever play "Polovetzian Dance #2 by Borodin" or whatever it is... lol. Maybe he bought the 8-tracks that John Williams was hawking and learned from there.

    Either way, I can't comfortably give THE TERROR IN TEAKWOOD anything higher than "2 1/2 Karloffs".

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  18. I'm a big Mad Love fan and was eager to see what sort of improvisations the good folks of Thriller would take with the old crazed classical concert pianist with the possessed hands story.

    The overture starts off deliciously creepy with a spooky graveyard theft. It's not made evident what exactly is being done in the crypt, but from the grave keepers reaction, it ain't no bringing flowers.

    After that excellent prologue we're transported to the overseas to a modern New York City far removed from any old world supernatural dealings. Guy Rolfe is a terrific fit in the role of the tormented artiste. Hazel Court just needs to look good as his neglected wife. Charles Aidman is adequate as Hazel's old love interest and soon to be protector.

    The plot unfolds at a nice pace, allowing for Vicek's madness to establish, before unvieling his secret. Maybe I'm slow, but it took me almost until the lifting of the teakwood lid before I figured out what was inside.

    The scene where the old grave keeper ran into Charles and Hazel started out promising with hopes of my more shocking revelations from Vicek's past, but it fizzled out as a simple bribery scene.

    The other scene which didn't really work for me was when the jealous old critic delivered her schadenfreude speech with relish, only to be easily won over by Vicek's sucessful run through the Sonata #7. I wasn't that impressed. Old Vlad could have injected a bit more Liszt into his playing.

    Just when the classical bits were starting to drag things down a bit when, Hazel spots the Terror in Teakwood to wake us up. Now, the action gets pumping. Rolfe ups the tormented jealousy and than The Thing (pre Addams Family) takes center stage and finshes the story off as a Greek tragedy. I still don't know whether to laugh or be creeped out the special effects of those hands.

    Although it was a really good episode, I didn't think it one of the best as other reviewers did. I opened up my teakwood box and saw 3 Karloffs.

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  19. Great episode! Having only seen Guy Rolfe as Mr. Sardonicus and Toulon, I was thrilled to see him so effective as the doomed romantic pianist. Court has been more zaftig, but was effective as the innocent, concerned wife. And there were great character turns, particularly by the music critic.

    The high point for me wasn't the horror, it was the sonata performance, with the actors carrying most of it without any lines. It reminded me of the climax of "Rhapsody," one of Liz Taylor's best (and least well remembered) films. Watkins's growing excitement and Aidman's growing realization of what Court saw in her husband were particularly effective.

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  20. Just dropping in here to secure props for Caesar Giovannini's compositional and pianistic skills. While I was watching the episode, I was trying to guess if it was a Goldsmith or Stevens score. The underscore sounded like Goldsmith, but the original piano compositions didn't sound like him at all. I was relieved to find that my musical detection skills weren't failing me and that Giovannini was the composer of the quite authentic sounding sonata.

    Since his piano playing is credited, I assume he's also responsible for the very amusing hunk of Schumann's Fantasy in C allegedly played by Glocky's female student. It's exactly the kind of totally competent but somewhat leaden playing that Glocky complains about in the dialogue. Caesar interpreted this perfectly for the context.

    Also, as a bonus, here's a little of Giovannini's lounge music:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxlDgftADQU

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  21. Our hosts have already said that they didn`t cumulatively give a four Karloff rating to any episode, so three and a half must mean this is as good as it gets...
    I hope not - my first run through the series and I hope there are better ones down the line. Aside from the opening, the grave digger is extemporaneous - surely our hero would have given in to temptation and checked out the titular teakwood box anyways. Pure padding. And the big fight scene was truly lame...Aidman gently tosses the box at Rolfe who acts as if he`d been hit by a cannon. We`ve had some good drag em down knuckle dusters in the series so far but this wasn`t one of them.
    Got to side with Hynek on this one - definitely fun and worthy of a three Karloffs but already have seen better.
    BTW thanks to Frank Miller for the word "zaftig". Had to look that one up!

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  22. In the last couple of days, I've been hard on Purple Room, A Good Imagination, Well of Doom, and most other episodes by implication. But here with this episode, and the previous one, Mr. George, we're finally starting to see some engaging episodes free of major story problems.

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  23. The classical music was worth the price of admission. Agree that the special effects left much to be desired.

    I almost thought Leonard Nimoy was in this episode-oh, that was a Columbo Episode, or maybe not. The Shat was in a Columbo episode. As was John Cassavetes (in Greek: Ιωάννης Νικόλαος Κασσαβέτης; in a role similar to this tale, albeit without special effects.

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    1. "Étude in Black" Nicholas Colasanto Teleplay: Steven Bocho

      Story: Richard Levinson & William Link September 17, 1972

      Alex Benedict (John Cassavetes), the married conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, murders his mistress, Jenifer Welles (Anjanette Comer), after she insists on going public with their affair, and tries to make it look like a suicide. Columbo searches for clues to place Benedict at the murder scene. Blythe Danner and Myrna Loy guest star as Benedict's wealthy wife and mother-in-law, respectively. Pat Morita cameos in one scene as Benedict's butler. (During filming Danner was pregnant with her daughter Gwyneth Paltrow, who was born ten days after this episode aired.)

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  24. First, regarding John Ireland: He was reputed to be very well endowed, which would have made him a cool cat in any milieu!

    This was a great episode, one of the very best of a series that too often settled for the milky bland. I remembered this from childhood and enjoyed it here thoroughly, with the exception of the awful effect of the crawling hands at the end. Even on a low budget, there hadda be a better way --

    Liked Aidman, he was a ruggedly handsome and relaxed alternative to the twisted persona so well realized by Rolfe. And I've always loved Hazel Court, who so often played scheming women. The shot of her passed out on the bed in her negligee struck me as surprisingly explicit and erotic for American TV in '61.

    Franz Liszt was considered the greatest piano virtuoso anyone had heard when he became the rage of Europe, and he had unusually large, long hands which allowed him a tremendous span on the keyboard. As a result, the music he wrote for piano was considered (and still is) devilishly difficult to do, and perhaps impossible for pianists with smaller hands than he had. So this aspect of the story was not far-fetched at all.

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    1. Yes-the musical score. The obsessive compulsive jealous rival is well acted. This episode is another one of it's kind in the whole series. Geez-let's not forget the big production Hollywood flick about the young Mozart done in by his horrid malefactor.

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  25. FWIW: I just rewatched this one for the first time, and having been reading some of the comments here would like to add that Guy Rolfe gave what was probably the performance the great Colin Clive would have given had he still been alive and well when the episode was filmed (taking off maybe a decade or so as to Clive's actual age, but no matter). How fun it would have been to have had Karloff introduced "our special guest star, Mr. Colin Clive", but, hey, it's not a perfect world. To have made it even more perfect an aged Dwight Frye in the Reggie Nalder crypt opener role would have made it truly perfect.

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