Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Incredible Doctor Markesan: Season 2 Episode 22

Originally aired 2/26/62
Starring Boris Karloff, Dick York, Carolyn Kearney.
Written by Donald S. Sanford, based on the short story by August Derleth and Mark Schorer.
Directed by Robert Florey.

Fred Bancroft (York) and his wife, Molly (Kearney) visit the old Blassenville Plantation, err Oakmoor estate belonging to Fred's uncle Konrad Markesan (Karloff), hoping for a place to stay while they search for work. Meeting up with the professor, they're at first put off by his bad manners (and deadly dandruff) but agree to the man's rules for boarding: they must stay locked in their bedroom at night and not stray through the house. This being a Thriller, we all know how long that lasts.

PE: Speaking for both John and I, we had our feelings molested by the insults, harsh criticisms, death threats and, yes, nude reader photos hurled at us when we dared not lay down before the Pigeon King. I had a feeling that might happen again with the buzz I was hearing about "The Incredible Doctor Markesan." Well, praise Cthulhu, there won't be any bruised knuckles this time around. "The Really Incredibly Excellent Doctor Markesan!"

JS: I think this episode has a well deserved reputation for so many reasons. Great atmosphere, creepy imagery, effective music, and perhaps Karloff's finest performance in a Thriller.

PE: Karloff's final starring performance in Thriller is a gem, eclipsing even his fine work as Shemp in "Sommervilles" (that's the problem with watching these things and reviewing them in order—I'm constantly saying "Karloff's strongest work in Thriller"). Note that slow-moving half-smile he gets early on in the show. Reminded me so much of his Frankenstein monster.

JS: Forget the smile - what had me thinking of Frankenstein was the following shot in which we see Karloff's shadow as he leaves the room. Tell me that's not the shadow of Jack Pierce's Frankenstein Monster!

PE: Professor Holden (Henry Hunter) explains to Fred that his uncle was shoved from the University for experimenting with mold from corpses to raise the dead. Do you think he tried bread mold first? There must have been a whole bakery in that cupboard.

JS: Sure, in the days before he was Incredible.

PE: The hallway that the couple continually travel was right out of a Steve Ditko horror comic. Creepy shadows and Eerie angles.

JS: Definitely. As old dark house stories go, this episode is packed to the gills with great shots along those lines, such as this one of the spying eyes of Markesan. While not a perfect episode, obviously the big payoff comes in the form of the living dead shambling about.

PE: Yeah, we do have to talk a bit about the fact that there's a slow buildup. And it's another estate on the edge of a swamp. And it's another bickering couple (do you think if Dick York and Carolyn Kearney kept driving on that road they'd eventually run into Elizabeth Montgomery and Tom Poston?). If it all added up to nothing, so would our score. "Markesan" pays off in spades. There are several classic moments in this Thriller. When Fred spies on his uncle's meeting with his three colleagues, we get our first glimpse at the shamblers. Not just white make-up, dust and that ever-present dandruff, these guys look "George Romero dead" six years before Romero made it hip. Karloff's at his most menacing when he's commanding Latimore (Richard Hale) to repeat his testimony over and over again. I'm guessing this is Markesan's idea of purgatory for the three men. I'm amazed that the ultra-conservative censors at the network didn't pull the plug on the "feeding" scene. Markesan's three ghoulies hooked up to his formula while resting in their coffins is a truly grisly scene, even by today's standards, though nothing compared to the final fate of the resurrected bodies when denied their nourishment.

JS: Again, if you're watching Thriller for the horror episodes, you'd be hard pressed to find many better than "Markesan."

PE: And top it all off with a great twist ending. Director Robert Florey must have had a ball revisiting the same kind of chills he gave moviegoers with Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) and The Beast with Five Fingers (1946). Pity this was the only Thriller he directed, but I'm interested now in queuing up his Outer Limits show "Moonstone."

JS: I only wish we had a stronger couple for our protagonists. York and Kearney are okay, but not remarkable in this episode. For me, that's what kept this from being a 4-Karloffer.

PE: "The Incredible Doctor Markesan" originally appeared in the June 1934 issue of Weird Tales as "Colonel Markesan." It was later reprinted in the Arkham House collection, "Colonel Markesan and Less Pleasant People" (1966).

THE COMMENTARY:
Yet another fantastic Schow/Gerani collaboration. More Creature From the Black Lagoon trivia, interesting cast and crew background info as well as original story details. And yes, we're not the only ones to see a little of Karloff's Frankenstein in this episode.

OUR RATING:

33 comments:

  1. This is another 14 Karloffer(10 out of 10 and 4 out of 4). Very well done horror especially for a TV series. I read the story in the June 1934 WEIRD TALES a couple years ago and was surprised at how much better the TV version was. In fact the magazine version had a happy ending as the hero defeats the undead and burns down the house. This adaptation was the last of the 18 stories from WEIRD TALES.

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  2. This is one of those rare episodes where there's no question that it fits the series. All the elements come together and illuminate the screen -- Karloff's dead eyes glistening, the wispy decay of the mansion, the shimmering, eerie music, and a story that hits it out of the park. It felt like one of those great B horror films of the 40s, the walking dead and undying monster.
    While all horror stories seem to have a heavy dose of 'leave common sense out of it' with their insane curiosity outside their locked bedroom door, York and Kearney worked well -- in fact, i thought her sense of fear and dread was driving my own. What can be said of Karloff? He was a master, and it's nice to see the show gave him some variety roles during its run, and closed out with what the fans love -- an incredibly horrific turn, with a frightening twist.
    The one scene i wish they could do over was when York visits Pro. Colonel Angus, which was truly shot in static and rather too subdued effort by the Angus guy.
    That said, this belongs in the hall of thriller fame -- Ten out of ten, I say!

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  3. WOW! About as outrageous and insanely gruesome as anyone would have dreamed possible for network TV in its day.

    Our esteemed hosts and commentators have said it all--the Jack Pierce/Frankenstein shadow, the Ditko-like hallways, etc. The scenes with the three stiffs are truly horrid and cruel, and even though the overall action of this episode may seem rather deliberately-paced, the teleplay's placement of the disturbing, nightmarish scenes as consecutive nights, alternating with daytime scenes between York and Kearney is very effective (I LOVE the shot of Dick York by the fireplace when he notices the old photo of Richard Hale; great way to end an act).

    Unlike it's 1st-season relative "Pigeons", "Markesan" has occasional touches of ghoulish, black humor--from Karloff himself (his spoken intro!) and his "select but cadaverous company" speech near the end. Total wipe-out, over-the-top climax---crashing, crushing, death for Boris, the shocking final shot, etc. It's TV-horror oblivion!

    I would not have docked this episode in Karloff heads because of the casting of the young couple; they are totally believeable for the period and, in fact, I think Dick York is excellent (which he was in general). Carolyn K. is also good, but annoying, meriting a couple of good whacks for her shrewish, petulant behavior; still, their relationship works well. (and besides, she gets HERS in the end!). However, their scenes ARE a bit overlong and padded.

    I've always wondered why old Angus (played by Henry Hunter in what must be TV history's most lethargic, lifeless performance---hey, maybe HE's been sniffing the corpse mold?~!) happens to be sitting at his desk, fully dressed, after midnight; but it's still a cool scene (with York at his finest), which adds to the mounting tension.

    Incidentally, re: the "cadaverous" company--Thriller again preserves for us performances by a couple of unique, odd-ball performers. I just re-checked the Internet and, as I recalled, Billy Beck was (is) a legendary CLOWN/mime, who lived and performed in Paris after WWII (appearing with Buster Keaton at the famed Cirque Medrano). Check out the pics on Google.

    ALSO--Richard Hale, he of the cavernous, resonant voice, began his career as an OPERA singer in the U.S., and was the narrator for the very first (and iconic) recording of Prokofiev's "Peter & the Wolf" (Boston Symphony, 1939). He also went on to narrate, record, and act in operatic and legit stage projects later in his life. What a treasure trove this "Thriller" series is!

    Stevens' score, re-worked from earlier shows (lots of "Dialogues with Death") but combined with other, newer stuff and/or alternate versions of previous cues, once again hits it out of the park.

    Sadly, Thirller's last great horror show.

    NINE and a Half leering, bubbly-bromo-seltzer Karloff heads.

    LR

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  4. One of the series' masterpieces, Karloff's best performance in any THRILLER (though his work in THE PREMATURE BURIAL and SOMMERVILLES is notable). The final scene with Carolyn Kearney in the coffin may well be the most horrifying image in the history of network television. Prior to that the ghoulish and expressionistic (no doubt engineered by horror master Robert Florey)atmospherics make this one of the shows that defines the consumate excellence that was achieved when the show clicked on all cylinders.

    10/10 and one of the essental half-dozen:

    The Incredible Doctor Markeson
    The Cheaters
    Pigeons From Hell
    The Weird Tailor
    The Grim Reaper
    The Hungry Glass

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  5. WALKER MARTIN has hit upon a perfect solution to the ratings dilemma.

    ADD the PE/JS 4K ratings to the 10K scale. Thus, "Markesan" = 13 1/2.

    Now, simply tally up the two columns of ratings for an overall spread.

    I had a long treatise written on ratings, what they mean, etc., but this really is a brilliant solution. Go to any other review and do what PE&JS do -- average them.

    Hah! Unity out of chaos!

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  6. John and I have a hard enough time adding up our ratings and dividing by two.

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  7. The signature Karloff episode of THRILLER, and the episode I would show people to introduce them to the series. Whatever rating system you use, this one's a cobwebby winner...

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  8. A simply superb episode that ranks alongside the best of the segments; etched in charcoal blacks riddled with cobwebs, dank and musty. A marvellous atmosphere. As good as 'Masquerade' and 'The Hungry Glass'.

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  9. The grimmest, nastiest but also the best episode I've seen so far. The atmosphere, score and performances are all just right. The raised dead actually *look* like reanimated corpses, and their moans are genuinely disturbing.

    As I've yet to see THE GRIM REAPER, I'm undecided whether to give this three and a half or the full four out of four Karloffs. Either way, it's surely amongst the best of the whole two series.

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  10. Like a lot of people, I'm seeing these episodes for the first time after decades of anticipation. I was in kindergarten during the show's second season...I can only dream of the seminal scares I might have experienced had anyone had the foresight to prop little Ray in front of this series. But, no, the older people I lived with were all asleep at the switch. Bummer.

    So, anyway, I'm finally getting my chance, and I'm cherry-picking some of the fan favorites. And, I must admit, I've been moderately disappointed so far. Quality entertainment, no doubt, but no scares for the ages. Even the redoubtable "Pigeons from Hell" left me somewhat underwhelmed. I'd started to wonder whether much of the show's acclaim was based on the old "gee it sure is scary in my head 50 years later!" pheonomenon.

    But this episode was terrific. Great scary, sometimes humorous moments with the coolest horror actor any of us have ever seen. Loved that long walk down the creepy hallway. Great images of the dead, predating even Carnival of Souls, much less the Romero films. Cool horror idea, and excellent execution with touches like the dead rehearsing their testimony. And that ending! Hey, let's face it. A lot of horror cinema is crap, and even if you're a huge fan, you learn to settle. We can live with a lot of flaws for that odd moment of sublime terror. And the last shot of this episode...one of those indelible images that stays with you forever. I can see viewers from that era cherishing this series forever, just from a handful of moments like that one.

    But, hey...Pigeons from Hell...I don't see any hatchets in heads. Despite dozens of web comments to the contrary.

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  11. Hey A!

    Welcome to ATAD and thanks for stopping by. We hope you manage to weave your way through each and every Thriller-ing day. Also, welcome to that elite club, The Pigeon Shitters, those of us who don't buy into that "It's 50 years old and black and white and Stephen King said it was the scariest thing he's ever seen" nonsense. Glad to have you but make sure to duck the vegetables being thrown! :>

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  12. 4 out of 4, #8 of 67 on my list. I watched it at least twice to be sure, it would make a great short B feature in the 40s or early 50s, its the best example of how to do a mad scientist story I can think of, exactly as The Ordeal of Dr. Cordelia shows how to do it the wrong way. Its probably my favorite decaying, rotting house sets, other than maybe the ones in Parasite Mansion and Masquerade. It may have the best TWO single shots in the entire series, in one episode: The actbreak shot of Karloff in the graveyard looking over his shoulder and the final image of the girl pulling the casket closed. Great makeup too with the ghouls, I may be selling it short.

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    1. Let me as my praise to this top of the line episode, which for me ties with Hell/Pigeons and The Cheaters are the #1 Thriller. It doesn't get any better. A word of praise for the always amiable and sympathetic Dick York who provides a perfect contrast to the diabolical Karloff as Markesan. Any actor wouldn't have done. They needed someone the audience could like and like a lot and the York delivered the goods. Perfect casting here.

      Richard Hale, too, provide a contrast of a different sort to Karloff and was inspired casting (too bad John Dierkes wasn't on board for one of the other dead guys but it's not a perfect world). It all comes together nicely.

      As with the Pigeons, Cheaters and the other best eps in the series there's a Pandora's Box subtext here, as in " don't go there...". It seems that Thriller people often pay dearly for their curiosity. I wasn't 100% sure (or forget) the setting of this one, which felt as if it was back in the bayou. Not having read the original story I don't know but it feels like this was another Thriller that Went South. Feels like Louisiana to me. Robert Florey deserves special praise for making this one work. Horror though it is the pacing is nearer to that of a whodunit, wholly appropriate giving how the story progresses.

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  13. I wish I hadn't watched the series promo on disc 8 after "The Grim Reaper." I was thinking it would only have season 1 footage. Still, the episode wasn't too spoiled. Although I can't say the ending was much of a surprise. Maybe if I had seen it when it aired and I hadn't read too many EC comics. Markesan's preservation technique must be good for newsprint too; that was the best looking 10-year-old newspaper I've ever seen. Can't think of anything else that hasn't been said before and better. Very good episode. I haven't ranked them, but this would have to be in the top 5.

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  14. The Incredible Doctor Markesan features our beloved Thriller host Mr. Boris Karloff who plays the title character. Visually, Boris reminds me of his performance in the Ghoul.

    This is a terrific episode that starts off by invoking slight chills with the arrival at a dilapidated old mansion. We know things are going to get creepy and sure enough they do, when uncle Boris suddenly appears in what was thought to be an abandoned old house. Right away, we know there is something not quite right with Mr. Karloff. In fact, there is something very ghoulish about the good doctor...

    The first half of the episode features only Fred and Molly with Markesan occasionally popping in. This sparse cast establishes a haunting and desolate mood, which Molly laces with tension with her fear of her surroundings. I liked both Dick York and Carolyn Kearney in their portrayal as down on their luck newlyweds. Initially, I thought the two would turn out to be schemers in line with some of their previous Thriller kin, but they were revealed to be earnest. This created empathy. Still, I'd be hard pressed to stick around Oakmoor after Uncle Boris locked me in my room at night. If I had any doubts, those would be erased after looking out the window at night and see Markesan lurching towards the graveyard by the swamp, only to stop, look back and lock gazes with me.

    Fred quickly figures out how to undo the bolt and sneaks downstairs to spy on his uncle. Now we are deep in grade A Thriller territory. We see the Doktor instructing three elderly men, who appear to be zombies, in reciting testimony. Unlike some Thriller makeup doozies, the zombies makeup is very effective. These gents do look extra undead. Fred quickly rushes back to call his other wife and vampire, Elizabeth Montgomery, but unfortunately she was off at a Masquerade...

    I agree with the other posters that the whole scene with Professor Angus is ill played, but thankfully, it's a minor detour.

    Molly is naturally curious and goes downstairs to see what all the fuss is about and encounters Boris and his gang of zombies. As is typical in any zombie encounter, Molly can't outrun them glacial gliding undead. More zombie coolness comes along in the form of some liquid feeding, followed by a quick battle and a sad and disturbing ending shot. Dick's other wife also ended her episode by closing her coffin...

    Robert Florey did a great job with this episode. Nice camera work, lighting and direction. The music was complimentary creepy.

    Three and a half Karloff zombies for Doktor Markesan.

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  15. Dr. Markesan is for me one of the best entries of the series. The atmosphere is oppressive, claustrophobic, Karloff, amazingly, given his age, literally at the top of his game. A great performance. A killer ending. What's not to like?

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  16. Oddly enough, I saw this episode in reruns when I was a kid. About all I remembered of it was the ending, and that line about how there ought to be a law requiring everyone to read old newspapers. (What a thing to remember).

    The only thing that keeps this episode from getting a perfect rating is that it's another episode that depends on the protagonists drinking the Dumb Water. Okay, I can see that they might have gotten so curious as to sneak out of the room in the first place. But for York to leave his wife alone in the house even after determining that there was a real danger, and not going back for her even after learning that Markesan was supposed to be dead (No, gotta check out the crypt first) was too ridiculous. When you determine that there's a real danger, you either leave immediately (or safer yet, wait until morning, then leave), and then talk all you want to anyone at the University that you like.

    So, did Markesan actually die, or did he fake his own death? There's an obvious problem in using any process to bring yourself back from the dead. You're not alive to pull the Third Switch, yell "My creation is alive!" or any of the other things you have to do to make it work.

    When we learn that Markesan is supposed to be dead, it becomes clear why he let them stay there. Don't want them going and telling anyone at the school that he's there. But they only intended to stay for a few days. Wouldn't he have faced the same problem when they got jobs and left? (Or did he see them as permanent sponges?) If he was planning to kill them when they left, why wait even that long?

    And what was his ultimate goal? To perfect the process to the point where they could live like normal people rather than zombies? Presumably. But if Karloff used the process on himself, he seems to be doing much better than the others. (He's still a spook, but he seems like a natural spook, if that makes sense). Oh well, maybe some of these questions will become clearer after hearing the commentary. On the whole though, despite the problems, a definite thumbs up for the episode.

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    1. "If he was planning to kill them when they left, why wait even that long?"
      ..................................
      Good question. There's a reasonable explanation. When the good Dr. M. saw Molly return from town toting a couple bags of groceries, he though, Hmm, I haven't had any food like that in a long time, and it would be nice change of place to sink my rotting teeth in a juicy pork chop for a change.

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  17. Another question I had about this one is the metaphysical status of the zombies. They don't seem to be in Markesan's "power". They talk back to him and object to his keeping them that way. At the end, one of them pulls the "Drop Chandelier on Markesan" lever. And yet they help him kill Carolyn Kearney. What's the deal with that?

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  18. And what was the point of killing Carolyn Kearney only to bring her back to life? If the point of killing her is to keep her quiet, wouldn't it be better to kill her for keeps?

    I don't mean to be too hard on the episode. Most horror stories seem to take place in a universe that has no horror literature (hence the surprise that they show). So when I ask a question like this, I'm not implying that there's no possible answer. From the leer on Markesan's face when he and the zombies had her cornered, I think I can imagine a reason why he brought her back, and it's definitely not the kind of rationale you'd explain on network TV.

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  19. Watching the commentary has revealed something that escaped me on the first viewing: Markesan left the door unlocked so that Carolyn Kearney could get out. To me this suggests that even if she hadn't disobeyed Dick York and left the room, that they would have come in after her. So my biggest problem with this episode is still the fact that he left her in the house in the first place.

    I still rate the episode highly, because it does so much right, and one line of dialogue explaining why he left her there might fix the problem. Say that he was afraid of them getting caught if they both left, so he was going to take the risk alone. That's fine, I'd buy that. Although I'd still be a bit disappointed that he didn't come right back for her before going to the crypt.

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  20. I just watched Markesan again tonight,--surprirse, surprise, I didn't even know it was scheduled--and it held up perfectly. It has cobwebs and bayou rot to spare. Karloff was sublime. Some of it made no sense but I accepted the episode as a kind of Weird Tales version of a Grimm's fairy tale. It wasn't supposed to be logical; and there was no psychology to speak of. There were rules, as laid down by the eponymous doctor, and if the young couple had played by them, got their file clerk jobs at the university, sought more suitable housing, they wouldn't have ended up as they did. They had been warned; and they didn't heed their host's warning.

    Viewed from (the admittedly deranged and megalomaniacal) Markesan's perspective, he was playing fair with the couple, even offered them money. They didn't, again, from his perspective, play fair with him. This reminded me as little of Edward Van Sloan's standing before the curtain intro to the 1931 Frankenstein ("well, you've been warned..."), with Karloff as Van Sloan. Fortunately, the viewer was more fortunate than the clueless, benighted young couple.

    (I dearly love the pigeons in bayou country episode, too, but it plays by different rules, would hate to have to choose between it and this one. It's more purely supernatural than spooky science, leaves even more questions unanswered, but it's elliptical, irrational qualities endear it to me. These are my top two Thrillers.)

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  21. barsh1956@sbcglobal.net

    Another episode I missed when first aired in 1962. I guess Night of the Living Dead set the bar high since I saw that in 1969 before viewing this episode last night. The scare factor was medium on a scale from 1 to 10. Pigeons was higher. Grim Reaper at the top. Even so, Karloff was superb. I saw him on some variety show not long before he passed away singing, "it was a mighty good year."

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    1. Correction-"It was a very good year".

      Boris Karloff performed a moving rendition of the song on The Jonathan Winters Show in 1968 at the age of 80,

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    2. I wish someone would upload that.

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    3. http://www.tv.com/shows/the-jonathan-winters-show/october-30-1968-1145361/

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    4. Jonathan's guests are Boris Karloff, Agnes Moorehead, Marjorie McCoy and the Craig Hundley Trio. Also joining him are Cliff Arquette and Pamela Rodgers. Comedy Sketches: Agnes Moorehead recites a scarry Halloween tale. A trick-or-treater (Jonathan) rings the doorbell of a mad doctor (Karloff) and his nurse (Moorehead). Jonathan plays elderly swinger Maude Frickert. Musical Highlights: Boris Karloff performs "It Was a Very Good Year." Marjorie McCoy and dancers do a "Samba" production number. The Craig Hundley Jazz Trio perform the "Theme from Black Orpheus."LESS

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  22. This may be my favorite episode of THRILLER. The ghost story/haunted house tropes are all here, but done with energy and commitment and confidence. It's certainly the episode I would show to anyone who wanted to know why some of still want to watch this very uneven series after all these years.

    It has genuine chills -- the image of Karloff forcing his enemies to relive their scorn again and again is truly grotesque and horrible. It is also -- if tilted another way -- blackly funny, a sly satire on the politics of Academia. In exactly the same way, the final image, the expression that Kearney gives York (who is a superb Everyman) is wonderful and horrible. Wonderful because they really went there, and also funny -- what wife hasn't glared at her husband reproachfully that way? The dark joke here is that it will happen for eternity. Wonderful episode, a last great flowering.

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  23. Watched it again tonight and once again, Markesan worked its charms.

    A couple of things:

    The business with Angus Holden (who looks rather young to be the head of a department of men so much older than himself) was like a mini-intermission, a time for the viewer to cool down, kick back and relax. There was also some much needed exposition to explain the spookiness of what had been going on over at Marse Markesan's.

    Second thing: I don't know if they give (or gave) Emmy awards to single TV episodes, but if they didn't they ought to have given a special one to the people who worked on this one. There were a lot of good makeup jobs on Thriller, from Harry Townes and the dude in the mirror right on through Miss Nesmith and, at last, Doktor Markesan & friends. Freakin' fantastic, right down to Karloff's fingers!

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  24. An episode that deserves every bit of the acclaim it's received, it has all the elements of the best Thrillers and then some. It's so bleak, so wonderfully atmospheric that the sense of doom in the house is palpable

    Karloff is in top form, able to evoke a fearsomeness in his appearance even before he says a word. And that half smile? Totally creepy. More proof (were it needed) that Karloff is in a league of his own when it comes to horror.

    The last scene is the great shocker, though after repeated viewings, there's something that's struck me as unintentionally funny. Fred searches for Molly, until he sticks his head through the curtains to discover her new self reclining in a coffin. His head peering through the dark curtains looked for all the world like someone about to get a pie in the face! Too bad Molly didn't oblige...well, know, I guess that might have made the ending just a wee bit anticlimactic. LOL

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  25. Karloff's use of his face as much as his voice was masterful. The way he looked up at the window of he master bedroom on his late night trip to the crypt was terrifying in itself.

    His face, the way he used his eyes, the stiff jerky movements, only goes to remind us what a physical actor BK was. Also, we can still see some of his Frankenstein body language in Markesan, He's much older now, playing a different sort of character, but it's there: Doktor Markesan is the living dead.

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  26. Is anyone else out there reading this cool, cool blog? I love THRILLER, enjoy even the worst episodes. I want to thank the folks that created this -- I haven't even read the Night Stalker blog yet; saving that one and will relish every word. I am a journalist today (unemployed, unfortunately) because of Carl!

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    1. In another post I mentioned the wikipedia article about Platt's (aka Boris Karloff''s) East Indian ancestry. The darker complexion? But, the superb British accent and fine old school pedigree for a very average class--the British actors and actresses. Think Masterpiece Theatre.

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