Thursday, September 30, 2010

Trio For Terror: Season 1 Episode 25

Originally aired: 3/14/61
Starring John Abbott, Reginald Owen, and Robin Hughes.
Written by Barre Lyndon, based on stories by August Derleth (as Stephen Grendon), Wilkie Collins, and Nelson Bond.
Directed by Ida Lupino.

For the first time, three separate stories make up this unique Thriller. In the first segment, Simon (Richard Lupino) plans to kill his uncle to get at his fortune, not realizing that killing a warlock can have drawbacks. In the second segment, after winning big in the Casino, Mr. Collins (Hughes) just needs to live through the night. In the final segment, a killer gets a private tour of a museum of 'lifelike models of infamous persons'... although he can't figure out why the figures on display appear to be stone instead of wax.

JS: What makes this episode so unique is that rather than a single long episode, we're treated to three separate tales. While none of the three are on par with the best of Thriller, there was only one that I thought was a dog.

PE: Right. As David J. Schow says in his commentary, an anthology within an anthology. I thought two of the stories were bland and predictable and one was okay but I'm not here to argue. Just get me to the next good episode quickly. How about "Well of Doom 2"?

JS: I guess we should tackle the segments one at a time. "The Extra Passenger" has its share of interesting imagery - there are some nice shots in Uncle Julian's place, and extra points for the rooster standing guard. I imagine Lupino was trying to convey something every time she shot a character through a glass object, I just haven't got a clue what. The extra passenger of the title was sufficiently creepy - but what made this episode for me was the return of the Giant Claw!

PE: I love when the doctor says "Only one thing could have made these marks. A giant gaming cock!" Really? That's the first thing that pops into this guy's mind? Sounds like something a character in an August Derleth story would say. Oh, right! Never mind.

JS: In the second segment, "A Terribly Strange Bed," things get silly rather quickly. I found this episode the least interesting of the three. Perhaps of value only for a bad-bed double feature with Death Bed: The Bed That Eats.

PE: I couldn't figure out if Collins knew what was going on the whole time and feigned his drunkenness or if he just suddenly sobered up when faced with peril. The only thing that held my attention in this rare "humorous" episode was Robin Hughes. I thought I recognized him and Gary Gerani reminded me (in his commentary) that Hughes played The Thing That Couldn't Die. I didn't recognize him with a body.

JS: In the final segment, "The Mask of Medusa," we're treated to a grand tour of Mr. Milo's chamber of horrors. Not only is Mr. Milo (Abbott) great (I particularly like his reveal), but Michael Pate gives an excellent performance as the strangler. I'm pleased I didn't know the name of this segment, or it would have ruined a very cool surprise ending. Which is now ruined for everyone.

PE: Yeah, for me, this was the only passable segment and I didn't see the twist coming. Early on, I thought they were setting us up to tell us that - SURPRISE - Milo killed his subjects and covered them in some kind of cement. Needless to say, Ray Harryhausen was not called in to supply special effects for the titular madame. Overall, not a very good episode.

JS: It's no Trilogy of Terror, that's for sure.

PE: It's not even Dr. Terror's House of Horrors.


The Lovely Ladies of Thriller: Part Two - Ida Lupino

Welcome to the second installment of the lovely ladies of Thriller! This time, out were turning our attention to one particular lady, the lovely Ida Lupino! Despite not starring in the show, Lupino directed 9 episodes of Thriller. We think it's fair to say she's the loveliest lady of Thriller behind the camera - and therefore deserving of special recognition here.

To kick things off, our mysterious benefactor sent along this link to a video to share.

And of course, it wouldn't be complete without a photo gallery!

 Check back later today for our review of Lupino's first directorial effort for Thriller - "Trio for Terror."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Ordeal of Dr. Cordell: Season 1 Episode 24

Originally aired: 3/7/61
Starring Robert Vaughn, Kathleen Crowley, Robert Ellenstein.
Written by Donald S. Sanford.
Directed by Laslo Benedek.

While working in his lab, University scientist Dr. Frank Cordell (Robert Vaughn) accidentally mixes Methylindole with Polonium and, as anyone versed in the two chemicals can attest, experiences a loss of pulse. If this was the only problem the good doctor experienced, this would be a very short episode.

PE: Cordell finds whenever he hears a bell ringing, the whole world sways, he squishes his face in his hands, and becomes a teenage werewolf.

JS: Is that what was going on? I thought he was turning into Dennis Hopper. Interestingly enough, I found myself squishing my head in my hands several times throughout this episode.

PE: I think in some alternate Thriller universe, Gil Thrasher (The Shat) and Carolyn the Assistant (Alice Backes) had a love child before Gil threw himself out of the castle window and Dr. Frank Cordell is the result. I know all the Robert Vaughn fans will come to his defense and remind me that he was gold in Man From U.N.C.L.E. and I'll give you he was solid in Bullitt but here he's just another scenery chewer.

JS: I don't get it. Just a year earlier he was great in The Magnificent Seven. Did you like how he interrogated That Girl when she inadvertently stumbled into his unlocked lab? With all the beakers and gas masks, you can understand how she thought it was the library. I tell you she had it coming.

PE: And to think we did our commentary on "The Fatal Impulse." If only we'd have been a bit more patient. We should have known something more ludicrous was just up over the next grassy knoll.

JS: Unfortunately, this episode lacks the entertaining charm that made "The Fatal Impulse" so watchable. If this were "The Ordeal of No Deal of Dr. Cordell" I'd go with No Deal.

PE: My Thrillah moments- After a co-ed is found viciously murdered (well, we're told her little bell earrings have been ripped off), the investigating detective (Russ Conway) asks an M.D. (an M.D. I repeat) his advice:
"Do you remember those deep scratches on her earlobes? Well, you were right, she was wearing earrings. The killer did tear them off. My men just found them about thirty yards from the scene. What kind of a psycho would ignore her wristwatch and the money in her purse and just take a worthless little thing like this?"
Then, later, the good doctor attends a pep rally and is thrown yet again into a psychotic frenzy by a pretty girl with a bell. First he strangles the cinematographer for the episode (Benjamin H. Kline) and then goes on to murder the young lady.

JS: I think my favorite came during the pre-credit sequence. With Frank unconscious, they have to suck the nasty gas out of the chamber. The other Doctor decides to eyeball it, and jumps in the room despite our being able to see visible vapors (let alone those deadly invisible gasses...).

PE: (SPOILER ALERT) When Cordell tries to warn his assistant, the lovely Dr. Lois Walker (Crowley) about the debilitating effects of the gas they've been experimenting with, she suggests they meet to talk about it in... oh, you guessed, a chapel. Cordell, being the genius that he is, perhaps forgets that it's bells that trigger his nuttiness and face squishing, and chapels tend to have really big bells. These scientific geniuses can be absent-minded, you know. When the bell begins ringing, Frank heads up top to try to silence it. He gets bonged back and forth and this leads, inevitably, to another unconvincing fall from a great height by a Thriller star (which brings this back full circle to Gil Thrasher). "The Ordeal of Dr. Cordell"? What about the ordeal of the A Thriller A Day guys?


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Well of Doom: Season 1 Episode 23

Originally aired: 2/28/61
Starring Ronald Howard, Henry Daniell, Torin Thatcher.
Written by Donald S. Sanford, based on the story by John Clemons.
Directed by John Brahm.

Robert Penrose (Howard) and his butler Jeremy Teal (Thatcher) are kidnapped by the ghoulish Moloch (Daniell) and giant Styx (Richard Kiel). Teal is murdered and Penrose is taken to an underground dungeon, where he finds his fiance, Laura (Fintan Meyler), gagged and bound behind bars. Penrose must find a way to get out of the dungeon before Moloch can hatch his evil plan.

JS: Wow! Talk about a pleasant surprise. There's something to be said about going into an episode with no expectations. While not perfect, this is a great show from start to finish.

PE: Why is it that when the best Thriller episodes are debated, I've never heard "Well of Doom" discussed? Looking very much like Lon Chaney in London After Midnight, Henry Daniell is suitably creepy, the lines and valleys on his face (is it me or does his face seem to be melting?) more hideous than some of the monster make-ups in these shows. The peril facing Penrose and Laura seems real at all times until—SPOILER ALERT—well, crap, it not only borrows Chaney's look from London After Midnight, it also cops its climax.

JS: That aspect didn't bother me too much. It was just cool to see a man in a beaver hat chewing up the scenery like one could only imagine Chaney doing. One more thing about the ending - I have to take back what I said previously about Quentin Tarantino lifting the ending to Reservoir Dogs from the climax of "Man in the Middle." Clearly he got it from "Well of Doom."

Thrilling Mystery - 05/36: Adventure House Presents:PE: Never before have I seen such a perfect dramatization of a "shudder pulp." Being that the story came from one of the oft-derided mystery/horror pulps of the 1930s (the May 1936 issue of Thrilling Mystery to be exact), it's not too much of a stretch. The show literally smells of pulp paper and typewriters hot to the touch. It's also probably the only time you'll ever get to see Richard Kiel in a tutu.
JS: That reveal of Kiel was pretty darn effective - seeing him towering in the fog. What amazed me in this episode was that despite it being clear that they were walking through a fog enshrouded soundstage, it doesn't take away from the atmosphere that is built up. I was even willing to forgive Torin Thatcher's pratfall in the moors.

PE: Composer Jerry Goldsmith adds yet another feather to his cap. His score amps up the tension twenty-fold.

JS: I'm beginning to feel bad for Pete Rugolo, who had good and bad days working on Thriller, because frankly listening to one Goldsmith track after another, he sure makes the job seem effortless. Then again, look at Goldsmith's body of work. If he's written a bad score, somebody please point it out, just so I can say I know what bad Jerry Goldsmith sounds like. In this episode in particular, you get cool, elaborate scenes sans dialog, with only the score to carry them, and they work perfectly.

PE: For those interested in reading the original story (and not wanting to fork over lots of dough for a moldy old rag that could become dust at any moment), the issue of Thrilling Mystery that contained "The Well of Doom" was recently reprinted by John Gunnison's Adventure House. You can order it here.

JS: I was left with one lingering question when all was said and done. Do you think Penrose's buddies still had the bachelor party without him?

PE: Gary Gerani and David J. Schow deliver, in my opinion, the most entertaining and informative commentary yet. For this blog, I watch the episode first then watch it again with commentary. I'd like to thanks Messrs. Gerani and Schow for making my job on this particular show that much harder. Most of my notes ended up in the bin since most of my observations were voiced during the boys' party in front of the tube. I swear I had "This is just like London After Midnight" and "this reeks of shudder pulps" before I listened. No, really.

JS: Two words I would use to describe this commentary - unbridled enthusiasm. My favorite commentaries have always been those where it's clear the participants are having a good time (John Carpenter & Kurt Russell, anyone?), and that's definitely the case here. I personally can't wait to read David J. Schow's Adventures of Moloch and Styx.


We interrupt this program for a special announcement...

I wanted to take a moment to recognize our elder statesman, who is celebrating his birthday today. Here he is holding his gift, which won't actually be released for another month. Despite that, the smile is 100% genuine.

Happy birthday, Pete!

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Fingers of Fear: Season 1 Episode 22

Originally aired: 2/21/61
Starring Nehemiah Persoff, Robert Middleton, Kevin Hagen.
Written by Robert Hardy Andrews, based on the novel by Philip MacDonald.
Directed by Jules Bricken.

A child murderer is terrorizing the Universal backlot and the chief suspect seems to be troubled dishwasher Ohrback (Middleton). Police Lieutenant Jim Wagner (Persoff) and his partner Sgt. Spivak are hell-bent on developing a case against Ohrback when some new evidence leads to doubt in the Lieutenant.

JS: I'd like to take a moment to offer up a Thriller A Day public service announcement. Here's how to determine who's the killer in an episode of Thriller. Watch for a character that looks like Dr. Deadly from the old Aurora Monster Scenes kit. Observe how all the evidence in the world points to him. Police sketch. Murder weapon. Throw in a couple of eye-witnesses that place him at the scene of the crime. Then, and only then, can you be sure the killer is someone else that has not yet been introduced.

PE: What I want to know is why the director never thought to wake Persoff from his nap. Was the actor paid for his five days of sleep and mumbling? Through the first 22 episodes, I can easily point to this performance as the weakest of any "major" star to appear in Thriller. His idea of a punctuation to a delivered line is to get up from the table (sometimes while the other character is still talking) and walk out. To be fair, by the end of the episode, I could understand why Persoff kept nodding off.

JS: I was beginning to wonder if he thought they were still doing rehearsals when they shot his scenes.

PE: When a witness is brought in for questioning, he admits to seeing Ohrback in the park where a girl is found murdered, in the middle of the night, unsheathing his hunting knife, with a maniacal grin on his face. "There was something creepy about him." The man declares. Hmmm. Let's go over the checklist...

JS: Call me crazy, but I thought they were actually getting clever, and it would turn out that the witness was actually the killer, and he was setting up old double-ugly to take the fall. But no. Let's spend a few reels setting up the obvious suspect and worry about introducing the real killer later.

PE: How many times was the description "Big a monster in the movies" bandied about by different characters?

JS: In all fairness, if the shoe fits...

You've gotta love Ohrback's co-worker. The guy jokes about how Ohrback looks exactly like the police sketch, drives a car that exactly matches the description of the killer's, and yet he does not think to contact the police. He doesn't even say anything to the cops when they show up to talk to Ohrback!

PE: My favorite Thrillah moments: a kindly hispanic hunting knife sheath-maker is interviewed by the police. He admits to having made a sheath for Ohrback's mighty spear but doesn't want to get him in trouble because he's such a nice guy. Later, when asked to identify Ohrback, the man steps up to him and says "Yes, this is him. I SPIT ON YOU!" and does so, cursing Ohrback.

Later, Cathy (Lt. Wagner's daughter) comes home with a friend, Little Joan. (I think her name was just Joan. -JS) Cathy explains to her father that she was going to go to the park with Joan but she'd rather shoot the bull with the old man ("Have you busted any big, ugly, monster-movie dudes lately, pop?"). As Joan turns to walk out, she says goodbye to Cathy, the Lieutenant and his wife, and walks out the door with a huge "Next Victim" sign attached to her.

JS: That's not the worst of it—Wagner then proceeds to watch Joan walk down the street towards the park, turning away just as she stops to get into a stranger's car.
Might these be "The Fingers of Fear" from the title?
PE: I have to admit that, much like the previous episode, I was convinced I knew the true identity of the killer and was fooled again. In my defense, writer Andrews didn't really play fair since we're not let in on the true story until the final minutes of the show. Wagner, convinced of Ohrback's guilt, rides him constantly. Once we've seen the reveal though, the dynamic of the show changes. Wagner suddenly wants to look at every angle and becomes convinced he has the wrong man, despite a trip to Ohrback's cell where the dishwasher acts even crazier than he did before!

JS: Yeah. When Igor lies on his prison cot and drools as he talks about "liking little girls" and crying about his broken teddy bear—best let him spend his golden years behind bars, regardless of whether or not he's responsible for this specific crime being investigated.

I think my favorite bit was the one Spielberg (or Benchley) stole for Jaws. Aside from the fact that I couldn't figure out what the hell would draw tourists to his small town (Perhaps the Tram tour? -PE), I did chuckle when Persoff mumbled, "We better catch somebody and kill 'em before we lose the tourist trade." My wife was upset that he didn''t run his fingernails across the chalkboard, first.

PE: You gotta love those 1960s police labs where they're always boiling something in a beaker.

JS: If not for that new-fangled scientific evidence, they would have thrown out the other physical evidence that led them to the real killer.

PE: As much as Jerry Goldsmith's haunting score made a bad episode bearable ("Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook"), Pete Rugolo makes this bad show even worse with his annoying sounds. I would say the only highlight to this show is its bizarrely abrupt climax. It's a great scene but it's approximately 10 seconds in a 47 minute barrel of blah.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Merriweather File: Season 1 Episode 21

Originally aired: 2/14/61
Starring James Gregory, Bethel Leslie, Ross Elliott.
Written by John Kneubuhl based on the novel by Lionel White.
Directed by John Brahm.

Someone's trying to kill Mrs. Ann Merriweather (Leslie) while her husband, Charles (Elliott), is on the road working. Perhaps because she backed over their son Billy with the family truckster all those years ago? Things go from bad to worse when a dead man is found in Charles' trunk. Thanks goodness, Ann has her kindly neighbor Howard (Gregory) to support her while Charles rots in jail.

JS: I had higher hopes after the promising opening, where the cat burglar breaks in, turns on the gas, and leaves—plugging the hole made in the door window with a child's ball. The rest of the episode basically plays out as you try to anticipate the twists and turns the writer has mapped out.

PE: And a whole big bunch of balderdash those twists are, I might add. As Boris is my witness, the first thing that came through my head last night, as I watched the "masked phantom" attempt to murder Ann, was: "That's a chick." It has nothing to do with the fact that I had seen this episode before because, just as I did last night, I'm sure I fell asleep before the "big reveal." Incidentally, "The Merriweather File" is based on the novel by Lionel White, one of the best of the Gold Medal crime writers of the 1950s. White also wrote the novel Clean Break, basis for the classic Stanley Kubrick film, The Killing (1956), starring Sterling Hayden and our old friend, Elisha Cook.

JS: I'm a big fan of James "The only good human is a dead human!" Gregory, so it was fun being able to follow along as he tracks the strange trail of breadcrumbs leading to the otherwise unsatisfying conclusion.

PE: Unsatisfying conclusion? You mean that six minute climactic exposition? I get the feeling that when the Thriller writers are working from a novel, they get really excited and forget until the last minute that they have to condense hundreds of pages into fifty minutes of screen time. When they realize they've spent forty five on the first half of the book, they panic and add a "and so this is what happened afterwards" for the last five. I thought at any moment Police Lieutenant Giddeon (Edward Binns) would don a Deerstalker and pipe and say "Elementary, My dear Howard..." It's not just unsatisfying, it's ludicrous.

JS: I don't know why you made such a big deal about Charles rotting in jail. No sooner than the prosecutors closing statements were read and the room lights dimmed from his electrocution. Ah, the good old days when justice was swift. As far as we know, Howard didn't even mount a defense—do you think he had an ulterior motive?

PE: Getting out of this episode? Ross Elliott did have a short stint on Sea Hunt to get to that year.

JS: When the police Lieutenant comes to visit Howard, he starts off with, "Maybe I better tell you in sequence." I want to personally thank him for preventing me to go back over and re-watch the scenes I snoozed through (I was waiting for Gregory to light the Christmas tree on fire with the ever-present ciggy while he was tinseling. -PE). What I don't get is why he let the real killer go free. Does he think double-jeopardy applies to all possible suspects once someone is convicted of a crime?

PE: (SPOILER ALERT) I laughed my Doritos right through my nose (man, that hurt) when the cop delivers the bad news that Ann was actually responsible for everything. He shrugs, walks out the door, and probably sighs "Oh well, I've already executed someone for the murder. It's off my books. She's yer problem now!" And how about the slightly disgruntled look on James Gregory's face when he finds out that his new wife is responsible for the frame and execution of his best friend. She's gotta be a tigress in bed. It was a nice touch that Gregory, a suspicious character right from the start, ends up being an innocent bystander in the whole mess.

JS: After seeing the photo of the stowaway in the trunk, I thought it would have been cool if they had used Karloff for the bit part. It could almost pass for him...


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook: Season 1 Episode 20

Originally aired: 2/7/61
Starring Kenneth Haigh, Audrey Dalton, Alan Napier.
Written by Allan Caillou.
Directed by Herschel Daugherty.

A killer is stalking the English village of Dark Woods and the townfolk, a superstitious lot, are at the end of their rope. Enter Detective Inspector Harry Roberts (Haigh), sent from Scotland Yard (which is actually in London despite its confusing title) on honeymoon with his new bride, Nesta (Dalton). What Roberts discovers is a secret cult that burns women as witches. Nesta seems to be on the menu when she sees a mysterious black dog, invisible to all but witches. Somnia ensues.

JS: Allow me to add:
In ancient times, hundreds of years before the dawn of history, lived a strange race of people—the Druids. No one knows who they were, or what they were doing, but their legacy remains, hewn into the living rock of Stonehenge...
PE: Another of the Thrillers that really doesn't know what it wants to be: stylish and atmospheric at times, other times boring and filled with grade school theater acting. "Hay-Fork" begins with one of the eeriest and effective openings of the series: an elderly village man, carrying a Hay-Fork and babbling to no one in particular about "all the beasts of the forest" and the "cattle of a thousand hills," shambles through a field at night. He's chased by something menacing and finally run through with his own fork with a nasty "chunk" coda (Don't forget the bill-hook! -JS), all surrounded by druid stones and a menacing Jerry Goldsmith score.

JS: Yeah, yet another winner from Goldsmith, although there were long stretches where we were forced to go without music... I found that playing the opening of Spinal Tap's "Stonehenge" made for a good gap-filler. Unfortunately, the rest of the episode lacked the odd angles that made the opening particularly captivating.

PE: This episode very much reminded me of a black and white Hammer film. If only the episode had ended there. It's all over the map, mixing in black devil dogs, witch burnings, and murderers who favor farming tools and not really coming up with anything edible. And about that aforementioned devil dog: we're told it's an ominous, frightening vision, but when it reveals itself in the light (I'll be damned if it didn't interrupt Dalton while she was disrobing! -JS) , the poor mutt is more Benji than Hound of the Baskervilles.

JS: Yes, this was easily the least convincing black devil dog I've ever seen. Not only that, but it looks like they utilized multiple mangy mutts to do the trick. I'm not even sure they were the same breed! Strangest of all, how is it that both times I declared my choice for the Babe of the Week, Audrey Dalton shows up in the next episode!

PE: I think Kenneth Haigh went to the world famous "Mickey Dolenz School of Method Acting." When he shows displeasure (which is quite often) he simply rolls his eyes. I was beginning to believe that Inspector Harry Roberts was, in fact, a defective detective like Ironside, Longstreet, or Monk. In this case, some kind of neurological disorder. That, or the boy with the cue cards kept changing positions. It was also tough for me to picture the Los Angeles hillside as an English village.

JS: Listen to you. You sound like a bitter old Englishman, and you're not even an official ex-pat. Stay on the roads, keep clear of the moors, pip-pip, cheerio and all that.

PE: When all else fails, just hit the pause button on any scene with Audrey Dalton and stare at her arched right eyebrow. As Alan Napier once told me about the fiery vixen: "She's dark and pretty like you say but that smoldering down in cider - you never know when the flame'll burn through and then where are ya? I ask ya? Where'll ya be then?" I don't know about the cider part but the rest I buy... I think.

JS: In cider? Do you think maybe he said, "inside her," Pete? I do have to give Napier credit. He so registered as Alfred Pennyworth in his brief role in "The Purple Room" (despite that pre-dating Batman by several years), whereas here I was able to set aside the association completely. And when he is asked the ridiculous question, "Did she talk to herself when she was alone..." he gave the same witty comeback that I did, "I don't know. I was never with her when she was alone." I don't think my wife was impressed when Napier said the same line right after I did, but I kinda was...

PE: Did you happen to notice that Nesta visits the same library we saw Mary Tyler Moore studying at in the now-infamous "The Fatal Impulse." There Nesta meets up with the man who stole Mary's spectacle lenses.

JS: I did! At least this time they had the good sense not to film the back side of the single-width shelves.

PE: My favorite "Thrillah-moment" for this episode: while DI Roberts is on stakeout, waiting for bad guys, his wife is being kidnapped. Luckily for Roberts, the legendary "black dog" arrives to bark a warning to the detective. Roberts at first shoos the dog away but then listens intently to the dog and then dashes madly home to help his wife, the message finally having gotten through: "Uh, hey buddy, yer wife's in deep doo-doo."

JS: Yes, it was a very touching Shaggy & Scooby moment.