Friday, September 24, 2010

Choose A Victim: Season 1 Episode 19

Originally aired: 1/24/61
Starring Larry Blyden, Susan Oliver, Vaughn Taylor.
Written by George Bellak.
Directed by Richard Carlson.

Ralphie Teal (Blyden) is a beach bum and con-man. When he sets his sights on a particular hot tamale (Oliver), he doesn't realize he's getting in over his head. Of course, when a girl responds positively to your breaking into her room to rob her, you might want to assume something is up.

JS: Stop the press. This episode was directed by Richard Carlson, star of Creature from the Black Lagoon? All that running around half naked in the Universal backlot seven years earlier might explain the casual beachwear chosen for our boy Ralphie (channeling Freddie Mercury). If only we could have gotten Oliver in Julie Adams white one-piece!

PE: Dressed like Ralphie is, I fully expected him to give the raspberry to the waiting broad and look for a sailor ("not that there's anything wrong with that" he hastened to add). Not to belabor the point but... rolled up jeans shorts on a couple of drumsticks Colonel Sanders would ignore? Only in Thrillah-land. At least, we find out later that he has more than one set of clothes. When he breaks into Edith's bedroom one night looking for jewelry, he's wearing standard cat burglar duds. In this hilariously drawn-out scene, Ralphie stakes claim to "World's Noisiest Cat Burglar" as he accidentally opens a music box, fumbles with loud dresser drawers, and sets off the local air raid siren. Edith finally wakes and is so turned on by Ralphie's juvenile delinquency that she gives him "those eyes," and we're left to wonder if perhaps the girl has something untoward up her sleeve. How else could such a tomato fall for such a schlub?

JS: In an awkwardly transitioned scene,  we cut abruptly from Edith pulling away from Ralphie in her sports car to waves crashing as he stands over her sunning on the beach. In all fairness to Carlson, we do get Susan Oliver (Edith) in a black one-piece, firmly cementing her position as A Thriller A Day Babe of the Week. Ralphie was even nice enough to flick that one grain of sand off her leg (in the only scene that evokes intentional humor -PE).

PE: I couldn't help but wonder if Edith preferred her T-Bones over-cooked and shriveled.

JS: My biggest problem with "Choose A Victim" is that if you haven't figured out what's going on by the first commercial break, it's because you've already fallen asleep.

PE: A couple of spots along the way gave me hope that there might just be a twist at the signpost up ahead but nary a one was to be. This story found its way from Point A right to Point B with no distractions. Pity.

My eyes are up here, Sam.
JS: The episode is lacking any real stand out performances. As Edith's uncle, Vaughn Taylor is a disappointment. He doesn't command the screen the way his fellow Psycho alum Frank Albertson did in "Man in the Middle." And while it's always nice to see Billy Barty at work, he too was underutilized here. That said, one cannot help but appreciate Carlson's composition of this particular shot with Sam (Barty) and Fay (Tracey Roberts) on the boardwalk.

PE: I think the deadliest predator in the Thriller universe wasn't ghosts, ghouls, or women with money on their minds, it was lung cancer.



  1. I have to borrow these to view when I come home... between you and Peter - you're making them sound like they 'might' be good for some 'laughter'! : )

  2. I liked some of the "hip" words used in this episode like "let's swing", etc. Anonymous above mentions laughter. We better laugh at some of these early crime episodes, otherwise we would start shrieking insanely. Come to think of it, I HAVE been shrieking while watching some of these shows...

  3. Larry Blyden was a very talented screen and stage/musical performer (big Broadway shows like "Flower Drum Song" and "The Apple Tree"), but it's tough to understand why the Thriller guys felt he was the one to carry this episode; innnn..teresting choice. Interesting also that you guys highlighted the moment when he flicks the sand off of the lovely Susan Oliver's leg, then follows it by sheepishly saying.."sand..."; THAT's prime Blyden humor, which can be seen to full effect in TZ's "Showdown with Rance McGrew", the only successful comedy attempt in that series, I think. Still, Blyden's skill as an actor was solid enough to convey a real sense of sicko in the home-invasion scene in "Choose a Victim", and his natural, underlying "smirkiness" makes his performance even creepier.

    Susan Oliver = total babe. Funky indoor/rear-projection beach scenes always good for a chuckle. Larry's "beachbum bachelor pad" also a relic of the times, complete with an obviously fresh "textured" paint job on the front door, probably done by a crew member the morning they filmed the scenes.

    Interesting to see Guy Mitchell as the shorter cop/detective in the closing scenes. Mitchell was one of the finest and most enjoyable young popular singers of the 1950's, with such immortal hits as "Feet Up, Pat Him on the Popo" to his credit. Seriously, he was an excellent artist (discovered and promoted by the late Mitch Miller at Columbia records in 1950) whose career started to decline with the advent of Rock n' Roll. Wasn't much of an actor, but appeared occasionally onscreen.

    Again, I'm filling space here with this sideline stuff, since we're all waiting for the return of the good stuff on Thriller. Oh about Billy Barty's jump up onto the boardwalk counter and the backwards run? There's something I could watch on freeze-frame/slo-mo a couple of times a day to help pass those idle hours...

  4. "how about Billy Barty's jump up onto the boardwalk counter and the backwards run?"

    Larry -

    I considered embedding a video of that in today's entry... but I just couldn't justify the extra effort. I agree it's definitely worth checking out, though!

  5. Rapchak chose THIS episode to benchmark our THRILLER reunion less than a month ago. Details of the ensuing bloodbath are best not posted for too-sensitive internet types. But dammitall, it does occasionally evoke NIGHT TIDE with its "weird beach" setting ... and I don't see why anyone with a brain would be overly distressed by the disparity between actual outdoor footage and onstage rear-projection. It was the 1960s -- EVERYTHING was set-bound. The modern eye sees this more readily (and sniggers too easily), but that doesn't devalue, say, a Val Lewton film, which you'll find to be equally set-bound. In fact, therein lies much of the charm.

  6. Dave--

    And charm is the word I would also use--along with, in this case, cheese. You'll recall that, when I suggested we watch "Choose a Victim", I cited the interesting combo of Larry Blyden and Susan Oliver AND the hoaky feel to the beach settings, including the boardwalk arcade supposedly being right across the street from the store where Ms. Oliver parks her car. It's definitely one of the only things I'd look forward to viewing again in this episode, since it's an indispensable part of that old-time TV thing that holds us in its grip.


  7. Larry Blyden is fun to watch and Susan Oliver is far and away the best looking Thriller actress so far. Billy Barty is always neat. But another half-baked crime episode? I am very glad I get these from Netflix and did not spend $100 for this series. I was waiting and watching the internet for years and frankly, I'm disappointed with the first 19 episodes. Maybe 5 have been worth the trouble.

  8. Well, by now Jack, you'll have seen we're pretty much in agreement. A fun show at times but worth the classic status? Not from where I'm standing.

  9. The best part of this episode was Larry Blyden's short shorts. He looks like lieutenant Dangle from RENO 911. Busts me up.

    A bit a trivia about Larry Blyden, he had a successful career on stage and television before his early death at age 49. He died in an automobile accident in Morocco.

    Susan Oliver is certainly the hottest THRILLER babe so far. I guess it's time to discuss the actual episode. Do I have to? Another lame entry in the series. I always like Blyden and Oliver was a pleasant sight. Beyond that, not much more to say.

    "1 Karloff" for the embarrasing short shorts.

  10. You know that you're in for a bad time when you know the twist two minutes in. Karloff even alludes to it in his opening. Did anybody get fooled by the "twist" even in the early Sixties when every plot under the sun wasn't available 24/7? I find that hard to believe.

    I will say that this is the first episode where I felt my lack of context for the era was impeding what was being conveyed. Start with the short-shorts on the guy. I mean, that's got Castro in the Seventies written all over it (and roller-Castro at that) but the guy is obviously not meant to be gay. But I was having a hard time figuring out just what "type" he was supposed to be. Also, I had a hard time determining of what ilk the woman who liked him was supposed to be (the one that he spurns). Obviously a bit of a floozy but it wasn't entirely clear. Billy Barty, however, needs no context, and was by far the best part of this awful episode.

  11. How was Choose A Victim? I was too busy lusting after Susan Oliver to pay attention to the merits of this Frankie and Annette gone wrong Thriller.

    Yup, like everyone else here I couldn't stop chuckling over Ralphie's short shorts. I can picture him strolling along the boardwalk singing Queen's Seaside Rendezvous.

    For those of you who that were able to watch the original airings, I can fully understand your contempt for such substandard and off genre episodes. You trash them fairly. For a somewhat younger guy like me, the critic in me is brushed off the shoulder by the pop culture junkie. Reading the comments on the board, yeah, it's a hokey episode, but watching the queerly cast Ralphie do his shtick and getting to drool over Ms. Oliver is 45 minutes of entertainment for me. Was this really an accurate portrayal of beach culture circa 1960?

    I feel dumb that I didn't figure out the plot until past the half way point.

    Regarding Peter's comment about the deadliest predator in the Thriller universe being lung cancer, I looked up Susan's bio and found that she died of lung cancer...

    Susan talked me into giving Choose A Victim 2 Karloffs...

  12. I have a soft spot for anything with people like Larry Blyden and Susan Oliver, talented performers who died way too young (at least Blyden got his due as a performer on stage; Oliver ended her career doing cheap scifi and soaps). This episode, however, stretched the limits of nostalgia to the breaking point.l Yes, I loved Billy Barty and the tacky seaside setting (it reminded me of some of the '50s beach-set horror films), but I can see them both in more interesting films and TV shows.

    I had no trouble guessing the twist, either, but it's execution was far from satisfying. It basically relied on Oliver's character coming down with an extreme case of the stupids. Why go to all that effort to set up Blyden to take face the murder rap alone? All she had to do was keep her mouth shut and then go her own way, reminding him that blowing the whistle on her would have meant incriminating himself. That would have been a much stronger, more logical ending.

  13. This was pretty good, its really a rip off of Double Indemity, but since I like all those movies I'll give it 2 Karloffs, its only #45 out of 67 on my list. I always thought Susan Oliver was the sexiest woman alive, the end is
    really subpar.

  14. Absolutely love following these comments after each episode -I learn so much!
    Hynek shouldn`t feel dumb for not guessing the ending right away. I was certainly dumbfounded how Oliver could fall for Mr. Brylcreem and was hoping for some sort of twist - BUT my expectations for these crime thrillers was so low at this point I rather took the whole thing at face value.
    Early on in this blog someone compared these crime episodes to the old Inner Sanctum radio shows, but I think a fairer analogy would be The Whistler...
    Anyway, fun to see Billy Barty and I`ll agree with our hosts with one and a half Karloffs.

  15. I agree with much of what's been said in the comments. This ep was an interesting look at what appeared to some to be a burgeoning beatnick-hipster-surfer culture that did NOT emerge in those years but maybe in some locales was or seemed to be threatening to. In the end it evolved more into kid stuff with Gidget and then Frankie and (the late) Annette, followed by the Beach Boys, leaving the snarky hepcat lingo of Blyden's character in the dust, but the ep was a good try and I wasn't bored by it. In their own way both Larry Blyden and Susan Oliver delivered, and did well by the material considering what they had to work with (not much). A neat time capsule.

  16. If a Larry-Blyden-looking guy -- with no money, job, or (apparent) potential to get any of those -- can get even the 2nd-banana dame (with the 38 headlights) to get all gooey-gamed about him, then I really want a time machine to send me back to 1961.

  17. I've always had a problem watching Larry Blyden in an acting experience with him as a child was seeing him as the somewhat dorky game show host of Personality and What's My Line?. It wasn't until I got somewhat older that I finally got to see him act...most times, he's sleazy, whiny or both, and a little hard to take, although he's an adequate actor. Still, couldn't they have found someone more in the 'he-man' vein to play the beach bum?

    Susan Oliver was tres sexy in the femme fatale role, Billy Barty was, well, Billy Barty, and I liked watching Henry Corden, the future voice of Fred Flintstone, chewing scenery as one of the two cops who roust Blyden. All in all, it's a typical Thriller crime episode, not distinguishable from the hour-long Hitchcock episodes or Suspense Theater.

  18. Funny, I thought this episoe was better than most others on here. Too many twists at the end...would have been better had Oliver gotten away with it imo.

    1. I agree. I think it was pretty decent but too many twists at the very end.

  19. I guess you guys are sharper tools than I am: first time I watched this, I did not foresee the "double cross." I mean, accusing ingenue Susan Oliver of treachery is like calling Bernie Madoff an investment banker.

    Also, there's more than a little gap in continuity when, at one moment, Ralphie is chatting up his current babe while noticing the well-appointed Edith in her sports car; next minute Ralphie's under the hood of Edith's car.....but no one else sees him do it? What about Fay? It
    s not like we saw her walk off-scene. So the plausibility factor there is a little sketchy.

    As for Vaughn Taylor - he is a very capable and competent character actor (look up his IMDB credits) - it's not his fault they give him nothing to do in this 'uncle' role. Lastly, the backdrop for much of the action is at the beach (which has a carny arcade on premises), but do we get even a hint of atmosphere in this locale? Nothing. Unless of course, you count a cameo by Billy Barty as the dwarf/carnival barker. Paging Sid and Marty Krofft!

  20. Robert Garrick here (unwilling to open a Google account).

    There are some interesting things to say about this one. First, in the life-imitates-art category: star Larry Blyden would die young (age 49) while he was driving through Morocco, with valuables in his car. He was carjacked by bandits who killed him and stole his goods. Now where, have I heard that one before? Oh yeah--it was the plot of the previous episode, MAN IN A CAGE.

    Now that's weird. Too bad Blyden (real name: Ivan Blieden, from Houston) didn't have Barry Gordon around to call the cops.

    Blyden had been a close childhood friend of Rip Torn, who starred in an earlier Thriller episode, THE PURPLE ROOM.

    Guy Mitchell, who turned up at the end in a bit part, had been a major pop star in the 1950s. By modern standards, he should have had about a billion dollars in the bank. His records "Heartaches by the Number," "Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania," "Singin' the Blues," and "My Truly Truly Fair" (among others) were some of the biggest records of the decade.

    And yet here's Mitchell, after all of that, doing a walk-on part on a low-rated TV show. You wouldn't see Taylor Swift doing that.

    One of the things about this episode ("Choose a Victim") is that it's full of babes. For my money, the older woman, Tracey Roberts, is way hotter than Ann Oliver. But that's just me. Roberts was 47 years old when she did this episode--that was OLD by 1961 standards for a sexy female star. It's also worth noting that Guy Mitchell was briefly married, back in the 1950s, to an extremely attractive Playboy Playmate. As I recall she was Scandinavian. The marriage was over in a flash, and I'll gratuitously note that Mitchell was only five-foot-six. But it was probably a good week or two for him. As for Larry Blyden, he was married to knockout dancer Carol Haney for seven years, while both of them were on Broadway in a number of musicals.