Monday, September 20, 2010

The Fatal Impulse: Season 1 Episode 11

Originally aired: 11/29/60
Starring Robert Lansing, Elisha Cook, Jr., Whitney Blake, Conrad Nagel, Mary Tyler Moore.
Written by Philip MacDonald based on the story by John D. MacDonald.
Directed by Gerald Mayer.

A nutjob (Cook) out to kill a mayoral candidate (Nagel) gets caught in the act of planting a bomb, and slips it into the purse of one of the office girls in the building where his target works. Lt. Rome (Lansing) has just a few hours to find the gal with a bomb in her purse before it explodes at 11pm.

Your first selection in the Nutjob Book-of-the-Month Club.

JS: There are good episodes ("The Cheaters"), there are bad episodes ("The Mark of the Hand"), and there are episodes like this, that are just so darn wacky you can't help but enjoy them. We apologize again for our breaking the broadcast order of our presentation of reviews, but it was necessary to accommodate this special presentation, our A Thriller A Day exclusive audio commentary track for "The Fatal Impulse."

Police Lieutenant, or Outer Limits alien?

PE: How could you not enjoy a couple guys high on something performing their hearts out? And then there's John and I doing commentary. What a lot of fun this was. I missed the Jets-Pats game for this? Anyone have the score? Tune in next week when we present our commentary for the pilot of Mister Ed.

Don't mind me folks, I'm a professional...

JS: We're pleased to finally offer our exclusive audio commentary for "The Fatal Impulse" below or on YouTube!



  1. I first viewed this episode a couple years ago on a bootleg set of Thriller. Then I watched it again recently for the "thriller a day" homework assignment but you guys skipped the episode and I thought I was going to escape thinking about it after all. Now the last straw was having to watch it a third time while listening to your commentary. I made it through the first 15 minutes but then had to shut it off to protect my sanity. Actually there is nothing left to protect. Is "The Hungry Glass" here yet? I'd like to jump into the mirror.

  2. Another satisfied customer! :>

  3. Can we use "I made it through the first 15 minutes but then had to shut it off to protect my sanity" as a blurb for our commentary track? We just need to confirm that we're getting the credit for that, and not the episode itself. I don't want to be party to a "(Probably) the Best Horror Series Put on TV" scandal...

    And Pete, I told you that we should have offered the monetary reward at the start of the track.

  4. Geez, guys...I don't know. I started to listen to your commentary, but really didn't want to sit through this show again. Everyone involved in this episode was trying WAY too hard; it's too hyped-up in every way. The result is a show that comes off more than a little amateurish.

    Here's some highlights:

    Elisha the gimp uses the old camera stand-light on Hannigan's head; I believe Moe Howard uses that same routine a couple of times on his colleagues. Then.. what's this? Oh, man... now Hannigan's got chocolate syrup all over his face.
    Then Gimpy runs down the hall my favorite silly moment from this episode, the clock strikes five and immediately, RIGHT ON CUE, as if the assistant director, positioned off-camera, said "GO"---- EVERY woman on the floor, in EVERY office comes filing out of EVERY door, ALL in their coats, hats n' gloves (and handbags, natch..). Did their bosses all give them five minutes of free time to get ready to file out of the office doors precisely at 5pm? Sorry, but things like this in a "serious, hard-hitting" drama drive me nuts. Of course, one can overlook an occasional eyeball-roller like this; problem is, the TONE of this entire episode borders on such overwrought silliness.

    How about the scene in Mr. and Mrs. Dahlquiss' apartment? Upon discovering that there was no bomb, BUT that the Missus had been two-timing her hubby (Harry Bartell), I half-expected the cop to say: "No bomb, Mr. Dahlquiss; you can start beating your wife now" as he made his exit.

    Also..Robert Lansing was a good actor, but that Jack Pierce-style brow is tough to take. Also, creepy Lance Fuller uses too much eye liner. But Whitney Blake is a total babe.

    THE END.


  5. What this episode needed to achieve outright lunacy was a never-ending loop at the end, one where Lt. Rome keeps returning to the residence, interrupting the couple again and again...and still never finding the bomb.

    "I'm sorry Miss Kimball but have we looked under the couch cushions yet? The floor boards? The ice box? Your underwear drawer? The medicine cabinet? That pile of skin mags? Your cats litter box? That bedside wastebasket full of empty gin bottles and condom wrappers...?"

  6. A few weeks ago I got my very own box set of Thriller the same day you guys released your commentary, so the first Thriller episode I watched was Fatal Impulse along with your commentary (too bad no subtitles). I have to say that your commentary made Fatal Impulse enjoyable to watch--and you can use that blurb, but I expect some sort of kickback. Or you could just throw me a Bone.

    I agree with you, John, that this episode is just too darn wacky not to enjoy. I appreciated its silliness, but then I would. I especially like the bit where all the women dash out of their offices at 5 on the dot. I think that was a deliberate comment on women in the workplace (ah, the sweet 60's when the highest level in the company a woman could aspire to was secretary and men still called women they didn't know 'honey').

    My favorite part is at the end when Miss Kimball invites the good Lt. Rome to stay for coffee and he replies, "Suddenly I feel a GREAT need for a cup of coffee." Hilarious. After seeing how he handled the case though, I have a feeling he was just feeling tired and thirsty and was not having a George Costanza realization ("Coffee doesn't mean coffee! Coffee means sex!"). It was fun to watch with you two in the peanut gallery. Hope you'll do another.

  7. Christine is spot on: “Coffee” = sex. “Dinner out” = EXPECTED sex. “Innocent flirting” = groping and harassment … and EVERYBODY was bombed most of the time.

    Welcome to 1961, still just far enough away from the end of World War II where men were still men (as long as they were white) and women still knew their “place” — as brood mares for the suburban nuclear family. (As a product of that grimly-determined fornicatory era, I can attest that it all didn’t work out like gangbusters for the parents involved.) A period where the men were, culturally, as victimized and vaporlocked as the women they put on pedestals to idolize … but actually, just to look up their skirts.

    It was the era of THE MAN IN THE GREY FLANNEL SUIT, the three-martini lunch and the mandated five o’clock cocktail, when the steno pool basically equaled a meat-rack menu, when wacky drunks were still funny, since virtually everybody was inebriated anyway, right before Valium hit it big.

    By now you’ve discovered that the fearsomely dedicated John & Pete have undertaken to tackle every single episode of THRILLER. So no matter which episode you choose to watch, J&E are walking point … and I bet eventually they screw their courage to the sticking point enough to jam in another feisty audio commentary.

    As you plow through subsequent THRILLERs, an even more fundamental question will arise: How did most of these couples in these shows get married in the first place? I’m afraid the answer in most cases is: Because they were drunk and it seemed like a good idea at the time. And many THRILLERs are vitally concerned with how the whole illusion falls apart for the characters, usually with homicidal or supernatural assistance.

  8. No comments on Mary Tyler Moore? How about Boris calling the episode "The Impulse"? There was so much to like about this one, especially when Lansing's partner predicts the ending and Lansing tells him he should write for TV.

  9. Jack-
    All that (and too much more) is covered in the audio commentary downloadable above.

  10. Jack:

    I would comment on Mary Tyler Moore, but why bother? Apart from her notably mind-boggling stems (see a forthcoming installment of LADIES OF THRILLER), and the sheer nepotism of casting her in the first place, there's not much there but air. She resurges in Season Two in an actual role (in "Man of Mystery"), but in S2 she has to compete with the spellbinding Liz Montgomery (who spends most of "Masquerade" running around in an abbreviated skirt and spectacular heels). No contest!

  11. I did sit through the commentary and now feel no need to BONE up further on this spellbinding episode. It was much more enjoyable than the commentaries on the DVDs to date--"The Twisted Image" (zzzz), "The Purple Room" (double zzzz)--but I have high hopes for "The Cheaters"--gotta be a commentary there!

  12. Jack-
    It's very kind of you to say what everyone else only hinted at. As far as any of the other commentaries outshining ours? Don't hold your breath. Ours was one of a kind. Although the one we were set to cut for Pigeons From Hell would have been a real corker!
    Would a double zzzz be zzzzzzzz?

  13. Hey Jack -

    Email me your address and I'll get your "Fatal Impulse" commentary survivor's prize in the mail to you.


    Thanks for listening!

  14. Nope, sorry. Can't view this episode one more time -- maybe i'll play your commentary over one of the episodes of Alias Smith and Jones or Bonanza that's spinning in my cue. I'll just imagine your hairpulling and teeth grinding is coming from Hoss' horse.
    What tedium. At some point Whitney Blake should have just called for a restraining order on Rome; either that, or she should have prayed that the bomb would have detonated an hour earlier. There was suspense, like 'when's mary tyler moore going to appear?' and 'what did hubbell robinson hold on ed nelson to make him be such a stooge -- and not even get better billing than one-scene Mary?'
    Whitney Blake was a looker -- and i didn't know that she was the mom of Bridget Loves Bernie's meredith baxter (maybe my references are a tad dated?)...
    Gerald Mayer was the nephew of Louis B., born in Montreal. I'm guessing he had as much right being a goalie for Les Habs as he did directing a TV show (ok, he also did 'Man in a Cage' - i'm so eager to see that one now)... Maybe most of the blame should fall on Philip Macdonald, who grinded out more dreary cliched exposition than you'd find on a year of 2 and 1/2 men. It couldn't have been with John D. Macdonald, although they'd have probably had a better chance at turning out a decent thriller based on one of his Travis McGee potboilers.
    that's it, i've found all i could say about this one. This four Karloff (out of 10!) rating was meant to be equally as tedious. The comment section at this end (especially with Ursula now leading the way -- poor John Williams' and the classics!) is highly neglected, anyways.

  15. Awful. You rated it too hight. It plodded. Fudgeface who I can only guess has a pretty serious injury is in the care of some office drone and we never see him again. Too many conveniences. I don't believe for a minute he would have even thought that the bomb had fallen out. I have a hard time believing that he figured out the second bag to tell you the truth. And I guess gimp felt remorse because he sure told them everything he knew. Oh, and I love the perfect sketches from memory. I just hated this episode. Waste of a good cast and a good write (original material I mean).

  16. Sorry, guys, but I like this one. It's not my favorite Thriller by a long shot but it features an interesting cast, including Elisha, who doesn't last long but makes an impression, or did on me. The plot's standard issue for its day and the writing is mediocre at best but there are moments,--the bloodied face, which didn't look like chocolate sauce to me--and the noose tightening mounting tension. The Fatal Impulse seems to just naturally channel the dark (on TV anyway) apocaylptic mood of circa 1960 America and as such I enjoy it for its spooky nostalgia moments. All was not fun, games, hoola hoops and JFK just around the corner back then, and this episode, along with some of the more grim Twilight Zones of the same period, is an uncomfortable reminder of what was going on in America back then. A great episode, not, a timely one, yes.

    1. Well... both sides are right, actually. I thought the "blood" in this episode did look like real blood, just as the blood in the original PSYCHO looked like blood. On the other hand, in PSYCHO the fake blood WAS chocolate syrup. On black and white film, brown blood worked better than trying to use something that would look more realistic in real life.

      I WILL say that I thought they applied the fake blood (which I can't prove to be chocolate syrup, but strongly suspect) a bit excessively and haphazardly in this episode, which lessened its effectiveness.

  17. Guys, I don't know how much more of this I can take. This episode may be the tipping point. I'm trying my best to keep an open mind, because I keep hearing that better episodes are to come, but I find it hard to believe that the people who are responsible for making a complete and thorough turd such as this one could ever make anything great.
    I grew up in the sixties, so to me the triumvirate of The Twilight Zone/The Outer Limits/Star Trek are the fantasy/horror/sci-fi pinnacle, roughly in that order. But, each of those shows has episodes in their first ten which were outright classics, and which are as relevant and powerful today as they were then. Think of "Walking Distance" and "Time Enough at Last" for The Twilight Zone, "The Architects of Fear" and "The Sixth Finger" for The Outer Limits, and "The Corbomite Maneuver" and "The Enemy Within" for Star Trek. These shows found their footing and produced classics within a few shows. This show, "Thriller," is still producing shows so comically inept, so mind-numbingly bad, it's practically left me speechless.
    How can these shows still be so bad?! Just when you think things can't get any worse than "Girl With a Secret" -- along comes an even worse stinker; "The Fatal Impulse"!! I'm losing faith really fast, gang. I'm really having a hard time believing that anything better is on the horizon. Oh God, no -- is it that time again?!? Time to watch another "Thriller"?!? Can't I get a root canal instead? How about a colonoscopy?! Somebody save me -- please!!

  18. Matthew-

    Hang in there, buddy, you've got a few more rectal examinations on the way to a couple bona fide classics. I'll venture you'll find "Knock Three-One-Two" and "The Cheaters" to your liking.

  19. I hate Robert Lansing. Repeat, I hate Robert Lansing. To be more specific, his acting. I didn't know the man personally, but based on his acting, I would choose not to. His one dimensional "agitated" portrayal is more than I can handle.

    THE FATAL IMPULSE is dreadful. Even Mary Tyler Moore's awesome legs in high heels can't save this one. I am pleased that in the last few episodes, someone has asked Pete Rugolo to tone down his chops. His musical scores are more in line with the THRILLER series now that his Desi Arnez tribute seems to have ended.

    At first, I thought I was in for a Jekyll & Hyde episode. Elisha Cook Jr. makes a phone call and a weird looking hairy Wolfman-ish hand reaching for the phone. Then I realized it was really just Conrad Nagel's hand without makeup. Creeeeepy!

    Still don't understand how this rates higher than THE PIGEONS FROM HELL. Oh well, that's an old discussion at this point.

    SoSo Cinema gives THE FATAL IMPULSE "1/2 Karloff" only for the fleeting glimpses of Mary Tyler Moore's high-heeled legs.

  20. After enjoying this episode I was surprised to read so many negative comments about it. I guess the frantic wackiness kept me glued to the boob tube. As I've described in some of my earlier critques, I'm also hooked when the show showcases life in the early 60s. The Fatal Impulse shows us the lifestyles of various 1960s women, including some babes. This ups my interest.

    The opening scene was good and the following scenes had me hooked to Cook. I thought that Elisha would be with us through the end of the episode and was surprised when he was run over early on. With Cook's demise, the viewer is paired with Lt. Rome. Robert Lansing plays the lieutenant as a hyper caffeinated melancholy filled windower. What Rome really needed was to find a Starbucks. Speakings which, I dug the vintage shots of Michigan Avenue in Chicago. I could point out a coupla Starbucks to Rome when him and his partner were cruising down it.

    I thought that the horrific death by bomb of Rome's partner was a surprisingly macabre scene for that time. With that death it's all Lt. Starbucks, I mean Rome. All of Lansing's intrusions to the various women are comical, but I guess I was in the right state of mind, because espresso Rob didn't bother me. When Whitney was introduced pretty much any viewer knows that the bomb is eventually going to be traced to her and there will be some type of chivarly showdown between Lansing and her date. We have an initial false alarm, which enables us to be voyeur into the lives of several other women. Like others I dug the casually depicted cheating wife scene.

    We're headed towards the finish line and all of the woman are accounted for. What's up with that? A creative writers loophole allows us to bring back Whitney. Our Lt. Starbucks once again interupts the lovebirds and this time finds the bomb in a nick of time. Predictably, the date turns out to be a selfish coward and bails. Lansing throws the bomb out the window without looking to see if it might cause harm to someone outside. With harm out of the way, out hero finally gets the coffee that he's been jonsing for so bad and the lieutenant and the future Mrs. lieutenant have quite a story to tell the future little lieutenants.

    I'm lighting up two and a half bombs for the Fatal Impulse.

  21. I stumbled upon this review when I saw that MeTV was scheduled to air an episode of THRILLER called "The Fatal Impulse" last Sunday night. Seeing it in the schedule, I was curious about what the episode might be about, who was in it, and Googled it, landing here.

    The complete THRILLER set sits in my video library, and I've not had the time to watch more than an episode or two, so I was curious about whether or not it was a good episode that MeTV was airing, or one of the stinkers I'd read about.

    This review actually got me in the mood to watch one of the stinkers, since it sounded like a real hoot. Robert Lansing was top-of-mind as I'd been watching his 12 O'CLOCK HIGH episodes on that same MeTV this past year, and I'm always up for a cameo appearance by a Mary Tyler Moore.

    So last evening, even though I missed the airing on MeTV, I dug out the DVD, plopped it in, and watched the episode in full. I kept waiting for it to become this horrid thing I'd read about. Instead I got a an edge-of-my-seat, genuine thriller of a show.

    Sure there were a few corny lines and some suspend disbelief moments, but all in all, the writer, director and cast put on a pretty entertaining 50-minutes or so. This may be a case where a scathing review leads me to look for the good in what's dismissed, but I really thought the hour was well-spent and quite a surprise.


  22. You're very welcome, HGN.

    I recall that both John and I enjoyed this episode very much. We spent quite a bit of time recording the commentary for the episode. Hope you listened to it!

  23. You Lansing haters are not alone--Quinn Martin couldn't stand Lansing, so much that he had him fired from 12 O'Clock High and replaced by the easier-to-deal-with Paul Burke.

  24. Actually I tried to listen to your commentary, but the download page you provided no longer works.


  25. Hi HGN2001 - Looks like our RapidShare upload expired, so I uploaded a new copy and replaced the links.

  26. If it weren't for "Masquerade," this would be the funniest episode in the series. Of course, whereas that later classic was intended for laughs, this one seems largely unintentional, but not all of it. Surely they knew that having Whitney's boyfriend run out the door when he realizes it's bomb time would be a huge laugh. And I love the way Robert Lansing explains how he's been looking for the wrong bag and throws in, almost under his breath, "I'm stupid." Unfortunately, a lot of the rest of the episode is in the "What were the thinking" category: the secretary randomly walking in on Elisha Cook, Jr. as he plants the bom; Cook limping out into the street and dying after one of the world's slowest hit-by-a-car stunts; Robert Lansing's partner gets blowed up and a cop just randomly walks by Lansing without even looking at him; Lansing walking into two actors doing the bus-and-truck tour of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" It was a non-stop howl.

    Despite the welcome presence of Cook and movie-vet Conrad Nagel's performance as the world's worst mayoral candidate (are you sure this wasn't set in contemporary Toronto?), Whitney Blake was the best part of the episode for me. Somehow she managed to be both warm and slightly ironic, as if she were just floating above all the inanity. Euphemisms aside, I think after the story ended Jane and Lt. Rome probably shared a joint before she introduced him to S&M.

  27. The download page for the commentary is once again no longer active. Could you upload it again? Thanks!

  28. Ignore my earlier comment. The download for the commentary is indeed working. Must have just been a temporary outage earlier.

  29. Pretty badly exectuted, not a bad idea, #49 of 67, best thing about it for me was the unintentional humor- Robert Lansing keeps showing up with just one more question for the lady- he's like Columbo.

  30. Awful though it may be, this ep still has a few things to recommend it:

    Whitney Blake in her prime was SO lickable. Too bad she got trapped and "sanitized for your protection" in that Mabel nonsense.

    No one in the history of filmaking could look as consistently constipated as Elisha Cook Jr. I loved the guy.

    Lansing was a comatose trailblazer who proved that consciousness was not a prerequisite for an acting career.

    And, finally, it's a great moment when the boyfriend, threatened by the bomb, suddenly realizes he's gay and flounces out of the apartment in a panic. Great stuff.

  31. Would love to hear your commentary...

  32. I really liked Lansing's performance. His "get up and run " was comical. 2.5/4.

  33. In Thriller's second season, producer Hubbell Robinson sold another series to NBC, the splendid police drama 87th Precinct. The star of that series is none other than--you guessed it--Robert Lansing! The impression that I get from this episode is that you could've replaced the name 'Lt. Brian Rome' with 'Detective Steve Carella' (Lansing's character on 87th) and it could've functioned equally well as an episode of that series.

    That being said, I enjoyed the way the episode went down to the wire, the finding of the bomb at the last possible second...yep, this does function as one of the better crime episodes of Thriller...but I was half-expecting Mary Tyler Moore to say, "Oh, Rob!" during her brief scene with Lansing.

  34. Rapidshare link seems not to work . . .

  35. I've become very fond of The Fatal Impulse over the years, especially as MeTV has been rerunning it regularly for the past couple of years. Tonight, or rather last night, was the final Sunday Noir airing, as they're going for secret agents this fall. Because I knew I might not be able to catch the ep for a while I paid special attention to every detail.

    It actually has decent production values, features some nice acting from not only Elisha (gone too soon, as usual) but several unknown or semi-known players, including Harry Bartelll and two Roger Corman alums, Antony Carbone and the recently departed Ed Nelson. Whitney Blake gave the best "straight" performance, I thought. It was fun seeing early talkie star Conrad Nagel in a character role. His acting style reminded me of Fredric March's. Robert Lansing's playing was too rushed and intense. I wish Steve Brodie had lasted longer; ditto Mary Tyler Moore.

    But dang, Thriller wasn't just one show. It had,--what--three different producers in its two season run? It was [i]not[/i] all of a piece.It was a horror series much of the time, probably most of the time, but the crime episodes like The Fatal Impulse are Thrillers, too, and give of "Thriller vibes". The show sometimes had a sense of humor (Masquerade, anything with Shatner in it); and they made some fine one offs that could have been episode of any number of other shows, such as the Nancy Kelly ep, The
    Storm, Mr. George, even the kickoff ep, The Twisted Image.

    What I'm being reminded of more and more lately is just how good Thriller really was. It was high concept, thus it had a certain consistency as to themes, its style, but it covered far more ground than other shows in the same vein, such as One Step Beyond, The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. There's something special about Thriller. Even the mediocre to poor episodes that things to recommend them. This is why we're still talking about it.