Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Girl With a Secret: Season 1 Episode 9

First aired: 11/15/60
Starring Fay Bainter, Paul Hartman, Anne Seymour.
Written by Charles Beaumont, based on the novel by Charlotte Armstrong.
Directed by Mitchell Leisen.

Alice Page (Myrna Fahey) is a nervous wreck. She’s flying with her new husband, Anthony (Rhodes Reason) to meet her new in-laws. She imagines a man on the plane constantly watching the couple and, once they get to the airport, her fears are confirmed. The man switches briefcases with Anthony and a half-hearted chase ensues. Once they arrive at her new family’s home, Anthony gives her the bad news that he has to go to Minnesota on urgent business and he’s dumping her with his family. While helping him pack, Alice discovers plane tickets to Mexico and, just short of lying on the floor and throwing a tantrum, demands to know what’s really on the hunk’s mind.

PE: The honeymoon’s over for Alice when Anthony spills the beans: he is actually a spy working for the government, and Alice must keep her trap shut or Anthony won’t be able to complete his mission. In a laughable sequence, the ultra-secret news gets out to the cleaning lady and Alice has to bribe her with the family jewels. (That's no cleaning lady, that's Grandma Walton! -JS) In short time, Alice discovers her new in-laws are a clan full of liars, schemers, and possibly, a mole trying to discover what Anthony is up to. Alice has sworn her husband’s secret is safe with her.

JS: I thought this was going to build into a North by Northwest puzzle of plot twists and turns, even thinking for a moment that Alice might be a secret agent herself, but things aren't quite so intricate.

PE: Finally, the ages-old question is answered: what if Tracy di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg) had survived Blofeld’s ambush at the climax of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Would Tracy have gotten herself a 9-to-5 (perhaps clerical work), settle down and iron her man’s shirts and ties every morning while the kids learned how to defuse explosives in the play room, or would she have become a whiny pain in the ass like Alice Page?

JS: Wow. Thanks for ruining On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

PE: Once Alice accepts that Anthony lives the life of an invisible man, never knowing whether he’ll come home at night, she becomes almost giddy with excitement. She helps him on with his coat, hands him his spear gun, and pats him on the fanny. Anthony heads off to his espionage, and Alice is left to wander from mother-in-law to aunt to cousins, denying she has a secret. They all know she’s got a secret though and they do everything they can to find out what it is. Amidst all this turmoil, the willowy button discovers that there are a couple of really bad men after her: the mastermind Carolik (Victor Buono – think Sydney Greenstreet in Casablanca with a non-descript accent) and his evil henchman, the appropriately named Evil Face Bluecher (Rex Holman – think Richard Widmark in Kiss of Death).

JS: While I enjoyed seeing Victor Buono outside of his King Tut duds from Batman, Rex Holman was the high point in this episode for me. This guy is fresh out of the creepy dude factory. Watch him licking his lips while slapping Miss Peele (Ellen Corby aka Grandma Walton) around before sending her tumbling down the stairs. Give him a pair of dark sunglasses and he could have doubled Anthony James chauffeur from Burnt Offerings. That's about as creepy as it gets. (He not only rips off Widmark's smile, he also steals his way with the ladies! -PE)

PE: Dodging clich├ęd villains and nosey relatives almost becomes too much for the fragile flower. Alice spends the last twenty minutes of the play walking from room to room, suffering the interrogation, sulking, and storming off to the next room to start the process over again. At one point, Cousin Bea (Cloris Leachman) exclaims rather awkwardly “He’s a mystery man – Tony is. So’s his wife!” The various intricate plot threads all converge in a climax that seems as if it was filmed for the Zuckers’ Police Squad TV show.

JS: I'm glad I wasn't aware this was a Charles Beaumont scripted episode going in, or I likely would have been more disappointed. There was nothing here that stood out to me for a writer of his caliber.

PE: Genre fans will recognize Rhodes Reason as the star of King Kong Escapes and (with Boris Karloff) Voodoo Island. (His brother Rex starred in This Island Earth. -JS). Incredibly enough, Victor Buono was only 22 years old when he made "Girl With a Secret". He became a respected character actor, perhaps most well-known as arch-villain King Tut on the Batman TV show.

JS: As long as we're talking trivia, I was mildly amused there was a character named Bluecher in the episode with Young Frankenstein's Frau Blucher (Leachman).



  1. My review from `07 - I have to post it in multiple parts, alas. I had more fun writing this than I did watching the ep, also alas!

    Another crime ep, and definitely one of the weaker ones. At least
    this episode has a little bit of flair and isn't entirely (note I said
    *entirely*) set in the drawing room of some bunch of uber-rich
    dullards. Not entirely.

    Tony Page and his new wife Alice show up to spend their honeymoon
    visiting his stick-in-the-mud relatives , a bunch of uber-rich
    dullards headed (yet again) by a grumpy old matriarch (some honeymoon!
    Alice might want to think twice about this one). Things start to go
    wrong almost the minute they get to Pasadena. First, Tony's attache
    case is switched for an identical one – Alice sees it happen, but Tony
    doesn't believe her. Then a Creepy-Looking-Stranger tries to run them
    off the highway on the way to the family mansion.

    At the family mansion, we meet Tony's thoroughly unpleasant family,
    including Grandma (the Grumpy Old Matriarch), Hortense (an aunt?
    Grumpy Old Matriarch in training) and Cousin (?) Beatrice – total
    whack job. Oh, and Trusted Old Friend of the Family Mr. Devon.

    Well, things get complicated real fast. Tony is suddenly called off
    to Minnesota on an office emergency. But Alice finds a plane ticket
    to Mexico City in his coat. Oops! Tony immediately spills his guts –
    he's actually an undercover agent, working to break up a ring of
    spires who are selling America's nuclear secrets. He's about to bust
    the ring wide open – so Alice has got to keep her mouth shut.

    That doesn't work out very well. Mrs. Peel, the housekeeper (oh, the
    irony of that name for a housekeeper will not be lost on us 60's Cult
    TV fans!) overheard part or all of the conversation, and immediately
    demands a pair of family heirloom earrings given to Alice as a gift,
    as "hush money." Alice of course forks over with equal immediacy.

  2. Things get worse. The not-very-intelligent Mrs. Peel is caught
    wearing the earrings while doing her housework. This creates a Family
    Incident which leads to her dismissal. Alice quickly offers $300 in
    new hush money to be delivered to Mrs. Peel's home later that
    afternoon. Unfortunately, who should show up at Mrs. Peel's at the
    same time but the Creepy Looking Stranger, who beats Mrs. Peel up (oh
    irony again!) and knocks her downstairs to her death. He takes the
    $300 but of course gets no information of any use. Poor Alice is
    hiding in the apartment the whole time.

    Back at the mansion, Alice finds herself thoroughly grilled about (a)
    Mrs. Peel's death (b) the earrings and (c) the $300. Finally, due to
    her reluctance to answer, Trusted Old Friend of the Family Mr. Devon –
    who is, GASP, part of the spy ring, proposes drugging her with some of
    Cousin Beatrice's sedatives, then taking her to a "friend of his, a
    sort of doctor" for some questioning. He promises she won't be
    harmed. Everyone seems to be agreeing to this (though Cousin
    Beatrice, who up to now has been thoroughly nasty to Alice, has slight
    reservations – viewers could be forgiven for thinking she just doesn't
    want to spare any of her drugs) as the scene fades out.

    Fade back in. Tony returns from Mexico, mission accomplished – but
    finds that Alice has gone MIA. Rushing back to the mansion, this tiny
    bit of suspense is quickly disposed of – Grandma apparently didn't
    agree to drugging the poor child, so she sent her away in secret to
    work in a pharmacy in Los Angeles under her maiden name. Tony rushes
    off to L.A., where the Kindly Old Pharamacist quickly reunites them.
    Just then, who should show up but Trusted Old Friend of the Family Mr.
    Devon, and the Creepy Looking Stranger, gun in hand. After the usual
    exchange of "It's too late for you Mr. Bad Guy, I've got the goods on
    you" and "It won't matter Mr. Hero – I'm gonna rub you out as soon as
    I finish talking about all the evil things I've done," it looks like
    the jig is up, when the Kindly Old Pharamacist, perhaps tired of the
    cliches being slung around his nice little drugstore, shoot the Creepy
    Looking Stranger, allowing Tony to deal a nice
    Hat-Knocking-Off-Haymaker to Trusted Old Friend of the Family Mr.
    Devon, who is knocked out. Tony and Alice kiss and make up some more
    as we are reassured that All Is Well.

  3. Part III

    While this episode is a tiny bit (I said a tiny bit) better paced and
    therefore, a tiny bit more exciting than the previous crime eps, it is
    also, alas, dumb as a post. The script is full of coincidences, the
    scenarios unbelievable, the characters flat. The heroes seem to be
    inept (Alice is caught out immediately) (since Tony found out Devon
    was on the side of evil, shouldn't he have called and warned Alice?)
    and the villains even moreso (since they know where Tony's staying,
    and since they've got a mole in the house, it would be a simple matter
    to kill Tony (a) in the house (b) en route to the airport (c) en route
    FROM the airport or (d) in Mexico City, since it wouldn't be difficult
    to find out he went to Mexico not Minnesota).

    Sadly, the poorly plotted script is by none other than Charles
    Beaumont, an excellent writer. His heart doesn't appear to have been
    in this project at all.

    One other moderately interesting feature is the cast. Victor Buono
    appears briefly as the head of the spy ring; Cloris Leachman plays
    whack job Cousin Beatrice, and Ellen Corby is blackmailing housekeeper
    Mrs. Peel. Interestingly, neither Corby or Buono gets an introduction
    from Boris in the opening. Too bad. These three definitely liven
    things up when they're onscreen.

    This is one of my least favorite episodes so far.

    1 out of 5.

  4. PART 1-
    Oops..here comes the dissenting opinion. I've seen this episode before, but only in pieces. So this morning (at 4am), I put it on right after watching the often-praised "Fatal Impulse"; I NEVER thought I'd make it through "Girl with a Secret", but amazingly found myself engrossed in it right through to the end. Maybe I was delirious with fatigue, but I definitely found it to be the most satisfying crime "Thriller" yet.

    Two words kept pounding in my brain as I watched: DIRECTORIAL CONTROL. A true old-time Hollywood pro, Mitchell Leisen firmly guides the diverse cast through the potential pitfalls of this script in masterful fashion.

    I thoroughly disagree that Myrna Fahey comes across as a whiny, spolied brat. She delivers a totally believable, superbly controlled performance...as does Rhodes Reason as her hubby. These roles could EASILY have been overplayed but, under Leisen's firm control, they come across as sincere, engaging and REAL people. The first thing I said to myself was "See how realistically UNDERPLAYED Ms. Fahey reacted when she saw the guy walk off with her hubby's attache case"...no hysterics, no grimacing, no gyrations--she plays it as if she is embrassed to make a big deal of it in public...she even says so to her husband...and it rings true--TOTALLY true--as does everything she does in the show. (You want to see ANNOYING in a female lead??--Try June Havoc's performance in Outer Limit's Season 2 "Cry of Silence"; you WILL kick in your TV screen!!) Besides---Myrna Fahey; whoa! Talk about "Thriller" babes!

    Here's what I found engrossing: you got this wide-eyed young bride from Chicago who gets dropped into this mansion full of strange, eccentric types; they seem generally disdainful, if not outright hostile to her. She handles herself with grace and dignity. She then discovers that her brand-new hubby is involved in a dangerous, perhaps life-threatening line of work, as he is forced to leave her alone in this house of crazies. What sort of Honeymoon is that for a lovely young lady?

    The cleaning lady--in a brilliantly-authentic performance by Ellen Corby (I kept asking myself: "which one of my goofy, low-brow neighbors does she remind me of?"), gets the whole black-mail thing going with the earrings, gets herself fired, while Myrna finds herself being increasingly DRAWN INTO THE WEB of intrigue against her own will. These creepy folks seem to be closing in on her from all sides!


  5. PART 2-

    Then we see the sinister Victor Buono, illuminated by a solitary lamp in an otherwise pitch-black room, conspiring with the MOLE Devon...and the noose tightens further. I was genuinely fearful for Ms. Fahey's well-being; EVERYWHERE she turns, there is increasing danger and malevolence surrounding her.

    In the end, we discover that (thankfully) the Grande Dame Patriarch, played by the great Fay Bainter has, in fact, overruled her family's unsavory plans and rescued the young lady. But not before the incarnation of evil itself, the death's-head, joker-like Rex Holman, nearly ends it all. Salvation for the brave young couple comes from a most unexpected source, in the nick of time---again admirably directed and underplayed.

    I don't know, guys..I'd watch it again without hesitation. Not being familiar with the original story, I have no idea how to judge the contribution of Charles Beaumont's screenplay. But I must say that I was intrigued by every character and every scene. Sure, there were some obvious "cheats" ie: if the bad dudes wanted to find out if hubby was really going to Minneapolis, why not just follow him to the airport?

    But, when you slap together an hour show in a few weeks, something's bound to suffer. Incidentally, this was a Fletcher Markle episode, which proves that an imaginative writer and the sure hand of an excellent director can produce a solid, intriguing tale of a brave young lady who is able to hold her own against the complex and threatening environment in which she unexpectedly finds herself. Good show, and definitely worth its Double-Karloff rating.

    PS--Fans of "The Honeymooners" will recognize Anne Seymour (the hostile, matronly Aunt/mother of Cloris Leachman), who played the neighbor who gives Alice Kramden the matchstick gift-box in the classic "Night Before Christmas" show.

  6. One additional trivia note: Myrna Fahey and Harry Ellerbe (who played Walter Devon) appeared together the same year as Madeline Usher and faithful family retainer Bristol in Roger Corman's HOUSE OF USHER, scripted by Beaumont's pal Richard Matheson.

  7. I thought this episode was pretty bad, though I agree about Ms. Fahey's charms. I would rate this as one of the worst so far.

  8. Rich people you wouldn't want to meet? Check.

    Old crones? Check (two of them!)

    Highly identifiable back lot. Check.

    However, I don't think this is worse than any of the first six. Some great character actors—actually, the acting is pretty damned strong all across the board which is more than I can say for some of those first episodes—and the pacing just didn't seem as sluggish as those early ones although a lot of it does take place in the drawing room. Plus I find the husband-wife team kind of engaging.

    What I didn't like was the sudden revelation that grandma solved the problem, and there was absolutely no tension in the final scene when the pharmacist whips out his gun.

    However, the scene with the creepy guy pushing Ma Walton down the stairs was great. And I loved Cloris Leachman's slightly unhinged slightly hot character.

    These last three have definitely been an improvement ove the first six. I'm surprised at the highly negative reaction here to the first two.

  9. In my above comment in the last sentence, I meant to say LAST two.

  10. Has anybody else but me realized that the Page mansion is actually the Munster house on the Universal back lot? Or, does everybody already know it, and don't feel the need to state the obvious?

  11. Matthew-

    I'm not sure which post it's in, but the mansion comes up as does quite a bit of discussion about the Universal backlot.
    Welcome to the blog. Hope you're enjoying your visit.

  12. The only way I am going to make it through these dog episodes is to speed up my viewing to a several a day. I'd rather endure pain for a day or two then dread the entire week.

    GIRL WITH A SECRET is another very terrible (terrible, not terrifying) THRILLER entry. Rex Holman is evil enough and Cloris Leachman talent's are under-utilized. I totally agree that she is a "slightly unhinged slightly hot character". Too bad no one saw fit to put her in a leading lady role for one of these episodes.

    Another disappointment... "1/2 Karloffs".

  13. Is it possible that Mr. Beaumont farmed this out to another writer? He was known to do this, since he often had many projects going at once, and his name on a script virtually guaranteed that it would be filmed.

  14. A Thriller with a cold war spy twist.

    Fay Banter and Paul Hartman do a so-so acting job as newlyweds Paul and Alice. The episode starts out promising with the switched suitcase and the car chase. Paul soon reveals his spy role to his new bride the international espionage stuff is dealt with sparingly. After that most of the action takes place amongst the Paul's socially challenged relatives in their cheerful abode. For some reason, the scenes of Alice navigating her way through the chilly remarks of her new relatives reminded me of the scenes in The Old Dark House with Glorial Stuart.

    As others above have written, there is much lack of logic in how everyone handles the situation of Alice and her secret. I took those lapses with a grain of salt and enjoyed the various character interactions amongst the eccentrics. I liked Cloris Leachman's portrayal of the catty young pill popper.

    When Rex Holman appeared as the smiley psycho hit man. The first person I thought of was the smiling chauffeur in Burnt Offerings. It's funny that others thought the same thing. Rex is easily the best character in this episode. He's 100% sociopath.

    Girl With a Secret is played out like several episodes before, the middle section offers up some nice developed character interaction and plot development, but then it seems like the writers didn't realize that they had to wrap it up shortly, so things end in a kinda chaotic, but convenient way. After Alice deflects a half an hours worth of prying, the family decides to drug her right as Paul wraps up his Mexican assignment. Ah, but Alice wasn't drugged, but is working at a drug store where her hubby and two bad guys meet for the final shooting showdown and all's well that ends well...

    I'll spill you my rating secret. 1 1/2 Karloffs.

  15. I noted that thus far there have been three Oscar winners on "Thriller," all from the same category (Best Supporting Actress)--Mary Astor in that Somebody's Last Summer mess and Cloris Leachman and Faye Bainter in this one. Is this a long-neglected "Thriller" trademark? We shall see.

  16. I have to go with Larry on this one. While the script is extremely weak, Leisen sets up some beautiful shots in this (I should go back and see who the DP was. Some of these Thriller eps had some stellar Hollywood talent behind the camera.) Further, Leisen also allowed (encouraged?) some nice OTT, tongue-in-cheek acting.

    Finally, nearly getting run off Topanga Canyon Rd and then pulling up in front of The Munster's house is pretty much my definition of a bad day.

  17. How the wife could remain in a family like that is in itself a mystery. 2/4.

  18. Serviceable enough crime drama...Myrna Fahey is nice enough to look at, but the husband's eccentric family does tend to get grating as the episode goes on. Rex Holman and his evil grin, channeling Richard Widmark, steals the entire show.

  19. Speaking of nice to look at, Cloris Leachman has maybe never been MORE nice to look at than in this. That, combined with her role, put her in a kind of soap opera villainess mode.

    As for Rex Holman, I've never been familiar with this episode, but that still above was REASON ENOUGH to make me try to find it. "Channeling Richard Widmark" is right.

  20. USA! USA!

    I'm going to watch "Fatal Impulse"

  21. I feel in love with Cloris too!

    Long dress, cross leg shot

    USA! USA! USA!

  22. She had a brief nude scene in The People Next Door.

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  24. Another best supporting actress Oscar winner on Thriller, in the second season, Jo Van Fleet (the Remarkable Mrs Hawk).

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  25. They share no scenes together here, but Victor Buono would play Ellen Corby's psychotic son in 1963's THE STRANGLER.