Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Mark of the Hand: Season 1 Episode 4

First telecast: 10/4/60
Starring: Mona Freeman, Jessie Royce Landis, Shepperd Strudwick.
Written by: Eric Peters, based on the novel by Charlotte Armstrong.
Directed by: Paul Henreid

8 year-old Tessa Kilburn (Terry Burnham) is found with a gun in her hand standing over the dead body of her next door neighbor; her father's girlfriend Sylvia (Freeman) the only witness to what happened. It's up to Lt. Gordon (Judson Pratt) to figure out if this was an accident, if Tessa truly is a cold-blooded killer, or if there's something else going on in the Kilburn house.

JS: Honestly, these have got to get better from this point. If you haven't figured out who's responsible for the murder by the time of the first commercial break, perhaps you better come back when we start a Murder-She-Wrote-A-Day blog.

PE: Could we start that blog now? An incessant bore from frame one right through to its wrap-up. It’s really hard to believe that a new series could survive the airing of such rubbish. There literally is not one thing I can say in its defense so I’ll point out some episodic giggles:
    • There was obviously a 2-for-1 sale on “bedridden old biddies” at the Universal lot in late 1960 as Mrs. Kilburn and Mrs. Walworth (from Worse Than Murder) prove. I do believe they’re staying in the same house and bedroom as well.
    • It has always annoyed me when a narrator pops up to describe exactly what we see going on in a scene and speaks the words for the other characters! Reminds me of read-along in Kindergarten.
    • Jon Lormer (as Dr. Emil Berland) amazingly channels Keith Richards a full forty years before Johnny Depp did it in Pirates of the Carribean!
    • Tessa allegedly threatens to kill Sylvia…with a butter knife! (In all fairness, I might have believed it were a steak knife had Lt. Gordon not spent the entire next scene rolling it between his fingers. -JS) (...and then putting it in his coat pocket! -PE)
    • All the suspense is wrapped up with a nice big bow when the cast all get together in one room for the worst exposition since Lon Chaney stumbled through the halls of the Inner Sanctum.
    JS: Again Peter left the best thing out. As they dissolve into and out of Sylvia's description of the events in the room at the time of the murder, they rely on the old Flash Gordon viewscreen transition (or to those of you born in the past twenty years, the viewscreen from The Phantom Menace). All that was missing was the warbling sound effect.

    PE: Could this be the nadir of Thriller? With 63 episodes left, we’ll just have to wait and see.

    JS: I hope we won't have to go back and reset our rating scale after this episode. This should represent absolute zero.

    We plan to rate each episode on a scale of 0 to 4 Karloffs, with the occasional half-Karloff as necessary. We're just warning you in advance so you don't freak out.


    1. 0 Karloffs for this episode would have been my recommendation also. Paul Henreid seems to have phoned in his direction from some distant land...perhaps Casablanca (but he would totally redeem himself with "Terror in Teakwood" later in the season).

      If (as Doug Benton says in the "recreated" interview commentary for "the Weird Tailor") the NBC network actually wanted and expected "Thriller" to be producing horror shows from the outset, it is impossible to imagine why they didn't step in IMMEDIATELY upon viewing "Mark of the Hand" and fire everyone involved. How in the world they let Fletcher Markel and friends continue to poop out these episodes for several more weeks is beyond comprehension.

      Incidentally, when a local Chicago UHF station acquired "Thriller" for nightly broadcast in the mid 80's, I immediately called and wrote to the the programming director and warned him NOT to run the show in syndication order since, if he didn't lose his viewing audience after the first episode, "Mark of the Hand" would surely finish them off. Luckily, the guy called me and asked my advice on programming order, which he followed. The show stayed on for more than a year, and I was able to tape the good stuff. But now, thanks to Image, I can finally pitch those old tapes; Yea!

      Time now for "bedridden old biddies #3" in "Rose's Last Summer"...... but at least there's a neat twist to this one.

      LR (Larry Rapchak from yesterday's post; HassoBenSoba is a slight re-spelling of Vernon Dent's chracter name from the 3 Stooges' "Malice in the Palace"...a film which acquires the aura of high art in comparison to "Mark of the Hand").

    2. Larry-
      Have you snuck a peak at my notes for "Rose's Last Summer?" The rest of the readers are going to think you're feeding me my material! Keep your comments coming. The intelligent feedback you provide almost offsets Scoleri's commentary. :>

    3. It's rough, starting out, but it'll start getting better... THE HUNGRY GLASS is about when things start picking up.

    4. Strangely, I like this one better than most people. I think there are far worse episodes of "Thriller." However, I certainly don't think this one is especially good. Here's my comments from 2007:

      Much like "Worse Than Murder," "Mark of the Hand" is a genteel crime
      thriller involving wealthy people who live in spacious, well-lit
      mansions but do dastardly things. In this case, the murder in
      question is the shooting of a young man, and the prime suspect is an
      eight-year-old girl who's found standing over him, smoking gun in hand.

      A handful of family members, neighbors, and a nosy police detective
      play out the drama, as, "Rashomon"-like, various tales are told to
      explain how the girl did (or didn't) shoot the hapless victim.
      Finally, through some trickery, the truth comes out – but it won't
      surprise anyone.

      I would rate this episode exactly as I do "Worse Than Murder." I
      enjoyed it, it's well done, and there's nothing especially memorable
      about it. A prefectly decent, enjoyable mystery.

      3 out of 5.

      PS - yes, things do start to pick up with "The Purple Room," "The Prediction," etc. Even the "crime" eps get better and have a bit more variety.

    5. The nadir of THRILLER? Remember you said that when you get to "Man in a Cage."

    6. Tim-
      I'll bet you a copy of the award-winning MARIO BAVA: ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK that this is the nadirest of them all. Deal?

    7. I wanted everyone to die at the end of this episode.

    8. Been waiting and hoping for an ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK mention since Tim and Mario were first invoked. Rock on!

    9. I kind of enjoyed this episode! The little girl was likeable and Jessie Royce Landis was a good actress ("North By Northwest"). Again, though, the leads were pretty weak. I loved how the killer had to make sure we all knew what the word "scream" meant by actually screaming it. For me, the best thing about these first four episodes was the jazzy music, which is very catchy.

      Doesn't anyone else feel sorry for poor Boris, having to say "as sure as my name is Boris Karloff" and whip off his glasses every time?

      1. I liked this episode more than most did as well. The idea of a woman planning to go on a killing spree and pinning all the blame on a grade schooler is effed up enough to add some disturbance. If I were writing the episode I would have made this woman less of a moron, but my version might have been too much of a wringer.

        The closing music is very jazzy, sort of a Dizzy Gillespie thing. I liked it.

    10. Had a chance to watch a few more episodes.

      If I was a first time viewer to the THRILLER series watching THE MARK OF THE HAND, I would have given up by now and sought out a SANFORD & SON re-run instead. There is no indication as to how dramatically different the series would later evolve.

      The only redeeming value to this lame episode is seeing MILF, Mona Freeman. She was a nice visual distraction to an otherwise dreadful episode.

      SoSo Cinema give THE MARK OF THE HAND a "1/2 Karloff" based on the MILF factor.

    11. This only the fourth episode and it's the third soft boiled crime Thriller with a evil or wacky dame playing a prominent part. Where are the monsters?

      The first three episodes, while reading low on the Thiller thermometer, all had some redeeming features. I can't think of any positives for this entry. A banal and predictable story that dragged out the events a half hour too long. The acting was blah. At least A Child's Play had a strong performance by Tommy Nolan. I wasn't as smitten with Mona Freeman as I was with Connie Ford in the previous episode. That is most likely because Connie acted the clawing panther while Mona was milquetoast. The missed car crash was a cheesy bit of terror.

      Ok. I found one item that interested me. In the beginning of the show, right after the deed was done, the use of a real well heeled early 60s suburb was cool to see.

      My rating is half a Karloff.


    12. This would be the worst hour of television I've ever seen (the script just plain sucks rocks) if it weren't for Jessie Royce Landis, who's a much more resourceful actress than Mrs. Drysdale, and Judson Pratt, the detective. Their scenes together are as good as anybody could make such dismal writing. It was also nice to see a young Rachel Ames, having only seen her do a few guest shots on General Hospital as Audrey.

      At the end, I really wanted to find out the grandmother and the little girl were in cahoots to get rid everybody. Instead they all laughed, like it was Father Knows Best or something.

    13. hey , the guy's name is Judson PRATT - isn't that Boris' real last name ? some kinda relation ? not a very common name....

    14. 2.5/4. Well-acted. Great ending!

    15. Bedridden old ladies, children with guns, neglectful fathers ... it's weird to see elements being over-used by episode four.

    16. I'm half-watching the ep as I write and it's pretty dreadful. One notable thing about it: Sheppard Strudwick and Terry Burnham meet at last one screen, as both appeared in the Twilight Zone ep Nightmare As A Child, which is far better than this one, unless it picks up real soon...

    17. Thank you Mr Kenrick, I was wondering where I'd seen Shepperd Strudwick before. What a fabulous name. I'm not as bored or disappointed in the stories so far as other people on this thread. Still looking forward to what's to come though.

    18. No Thriller episode should ever be given a zero, because there's Boris as host, which counts for half a head!

      1. I agree. The script writers were starving writers/journalists cranking out crap/pulp or so . My parents, both grads from Boston University in 1949 under the GI Bill as WW II Vets majored in journalism, critiqued the thriller episodes--they were in the same minor leagues--starving writers with no patrons.

        As for the music composers, Goldsmith and Stevens--they were great.

    19. A lot of people either don't know it or dislike it, but Shepperd Strudwick was great as the "Mr. Spock"-like alien leader in the comedy-drama THE MONITORS.

      Because of the little girl as a suspect, has this episode been compared at all to THE BAD SEED? Judging by some of the comments here, it wouldn't be a favorable comparison.

    20. Terry Burnham and Shepperd Strudwick also appeared together in the "The Twilight Zone" (1960) episode "Nightmare as a Child" (Season 1, Episode 29).

    21. Curious that Jon Lormer receives on screen credit yet is nowhere to be seen, while the unbilled psychiatrist is actually played by veteran gangster actor Marc Lawrence.

      1. PS: In Cecil B. De Mille's 1947 UNCONQUERED, Boris Karloff played Guyasuta, Chief of the Senecas, with Marc Lawrence as his ineffectual medicine man.