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...



  1. At least John Braham's direction on this show was good; the pace was pretty taut and the camera work was nicely varied, which helped keep me involved. I had never watched this show..PLUS...I'm a real dummy when it comes to guessing the outcome of a "who-done-it", so I found this episode pretty interesting.

    I thought I was having a Simon Oakland/"Psycho"-style deja-vu experience when Ed Binns went into his big explanation at the end. Interesting to wonder just how the newlyweds would proceed to deal with their little unforeseen circumstance as the episode wrapped up..

    One thing that bugged me throughout.....since Ross Elliot made SUCH a big deal of opening his car trunk---flagging down motorists in broad daylight, asking the cops for help, could he possibly have had ANYTHING to do with the body being in the trunk?? I kept waiting for someone to mention this, since it would obviously inidicate that he had no knowledge of the hidden corpse.

    Wow----Electrocution based on circumstantial evidence?? Boy, those guys were MEAN. As long as they were so tough on crime, they should have fried the Cha-Cha girl too; thus cinematic/TV justice would have really been served.


  2. Hi Larry -

    You know, I thought the exact same thing (and was amused that the cops just happened to pull back around RIGHT AS THEY WERE ABOUT TO OPEN THE TRUNK!).

    Of course, the conspiracy theorists would say that's the perfect card for a guilty person to play.

    "Why officer, if I put the body in there, I certainly wouldn't have flagged you down, would I? Heh heh heh..."

  3. I laughed several times during this episode because of the comedy scenes: cops pull up just as the corpse is displayed in the car trunk, guy humming carols decorates the x-mas tree with a cigarette in his hand, and crazy ending as the new groom realizes his innocent looking wife is a vengeful killer.

  4. Once again, the scenes in the promo differ from those in the episode. Watch the end of the promo reel (if you really have nothing better to do) and then zip to the same scene near the start of the episode. They cut away from the two-shot into a long shot but the same dialogue runs over the scene. Weird. It also seems like the promos have less (or muted) musical scores. They just seem like raw footage sometimes.

    I think the people who put together these DVDs made a big mistake by separating the promos from the episodes. This episode just ENDS very suddenly and goes right into the credits. It would be better (and less jarring) if it faded out and then faded in on Boris telling us to wait just a minute for scenes from next week's Thriller.

  5. Too many illogical twists and leaps of faith for my liking. At first, I was suspicious of Insp. Luger, er, James Gregory's lawyer. Then it became apparent that he wasn't involved with the gas or breakin hijinx, and I began to hope we were dealing with some psychological thriller -- but the back and forth banter, the lame interrogation (i didn't realize they allowed spectators to that, but i suppose the wife had a reason to want to see her husband 'hopefully' get the third degree)... This is definitely a second-rate AHP imitation without the real zinger of irony. It was suppose to be ironic but they didn't carry it off... As far as i'm concerned, Gregory should have been in it from the beginning, and that would have tied things up a little tighter to my liking...

  6. Watched a few episodes over the weekend, so I'm trying to catch up on my insignificant comments.

    THE MERRIWEATHER FILE is yet another lame crime episode. James Gregory gave his usual fine performance. I liked the transition from trial to execution. Another good one was at the end when the detective explained everything then looked directly at the killer and left. Geesh.

    While I have not been disappointed so far by the small smathering of horror/supernatural episodes, I had no idea that there were so many of these crummy crime stories. Good grief!

    Anyways... I'd give THE MERRIWEATHER FILE a "1/2 Karloff".

  7. Another crime drama, more martial cheating and another femme fatale. I'm shocked, shocked I tells ya at all of the cheating going on in Thriller. I thought that these types of shennanigans didn't go on during the Ike and Mamie years. Ok, looking at the episode air date, I see the date and realize that we're just weeks into the Camelot era. Still, it really surprises me that many of the episodes so far showscase such loose morals.

    How's the story? I don't think it's that bad. Once the body is found, like many other viewers, I found myself trying to guess the various twists and turns. I initially thought that Ann and Howard were behind the setup. I wound up being half right.

    The Merriweather File would have played better if either of the Merriweathers showed a bit more bite and tension regarding their relationship. Despite the past accident and even with the cheating revealed, both Ann and Charles still seemed to be a couple out of Leave it to Beaver.

    I liked Mr. Merriweather's side dish and her swinging bachelorette pad. Did she mix up a Singapore Sling for Charles before they got down to business.

    I don't know if there was more in the script, but this was one of those episodes were the last 10 minutes seemed like a forced wrap up. As soon as the detective came in to spill the ugly details to Christmas tree Howard I knew that Ann would be appearing in the scene as his wife.

    I'm biased to the episodes starring the 60s psycho kittens. I'll file away 2 Karloffs...

  8. Who was that giving the closing arguments for the prosecution at around the 40 minute mark? Sure looked like Jonathan Winters but I can't find any screen credits anywhere. He only had a few lines of dialogue.

  9. All I know is that this show scared to crap out of me when I was 8 or 9 years old. I am watching to see if it holds up. This episode like many others was a mystery drama like "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" or others. Before they began to delve into the more macabre...I am continuing to watch on Netflix for the one with the bleeding painting or all the birds....

  10. Did we just change blogging style?

    Anyway, this was a weird one for sure and made me curious to read the original novel to see if, with more time, the author did a better job setting up that strange, forced ending. For that matter, I wonder if the source material has the same problems with police procedures and logic.

    I loved Bethel Leslie's work explaining her trouble marriage and suicide attempt to James Gregory and there was a moment with the husband before he went out that hinted there might be some problems there, but it really seemed like somebody went shopping at a bargain sale for arbitrary plot developments.

    BTW, when James Gregory told her to get a dog, I was hoping it would be black.

  11. Pete Rugolo has really outstayed his welcome. No matter what the episode, he always responds with his jazzy, pointillistic schtick. He was a remarkable jazz composer/arranger and did groundbreaking work for the Kenton band, but Thriller just wasn't his milieu.

    I also feel sorry for John Brahm being handed this script. The concluding exposition is ludicrous.

    Not as ludicrous, however, as the bug-eyed prosecutor who interrogates Meriwhether until he's blue in the face, and manages to combine a cross-examination with his summary. They must have had strange courtroom procedures in ThrillahLand.

  12. Two good scenes - finding the body in the trunk (yes, with the cops just happening to cruise by!) and the quick segue between the courtroom and the newspaper headline "Merriweather Electrocuted" punctuated by flashs of lightning. Nice touch.
    Worth watching only for James Gregory - so sad he had the good luck to appear in both Thriller and Twilight Zone but the bad luck that both were pretty damned lame. Thank heavens for Barney Miller!

  13. I watched this one last night, enjoyed it. I foudn it slow at first but it built up a (modest) head of steam. Unlike Ty Power's Leonard Vole in Witness For the Prosecution, Ross Elliot's Merriweather really did seem to be telling the truth and there was a nicely conveyed sense that he really was innocent, as this was a Hitchcockish Thriller he couldn't have been gulty. The case against him was too strong.

    The bad marriage part was a surprise to me as it wasn't obvious early on. I dug K.T. Stevens as a kind of early middle age Lola Albright gone bad. Ross Elliott put this one over for me. Something about his face, his smile, was vaguely comical, not quite Paul Lynde comical but every time he smiled or openeed his mouth wide, even in a dramatic scene, I chuckled a little.

    I wonder whose idea it was to give James Gregory a mustache, as mustaches had gone out of fashion by the time the ep was made. To distinguish him from the artificially gray haired, bespectacled Ed Binns and trhe clean-shaven Elliott? It's not like they looked alike. James Gregory, fine actor thugh he was, struck me as miscast. He had a somewhat sinister presence and I think someone more benign in looks and manner (Macdonald Carey, say) would have been a better choice. Bethel Leslie was attractive and a cery good actress, lacked star quality, always seemed to have a downer quality that made her come off as older than he really was. Overall, I got pretty involved in The Merriweather File, which I regard as one of the best crime episodes

  14. Been making my way through the series, and (like most other people) haven't been overly impressed with the crime-themed episodes. What I was wondering was what sort of motive would the husband have had to kill the other man.

    I thought for sure someone else would have mentioned the production gaffes in a couple scenes. When James Gregory comes over the first time and enters through the kitchen door, it's obvious that the ball was held in place wiht long strips of transparent tape.

    Later when the husband is stopped with the flat tire, there's a clear shot of set lights and two men (Brahm?) reflected in the car windows.


  15. I think they should have found someone a little younger to play the mistress and don't mourn too much that her husband rotted in jail

  16. Robert Garrick here.

    The mistress was played by K.T. Stevens, the daughter of Hollywood director Sam Wood (A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, KITTY FOYLE, FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS, KING'S ROW, PRIDE OF THE YANKEES).

    At this stage of his career, Ross Elliott played some roles with a hairpiece, others without. Here, he was without.

    Bethel Leslie plays an unhappy spouse in this episode for the second time on "Thriller." She had also been in "Child's Play," which would get my vote as the single worst "Thriller," and one of the most unwatchably bad shows in the history of television as well.