Monday, September 6, 2010

The Twisted Image: Season 1 Episode 1

First telecast: 9/13/1960
Starring Leslie Nielsen, Natalie Trundy, George Grizzard.
Written by James P. Cavanagh, based on a novel by William O’Farrell.
Directed by Arthur Hiller.

Dashing and successful businessman Alan Patterson (Nielsen) has more stalkers than Jennifer Aniston. One, the gorgeous Lily Hanson (Trundy), has a mega-crush on Alan and makes no bones about wanting to be his squeeze. That doesn’t sit well with Alan but absolutely cheeses his grating wife Judy (Dianne Foster). Despite years of love and trust, Judy almost immediately suspects her husband of foul play. Speaking of foul play, there’s Alan’s other admirer, Merle Jenkins (Grizzard), victim of a clich├ęd childhood, who’s decided he wants to be Alan! All three ships converge when Merle attempts to romance Lily and is spurned. In a rage, he strangles the girl and frames Alan.

PE: Most of the non-horror episodes of Thriller have a bad rep. They’re boring, they’re slow, they’re The Alfred Hitchcock Hour rejects, they’re better left unreleased. You’ll hear a lot of this and more from us in the next few months but “The Twisted Image” is not a bad episode, it’s just not compelling or exciting. It’s certainly not a “thriller,” but then Boris Karloff's Yawn might not have attracted quite so many viewers. It’s got weak elements: it’s slow and padded; some of the scenes change abruptly; Natalie Trundy is a babe (and director Arthur Hiller surely agreed since a majority of Trundy’s scenes are shot in close-up) but not much of an actress (much better years later in the Planet of the Apes flicks); and the story doesn’t so much have a climax as a “stop at 49 minutes.” 

JS: Go figure. Peter is wrong, and then absolutely right in the same paragraph. Natalie Trundy a babe? Perhaps in her other roles, but not from the wide-eyed staring that makes up her performance here. He does hit the nail on the head when he describes the episode ending abruptly - I thought for sure we'd get some sort of denouement, or perhaps even an apology from Boris. As Peter points out, the episode is not all bad - in fact, it was refreshing that it did not travel straight down the predictable Fatal Attraction path of a contemporary TV show.

PE: Leslie Nielsen is just as passable in this as he was in most of the 1960s TV shows he appeared on, including The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (in fact the three top-billed actors all appeared on Hitchcock at one time or another), Peyton Place and Dr. Kildare. It’s hard to see any hints of the comedic actor he’d become years later.

JS: I thought Nielsen was fine, and while this episode might have benefited from some of his later career one-liners in the opening sequence in his office, I thought he did a more than passable job.
PE: Overall, if I’d have tuned in to the first episode of Thriller on September 13, 1960, I don’t know that I’d return for a second helping the following week. It certainly doesn’t hint at what was to come.

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. 

While we're at it, now is a good time to lay down the rules for this blog. 

PE: John and I are not historians. We leave the detective work to Tom Weaver and the other boys who do good work for McFarland. We’ll throw in a nugget now and then but don’t expect a complete history of the Thriller series. It would only be plagiarism on my part anyway. And unless the second unit caterer worked on Star Wars Episode III: Return of the Jedi, John couldn’t care less.

JS: Okay, so he had to get the first anti-Lucas jab in early. But seriously, as Peter tries to communicate above, we're just signing up to give you 'two guys' review of the series. Hopefully, our comments will inspire you to check out the episodes for yourselves. And when you do, we hope you'll add your comments to the discussion. 

PE: In the audio commentary, director Hiller denies there are gay overtones to the Jenkins character but I don’t buy it. Merle’s overbearing sister comes to visit and berates him as “a pretty boy” and slaps him around, making it clear she’s been doing this to him all his life. This is why he’s as screwed up as he is. The commentary itself (by Hilller and Steve Mitchell) mostly covers Hiller’s career in television (and THRILLER particularly) but does touch on the episode itself. Mitchell does a decent job of keeping the rambling (87 year old) Hiller on track.


  1. Hey, there's plenty of space in this padded room for you, Blob. Care to join in?

  2. A few years ago I was engaged in a similar project as yourselves - reviewing each episode on the Yahoo "Thriller" group. I took a slightly different approach, as I alternated the "crime" and "horror" episodes - so I wouldn't have to wait for weeks to get to the good stuff. Regardless, here's what I had to say about "Twisted Image" then:

    The infamous debut episode, panned by critics and ignored by fans.

    Leslie Nielsen is the young hotshot VP of a company; George Grizzard is
    a loser who slaves away in the mailroom and obsesses over Leslie, doing
    his level best to look, act and otherwise be like him in any way
    possible - in other words, he wants to BE him. Or just like him.
    Unfortunately, George is schlub while Leslie is a wealthy young man
    with a trophy wife, a daughter and a great job. As if this wasn't
    enough, Les also has nutjob Pamela Duncan stalking him, determined to
    marry him despite his off-the-market status. Of course, George G. and
    Pamela hook up, albeit briefly.

    George gets crazier and crazier, especially after a visit from his
    sadistic older sister, and soon ends up stalking Leslie and even
    kidnapping his daughter...

    "Thriller" took something of a hit having this episode be their opening
    shot. TV critics hated it, but actually, it isn't a bad episode. Like
    most of the early eps, it's basically a crime thriller of the sort
    that "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" regularly ran. George Grizzard was
    always good at playing hapless losers and he acquits himself well
    here. Not a classic episode by any stretch of the imagination, and
    certainly an inauspicious debut for a series that would become a
    classic, but, if I'd been watching this in September 1960, I might well
    have tuned in next week. I give it a 3 out of a possible 5.

  3. Aycorn!
    That was fabulous. I think I'm going to enjoy having you along for the ride. Please feel free to post after each and every one of our diatribes. I can't wait to hear what you have to say about "Mark of the Hand!"

  4. Hey Pete - we're watching one a day, remember. We haven't seen Mark of the Hand... yet. ;)

  5. Who says I gotta watch it to know it's gonna be bad?

  6. Concerning the commentary by Hiller, he sounded like he had not previewed the episode before viewing and commenting on it. I've noticed this many times with commentaries and it sort of puzzles me as to why the dvd producers would say "go ahead and comment on this show you did 50 years ago". Often due to work load, they may have never seen the show that they directed or acted in.

    I realize he is 87 and the episode was 50 years ago. In 1960 I'm sure he never dreamed anyone would ever be interested in interviewing him so many years later. He probably saw it as just another few days directing a routine assignment and immediately forgot about it. Sort of like someone asking me about what I was doing in 1960 on a certain project. I don't remember! And Hiller didn't remember many things either.

  7. Pete Rugolo is the strongest contributor to this episode. Trying to put a whole novel into a 52-minute episode probably couldn't help (I've been meaning to find a copy of Jack aka John Holbrook Vance's MAN IN A CAGE for years to see how they pared that down, though that was a better episode as I remember it...haven't jumped ahead to watch it yet).

  8. Welcome Todd! A longtime supporter of The Scream Fatcory/bare*bones boys.

  9. I find "Twisted Image" interesting because, as the first episode shot and aired, it pretty much establishes the series they thought they wanted to make. Formula: innocent, everyday people we can relate to suddenly find themselves in a life-or-death situation after encountering someone with a twisted psyche. Leslie Nielsen certainly fit the bill as the nice-guy protagonist (he doesn't hide anything from his wife) who somehow has to protect himself and his loved ones from the Nut of the Week.

    And that seemed to be the show's identity. Even Pete Rugolo's jazzy score seems to be saying. "Hey, baby! Better watch your ass! This kind of wacky "psycho" shit is happening right now, in your own backyard. How scary is that?"

    In all fairness, the "psycho of the week" approach to a suspense anthology isn't a bad idea. But everything -- starting with very strong scripts -- had better be in place, or a show like this won't be able to sustain itself without becoming laborious, somewhat predictable, and downright unpleasant. I believe the next two episodes in a row deal with the unsavory notion of a murdering child. No wonder viewers began to get turned off rather quickly.

    As for George Grizzard, I always thought of him as a cut-rate composite of Roddy McDowall and Anthony Perkins. Still, the man is absolutely brilliant in "I Kiss Your Shadow," John Newland's episode of BUS STOP from around this period that's based on a Robert Bloch story (or did Bloch actually write the teleplay? I forget).

  10. Gary,

    I have to come to the defense of George Grizzard; have you ever seen him in "Advise and Consent"? (1962). Totally major league performance.

  11. Note to Gary G.: Barry Trivers adapted Bloch's "I Kiss Your Shadow" for BUS STOP.

  12. Just bought the box set and found this blog. Great! I have just watched the first two episodes. As for this one, I thought it was dumb when the Nielsen character didn't call a cop after finding the dead body. And was the message coded that the obsessed mail clerk was gay and not out of the closet? You have to analyze subtext in TV from this time period and I was wondering if that was the intent. Anyway, I wasn't really happy with this episode and I think it turned off my wife to watching any more of them. But I heat things start to improve around episode nine so I'll hang in here. And as bad as this was, it's three times as good as the next one. More on that later...

  13. Chris!
    Welcome to the blog. Right off the bat, we have to let you know not to be too analytical. The pink shirt on the department store mannequin may just be a pink shirt. This is a Thriller!
    Who exactly told you the episodes get better? Your wife is a very smart person!
    Keep posting though. It gets lonely in here.

  14. Really happy to see this blog! The best thing about this episode was the psycho girl. The whole thing was interesting to watch in comparison to Mad Men--this is the same era, and Nielsen seemed like the sort of suave ad man that the young secretary would fall for.

  15. Ok, i'm late to the party and while picking up where you currently are in the series, took the time to wander back and fill in the blanks.
    This is a fairly pedestrian episode, although i'd put it middle of the pack AHP. Nielsen pulls the canadian back bacon out of the fire with a pretty solid turn as the stalkee who probably had an indiscretion in his past... Grizzard does a nice job with limited time to depict a wild card with a dream - a real meek phony with a surprising mean streak. Rugolo's jazzy beats reminded me of the tunes played in the bar where Heston tosses around some mexicans in touch of evil. Unfortunately, Boris may have meant to say 'This is a Filler!'

  16. I just picked up the DVD box. Never had seen the show before, but read Stephen King's raves about it in "Danse Macabre." This was the first one I watched, and it was pretty average. Then I realized King was talking about Season 2 being where most of the great episodes are.

    George Grizzard was also in a so-so Twilight Zone called "The Chaser."

  17. Perfect. I just started watching the series from my Netflix queue after hearing about this series. Couldn't agree with you both more on this first ep. Good, but... meh. Hope they get better. I understand the freaky stuff happens mostly later in the series.

  18. Interesting premise of watching an episode each day. Since I just received my DVD box set, I'd like to provide my own insight to the series. While I have see most of the episodes and all of the "good" ones, I'll review each THRILLER episode in brief as if it was the first time seen along with having no knowledge of the horror episodes that appeared later in the series. I won't be able to maintain a "watch one a day" schedule, but will post as I do view the episodes. I hope John and Peter are OK with my contributions. Remember, imitation is the greatest form of flattery. BTW... You have a great blog here.

    Before I begin, I must take exception (as many) to your "2 Karloff" rating of THE PIDGEONS FROM HELL. While it is not my all-time favorite episode, it certainly merits reconsideration (and a possible re-watch) with a 3 1/2 or 4 Karloff rating. Why would it rate the same as several of the routine crime drama episodes?

    I'm also a little concerned that for such a legendary and critically acclaimed series, only one episode received a "4 Karloff" rating. For a landmark television series with fans around the world and multiple websites devoted to it, you only feel that 1 of the 67 episodes was worthy of an excellent rating? I'm not picking a fight here, I just don't understand the logic.

    Anyways... like I said, I'll keep my review brief since most readers here already know about the episodes. THE TWISTED IMAGE was a solid story with good performances. I particularly enjoyed the elevator scene where Natalie Trundy is standing in the opposite direction giving Leslie Nielsen the stare-down. If I was a first time THRILLER viewer, I would have tuned in next week to see the next offering in the THRILLER series, thinking this was quirky crime series.

    In SoSo Cinema's opinion, THE TWISTED IMAGE rates "2 Karloffs".

  19. SoSo Cinema- Welcome aboard! We look forward to reading your comments as you work your way through Thriller.

    A couple of quick comments - with Thriller (unlike our Outer Limits blog that followed), Peter and I were averaging our individual reviews, so if one of us loved an ep and the other hated it, the overall rating landed right in the middle. That also meant that in order for an episode to get 4 Karloffs, we both had to rate it as such.

    Ah, Pigeons. We both (and a few others, you'll see their comments, too) were underwhelmed by it. If the show ever gets a remaster, I'd watch it again, but there are many other episodes I'll probably revisit (and recommend) before that one. For what it's worth, we stand by our reviews, as they only reflect two guys' opinions. But I would ask of you, if an episode that's not one of your favorites gets 3.5 to 4 Karloffs, what do you rate you favorites?

    As you'll see, we didn't rate episodes based on any preconceived notions of what was widely considered the best. We went with our gut, and from that you'll get a pretty good idea of which episodes really resonated with us, and which fell flat. As we approached the midway point, I was beginning to think we'd never see an episode come along that we'd both rate 4 Karloff's, and yet sweeping in like an end-of-the-season savior we had The Grim Reaper.

    I'll grant you that the show was legendary - that was the primary appeal in doing the blog for us. But critically acclaimed? There are definitely some great episodes to be found, but there's also a lot of dead weight in the run. Even Thriller's staunchest supporters are unlikely to try and convince you that as a complete series it represented television's finest hour. And then there are the folks who would have lobbied to only get the horror episodes released and ignore the crime eps altogether!

    But enough of my yakkin. You've still got quite a few episodes ahead of you, so I'll let you get to it!


  20. Yikes, I need to clarify a few things... which means I'm not off to a good start here.

    I think I would rate a favorite episode "4 Karloffs". Based on my recollection of THE PIDGEONS FROM HELL episode (saw it about 7 years ago) I would guess a 3 or 3 1/2 Karloffs. Watch, I'll view again in a few weeks a give it a 2! LOL

    I understand that you averaged your scores, still a bit suprised that you both didn't rate 4's together more than once.

    I've watched the first 3 episodes now (reviews to follow) and am about ready to give up. I am in total agreement that it is a rough start to a series. At this point, I'm not really sure how the series even made it to 2 years.

    My critically acclaimed comment was in reference to individual episodes, not the series as a whole. The series a a mixed bag at best. Time to write 2 quickie reviews and trudge through until THE PURPLE ROOM.

    Take care.

    - Michael

  21. A couple of months ago Amazon had this for $53.99 as a gold box deal of the day so I made the plunge.

    I'm a life long Karloff fan, but have never seen an episode of Thriller prior to purchasing this DVD box. I was expecting this series to be completely in the suppernatural/horror vein, but evidently most of the early entries are in the crime/mystery genre.

    Despite the complete lack of horror element I enjoyed The Twisted Image. It's one of the many Thiller episodes that stars a young and relatively unknown actor who would later become famous. Lesile Neilson does a wonderful job playing the straight laced end of Eisenhower office executive and family man. Natalie Trundy has the role of a young and very cute Bunny Boiler. Her and Lesilie's presence distracted me from the fact that the plot was a rather mundane look at unrequited love.

    Later in the episode the male version of attempted identity theft is explored as George Grizzard plays a sort of delusional man-child who wants power and prestige, but doesn't care for the effort usually required to obtain those items.

    Trundy is cute, but seems a bit robotic in a stepford wives kinda way. I was saddend that she got knocked off half way through and the eye candy was gone and we were left to watch Mr. Grizzard's continuing mental descent. I enjoyed the scene at the bar. The tiki decor was straight from a Martin Denny album cover photo shoot. One of the appealing aspects of this series is the view into american society in 1960. Growing up the sitcoms in syndication that I watched were from the mid 60s to the mid 70s. That brief slice of Camelot was a unique transition between the staid and buttoned down Eisenhower era to when the Beatles broke on Ed Sullivan and every suddenly became groovey overnight.

    I give this episode 2 Karloffs.

  22. Hynek!

    Thanks for your insightful comments. Hope you make it through all 67 hours of Thriller. I made it and I'm....just fine (he said from his padded cell at Agnews State Hospital).

  23. Although the script represented a lot of missed opportunities, I really enjoyed what Leslie Nielsen, George Grizzard and especially Constance Ford brought to the episode. The Grizzard-Ford fight scene was the best part of the episode for me. Natalie Trundy had her moments, but she played the stalker moments way too broadly.

  24. Just got the box set (thanks mainly to two Best Buy gift cards that I got for Christmas)...watching Leslie Nielsen in this episode, I found myself wondering...what would Lt. Frank Drebin do in this situation? ;)

  25. This is #21 out of 67 on my list, 3 Karloffs, it certainly is better than any of the first 10 or 15 crime episodes, unless you count Purple Room, which is really a horror episode to me. I enjoyed the dueling psycho element between
    Trundy and Grizzard, I'm not usually into freckles, but I thought Trundy was very sexy, maybe I'm just into crazy dames. The end was kind of a letdown, still its pretty orginal.

  26. Yeah, but WHAT HAPPENED? We get to the end, George Grizzard takes a whack at Leslie Nielson and instead hits a -- what? window? mirror? Then it just stops! Did they run out of film? -- Rebecca

  27. I was very impressed by Nielsen's performance and how his character took control in the end. Quite cool. Great starter!

  28. I saw The Twisted Image tonight, had seen it before, and found it strangely compelling. The acting was decent, and in Nielsen's cast better than that. The female performances were on the weak side, I thought. George Grizzard nailed his sneaky loser, a sort of cross between Tony Randall on a bad day and Elisha Cook, Jr. on any day. What brought it down for me, from good to just fairly good, was the writing. The dialogue wasn't as sharp as it might have been. Some some urban atmosphere of the Peter Gunn variety.

  29. just saw this last night on MeTV, what a great episode, i would love to find the soundtrack for this episode, the screaming trumpet (possibly Maynard Ferguson or Bud Brisbois) was phenomenal on Pete Rugolo's orchestra!

  30. Hi Guys, We got a lot of favorable response from around the industry when we praised your efforts on our website. Check out question #461 at We'll be adding additional items on ATAD later.

  31. Hi Bob-
    Thanks much for getting the word out. It's very much appreciated!

  32. Particularly in the context of 1960, this must have been an edgy and disturbing episode, and an interesting if atypical one. With not one, but two psychopaths (was this the first TV rendering of a stalker?) there seemed to be a real effort to undermine the Nielsen character's complacency and by extension the audience's. Of the roughly 47 episodes of THRILLER I've seen so far, this seems the only one set in a big city. Actually THE big city, since it manages to have a bit of the flavor of New York. So it's THRILLER via NAKED CITY, one of the best TV series to ever hit the air. And the message here is: stay away from cities like New York. We see a huge contrast between the haves and the wannabe have-nots, who live in depressing hovels even as they dream of riches they will never have.

    When we talk of great atmosphere in the average THRILLER episode, we're usually talking about spooky houses or estates. Here the atmosphere is completely different but just as effective (I loved the touch of hearing the song "Gotta Be This Or That" at the point where Grizzard assumed Nielsen's identity.) A world of cheap luncheonettes and dance clubs was effectively rendered on the low budget.

    I like Leslie Nielsen, but there hasn't been enough said here about how great Grizzard was in this episode. He begins as a garden variety Sammy Glick on the make, seems genuinely victimized by his bullying sister (an always superb Constance Ford playing one of her patented vicious battle axes) and then manages to go full-on psycho with a mix of silkiness and insecurity that never seems forced or unbelievable. And yes, the gay subtext is pretty clear here, and made doubly interesting if you know that Grizzard was gay in real life. The fact that many minor characters (this was a more heavily populated ep than usual) seem not to be able to tell Grizzard and Nielsen apart is a wonderful nightmare touch worthy of Hitchcock but also a critique of big city life where no one really sees the people around them, who often go mad as a result. It's a pity the implications of this identity theft aren't pursued, but that would have been too much to handle on one hour.

    Too bad this was panned at the time. It may have helped to put THRILLER on a more conventional horror story track, but another couple like this wouldn't have been amiss, and this was the best episode of the nascent series until "The Purple Room."

  33. I saw The Twisted Image yet again this A.M., enjoyed it, found the acting especially good. As to the ep being big city, it's but one of many. That it's clearly intended to be New York (back not, natch) makes it somewhat unque for the series but the horror ep The Cheaters was clearly New York as well. Another crime ep, The Fatal Impulse, was also big city, this time L.A. (or a generic Cali city).


    1. The small chick who played Leticia was Judy Erwin, who guest-starred in tv-series of the 50s("The Adventures Of Rin Tin Tin"), the 60s("Hazel"), & 70s("Marcus Welby M.D."). Later name: Judy. Whitney

  35. Once, I watched The Twisted Image: Good episode. Above average, actually. I love the seedy side of it and its downbeat take on urban America at the dawn of the 60s, and was looking closer than usual for keys or tropes (proto-tropes?) that might have anticipated or predicated the series to come, and there were a few: jealous people, isolated, lonely and greedy; Hitchcockian "transference of guilt" (and) identity; some unsettling sexual undercurrents, all the more disturbing for being unstated and unresolved; and a strong emphasis in faces, "the watcher and the watched", a recurring theme in the series. It truly WAS a Thriller, and a good start for an amazing series.

  36. Karloff's opening is a grabber! I'd never seen this one before tonight!

  37. Perfect. I just started watching the series, and added it to to keep track of the progress online. Nielsen's performance is amazing.

  38. I'm surprised that no one mentioned the plot's similarities to Hitchcock's FRENZY (You know, creepy psycho guy who kills a pretty girl and tries to pin it on someone else ...)