Sunday, October 10, 2010

Dark Legacy: Season 1 Episode 35

Originally aired 5/30/61
Starring Harry Townes, Henry Silva, Ilka Windish.
Written by John Tomerlin.
Directed by John Brahm.

When his uncle, the infamous illusionist Radan Asparos (Nick Nolte, post-DUI) dies and leaves Mario Asparos (Townes) his black book of secret powers, the junior magician conjures dreams of grandeur and world conquest. With help from the summoned demon Astaroth, those dreams may come true.

PE: Can Harry Townes do any wrong and can anyone stand in my way as I crown him "Best All-Around Thriller Actor"? I dare you to cross that line. It would be condescending for me to say that an actor does "a good job for this kind of thing," but really that's what I want to say. Townes isn't performing Macbeth, nor is he Stanley Kowalski, he's a loony magician named Mario Asparos fer chrissakes, but he invests his all into the role and I was enthralled every minute he was on the screen (even when he had eyeballs floating above his head). Harry Townes should have been a great film actor, not popping up now and then in bit roles in Rawhide and The Farmer's Daughter. By the way, I refuse to believe that was Townes in the opener as his uncle. It would negate everything I just said about him. :)

JS: That was clearly not Townes. And it was not Nick Nolte, funny man. Anyone who's been awake the last 30 years can tell you that was Christopher Lloyd, in a performance that clearly went on to inspire 'Jim' in Taxi and 'Doc. Brown' in Back to the Future.

ATAD Pop Quiz: Radan Asparos: Father of...
a) Christopher Lloyd
b) Nick Nolte

PE: I loved most everything about this show: its opening scene almost looks designed by Charles Addams: long, rolling staircase, wall-length painting, creepy relatives just hanging out like vultures waiting to drop on Radan's corpse. Say what you want about "The Purple Room" and "The Hungry Glass", I think "Dark Legacy" and "The Prisoner in the Mirror" trump those in terms of performance, mood and atmosphere. I never saw either one of them coming.

JS: And he tops it off by crawling into his own coffin! It does set the tone right off the bat. The zany costumes, the stock lightning footage, and the extensive smoke effects (those babies were on double duty throughout this episode). I know conjuring a physical demon probably outshines the episode effects budget (this isn't The Outer Limits, you know), but the one disappointment for me was the superimposed floaty eye effect.

PE: That's future low-budget/sleaze/exploitation/garbage/direct-to-VHS king Henry Silva as Mario's good friend (and Monika's better friend) Toby Wolfe. It's amazing to see Silva without an AK-47. (Bullshit or not? -JS) Alfred Pennyworth makes his third and final appearance as Radan's attorney.

JS: I do love seeing Alan Napier turn up, particularly when it seems like he just popped over from his day job at Stately Wayne Manor (which has been all of his appearances save "Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook", where he was actually given a different role to play).

PE: The animal wrangler definitely needs to look elsewhere for vicious growling dogs. I see a trend. Could these "snarling canines" be owned by some corporate sponsor who has no kids and wants to see "poopsie" on the boob tube? Sure, Peter's a cute dog (and that's a tough thing for me to say, mind you) (Not for me. Peter is a cute dog. -JS) but when it comes time to bare the fangs, I've seen nastier animals on The Jerry Springer Show.

JS: Giving credit where credit's due—Thriller dogs sit with the best of them.

Raise your left hand and swear not to make any noise...
But hands down, my favorite bit in the entire episode is when Mario is about to perform his greatest trick live on stage for the audience, and as he begins he stops, turns to face the crowd and says most seriously, "In order to concentrate all of my faculties during this performance I must ask for Not. One. Sound." At which point, a drum-roll starts!!! (I blew Jack Daniel's through my nostrils!! -PE) You can't write this stuff!

PE: I was surprised to see that this episode was not written by Robert Bloch. Not because he was the greatest horror story writer who ever lived (he was), but because he cornered the market in nutty sorcerers. In fact, one of those stories made for a crackerjack episode of (here it comes!) The Alfred Hitchcock Hour starring Christopher Lee ("The Sign of Satan" May 8, 1964) and based on "Return to the Sabbath" from Weird Tales (see how I bring it all back around?) (Until you connect it to Mario Bava I remain unimpressed. -JS). That episode would have been perfect for the fourth seaon of Thriller. But the writer was John Tomerlin, who wrote a few Wanted: Dead or Alives (with Steve McQueen) and a Twilight Zone ("Number 12 Looks Just Like You") and not much more. He and director John Brahm deserve a lot of credit for creating such a mood of menace. That mood seems to spill off the screen.

JS: A bit of trivia—those same floating eyes would later appear in Dario Argento's Suspiria...



  1. I loved this one too and gave it 4 Karloffs. The floating eyes worked for me and I thought it was a real nice effect but my wife wouldn't stand still while I tried the catch the bullet between your teeth trick. She kept moving and screaming like Ilka Windish.

  2. When the wife won't stand still for the "bullet in the teeth" routine, you know it's time to aim a bit higher!

  3. This was kind of great and bad for me; you hit all the great notes - townes performance as the stressed-out magician, the art direction and set and some of the story's subtle (!) twists. Townes' impression of doddering old man was comical but still eyecatching, perhaps modelling his doddage from what he learned from that lamp a few months back, and the supposed pairing of silva and the wife didn't seem to have legs, if you know what i mean.
    And i too guffawed loudly when he said 'Not One Sound', followed by a drum roll...
    It would have been interesting to see this and then sit in Townes' congregation and see just how it compared.

  4. Because I love "Thriller", I was glad to see the abundance of praise for this episode; yes, it DOES have tons of that classic Thriller spookiness and gloom and, in fact, has ALL of the ingredients ready to roll to make this another in the incredible end-of-1st-season run of episodes. But, I can just imagine another phone call from the producer to the composer:
    "Jerry?...this is Bill Frye. Look, do you think you can perform your musical magic again? We've got a real TURKEY on our hands....."

    I'm sorry, but I think this episode is one of the dumbest around, a real blot on the amazing wind-up to the first season. I have also been a champion of Harry Townes's work (despite his tendency to chew things around him on stage) and I'd say he does quite a good job of restraining himself in this role (check him in OL's "OBIT", where he delivers a remarkably solid performance that easily could have gone wrong). But, believe me, his "Harry channels Larry (Fine)" routine in the prologue bears distinct resemblance to some of his other less successful TV outings that I've seen.

    This is "Thriller's" longest prologue (a full 10 minutes) and, having set us up for something big, totally fails to deliver, in my opinion.
    There's absolutely nothing in the playing-out of this plot that rises above the merely adequate, despite the overall look and feel of the show; it seems like a great opportunity wasted. At least Ned Glass (as the theater owner)livened up the proceedings in his brief role. Otherwise, a total snoozer for me.

    Goldsmith, in his wailing french horns/exotic flute mode (and there were only 3 or 4 basic "modes" in which he could have composed for these episodes) ALMOST saves the day with his brilliant score. In fact, the highlight of the entire show for me is that incredibly creepy, morbid, mouldy ORGAN that was used as Harry (Larry "Porcupine" Fine) climbs into his coffin at the end of the prologue; I would be fascinated to know how that sound was produced; recorded in a cathedral and tracked in? Wow!

    Deduct another Karloff head for gratuitous dispatching of Pete the Pooch.

    FIVE KARLOFFs for me.


  5. Wow! Five Karloffs? We only gave it three!

  6. OK, you wisenheimers....(is that the way its' spelled?) 5 OUT OF 10 big K's--and not a farthing more!

    Incidentally, the floating eyes didn't really bother me that much; they reminded me of the creepy ending of "Village of the Damned".


  7. The floating eyes actually reminded me of countless pre-code horror comics!

    1. Robert Garrick commenting here.

      WHITE ZOMBIE (1932) is the "floating eyes" film that comes to mind, with Bela Lugosi's evil eyes superimposed on the voodoo plantation near the start of the film. Nothing much happens in WHITE ZOMBIE, but it's supersaturated with mood, dread, and atmosphere. If only we could say the same about "Dark Legacy." I'm with Larry Rapchak and several others in saying that--as sure as his name was not really Boris Karloff--this was not a Thriller. The story goes nowhere; it stalls early on and sort of coasts lazily to the finish. I wasn't crazy about the opening scene either. It was stupid, not scary. To me, Radan Asparos evoked not Nolte, not Lloyd, but Dr. Irwin Corey.

      I thought Ilka Windish was fine, and had a great back in that bullet-catching outfit. I would be happy to buy her a drink. I thought the special effects were fine too, especially given that it was television and 1961. 'Twas the writing that killed this beast of an episode, and in general, writing was Thriller's weak link. The music, the photography, the acting, the Karloff intros--they were generally superb.

  8. I'd be curious to know if this kind of role -- where he had to wrestle (often awkwardly) with evil incarnate -- played any part at all in Townes' career change later in life; at some point, he must have wondered what cheesy fall-from-graces by n'er do wells like Mario could mean in the whole scope of it all. Then again, he continued acting even while serving as a priest on the edge of hollywood for a dozen years...

  9. OK - just checking at the always questionable imdb and found angel of h.e.a.t of 1983 -- starring marilyn chambers? That must have been a very liberal congregation...

  10. I found the teleplay more reminiscent of Clark Ashton Smith's "The Return Of The Sorceror" than of Bloch's work; Smith's short story has the wild-eyed sorceror, the rotting mansion, the book of occult knowledge, and the damnable incantation, but many stories by The Lovecraft Circle feature these tropes. "The Return Of The Sorceror" was later adapted for NIGHT GALLERY starring Vincent Price -- who in DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE GIRL BOMBS had been directed by Mario Bava...(cue spooky Jerry Goldsmith chord that gradually modulates into "It's A Small World After All").


    WEIRD TALES is certainly no gold standard for the weird tale. People tend to dismiss or forget all the garbage you have to troll in order to distill the best from the rest, particularly in pulp writing. "Prisoner in the Mirror" and "Dark Legacy" both play at the temperature of a run-of-the-mill, rank-and-file WT story — the kind that have all the right furniture, but which you might skip in your haste to get to the classics.

    It is only in comparison to THRILLER's most famous episodes that these two seem slightly lacking.

    " Dark Legacy" and "Prisoner in the Mirror" share a weird ambience (use of "weird" intentional) — both seem to be original teleplays although Alan Warren claims "Prisoner" is an adaptation (p. 105 of his THRILLER book) ... but of what, he never says. Robert Arthur ("Prisoner") was a WEIRD TALES semi-regular, and John Tomerlin was another of Charles Beaumont's pals, and a satellite to the Matheson Mafia (like Ocee Ritch). These two episodes almost seem like a "test drive" by their scenarists to produce WEIRD TALES-flavored episodes WITHOUT published stories on which to base them, which might have lent each more backbone.

    "Prisoner" has the indelible grabber of the mirror itself, and the iconic (to THRILLER, anyway) benediction of the essential Henry Daniell ... which is reflected (hah!) in Harry Townes' dual turn in "Legacy." In fact, "Legacy" gives us the best performance by Townes on a TV episode, ever. (A close second is his turn in "O.B.I.T.," as Larry R. mentioned — second only by virtue of the fact that Townes has less screen time in THE OUTER LIMITS).

    In "Legacy," a fairly simple, straightforward story is undone by the undercooked threat of a romantic triangle, the even less important smog of Toby's assertion that the supernatural stuff is all in Mario's head, the notably horrendous miscasting of Henry Silva, and the shrieking, basket-case performance of Ilka Windish, who has a fair length of leg and literally nothing else going for her.

    However, as THRILLERs per se, both are excellent while falling short of greatness. Both shows feature such bravura openings that the balance of the story, in each, cannot reach back up to those giddy heights. Both seem to be searching for a new "shape" for THRILLER, reflecting its evolution, which was realized more perfectly in "Pigeons from Hell" and "The Grim Reaper," which were right around the corner.

    Eight big hovering Boris crania for each.

  12. David, just a quick question for you. What books would you recommend apart from 'The Hungry Eye' that delve into the character, politics and shows of the American networks during the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, ect. I've just read 'Inside ABC' by Quinlan. Very interesting.

  13. For Bobby J:

    Right off the top of my head ...

    HOW TO TALK BACK TO YOUR TELEVISION SET by Nicholas Johnson (1970).

    CBS: REFLECTIONS IN A BLOODSHOT EYE by Robert Metz (1975).

    THE GLASS TEAT (1969) and THE OTHER GLASS TEAT (1975) by Harlan Ellison.

    UNDERSTANDING MEDIA by Marshall McLuhan (1964).

  14. I just saw this the other night, catching up with all those that I didn't get a chance to, the during the TAD run.

    For me, after it's atmospheric opening, it doesn't go rapidly down hill, it just sits there - lifelessly inert, collapsing into itself; so ineptly scripted that it just founders with hack-work ingredients: a hacknayed plot, a bogus love triangle so underplayed, under-written that it's invisibly under the floor, a climax in which the hero questions if it was the supernatural or the magician's imagination and performances that range from the dull to the crudely l amatuer - an unstable Ilka Windish hysterically over the top and in need of an urgent tranquilizer from the director.

    Nice score and great photography, though.

  15. I'm with Walker--4 Karloffs out of 4! I liked everything about this episode. All it was missing was Shatner!

  16. I liked little Peter the dog. He looked so sad sitting at the door all by himself, because he was afraid of the big bad book.

  17. DARK LEGACY had much potential but failed on many counts. The good stuff being Harry Townes and Jerry Goldsmith.

    The worst part of this episode was the extremely amaturish performance by Ilka Windish. She was horrible. Let me say that again... she was horible. Why Ilka wasn't replaced is beyond me. She was a total distraction to an otherwise decent THRILLER. And I don't mean distraction like Susan Oliver from CHOOSE A VICTIM.

    Replace Ilka with Susan, ditch Henry Silva, get rid of the cheesy floating eyes, and come up with a better magic performance beside catching the bullet in the mouth like some old re-run of YOU ASKED FOR IT.

    "2 1/2 Karloffs" only because it is elevated by a solid peformance by Townes and another great Goldsmith score.

  18. Hmmm. Dark Legacy starts off with a long great Aliester Crowley prologue with some plenty of suspense and some nice sets and costumes. After that hocus pocus is out of the way, the middle part of the episode is a bit dull.

    Harry Townes continues his fine Thriller run, but Ilka and Silva provide performances that grate a little. After viewing Radan's stylish bachelor pad, it's a downer that much of the action takes place in Mr. and Mrs. Mario's drab digs. The night club scenes are decent, especially the bullet trick.

    I didn't find the love triangle bit convincing at all. This tacked on feature detracted from the episode and made the ending scene just that much more unsatisfying. Yes, the floating eyes were a bit cheesy, but didn't really bother me.

    This is one of those "It should have been better than it was episodes". Two and a half floating Karloffs

  19. I thought I'd replied to this when I first saw it in January, but it's nowhere to be scene. There are nice atmospheric touches, but I couldn't help wishing Towne had gotten more than a few magic tricks out of the book and that the demon had been a little harder to get rid of. As a result, nothing quite lives up to the opening scenes in the mansion, though I loved seeing Ned Glass (the shopkeeper/Friar Lawrence figure from WEST SIDE STORY) as the nightclub manager.

  20. Total agreement with Larry R on this one - dumb, dumb, dumb....
    Townes performance incredibly over the top - one fade out at commercial break has a closeup where he's shaking and his eyes are threatening to leave their sockets! Perhaps David Cronenberg saw this scene as a child and it inspired him to write Scanners?
    Giving it a two only because of the fact it at least falls into the supernatural realm after so many early and truly bad crime thrillahs.
    And why DID they kill that cute little dog? As mentioned by our Hosts, he could "sit" with the best of them!

  21. Agree that the set in the opening was superb.

    But DISAGREE in every other way, especially about Townes. For me, he was a character actor who could only convincingly play nebbishes, cuckolds or comic characters. He is completely unconvincing in a heavy role that requires authority and magnetism. Windish, the lead actress, was very odd to me -- she seemed like an old woman in some ways, and her intense, dark looks reminded me of photos of silent screen actresses like Theda Bara or Pola Negri.

    Apart from the opening, which was promising, I found the whole thing too hokey to tolerate.

  22. After Harry Townes, the only really good acting was by Peter the dog and the disembodied eyes, though admittedly, the eyes didn't have to do much but look menacing.

  23. I loved the art direction, the f/x (such as they can be called), the costumes,--so much to praise in this ep--but the story went downhill after the near hypnotically weird, thundertorming prologue. It was almost like a case of "can you top this?...", and they couldn't. Nothing that followed came near to the early scenes.

    Out goes Doris Lloyd, in come...Ilka Windish! Milton Parsons is gone, only to be replaced by,--Ned Glass! Actually Ned is pretty good and shows undercurrents of an innate decency even when chewing Marion Asparos out that Asparos does not himself possess. The early scenes show Thriller at its best, then it move into Peter Gunn territory,--the honkytonk tenderloin side of the city, the seedy nightclub, the drab apartment--and it goes downhill fast as a story even as it retains some of its charms due to its basic premise.

    The love triangle (or was it?) was tedious and unnecessary, Henry Silva was too thuggish in looks and line readings to credibly portray a graduate srudent in psychology. It's such a pity that Windish and Silva were cast in this episode at all, as it needed players appropriate to the kind of series Thriller was.

    I found the ending satisfying, dug the floating eyes enveloped in smoke. Neat stuff for 1961 network television. There was a Jacques Tourmeur-Night Of the Demon vibe in this, and in the episode in general, which really needed a better, more scholarly script to flesh things out, sharper casting, more time to develop. They could have delved deeper into the charatcers, Mario Asparos especially,--a second rate musican and a second rate human being--this could have been extended and become a classic B movie. Truly, an eighty to ninety minute Dark Legacy, even as second feature, might have become a cult classic in 1961, and be a favorite of horror fans even today. As a Thriller, it's a missed opportunity.

  24. Jerry Goldsmith's music in this (as in other episodes) greatly adds to the mood.

    1. Another ME TV rerun--I missed the first rerur and the original showing when I was 12.

      Dk writes. Excellent episode. Too bad the finale was whiter magic-redemption for Toby. Mr Clean?

      As an aside, today in 2014, old books are at a premium. The libraries are going electronic--shudder. So, a remake would cast this as an electronic incantation via Amazon or E-Bay, oy vey! In the cloud magic-or . .

      Fun, nonetheless.

  25. Well, our hero was no David Copperfield by any stretch of the imagination.

    1. Correction, not the Dickens character but, David Seth Kotkin.

  26. Possibly the best episode of the series, along with YOURS TRULY, JACK THE RIPPER. Yeah, why Harry Townes never became a major film star beats the hell out of me. He was fantastic in this episode, as he was in the Outer Limits episode O.B.I.T. and the Star Trek episode Return of the Archons. Townes handles the transition from insecure apprentice magician to confident master of the occult to power-mad black sorceror beautifully.

    One of the delights of this episode is the clever casting. Towne usually gets cast as the good guy -- here he plays a baddie and chews up the scenery and steals every scene. Henry Silva typically played villains, but here he gets unexpectedly cast as the hero. And he does shines. I've almost never seen Silva play a heroic good guy, and he knocks this performance out of the ballpark.

    Jerry Goldsmith's score for this episode is utterly incredible. I sure wish I could find a soundtrack of this one. Just by itself, Goldsmith's score cranks up the creep-meter, especially in the opening scene, until the needle pegs in the red.

    Yes, the cheap optical effects with the giant eye at the end prove disappointing. You can tell Silva and Ilka Windish were told by the director to react to something indescribably terrifying which would be inserted via opticals later. Alas, the optical effects just didn't cut it. This is one case where I'd like to see someone go back and replace that floating bogus eye with something much more Lovecraftian -- a tentacular multi-eyed horror from beyond imagination, something that would really justify the horrified reactions of the actors.

  27. I just finished watching this---I did not catch that Harry Townes was playing both parts! And I thought it was a Robert Bloch story too! Hey, has anyone read Karl Edward Wagner's story "Sticks?" Inspired by artist Lee Brown Coyne's work, he illustration (in Whispers) reminds me of the Thriller logo, as well as the cover of the cursed book in this episode!

  28. It's good to see someone else posting here on a recent showing of Thriller. I enjoyed it well enough. The storytelling (is plot-line a better word for this?) didn't seem well matched to the characters in the play itself.

    Mario either becomes the Prince Of Darkness or his imagination gets the better of him. Monica never overcomes her hysteria or ever seems truly at ease with Mario (but then as portrayed by Ilka Windish can anyone see her in a happy relationship with anyone?). Toby continues to play shrink to Mario's patient; thus all the Astaroth inspired fireworks failed to convince him of anything but the whole thing was a shared delusion.

    Yet Dark Legacy was anything but boring; and while it has its virtues the best of them lay in its art direction, costume design, special effects, lighting (and lightning) and music. I felt that it failed to engage me in the actual lives of its characters due to their experiences being too weird to be credible even if well done at the technical level.