Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Letter to a Lover: Season 2 Episode 8

Originally aired 11/13/61
Starring Ann Todd, Murray Matheson, Felix Deeback.
Written by Donald S. Sanford, based on the play by Sheridan Gibney.
Directed by Herschel Daugherty.

Someone has killed Dr. Harold Evans. Was it the troubled Sylvia Lawrence (Todd), her jealous husband Andrew (Matheson), or a mysterious third person? Only time (lots of it), and England's finest, will tell.

PE: Never did I think I'd say the words "this makes "Mark of the Hand" look like "Pigeons from Hell." What genius behind the scenes at Thriller central said "You know what I miss...?" At least we have an actual sighting of a vicious Thriller dog!

JS: The most exciting moment in this episode comes during Boris Karloff's intro, as he suddenly stabs a hanging illustration of a human body in the heart with a scalpel. If you turn off this episode at that point, you'll have seen the best it has to offer.

PE: Do you think the role of Sylvia Lawrence might have been better suited to a more... attractive actress? How about a younger actress? Seriously, was Sylvia living in an all-male part of London? Some post-apocalyptic England where your only choice in females is middle-aged matronly or scar-faced and grumpy? What was the secret hold she had on these men? We know she made one hell of a Martini with Spanish marsala. Back in 1961, I guess that was enough.

JS: I had to go back and confirm this was the same Murray Matheson who was so perfect in "The Poisoner." He was so perfect in that role, and yet he's so bland in "Letter To A Lover."

PE: The last ten minutes of "Letter to a Lover" is a bad Second City skit. The detective actually sounds like he's making up his pronouncements on the fly. "Hrrmm, yes, that is why you, Mr. Lawrence are the murderer.... Hrrmm, yes, I was never fooled, you Mrs. Lawrence are the murderer... Hrrmm, I've been on to you, Mrs. Weber, before you murdered Dr. Evans." The perfect capper would have been for Cato to come flying through the door to deliver a karate chop to the detective. Instead we get the stumbling bobby with the flesh wound. Hrrmm.

JS: How is it that Herschel Daugherty, the man who directed "The Grim Reaper," among other great episodes of Thriller, could also be responsible for this plodding mess? Even my wife, who has managed to find something nice to say about every episode thus far, felt this one was a bomb.

PE: I swear to Boris Karloff, I would rather watch an entire season of Barnaby Jones non-stop with a room full of rest home residents and no bathroom breaks than sit through another one of these horrible crime Thrillers. If our meter registered negatives, I'd give this 4 Karloff asses. (I don't think it's even fair to disparage Karloff's ass by comparing it to this episode. -JS)

JS: Well, it's official. Season 2 has its blank slate. Let's hope (for our sake) that it's the only one.



  1. I have to agree with you about the homely Ann Todd and all the guys chasing her puzzle. I kept checking my glasses. Maybe they were all tipsy? But I also have admit that I got caught up in the bizarre and complicated plot and I liked this episode, despite it being a crime story and not horror. Though maybe the women were the horror?
    I can't see giving it zero Karloffs. One or two yes, but zero?

  2. Ultimate Tactical WarriorOctober 20, 2010 at 9:37 AM

    Hey guys, love the blog! I just watched this episode two nights ago after reading a positive review of it on IMDB.

    After reading your review, I'm glad I'm not the only one that thought it sucked donkey ass. The ending was like if you were playing a game of "Clue," with a bunch of crackheads. I agree that some of these crime episodes can be torture to sit through. Still, I read your review on the "Watcher," and I have to say it's one of my favorite episodes. At least the ending was conclusive unlike a lot of the other crime ones.

  3. Gentlemen....

    I am appalled by your rude, insensitive comments!

    Seriously, after watching this episode last night, I said to myself: "As long as "Thriller" insists on making crime shows, they might as well make 'em good---like THIS ONE (!)

    I thoroughly enjoyed it, with all of its twists and turns. True, I though Ann Todd might have been the cleaning woman in the prologue, since she's hardly a looker; but the plot obviously deals with middle-aged, upper crust folk, and this is, after all, 1960. So deal with it.

    And hold on another minute---of the last three shows, this was the only one that had a decent sense of timing and pace throughout, where all of the dialogue was GERMANE TO THE PLOT, with no extraneous filler. Again remember---this was an adaptation of a STAGE PLAY which in live performance probably ran at least two hours. So a Donald Sanford adaptation, (expertly done, no doubt), would necessarily yield a fairly taut 50-minute teleplay, which it did. I think its STAGE origins go a long way towards understanding the nature of this episode--AND to appreciating it.

    I thought Matheson was spot on, as always--cold, incisive, poised. The rest of the cast was also fine..exactly what you'd find in a British murder mystery of the day.

    I wondered if Avis Scott got that funky scar on her cheek from Sarah Marshall in "God Grante.."; maybe the vicious knife jab really got Ms Scott's arm AND cheek. Also, the Scotland Yard dude who solved the case was a dead ringer for Jack Barry, the guy who hosted the TV game show "Joker's Wild". And, of course, since this was a Brit-themed "Thriller", good old stalwart Richard Peel was on the scene as a cop, though he barely made it through this one.

    Too bad about the set, though; the interior of the country estate looked like it was sawed and hammered together the morning that they shot this show; the walls, doors, stairs--and those chintzy 2 X 4 bannisters made it look as though we were watching an actual stage play. A better, moodier lighting design would have helped immensely. (Incidentally, that's my big complaint about the "pristine" print quality of the 6 Thrillers released on video/laser disc in the mid-90's-- their overall brightness robs the shows of most of their darkness and depth, leaving the freshly constructed sets naked before our eyes; even the opening mausoleum scene of "Teakwood" looks bad).

    And how about Boris' aim when he scores a bull's-eye with that scalpel in the prologue!?
    An all-around pro!

    "Letter to a Lover"---grudgingly accepting the fact that it's a CRIME show, adapted from a stage-play-that-could-have-been-made-for-any-other-TV-show-of-the-day......

    EIGHT Karloff heads ALL THE WAY, BABY!


  4. I bet the THRILLER folks felt it was a little bit of a coup to get Ann Todd, who in England had a pretty good stage and movie career, and perhaps they wanted to give her a role that would "flatter" her. Across the pond, she starred in films by people like Hitchcock, David Lean (whom she married), etc. But keeping this in mind doesn't make "Letter" pass any more painlessly.

  5. “Letter to a Lover” is another “inevitable” THRILLER: Born of a stage play, restricted to the proscenium arch, its dramatic pedigree veddy British and Hitchcock-flavored … but still, the plot switchbacks will have your head spinning. Nine Karloffs for plot, but plot is not enough, and I guess everyone else here hated “Sleuth,” too.

    No Karloffs for lack of explosions, laser fights and car chases, obviously. Also no bogeys, which probably really irritates those viewers who had trouble getting worked up over “The Weird Tailor.” (It’s almost as if the THRILLER crew suddenly remembered they did crime shows once upon a time, not so long ago, and thought to catch up.)

    This is the THRILLER equivalent of the Brussels sprouts you can push to one side on your plate, and the best way to think about it is as an interim (and optional) course prior to the final salvo of more noteworthy episodes. Today it would be considered grounds for cancellation, which means we never would have gotten to “The Incredible Doktor Markesan.” Keep that in mind.

    Three side-Karloffs for actual vicious dog.

    Four Karloffs for Ann Todd, who, as Lovely Ladies of THRILLER shall prove, was more conventionally attractive when she was younger, which was long before this episode. Like, two decades. How attractive are YOU today?

    If this had been an ordinary Hitchcock episode, nobody would be whining.

    Four Karloffs for Avis Scott’s visible scar for the entire show, making her the distaff Reggie Nalder of THRILLER.

    Pete has set the crap bar high indeed with the BARNABY JONES throw-down. We all need to remember the playing TV field of toilet chum with which THRILLER was surrounded — punishably awful dreck for the most part, much of which is venerated today as nostalgia, or worse, as culture. At least in this episode we get a taste of the creepy fog to which we have become accustomed; the remote lair; a couple of deaths; and best of all, a crackerjack Boris intro, for which he rates nine big stabbing furious Pratt noggins.

  6. Well, Hrrmm to you, Mr. Schow-
    My friends down at the Legacy House Rest Home here in Mesa, USA wanted to invite you down to watch Barnaby tonight just after dessert (a lovely bread pudding--with extra soft bread). We'll be screening a special 35mm print of "See Some Evil, Do Some Evil" with guest star Roddy McDowell. Legacy House just may be our version of The Egyptian.
    And make that five Karloff asses for "Letter."

  7. "How attractive are YOU today?"

    As the youngster in the group I'll sidestep that one, other than to say I'm twice the man I was 20 years ago.

    For the record, at nearly 50, Peter's still got one hell of a proscenium arch.

  8. "Hrrmm" is that grunty-gaspy noise really old guys make when they are rising up or sitting down, usually on the pot.

  9. Once again, Schow just nails it.

  10. I couldn't remember where I heard the name Sheridan Gibney (author of the stage play on which "Letter to a Lover" is based). Checked IMDB-- he wrote (among many others) the screenplays for two classic Paul Muni films- "I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang" and "Story of Louis Pasteur" (co-starring Thriller's own "Jack the Ripper", Donald Woods) in 1932 and '35--both of which won Academy Awards. Yes, there's no substitute for a good, solid script; too bad his work didn't cut it here on ATAD.

    Incidentally, once per Thriller season, Murray Matheson poisons himself to close an episode.


  11. Letter to a Lover probably would have put me to sleep half way through if it didn't exude a continuous vibe of plot disorientation, which kept me wondering just WTF was going on.

    I really enjoyed the starched Limey peformance that Murray Matheson gave to Todd. Ann Todd may have not looked the right part for his wife, but she did a fine job of adding just enough intrigue to keep the mystery unsettled. Felix Deeback and Avis Scott were servicable in their roles.

    The story events were mostly house bound and drifted forward like a London fog. At times it seemed like an old English stage play. After 40 minutes of slow motion acting, thing jerked forward abrubtly with the action played out in a sped up manner and the loose ends explained and tied up.

    Letter to a Lover was certainly not one of the better Thrillers, but the acting redeemed it somewhat. One and a Half Karloffs.

  12. Well, as much as I'd like to chide Peter and John for their MST3K schtick, the SCTV comment is right on the money here. This is, for all practical purposes, a satire on a British drawing room murder mystery, right down to Ann Todd's complaint about Matheson's, "insane jealousy." (Why IS jealously always "insane" in these things? Never threatening, dangerous, foreboding, obsessive, or--in this case--tedious.)

    Larry R., if you ever check in here again and see my post, please let me know what you were drinking when you watched this episode. It obviously blunted your usually sharp judgment in a way that I'd like to experience, too!

    Surely everyone involved with this knew they had a script that was barking louder than the Thriller hellhound who kept running past that gate. In trying to escape this episode, the dog clearly showed more career survival skills than the human actors. (See, Peter and John, I can do that schtick too! :) )

    They did miss a bet here, though. In addition to the scar, the nurse really should have had a hunchback like Jane Adams in "House of Dracula."

  13. I dunno, I think you guys are pretty intolerant of genres outside of your comfort zone. The cozy, pokey British drawing room mystery is something many people enjoy to this day. I agree that the staging of the 'reveal' was incredibly clumsy, but better direction would have made it all seem less silly (it wouldn't have BEEN less silly, just seemed less silly).

    Ann Todd's icy beauty and sexuality are not to everyone's taste, but she became the rage of England and the U.S. after THE SEVENTH VEIL, and her enigmatic performance here was certainly meant to be reminiscent of MADELEINE, the film directed by her then-husband David Lean about the notorious Madeleine Smith murder trial. Todd specialized in sly, polished types who were emotional volcanos underneath, and she was very much a Hitchcock blonde (in THE PARADINE CASE). I agree that she looked matronly here, but maybe that was the idea. I for one was curious about whodunit and why, and the limited cast and artificial goings-on were part of the fun for me.

    Major THRILLER episode? No, by no means. But it was a diverting hour.

  14. Jack Rabbit, INLAND EMPIREDecember 5, 2015 at 12:15 AM

    I love this episode and think the pacing is amazing. It moves right along. It's also mostly white instead of the grays and blacks of the previous episodes. It stands out. I wasn't bored, rather, drawn into the story. I love the Karloff stabbing intro, and the long opening sequence before it with no dialogue, much like a Hitchcock film sequence, told only with images. I don't always prefer the horror episodes over the crime, and as others here have said, the good crime episodes are horror. Being a gay man, it's hilarious to see how you straight guys come down on an actress for not being pretty enough, but that's not an issue for you with the male leads. Unfair and unreasonable, silly straight guys.