Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Portrait Without a Face: Season 2 Episode 14

Originally aired 12/25/61
Starring Jane Greer, Robert Webber, George Mitchell.
Written by Jason Wingreen.
Directed by John Newland.

Artist Robertson Moffat (director Newland) is about to start work on his masterpiece "The Angel of Death" when he's shot through the head with a crossbow by a masked figure from the skylight in his studio (not by Professor Plum with a plunger in the loo). Six months later, Arthur Henshaw (Webber) is sent by his gallery to catalog Moffat's work for an exhibit, only to discover that Moffat's final blank canvass is painting itself a picture... of the artist's murder.

PE: What in the name of Gianni Versace is Robertson Moffat wearing? If it's not a bathrobe, it's a bath mat with buttons.

JS: I was too busy appreciating his fine art. Did anyone else notice that it wasn't a particularly good likeness? And here I thought the model wanted it because she was embarrassed by it, not because she was worried it might tank her nude modeling career...

PE: Perfect picture of an episode gone all wrong. The concept is very cool (and was done much better, in a way, years later on Night Gallery) and it ropes you in with lots of false promises before settling for Inner Sanctum territory. By the climax, we're buried with ludicrous expositions.

JS: Once again, Season 2 has you and I on opposite ends of the spectrum. My wife had it all figured out the moment the first drop of paint was on the 'blank' canvas, but we still enjoyed it start to finish. I no sooner commented how much more I was enjoying Newland's performance in this than in "Andrew Bentley," and WHAP! Crossbow bolt in the head.

PE: SPOILER ALERT: I actually tried to recreate in my living room how fast a Robertson Moffat forgery could be painted that would fool a renowned expert (Professor Martin Vander Hoven aka Sergeant Shultz). It took me 2 hours to paint the arrow through his head. I fail to see how Arthur Henshaw did it any faster. Stencils? I did add one quarter of a Karloff head for the final reveal on the portrait. It made no sense but so what?

JS: Did you have to use your 64-color assortment of crayons? Let me get this straight—turning men into pigs, no problemo. An artist painting faster than you—complete inability to suspend disbelief. Got it. (Apples and oranges, Scooter. Mrs. Hawk is an ancient goddess; Arthur Henshaw is not a cosmic painting deity. -PE; Or IS he? -JS) You don't even give Big K any love for killing his cameraman?

The real killer revealed?
PE: By the time we finally get to see the finished "final masterpiece of Robertson Moffat," we're convinced of one thing: this guy was painting for girlie magazines and EC Comics.

JS: I actually thought the crossbow-bolt-in-the-head was more effective than the axe-wound-in-the-head shot from "Pigeons from Hell." If there's one thing about this episode I didn't like, it's Katherine 'The Cackler' Squire, whose performance was so annoying I had to create a montage of screenshots.

PE: The first time Agatha Moffatt lets out one of her banshee cackles, it's funny and outre. By the 40th time, I was convinced that Ed Wood had taken over for the director while Newland was readying the infamous flop One Step Beyond: The Musical. There's no rhyme or reason to Agatha. We're not told whether she's mentally ill, senile, or just a happy camper. She's just a tool to make noise now and then and add "atmosphere," John Newland style.

JS: Perhaps Newland was using her to prevent the audience from dozing off. (oh, so we do agree about this mess. -PE).

PE: The two leads, Jane Greer and Robert Webber (who reminds me of a less world-weary Gig Young), do what they can with what they're given. Greer became famous playing dames in such noir classics as Out of the Past, The Big Steal, and They Won't Believe Me. Seeing her publicity pics from those flicks, I'm reminded of Paul Newman's classic line in The Verdict: "My God, you are some beautiful woman." She was. In 1957, she played Lon Chaney's second wife, Hazel, in the biopic Man of a Thousand Faces. Webber became a fixture on television through hundreds of guest star roles on shows like Police Woman, McMillan & Wife, Cannon and Ironside. Greer and Webber co-starred over at Hitch's place in "A True Account," during the 4th season in 1959.



  1. I liked this episode except for the crazy old lady that kept shrieking with laughter. Jane Greer was great in some early film noir roles. It's a shame she never had a great film career thanks to Howard Hughes.

    Concerning the paintings, didn't all the other paintings look abstract, yet here we have a realistic portrait of the murdered artist and the killer. I would think the so called art expert would say the painting was not in the style of the artist, etc.

  2. It would have made a great Manhunt cover though!

  3. I thought Katherine Squire was terrible but it probably wasn't her fault, she was probably giving the director exactly what he asked for. She was married to George Mitchell, who played the sheriff, and they were seen together in a lot of episodes of various TV series -- I guess they "packaged" themselves, or maybe it was a "hire one, get one free" deal. In "Portrait Without a Face," Squire is the one who shoulda come for free.

  4. There was a nice mystery element to it, and it ended with a twist. Did you not consider that Henshaw, having a good idea of the whole murder scene of six months ago, had a second painting already stashed aside for the reveal (just missing a Shat-like star grimace of paint-on-thy-hand! shot)? And how hard is it to fool Sgt. Schultz?
    Interesting fact - character actor Jason Wingreen wrote this episode, of which he discusses here: http://classictvhistory.wordpress.com/2010/05/21/an-interview-with-jason-wingreen-part-two/

    The proprietor of that blog also gave you two a backhanded compliment in a later post...
    I enjoyed the performances of Newland, Greer and Webber. We're all in agreement that the old bat should have been working the camera for Karloff at the start.
    Robertson Moffat? By the end of the show I thought his name was Robertson Mackerel!
    Eight arrow-pierced Karloff heads!

  5. I really feel that, as a long-time enthusiast of "Thriller", that it is somehow my DUTY --[to the series itself and what it represents, to Image for investing in this brand-spankin' new dvd release, to the experts who have come together to provide us with informed commentaries, to our hosts who give us a place to gather and share our opinions]-- to sit down and carefully watch each of these episodes and attempt to appreciate it as an artistic entity, to put aside previous opinions and approach each show anew in as supportive a way as is possible.

    So here's another Second Season show that has a lot to offer, but, as it goes on, I find myself trying to "ward off" and ignore all of the stuff that doesn't work. In this case--the misguided, pathetic decsision (by writer, producer, and--especially--director) to allow that ridiculous caricatured AUNT to destroy the proceedings, is almost enough to make me give up in the hope of finding a few real gems in these lesser episodes.

    DEDUCT TWO FULL KARLOFF HEADS for the idiocy of the AUNT! I wish to hell Schultz would have crashed through the kitchen window, crushed her with his hulking rear-end, and then swallowed her in one big gulp; that would have been totally consistent in tone with the cartoony junk that destroys much of this episode's effect.

    Excellent plot device--the painting which completes itself (I recall a DC comic from the late '50's which uses the same idea quite effectively). Love the design of the art studio set. The variety of style in the paintings doesn't bother me-- artists, composers, etc often dabble in different styles. Robert Webber's "singular talent" really stretches credulity---especially the FIRST portion of the painting to be discovered; exactly how DID he get into the studio to do it, considering that Jane Greer had the only key? Through the skylight, as he suggested? And who was the reporter talking to in the bar re: Robert Webber's training in archery? Nice red herring that Jason Wingreen could have expanded upon in order to ELIMINATE the Aunt character altogether!

    Nice shot of Newland lying on the floor with the arrow in his noggin---the "censorial" black blot on his forehead did not distract from the overall effect. Boris' intro was another winner, especially his killing of an off-camera crew member.

    Incidentally, I was struck by the closeup of the accursed Aunt with her ouija board; on Christmas day, 1961--the day that this episode premiered (we didn't watch it), my mother's big gift from Santa was the very same board.

    But, sentiment aside, I say SIX Karloffs only-- thanks to the unfortunate aunt, whose scenes drag this show down into the realm of a bad high-school play.


  6. Larry R-
    Sometimes when making notes for these things, I have to tone down the number of criticisms and WTFs? so as not to incur the further wrath of the Thriller Elite. I too wondered who the hell the reporter was talking to in the bar (I assumed later it was the sheriff, who dressed himself all up in Robert Wagner's "It Takes a Thief" get-up,climbed the side of the building and shot Moffat with an arrow rather than knock on the door and shoot him with a gun. He's the sheriff, right? Who better to scotch a crime scene?). I guess I'm still more upset that an artist of Moffat's calibre would be wearing something ransacked from Scoleri's closet.
    Of course, all the plot holes and contrivances are forgotten when Henshaw reveals he's the painter. I would suspect that an episode like this would go over better in 1961 when there was no "rewind" to play with.

  7. Forgot to mention---

    Once per Thriller season, an artist who is about to begin work on a new painting refers to it (in advance) as a "masterpiece."

  8. Portrait Without a Face is an adequate mystery centering around a painting that paints itself. Not quite Dorian Gray, but still better than watching paint dry.

    I enjoyed the prologue, especially the deadly arrow kill shot. Mr. Karloff's followed up that theme with his archer assassin routine. What followed was pretty average Thriller material, but still a serviceable time killer. Once the "supernatural" plot device is introduced, you can slip back into your cozy chair and watch the brush strokes be applied to this mild mystery.

    As with any mystery, there were enough players introduced throughout the show to make you wonder who was a red herring and who was actually the killer. I thought for sure that Agatha Moffat's loud mackerel intrusion(s) into the sleuth gathering had greater meaning, but nope, as was stated above, she was just there to add noise and atmosphere. The rest of the cast did there job in a competent, but sorta bland manner.

    It was fun to see how the painting progressed. The predictable ending revealed an unpredictable killer with unsatisfying reasoning.

    I pulled my bow back and shot two Karloff heads...

  9. The prologue was the best part of the episode for me. Nice, moody atmosphere.

    1. Dorian Gray, hooray, Jose, si vois plait! Really, that spooky movie rivaled any Thriller episode even my favorite, the Grim Reaper. The portrait/painting changing over time to show all the warts and pox as our doomed playboy became more mercenary. Wilde!

    2. Newland was wearing a safari jacket. You saw them all over TV back then. Didn't you guys ever watch DAKTARI?

      Actually, come to think of it, if you've never seen an episode of DAKTARI, good for you. That's some wasted time avoided.

  10. Jack Rabbit, INLAND EMPIREDecember 9, 2015 at 11:41 PM

    What? I didn't understand anything that happened in this episode. Especially the cackling woman, who drove me crazy. Not a good script.

  11. I enjoyed the cackling, it makes you want to accuse her. Adds to The Who done it. Irregardless, best cackle I’ve ever heard.