Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Third For Pinochle: Season 2 Episode 9

Originally aired 11/20/61
Starring Edward Andrews, Doro Merande, June Walker
Written by Mark Hanna and Boris Sobelman
Directed by Herschel Daugherty

Cuckolded hubby Maynard Thispin (Andrews) has plans for his wife (Ann Shoemaker) and they involve the Pennaroyd sisters (Merande and Walker) across the street who are constantly spying on the Thispins through binoculars. All the old birds want is a third player to fill the seat at their pinochle games. That seat's been vacant since Dierdre (Walker) brained their brother with a cleaver.

JS: Showing the opening prologue in shadows was an interesting stylistic choice, if perhaps better in intent than execution. Frankly, showing it that way, I think it would have been great to see a nice cleaver-in-the-head shot. Unfortunately, the murder was not that convincing (You mean because the cleaver missed his head entirely? Nitpicker! -PE).

PE: And did I miss how the authorities labeled brother Pennaroyd's death accidental? Did they mistake the part in his head for a part in his hair? Why is Dierdre out and about instead of in a looney bin? I've got a sneaking feeling these are the same cops who stamped "This is definitely Rose French, without a doubt" on the forehead of the wrong corpse back in "Rose's Last Summer."

JS: Don't go looking too deeply for serious logic on this one. This episode could literally be occurring in "The Munsters" universe. Because of that, it plays perfectly fine as a backlot episode. In addition, a great selection of character actors were on display - I loved seeing Burt Mustin (the agent on the train platform) and the great Vito Scotti (as Buddy Welsh trying to raise money to be an astronaut!).

PE: I'd like to blame that rotten "wop-wop" sit-com soundtrack on Image's faulty audio problems but I think it's down to Morton Stevens whipping up a few sit-com concertos in preparation for his gig years later on Gilligan's Island. It's the kind of fingernails-on-the-chalkboard-grating that can take one completely out of an otherwise tolerable show. I kept waiting for one of the characters to bend over and get booted in time to the "wop-wop-boom!"

JS: You disparage the soundtrack that I think provides the tonal consistency that makes the episode work. I found it a perfect fit for this Edward Andrews blackly comedic vehicle. Unlike "Masquerade," which I thought suffered in not knowing what it wanted to be (funny or scary), "A Third for Pinochle" is absolutely clear about what it is from the opening sequence.

PE: Edward Andrews does a nice job of playing the whipped husband and you actually want to stand up after he cracks his wife in the noggin and scream at the TV: "Yeah, that's for the downtrodden! The shackled! The abused!" Or at least I did. When Andrews stood up from his typewriter, after doing yet another errand for his wife, wearing an apron, it was comic gold. But I do hope he broadens his horizon in his third Thriller (the upcoming "Cousin Tundifer") and plays a man who doesn't murder his wife.

JS: Don't start looking for Andrews to replace Harry Townes or Henry Daniell—allow him to do what he does best. I think he's so great in this kind of role, I could watch him play a man who killed a new wife a week in a regular series...

PE: Maynard's drive to the train station with "wife" in tow is handled nicely and sets up the twist at the climax (and I won't even say that this would have run nicely on The Alfre..). A decent enough episode with some laughs but please point me to the next Robert Bloch episode. I'd take a Gothic mansion deep in the swamp right now over little old ladies and British whodunits. This ain't no Thriller.

JS: But it is a Thriller—and a rather effective one at that. If I've got to watch little old ladies, I'd rather have them served up like this than "Letter to a Lover" any day of the week. And it all pays off in the final shot (and musical exclamation point). Add to that Karloff's appropriate wrap up and I think we have another winner.

PE: Trivia time: Co-writer Mark Hanna wrote several 1950s cult horror flicks for the likes of Bert I. Gordon (Mr. B.I.G.), Nathan Juran, and Roger Corman, including The Undead, Not of This Earth, The Amazing Colossal Man, and the kitsch classic Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman.



  1. Was hoping to get a Thriller disk from Netflix but they sent The Killer Inside me instead.

  2. I always associated Edward Andrews with comedy until I saw him very effectively playing a dramatic role in an unheard-of Esther Williams drama called THE UNGUARDED MOMENT -- and he even goes kinda loony at the end . It was one of those cases where you're surprised to see someone you think of as a comic doing drama, and by the end he's done it so well you're surprised that somebody like him can do comedy.

  3. He was his usual efficient and whimsical self, which makes Edward Andrews a treasure in one of these semi-thriller episodes. While I agree with you regarding the silouetted opening scene -- that rubber cleaver really takes the wind out of it (but the sisters' own words and Boris' too suggest that the victim wasn't their brother, but someone 'they barely knew', a recent 'third hand') i feel it helped set a lighter storyline... The sisters were quite well played, too -- Merande has a tremendous teethy grin that fit well.
    As to the music, it was buoyant without being flimsy, just the right measure of playfulness for my tastes.
    I've skipped through a few of these, but this is the first one that I recall Karloff doing a prologue, ala Hitchcock. Was the pressure on to be more like AHP?

  4. Ultimate Tactical WarriorOctober 21, 2010 at 11:33 AM

    This episode was okay. For some reason it reminded me of the movie "Parents," with Randy Quaid. My main problem was with the ending. It would have been better if maybe he poisoned the two and one of the old bags wacks him with the cleaver before she dies. I've noticed one of Thrillers problems are week endings like The Twisted Image. Still, this episode was fun for the most part and it's always great to see more of Karloff, even if him giving an ending monologue was to compensate for a weak finish.

    By the way, sorry to ask if it's already been covered, but did anyone ever figure out where they filmed the street in front of the house for "Next Date?" I tell ya, something about it just screams Weirdville U.S.A. After the two brothers get in the cop car I can just visualize the camera panning to another house to begin some other type of macabre adventure....

  5. Absolutely correct about the growing simiarities between Boris' intros and Hitchcock's; no wonder Hitch was getting annoyed with the series.

    I love the sharply-etched shadow/silhouette murder and the gigantic playing card in the intro. Also (as the commentators briefly mention), this show cashes in on the plot device of "Arsenic and Old Lace" -- two batty biddies who live alone and entice strangers/men/victims into their home---(even though "Pinochle" largely abandons this whole idea for much of the episode). What's cool is the opportunity to see Boris in the prologue alongside the murder, since he had starred in the original "Arsenic" on stage from 1941-44.

    Again, Thrillers seem to "run together" a bit; didn't we see Ken Lynch hot on the trail of Andrews just a few weeks ago? And a body in the trunk of a car at night out over the L.A. skyline?.... But, once again, these shows were never intended to be viewed so closely together.

    Yes, Edward Andrews scores again; totally in his comfort zone with this material but, as we can see from other TV, film, and stage productions, a legit, serious actor as well. I enjoyed seeing Ann Shoemaker, still active and totally in command of her scenes in 1961 - (she played Katherine Hepburn's annoying, self-pitying mother in George Steven's great "Alice Adams" from 1934, a film in which Frank Albertson-- the father in Thriller's "Man in the Middle"--played Shoemaker's SON! So she was really up there in years when she filmed "Pinochle", probably old enough to be Andrew's own mother in real life).

    "Pinochle" is a fun show, nicely directed by Daugherty, and it looks great. But I can't see watching it again anytime soon.

    I guess the Thriller folks decided to change the composer's credit to "Music Score", regardless of whether it was an original or a tracked-in patchwork of earlier cues. This one is all new, and Morton Steven's decided to go all-out with the comic "toot-plink-plank-beep-boom-fart" kind of thing, with the high piccolo and low, grumbly contra-bassoon, and lots of solo percussion hits. It's whimsical and amusing for the first 3 minutes or so.....

    Six out of 10 Jonathan Brewster.. er..,umm..Boris Karloff heads.


  6. Ouch. Apart from Alfred Hitchcock appearing in a letter-perfect Boris Karloff makeup and the always-watchable Edward Andrews, this is a real gun-in-the-mouth experience. Any THRILLER with this much daylight, trapped on that horrendous backlot "suburban street," and stuck with a third-rate spin on "Arsenic and Old Lace" ... begs consignment to the outmost circles of TV Hell.

    The grotesque papier mache head Thispen uses as a decoy resembles a rejected version of Robert Middleton from "Guillotine." I'll admit being floored by the revelation that Ann Shoemaker is supposed to be Andrews' WIFE and not his mother — she was 70, he was 47, and the dialogue point about them being married for "27 years" means they got hitched when the Andrews character was ... 20 YEARS OLD? Mind-boggling. (You want HORROR?! Just imagine THAT wedding night!)

    The teeth-grating "whimsical murder" score is by Morton Stevens, whom I am sure wrote it to order, and shouldn't be blamed overmuch ... but god, is it annoying, vacuuming away any chance for suspense or tension, even when people are dropping like crane flies. Da-da-DA-dunt, DING, whomp-click, poot.

    Then there's that big, remedial-looking playing card against which Hitch-as-fake-Boris introduces the players. The script originally gave each of the characters "card values" as follows:

    Ace of Spades: Maynard Thispin
    Queen of Diamonds: Mrs. Thispin
    Queen of Spades: Melba Pennaroyd
    Queen of Clubs: Dierdre Pennaroyd
    Queen of Hearts: Babs Dawson
    Jack of Spades: Lt. Gomez
    Nine of Diamonds: Buddy Welch

    Coda: One final insult as Hitchcock reappears in his Boris suit (mimicking Karloff's voice perfectly) to assure us that everybody is doing hard time. Vomit. Somebody kill the xylophonist!

    One flatulent Hitch head, with a pimple.

    At least Andrews gets to deliver this whopper of a line (to Babs): "As long as you've got the seed, maybe someone will give you the bird."

    Okay, two flaming lame-ass papier-mache heads out of ten.

    Watch the weird pattern develop over the next couple of episodes. Suddenly we swing from the "great-atmosphere-but lesser-episode" category back into crime shows and faux-Hitchcocks, parallel with a whole backwater of what might be called spoofs or black comedy, then a bridging episode ("Dialogues with Death") that's 1/2 crime and 1/2 supernatural, then, wham — "The Return of Andrew Bentley."

  7. Here's a smattering of info re: Karloff and "Arsenic & Old Lace", the phenomenally successful black-comedy stage play that ran from 1941 to 1944 on Broadway. Karloff played Jonathan Brewster, and insane (but urbane) escaped murderer who has his plastic surgeon pal operate on his face in order to disguise him from the law. Problem is, the new face makes him look exactly like......BORIS KARLOFF!!, a fabulous in-joke use throughout the play.

    When Frank Capra made his big film version in 1941, the Broadway production refused to release Boris from the cast to do the film (he was, after all, the main attraction of the play), so Raymond Massey was used instead (though all of the "look just like Boris Karloff" references remained in the script.) So Boris' landmark theatrical performance in this wonderful show, in a major role obviously written to showcase him, remained UNdocumented on film. Until.......

    During the TV era, 3 abridged productions of "Arsenic" were broadcast, one in 1949 (Ford Theater Hour, with Edgar Stehli (the old professor from TZ's "Walter Jameson") recreating his stage role as Dr. Einstein, the plastic surgeon, one in 1955 ("Best of Broadway", with Peter Lorre in the Einstein role and Orson Bean as the "normal" Brewster brother) AND---on Feb 5, 1962 (Hallmark Hall of Fame, with Tony Randall as the "normal" brother), filmed during "Thriller's" final season (though Boris was quite old to be playing the role at this time).

    Please...PLEASE....if ANYONE has ANY INFO on the existence of a video...even an old, 5th-generation kinescope..of any of these, let us know. It's tearin' me up!


  8. OOPS!--

    I forgot to clarify that the three TV productions of "Arsenic" mentioned above all STARRED BORIS K. as Jonathan Brewster, providing the world with the only possible chance of seeing him perform this role.


  9. Peter and John, I made the mistake of taking a week off from viewing any THRILLER episodes, so I'm just now getting to fourth disc. Damn you for starting this funny/thought-provoking blog.
    I guess I could call in sick one day (to work) and catch up but thought I'd post here to let you know how addictive this blog has become.

  10. Doug!
    Thanks for your kind (?) words, but it was all John's idea. So dan him. I do every time I have to watch an episode like "the Closed Cabinet." But, chin up, only 20 days until Mr. Ed Season 1
    Episode 1!

  11. If someone could pass this on to Larry (if anyone's still reading these), I've got the '62 Hallmark version of Arsenic and Old Lace on DVDR, if interested. It's certainly not pristine, but it's watchable.

  12. We are still watching the posts that come in, so I'll make sure Larry gets your contact info.

  13. The prologue is very Alfred. Murderous grannies?! What sort of wackiness lies ahead?

    The first half of A Third for Pinochle plays like a sitcom. We viewers are transported to whitebread suburbia where we zoom in on the dull life of a middle aged couple. Ah, there nosy neighbors appear to be those geriatric killers from the prologue and the henpecked shrub is Edward Andrews.

    It doesn't take long to figure out that Mr. Andrews is again itchin' to get rid of his spouse. Ann Shoemaker is effectively annoying as the battle axe. After listening to her for 5 minutes I couldn't wait until she would be offed. Andrews is very good again, but his roll is more subversive than it was in a Good Imagination, thus denying him the all that wonderful scenery chewing.

    The scenes leading up to the murder are played with a stock sitcom tongue. There is also the sitcomish comedy relief brought on by the door to door salesman's visit to the Pennaroyd home.

    I was glad when Maynard finally bashed the old bat and kept the spotlight mostly focused on himself for the remaining minutes. Andrews immediately accelerated the ham to make up for lost time, but Maynard the swinging bachelor is still a hard sell due to his nerdish physical traits and the side bar with the batty young bird kinda went nowhere.

    Despite knowing how it will end for him, Maynard's "foolproof" body disposal was still fun to watch. All of sudden we are in the Thispin living room and Andrews is cockily jousting with the police lieutenant assigned to the case. Again, it's fun to watch Andrews do his thing.

    Finally, we are back at the Pennaroyd residence as Maynard is triumphantly sowing watch he believes is his last stitch in his freedom fabric. At this point, everyone but Maynard knows how this will end up. Back to sitcom land, but still chuckling.

    A Third For Pinochle was pretty average, but worthwhile mainly due to the wonderful job of Mr. Edward Andrews. Two and a half Karloffs.

  14. "Morton Steven's decided to go all-out with the comic "toot-plink-plank-beep-boom-fart" kind of thing"

    It's like Webern on acid. (That's a comment JUST for Larry R.)

    [Even if he never sees it at this late date...]

  15. As noted above, the initial murder was not their brother. "You hardly knew him!" And we're told twice (by the sisters, and by the wife) that the brother was "taken away" -- the wife notes after "going mad." And personally, I love Stevens' score on this one -- I've been searching for a complete copy for years.

  16. I thought this trafficked in the kind of (mainly misogynist) stereotypes typical in the Sunday comic strips into the 1960s. As such, Andrews's comeuppance was sort of delicious.

    Andrews's performance was a major plus throughout, and for whatever reason, I've always liked Doro Merande. I actually found the papier-mache face of the Missus quite creepy -- it seemed to capture her tyrannical personality and also pointed to what she would look like at the beginning of her decay after death.

    My favorite moment (I actually laughed out loud) was Andrews singing "Ol' Massa's in the Cold, Cold Ground" in anticipation of his wife's demise. But I didn't enjoy this as much as last week's LETTER TO A LOVER, which most of you found so risible.

  17. I've been enjoying reading these along with showings on MeTV-Just finished watching this one and noted you might want to change the first word of your synopsis-"cuckold"ain't quite the word for this hubby!

  18. I just realize you guys must have still been thinking of A GOOD IMAGINATION where it was the perfect word!

  19. Jack Rabbit, INLAND EMPIREDecember 7, 2015 at 7:45 PM

    I am not pleased with this goofy episode.