Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Lethal Ladies: Season 2 Episode 29

Originally aired 4/16/62
Starring Howard Morris, Rosemary Murphy, Pamela Curran.
Written by Boris Sobelman, based on short stories by Joseph Payne Brennan.
Directed by Ida Lupino.

Two stories concerning the fragile and troubled relationships that men and women endure each and every day in Thrillerville. In the first, screw-up Myron Sills (Morris) thinks he's finally gotten rid of his wife, rock climber and naturalist Lavinia (Murphy), when he pushes her over a steep cliff into a deep pool. But in reality, she's harder than, well, a rock. In story #2, librarian Alice Quimby (Morris again) is passed over for a promotion in favor of Dr. Wilfred Bliss (Murphy). After enduring harassment from Bliss for far too long, Ms. Quimby gets her own little sweet revenge.

PE: I knew there would be trouble when I saw the same mountain view where the "Attractive Family" offed one of their victims. For gosh sake, isn't it time for rails on that cliff?

JS: The day they put safety rails in Thrillville, it's time to pull the plug on... Oh. I guess this is just about it. In that case, leave nature as you found it, I say.

PE: This is an interesting experiment in that director Lupino has the same lead actor and actress in two separate short dramas. We're always complaining that these damn things are padded. Here I think Lupino does a good job (for the most part) keeping our interest and adding an unexpected twist or two. As far as Howard Morris goes, it's a tale of two actors in one body. In "Murder on the Rocks," I found him to be annoying and hammy, way over the top, whereas in "Mr. Bliss," I found him to be restrained and intriguing. Sure, his character is an extreme, a nasty piece of work who revels in treating others like servants, but he keeps it on an even keel and doesn't resort to the sort of Shatner-esque emoting he displays in the first story.

JS: If the goal was just to show off the acting range of her two leads, then sure, Lupino succeeds. But I find it harder to get excited about the stories, which aren't on par with Thrillers best.

PE: Rosemary Murphy is top-notch in both her roles. A strong, almost manly (I hesitate to use that word that rhymes with "pike") woman in control of the situation who suddenly finds she may be mistaken about her loving husband and his dinner trips. When she makes her return trip from the pool (in a brilliant fade-out from Myron celebrating with a drink, believing he's murdered his wife to a close-up of the worm tied and bound, a ghoulish Lavinia hovering over him), she's more than a bit unhinged and genuinely terrifying. Miss Quimby is the other end of the scale, mousy and matronly, pushed to the limits but keeping her cool, even in the act of murder. If it wasn't for Jeanette Nolan's performance in "La Strega," Rosemary Murphy would have my vote for "Best Actress" of the second season.

JS: Again, Murphy's performance is impressive (though no "La Strega"), and yes, I was very thankful for the brevity of the first segment (nice that they cut the reel out where she come back, captures him, and tapes him up). But seriously, you're going to put this up with ""La Strega," "Markesan," and "The Weird Tailor"? And the second segment, while quite the jilted librarian's wish-fulfillment fantasy, was nothing to write home about. Did you notice that in pretty much every scene, Morris had to find something to keep himself occupied while going through his lines?

PE: I know John is upset that Lupino couldn't find a place for a skeleton in Lavinia's trophy room or Miss Quimby's library. It wouldn't have taken much, true.

JS: That's okay. It's not the first time Ida let me down.

PE: Lupino plops a big red cherry on top of a Thriller career. There's a fabulous scene in the library vault when Dr. Bliss is bouncing from wall to wall, realizing he's trapped. It's shot from above and perfectly illustrates the claustrophobia and terror the man feels. We feel.

JS: You want claustrophobia, I'll loan you The Descent. A high angle shot alone does not a best director make. Lupino has done far better than this.

PE: We've had many disagreements on this blog between you and I and the audience but I think we're all united in saying this is the worst Thriller epilogue in the series' history. It takes the Hitchcock "...but she didn't get away with it..." sigh that Hitch was saddled with to a new low in stupidity.

JS: No argument there. In past episodes, you would have docked an entire Karloff for such a mis-step. It would appear your review here is predicated on switching channels before Boris returns.

PE: "The Lethal Ladies" is based on the stories, "The Pool" and "Goodbye, Dr. Bliss" by Joseph Payne Brennan. It's a shame that the Thriller powers-that-be didn't discover Brennan's work earlier. Like Robert Bloch and August Derleth, Brennan's stories (a mixture of mystery and horror) would have made an easy transition to the small screen. Two paperback collections of Brennan's horror stories are readily available on the net: Nine Horrors and a Dream (Ballantine, 1958) and The Shapes of Midnight (Berkley, 1980), the latter with an introduction by Brennan fan Stephen King. I'd love to see someone collect Joseph Payne Brennan's scarce small press magazine, Macabre, which he edited and published for 23 issues from 1957 -1986.



  1. The thing that I enjoyed so much about Part 2 is the fact that Howard Morris, no matter how nasty the part he's playing, is still somehow playing it for laughs; it HAS to be---why else would they hire him?

    I cracked up out loud several times as I watched him terrorize the staff with his Nazi- Komandant/head librarian routine...the sort of thing he excelled at on "Your Show of Shows"; and the brilliance of the man is the fact that, no matter how convincingly evil he is, you can still sense a TEENY glimmer of that self-deprecating parody just beneath the surface.

    When Rosemary informed him of the water leak in the vault, Howard's "Whaaaat?? This is AWFUL!" cracked me up so bad I had to replay it 3 or 4 times. Then there's the afore-mentioned shot from above in the vault---dramatic? I guess so. HILARIOUS?? -- You bet!, as the silly, simpering little milquetoast slithered down the ladder.

    Again, this 2nd episode is more Hitchcockian than Thrilleresque, but it is nonetheless very well directed.

    I couldn't figure out exactly what it was we were looking at in the living room/trophy room in the 1st part; what WAS that huge, messy-looking thing in the center of the room, I wonder? Anyway, the first part was definitely the lesser of the two episodes.

    Boris' intro (as director) was enjoyable. Stevens' and Goldsmith's cues were, I thought, re-used effectively, and not just tossed in to fill the sountrack as in the most recent shows.

    Still, this ain't the "Thriller" that we've come to know and love, and it's rather sad to see it all end this way.

    SEVEN out of 10 Karloffs for solid direction, cinematography, and the versatility of the 2 principals.


  2. I watched this ep. without my contacts in. Am I mistaken, but was the comic book that the telephone operator was reading, was that Marvel's 1st issue of Supernatural Thriller's featuring IT!, written by Theodore Sturgeon?

    I know I'm in the minority here, except for maybe Mr. Scoleri, but this ep. was just too slow and not all that interesting. It probably does have the worst epilogue of all the Thrillers. On the plus side, IMHO, the opening sequence was one of the best.

    Ultimate Tactical Warrior

  3. Coming after the leanest part of the series with a run of turkeys not seen since the very beginning of the show, I found this to be an excellent and highly enjoyable episode.

    Even if it HADN'T come after such a draught, there are numerous pleasures here marked off against some flaws.

    This season has seen some of the coolest intros in any anthology series and Karloff ranks with Serling and Hitch, here - no mean feat. The opening, with it nurse filling up the bottle, walking menacingly towards the doctor he towards her as she throws the acid in his face, with it's residue burning into the wall is an extraordinarily masterful piece of montage. And to have the camera track back as Karloff shouts out, "Cut" and revealing him in the directors chair. Marvellously inventive stuff...

    As for the stories, they differ in their pleasures.

    The first is one of the oldest plots in the crime arsenal, that it should raise a yawn, yet it's so lean and stripped bare to the essentials and full of conniving that it does the opposite. And with Lupino's direction, the photography and the casting, it kept me glued. Murphy's Lavinia hysterical breakdown recalled vividly for me Ava Gardner's meltdown in 'The Killers', Morris' Sills has three different ranges for three different scenes: the conniver, the unhinged and the terrified. The viewer can fill in the gaps in between, just as they can about how he got caught. This ambiguity, shifts in tone him are little master-strokes inducing the viewer to contribute and giving the characters resonances.

    Did anyone else get the a flashback of Richard Widmark in 'Kiss of Death' and Goshin's Riddler from 'Batman', when he went off the deep end?

    Where it faltered slightly for me was the poor matching between the location stock footage and the studio set for the cliff-top and in the unfortunate "compensating moral values" of the Hollywood system (anyone else remember William Wyler's magnificent film 'The Letter' and it finish). It mars both segments slightly.

    The second episode is a stacked deck of cards against the a certain type of Corporate bully. I've just finished two books about the disassembling of the greatest television service in the world by the far-right neo-liberal free marketeers heralded in by Margaret Thatcher: 'The Rise and Fall of ITV' and the 'The Battle for the BBC', in which accounts took over the industry and destroyed the most diverse and creative TV service in the English speaking world, akin the the effect ABC had on the CBS and NBC (the death of the anthologies and the stampede towards low-brow western hokum) and James 'the smiling cobra' Aubrey on the '60s. He is of that ilk, a real villian.

    There is very little room for movement and depth in this one, the real meat, it's almost like an EC comic in it's crude simplicity. Again, the production crew and cast make it memorable and enjoyable within it's constricted parameters.

    I wish the highly enjoyable commentaries by Gary and David had included this one, rather than the Bloch tale. Hopefully for the blu-ray, one day, this will be rectified...

    Two Karloffs out of 4 and a salute to the grand old man of horror.

    By the way, those guys in touch with Image, do you think you could get them to do the 14 episodes of 'Way Out'? They exist, are in the public domain, reside in the Paley centre and would just need the permission of David Susskid's son. It's the last of that period fantastic anthologies not to get a release.

  4. I can't offer much to the great insight above, other to concur with the few that this was a real pleasant turn after a lean run of thrillers down the homestretch. One of the complaints heard often over the series has been that many of the shows were too drawn out, that the stories featured more than their share of filler moments; well, these two condensed pieces were slick and streamlined, and served well by some wonderful acting. Murphy and Morris were spot on in both, with Morris sparkling as the cheating dweeb in the opener -- I bet those were real beads of Morris sweat during the climax, probably not replicated until he directed the Bea Arthur special! His bound-and-gagged performance made me think wistfully of that never-aired Peckinpah episode of The Andy Griffith Show, called Bass meets Banjo Boy... Murphy was just a firecat when angry. In the second story, they again hit homeruns as completely different characters, with Murphy's anxious outburst truly believable.
    The endings of each were satisfying and well turned, and altho Karloff's close was an obvious punt at the Hitchcock (over-worn for me) formulaic finish, I'd still give BK the thumb's up over AH when it came to being able to spin a delicious delivery for an anthology program.
    A nice way to end out a great series... Whot! Oh crap... Overall, Lethal Ladies would have made a gallant push for my top-10 had i seen it prior to vote night. Eight and a quarter beady-eyed Morris' for this one.

  5. RE: Bobby J's last line: Except for, (of course), NBC's own "GREAT GHOST TALES" (summer, 1961), which included the classic "Wendigo" and the outrageously creepy "Room 13."

    Let's all stay on the lookout for any clues to the whereabouts of these 2 iconic "lost" series, as they represent part of that greatest of all horror/supernatural seasons on TV -- 1961-- when Hitchock, TZ, Thriller, Way Out and Ghost Tales all saturated the prime-time airwaves with their fantastic fare.


  6. Another classic Bobby J. comment!!!!

    I agree that this episode is enjoyable, and that it's a respite during a lean stretch.

  7. I have this really low, around #53 out of 67, I guess the first episode is passable, I wouldn't want to mess with Rosemary Murphy (later to win an Emmy for Eleanor and Franklin), but the 2nd episode, which seemed considerably longer is a waste of time. Best part was the opening with Karloff in the director's chair!

  8. The Lethal Ladies starts off with a nice Hitchcockian prologue which sets us up for a pair of crazy bitch episodes.

    The concept of providing each episodes with the same actor and actress playing the antagonist and protagonist was a fun touch. Both did a good job, but unfortunately, they were stuck in very dull Thrillerville episodes.

    The first episode involves the familar cheating spouse back story. I would have loved to been around in those days where the phone operator listened in on all the calls. I thought that she would play a central role in the plot, but nope, she was just there for window dressing. As an avid hiker/climber I loved when Myron and Lavinia reached their summit and Myron pulled out a cocktail shaker! I've never brought a cocktail shaker in my backpack, only Nalgene bottles filled with water or gatorade, but prior to watching The Leatal Ladies I shook up this drink to accompany my viewing.

    After Lavinia was pushed in the drink you knew she was popping back up and the fade in to Myron's taped mug was great. Lavinia gave us a nice account of why she was angry as hell. Now back up the mountain we go. I call BS on Lavinia dragging a 150 lb minimum Myron up the mountain. I had a hard time believing the ending, especially since Mel slipped up her trip before.

    The second episode has to be the lamest plot in Thriller canon. Twenty minutes of watching a jilted librarian?! The Thriller folks must have really been eager to finish this season and go on vacation. All the while watching the back half I kept thinking, "I'm really watching an episode centered around a sterotypical librarian who got passed over for the head librarian gig?" This mini episode easily ranks in the Thriller bottom ten. As I stated before, decent acting, but it was one big yawn...

    One and a half Karloffs for The Lethal Ladies.

  9. One more episode to go and even if its a dud at least there was the pleasant surprise of this episode, certainly one of the best of the second season!

  10. I liked Morris' performance in the second episode, but the first one would have been so much better with him in his Ernest T. Bass persona. (I guarantee Lavinia wouldn't do that to Ernest!)

  11. A step up from recent episodes. I actually saw the second half of this one years ago in reruns, and had assumed all this time that it was a Hitchcock episode. Not so.

    The first story is good right up to the ending. If she survived a plunge from... let's call it Widow's Hill... the first time, when loaded down with rocks, why is it fatal the second time? IS it fatal the second time? We're just assuming that it was from the fact that the story ends. Probably she was just fine, crawled back up, cursing all the way, and dumped the body off the cliff like she'd originally intended.

    Actually, I was getting quite interested in the story by the end. Just having the guy die of a heart attack, and having Rosemary go over again was a little anti-climatic and almost funny, (it reminded me of Homer Simpson repeatedly falling into Springfield Gorge).

    What was she saying about not screaming, because if he did, his lungs would be empty when he hit the water? Under the circumstances, even if he doesn't scream, he still dies.

    What kind of person is Rosemary anyway, if she's this upset? She got her revenge, and killed the husband who tried to kill her. To then go berserk because she didn't kill him exactly the way she wanted to makes you feel a little less sorry for her at the beginning. Maybe these two deserved each other. On the whole, though, good story.

    The second story is betrayed by the title. Ones first thought is "I never realized the library business was so cutthroat." Dr, Bliss is so obnoxious for so little reason, that you start to wonder why. When you then recall that the title of the episode is "The Lethal Ladies", it becomes obvious that he's being played this way specifically so that the audience will want him dead, or at least not feel sorry for him when he ends up that way. As a result, when the existence of a book vault was mentioned, it was immediately obvious that he was going to end up locked in it. No suspense whatsoever. If the episode had had a different title, it might not have been so obvious.

    Despite this, the episode is handled fairly well. The ploy of making the pipes appear to leak was a clever enough way of getting Bliss into the vault. My problem, and this was obvious to me even when I saw it as a child was this: This is a crime that's virtually impossible to get away with. He's locked in a vault, and has plenty of time to leave notes in the books describing exactly what happened. He's got time to write "Miss Quimby murdered me" on the title page of every book in the vault if he wants to.

    Boris comes out at the end to explain what happened. That's probably why I thought this was a Hitchcock episode all these years. Thriller episodes rarely feature a host appearance at the end, while Hitchcock always does. The ending of having Miss Quimby fall off Widow's Hill is a good way of tying the two stories together.

    These days, this story could never happen because you'd never find a vault that couldn't be opened from the inside. But this was only 3 and a half years after the Refrigerator Safety Act had required fridges to be openable from the inside.

  12. Wasn't there an episode of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS where the timid wife who is abused by her bullying husband traps him in their home elevator and skips off to a vacation? It was one of my mother's favorites from that show, and this had the same plot. Done fairly well, I think, though we all know where it's going.

    I wonder if something subversive was going on with this episode. Rosemary Murphy was incredibly butch in the first story and Howard Morris (who was rather handsome) always seems incredibly gay to me -- I know he was married twice and had a ton of kids, but he always seems to be playing queer to me. If one sees all four of these characters as gay, it adds a little something to the stories and makes Ida Lupino seem very sly indeed.

    1. More later. Lupino was the equalizer, if you get my drift.

  13. There was also a Columbo episode where Ruth Gordon locks her fmr son-in-law in a vault in her mansion for (possibly) drowning her daughter at sea.

    As a claustrophobe, I don't think I would ever enter a vault without leaving something blocking the door.

  14. Nobody pointed out — in the first half, Mercedes, the eavesdropping operator, is Marjorie Bennett, a wonderful character actress who pop up in all kinds of stuff. She had a very long career. I know her most as Victor Buono's cockney-cackling mother in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane." Too bad she didn't have a little more to work with here. The scene where she's listening in while doing her nails and smoking a cigarette cracked me up!

  15. librarian Alice Quimby (Morris again)
    librarian Alice Quimby (Murphy again)

    promotion in favor of Dr. Wilfred Bliss (Murphy)
    promotion in favor of Dr. Wilfred Bliss (Morris again)

  16. I only wish that Howard Morris was given more serious roles to play. I adore the Ernest T. Bass performance - truly wondrous: you could see how he developed as a comic actor from the early "Show of Shows" awkwardness.- I tend to find him uncomfortable to watch in comedy stints: too much rolling of eyes and mugging. But, as I said, he was perfection (better direction?) as Ernest. - Per this, he gave two distinctly different portrayals. I know this were two separate playlettes, but some actors have little range. - "She had all the range of emotions; from "A" to "B"."....Howard Morris was a complex man. Those that knew him described him as a "very angry man" - about life? Per above, he ended up with a total of 5 wives. - He was handsome; he seems to have devoted himself to athletic gymnastics after his early years. - There's an interview on YouTube when he's about 60 years old. Wonderful. Articulate, funny and passionate about life and acting.

  17. I would have loved to see what Thriller's third season would have done with "Carnavan's Back Yard."