Friday, November 5, 2010

'Til Death Do Us Part: Season 2 Episode 24

Originally aired 3/12/62
Starring Henry Jones, Reta Shaw, Edgar Buchanan.
Written by Robert Bloch, based on his short story.
Directed by Herschel Daugherty.

In 1884, undertaker Carl Somers (Jones) kills his wife and heads for the Old West where he's to meet up with a beautiful woman he's become engaged with through the mail. When he gets there and sets up shop, he discovers that Celia (played by Ernest Borgnine) is skilled at photoshopping. Having no choice and smelling the family fortune, Carl marries Celia, only to find out that she's been disowned by her brother (Philip Ober), leaving her penniless. After six months, Carl realizes he's in the same situation he was in with his first wife and decides to handle it the same way.

PE: Well, we'd heard that there was going to be a massive drop off the cliff of quality after "Markesan," but this is a big surprise. (There's something to be said for having low expectations. -JS) The initial premise had been milked to death (even by 1962) and the prologue certainly seems to be sending us on a fast train to Yawnsville. But something delightful happens once Carl hits the Old West: the ol' Bloch magic reappears. This is the kind of material that made Bloch famous in the first place, that skewed look at the funny side of death.

JS: I was pleasantly surprised it worked as well as it did with the old west trappings. Twangy music and all.

PE: Could this be a first? No Thriller babe to drool over. Unless you consider Celia (played by Lou Costello) the prime example of womanhood in this episode.

JS: Hey, enough abuse of Reta Shaw—she was just what this role called for. Besides, she was great (alongside Philip Ober) in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. I guess they couldn't afford Don Knotts for Carl the Undertaker...

PE: There are several snappy dialogue exchanges throughout the show and Bloch is having a great time sending up the Western cliches that were being shown nightly on network TV (when this show was aired, the top three TV series were Wagon Train, Bonanza and Gunsmoke—Westerns ruled the boob tube). A gunfight breaks out in front of the town saloon, a man comes staggering in the swinging doors, and falls to the floor, ostensibly shot dead. The marshall (Jim Davis) walks in and helps lift the man onto the bar, calling for the town doctor. The marshall is asked what happened.
Marshall: Caught this galoot just as he was fixin' to leave town.
Carl: Leave town? What's wrong with that?
Marshall (grimaces): He was ridin' my horse.

When the doc (Edgar Buchanan) shows up, he looks the patient over.

Doc: Just what I thought. I've got the wrong patient.
Marshall: Wrong patient—?
Doc (nods): You're the one I should be treating, Marshall. (chuckles) No bullet wounds in this man. Missed him every shot. You need glasses, Marshall.
Now I'll admit on paper (or on your computer screen) that's not the funniest dialogue you've ever read, but when performed with the comic timing of Jim Davis and Edgar Buchanan, it hits a bullseye.

JS: You can thank Edgar Buchanan for that. I enjoyed the way he crosses over into this episode. You can almost picture there being a separate episode about the Doc being on the run featuring an appearance by Carl the Undertaker. And I love that the prop guys were able to drag in one of the skeletons from the last episode to decorate the Doc's office.

PE: Edgar Buchanan became a TV icon the following year as the slightly daft Uncle Joe on Petticoat Junction (running 222 episodes over seven seasons and doing crossover duty on Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies as well). Jim Davis went on to star as Jock Ewing on Dallas.

JS: I liked the way the second murder was staged in a single shot. I don't think it worked quite as well as they had hoped, but I appreciated the effort.

PE: "'Til Death Do Us Part" first appeared in the January 1960 issue of Bestseller Mystery Magazine.

JS: Again, nice to be pleasantly surprised by an episode in the home stretch.

PE: Proof that there may be yet another lap to run around the Thriller track.

JS: Don't go getting your hopes up... And to our faithful readers - please don't forget to vote in our A Thriller A Day poll!



  1. This really is a messy, over long disappointment. A piece of lazy hackwork.

    I'm not that appreciative of Bloch the script-writer as I'm of his better short fiction ('Enoch' is one of my all time favourites). His 'Psycho' (I haven't read the novel) is said to owe as much to Stefano's innovative idea of having a red-herring, Janet Leigh and changing the emphasis for the film.

    The best of his THRILLER episodes were adapted by other hands - Heyes and Sanford. His finest is the delectably dark 'The Grim Reaper' and that's really a crime show book-ended by the supernatural and it's hovering presence with the portrait.

    This whole episode could have been cleanly edited to 25 minutes and slotted into a 'Hitchcock Presents'. Even then, it's no more than a reprise/rip-off of John Collier's vastly superior 'Back for Christmas'. The whole of the blackmail of the horse doctor for $500 and then the lose of that $500 could have been cut, the fact that the show girl was interested in the money his money, which he loses almost instantly - yet the attraction remains, the lack payment of his one hired worker. the fact that he doesn't even know that his wife would lose the inheritence until he is married to her - it's soooo full of plot-holes that I felt insulted. It's a jerry-rigged comic universe that falls apart at the seams whilst I was watching it.

    Also, two murder are done in a graphic way which sits ill at ease with the attempted comic sensibility of the show, topped of by a droll Hitchcock twist ending which hasn't had the hard work of actually being organically suggested by scenes in the narrative but is given off with an expository piece of dialogue.

    It's worse than 'Cousin Tundifer'....

    No Karloffs, but a Lugosi from 'Plan 9 from Outer Space' is rolling down the hallway.

    The real perky surprise is the upcoming 'The Lethal Ladies'

  2. Any show that features an undertaker's periodical called "Embalmer's Life" is OK with me.

    Yes, it's pretty laid-back in terms of tone and pace, and yes, it's more Hitchcock than "Thriller", etc etc etc.. but it's an enjoyable way to spend 48 minutes of one's viewing time (even though I agree it could have been done better in 26).

    Henry Jones turns in another first-rate, finely detailed performance, as does the always engaging Edgar Buchanan. It ain't Dostoyevsky, but their scenes together are pretty dang' fun to watch. I mean---this is a COMEDY, as Boris' pun-laden intro clearly indicates, so let's be thankful that the Thriller guys didn't give us another installment of the Edward Andrews Show (even though we did get a short sampling of
    Steven's "plink-toot-belch" score from "Pinochle" at one point).

    Interesting to see the real-life husband of Vivian Vance (Ober) and the real-life sister of Marlon ("contenduh") Brando as husband and wife.

    Wry, whimsical, and witty writing from Bloch, with solid performances that director Daugherty never allows to lapse into mere caricature. Not a Thriller classic by any means, but worth an occasional viewing.

    An incredible SIX-headed transplant--three Karloffs and three Hitchcocks---for a slowish but above-average black comedy.


  3. The second that "blump-ker-poop" noise started, I headed for my remote. Luckily, it didn't last enough for me to throw the damn thing at the TV.
    The cowboy with the guitar in the saloon was a nice touch as well.

  4. Not a bad episode, but nothing great either. This was disappointing, since I am a fan of Western horror/suspense. On the bright side, I watched the Night Gallery ep. entitled "Waiting Room," which was a pleasant surprise. I'm sure I don't have to bother recommending that one to Mr. Larry B.!

    I think the big three networks missed out on what would have been a good idea back in the late 50's early 60's for a television show that would have been different from the glut of all the other westerns of that time.

    Imagine a show where a bounty hunter, (a Paladin, Josh Randall type) travels the old west encountering and exterminating various monsters and ghouls. Each ep. could have him encountering Dracula, The Wolfman, Tommyknockers, Thunderbirds, Zombies, etc. Of course, there would be a few clunkers in the series. Like when our anti-hero meets Frankenstein.

    I don't think the premise would work nowadays though. Oh, well, a guy can dream anyway.

  5. There's something to be said for quaint storytelling; I felt while there were no true 'thriller' moments that the sum of all parts -- some great dialogue, strong direction, a lot of terrific performances by a cast of supporting players, and one of the most intriguing, if perhaps ode-to-Hitchcock opening intros by our masterful host -- made this a comfortable 48 minutes. The ending, while again more of a subtle shock than a thrilling twist, brought the whole episode to a well-worn conclusion. I just wish we had a little more Edgar Buchanan and Reta Shaw -- who would be a staple in so many great TV episodes like Andy Griffith' Convicts-At-Large. That crack about Ernest Borgnine had me blowing bubbles in my soy milk, and I had another chuckle when the hick told Somers where the Hooper house was, and you could tell that they were looking at some blank wall or a prop of a New York street. And wasn't that Hooper house where Mrs. Hawk did all her dirty work?
    Six and a half Karloffs...

  6. You guys do know that 3/4 of the fun of doing this blog is reading your comments? I too thought "Hmmm" when the incredible mansion on the hill of the "richest family in the town" turned out to resemble Carrie White's little bungalow before it caught fire.

  7. At least the "plop-poop-kerplunk" thing in the score came as a response to a funny line from Philip Ober [asking Henry Jones if he had eaten dinner yet, to which Jones replied in the negative]-- "Then I suggest you go home and eat it." (or words to that effect).


  8. I'm glad I stumbled on this site when I was drunk one day. Having never watched an episode of "Thriller," I decided to buy it because I had heard nothing but good things regarding the show (except the crime eps.).

    Now that I've been stumbling around this site, it's pretty cool finding out about the experts and their opinions about the show. Cool to find out that DJS is not only a commentator, but a writer. I was surprised to see that he wrote a book for the Hard Case Crime series.

    I'm a big fan of noir, and have read "Dutch Uncle," "Slide," and the classic "A Touch of Death" by Charles Williams along with several others. Somehow "Gun Work," was never read by me, but I went to Borders today and ordered it. Sounds like a good book!

    Too bad I'm all the way out in Chicago, otherwise I'd definitely order you guys all a round of drinks at a bar.

  9. Ultimate!

    John doesn't drink anymore so I'll have his. That's very nice of you.

    David J. Schow is an amazing writer (I don't say that simply because he's a friend of mine----Scoleri's a friend of mine and he can't write) with quite a body of work. It's tough for me to pick out a favorite of his novels--could it be the horror classic "The Shaft," or the Richard Starkian "Gun Work," or the just simply WTF? "Bullets of Rain?" He's equally adept at short stories and non-fiction (He IS The Outer Limits' Companion). You're gonna love "Gun Work." Then try some of the other stuff.

    I love Charles Williams as well. I also dig Peter Rabe, Richard Stark/Donald Westlake, Ed McBain, Jim Thompson, and just about any of the Gold Medal writers. I hope you check out our sister blog (bare bones, which you'll find linked above) where we cover quite a bit of that hardboiled landscape.

  10. Bobby J's comment launching this thread is exceptional. I like this episode a bit more, but not as much as Warren does. It's an OK Bloch screenplay, though decidedly far below his best work, which for me is THE WEIRD TAILOR.

  11. I went in with zero expectations and it hit me just right, I've always had a soft spot for this one. I also get a kick out of the fact that the outlaw who rides into town and gets shot off his horse gets a burial with tombstone and we see that his name is BENTON (as in Doug Benton, who kinda ran the show on THRILLER). Later in the episode, one character refers back to "that lowdown varmint Benton" (or some line like that). Cute!

  12. Yeah, Tom...I noticed that and had a huge smile over it. Not sure it wasn't the highlight of the show for me.

  13. Looks like the horse doctor cleared out, taking everything. Except he saved the bones for Henry Jones.

    1. NOTE: Rodney's comment above references an old popular song called "Save the Bones for Henry Jones" that Nat King Cole and Johnny Mercer recorded in 1947. They also sang it live on "The Nat King Cole Show" (on TV) in 1957 (probably on You-Tube). It's delightful.

      Of course, the "Henry Jones" of the title had nothing to do with the actor.

  14. 'Til Death Do Us Part appears to have been written for Edward Andrews, but something must have happened to our beloved Edward, so our Thriller crew brought in substitute neb Henry Jones. After a murderous prologue, 'Til Death veers into cornball territory where it sets up came for the remainder of the episode.

    Henry Jones is a good choice for the physically meek, hen pecked undertaker, Carl Somers, so much so that the murder scenes weren't convincing. Both wives should have whooped ol' Carl. I never watched any TV westerns, so it's interesting to read the comments about this episode poking fun at the then popular TV genre. The cowboy guitar was a very nice touch.

    Early on I thought that Carl's new partner in undertaking would play a prominent role in the episode, but he quickly disappeared.

    Count me in as another viewer not impressed by Hooper mansion.

    I'm not familiar with Reta Shaw, so for a while I thought Carl's new sweetie really was a dude in drag. Celia's quick turn from caged wallflower to castrating shrew didn't quite work for me. If that was me the episode would have ended right there with my suicide.

    The rest of the episode played out like a sitcom where we laughed at the wacky doings of the town folk, until the obligatory ironic ending.

    Two Karloff heads 'Til Death Do Us Part.

  15. It was a bit of a slog for that head-slapping 'How Ironic!' ending, and yet I didn't mind this episode. It was well done for what it was.

    1. Another light comedy. Hitchcockian in nature. Too light comedy for Serling. Yeah, a Western. Plot twist is primo.