The spider web fills the screen, it's Boris Karloff's THRILLER!
Season: 1, Episode: 25.
Airdate: March 14, 1961
Director: Ida Lupino
Writer: Barré Lyndon (?) based on stories by August Derleth (Extra Passenger), Wilkie Collins (Strange Bed) and Nelson Bond (Medusa).
Cast: Reginald Owens, Robin Hughes, John Abbott, Michael Pate, Richard Lupino.
Music: Morton Stevens.
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Producer: William Frye
Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “This is an English pub. Just the place for a little something to warm the cockles of your heart... while I chill your blood. They give you a mulled claret here, guarenteed to fortify you against, well, against anything. If the people’s clothes seem strange, well it’s because we’re back in 1905. When a dollar was still a dollar and the British pound was a beautiful gold coin. We are going to see three forces of evil. Three stories, each a masterpiece of strangeness and terror.”
“In this room is a young man who is on his way to commit murder. She wants money, he wants her. Well, to satisfy both of these desirous young people someone will have to die. Drink your claret, you’re going to need it. You are about to meet the extra passenger in one of the eeriest tales ever told.”
“You’ll take another glass of this claret, of course. It will brace you for a different force of evil. All of the night birds show up in a pub like this sooner or later. Musicians between shows, detectives looking for someone, peers of the realm, reporters, actors, men about town, floatsom of a great city. People in trouble, or looking for trouble.”
“I sometimes think, perhaps you do too, how outrageous it would have seemed to anyone a hundred years ago if they had been told that someday men would be doing exactly what you’re doing now. Listening to a voice, watching a picture plucked as it were out of the air. We’ve learned a lot in the last 100 years. But how much do you suppose had been forgotten in the last five thousand? You know how scientists scoff at folklore and ancient beliefs? But every now and then they amaze themselves with a discovery that our remote ancestors were right afterall. Our third take of terror contains the echo of an ancient fable which may not be a fable at all. It begins with a manhunt, a search for a murderer, a strangler if you will.”
Synopsis: A turn of the century PULP FICTION episode, with a pub as the hub instead of that bar where Butch and Vincent Vega hang out.
Our first story begins in our turn of the century British pub where Simon (Richard Lupino) and Katie (Iris Bristol) plot murder. Simon’s crazy rich uncle spends all of his time studying the occult. When he dies, Simon becomes very wealthy... but Katie suggests that the old guy might need a little prodding into the grave and Simon has a perfect plan. An alibi that the police could never break. He buys out a private compartment on a train, the Conductor punches his ticket. When the train comes to the stop near his uncle’s house he sneaks off the train, races to his Uncle’s house. His Uncle (Terence de Marney) has a rooster chained to a Ouiji Board kinda thing, and is so focused on his experiment to bring a flower back to life temporarily that he doesn’t hear Simon sneak in... until it’s too late. Simon beats his Uncle to death with a pestle, wipes the blood from his hands, and leaves the house.
Outside he has a car stashed. He gets in the car and speeds to the next train station. According to his time tables, he can just make the train because the road takes a more direct route than the train. He parks the car, has to run to make the train, sneaks back into his compartment *seconds* before the Conductor checks into the compartment. Simon pretends he had dozed off, now he has the perfect alibi. He never left the train. He has gotten away with murder!
But when the Conductor leaves he notices he’s not alone in the car... there is a strange man in black sitting quietly in the corner. Simon tells him this is a private compartment, the Man In Black says his Uncle was a warlock and had the ability to send a *walking corpse* to do his bidding. When the Man In Black looks up... it’s Simon’s Dead Uncle! He attacks Simon...
The Detective examines Simon’s dead body on the train and says he was killed by a rooster’s talons.
Our second story begins at the bar of that pub, where Collins (Robin Hughes) and Ashton (Francis Bethencourt) are discussing how terribly bored they are. They’ve seen all of the plays on the West End, what is left for entertainment? An older woman (Jacqueline Squire) sitting alone at a table pipes up and suggests they go to Hussar House, which has gambling in the back room. The two men mention the establishment’s reputation: in the past dead bodies have been found in the vicinity with rumors that they were gamblers robbed of their winnings. The old woman says those are just rumors. Though Ashton pleads exhaustion, Collins decides to try his luck.
The back room at Hussar House is filled with gamblers, and Collins finds himself winning most of their money over the course of the night. He has a massive stack of chips! The Hussar himself (Reginald Owen), a war hero in full uniform, takes Collins under his wing and makes sure he is treated well. His drinks are on the house, and the Husser makes sure Collins’ glass is always full. Collins feels so lucky, he decides to bet everything on one spin of the roulette wheel... and wins! The Husser shows him how to wrap his money in an old cloth so that he won’t be robbed on the street... the cloth weighs as much as a cannon ball! But Collins has had so much to drink he’s wobbly. The Hussar comps him into a room for the night: the turn of the century version of a VIP room complete with a huge canopied bed. Collins puts his winnings under his pillow and goes to sleep.
In the middle of the night, Collins hears a noise and awakens... the canopy is lowering, about to crush him! He rolls out of the bed at the last moment and the canopy crushes the pillows... which would have been his head!
After he catches his breath, the canopy begins to rise again... and a secret door begins to open in the wall! Collins grabs his winnings and pops out the window onto the ledge, hiding. He grabs a drain pipe and starts to climb down... but the pipe breaks and he almost falls! It was never meant to hold a man. Lots of suspense generated. He finally gets to the alley, races away with his winnings wrapped in the old bit of cloth.
He gets to Ashton’s flat, tells his friend about winning all of the money and almost being killed. Then opens the old cloth to expose... one of the cannon balls that had decorated the military themed casino. And his winnings?
A yacht with the Hussar and the Old Woman from the pub sails for tropical climes.
A scream in the night! The Leighton Stranger has struck again! Another woman killed! But this time, the police have a clue: the killer left behind a black leather glove. The police have quadroned off the section of London where the woman was killed and are doing a house to house search for a man wearing only one glove (Michael Jackson?).
Hiding in an alley, Shanner (Michael Pate) runs his glove along the wall... the other hand is bare. As the police search, he tries to find somewhere to hide... an unlocked door. But this is the middle of the night, every door is locked... except this one! A strange shop with a sign announcing that it features statues of 12 Famous Killers. Shanner takes off his single glove and puts it in his pocket, then sneaks into the dark shop...
A group of people are *starring at him* in the darkness! Shanner freaks out! Then he realizes these are the statues. He puts his hands around the neck of a female statue... and someone *touches him* in the darkness.
The shop owner Mr. Milo (John Abbott) turns on the light and asks if Shanner would like Milo to give him a tour. Shanner acts like a customer, and Milo goes from statue to statue telling the history of this killer, his methods, his victims, and other interesting information. It’s creepy. The statues are very detailed, very lifelike... but made of stone. Milo finally comes to the notorious killer Dr. Hartwell, and Shanner is confused: how could Milo have made a statue of the man, there were no known photographs of him and his victims couldn’t very well describe him. Plus, he was never captured! In fact, the police have never captured any of these killers on display! Shanner is suspicious and asks how he came to sculpt such lifelike figures. Milo says he has methods of his own. Shanner asks if this is a model of Dr. Hartwell... or the doctor himself? “Yes. That was Dr. Hartwell.” Shanner is shocked: “You killed them and petrified them! You’re a worse murderer than any of them!” Mr. Milo says he did not kill them. It was the Gorgon’s head. He is from Greece, and was digging around and found the head of Medusa carefully kept in a case...
Shanner wants to call him crazy... but there is a knock at the door. The Police doing their house to house search! Milo opens the door... and there are now 13 statues in the collection. Shanner stands very still as a pair of detectives (Richard Peel and Noel Drayton) enter the shop. There’s some great suspense as the two detectives poke around in the shop as they tell Mr. Milo they are chasing Leighton Strangler, and for the first time they have a real clue: the black glove. One of the detectives looks at the statues, examining them closely, commenting on how detailed they are but also mentioning that if they were statues of convicted and executed killers Milo might have a bigger crowd. One of the detective comes right up to Shanner, but moments before he discovers that Shanner is *not* a statue, the other detective says they need to be getting on to find the strangler.
Once they are gone, Shanner suggests that Milo help him sneak past the police. He says he’s had some problems with the police in the past, and if Milo could put him in a crate and then hire a wagon to take him past the police, he would gladly pay. When Shanner reaches into his pocket top pull out some money, he also pulls out the single black leather glove... and it drops on the floor between the two men. Milo looks at the glove and states that Shanner is the Strangler, the killer the police are searching for!
Shanner says that Milo is by far worse, having killed all of these other killers. Milo says they were turned to stone by the Medusa, and Shanner doesn’t believe him. Milo opens an ornate case, standing behind it, and exposes the head of Medusa... and Shanner turns to stone!
The last shot has Milo changing the sign on the door from 12 statues to 13.
Review: When I think of the THRILLER TV show, I think of Ida Lupino. When I watched these as a kid when they were rerun on some non network channel, my favorite episodes were GUILLOTINE and LATE DATE (coming up) and both were based on short stories by Cornell Woolrich, one of the three fathers of Noir fiction (oddly, there are no mothers). Sometime later I tracked down Woolrich’s novels and short stories (which had just been republished) and read them all. One of my first trips to Los Angeles included a trip to the UCLA Special Collections Library which housed a bunch of ancient pulp magazines, and I spent a few days reading stories in Dime Detective and others by Woolrich and Norbert Davis and many others. But also in those closing credits of GUILLOTINE was the name of the director, Ida Lupino. Wait, that’s can’t be the actress from that Bogart film HIGH SIERRA and that awesome Noir flick ON DANGEROUS GROUND, can it? Turns out it was. Turns out Lupino reached a point in her movie star career where she realized she would someday be too old to star and decided to start working on the other side of the camera. She wrote and directed all kinds of crime films from thrillers to noir to just plain old action. And she was *great*! Probably one of the main reasons why she caught my attention was that her career intersected with that on Don Siegel, who is one of my favorite directors. He directed a little film called DIRTY HARRY you may have heard of. Lupino cowrote PRIVATE HELL 36 which Siegel directed. Lupino cowrote that film with one husband () and costarred in it with another husband (Howard Duff), probably making for a tense set. But she went from actress to screenwriter to director, and was excellent at all of them. On Trailer Tuesday a while back I featured her film THE HITCHHIKER, which is edge of the seat suspense.
Lupino treats this episode like a movie, using camera angles and movement to build suspense and create visual reveals and reversals. I mentioned that last week’s episode had a pedestrian sequence of a character climbing a spiral staircase to their possible doom, but in this episode Lupino makes scenes like climbing down the drainpipe outside of the Hussar House incredibly suspenseful. But the most amazing bit of direction in the episode is an amazing single shot in MEDUSA where we go from Shanner looking at the Medusa head and pan and dolly to the Medusa head with Milo behind it, and then after Milo closes the case we follow him back to Shanner... who is now a statue. All in one shot. No cuts. I call these “sells it shots” because without a cut Shanner the human has becomes the statue of Shanner, and that sells that it really happened and isn’t some movie trick. That guy really turned to stone! Of course, behind the scenes there was probably a great deal of careful and quiet moving of the actor off his mark and the statue onto the mark. But tricky and inventive shots like this are something unexpected on a TV show’s tight shooting schedule... and this particular episode has *three* stories with *three* different casts, which would have been difficult for anyone to pull off. But all three segments use a level of visual storytelling that most of the previous episodes never got close to.
Next up is an episode based on a Woolrich story followed by *another* episode based on a Woolrich story followed by an episode based on Robert Bloch’s second most famous piece of writing.