Thursday, September 08, 2016

THRILLER Thursday: The Fatal Impulse

The Fatal Impulse

The spider web fills the screen, it's Boris Karloff's THRILLER!



Season: 1, Episode: 11.
Airdate: 11/29/1960
Director: Gerald Mayer
Writer: Philip MacDonald based on a story by John D MacDonald.
Cast: Robert Lansing, Witney Blake, Elisha Cook, Steve Brodie, Conrad Nagle and Mary Tyler Moore.
Music: Pete Rugolo.
Cinematography: Benjamin H. Kline.




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “A phone call in the night. A threat to kill. And then a public announcement that the killing will take place. Is this man just a publicity seeker? Or will he be driven to kill? Will he succumb to the impulse? That’s the name of our story, “The Fatal Impulse”. Our principal players are Mr. Robert Lansing, Miss Witney Blake, Mr. Lance Fuller, Mr. Elisha Cook, Mr. Steve Brodie, and Mr. Conrad Nagle. Before very long, one of these girls unwittingly will be carrying a deadly bomb through the crowded city. As sure as my name is Boris Karloff, one man’s impulse will paralyze a great metropolis for six terrifying hours. I do hope you’re not addicted to biting your nails, because this, I’m quite sure you will agree, is a thriller!”



Synopsis: The episode opens with a campaign poster for Walker Wylie for Mayor next to a pay phone, then has a limping Harry Elser (Elisha Cook jr from THE MALTESE FALCON and just about every Film Noir ever made) dragging his leg to the pay phone, dialing a number, then putting a handkerchief over the phone to disguise his voice as he threatens to kill... Mayoral candidate Walker Wylie (Conrad Neagle, who manages to make everything he says sound like a lie, even his character’s *name*) who was sound asleep in his bed moments before. Wylie hangs up the phone and goes back to sleep. Elser puts some more coins in the phone and calls every newspaper, TV and radio outlet telling them that he will kill Walker Wylie, get those headlines ready!

Detective Rome (Robert Lansing who always reminded me of an alien) and his partner Sgt Hannigan go to Wylie’s office to question him... and his secretary just lets them through without even showing their badges! Rome chews out Wylie, who obviously doesn’t take the threat seriously. Wylie tells Rome he doesn’t have a single enemy in the world (but he’s so insincere that you know there must be millions of them)... Rome doesn’t believe it, says until they find out whether there is or is not a real threat, Wylie will have a policeman with him 24/7. Wylie argues that he’s running for *Mayor* and can’t have a bunch of stupid detectives interfering with his life. Plus, he’s the main guest on a late night talk show tonight! The interview will be shot here in his office at 11pm, can’t have a cop sitting next to him for that! Rome insists, leaves Hannigan behind for protection...



Elser in his garage carefully makes a bomb. It’s a small bomb with a mercury switch, about the size of a couple of packs of cigarettes. Gently places it in another box packed with cotton balls to keep it from being shaken, and...

At Wylie’s Office they are prepping for the TV filming. Crew guys are going in and out of the office... and Elser in a maintenance jumpsuit manages to sneak in with some, right past Hannigan, saying he’s there to change the light bulbs. . When the real crew guys leave, he sits in Wylie’s chair, opens a desk drawer, carefully takes the bomb out of the box and prepares to put in the drawer... when Wylie’s secretary steps into the office and yells for Hannigan! Elser slides the bomb into his pocket, tries to escape... But Hannigan rushes into the office and they fight. Elser tips one of the big TV lights onto Hannigan’s head, glass shattering and leaving Hannigan with raw hamburger for a face and completely blind. Elser makes his escape...



But the alarm has been rung. Rome and some detectives search the building for Elser (a limping man), who is hiding in a janitor’s closet. Elser changes out of the jump suit into a business suit and when the clock strikes 5 he leaves the janitor’s closet and joins the crowd of businessmen and secretaries leaving work for the day. He manages to squeeze into a packed elevator full of women and floor by floor suspense builds as people get on and off the elevator. We know he has the bomb in his pocket, and if it goes off? All of these innocent people will die.

When the elevator reaches the ground floor, everyone exits... and Rome and his men spot Elser and give chase! Elser races across a busy street with Rome and the cops right behind him... and then gets hit by a truck. Rome searches him for the bomb, can’t find it... and Elser’s last words are “girl in the elevator”. The figure the bomb was set to got off around 11pm when Wylie would be at his desk on the TV talk show... and there were around a dozen women on that elevator with him. But who are these women? One of them has a bomb in her purse that will blow up at 11pm tonight, unless she shakes it enough to blow up earlier. “There’s some girl walking around this city with a bomb” and she doesn’t know it.

Rome has his men track down the names of every woman on Wylie’s floor who left work at 5pm, plus any woman who had an appointment with a business on that floor who left at 5pm. Make a list on the squad room chalkboard. Find those women. Interview them. Search their purses for the bomb. Cross them off the list if they didn’t have the bomb. He knows that a couple of women got on the elevator at different floors, but has to start somewhere.



Meanwhile, Rome and his new partner Detective Dumont (Steve Brodie, who was Mitchum’s treacherous partner in OUT OF THE PAST and the father of the director of my movie TREACHEROUS) go to Elser’s house to search for clues. In the car on the way Dumont and Rome discuss Rome’s lack of love life after losing his wife, so we know these two guys have been friends or a long time. They discover that Elser was one of Wylie’s employees who was fired and denied his pension and holds a grudge (kind of like Dennis Hopper in SPEED). When Dumont goes to search the garage... booby trap! The whole garage blows up, killing Dumont right before Rome’s eyes. He’s lost two partners and the episode isn’t even half over!

8:15...

At the Squad Room, they are crossing names off the list on the chalkboard... it’s down to four *known* women who they have not been able to contact. Rome and another detective split the final four and try to find them. Rome tracks down an artist who had an appointment on that floor named Jane Kimball (Whitney Blake) who he finds in a night club with her boyfriend Robert (Lance Fuller). Robert is kind of combative to Rome, he’s on a date here and this cop is screwing it up. Rome explains about the bomb... and Jane and Robert become a lot more cooperative. Rome *carefully* takes the purse out of the crowded nightclub to the lawn in back and *cautiously* takes each item out looking for the bomb. Nothing. No bomb. When he gives Jane back her purse, Robert is mad as hell for ruining their evening... and then it gets *worse* when Jane says that she had been in the building applying for an artist job with her portfolio... and can *draw* all of the people in the elevator. Robert sits on the sidelines pissed off as Jane draws all of the faces.



The last girl on Rome’s list is a wife with a *very* jealous husband. They are fighting when Rome rings the doorbell, and the problem is... the wife was visiting her lover in the office building and lies to Rome about being in the building. But when Rome explains about the bomb, the wife must admit to cheating in front of her husband... and her husband grabs her purse looking for evidence! Now Rome must wrestle the bag away from the husband, and there may be a bomb inside! After the careful search of the purse... Rome finds nothing.

9:20...

At the Squad Room, *all* of the names are crossed off the list on the chalkboard. Rome is stumped. The only possibility is some woman *not* on their list. How can they find her?

In the night club, Jane remembers the woman in glasses who came into the elevator on a lower floor... and calls Rome.

Rome tracks down the woman in the glasses and goes to her apartment. The woman is played by a pre DICK VAN DYKE SHOW Mary Tyler Moore, who tells Rome she checked both her purse and her portfolio and no bomb in either one...

Rome realizes that Jane had her art portfolio with her in the elevator, and it was never searched. He tries to call her at the club, she’s left! He races to her home...

Almost 11:00!



Jane and Robert come home from the nightclub (to her house) and once the door is closed Robert’s hands are all over her... oh, and the bomb is there, too! It has fallen out of her portfolio onto the sofa... and is behind a cushion where it can not be seen. As Robert guides Jane to the sofa and makes all kinds of moves on her, the bomb is *underneath her head* behind that cushion. Jane is trying to get him to behave, when there’s a knock at the door. Detective Rome. He asks where her portfolio is, she tells him it’s in the bedroom, he carefully searches it... no bomb.

Tick tick tick... a minute before 11:00!

Rome has no idea where the bomb is... was there another woman on the elevator? Someone they missed? Robert wants him the hell out of there. Rome asks where she put the portfolio when she came home that afternoon, and Jane says on the desk.

Rome starts looking around the desk when Jane remembers it wasn’t the desk, it was the sofa. Rome carefully searches the sofa... finding the bomb! Tells Robert and Jane to get the heck out of the house and run like hell. Then carefully removes the bomb and as the clock strikes 11:00, tries opening the window and it’s *stuck*... breaks the window and throws it outside and explodes on the lawn!

A moment later Jane returns without Robert, and it kinda looks like she’s gonna hook up with Rome. The end.



Review: This was a good, tense, episode... really reminiscent of SPEED in many ways. The “shell game” of having one of 12 or 13 women be carrying around the bomb and not knowing it is a great device, and I’m guessing the John D. MacDonald story gets deeper into who these different women are (we only get 3 of them in the episode). They do a great job of showing us the clock every once in a while, and I wish they had done more of that... but there probably wasn’t time. You do get that ticking clock feel. And when we finally get to Jane’s house, that bomb becomes a great “focus object” ticking away under that sofa cushion as Jane’s boyfriend tries making out with her. The only hiccups in the episode are things that have to do with a limited TV budget: the night club that Jane and her boyfriend are in seems to be a set with one booth and no extras... so we really don’t get a scene where Rome has to carefully carry that bomb outside. And explosions are off camera. Also, some time restraints turn conversations like the one about Rome’s dating life into obvious expositional moments. But these are minor quibbles for an episode that keeps ramping up the tension and really has you worried at the end that they will not find that bomb that has fallen between the sofa cushions in time. This was a really good episode and shows the promise of what the show can do with purse suspense.

The show has finally found its footing, and for a while we’ll alternate between suspense and weird tales... though next week is more crime story, with a twist.

Bill





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