Thursday, September 29, 2016

Thriller Thursday: WORSE THAN MURDER

Worse Than Murder

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



Season: 1, Episode: 3. Airdate: 09-27-1960

Director: Mitchell Lieson (Woolrich’s NO MAN OF HER OWN). Writer: Mel Goldberg based on a novel by Evelyn Berckman. Cast: Constance Ford, John Baragrey, Christine White, Harriet MacGibbon, Dan Tobin, Jocelyn Brando. Music: Pete Rugolo. Cinematography: John F. Warren (from HITCHCOCK HOUR).



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “It is difficult to violate the privacy of dreams. After all, there are no witnesses to our night time fantasies. But when a man’s nightmares are an accurate reflection of the truth, and in trying to relieve his suffering he commits that truth to paper, there he creates greater torments than those of his restless sleep, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. We’re concerned now with a woman who makes use of a nightmare to persecute the innocent as well as the guilty. A persecution that is much worse than murder. That’s the name of our story. We assure you my friends, this is a thriller!”

Synopsis: High estrogen crime drama. Three women, each commit some horrible crime, while the men stand by on the sidelines. Oh, and all of these women are related by marriage or blood, so this is a *family* of killers! A wealthy family.

The episode opens with ancient Uncle Archer in a hospital bed dreaming about the time he helped kill his father... then he passes away. Leaving behind a stack of diaries, including a new one on his hospital bed. High maintenance Connie Walworth, Archer’s “favorite nephew’s widow” arrives for a visit with flowers, is told that Archer has passed away, and lifts the new diary on a lark. Connie has been kissing up to Uncle Archer in hopes of a prime space in his will, but Archer died intestate... and all of the money will go to his bedridden sister Myra (Harriet MacGibbon) (who is Connie’s mother in law) and her plain jane daughter Anne (Christine White). Oh, and Myra *hates* Connie, since she’s been living off her since the death of her son (Connie’s husband) in a car wreck. When Connie goes to the family mansion and hits Myra up for a loan, she is refused... it’s time for her to find a job or a man or both. But when Connie mentions that Uncle Archer kept diaries, Myra reconsiders and gives Connie the loan in hopes that she will forget about the diaries. This, of course, makes Connie wonder what could be in the diaries.



Plain jane daughter Anne is dating Myra’s doctor Dr. Mitchell (probably old enough to be Anne’s father) (John Baragrey) and it’s fairly obvious he’s sniffing around for Myra’s money... When Connie leaves, Anne notices Dr. Mitchell checking her out. Maybe she should dye her hair blonde and dress more provocatively?

Connie is a sexy, scheming bottle blonde predator... a real femme fatale, in a story where the men are secondary characters. As in Robert Wise’s BORN TO KILL, the female lead here uses men to get what she wants... and in Connie’s case, manipulates and blackmails women as well. It’s obvious she only married her (late) husband for his money, and after spending all of it on her and then dying; Connie needs a new source of income. If she can find a way to cut in to the family fortune, she’ll do it... even if that means playing dirty.



When Connie gets to her apartment, her landlord Ray (Dan Tobin) is waiting for her... wondering where the rent is. When she tells him Uncle Archer died and left her nothing, Ray *insists* on the rent, he’s waited long enough! Connie invites him up to her apartment to settle the bill. Yes, this is a 1960 TV episode, and she’s gonna screw her landlord to pay the rent! And our next scene has Connie in lingerie in bed reading the diary outloud to Ray the landlord! Yikes! The diary passage is Uncle Archer’s recurring nightmare about the night he and “M” murdered their father so they could inherit his fortune. Is “M” for Myra?

Connie calls to see if she can stop by the hospital to pick up the other diaries... finds that they have already been delivered to Myra. So Connie heads to the newspaper morgue where she discovers a story about Myra and Archer’s father’s death by accidental overdose of insulin... a nurse lost her job as a result. Connie goes to talk to the Doctor, only to find that he has passed away, but the disgraced nurse is still alive... living in a crappy apartment downtown. The Nurse (Jocelyn Brando) is a drunk, living in poverty because that long ago accident with Myra and Archer’s father still hangs over her. The Nurse refuses to answer Connie’s questions, but when she leaves the room, Connie searches her closet and jewelry... and finds all kinds of expensive things. Where did they come from? The Nurse breaks down and says she has been blackmailing *Myra* because Myra and Archer murdered their father.



When Connie confronts Myra with this, spilling the details that the Nurse gave her; Myra almost has a heart attack (literally) and Connie holds Myra’s digitalis over her head like a carrot. Then gives it to the old woman. Connie says she’ll take $100,000 to hand over the diary and not go to the police. Oh, and in 24 hours.

Listening at the door is plain jane Anne... who has fixed up her hair, put on some make up, and dressed up; to keep her Dr. Mitchell boyfriend from straying. She hears everything and realizes her aged mother might be thrown in jail if she doesn’t do something. She breaks her date with Dr. Mitchell, throwing the relationship into turmoil. When Myra phones the bank to have $100,000 delivered, Anne *knows* her mother is a murderer. To protect her, Anne becomes a criminal...

Anne breaks into Connie’s apartment, searching for the diary. Finds it... just as Connie pulls up, with Dr. Mitchell! See, Connie has been making a play for the doctor just to cover all the bases. She invites him upstairs to her room (to screw?) as both Anne... and Ray the landlord... watch. Dr. Mitchell kisses her and declines instead of reclines. Then Connie goes up stairs, and Anne scurries to find a hiding place in the apartment.



Problem is, when Connie enters she sees Anne hiding behind the sofa reflected in a mirror and grabs a fire poker. There’s a scuffle, Anne splits with the diary... Connie chasing after her.

Meanwhile, Myra’s condition gets worse and she is taken to the hospital... dying. She admits to Dr. Mitchell killing her own mother with Uncle Archer so they could inherit her money... and now Connie is doing something similar to Myra. She begs Dr. Mitchell to make sure Connie gets no more money... then dies.

Anne returns to the mansion, doesn’t notice the package of money from the bank waiting for Connie to claim it; and burns the diary in the fireplace. When Connie arrives, she pulls the burning diary out of the fireplace, then Connie and Anne scuffle as the burning diary sets the curtains and house on fire! Cat fight in the flames! Then Connie splits (never seeing the money) and the mansion burns to the ground. Anne escapes the fire into Dr. Mitchell’s arms... and Connie is arrested for blackmail.



Review: This is more like it! Though more of a crime drama instead of a thriller, it’s fast paced, filled with twists and turns and has some *awesome* dialogue. Not just the catty conflict lines (which are clever and fun), but the rest of this episode is filled with witty and quotable lines. I don’t know if this is the work of screenwriter Goldberg or if he pulled them from the novel, but it’s constantly entertaining. And lots of juicy scenes with women tangling (verbally and even physically). Constance Ford plays Connie like a sexual force of nature, and I believe costume department neglected to supply her with a bra, in addition to the blatant implied sex scene with her landlord there’s no shortage of what appears to be nipplage in many shots. Were the censors asleep?

The men in this episode are disposable objects used by the three women, even Uncle Archer only held his mother with Myra gave her the lethal injection. It’s interesting to see a show that focuses on the sex that is deadlier than the male... and has so much fun turning men into playthings. Director Lieson was a “woman’s director” in Hollywood, who made many lush female lead films... including the adaptation of Cornell Woolrich’s “I Married A Dead Man” with Barbara Stanwick called NO MAN OF HER OWN, which is kind of a guilty pleasure of mine. This episode has gloss and a real feeling of those old Joan Crawford potboilers. Bitchy fun, with clever and cutting dialogue. This was a good (not great) episode, but on the right track! Will the next episode continue towards greatness... or derail?

FADE OUT.



Bill

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