Thursday, October 13, 2016

THRILLER Thursday: Choose A Victim

CHOOSE A VICTIM

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



Season: 1, Episode: 19.
Airdate: January 24, 1961


Director: Richard Carlson
Writer: George Bellak
Cast: Larry Blyden, Susan Oliver, Vaughn Taylor, Billy Barty, Tracey Roberts.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Producer: Maxwell Shane




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “What the young man is touching is the rotor of her beautiful expensive sports car, without which it will never start. The first gambit by Ralphie Teal, who feels that the world is his oyster. Whose tastes are becoming very expensive. And who knows, if the only way he can satisfy those tastes is for him to Choose A Victim, the title of tonight’s story. Our leading players are Mr. Larry Blyden, Miss Susan Oliver, Mr. Vaughn Taylor, and Miss Tracy Roberts. And as sure as my name is Boris Karloff, you’ll find it puzzling to choose the victim of tonight’s macabre events. You may find yourself grossly mislead, possibly surprised, but we do hope that you enjoy this thriller.”

Synopsis: Past his pull date beach bum Ralphie Teal (Larry Blyden) imagines himself a player... he may hang out with his main squeeze Fay (Tracey Roberts) who works at the beach’s boardwalk arcade, but he’s always scanning the girls on the beach for fresh talent. When Edith Landers (Susan Oliver) pulls up in a sports car and steps out in a bathing suit, Ralphie comes up with a scheme. He pulls the rotor cap from the sports car and waits for Edith to return. When he car doesn’t start, he has her pop the hood... tells her the engine is flooded and she’ll have to wait a half hour before trying to start it again, and he knows a great little coffee shop around the corner. During that half hour he hits on her *hard*, trying to create an instant relationship with this wealthy young woman. Oh, she has jewelry in her purse which catches Ralphie’s eyes. He waits to make sure his car starts right up (he’s replaced the rotor cap) and comes up with a plan for their next meeting.



The next day she drives up to the beach again, and Ralphie goes down to the sand to flirt with her. He invites her back to his little beachfront apartment for coffee... and she says yes. Somewhere in here Fay knocks at the door and Ralphie gets rid of her, but Fay starts to become supicious and jealous. Edith tells Ralphie that her parents died and left her a fortune, but her mean Uncle is the executor and has her on an allowance and is always after her to settle down and get married to someone in her social strata. She’ll never have any fun as long as her Uncle is around. When she leaves, Ralphie asks if he can hitch a ride, because his car is being repaired near where she lives (this makes absolutely no sense, but she agrees).

At the mansion where she lives, Ralphie gets out and insists on walking to the car repair place (which probably doesn’t exist). When she goes inside the house, Ralphie takes note of the address and security measures.

Edith’s mean Uncle (Vaughn Taylor) gives her a lecture when she comes inside. He is kind of a pain in the butt...

Fay wants to go out with Ralphie, but he says he’s got something to do... Dressed in all black, wearing black gloves, he slides a big glittering knife into his pocket.

That night, while Edith sleeps, Ralphie breaks into her bedroom looking for all of those jewels in her purse: a diamond bracelet and necklace. She wakes up! Ralphie puts his hand over her mouth and his big glittering knife to her throat. When the wind blows the closet door shut, mean Uncle asks if Edith is okay, and she says she’s fine... and *doesn’t* tell him that Ralphie is in her room. She even lets Ralphie leave (without jewelry) and tells him to meet her tomorrow under the boardwalk.



The next day, Edith tells Ralphie that they must not be seen together because her mean Uncle will get mad... and Ralphie agrees, since he doesn’t want Fay to find out he’s cheating on her. Edith gives Ralphie a very expensive cigarette lighter and some other gifts, and begins planting the idea that they could be together in her mansion if only mean Uncle would drop dead. It takes a while for Ralphie to catch on, and suggest that maybe they should *help* her Uncle drop dead somehow.

Ralphie comes up with a plan. Uncle often drives on a winding cliffside road into town to drink at a luxurious bar... and drives back over that dangerous road when drunk. They can stop him at a particularly dangerous curve, Ralphie will tell him his car has broken down, and while Uncle is distracted, Edith can ram his car over the cliff with Ralphie’s car. When Uncle leaves the house, she’s to call the payphone at the arcade and let it ring 2 times then hang up. No completed call means it can’t be traced by the police later on. But Ralphie will hear it, come and pick up Edith, and they will wait on that dangerous curve for Uncle to return drunk...

Fay wants to go out with Ralphie when the phone rings, and he has to stop the Arcade Boss (Billy Barty) from answering. Two rings, then nothing. Ralphie says he’s busy and splits.



Ralphie and Edith wait in the dark car until Uncle’s car drives up, and Ralphie gets out and stops it. He has to keep talking to Uncle while Edith puts the car in gear and rams Uncle’s car... be she never does. Uncle drives off and Ralphie blows up at Edith. She says she just couldn’t do it. Ralphie realizes he’ll have to do it himself, and it’s probably best for Edith to be somewhere public getting an alibi.

There’s a bit of suspense that doesn’t work, when after Edith calls the arcade phone booth and lets it ring twice, Uncle ends up loaning his car to a friend and she must stop Ralphie for killing the wrong man, but eventually it’s Ralphie and Mean Uncle on that dangerous curve, and Mean Uncle goes over the cliff (where his car, like a good movie or TV car, explodes for no apparent reason on its way down). Mean Uncle is dead and Ralphie and Edith can live happily ever after in her mansion.

When Ralphie gets back to his apartment, he find Edith waiting there for him! She was supposed to be somewhere establishing an alibi! But she says she was worried and wanted to make sure it went well. There’s some kissing, and then Edith leaves so that she’ll be home when the police come to tell her about the terrible accident. But when Edit leaves, she forgets one of her gloves.

Next morning, Ralphie is awoken by pounding on his door: the police! Detective Hazlett (Guy Mitchell) says they need to take him downtown for questioning.



Detective Hazlett and others interrogate him, they *know* he killed mean Unlce. But how? They search him and find: Mean Uncle’s cigarette lighter and wallet! Ralphie claims the lighter is his, a gift! Has no idea where the wallet came from. Then call in Edith and she I.D.s him as the creep who kept hitting on her at the beach and might have followed her home once. Ralphie keeps insisting that they have a relationship, but Edith asks the police why a woman like her would ever date a beach bum like him. Makes no sense at all. The police believe her, and she walks out... leaving Ralphie in line for the electric chair while she no longer has a mean Uncle.

On the street in front of the Police Station she goes to put on her gloves... and can only find one! She left the other at Ralphie’s apartment! When she goes to break in and retrieve it, she spots *Fay* breaking into Ralphie’s apartment, looking for evidence of his cheating... and Fay find the glove! Edith follows Fay, waiting for a chance to steal the glove back. Fay goes to work, where the Arcade Manager tells her that Ralphie was arrested for murder. Fay can’t believe this. Ralphie is a cheater and a thief, but not a killer! When Fay sets the glove down on the counter and goes to the back of the arcade, Edith moves quickly to snatch up the glove... But Detective Hazlett gets there first. He smelled Edith’s expensive perfume on Ralphie’s clothes, and wondered if maybe Ralphie was telling the truth about Edith being in on the murder. They slap the cuffs on Edith and haul her away.



Review: This is the kind of story you would find on ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, and has some great twists and nice possibilities for suspense... but it just doesn’t deliver. The suspense scenes don’t seem to work, even though you can clearly see that they were written to work. The director, Richard Carlson, was an actor who had directed some TV episodes by this time, but seems not to have the skill set to shoot a suspense scene. On a show like HITCHCOCK every episode was suspense based, so they hired directors who could do that, and if you were a director hired for the show you know that’s what they needed from you. THRILLER was so erratic that a director may have been originally considered for one of the more dramatic episodes and then end up doing a horror episode or a suspense episode. The scene where Ralphie breaks in to Edith’s bedroom has her asleep in the background, which is a suspense situation... but it comes off flat and kind of boring. It’s Ralphie looking for the bracelet and necklace with no real possibility of being caught... even though you can see that possibility is how the writer intended the scene to work. Every scene that seems to be written for suspense comes off kind of dull. When Ralphie has to keep talking to mean Uncle as he waits for Edith to ram the car is just a talk scene... when it was obviously written to be nail biting suspense as he must keep talking and talking. So the episode is bland.

Also, Larry Blyden seems miscast. I don’t know his career, but he seems more light a light comedy guy... that funny next door neighbor in a sitcom... than a sleazy beach bum / thief. Though both women are attractive, this is James M. Cain territory and Edith seems particularly non sexy for a femme fatale. I have no idea whether that was a censorship issue or more bland direction, but for a hot woman in a bathing suit she comes off cold in scene after scene. The actress Susan Oliver had a career playing vamps, so it’s not like she didn’t know how to do that... it was someone else’s choice.

Again, because this is a Pete Rugolo score, I wonder if this wasn’t an earlier episode held until later to make room for good ones like HUNGRY GLASS?

Bill

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