Thursday, November 03, 2016

THRILLER Thursday: The Merriweather File.

The Merriweather File

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



Season: 1, Episode: 21.
Airdate: February 14, 1961


Director: John Brahm
Writer: John Kneubuhl based on a novel by Lionel White (Kubrick’s THE KILLING)
Cast: James Gregory, Bethel Leslie, Edward Pimms, Ross Elliott.
Music: Pete Rugolo.
Cinematography: John L. Russell.
Producer: Maxwell Shane




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The lady has good reason to scream. An intruder has broken into her home and made a deliberate attempt to end her life. Is this child’s rubber ball just a prop to seal the broken glass, or does it have a deeper symbolic meaning? Well, the answers to that question and many others are contained in The Merriweather File. That’s the name of our story based on the exciting story by Lionel White. Our leading players are Mr. James Gregory, Miss Bethel Leslie, Mr. Edward Pimms, and Mr. Ross Elliott. As sure is my name is Boris Karloff, this story will lead you through a most fascinating labyrinth of terror. And if you find your way out, well that’s more than I can promise for Anne and Charles Merriweather in the ensuing thriller.”

Synopsis: Night. Someone breaks into the suburban home of the Merriweathers through the kitchen door, turns on the oven and every burner on the range without lighting them, and uses a child’s ball to plug the hole they have broken in the glass of the kitchen door before leaving. The gas fills the house... and Ann Merriweather (Bethel Leslie) asleep in her bed, wakes up suddenly. Goes down to the kitchen and almost passes out before she gets the gas off, then she sees the ball in the window and screams! She runs next door to her neighbor Howard’s house and pounds on the door. Howard (James Gregory) answers in his robe, asks what happened, and Ann says someone tried to kill her. When Howard (a lawyer) wants to call the police, Ann pleads with him not to... she’s afraid it will upset her husband Charles who is away on business. You see, three years ago, after their son was killed in an accident, Ann tried to commit suicide by gassing herself in the over. She’s afraid husband Charles will just think she tried it again. Already Charles secretly blames her for the death of their son and has taken a job where he’s mostly on the road so that he doesn’t have to deal with her. Ann doesn’t want to make things any worse. Howard asks if there’s a gun in the house. Ann says Charles owns a gun, but she doesn’t know where it is and wouldn’t know how to use it. Howard suggests she get a dog for protection...

When Charles (Ross Elliott) returns from his business trip, he buys her a dog... then apologizes for not taking her out, he’s going to play cards with his buddies at the club instead. The next morning he’s back on the road. “Wish I didn’t have to go on the road so often...” Ann goes to bed, and the next morning when she wakes up, he is already gone.

Charles is driving down the highway when he gets a flat tire. Tries to open the trunk to grab the spare and jack... but his key is missing from his key ring. Odd. He flags down a police car, tells the officers the problem, and they call for a mechanic to come with skeleton keys. The mechanic comes, pops open the trunk... exposing the body of a dead guy! The police slap the cuffs on Charles and take him downtown.



Police Station: Charles is being questioned by Detective Giddeon (the ubiquitous Edward Binns) with Howard acting as family lawyer and Ann in the room. Charles says he didn’t kill that guy, had no idea he was in the trunk of his car, and no idea how he would even get into the trunk of his car. When Detective Giddeon asks him where he was the night before, Charles says he was playing cards with his buddies, then went to a bar alone after the club closed, then... well, he doesn’t have an alibi for after the bar closed. He says he was drunk and decided to sleep it off in the car. Sounds suspicious.

Howard asks if he can talk to his client in private and asks Charles about the suspicious sounding non alibi. Charles tells Howard that he wasn’t drinking in that bar alone, he was with his girlfriend... and he was also with her after the bar closed. But he doesn’t want Ann to know. Their relationship is in enough trouble without her knowing that he’s having an affair. Howard says that it may come to a choice between being arrested for murder and ruining your already rocky marriage. Charles says he’ll wait for that time to come to make his decision.

Charles remains in custody, and Howard begs Ann to stay in his house tonight. He obviously has feelings for her. She declines, says she has the dog to protect her. That night, the same gloved person in black breaks into her house again, searches for something, and when Ann wakes up and discovers the intruder, they scuffle... and the intruder escapes. Ann screams, Howard hears her and runs over from his house, and Ann tells him, “He came back, and tried to kill me!”



The next morning, Giddeon and several police officers are on the scene. Searching for clues. Giddeon suggests to Howard that Charles may have had an accomplice in the murder who came back to destroy evidence because Charles is in jail. Nobody wonders why the guard dog didn’t bark at the intruder, because no one in this film has read any Sherlock Holmes. When the garbage truck pulls up, Howard asks Detective Giddeon if he could use a cup of coffee and starts to lead him to his house... but Giddeon stops, follows the garbage men to the garbage cans and has them dump the trash. Then Giddeon searches through the rubbish... and finds a gun!

Not just any gun, Charles’ gun... and the gun that was used to kill that guy in the trunk of Charles’ car!

Giddeon grills Charles again, who keeps insisting that he’s innocent and has no idea how the dead guy got into the trunk of his car, or how his gun was used to kill the dead guy. He’s been framed... but, um, still has no alibi for the time of the murder. Oh, and the victim’s name is Jake Carver, does Charles or Ann know anybody by that name? Nope. Howard asks again to speak with Charles privately, and tells him the time has come to admit to the affair and reveal his mistress/alibi. This is *serious*. Charles reluctantly gives Howard the name of his mistress and a note to give her, and Howard goes to find her.

Virginia (K.T. Stevens from the soaps YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS and DAYS OF OUR LIVES) tells Howard that she *was* with Charles that night, will testify to it in court, and it’s a shame that this will end Charles’ marriage, but he has been trying to get a divorce for a while but Ann wouldn’t grant it. When Virginia leaves the room to get ice for her drink, Howard pokes around and finds a picture of Virginia with... Jake Carver!



Howard tells Ann about Charles affair with Virginia, while Ann plays with her wedding band, pulling it off and on (great piece of business!). Ann says she was going over her bank books and discovered that Charles withdrew $3k from their account the night before the murder. Howard assures her that they are going to get to the truth no matter how many lies Charles uses to cover it up! We get the feeling that Howard is now working against his client Charles in order to end up with Ann. Is *Howard* behind the murder and break ins?

Howard has Virginia come forward... and it backfires big time. Seems that $3k missing from Charles’ bank account ended up in Carver’s bank account, and Charles and Virginia may have worked *together* to murder Carver because Charles owed him money. Carver was an organized crime guy, who was a bookie, did loan sharking, and broke a kneecap or two. Howard pulls Charles aside and says he might as well admit to killing Carver. Charles says he *did not* kill Carver, but knew him and owed him money. Paid him the $3k, and that should have been the end of it. Howard thinks the only way to get Charles off is for him to come clean, admit he knew Carver but did not kill him. He’s guilty of cheating on his wife, guilty of owing money to a bookie, but not guilty of murder.

Charles gets on the stand, tells the truth, is found guilty and given the death penalty. He keeps insisting that he did not kill Carver, but they execute him anyway.

Three years later: Detective Giddeon stops by Howard’s house just before Christmas. He’s just come from the women’s prison, where Virginia is very ill and made a deathbed confession: she and Charlie *did not* murder Carver. But she was the burglar who broke into the house and turned on the gas, because Ann would not grant Charles a divorce. And the guard dog Charlie gave Ann was *Virginia’s* dog, which is why the dog didn’t bark when Virginia broke in again, looking for evidence that might clear Charles. Because when the gas thing didn’t work, Charles and Virginia hired Carver for $3k to *murder* Ann, but when Carver showed up that night... Ann was waiting for him with Charles’ gun and shot Carver dead! Put the body in Charles’ trunk, took the trunk key off Charles’ key ring, and framed Charles for the murder she committed. Since she could not have known that Carver was coming to kill her, she must have been waiting to murder Charles! Ann is a cold, calculating, killer! Howard is shocked by this...

Then the front door opens and Ann comes in, kisses Howard, and Howard introduces her as his wife. He’s married to a killer!



Review: This is a mystery masquerading as a thriller, with some nice twists. The issue is the bland direction (again) which removes some of the tension from scenes. That may be due to the rushed schedule of television (though the Alfred Hitchcock Hour often had some great stuff... and in four or five episodes we’re going to have some great stuff here on Thriller). This was the cinematographer of PSYCHO, so they had the skilled DP, they just had to tell him what to do. The twists seem to lose some of their impact due to this pedestrian direction, even though I have to give points for all of the action scenes with the Burglar *not* showing their face or even giving away that it was a woman.

One of the things I found fascinating was the negative characterization of the mistress. Yeah, she’s a mistress... but they purposely make her apartment messy as hell, and when Howard comes over to interview her and there’s a stack of magazines on the sofa, she tosses them *on the floor* so that he can sit down. This is obviously either network censors or the director trying to avoid the network censors. It might be characterization, but she’s in a beautifully decorated apartment.

I loved the way Ann played with her wedding band while Howard told her that her husband had been cheating on her, that was a great touch.

On the whole, not a bad episode but could really have used a more visual touch. I really thought that James Gregory’s character was going to be unmasked at the end as the killer who had set up Charles so that he could end up with Ann... but having Ann as the killer and Howard as the dupe was a nice twist. How long before she kills him?

We are now a third of the way through the episodes.

Bill

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