THRILLER: Devil’s Ticket
The spider web fills the screen, it's Boris Karloff's THRILLER!
April 18, 1961
Robert Bloch adapts... Robert Bloch!
Macdonald Carey, Patricia Medina, Joan Tetzel, John Emery.
Big lush Morton Stevens score... heard it somewhere before.
Boris Karloff’s Introduction:
“The name of our story is The Devil’s Ticket. It has to do with an artist, and they tell us that one picture is worth a thousand words. You will see Macdonald Carey, Joan Tetzel, Patricia Medina, and John Emery. Now there’s a rogue’s gallery if I ever saw one! And I can assure you they’re up to no good, as you’ll find out for yourself if you have the courage to stay with us.”
A Pawn Shop as the sun sets. Pawn Shop owner Spengler (Robert Cornthwaite) is nervous as he closes up, makes sure all of the doors and windows are locked as if he’s expecting an invasion... that’s when the bell over the door begins ringing like crazy. He carefully opens the front door... what could be on the other side? A creature? Sees his cat jumping up and grabbing the bell cord. Brings in the cat, relocks and bolts the front door, and goes to the counter where there’s a HUGE pile of money. He starts counting it when the back door BLASTS open, and fog enters the Pawn Shop. A voice startles him: it’s Satan, saying they had a deal... and now it’s time for him to pay. The cat freaks out...
Crappy apartment: Hector Vane (Macdonald Carey) and his wife Marie (Joan Tetzel) sit at the dinner table eating the last of their food. They are flat broke. He’s a painter who does amazing portraits which capture the souls of his subjects... but everyone wants abstracts these days. He hasn’t sold a painting in ages. He looks for something to take to pawn for a few bucks so that they can eat... realizes they have nothing left except his ratty old coat, and his paintings. He swore he’d never pawn a painting, but...
Pawn Shop: Hector goes to pawn one of his paintings, but Spengler isn’t there. A strange man lets him in... he doesn’t introduce himself, but he goes by many names (Satan played wickedly by John Emery). Satan loves the painting, but tells Hector that he’d rather loan him money on another commodity. In a sly and subtle scene, Satan introduces himself without names, explains that he will pawn Hector’s soul for 90 days in exchange for Hector’s dreams of success as a painter... but at the end of those 90 days Hector must return and give Satan the pawn ticket *and* a painting of someone else... a painting that captures their very soul. Hector’s soul will be returned, but the subject of his painting will lose theirs.
Hector puts the pawn ticket in the pocket of his ratty coat and heads home...
Where Marie tells him a gallery just called, they want to do a one man show of his work. Not just any gallery, but a big uptown gallery where rich people go to buy paintings! Any skepticism about whether the new pawnshop owner was Satan or not disappears.
The Gallery: *All* of Hector’s paintings sell for top dollar, and there are art collectors eagerly awaiting whatever he paints next! They are *rich*!
Luxurious apartment: Hector and Marie sit at a massive dinner table eating a feast. The same scene as before, just with a whole lot more money.
Hector goes to the Pawn Shop with a painting... a landscape. Satan tells him that’s not the way it works: it must be the painting of someone you know... and it must capture their soul. Their soul for yours.... and he has 26 days left to paint and deliver the picture.
Hector tells Marie he’s going to their old apartment, now his studio, to paint. She doesn’t understand why he kept that place... why not find a nice studio? They can afford it. Hector says he likes to be reminded of where he came from...
But really, he uses the studio to meet his mistress Nadja (Patricia Medina) a model he never got around to painting... but bedding? That’s what he does now instead of paint. Nadja wants him to ditch his wife and go to the Mexican Riviera with her. Problem is, the day she leaves is the day he needs to deliver his painting.
Hector sees a psychiatrist Dr. Frank (Hayden Rorke, Dr. Bellows from I DREAM OF JEANNIE) and explains the whole Satan thing. Dr. Frank doesn’t believe in Satan, thinks this new Pawnshop Owner is just some dude playing with Hector’s mind. He only has Hector’s soul if that’s what Hector believes. Hector asks if the dude isn’t Satan, how come Hector became instantly successful after making the deal? Dr. Frank agrees to go to the pawn shop and talk to this guy who may or may not be Satan.
At a fancy restaurant, Hector has dinner with Nadja... and tells her he *will* go away with her.
When he goes to see Dr. Frank the next day, the doctor is gone and Satan is behind his desk. Satan warns him not to do anything like that again. Don’t go to the police, don’t call a lawyer (“In my time, I’ve had dealings with many lawyers”), just deliver the painting... in 13 days.
Hector thinks he has a solution: he will paint Marie... who he no longer loves. But as he paints his wife, he falls in love with her all over again. This creates a problem: he finished the painting with just over 2 days until his pawn ticket and the painting are due... but now he’s fallen back in love with is wife.
When the wife is out, he brings his mistress over to see the painting... and she reacts like a madwoman! She can see that Hector is still in love with his wife just by looking at it, so she SLASHES the painting to ribbons! Then she runs off, saying their relationship is over. To make things worse, the phone rings and it’s Satan reminding him he has 48 hours to deliver the painting.
Hector locks himself in his room and paints nonstop for 48 hours... falls asleep. Marie knocks on the door, he says come in... that the painting is finished. As soon as he delivers it to the customer, they can run off together... a second honeymoon. Marie leaves for a moment, then returns... tells Hector he has a visitor. It’s Satan.
“You know why I’m here. Give me my painting!”
Hector invites Satan in, tells him he will really like the painting he’s done, it really captures the subject’s soul. He unveils the painting, and it’s... Satan! Hector explains that Satan kept asking for *his* painting, so this is a painting of *him*, as per contract. Satan is shocked, he has actually been bested by a mortal. This has never happened before! Satan tells Hector to give him the pawn ticket and Hector’s soul will be returned, and he gets to keep all of the fame and fortune he’s built for the past 90 days plus any he makes for himself in the future. Hector asks Marie to get him his old coat...
She returns with a brand new one. “Surprise!” She got him a new coat for their second honeymoon! Hector asks what she did with his old coat? Marie says it was so old and ratty that she burned it...
Satan smiles at Hector, “Now it’s your turn to burn!”
Review: Bloch adapts Bloch this week in a clever little weird tale probably from Weird Tales Magazine originally.
There have been some Bloch short stories adapted on Thriller before, but this is the first time he did it himself. Though best known for PSYCHO, Bloch is one of the great horror writers of the 1950s and one of my favorites. I probably discovered him through Norman Bates, but stayed for Weird Tailors and all of his wonderful short stories and novels. He is the master of the clever writing with lines like “He cut off her scream, and her head” and “He'd captured her heart, and put it in a glass jar”. In this episode there’s all kinds of clever lines, like Satan’s line about knowing a bunch of lawyers.
Even though this episode has a built in ticking clock, with the 90 day pawn ticket and the days ticking down throughout; this is more a twist end story than a tale of suspense like YOURS TRULY JACK THE RIPPER (which also has a twist end, but manages to build some real suspense and dread whenever one of the women goes walking after dark). No suspense situations in this episode, it ends up being more of a drama about the toll of success. Part of the problem might be the direction, which is typical TV so some of the things which might be milked for suspense end up being used for surprise. But the*type* of story is less suspense and more twisted tale.
Macdonald Carey is a really odd choice for the lead, who is supposed to be a young struggling artists and is even called “young man” by a couple of characters... Carey was not young when this was made. The other characters were adjusted upwards as well, with Nadja his mistress looking late 30s... compare her to the hot young artist’s model from YOURS TRULY! Even though Carey seems to old, that age adds a layer of desperation which may not have been there with a younger actor. This old man has been struggling all of these years and *still* hasn’t made it?
Just as beatniks were part of the time period so they pop up in YOURS TRULY, having an analyst or psychiatrist was also an element of the times... and shows up in this story, When Hector goes to see Dr. Frank, that would make more sense at the time than going to the police... people went to their shrinks. Their shrink would solve the problem. One of the elements of a thriller story like NORTH BY NORTHWEST is that the authorities have to be taken out of the equation... so Roger Thornhill is accused of a murder and can’t go to the police for help. Here, Hector goes to his shrink for help... and we must remove the authorities from the equation... so Dr. Frank’s power must be nullified. That kind of tells us something about the power of psychoanalysis at the time period: it’s equal to calling the police!
How do you show Hector worrying about his pawned soul? You can’t *show* someone’s soul, right? So you need to find a symbol of their soul... and that’s the pawn ticket. I call this a “twitch”, it’s a physical manifestation of the protagonist’s emotional conflict. He’s worried about his soul, so he pulls the pawn ticket out of the pocket of his ratty old coat and looks at it, and we understand that he’s worried that he might lose his soul. You find a symbol, and this one comes directly from the story. It’s a great device to show us what is going on inside a character’s head. Every time Hector takes the ticket out and looks at it, we understand what he’s thinking.
Speaking of that ratty old coat, because it’s the big end twist, in order to “play fair” we have to establish that the wife wants to get rid of that coat and make sure that’s understood by the audience but also forgotten by the audience (to make it a twist). Here’s where *the story* makes this work: Hector has a secret reason for keeping the ratty old coat that his wife doesn’t know: the pawn picket in the pocket. So even though it makes sense for him to throw away the old coat, we know why he wants to keep it. Several times, when the wife is wearing new clothes and Hector puts on his ratty old coat it makes sense for her to comment on it... and the audience doesn’t notice that they are being set up for that twist at the end. We’re so busy worrying that the wife will discover the pawn ticket that we don’t realize we’re being set up for her *not* discovering the pawn ticket. That’s some good writing!
Probably because I’m more into the suspense based episodes, this one is in the good category but not in my great category. It is very entertaining, and John Emery kills it as Satan... he milks every one of Bloch’s clever lines!
Next week we look at an episode that may have inspired Stephen King’s CARRIE.