Thursday, January 05, 2017

THRILLER Thursday:
WHAT BECKONING GHOST?

What Beckoning Ghost?

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



Season: 2, Episode: 1.
Airdate: Sep. 18, 1961

Director: Ida Lupino
Writer: Donald Sanford based on a story by Harold Lawlor.
Cast: Judith Evelyn, Tom Helmore, Adele Mara, Frank Wilcox.
Music: The great Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography: John F. Warren
Producer: William Frye



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Imagine entering a room and discovering your own coffin? And a wreath inscribed: “To My Dear Wife, Rest In Peace”. Now, then: would you believe your eyes, or would you think, perhaps, that you have actually caught some glimpse into the future. Or, perhaps you might suspect some grisly plot against your sanity. Now please - no snap judgements. You might be right, and then there would be no need for you to suffer through the frightening ordeal as time runs out for... Mildred Beaumont, played by Judith Evely, her husband Eric played by Tom Helmore, and her young sister Lydia as played by Adele Mara. What’s that? You think you have the answer? Don’t be too sure, because I warn you as sure as my name is Boris Karloff you’re in for a terrifying surprise. And if you’re tempted to scream, just sit back and follow this advice: Rest In Peace.”



Synopsis: A luxurious estate, middle aged Mildred (Judith Evelyn) a famous concert pianist and her once pretty boy boozer husband Eric (Tom Helmore from VERTIGO) are celebrating her release form the hospital. He wants her to take it easy, her heart is still fragile. But she insists on celebrating and goes downstairs to fetch a bottle of champagne while he lights the bedroom fireplace. Downstairs she hears a noise, goes into the dark drawing room - and what she sees shocks her! A coffin with a funeral wreath which says: “My Dear Wife Requiescat In Peace”. She staggers out of the room... falls to the floor.

Mildred wakes up on the sofa to find Eric and her younger sister Lydia (Adele Mara) over her - but where the coffin was there is now a table. Has she gone crazy? They call for her doctor...



Mildred wakes up the next morning, and Eric has pills ready - the doctor said she must take them. Not her doctor - he’s on vacation - Dr. Bartoli who is looking after his patients. Lydia comes in with coffee and where Eric is protective of Mildred, she is more compassionate. They have two very different ways of caring for her - and are often fighting each other over her. Husband and sister do not get along, but her illness has placed them all under the same roof to take care of her. Mildred has no memory of the doctor coming... though she has a perfect memory of the coffin and funeral wreath. When Eric leaves she looks at the pill vial - prescription by Dr. Bartoli. Why can’t she remember him?



Lydia wakes her up for dinner... but Mildred thinks it’s still morning and this is breakfast. She has no memory of the entire day... and Dr. Bartoli’s visit. Lydia asks if she remembers Dr. Bartoli’s visit this afternoon, and Eric tells Lydia not to badger her - of course she remembers... she’s had no sedation today. Mildred lies and says she remembers. Lydia replies, “See? You’re just as sane as I am.” The phone rings, it’s Dr. Bartoli... Eric says he’ll take the call in the next room so that Mildred can rest. The moment he’s out of the room Mildred picks up the bedside phone and listens in - Eric tells the doctor she seems to have had another memory lapse, and Bartoli replies that if this continues she will have to be institutionalized. When she hears Eric hang up, she does as well. Dr. Bartoli is real - why can’t she remember him? Is she crazy?

A few days later, Eric tells Mildred that he will be away for a week on a business trip, but Lydia will be there to take care of her. And he has ordered a piano for her bedroom so that she can practice... get back to normal. Dr. Bartoli doesn’t want her to go downstairs and use the piano in the drawing room due to her... incident. He has Mildred sign all of the checks to pay the bills before he leaves - which shows us that he has no access to the money. Lydia enters while she’s signing checks, and they have a heart-to-heart. Though Lydia dislikes Eric, Mildred’s control over the finances has made Eric chase all of these terrible business deals so that he can have money of his own... without going to Mildred for an allowance. She ends up paying when the businesses go bust, and sooner or later he’s going to leave her. Why not take him off the leash and let him share in her estate - let him write the checks and feel more like a man? Mildred decides to call her lawyer in the morning.



When Eric returns from his business trip her hears Mildred upstairs playing the new piano... Lydia bumps into him on the staircase and tells him that Mildred has agreed to sharing the estate with him and the paperwork has been signed. And Eric kisses her - one heck of a kiss. Twist!

Eric greets Mildred, and she tells him she has a surprise: the legal document that shares all of her wealth with him... without any conditions or exceptions. Eric takes the document, then calls her lawyer - says that the document was a mistake, and asks that the lawyer *destroy* the office copy. After hanging up he tells Mildred that he didn’t marry her for her money, he married her because he loves her - and he tears up the document and throws it in the fireplace. Mildred smiles and that night they celebrate with champagne... he loves her!



In the middle of the night Mildred wakes up - hears an organ playing a funeral dirge. She goes downstairs to the drawing room, heart pounding, and inside the room is the coffin and funeral wreath! The coffin is open for viewing... and she looks inside. At herself! She is dead in the coffin! Mildred has a heart attack and dies.

Eric comes in, checks her pulse... dead. The Mildred in the coffin rises up and steps out - it’s Lydia in make up.



Eric hides the coffin and wreath in the basement, and we see all of the elements of the scheme - including a tape recording of the false Dr. Bartoli and the bust of Mildred that they used to create the make up for Lydia to wear. After they’ve hidden the evidence, Eric and Lydia call an ambulance...

The crypt: Mildred’s headstone with birth and death date above Eric’s with only birth date. Eric and Lydia pay their respects... then return home to celebrate their new fortunes. Lydia flips through a stack of sympathy cards and laughs at one with a mistake: “Heartfelt sympathy on the loss of your dear husband Eric Beaumont,” unsigned.

Eric is surrounded by memories of his dead wife, plus some full bottles of booze...

In the middle of the night Eric hears music from Mildred’s room and staggers upstairs - he’s so drunk he can barely walk. In the bedroom he finds the piano lid open... someone steps behind him (jump moment) - Lydia. She didn’t hear anyone playing the piano - could it be that he’s drunk? She puts him in Mildred’s bed to sleep it off.



The next morning Eric goes downstairs and finds a funeral wreath by the door: “My Beloved Husband, Rest In Peace”. What? Lydia enters, has no idea where the wreath came from... but there’s a card. Inside the envelope... Mildred’s wedding ring. She was *buried* wearing the ring, how is this possible? But it *is* her ring. Lydia thinks it’s just a copy of the ring - if it isn’t it means that Mildred has escaped her grave, right?

Eric goes to the crypt - the stone vault is intact. But Eric’s headstone now has a death date engraved on it! One day from now!

The next morning Lydia prods Eric about what he found at the crypt. Eric is very calm and in control when he tells her that someone has filled in the date of his death. He accuses her of being behind it, since she was the one who convinced him to “gaslight” Mildred into having a heart attack. If Eric dies or is found legally insane, all of the money goes to Lydia. Lydia thinks Eric is just trying to blame her for his guilt... that this is his scheme to drive her crazy. If Eric did hear the piano playing, as he claimed, it couldn’t have been Lydia - she can’t even play Chopsticks. That only leaves Mildred’s ghost...



That night, Eric is drunk again... hears the piano playing from downstairs... staggers out of his room, sure that it’s Lydia playing... but he bumps into Lydia in the upstairs hallway. And Lydia doesn’t hear the piano playing. “It’s just your imagination.” It can’t be Mildred returned from the grave. It can’t be. She takes the bottle of booze away from him, says he’s drunk. Eric pushes Lydia aside - booze bottle breaking all over her - and staggers down the stairs to confront Mildred’s ghost.

In the drawing room - a coffin! The doors close behind Eric, the piano begins playing on its own!



Lydia comes downstairs - pounds on the locked door to the drawing room.

Inside the room, drunken Eric looks at the piano and says it’s not real - ghosts don’t exist - and is then *hurled* out the window to his death by... something unseen.

A Detective (Frank Wilcox) questions Lydia - who smells of booze and explains that Eric was alone in the room, doors locked, when he fell out the window. But the doors were not locked, and the evidence shows force was involved in Eric’s window exit - he had to be pushed. Lydia should just admit that they’d been drinking, fought, and she pushed him out the window. Then, Lydia hears the piano music - the Detective nor any of the other policemen can hear it. She tries to jump out the window, but the Detective stops her. Lydia is taken to an asylum... and the photo of Mildred on the piano is smiling.



Review: And we’re back! Season Two of THRILLER starts off with a solid episode that perfectly marries the thriller and horror side of the series. Where Season One was trying to find itself, trying to figure out if it was a crime drama or a thriller show or a horror or weird tales; this season the show knows exactly what it is. No more crime drama, no more mobsters, no more bland episodes.

This episode is a nice riff on DIABOLIQUE with a horror twist... directed by the awesome Ida Lupino who directed some of the best episodes of season one. The screenplay here is by Donald Sanford who wrote 15 episodes of THRILLER including MR. GEORGE. One of the best writers on the show.



Lupino always pushes the envelope technically, doing the kind of directorial work that would be impressive in a film with a long shooting schedule, let alone on a quick TV schedule. On MR. GEORGE she did that amazing POV shot on the swing - I still have no idea how she got a huge TV camera to move like that. Here she does some amazing work as well - there is an awesome shot with a three section mirror where Mildred and Lydia take different panes in the mirror and the whole shot is their reflections moving from pane to pane. Fantastic shot, and much better than just shooting the same scene without the reflection. Still an easy mostly stationary shot, but the reflection allows the shot to be broken into three sections and have the characters move between them.



But the most amazing shot of the episode is a tipsy hand held shot as a drunken Eric staggers down the stairs. It’s a single take and would be an impressive shot with today’s lightweight equipment... but with those huge heavy 1960s studio cameras? Impossible! Yet the shot remains in perfect focus - when today even stationary shots often end up soft and fuzzy. This hand held shot reminded me of some of the great stuff that Sam Fuller was doing a few years earlier in his Korean War movies with hand held camera work on rugged terrain. Though Lupino was a Don Siegel protégé, I think she pulled inspiration from everywhere... and the idea of using hand held to put us in the shoes of the character is a great way to give a film or TV show a sense of realism. Today directors use “shaky cam” for no apparent reason, which makes it pointless. It doesn’t add to the story. But here the hand held is used for a specific reason, to give the audience the tipsy feeling of trying to get down those stairs when you’re almost too drunk to stand on your own.

And last but totally not least is a great POV shot of Mildred’s ghost as she throws Eric out window. Instead of showing us the ghost, the audience *is* the ghost... and we get to get revenge for Mildred’s murder. Though I’m sure the TV censors were behind the ironic twist end, with Lydia innocent of Eric’s murder by guilty of Mildred’s murder... but it’s a great touch that she gets her just deserts in the end.

Though this is a pretty good episode, it pales when compared with the episode that comes next week!

Bill

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