Thursday, July 27, 2017

THRILLER Thursday: The Cheaters

The Cheaters

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



Season: 1, Episode: 15.
Airdate: Dec. 27, 1960


Director: John Brahm
Writer: Donald Sanford based on a story by Robert (PSYCHO) Bloch.
Cast: Henry Daniel, Mildred Dunnock, Harry Townes, Jack Weston, Paul Newlan.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith takes over from Rugolo.
Cinematography: John Russell from PSYCHO.
Producer: William Frye and Maxwell Shane.




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “When a man shuts himself off from his neighbors, when he conducts mysterious experiments behind locked doors, there’s bound to be talk. There were those who whispered that Dirk Van Prinn was a sorcerer, and worse. He might never have been remembered at all, had he not his research lead him to the discovery of a most unusual formula for making glass. Dirk Van Prinn hanged himself before dawn. His story might have ended there if he’s had the courage to smash those spectacles. But like many another scientist he could not bare to destroy his own creation. Too bad, because years later others tried them on. In The Cheaters, our story for tonight, a junk man named Joe Henshaw played by Mr. Paul Newlan, a little old fashioned lady named Miriam Olcott played by Miss Mildred Dunnock, her nephew Edward Dean played by Mr. Jack Weston, and finally a man who discovered the real purpose of the spectacles Sebastian Grimm, played by Mr. Harry Townes. What they saw through those yellow gold lenses they never forgot. And neither will you my friends, because as sure is my name’s Boris Karloff, this is a Thriller.”



Synopsis: Two hundred years ago, inventor Dirk Van Prinn creates a special type of glass after many failed experiments, and fashions a pair of glasses. These are not rose colored glasses, kind of the opposite. When Van Prinn looks in the mirror while wearing the glasses, what he sees drives him mad and makes him kill himself.

200 years and a commercial break later, junk man Joe Henshaw (Paul Newlan, who was also in the Big Blackout episode) has paid $100 for the contents of the long abandoned house where some crazy inventor used to live. It’s kind of like the sixties version of STORAGE WARS. His wife Maggie (Linda Walkins) and partner Charlie (Ed Nelson, who is almost as many episodes as Karloff) think he was crazy to pay that much! $100? What if there’s nothing inside?

Henshaw and Charlie go to the spooky old house and poke around inside... nothing worth anything in here. Henshaw climbs upstairs to Van Prinn’s laboratory... where the door is locked. Must be something good inside? They break open the door, and all of the lab equipment has already been taken away. There are shelves of books... which turn to dust when you open them. An old desk may be worth something... but the wood is rotted. The only thing Henshaw can find is a pair of glasses hidden in the desk... and he could use a pair of glasses.



When Henshaw gets home, Maggie is all dolled up and has an impressive meal laid out. What’s the occasion? It was Henshaw’s birthday a few weeks back and they never celebrated. Charlie comes over with some booze and it’s a party. But when Henshaw puts on the glasses he found in the old house, he can *hear* what Charlie and Maggie are thinking... he can see the truth. Maggie has been cheating on him with Charlie and they plan to kill him and take over the business. He pulls off the glasses, and they’re both just having a normal conversation. He notices a word etched in the old fashioned frames: Veritas... “truth” in Latin. When he puts the glasses back on, they’re planning his murder so that he can be together... get him drunk enough and... Henshaw takes off the glasses and walks outside to his junk yard, finds a crow bar, comes back inside and kills them both. A policeman (John Mitchum, Robert’s brother) hears the screams and arrests Henshaw.

A couple of years later and after the commercial break, Miriam Olcott (Mildred Dunnock) is an old woman confined to her bed and her room by her nephew Edward Dean (Jack Weston) and his wife Olive (Barbara Eiler). She wants to go out, but Olive says she should just take a nap. But Miriam sneaks out of the house and goes on an adventure. She goes wandering through the town, stopping in stores to look at things. She eventually ends up walking past Henshaw’s place, where some other junk dealer has bought the contents and is hauling it away. She spots a pair of antique glasses and buys them for a quarter from the junk dealer. Shopping excursion over, she heads back home...



Where Edward and Olive are waiting for her, worried. The reason why she must stay in her room is because if she wanders off she may just get lost and forget where she lives. Miriam says she was out shopping and tries on the glasses... and hears what they are really thinking. That’s she probably stole the glasses, she’s a senile old problem and they only reason they take care of her is that she’s worth a fortune and when she dies they inherit... except they hoped that she would already be dead by now. What’s keeping her so long? She takes off the glasses, shocked, and they tell her that her doctor is on his way, and Edward and Olive are heading out for the night.

When the doctor arrives, Miriam tries to tell him her nephew and his wife want to kill her, but the kindly doctor just believes it’s dementia and tries to calm her. He goes downstairs to get some brandy to calm her, returns and pours her a glass. Miriam puts on the glasses and discovers that her kindly doctor is in on the murder plot, and plans to get her drunk and push her down the stairs tonight while Nephew and Wife are out tonight establishing an alibi. She grabs a knitting needle, and when the doctor brings her the glass of brandy, stabs him to death.



A couple of years later and after the commercial break, Edward and Olive have inherited all of that money and are attempting some social climbing with their new found wealth. They have a costume party at their house and have invited all of the wealthy important people in town, including a judge and a semi famous writer, Sebastian Grimm (even though he’s a prick). Edward dressed as Benjamin Franklin, hoping to impress everyone, but Grimm (Harry Townes) does nothing but ridicule him because everyone knows Franklin wore spectacles.

The men go into the parlour to play poker, and Edward is trying to impress them with large bets... and losing money to everyone. Olive brings in some muchies... and Aunt Miriam’s antique glasses. Edward puts them on, and really looks like Ben Franklin! Even Grimm says those antique glasses make him look perfect. Edward is happy for a moment, until he hears what the other men are really thinking... they want to keep playing so they can take away all of Edward’s money that they don’t think he deserves. One of the players is cheating, and has hidden a pair of aces under his arm. Edward can’t believe these guys are cheating at cards, and calls the guy on it. The guy manages to make the accusation backfire on Edward... and make him look like a sore loser who is making false charges. This turns into a fistfight between the two men, and Edwards gets punched in the face, falls over and hits his head... dying.

Grimm scoops up the glasses...



A few months and a commercial break later, Grimm tells his wife Ellen (Joan Tompkins) that he has been researching the glasses and has discovered all of the past deaths, starting with Van Prinn’s suicide, and believes these glasses show anyone who wears them the truth. But he has not put them on because he believes the glasses were invented not to learn the truth of what others think of you... but the truth about yourself. Grimm has written a new book about the glasses, except for the last chapter. The last chapter will come after he learns the truth about himself.

He goes to Van Prinn’s spooky old house, climbs the dark staircase to his laboratory, sits in front of the same mirror where Van Prinn put on the glasses... and puts the glasses on and looks in the mirror. And sees the truth about himself. And screams and goes mad, ripping nis face off with his bare hands. And just before the fade out, he drops the glasses and crushes them beneath his shoe. Then probably hangs himself.



Review: Now that’s more like it. A nice little Weird Tales type story about how dangerous the truth can be, written by the dude who wrote PSYCHO. I’ve read this story (and most of Bloch’s stuff) and it’s interesting how an episodic short story is a perfect match for a TV show with commercials. Each segment ends at the commercial, so we begin the new segment with different characters. This makes up for those early episodes with glacial slow pacing. Though the show is still kind of blandly directed, it moves quickly, has a cornucopia of stars, and wit (from Bloch’s story... that guy was a sick comedian who wrote lines like this one from PSYCHO. “It was the face of a crazy old woman. Mary started to scream, and then the curtains parted further and a hand appeared, holding a butcher’s knife. It was the knife that, a moment later, cut off her scream... And her head.”). The puns on “cheaters”, from the reading glasses to the cheating card players and couple elevate the story.

My bland direction comment is mostly about the scenes in the spooky old house, where production design did a great job of hanging cobwebs and covering everything with a believable 200 year old layer of dust, but the shots end up bland angles so the all of the spooky stuff goes to waste. The Brahm and Sanford team did well with PREDICTION and WATCHER, so maybe there was a time crunch with this episode? It is 4 stories with 4 casts and that might have lead to the pedestrian haunted house stuff. The cast has fun with their roles, especially Weston, who is a comic actor playing a petty social climber and manages to give a nuanced performance. Mildred Dunnock also has fun playing a possibly senile old woman who turns into a sly killer. Townes and Daniel are always great, and here both play their roles to the hilt.

One of the nice touches is how they create “glasses vision” so that the audience knows we are hearing the thoughts of the characters rather than what they are saying. The lighting scheme is changed, with the lights low and angled up, creating a spooky look. This way they can cut from a shot in “glasses vision” of people speaking to a shot normal lighting and we know that now we are hearing what they are actually saying.



One of the things that doesn’t work as well is having the lines they are saying when we are hearing what they are thinking replicate the lines they are actually speaking... just with a few different words. This is a great concept, but in practice we end up hearing most of the same words twice in a row. They might have been able to make this work with some better dialogue editing, but they may have been afraid the audience might have become confused.

The December 27th airdate makes it almost a Christmas episode!

A good episode, and next week another Bloch based episode that features a dozen mirrors... and Shatner! Can he stop himself from looking into all of those mirrors?

Bill

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