Thursday, February 22, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: Mr. George.


(Though I have the next episode in season 2 ready to go - I haven't pulled all of the images, yet... and am exhausted today. So I'm playing hooky and doing a rerun.)

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

Season: 1, Episode: 32.
Airdate: May 9, 1961

Director: Ida Lupino
Writer: Donald Sanford based on a story by Stephen Grendon
Cast: Gina Gillespe, Virginia Gregg, Lillian Bronson, Howard Freeman.
Music: Sweet Jerry Goldsmith score.
Cinematography: John Warren.
Producer: William Frye.

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Our little friend Priscilla is obviously on urgent business. But in a cemetery, you say? Ah, my friends, this is no ordinary child as you can see, oh no indeed. You see, she has a very special friend and protector resting here. Oh yes, to the rest of the world her friend is properly deceased and quite quite cold. But since Priscilla is not aware of adult concepts of life and death she simply knows that Mr. George has changed his address. That’s the title of our story, Mr. George, and it concerns the fearful effect his untimely demise has on our leading players. They are: Virginia Gregg, Lillian Bronson, and Howard Freeman... and most importantly, Priscilla herself as played by Miss Gina Gillespe. And Mr. George. I warn you, hold tight to your own concepts of life and death because before the hour has ended Priscilla and her special guardian may change them.”

Synopsis: A mansion (Munster House) at the turn of the century. A little girl Priscilla (Gina Gillespie) watches from the top of the stairs until the adults have left the entryway to the house, then sneaks out to see Mr. George... at a graveyard. She goes to his tombstone and leaves a note on his grave... she wants him to come back and live with them.

Meanwhile, the adults are discussing their problem. Priscilla’s mother was wealthy and owned this house. When she passed away, the house and money was put in a trust for Priscilla with Mr. George (the family lawyer... and maybe Priscilla’s mother’s lover) as executor. Now that Mr. George has died, the trust will be passed to Judge Lambeau... who doesn’t trust these adults, who are Priscilla’s cousins: slightly crazy Adelaide Leggett (Lillian Bronson), stuffy Jared Leggett (Howard Freeman) and scheming Edna Leggett (Virginia Gregg). Edna’s dreams of wealth aren’t going to happen on the monthly allowance from Priscilla’s trust. Edna is already scheming: if Priscilla dies, they are next in line for the fortune. Jared goes upstairs...

Just as Priscilla returns. She waits until he’s gone before sneaking upstairs to her room... but she hits the squeaky step, and Edna races out to catch her. But Priscilla is already gone. Did she hear them plotting?

Edna tries to convince Jared to make sure Priscilla has some sort of accident. Jared tells her not to say such things, especially around Adelaide, since she’s crazy and there’s no telling what she might do... and if she did something and was caught, well, she’d be out her share of the inheritance, right?

In Priscilla’s bedroom, the rocking chair next to the bed begins to move and Mr. George’s ghost (voice of Les Tremayne) talks to her. He verbally tucks her in, wishes her a good night, and then the light goes out (by itself?). It’s a really sweet scene... with an unseen ghost.

In the morning, Priscilla runs downstairs to find the cook gone. Edna has fired her along with the rest of the staff. Priscilla goes outside and has a tea party with her doll. She tells her doll how much she misses Mr. George... then the wind blows through the trees and Mr. George’s voice says that he’s back, to watch over her. She thinks Mr. George is playing hide and seek with her, and looks all over for him.

In the house, Adelaide grabs Edna and points out Priscilla talking to herself. Is Mr. George out there somewhere? Or just the kid’s imagination?

At breakfast, Priscilla tells them that Mr. George was talking to her. Jared tells her she must go to her room, and when she is ready to forget this nonsense she can come down. When she’s gone, Edna tells Adelaide she read in the newspaper about some children who climbed in an old trunk and the lid locked... and they suffocated. If such a thing were to happen to Priscilla, they’d all inherit her money.

Adelaide goes to Priscilla’s room and says she thinks she knows where Mr. George might be hiding... up in the attic. Let’s go up and look for him. Adelaide and Priscilla go up to the spooky attic, where Adelaide tries to get Priscilla to look in an old trunk. But when she gets close enough to push inside, Mr. George calls for her to run to her room. Adelaide yells for her to come back... and the trunk lid falls on Adelaide’s neck and kills her!

After Adelaide’s funeral, George’s sister Laura Craig (Joan Tompkins) comes to visit. When George was ill and thought he might be dying he wrote to Laura... telling her all about the evil cousins. There’s a nice moment where Edna, dressed entirely in black from the funeral, and Laura, dressed in a white hat and light colors; do a sort of verbal tug of war over Priscilla. Edna orders Priscilla go upstairs to her room, and they escort Laura out of the house. Darkness wins.

When Edna goes up to Priscilla’s room, the rocking chair is moving and the little girl is talking to Mr. George. Of course, Edna can’t hear him and thinks Priscilla just has an over active imagination. Orders her to stop fooling around and go down to dinner. Now. When they leave Jared walks past... and sees the rocking chair moving on its own. Could George’s ghost be haunting the house? Could George’s ghost have killed Adelaide?

The next day, Jared sees Priscilla on the swing and thinks this might make for a good accident... so he begins pushing her on the swing. Tells her his arms are getting tired and she should get off, then tries to push the swing at her head! Mr. George tells her to run to her playhouse, quick! The swing blasts at her head, missing it. Jared yells for her to come back... then notices the swing has stopped midair. How is that possible? Then it shoots down and hits Jared in the neck... killing him. Great swing POV shot as it moves back and forth over Jared’s body.

Another funeral wreath on the front doors of the house.

Edna finds Priscilla playing hide and go seek with her “imaginary friend” and punishes her. Priscilla says it is Mr. George. Edna asks how can she know who it is if she can’t see him? It’s all in her mind. Is it? Edna sends Priscilla to her room, then there is a knock at the door... Laura Craig. Judge Lambeau has given Laura custody of Priscilla. Light and darkness face off again. Edna can stay in the house. Laura will come to pick up Priscilla at 10am tomorrow.

The next morning Edna ties a piece of string across the top of the stairs and calls for Priscilla to come down. Priscilla starts to run down, but Mr.George tells her to go down the *back stairs* and go to the playhouse. Edna keeps yelling for Priscilla to come down stairs this minute! When she gets no answer, she goes upstairs to grab her... making sure the string is disconnected first. Priscilla isn’t upstairs. Edna blows a gasket and races downstairs... but the string *connects* all by itself! Edna trips and falls down the stairs to her death.

Priscilla meets Laura at the playhouse and they board the streetcar for Laura’s house. Priscilla tells Mr. George that he’ll have to hurry or he’ll be left behind. Mr. George tells her that Laura will look after her now, so this will have to be goodbye. Priscilla says goodbye to Mr. George (dare you not to cry) and the streetcar takes Priscilla to her new home, as the front gate to the old home closes by itself.

Review: This is a strange little story! A tale of ghosts and murder and revenge... that’s charming and heart warming! How do you maintain that balance for an hour? In a strange way this is similar to last week’s episode, since it deals with an underdog character surrounded by schemers... except this underdog is a completely innocent little girl who gets her revenge through her best friend who is a ghost. Not an evil ghost, but a protective ghost. Last week we had an adulterous wife and no shortage of men who don’t mind that she’s married, this week we get Killing Cousins. Both stories feature dark humor and a whimsical tone. It’s impossible not to root for the happy little girl when these downright evil people descend on her and try to steal her inheritance. While they scheme, she has fun! While they fight amongst themselves, she plays in the play house! They are all about money, she is all about just having a great time. And guess what wins in this parable?

One of the great things about this episode is that all three cousins die *by their own schemes*. Adelaide tries to trap Priscilla in an old trunk, and the trunk lid drops on her neck and kills her. Jared tries to kill Priscilla with the swing, not realizing that what goes up (out?) must come down... and the swing slamming into his throat and killing him. Edna creates the tripline on the top of the stairs, and then trips on it herself. It’s as if their own evil is killing them (with a little help from Mr. George).

Hey, Mr. George is an amazing character! He is never seen, but manages to make a real emotional impression on us. We love this (dead) guy! He seems to be as happy and playful in death as Priscilla is in life.

I mentioned the score in the credits, it’s a sweet Jerry Goldsmith score that kind of reminds you of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. The innocence of childhood with a touch of seriousness (for those lessons we learn in childhood). In fact, this is kind of the ghost story version of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD... similar tone of small town (even though this is a turn of the century city where Priscilla knows the driver of the horse drawn streetcar). There’s a real feeling of a simpler time.

Though this is Ida Lupino’s second episode on the series as a director (of nine), this shows what a remarkable director she was. She manages to maintain that tricky tone for the hour without a single fumble. She also does some wonderful camera work for an hour long show shot in a week. Other directors seem content to just set up the camera in the easiest spot and let the action unfold in front of it. Here Lupino opens with a complicated moving shot and then continues to pepper the episode of with great angle (that shot of the two evil aunts) and does an amazing shot where the camera is *on the swing* with Priscilla’s POV on the swing, and later a Swing Eye View as the swing passes back and forth over dead Uncle Jared. Cameras weighed a ton back then, so I have no idea how she pulled off this shot. It’s also a *haunting* shot, as the swing drifts back and forth over Jared’s corpse.

I don’t think it’s a secret that I’m a huge fan of hers, and her work in Film Noir both in front of the camera and behind the camera is remarkable. But how could her work as director on THE HITCH HIKER prepare her for an episode like this? This sweet, tear inducing, ghost story? Before her stint on THRILLER she directed 8 episodes of my favorite western show, HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL. This is such a sweet episode, that it’s hard to believe she was directing a manly man western show before this! Or that she would direct the ultimate edge of the seat suspense episode of THRILLER only a few episodes from this.

Next week an episode directed by Paul Henreid (Victor Lazlo in CASABLANCA) about a famous pianist and his rival... and a war that goes beyond the grave.


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