Thursday, October 11, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: The Remarkable Mrs. Hawk.

NEW! SEASON 2!!!



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



Season: 2, Episode: 13.
Airdate: December 18, 1961

Director: John Brahm.
Writer: Donald S. Sanford from the story by Margaret St. Clair.
Cast: Jo Van Fleet, John Carradine, Paul Newlan, Hal Baylor.
Music: Morton Stevens.
Cinematography: Ray Flin.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Imagine a woman with such poise, such calm, in the presence of... whatever happened to young Johnny. Remarkable. The Remarkable Mrs. Hawk, that’s the title of our excursion into the impossible, tonight. Or is what happened to Johnny impossible in this day? He was a thief. Whatever he got he deserved, you say. Well, my friend, how can you judge until you know the full horror that overtook him out there in the farmland? That’s a puzzle I invite you to solve in company with our cast. Jason Longfellow played by John Carradine, Sheriff Tom Willetts played by Paul Newlan, Peter Gogan played by Hal Baylor, the remarkable Mrs. Hawk portrayed by Jo Van Fleet. If you’ve ever yearned for a small farm, a few chickens, a cow, and a pig or two... or three... I particularly recommend this story, because as sure as my name is Boris Karloff, you’ll learn some animal husbandry that even the experts never dreamed of.”

Synopsis: A pair of hobos / day laborers, Jason (John Carradine) and Peter (Hal Baylor), put out their campfire and prepare to leave, wondering where their pal is. Across the field is an old country house with a big sign in front “Isle Of Aiaie” Home Of The Pampered Pig. Visitors Welcome. Mrs. C. Hawk proprietor.”



Inside the house, their pal Johnny (Bruce Dern) (with a tattoo of an arrow through a heart on his arm) is having a meal served by Mrs Hawk (Jo Van Fleet) - he did a day’s work at the pig farm and is quitting. Mrs. Hawk doesn’t want him to quit... and touches him in a way you usually don’t touch employees... and Johnny takes a step back. She says she will give him his pay, but first a goodbye drink of her blackberry brandy. Okay, anything to get his money and get out of here. He downs it, and when she goes to get his pay, grabs the empty brandy decanter and follows her into the little home office. He’s going to hit her and rob her of *all* her money. A really good creep up suspense moment... will she hear him and turn around? When he gets ready to hit her she spins around... and tells him that he can have all of the money if he wants, she won’t even call the cops. He takes her strong box and runs!

Then she hears him scream: “Help me!” from the yard... and she smiles. He keeps screaming!
Then hogs begin snorting and squeeling!
And the screaming stops.



Peter wants to help Johnny, but Jason thinks it’s too late. Peter mentions that hungry hogs are dangerous - they will eat a human... and blames Jason for sending Johnny in to steal, knowing he might end up a meal. The two fight a little, and then Jason explains his real plan. A personals advert from Mrs Hawk in a magazine, “Attractive widow, owner of prosperous farm, desires lonely young man to share her work and future.” Jason believes she requested “lonely" young men because they are less likely to have families who will question their disappearance. She’s a serial killer. Jason plans to blackmail her... using Peter as bait.

At the County Fair, Sheriff Tom Willetts (Paul Newlan from M SQUAD) makes his rounds, while Mrs Hawk displays her prize pig Nammon... which has won all of the awards at the fair. The pig also has a tattoo with an arrow through a heart on it’s front leg... just like Johnny did. WTF? She chases down the Sheriff and does some heavy flirting with him... but he politely rejects her. He's a middle aged man who is nervous around women... and she's a woman who is several steps past "aggressive". A maneater.



When she drives home with the prized pig in the back of her truck, Peter and Jonathan are waiting for her... answering her personals advert in the magazine. Peter is the potential husband, Jason is his uncle. She serves them tea and cookies, and then Jason leaves... and Peter stays in the guest room of the house. So they can get to know each other better. Peter is a little nervous about what that might entail.

That night, Peter sleeps fully clothed.
Something wakes him up in the middle of the night, and he looks out the window. Spots Mrs. Hawk in her nightgown walking into the pig barn with a bowl of... grapes. She feeds the big hogs, calling them all by name. Creepy! One of the hogs seems angry, so she tells it that it can come back for a little while... The pig with the same tattoo as Johnny had. And we get a cool moving shot where she follows the pig to the house, and when it walks behind a cart for a moment she points her wooden pig prodder at it and Johnny comes out on the other side of the cart. Johnny is the pig! Mrs Hawk takes Johnny-pig in to her bedroom... for reasons not fully explained in the story, but we wonder about corkscrew personal parts. Peter sees Mrs. Hawk and Johnny entering the bedroom and sneaks out of the house.



Next morning she notices Peter missing.... and then there is a knock at the door: the Sheriff. Official business. It seems that her day laborer Johnny and his partner Peter are both wanted by the police for robbing a man. She turns away so that he doesn’t see her expression when she learns that Johnny and Peter know each other. Sheriff Willetts mentions that both are traveling with an old hobo - Jason. She shifts gears and pours on the flirting, which makes Sheriff Willetts nervous, so he leaves.

Jason finds Peter back at their camp and asks why he isn’t in the house with Mrs. Hawk? Peter tells him what he saw, and Jason believes all of it. He wants to poke around the house... but that means that Peter has to go back.

Peter returns and tells Mrs. Hawk that he saw one of her pigs escape so he tried to chase it down, failed to grab it. “He’ll come home when he’s hungry,” she says. And she has breakfast waiting for him - pancakes... with blackberry syrup. As Peter eats she says she feels bad about running his uncle Jason off and wonders if he’s available to come to dinner tonight? Peter fumbles a bit, because he was supposed to ask her if uncle Jason could come by for dinner. She keeps pouring on the blackberry syrup... and there’s a nice shot where Peter eats a fork-full of syrupy pancakes and makes a sound halfway between a belch and a pig’s snort and the camera moves to Mrs. Hawk as the sounds become all pig snorts. Peter has become a pig.



That night, Jason comes by for dinner... and while waiting, studies a painting on the wall of a young woman with a wooden pig prodder surrounded by adoring pigs. They have a nice verbal battle - a chess game - where Jason talks about the painting, and she tries to normalize it. He seems to know everything about her. She tries to deflect him and charm him away from these subjects. He grabs a photo from a table and asks who this is - needs to know the family his nephew is marrying into, right? Mrs Hawk says it’s her niece Meddy. “Would that be a pet name for Medea?” He asks where Peter is... and she answers “tamed”. She offers him a glass of blackberry wine. He accepts the glass, but doesn’t drink it... and says he knows all about her. The “C” stands for Circe - she is the Greek Goddess of magic and witchcraft. Through the use of her magic wand she can turn her enemies into pigs and other beasts. She asks what he wants? Jason smiles: Every cent she has and the farm. This won’t be the first time she has been forced to move, right?

Jason will need a pen and paper to draw up a contract for sale of the farm - and Mrs. Hawk attempts to trick him several times. She dips the top of the pen in a bottle when he isn’t looking. He draws up the contract, putting the top of the pen in his mouth at one point. She signs the contract... then flirts with him, and asks if he would like to see the pigs.

At the barn, Jason fears a trap... so he takes the flashlight and goes in alone. The barn is dark and spooky.



In one pen, a big hog wears Peter’s suit!
From outside the barn she asks, “Do you see him?”
“Yes... I see him.”
“You’re lucky, Most of my friends don’t have the opportunity to see what’s going to happen to them.”

She tells him it was on the tip of the pen, and when he screams and tries to escape from the barn, she locks the door.... locking him in the barn with Peter and Johnny and all of the others... and then he begins snorting like a pig!

Meanwhile: Sheriff Willetts and a kid are searching their camp on the field across from the house, and find Jason’s library of mythology... and finds his notes on Mrs. Hawk. Weird notes. Does he believe them?



Sheriff Willetts goes to visit Mrs Hawk, and she starts in on the flirting to make him uncomfortable. He says he is here on official business... and wants her to go in the house while he searches. She waves the pig pusher at the pigs and they are all suddenly silent, then she leaves and lets him search.

Sheriff Willetts does a search of the barn, fairly suspenseful. He finds nothing.

In the house, he studies the painting of the young woman surrounded by adoring pigs. Finds a stash of watches and cigarette lighters and other things from her victims. That’s when she comes in with a pot of coffee and cups on a serving tray. “Tom, you know something about me, don’t you?” He says he knows what happened to all of the missing men, he knows who she really is. She does the flirting thing again. He will have nothing to do with it... and she says she is willing to give her confession. Has he told anyone else her secret? “If I told anybody a thing like that they’d lock me up!” She smiles... and then touches his lips with her fingers... giving him a taste of that blackberry potion. She points the pig prodder at him and... the Sheriff turns into a pig!



Later, she sells all of her pigs to the slaughterhouse and watches as they are loaded into the back of the truck, saying goodbye to each of them by name. The Sheriff pig has a star shaped marking on its chest. As the two slaughterhouse drivers prepare to leave, they talk about what a great woman Mrs Hawk is - she cared so much about those pigs of hers.

Mrs. Hawk goes back to the house... and a young man shows up, answering her personals advert in the magazine. She smiles at him.





Review: This is a great episode, that hits on all cylinders. The writing is witty, the story is dark and twisted, and the direction (lighting, camera moves) milk it for every creepy moment.

The acting is also superb, especially Jo Van Fleet (from Oakland) who you may know from EAST OF EDEN or COOL HAND LUKE or Polanski’s THE TENANT or the TV movie SATAN’S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS. She is an unconventionally attractive woman, and vamps the hell out of it this episode. She is sex incarnate. Were the TV censors asleep at the switch? Her hands are all over every male character in the story and she dresses like the farmer’s daughter from all of those dirty jokes. I had a still I was going to pull for this of her bending down in front of John Carradine to offer him a drink that is offering him her cleavage as well - but it was kind of pervy. She just oozes sex whenever she’s on screen, to the point that it feels like a trap (which is what she was going for). This isn’t just a sexually aggressive woman, there is a danger vibe here. Even before Bruce Dern is turned into a pig, you know she has some sort of evil plan for him. This is a great performance in an episode filled with them.

John Carradine is also great as the hobo/conman, and the scenes with him and Van Fleet are two masters at the top of their game battling it out. Carradine playing a conman is a great casting - he can ham it up and it fits his character. Did I say: Ham it up?



You may not be familiar with Paul Newlan who plays the Sheriff, but he was usually working across the lot on Lee Marvin’s M SQUAD show as the Chief Of Detectives - and is great here as the shy, lonely, Sheriff in this episode - when Van Fleet comes on to him, he gets so flustered that the audience feels uncomfortable. Another great performance by an old pro character actor.

Hal Baylor is another one of those character actors with well over 100 credits - he was on every Western show ever made and pops up in John Wayne movies, too. He’s also in A BOY AND HIS DOG.

Director John Brahm did 12 episodes of THRILLER, including CHEATERS, DARK LEGACY, THE PREDICTION and GOOD IMAGINATION. He was also one of the main directors on TWILIGHT ZONE and HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and MAN FROM UNCLE. On this show his episodes range from competent to great - and this is one of the great ones. The single shot where the pig turns into Bruce Dern would be a mind blower today, and a scene where Carradine is poking around in the spooky pig barn with a flashlight builds all kinds of dread. The payoff - a pig in Peter’s suit - doesn’t work as well as a shock moment, but farm animals in clothes tend to be funny... and that’s the problem, here. But still a great moment in a twisted episode.



The story itself, and screenplay by Donald Sanford, is creepy and shocking. I think Kevin Smith should have watched this episode before making TUSK. Smith’s movie is a bunch of talking heads scenes, this episode has creepy scenes and shock moments and the talking heads scenes are battles between clever characters trying to outsmart each other. Oddly, due to the Sheriff character, this episode is also reminiscent of PSYCHO. Various characters disappear in a spooky old house, and the plodding Sheriff puts the pieces together and realizes that something is really wrong, here. I love the early bit of leading the audience / misdirection when Peter mentions that hungry hogs will eat people - that adds so much dread to every scene. You are waiting for the secret to be that Mrs. Hawk feeds people to her pigs... so when it is revealed that her pigs are people, it’s a great moment.

Another great element in this episode is Karloff's introduction - most of them are kind of blandly written, but this one is witty and fun (and brief).

A great episode after a slightly boring one... and next up is another episode directed by the fellow who directed the boring one. Will it be better than his last episode? Stay tuned!



- Bill

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