Thursday, March 16, 2023

Thriller Thursday: MARK OF THE HAND

Mark Of The Hand

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

Season: 1, Episode: 4.
Airdate: 10-04-1960

Director: Paul Henreid (“Casablanca”).
Writer: Eric Peters based on a novel by Charlotte Armstrong (“The Unsuspected”).
Cast: Mona Freeman, Jessie Royce Landis, Shepperd Strudwick, Rachel Ames, Judson Pratt.
Music: Pete Rugolo.
Cinematography: John L. Russell (“Psycho” and Hitchcock Presents).

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “An instrument of murder is hardly a proper toy for an eight year old, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. And this instrument casts an evil shadow even beyond the death of this corpse. And upon it is the mark of the hand. That’s the name of our story. It’s from a novel by the celebrated Charlotte Armstrong. Let me assure you my friends, this is a thriller.”

Synopsis: A woman screams. Paul Mowry (Berry Kroeger) races out of his house, across the yards, and into the luxurious home next door where he finds his brother Charlie dead on the floor of the library... shot in the back! Hottie Sylvia Walsh (Mona Freeman) stands over him, screaming. No gun in her hand. Paul looks at the third person in the room... calmly sitting in a chair holding the murder gun in her hand... 8 year old Tessa Kilburn (Terry Burnham). Sugar and spice and everything nice... a cold blooded killer!

Others rush into the room: Tessa’s father Douglas (Shepperd Strudwick), nanny Betty (Rachel Ames) and wheelchair bound Grandmother Kilburn (Jessie Royce Landis). All are shocked that the cute little 8 year old murdered the man who lives next door.

Detective Gordon (Judson Pratt) arrives and begins his investigation. Sylvia is the fiancĂ© of Douglas Kilburn, they are soon to be married. She says that Paul often came over for coffee on Sundays, and they were having a pleasant conversation when she noticed that Tessa had opened the gun case and was playing with a pistol. When they told her to please put the pistol back in the gun case, Tessa *fired* the gun! First hitting the chandelier, then hitting Charlie in the back! Sylvia scuffled with Tessa and got the gun out of her hands, but by that time it was too late... Charlie was dead. She screamed, and Charlie’s brother Paul ran over from next door entering through the glass doors. Detective Gordon questions everyone else, ending with Tessa... who is in bed. Tessa tells him she will never speak again... and says nothing else.

Detective Gordon is frustrated, says if Tessa doesn’t talk he will have to put her in a psychiatric hospital under observation. He doesn’t want to do that. He asks Grandmother Kilburn if Tessa has ever been under psychiatric care... and she says of course not.

Meanwhile, Tessa stands at her bedroom window staring across the way at Paul in the house next door. Creepy! Is she crazy?

Detective Gordon continues his investigation, uncovering that Tessa *was* under psychiatric care at one point. Goes back to question the family and Douglas admits that Tessa began acting out when he began dating Sylvia... and caused some problems. But never did anything violent. Again he tries to get Tessa to talk, but she remains silent. Oh, and her fingerprints were on the murder gun (which is where the episode title comes from: the mark of her hand is on the gun). If Tessa would tell what happened, it might just be an accident and the case could be closed without sending an 8 year old to the gas chamber... but she remains silent (and creepy).

Detective Gordon gets information that one of the people involved has a criminal record (but we aren’t told who at this point). We *suspect* that it might be Douglas. Does crime run in the family? Detective Gordon eventually reveals that the *victim* had a criminal history: forgery and blackmail and all sorts of nasty things... and that Sylvia *knew* the victim years ago, before she met Douglas! Twist! Sylvia tells Douglas that she *did* know dead Charlie, was even engaged to him at one point... but after they broke up he was obsessed with her and stalked her and rented the house next door with his brother Paul... and she was doing *everything* to keep Charlie from doing something to ruin the upcoming marriage.

Detective Gordon goes next door to question Paul, but before he can discover anything interesting, Sylvia screams again! The two men rush next door where Sylvia says that cute (creepy) little Tessa tried to stab her with a knife! They run into Tessa’s bedroom, where the kid stands holding a kitchen knife in her hand. Tessa hands Gordon the knife, but doesn’t say a word. Creepy creepy creepy!

Detective Gordon questions Sylvia about this new incident... and Sylvia admits that she lied before. She made Tessa shooting Charlie sound like an accident, when in truth Tessa shot the man in cold blood. She’s an evil child who *kills* people she doesn’t like. She’s crazy, and needs to be institutionalized... or arrested for murder. Gordon doesn’t want to arrest an 8 year old kid, but it’s looking more and more like he has no choice. If he doesn’t put the little girl behind bars, she’s going to murder someone else.

Douglas goes upstairs and has a heart to heart with Tessa, apologizes for not being a good father, apologizes for seeming to care more about Sylvia than his own daughter. Tells her that he doesn’t believe she shot Charlie or tried to stab Sylvia or any of the other things she’s been accused of. He loves her, and will always love her. Big hug time.

Meanwhile, downstairs, nanny Betty has realized that something is wrong: Gordon said they found Paul’s fingerprints on the table, but he rushed into the room through the glass doors and went straight to his brother’s body... never touched the table. And the table had been cleaned after dinner last night... so how did his fingerprints get there?

Paul and Sylvia have a whispered discussion where they spill the beans: they have been in cahoots the whole time, setting up Douglas. Getting rid of little Tessa so that after the marriage Sylvia is the only heir. But when Charlie got cold feet, they shot him... and used his death to frame Tessa. They hear a noise and realize that Grandmother Kilburn has been listening. Sylvia opens the gun case, grabs a pistol, and goes upstairs to murder the wheelchair bound old woman!

Grandmother Kilburn gets Sylvia to confess to everything one more time, then Sylvia points the gun at her and... Detective Gordon and Douglas and Betty rush into the room and overpower her, take the gun away and Gordon slaps the cuffs on Sylvia. It was a trap all along.

Review: Though better than the first two episodes, a bit of a slide back from our last episode. Though some real suspense is generated at the end when Sylvia goes up to murder Grandmother, much of the episode is more of a cozy murder mystery with some soapy elements.

There is kind of a Hitchcock reunion feel to the episode with Landis from NORTH BY NORTHWEST and TO CATCH A THIEF in the cast and John Russell behind the camera. Paul Henreid, Victor Laszlo from CASABLANCA, directs... and gives the episode some nice moving shots.

One of the problems might be the kid seems to be a “bad seed” in the story, but is shown to be more cute than threatening. When she stares out her window at Paul, she’s just not creepy enough. I’m sure part of this was probably network censors wanting them to tone it way down, but with Tessa portrayed more as a kid than a crazy psycho, the episodes loses a lot of impact. Though still a bit of a stumble from last week’s episode, we’re still on the right track. This one is much closer to a thriller than the other episode about a kid with a gun, and the story is tight and focused and easy to understand. All of the performances are pretty good, with the actor playing Paul exuding a weaselly menace even when he’s playing the brother of the victim. Landis is great as always, playing older than her age. Mona Freeman looks like trouble from the opening scene, and that might be a bit of a give away. She’s an obvious femme fatal in the role of faithful fiancĂ©... and we know she’s probably the guilty one from the first scene. Strudwick, who gets a shout out in some Elmore Leonard novel, was an over the hill pretty boy at this point in his career, but is handsome and dignified and really brings tears to your eyes in that father/daughter scene. That scene elevates the whole episode.



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