Thursday, August 31, 2023

THRILLER Thursday: The Weird Tailor


The Weird Tailor.

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

Season: 2, Episode: 4.
Airdate: Oct. 16, 1961

Director: Herschel Daugherty
Writer: Robert Bloch based on his (awesome) short story.
Cast: Henry Jones, George Macready, Abraham Sofaer, Sondra Kerr
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography: Benjamin Kline.
Producer: William Frye.

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “A man cries out in vain. His son can not come back. There is no power on Earth that can bring him back. But then, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff, that was no Earthly power that took him. As you have just seen. What just took place behind those doors was strange and terrifying. I wonder just how many of you will have the courage or the curiosity to follow me through them to witness things even stranger and more terrifying. Our story is called “The Weird Tailor” and the fabric of our plot is woven by these distinguished players: Henry Jones, George Macready, Abraham Sofaer, And Sondra Kerr. Yes, my friends, they’re all waiting for you behind these doors! So come with me, come! Before it’s too late.”

Synopsis: Spoiled rich college kid Arthur (Gary Clarke) comes home to his father’s mansion from a night of drinking... interrupting his father’s occult experiment just as things are happening. Mr. Smith (George Macready from GILDA) has laid out a pentagram on the floor of his study, done some incantations... and now the pentagram is beginning to smoke. A lot! When Arthur knocks on the door Smith tells him to go away - but that’s like telling a drunk to come on in. “Hey, candles! I get it, you’re fumigating the joint.” Smith explains that he’s doing an experiment and Arthur needs to leave *now*. But the bar is across the room - across the smoking pentagram - and Arthur wants to get a drink first. He walks right into the center of the pentagram - there’s a flash of light, and Arthur is dead! And that’s just the set up for the story!

Mr. Smith visits psychic Madame Roberti (Iphigenie Castiglioni) who looks into her crystal ball and sees darkness within the light - Smith explains that his son has died and he would do *anything* to bring him back - anything. He says he would give his entire fortune to have his son back. She hands him a card with a name and address...

Nice little twist at the end of the scene where the psychic reaches down for her *guide dog* and we realize that she is blind (and all of the things she has seen and commented on about Smith were not seen through her eyes). This also adds a bit of weird to the scene - a blind woman who looks him right in the eye.

Honest Abe’s used cars is where the address leads Smith. Can this be right? The car salesman Nick (Abraham Sofaer), an older middle eastern man with a mustache who owns the place, takes him into the office where they can talk of things not of this Earth. Smith explains some of why he is here, and Nick says they must be careful - there are laws. Not police laws, laws of nature... laws of good and evil. Nick has an ancient spell book - Mysteries Of The Worm - one of 3 copies in the world. The rest were burned along with their owners. Nick is asking one million dollars for the book - which is all of Mr. Smith’s fortune. Mr. Smith balks... but eventually buys the book.

Erich Borg’s Custom Tailor Shop - somewhere in the wrong part of town. Landlord Mr. Schwenk (Stanley Adams) goes into the shop and yells for Borg in the apartment in back. No customers today. Borg (Henry Jones) comes out and asks if this is about a suit? But Schwenk is here about the late rent, and gives Borg one week to pay up or he’s out on the street. Borg has no idea how he will be able to pay this bill...

After the landlord leaves, Borg goes into the back room: workshop and apartment, where his wife Anna (Sondra Kerr) runs a sewing machine. Customer? No - landlord demanding they pay their back rent or move. Anna attempts to cheer him up, and gets beaten for her troubles. Borg is a violent jerk... and he takes out his frustrations on his wife. Borg says that on;y a miracle could save them... and the bell over the front door rings. They have a customer.

Mr. Smith has a very special job for Borg...

He needs a suit for his son. His son can not come in for a fitting, but he has his measurements. The suit will be made of this special material that Smith is providing and must be sewed by hand - no machines. Also, can only be sewn during certain odd hours in the middle of the night when the stars are aligned just right. He’ll pay $500 for the suit... and gives Borg his card. Borg wants an advance, but Smith says he’ll pay on delivery. Borg will have the suit finished in a week.

When Smith leaves, Anna comes out from the back room and asks if this is a job, money? Borg manhandles her again, tells her to leave him alone. She return to the back room, crying. Talks to a damaged mannequin she has named Hans about her abusive husband... then cries on its shoulder. “You are the only friend I have, Hans.” She breaks down crying.

Anna wakes up in the middle of the night - Borg is not in bed. Has he left her? She creeps out into the shop to find him hand sewing the suit. It’s the middle of the night? This is when the suit is supposed to be sewn, Borg has tried other times but the needle will not go into the strange fabric. The only thing that Borg cares about is that he gets $500 when he delivers the suit.

A few days later, Borg has finished with the suit. He folds it up and puts it in a box, preparing to deliver it. Anna has a feeling that something is wrong - the fabric is strange and hurts her eyes to look at it and tingles - maybe vibrates - when she touches it. Borg should know this, he made the suit. She begs him not to deliver the suit. But - $500.

Borg wonders what she considers weird - since she spends half the day talking to a mannequin. She’s even named it. Hans? There is a word for people who talk to statues. The reason why Borg took the mannequin from the front window and tossed it in the back room - it’s head is cracked. Is that her problem, too? A cracked head? Borg says maybe when he gets the $500 he’ll just go away by himself - she can keep the mannequin. He leaves to deliver the suit and she worried that he will never come back, leave her with the back rent problems.

She goes back and pours out her heart to the mannequin. How did the mannequin get its cracked head? Borg was drunk and beat it - just as he gets drunk and beats her. “When you get hit over and over and over again, something has got to break.” The front door bell rings, landlord Schwenk looking for the rent.

Borg finds the address on Mr. Smith’s card - this can’t be right. A tenement down by the docks? He knocks on the door and Smith answers... happy to have the suit. But Borg wants his $500 before he hands over the suit, and Smith wants the suit now and he will pay for it on the first of the month. Smith spent his entire fortune on the spell book and material to make the suit... but he’ll have money again, soon.

Borg wants to know how Smith can afford a huge freezer if he’s broke, and opens the freezer to see how much food is inside... except there isn’t any food, only Smith’s frozen dead son Arthur! Yikes! Smith and Borg fight over the suit - each fighting for their life. Borg stabs Smith to death! What has he done? He wipes away all traces that he was ever in the room, grabs the suit and races out.

Borg returns to his shop, worried that the police will find him. Anna is relieved to see that he did not leave her... but if he got the $500 why does he still have the suit box? Borg threatens her - don’t tell anyone about the customer or the suit or the $500. He orders her to burn the suit *now*! Then runs out of the shop.

To a bar. Borg is getting drunk when Schwenk finds him and demands the back rent. Borg is drunk and has delusions - sees Mr. Smith dead, see’s Smith’s frozen dead son... throws his beer at Schwenk and runs out of the bar.

Borg returns to the tailor shop; very drunk, very angry, very confused. He yells for Anna, asks if she burned the suit. She says not yet - she put it on the mannequin to see what it looked like. Borg screams that the suit must be burned at once - it’s evidence. He tells her that Smith tried to take the suit from him without paying for it... and he killed him. She wants him to go to the police... and Borg freaks and starts beating her. Trying to kill her so that she doesn’t go to the police...

And that is when the old broken mannequin wearing the strange suit *moves*.

It herky-jerky walks out of the shadows. Legs moving as one piece because they have no joints. Eyes focused on Borg. It slowly crosses the room to him and takes her off Anna. As Borg backs up, the mannequin moves forward. Step by step. Anna watches as they both move out of the backroom into the store and then there is a scream.

A shadow over the door as someone walks back... back to her. The broken mannequin Hans! He approaches her, and his plaster face says that he has dealt with the man who beat both of them, and now they can be together.

Her turn to freak out.

Review: Just as the 1930s and 1940s were awesome decades for crime fiction, the 1950s and 1960s were awesome years for horror and science fiction. Suddenly, all of these writers like Richard Matheson and Robert Silverberg and Ray Bradbury and PKD and Robert Bloch just came on the scene all, seemingly, at the same time. There was an explosion of great genre fiction in the sci-fi and horror genres and a bunch of magazines that sprang up to accommodate them all. Many of these writers clicked with the anthology TV trend that coincided - and shows like THE TWILIGHT ZONE and ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and THE OUTER LIMITS and even THRILLER benefitted from this.

Bloch, probably best known as the writer of PSYCHO, wrote a ton of great short stories during this period and many of them were adapted to television... including the notorious banned episode of HITCHCOCK PRESENTS with Brandon DeWilde THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE. He often adapted his own work, and segued into TV writing - working on a number of shows. He either scripted or was source material (or both) for 10 episodes of HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, ten episodes of THRILLER, 7 episodes of the HITCHCOCK HOUR, and 3 episodes of STAR TREK (plus a bunch of other TV shows). Here he adapts one of his most famous stories, which you may know from the movie ASYLUM (1972) which was Bloch’s own anthology film - based on his short stories and adapted by Bloch himself. That version of WEIRD TAILOR may have better production value, but this is the first version that I watched... as a kid. And that mannequin that comes alive freaked me out. They did a pretty good job of making the actor look like he was maybe made of plaster, and that really helped.

But this episode has more than that scary ending scene - one of the great things about genre fiction is that it allows the writer to deal with serious social issues in a medium that people want to see. Genre is a great “spoonful of sugar” that makes discussions of issues people might find boring or too serious into something tasty and fun. TWILIGHT ZONE was famous for stories like this, but the same writers often worked for other anthology shows...

So we end up with this THRILLER episode that deals with the serious issue of domestic violence. This whole episode explores domestic violence - Borg beating his wife, Smith ignoring his son - and shows us two different paths. Smith’s more psychological abuse of his son results in the boy’s death - and Smith realizes he was wrong and that all of the wealth in the world doesn’t matter as much as his son. It’s kind of amazing that we see Smith go from that mansion to the hell-hole apartment just to bring his son back to life. Smith gets his priorities straight... but it’s too late. Borg just keeps beating on Anna, no matter what happens. He drinks and beats his wife. This is a great role for Henry Jones, who always plays nice guys and shows us that even the fellow that you think could not be a violent wife beater may actually be one. Your next door neighbor may beat his wife... or her husband. It’s not some issue that only belongs to big blue collar guys - anyone can be a perpetrator or victim of domestic violence.

Sondra Kerr gives off a Terri Garr vibe in this episode, quirky and funny and vulnerable. A month after this episode aired she married Robert Blake... and one wonders what kind of marriage that was. She was in a bunch of movies in the 70s, guest starred on a bunch of TV shows in the 70s and is still working - was in a movie made last year.

George Macready, who is great in GILDA, is equally great a decade and a half later here. Though we have two intertwining stories and his thread takes the backseat to the weird tailor’s after the first commercial, he continues to make an impression in the brief scenes he has as a father who realizes he has made the selfish mistake which cost his son his life and will do anything to bring him back. Anything.

Herschel Daugherty’s direction in this episode gives us some great shots like that opening longshot down the hallway as the son returns, along with a nice sequence with slightly canted shots when Smith hires Borg to make the suit. And there’s a great superimposition of a skull on the crystal ball in the medium scene... plus a great scene with Smith and Borg fighting shot through a wall made of fencing material in Smith's hell-hole apartment.

The big lesson from this episode is that Genre Fiction is a great way to explore social issues.

This episode continues the second season streak of great shows... but all of that will change with next week’s episode.

- Bill

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