Thursday, December 30, 2021

THRILLER Thursday: The Fatal Impulse

The Fatal Impulse

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



Season: 1, Episode: 11.
Airdate: 11/29/1960
Director: Gerald Mayer
Writer: Philip MacDonald based on a story by John D MacDonald.
Cast: Robert Lansing, Witney Blake, Elisha Cook, Steve Brodie, Conrad Nagle and Mary Tyler Moore.
Music: Pete Rugolo.
Cinematography: Benjamin H. Kline.




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “A phone call in the night. A threat to kill. And then a public announcement that the killing will take place. Is this man just a publicity seeker? Or will he be driven to kill? Will he succumb to the impulse? That’s the name of our story, “The Fatal Impulse”. Our principal players are Mr. Robert Lansing, Miss Witney Blake, Mr. Lance Fuller, Mr. Elisha Cook, Mr. Steve Brodie, and Mr. Conrad Nagle. Before very long, one of these girls unwittingly will be carrying a deadly bomb through the crowded city. As sure as my name is Boris Karloff, one man’s impulse will paralyze a great metropolis for six terrifying hours. I do hope you’re not addicted to biting your nails, because this, I’m quite sure you will agree, is a thriller!”



Synopsis: The episode opens with a campaign poster for Walker Wylie for Mayor next to a pay phone, then has a limping Harry Elser (Elisha Cook jr from THE MALTESE FALCON and just about every Film Noir ever made) dragging his leg to the pay phone, dialing a number, then putting a handkerchief over the phone to disguise his voice as he threatens to kill... Mayoral candidate Walker Wylie (Conrad Neagle, who manages to make everything he says sound like a lie, even his character’s *name*) who was sound asleep in his bed moments before. Wylie hangs up the phone and goes back to sleep. Elser puts some more coins in the phone and calls every newspaper, TV and radio outlet telling them that he will kill Walker Wylie, get those headlines ready!

Detective Rome (Robert Lansing who always reminded me of an alien) and his partner Sgt Hannigan go to Wylie’s office to question him... and his secretary just lets them through without even showing their badges! Rome chews out Wylie, who obviously doesn’t take the threat seriously. Wylie tells Rome he doesn’t have a single enemy in the world (but he’s so insincere that you know there must be millions of them)... Rome doesn’t believe it, says until they find out whether there is or is not a real threat, Wylie will have a policeman with him 24/7. Wylie argues that he’s running for *Mayor* and can’t have a bunch of stupid detectives interfering with his life. Plus, he’s the main guest on a late night talk show tonight! The interview will be shot here in his office at 11pm, can’t have a cop sitting next to him for that! Rome insists, leaves Hannigan behind for protection...



Elser in his garage carefully makes a bomb. It’s a small bomb with a mercury switch, about the size of a couple of packs of cigarettes. Gently places it in another box packed with cotton balls to keep it from being shaken, and...

At Wylie’s Office they are prepping for the TV filming. Crew guys are going in and out of the office... and Elser in a maintenance jumpsuit manages to sneak in with some, right past Hannigan, saying he’s there to change the light bulbs. . When the real crew guys leave, he sits in Wylie’s chair, opens a desk drawer, carefully takes the bomb out of the box and prepares to put in the drawer... when Wylie’s secretary steps into the office and yells for Hannigan! Elser slides the bomb into his pocket, tries to escape... But Hannigan rushes into the office and they fight. Elser tips one of the big TV lights onto Hannigan’s head, glass shattering and leaving Hannigan with raw hamburger for a face and completely blind. Elser makes his escape...



But the alarm has been rung. Rome and some detectives search the building for Elser (a limping man), who is hiding in a janitor’s closet. Elser changes out of the jump suit into a business suit and when the clock strikes 5 he leaves the janitor’s closet and joins the crowd of businessmen and secretaries leaving work for the day. He manages to squeeze into a packed elevator full of women and floor by floor suspense builds as people get on and off the elevator. We know he has the bomb in his pocket, and if it goes off? All of these innocent people will die.

When the elevator reaches the ground floor, everyone exits... and Rome and his men spot Elser and give chase! Elser races across a busy street with Rome and the cops right behind him... and then gets hit by a truck. Rome searches him for the bomb, can’t find it... and Elser’s last words are “girl in the elevator”. The figure the bomb was set to got off around 11pm when Wylie would be at his desk on the TV talk show... and there were around a dozen women on that elevator with him. But who are these women? One of them has a bomb in her purse that will blow up at 11pm tonight, unless she shakes it enough to blow up earlier. “There’s some girl walking around this city with a bomb” and she doesn’t know it.

Rome has his men track down the names of every woman on Wylie’s floor who left work at 5pm, plus any woman who had an appointment with a business on that floor who left at 5pm. Make a list on the squad room chalkboard. Find those women. Interview them. Search their purses for the bomb. Cross them off the list if they didn’t have the bomb. He knows that a couple of women got on the elevator at different floors, but has to start somewhere.



Meanwhile, Rome and his new partner Detective Dumont (Steve Brodie, who was Mitchum’s treacherous partner in OUT OF THE PAST and the father of the director of my movie TREACHEROUS) go to Elser’s house to search for clues. In the car on the way Dumont and Rome discuss Rome’s lack of love life after losing his wife, so we know these two guys have been friends or a long time. They discover that Elser was one of Wylie’s employees who was fired and denied his pension and holds a grudge (kind of like Dennis Hopper in SPEED). When Dumont goes to search the garage... booby trap! The whole garage blows up, killing Dumont right before Rome’s eyes. He’s lost two partners and the episode isn’t even half over!

8:15...

At the Squad Room, they are crossing names off the list on the chalkboard... it’s down to four *known* women who they have not been able to contact. Rome and another detective split the final four and try to find them. Rome tracks down an artist who had an appointment on that floor named Jane Kimball (Whitney Blake) who he finds in a night club with her boyfriend Robert (Lance Fuller). Robert is kind of combative to Rome, he’s on a date here and this cop is screwing it up. Rome explains about the bomb... and Jane and Robert become a lot more cooperative. Rome *carefully* takes the purse out of the crowded nightclub to the lawn in back and *cautiously* takes each item out looking for the bomb. Nothing. No bomb. When he gives Jane back her purse, Robert is mad as hell for ruining their evening... and then it gets *worse* when Jane says that she had been in the building applying for an artist job with her portfolio... and can *draw* all of the people in the elevator. Robert sits on the sidelines pissed off as Jane draws all of the faces.



The last girl on Rome’s list is a wife with a *very* jealous husband. They are fighting when Rome rings the doorbell, and the problem is... the wife was visiting her lover in the office building and lies to Rome about being in the building. But when Rome explains about the bomb, the wife must admit to cheating in front of her husband... and her husband grabs her purse looking for evidence! Now Rome must wrestle the bag away from the husband, and there may be a bomb inside! After the careful search of the purse... Rome finds nothing.

9:20...

At the Squad Room, *all* of the names are crossed off the list on the chalkboard. Rome is stumped. The only possibility is some woman *not* on their list. How can they find her?

In the night club, Jane remembers the woman in glasses who came into the elevator on a lower floor... and calls Rome.

Rome tracks down the woman in the glasses and goes to her apartment. The woman is played by a pre DICK VAN DYKE SHOW Mary Tyler Moore, who tells Rome she checked both her purse and her portfolio and no bomb in either one...

Rome realizes that Jane had her art portfolio with her in the elevator, and it was never searched. He tries to call her at the club, she’s left! He races to her home...

Almost 11:00!



Jane and Robert come home from the nightclub (to her house) and once the door is closed Robert’s hands are all over her... oh, and the bomb is there, too! It has fallen out of her portfolio onto the sofa... and is behind a cushion where it can not be seen. As Robert guides Jane to the sofa and makes all kinds of moves on her, the bomb is *underneath her head* behind that cushion. Jane is trying to get him to behave, when there’s a knock at the door. Detective Rome. He asks where her portfolio is, she tells him it’s in the bedroom, he carefully searches it... no bomb.

Tick tick tick... a minute before 11:00!

Rome has no idea where the bomb is... was there another woman on the elevator? Someone they missed? Robert wants him the hell out of there. Rome asks where she put the portfolio when she came home that afternoon, and Jane says on the desk.

Rome starts looking around the desk when Jane remembers it wasn’t the desk, it was the sofa. Rome carefully searches the sofa... finding the bomb! Tells Robert and Jane to get the heck out of the house and run like hell. Then carefully removes the bomb and as the clock strikes 11:00, tries opening the window and it’s *stuck*... breaks the window and throws it outside and explodes on the lawn!

A moment later Jane returns without Robert, and it kinda looks like she’s gonna hook up with Rome. The end.



Review: This was a good, tense, episode... really reminiscent of SPEED in many ways. The “shell game” of having one of 12 or 13 women be carrying around the bomb and not knowing it is a great device, and I’m guessing the John D. MacDonald story gets deeper into who these different women are (we only get 3 of them in the episode). They do a great job of showing us the clock every once in a while, and I wish they had done more of that... but there probably wasn’t time. You do get that ticking clock feel. And when we finally get to Jane’s house, that bomb becomes a great “focus object” ticking away under that sofa cushion as Jane’s boyfriend tries making out with her. The only hiccups in the episode are things that have to do with a limited TV budget: the night club that Jane and her boyfriend are in seems to be a set with one booth and no extras... so we really don’t get a scene where Rome has to carefully carry that bomb outside. And explosions are off camera. Also, some time restraints turn conversations like the one about Rome’s dating life into obvious expositional moments. But these are minor quibbles for an episode that keeps ramping up the tension and really has you worried at the end that they will not find that bomb that has fallen between the sofa cushions in time. This was a really good episode and shows the promise of what the show can do with purse suspense.

The show has finally found its footing, and for a while we’ll alternate between suspense and weird tales... though next week is more crime story, with a twist.

Bill





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Thursday, December 16, 2021

THRILLER Thursday: WELL OF DOOM.

Well Of Doom

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



Season: 1, Episode: 23.
Airdate: February 28, 1961


Director: John Braham
Writer: Donald S. Sanford based on a story by John Clemons
Cast: Ronald Howard, Henry Daniell, Torin Thatcher, Richard Kiel.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith being awesome.
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon.
Producer: William Frye.




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Imagine meeting two suck netherworld creatures on your wedding night. Beelzebub, Moloch, Belial. All names that men have given to Satan. Or is it possible that Robert Penrose has actually encountered the evil one himself? Or was this violent incident the start of some monstrous practical joke conceived by the young man’s friends? Or by his enemies? Well, perhaps a glimpse of tonight’s players will give you a clue? Mr. Ronald Howard, Mr. Henry Daniell, Mr. Torin Thatcher, Miss Finton Minor, and Mr. Richard Kiel. Impossible to guess, you say? Very well, let’s turn back the clock and pick up our young bridegroom before the start if tghis fateful journey. But I warn you ladies and gentleman, if you have a faint heart, tune away, because it may stop in your throat, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff.”

Synopsis: Kind of the horror version of THE HANGOVER...



Robert Penrose (Ronald Howard) and his servant Teal (Torin Thatcher) are heading to Penrose’s bachelor party in a limousine on a foggy country road... and running late. Penrose asks the Chauffeur (Billy Beck) if he can drive any faster, and is told not unless they want to end up in a ditch. That’s when the Chauffeur sees something through the fog on the road in front of them and hits the brakes hard. Standing in the middle of the road is a giant, Styx (Richard Kiel)... next to him is Moloch (Henry Daniell) holding a pair of ancient pistols. The Chauffeur says it’s a *monster* on the road, and then monster Styx yanks open the limo’s door and pulls out the Chauffeur!

Penrose climbs out of the Limo, and calmly tells Moloch to have his man release the Chauffeur so that they can get to the bachelor party. He’s sure that his jokester Best Man Charlie has paid them well to pull this prank, but they are running late and they have to go. Moloch says that this is no prank, he is Beelzebub, Moloch, Belial... Satan! And Penrose has a price to pay for his past sins. Penrose compliments the man’s acting but insists that they must be going... and that’s when Styx seems to kill the Chauffeur! Casting his body aside on the country road, forcing Penrose back inside the limo and then climbing into the driver’s seat and popping open the door for Moloch! They have been kidnapped!

After Karloff’s intro, we flash back to a few hours before the kidnap...



Penrose is at home on his family estate, when he gets a call from his bride to be Laura (Fintan Meyler) and they discuss the upcoming marriage (tomorrow) and the Bachelor Party tonight. She warns him not to let his Best Man Charlie get him into trouble... that guy is a loose cannon joker, and they all might end up in jail... and Penrose would miss the wedding. Penrose says that won’t happen, he’s wise to his Best Man’s tricks.

After Penrose hangs up, his servant Teal comes in... and there is tension between the two men. Teal used to work for his father, and basically *raised* Penrose. But somewhere along the line Penrose treated Teal poorly and the two have been estranged for years. Penrose apologizes to Teal for whatever happened in their past and says that even though when his new bride moves in, his plan *had* been to let Teal go... he has decided to keep Teal on. The problems of the past can be set aside. Teal is almost a father to him. Teal thanks him for this... then Penrose asks if he’ll be a part of the wedding and come with him to the Bachelor Party, unknowingly putting his servant’s life in danger.



Bride Laura goes to bed early, probably resting up for her honeymoon night... when someone breaks into her bedroom and sneaks up to her bed. When she wakes up and looks at her assailant... it’s the giant Styx!

Now back to the kidnap in the car where we began...

Penrose is sure this is all Best Man Charlie’s practical joke... and Moloch fires one of this antique pistols at the seat neat Penrose. The gun in very real. Penrose now wonders if this is a real kidnap. He tells Moloch he’d gladly pay the ransom if they would just get out of his car so that he could go to his Bachelor Party. He offers half a million dollars... but Moloch says that’s just not enough. Styx turns onto a dirt road, stops the limousine and they get out.

Styx has a pair of torches, and Moloch snaps his fingers at them... lighting both! They take Penrose and Teal through the foggy moors. Teal recognizes the area as part of Penrose’s estate... an area that is no longer used. Moloch does a couple of other completely supernatural things... is he really Satan? They are lead to the “Block House”, and Moloch tells Penrose that he has been here before when he was six years old... and gives details that *only Penrose could know*. Freaky! Teal and Penrose attack! Fighting for their lives! But Moloch turns and points at Teal and WHAM! Teal drops dead! He turns to Penrose and asks if he’ll be more cooperative, now.



The Block Room was used for prisoners and torture centuries ago... but also, maybe decades ago by Penrose’s father. In the cell where they lock up Penrose is an old well... and many of his father’s enemies ended up thrown into that well to die. Moloch wants Penrose to pay for his father’s sins. Not just with money, but with a deal with the devil... a contract with Satan. All his worldly goods, his estate, his money, his soul... and his bride. In exchange for his life. Just sign on the line. Then Moloch goes to the cell on the opposite side of the room... where they have Laura in chains!

After Moloch and Styx leave, Penrose has a cell to cell conversation with Laura. He has a plan: he will make a rope from his blanket, attach it to the inside of the well where they can not see, sign the contract and once Laura is released... throw himself into the well to commit suicide. Once they have left the dungeon, he’ll climb out of the well, escape the cell, and rescue Laura. (The cell has a loose bar, Penrose snuck out, then snuck back in when he heard them coming down the stairs.)



The plan works kind of according to plan, except instead of faking his suicide Styx picks him up and throws him into the well!

Penrose wakes up in the well, grabs the home made rope and starts climbing out of the well... but the peg attaching the rope to the well is pulling out of the ancient well. Suspense... will he be able to get out before the peg pulls out? He gets to the top, gets out of his cell, Laura is not in her cell, so he climbs the stairs out of the dungeon to rescue her...



At the top of the stairs, he spies Styx in street clothes and Moloch taking off his wig and make up... talking to someone who was behind the whole scheme. When the mastermind turns around, it’s Teal. The servant was afraid that Penrose was going to ditch him once he got married after all of the damned work Teal has done... so the plan is to kill Penrose, kill Laura, claim they have gone away on honeymoon... and just take over the estate. But Styx doesn’t have the guts to kill Laura. Then Styx (or whatever his name is) asks how they can trust Teal to give them their cut of the fortune when he’d turn against the boy he raised into a man? Moloch and Teal draw on each other... shoot and kill each other! Then Penrose comes up the stairs and Styx freaks out... trips and falls down the stairs and dies. Penrose rescue Laura from the next room and they have to race to their wedding!



Review: Great Goldsmith score... very atmospheric locations and scenes. One of the great things about a story that takes place on the foggy moors of England is that all of that fog not only makes it spooky, it hides Studio City just beyond the backlot at Radford Studios. The interior sets are great.

Henry Daniell is great, but I wish they had kept the “is this a joke or isn’t this” going for longer than a minute. When we see the Bride To Be kidnapped at the top of the episode we *know* it isn’t a joke, and that lessens the impact. Much like the suspense generated by not knowing if a character is or isn’t a killer, not knowing if the situation is a practical joke played by the Best Man or a real kidnap... or really Satan... would have kept us guessing and uneasy because we did not know.



They also seem to downplay some of the tricks Daniell does which make him look like Satan: the lighting of the torches, etc. Those should have been amped way up. Daniell is a great hambone actor who seems to be reined in here, when he’s playing *Satan*. If there was ever a role for overacting! There’s a way to present supernatural magic on screen that shocks the audience, but here it’s kind of matter of fact dull.

One of the nice scenes that could have been better was the cell to cell communication in the dungeon between Bride To Be and Groom. For some reason she taps her foot (because she’s gagged) when a panicked conversation would have been much better. The foot tapping makes me wonder if the original story was designed to make us doubt that she was really in there, think that even at this late stage it might all be a practical joke played by the Best Man. I can see no other reason to have her mute.

I do love how Penrose’s plan is to pretend suicide by jumping into the well, and then Styx *throws him* into the well. We get the same result, by an unpredictable and unplanned method. One of the techniques for making your story unpredictable is to have a character with a plan, and then have things not happen according to plan. Penrose still ends up in the well.

The plan that goes wrong was also used earlier when Penrose and Teal are being taken to the block house and make a plan to attack Moloch and Styx and escape... and that ends with Moloch killing Teal by magic just when it looks like they are winning their fight and will escape.

This was a pretty good episode which could have been much better. The great thing here is how a large scale ghost story is told on a TV budget using some establishing shots and a fog machine.

Bill



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