The Hungry Glass [Essay on Boris Karloff’s Thriller] “Oh leave me alone won’t you, leave me alone… with my mirrors!”

“A beautiful face in the mirror, a pitiful old face at the door, could they have been one in the same” ” And sometimes its better not to see too deeply into the darkness behind our mirror; For there live things beyond our imagination as sure as my name is Boris Karloff “

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The Hungry Glass aired Jan 3 1961 ~

Written and Directed by Douglas Heyes (Kitten With a Whip ’64) from a short story by Robert Bloch (Psycho) with music by Jerry Goldsmith & Pete Rugolo. The episode stars William Shatner and Joanna Heyes (wife of Douglas) as Gil and Marsha Thrasher. Russell Johnson and Elizabeth Allen as Adam and Liz Talmadge Donna Douglas (Ellie May Klampet-The Beverly Hillbillies) as Young Laura Bellman and Ottola Nesmith as Old Laura Bellman. Heyes also directed the iconic Twilight Zone episode Eye of the Beholder which also featured Donna Douglas as the ‘ugly’ girl.

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At first we see the young and audaciously cute Donna Douglas as young Laura Bellman,fanning herself like a peacock in the myriad of mirrors. There is a themed waltz accompanying her, which reprises itself later on in the episode, a delirious little melody that merely hints at dementia. Then, a sea captain with a hook for a hand comes rapping on the door with his metal claw, in the company of several of the town folk, “I know she’s in there, she’s always in there with her cursed mirrors!”

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“Oh leave me alone won’t you, leave me alone… with my mirrors!”

Once the door is open only partially to reveal the very grotesquely painted face of Old Laura Bellman, wearing white gloves , her lips smudged in presumably bright red lipstick, like she had just drank the blood from a freshly killed carcass. The exaggerated outline distorting her already sagging and wrinkled mouth.“Oh leave me alone won’t you, leave me alone… with my mirrors!”

Boris Karloff once again steps in to introduce the evening’s story dressed in black cape and top hat in front of a very ornate mirror holding a lantern.

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“A beautiful young face in the mirror…a pitiful old face in the door…could they have been one and the same? Some people say that mirrors never lie…others say that they do, they lie, they cheat, they kill….some say that every time you look in one…you see death at work. But most of us see only what we want to see…and perhaps it’s best not to see too deeply into the darkness behind our mirrors…for there live things beyond our imagination as sure as my name is Boris Karloff…”

William Shatner gives a very compelling albeit high-strung performance as a photographer Gil Thrasher who, with his wife Marcia (Joanna Heyes) have purchased a house that is purported to be haunted by the locals–(remember Shatner as airplane passenger Bob Wilson in Twilight Zone’s Nightmare at 20,000 Feet-10/11/63 or his superstitious Don Carter trapped in a small Midwestern diner at the mercy of a bobble head diamond eyed devil napkin holder who serves out 1 cent per question fate in… Nick of Time -18 Nov. 1960 one of my favorite episodes in the series)

The previous owner of the house was Old Laura Bellman, played as the quintessential hag by Ottola Nesmith, (The Wolfman 1941 & Mrs Lowood,Highcliff Headmistress in Val Lewton’s 1946 The 7th Victim ) who locks herself away in the house and spends all her time gazing at her own reflection in her palace of mirrors.

Ottola Nesmith
Ottola Nesmith
photo of seated, Ottola Nesmith in Lewton’s The 7th Victim with Kim Hunter far right

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CapturFiles_20 "And it never struck you curious to find nary a looking glass in all of it?"
“And it never struck you curious to find nary a looking glass in all of it?”

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After having met the caustically provincial locals of Cape Caution New England, who warn the couple “that tarnation property comes full equip with visitors, nary a looking glass in the whole of it” Gil and Marcia move into the house on a very stormy night. Soon, they and their two new friends Russell Johnson and Elizabeth Allen as Adam the realtor and wife Liz Talmadge who sold them the place at a suspiciously low cost, begin to see apparitions in various windows of the house. There are no mirrors when they first move in because they’ve been removed and secretly hidden away and padlocked in the attic. Seems the local superstition holds that not only is the house unlucky but the Bellman place has had its share of nasty accidents all having to do with broken mirrors, and a couple of people were killed by shattered glass. Adam Talmadge explains that the locals have worked themselves up to believe that these people were actually murdered by the mirrors with malice of forethought.

The four get into their station wagon and amuse themselves while speculating about the lack of mirrors  meaning the house was previously owned by vampires, superstition and a series of mysterious accidents

CapturFiles_25 that old inside had us thinking the place was built by vampires
“That old bird inside had us thinking the place was built by vampires”
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Gil says to Adam “The truth now…the people who built that place—where were they from?”
Adam answers, “The Bellmans? Pennsylvania, I think…” “You sure it wasn’t Transylvania?”
Adam tells him “The mirrors…so that’s what the old coots were bending your ears about”
Gil says “Now, look…I’ll admit that you warned us that the roof leaks and the cellar floods and the shutters go bang, but what’s this about no mirrors?”
Adam jokes, “Didn’t I tell you why you got the place so cheap?”
Gil responds, “Yeah, you said the local characters think the place is unlucky”
Adam earnestly, “Well, unlucky because of the broken mirrors. Gil, you have no idea how these people can build up a story. Seems that there were some nasty accidents up there years ago. Couple of people killed by shattered glass, so now the yarn’s been worked around to where they actually murdered by the mirrors… with malice aforethought…”
Marcia pipes in, “Seems logical…”
Gil says, “Sure…some mornings when I’m shaving, the guy in the glass looks pretty deadly, especially with a razor in his hand” Adam getting out the car, “Well, I hadn’t thought about it, but, I’d better get you some sort of mirror, at least until you get settled” Marcia tells him, “Never mind, there’s one in my traveling case”
Gil teases, “Oh, Marcia couldn’t live without her mirrors”
Marcia replies, “What woman could?”
CapturFiles_29 didnt i tell you why you got the place so cheap-you said the local characters think its unlucky
Adam-“Didn’t I tell you why you got the place so cheap?”Gil-“You said the local characters think its unlucky”
CapturFiles_31 Well oh well early mausoleum -liz
Liz-“Well oh well.. early mausoleum”

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The jovial couples arrive at the Bellman house which in the dark of the storm still appears to be a showplace with the vastness of the ocean view as the center attraction. The Thrashers start to imagine all the things they will do to fix up the grand old house, Marcia is a decorator. Suddenly Liz catches sight of an apparition, a ghostly figure reaching for Marcia in the window. Liz screams and startles Adam into dropping the celebratory bottle of champagne, the broken glass cutting his hand, a small homage to the history of the odd accidents that plague the Bellman place.

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CapturFiles_39 when you let out that blasted howl I cut my hand
“When you let out that blasted howl… I cut my hand”

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CapturFiles_44 oh liz drop it… but he had a hook, a hook for a hand
Adam annoyed at Liz for harping on the incident says “Oh Liz drop it… She tells him “But he had a hook, a hook for a hand”

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Once the visions start, Korean war vet Gil is driven half crazy by suspicion and fears that it’s his post traumatic stress disorder,“When I had the fever in Korea, I saw things you wouldn’t believe… They said I was delirious -but what I saw was real!”

Or thinking that maybe it was the power of suggestions brought on by the collective hysteria of the local superstitious gossip. Various incidents occur where Gil, Marcia and even Liz see ghostly images floating in the glass, but everyone keeps justifying it somehow. Although Marcia feels very unwelcome in the house and Gil truly knows that something is not right, they decide to stay and try and make it work, regardless of the bogeyman in the looking glass.

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Until one night while Gil is down in his dark room developing some film. he actually captures the image of a little girl who we find out later, had gone missing while playing by the house years ago.

The Hungry Glass, dealt with themes that were so ahead of their time for that era on television~ Shatner’s character is struggling with a form of Post Traumatic Stress disorder from the effects of war, and the idea of narcissism as a devouring entity that can feed on itself. A life force. like the classical myth that vanity = death and is capable of sucking you into a mirrored void is absolutely chilling.

The effectively imposing New England house on the cliff that no one will rent, somewhat like the house in 1944’s The Uninvited.The idea that a woman could manifest an actual malevolently life force because of her obsession with her youth and beauty. The haunting as it were, works on so many levels in this episode. There’s a claustrophobic quality, in terms of feeling like everything is hurling towards being sucked into the mirrored void, the voyeuristic quality of feeling like you’re being watched by the ghostly inhabitants of the reflective world that gazes back at us.

Mirrors are usually used to create gateways or portals, or for divination purposes. When a mirror breaks it can symbolize such things as a loss of beauty or innocence, foreshadow a loss in general, a spell or dream being broken. In the case of Old Lady Bellman, her tragic obsession with her beauty created a conduit between life and death. Her loss of youth, the end of life.

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“Well Well now Marcia, you’re not afraid of mirrors are you? Why should you be, you have nothing to fear, not yet anyway. Not for a few more years”

While Gil is looking at his child specter in print through a magnifying glass, Marcia is exploring the attic when she stumbles onto the pad locked door. She breaks it open and discovers dozens of mirrors that had been hidden away. They stare back at her like thousands of eyes from an insect’s gaze flashing at her. This is where Laura Bellman’s waltz motif begins to play again. Marcia has opened Pandora’s box. She starts an outer monologue “Well Well now Marcia, you’re not afraid of mirrors are you? Why should you be, you have nothing to fear, not yet anyway. Not for a few more years”

Again, the emphasis on loss of youth and beauty. Gil finds her in the attic amidst all the mirrors. She tells him it’s like a funhouse. Well it sort of is, since everything about the idea of looking at yourself is distorted in this episode. Gil tells her he doesn’t even like to look in one mirror let alone fifty, and Marcia tells him

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“That’s because you’re not a woman, mirrors bring a house to life ” Gil responds, “Well you ought to know you spend half your life in one”
Marcia says “Alright I’m vain, foolish and female and I like mirrors”
Gil“And they like you baby”

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In the story of The Hungry Glass the legend that circulates amongst the locals is that Jonah Bellman built the house to be a show place, he said he’d make it a jewel box (again a reference to symbolism often used in paintings where the theme is Vanity) As retold by Adam Talmadge–

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“He’d pull the sunlight and silver off the sea. He built it for the most beautiful bride, the most desired woman in New England. He was madly in love with her, she was madly in love with herself. It was more than Vanity though it was a tragic sickness. She didn’t belong to him, but only to her own reflection. He died of a broken heart and so the years passed and the house and servants grew old, but Laura never grew old, at least not in her mirrors.She was very old and very ugly painted and powdered like a bad job of embalming. Her nephew brought a doctor to the house who said she belonged locked away in a mad house. but her nephew decided to keep her there, locked in her room away from her mirrors. She was still able to find herself in the window glass. One night she danced herself right through it. That is how she died. But the story goes that she still lives on in her mirrors; because there had more of her living there then in her own body.”

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This is where I leave off… I won’t spoil the story for you by giving away the ending… this time.

The symbolism of vanity

The idea that mirrors are a living realm unto themselves and yet another thread running through The Hungry Glass is the idea that narcissism and Vanity are not only inherent in woman but isolated to the female gender, and certain male’s assumptions that women are fixated on their own image~ I find it an odd contradiction that The Narcissus myth was a male gazing at himself in the water!

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“All Is Vanity” by C. Allan Gilbert
Suggesting an intertwinement between life and death.
All is Vanity by Charles Allan Gilbert carries on this theme. An optical illusion , the painting depicts what appears to be a large grinning skull. Upon closer examination, it reveals itself to be a young woman gazing at her reflection in the mirror.

Some excerpts taken from Wikipedia Vanity ;

During the Renaissance, vanity was invariably represented as a naked woman, sometimes seated or reclining on a couch. She attends to herself in the mirror. The mirror is sometimes held by a demon. Often, vanity is portrayed by the figure of death himself.

Seven Deadly Sins. Hieronymus Bosch depicts a bourgeois woman admiring herself in a mirror held up by a devil. Behind her is an open jewelry box. A painting attributed to Nicolas Tournier, which hangs in the Ashmolean Museum, is An Allegory of Justice and Vanity. A young woman holds a balance symbolizing justice; she does not look at the mirror or the skull on the table before her.

Johannes_Vermeer_1632-1675_-_The_Girl_With_The_Pearl_Earring_1665
Vermeer’s famous painting Girl with a Pearl Earring 1665 is sometimes believed to depict the sin of vanity, as the young girl has adorned herself before a glass without further positive allegorical attributes.
The Narcissus Myth as portrayed by Waterhouse is a reflection on the nature of intimacy and Vanity
Narcissus Myth

In many religions vanity is considered a form of self-idolatry in which one rejects God for the sake of one’s own image and thereby becomes divorced from the graces of God.

Given all these different references to Vanity, The Hungry Glass, with it’s focus on the female gaze and the correlation with beauty,obsession, life and death, is a very layered concept within a very simply haunting story on the surface.

MonsterGirl- Beware of mirrors and their contents!

9 thoughts on “The Hungry Glass [Essay on Boris Karloff’s Thriller] “Oh leave me alone won’t you, leave me alone… with my mirrors!”

  1. Your review of The Hungry Glass is very interesting, but when I first saw this episode, all I was concerned about was ghosts rather than vanity. I was a month away from turning 8 when I talked my mother into letting me watch Thriller. Even though I usually hid my eyes during the NBC commercials for the program, she still let me watch an episode. As it turned out, that night’s episode was probably the series’ scariest story. When it was over, I was afraid to look in a mirror thinking I might see a ghost dancing in it.

    This episode, followed by the film The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake, prompted my mother to ban horror movies for a long time. There were scenes that were burned into my memory like the house on the edge of the cliff, the ghost outside the large window prompting one of the characters to fall to his dead, and the end where the remaining people leave while the two homeowners’ ghosts seem to hover in a corner.

    The Hungry Glass was one episode that eluded me for nearly 40 years. I watched the syndicated show in the late 60s and again on Sci-Fi Channel in the 90s, but it wasn’t until last year that if finally got a chance to see the show that scared the daylights out of me as a kid. It still holds up well and even now, in my late 50s, the episode gives me some shivers.

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  2. Dear Paul…That’s what is so beautiful about the Thriller series. I too have been indelibly changed by the images and the atmosphere from the show seeing it as the child. Now as the adult, re experiencing these episodes and tearing away the layers to recognize all the other relevant themes that boiled under the surface. they work as true ghost stories but also types of allegories. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Johathan Drake stuck with me too. It seems we have similar tastes. Please visit the Drive In again. I’ll be posting more Thriller essays down the road. And I’m thinking of doing the same for Alfred Hitchcock Hour, which used a lot of the same actors, directors and writers.
    Cheers MonsterGirl ( jo gabriel)

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  3. I like your take on The Hungry Glass, Joey. I just stumbled across it more or less by accident. Indeed, the phrase “all is vanity” has a good deal of truth in it. Even virtue can be a form of vanity, of the idealization of one’s own best qualities. I often find people who pride themselves in their virtuousness to be not nice on a personal level, as all their good qualities are channeled into their good deeds, whether “volunteering” or “saving the earth”, fine things in themselves but what of the individual himself (or herself)? As a stand alone person, I mean, not someone who does right things,–I’m taking about how they treat others.

    Okay, back to The Hungry Glass, which is a different kettle of fish. Indeed, it has PTSD-narcissism undercurrents and is a grand ghost story in the bargain. The New England
    setting is nicely suggested on the back lot. I think of this episode as one of the many Thrillers that are “emblematic”, so to speak, of the series as a whole. There are a whole lotta mirrors in Thriller, and a fair number of paintings, too. Glass, windows, objects that suggest people, may be inhabited by them,–the scarecrow in The Hollow Watcher, for instance–also figure prominently. Even the Thriller logo, with its zigazg lines, suggests breaking glass, window maybe,–or a mirror!

    Horror as vanity, vanity as horror; these ideas are maybe the keys to why the series is so (literally) haunting. It’s about Us as much as about Them.

    John

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  4. An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a colleague who had been conducting a little research on this.
    And he in fact bought me lunch because I discovered it for him…

    lol. So let me reword this…. Thanks for the
    meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending the time to discuss this subject here on your website.

    Like

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