Boris Karloff’s Thriller: What Beckoning Ghost?

I like Judith Evelyn. There’s something well…  solid and handsome about her. She also has a way of making you feel sympathy but not from a place of desperation,but an elegant, restrained kind of grace.

Consider a career in being scared to death (Angel Street tv 1946) She plays Mrs Manningham in a version of Gaslight, based on Patrick Hamilton’s stage play.

She’s always vulnerable you see. She has that kind of fragile appearance. It was nasty business the way Philip Coolidge playing Ollie frightens poor mute Martha (Evelyn) to death in William Castle’s The Tingler 1959

poor Martha can’t even voice a righteous scream in The Tingler!
iconic scene from William Castle’s The Tingler (1959)

And playing a Lonely Heart waiting for a love that may never come, in Hitchcock’s masterpiece Rear Window 1954.

The tragic Eloise Crandall who falls to her death in Female on the Beach 1955

I loved her as Mabel McKay in Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode Martha Mason, Movie Star aired May 19th 1957. She was deliciously delightfully delusional, a murderess… yes, but sadly sort of lovable.

Evelyn has done a grand job of picking up the slack where starlets have left gaping holes for the less glamorous woman-in-peril to fill nicely. And here in What Beckoning Ghost? she is in top form, enunciating her words, drawing them out in sophisticated drones, no… not whiny. I didn’t say whining. Judith’s imploring are secret little gestures that make you want to protect her.

WHAT BECKONING GHOST?

What Beckoning Ghost? originally aired on September 18th 1961 and started off Thriller’s second and only other season unfortunately.

It feaures aside from Judith Evelyn, Tom Helmore and Adele Mara. The story was adapted by Donald Sanford, based on a short magazine story by Harold Lawlor (The Grim Reaper, The Terror in Teakwood) and adding to it’s threatening appeal, it was directed by Ida Lupino  Ida’s everywhere!

Here Evelyn plays concert pianist Mildred Beaumont (perhaps my particular affection for this character lies in the fact that I’m a pianist, and wouldn’t appreciate anyone fucking around using music in order to drive me crazy!)

Mildred suffered a serious heart attack, and now must convalesce at home, doing mostly bed rest, while her doting sister Lydia and patronizing husband Eric hover over her, like vultures shoving coffee and pills at her, scolding her for being restless, treating her like a muzzy child, all the while waiting to pick her bones dry, as they slowly drive her to her real death. Well that’s what it looks like right… I won’t give away the story til you’ve seen it for yourself.

Mildred begins to see visions of her own funeral, downstairs in the drawing room. There begins a macabre harpsichord waltz by Jerry Goldsmith that becomes the leitmotif for the story. An almost maniacal, or should I say diabolical theme, music to be driven mad by one would say…

She sees herself laid out in a coffin with a large wreath of flowers baring the platitude, Rest in Peace. Is she in such a weakened physical state, and so devoted to her scavenging, philandering husband Eric, that Mildred is too vulnerable to realize that there is a fowl plot under way. It’s almost Shakespearean with its glint of malevolence, madness and sardonic revenge!

The episode opens with Mephistophelean violins serenading Mildred as she hugs a fur coat to herself. She is transfixed in a three way mirror. Mirrors often used as symbolism, representational for the issue of ‘identity’ one in crisis, one that’s dubious of sanity etc.

Enjoying her luxury Mildred is smiling. Waltzing around the room she begins to slip the fur off her shoulders As she sets it on the back of a chair, Eric enters the room with a glass of milk. She turns to greet him as he says,  “Hey, why aren’t you getting ready for bed?”  “Oh Eric, I feel so unbearably happy!” Eric has a smile like that of a viper about to strike, all fang and no heart.

Mildred sparkles a little, “Happy and whole…” She lets out a little exhausted sigh, her breath strained with a childlike glee, but not the energy to bring it forth.
” I can’t even remember what we saw at the theater tonight, I just sat there and felt the crowd all around me!” She’s ebullient, a sense of having shed a tremendous weight. Months of being ill and finally out on the town with her handsome husband on her satin and crepe draped arm.

Gasping a little for air ” I kept thinking how wonderful it was to be with people again, to be out and ALIVE!!!” Her enthusiasm as she thrusts the word ‘alive’ out of her body seems so out of synch with Eric’s stoic blasé manner.

She asks him to dance with her, wrapping her arms around his shoulders to try and prod him. He becomes a little stern. “Oh no it’s way past your bedtime.” She begs him, “Oh please.”

“Absolutely not!,you’ve had quite enough excitement your first night out. You’ve got to give that heart of yours a chance to keep up with your feet you know.” Finally a little whimsy comes to his staunch fatherly expression. Does he really love her? Does he really care about her health? It would appear so…but this is a Thriller. We know something unsavory is afoot.

“Oh but you promised champagne in front of the fire before we went to bed…”

“You never forget anything do you? An interesting clue, that Eric should remark about her impeccable memory.

She smiles in agreement and tells him,  “I asked Lydia to put a bottle on ice before we went out.” She grins like a naughty child. Eric looks at her with his plasticine smile, “You could charm the birds, right out of the trees.”

Grabbing her chin and pinching it affectionately he tells her that he’ll get it. She says, “No, just like old times…I’ll go down and get the champagne and you light the fire.”

“Alright but take it easy on those stairs” ” I already got up them once tonight by myself…thank you.” She blows him a kiss.

He pauses for a moment, then goes to light the fire. We see her descend the large wooden staircase.
There is a soothing ticking of an old grandfather clock that accompanies her down the stairs like a gentle whisper. As she crosses the great hall, we hear the rustling of her satin dress, she sweeps across the room.

Suddenly the muted sound of an organ emanates from one of the rooms. Mildred turns around as if to try and locate its origin. She’s not yet startled, but a seriousness sets upon her once joyful face. The organ becoming louder, helping guide her way toward it.

Playing sustained chords, as if a quiet unhurried dirge, a requiem. She opens the large wooden doors slowly, still silhouetted by the darkness, she peers into the room. Then putting the light on she begins to stare at something.

At first we do not see what it is. We hear the organ playing, and now a certain look washes over her tensing face. Her expression becomes more alarming. As the frame closes in on her face, her look turns more like that of a fear which should be registering but hasn’t quite taken hold yet. It’s the look of disbelief.

The camera pulls in closer, she gasps for air, and now we start to see the Judith Evelyn I adore!

The scared breathless unprepossessing lady who film, tv and stage characters just want to frighten to death!

The frame switches, we can now see a large closed coffin set up against the window. A wreath with a draped ribbon baring the words, “My dear wife, rest in peace” Two Gothic candlesticks with tiny flames burning on either side. The camera closes in on the ribbon. “My Dear Wife Requiescat In Pace“, a morbid message in Latin for a terrified lady with a bad heart.

Mildred starts to back up like a frightened rabbit who sees the hawk about to swoop down upon it. The unseen organ modulates a creepy whir for us.

A few musical stabs in the air. She starts to coil up as Judith Evelyn does so wonderfully. Raising her hand to her face. The inner monologue we don’t hear. Is this really happening, or am I going out of my mind! She’s thinking!

She backs away a little more, a theatrical rigor comes over her arms and long fingers.

Clutching the door, almost in a stumble, the music stabs at us again, as she heads for the stairs in front of her she struggles in a rattled body. Nearly falling down, she leans on the small wooden table.

Gasping for air, the room blurs and starts to spin. The chandelier appears to be a crystal cloud of light.

Jerry Goldsmith’s score turns more ominous, quite dangerous, as she calls out for Eric, clutching her chest as she shrinks from pain and fear. With a few last cries, she collapses on the floor at the bottom of the great staircase.

Enter, Boris Karloff about to give us the evening’s monologue. The strident strings still scraping under the bow.

“Imagine entering a room, and discovering your own coffin, and a wreath inscribed… my dear wife, rest in peace. Now then, would you believe your eyes or would you  perhaps think that you actually caught some glimpse into the future or perhaps you might suspect some grisly plot against your sanity. Now please, no snap judgements, you might be right and then there’d be no need for you to suffer through the frightening ordeal as time runs out for Mildred Beaumont, played by Judith Evelyn. Her husband Eric, played by Tom Helmore. And her young sister Lydia as played by Adele Mara. What’s that?… you think you have the answer, hhm! ho ho don’t be too sure, because I warn you as sure as my name is Boris Karloff, you’re in for a terrifying surprise. And if you’re tempted to scream, just sit back and follow this advice.”

Cut to a wreath ‘Rest in Peace’ Then Boris placing a flower to his nose to smell it’s fragrant poison.

Mildred begins coming to. A blurring Eric and Lydia hover out of focus. The episode’s musical motif lilts in the background as if being played by a delicate music box.

Mildred has been unconscious on the couch in the drawing room. Looking to her left she glances where the coffin had been. Now, only an ornate desk and lamp are in view. She tries to get up, Eric takes hold of her arm and helps her to her feet.

“Mildred, what’s wrong?”

She struggles for a second, “Where is it? Where is it!”

Sister Lydia looks concerned, “Darling, what are you looking for?”

Mildred says again, “I saw it… a wreath was in front of it, and an organ was playing a requiem, I saw it!”

Eric runs over to her. “Mildred, stop it”

“It was horrible… my own coffin.”

Eric scolds her, “Nonsense, just look around you, there’s no coffin here.”

She insists,  “But I saw it!”

Mildred is clinging to Eric’s arm with her hands like claws digging in to something solid.

“You’re over tired, you must have imagined it.”

“No!… it was real. You don’t believe me, because you don’t want to believe me.”

“Mildred!” Eric snaps at her, and then Lydia chimes in “Eric, what’s wrong with her?”

“Don’t ask questions, go and phone Dr. Harris quick.”

Mildred a bit stronger says, “No!…let go of me. It was real, somebody’s trying to play a horrible trick!”

“Listen to me, there’s no coffin here, no wreath, nothing but what you see, do you understand!”

Mildred breaks down in his arms, crying. He appears as comforting as a mannequin in a department store. Tom Helmore isn’t the warmest actor to begin with, although I do enjoy seeing him here and there.

She begs him to help her, and he says of course as he leads her out of the drawing room and back up to her bedroom.

The scene cross fades into Mildred asleep amidst white satin and lace. As she begins to stir, the familiar melody tinkles in from that music box place. She seems hazy as if having been asleep for weeks. As she scans the room, things are blurry again. We can make out Eric sitting by her bedside. The fog starts to clear itself away, and Mildred can see Eric sitting hands clasped in the chair across from her bed. He manages to break a slight smile through his clenched lips and asks if she’s feeling better. He goes to her bedside, even calling her ‘darling’ and stroking her cheek.

Now starts the new phase of the mystery, the haunt, or the plot to drive Mildred insane. Eric starts to mention a doctors visit. But Mildred does not remember having seen a doctor. Eric tells her to take 2 pills as he grabs a small box from the tray aside her table. She looks at them curiously. “Darling you must take them, the doctor left strict orders.”

“Doctor?… what doctor?” she says so weakened and of spirit frayed. “Bartoli, your doctor Harris is away, Bartoli’s looking after his patients.”

Mildred frowns, suspicious of what Eric has said. Eric tells her, “You had quite a session with him last night, I was very impressed with him.”

Lydia enters the room, cheerful, holding a silver tray and coffee urn. “Morning, how’s the patient?” Eric tells Lydia, that Mildred won’t take her medicine.

Lydia, says she doesn’t blame her, who wants pills on an empty stomach. She begins to poor some coffee. Mildred just stares down, alone with her thoughts, something is not quite right here.

“Coffee’s what she needs… you look like you could use some too. Sat up all night, wouldn’t leave your side, the dear loving lamb… ” Lydia tries to get by Eric and makes an aside, “excuse me.”

Lydia says those words to Eric with her own strain of venom mixed with polished niceties.

Lydia sits beside Mildred, hands her a cup of coffee and says “Well, you certainly gave us a scare last night… for a minute there you actually had me believing that you saw your own funeral.”

Lydia has a similar biting charm that Olivia de Havilland possessed as cousin Miriam in Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte.

Both Eric and Lydia have the cultivated disposition of respectable rattle snake.

Eric scolds Lydia for bringing up the prior evening’s events. “We won’t discuss last night,not until at least she’s stronger. The doctor doesn’t even want her to think about it.”

“You’re just as sane as I am.”

“But I want to discuss it Eric… now.”

Lydia interjects, “Well if you ask me, I think that doctor’s making a big mystery out of nothing.”

“I said we won’t discuss it Lydia!”

Lydia snaps at Eric, “She’s not a child…” The strain between Lydia and Eric becomes more noxious in the air.

” She can face a simple fact, there’s nothing so mysterious about what she thinks she saw last night!”

Lydia speaks more softly and affectionately to Mildred. “Listen Mildred, I was against you going out so soon, you were over tired when you came home and then you went downstairs in the dark.” With a little tearfulness now, “Well I’m not surprised you had a nightmare, this house is frightening enough in the daytime. But at night it’s… darling…when you’re better I wish you’d get rid of it. You know we can’t keep any help it’s so big.”

Eric looks on, his brow sits atop two squinting eyes. Showing lines in his forehead, the mustache of a rogue cowling his two thin lips. His ascot folded perfectly inside his robe. Not a bead of sweat nor genuine worry break away from his taut cheekbones, it’s just the slickness of his breed that shines on his skin.

Eric suddenly breaks in. “Have you quite finished?” Lydia looks up at him with contempt. Mildred too weak to intercede, her eyes wet with sadness and confusion. Lydia say “For now” and kisses her sister Mildred on the cheek.

Eric stands rigidly, hands in pockets he balances himself in-between the two women so to speak.

Lydia excuses herself to go and fix Mildred lunch, leaving Eric and Mildred alone.

He apologizes to Mildred about quarreling with Lydia and tells her he only wants what’s best for her. Mildred tells Eric that she doesn’t remember ‘his’ Dr Bartoli. A subtle insinuation that the man is a fabrication on his part.

“Would you think I was going out of my mind?” Eric laughs, “So that’s why you’re misbehaving this morning.”

Eric continues to treat Mildred like a child. She doesn’t let up and says, “You haven’t answered my question.”

“I’d say it’s perfectly normal, you were in shock when he got here last night, he gave you a sedative before he left.”

Mildred still looks skeptically at Eric as he adds, “It’s not surprising that you don’t remember much about it.”

” I don’t remember anything about it” Mildred says very thoughtfully, slowly and direct.

“There’s still nothing to be alarmed about, you simply buried a very frightening memory in your subconscious.It’ll come to the surface eventually.” He strokes her face. But Mildred has not given way to his theory.

“But I remember the frightening part…I remember the coffin…and I remember my funeral wreath. It’s the doctor… I just can’t remember… him.”

“Darling I just told you why.” Eric replies confidently.

“Eric, what did the doctor say?” He looks down. “Well darling, your heart hasn’t improved the way we’d hoped it would, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t. With rest and quiet he sees every chance of a complete recovery.”

“I’m not worried about my heart, it’s what happened in the drawing room that puzzles me. I know I saw a coffin.” She inhales a bit of weakened air. “I know I saw a funeral wreath, and I did hear music.”

I love the way she pronounces the word MUSIC. it sounds like she is say MEWWZICK. A little nasal, a little sophistication, a lot of hysteria tamped down inside.

Eric consoles his wife by saying, “Mildred you must get hold of yourself, I can’t seem to convince you that it’s all in your mind.”

Famous last words!

I love the use of mirror as split image, split screen to showcase the dissonance between the characters. A film technique used quite effectively in many thrillers!

“IT’S NOT REAL…IT’S NOT REAL!!!!”

Or is it? Watch this THRILLER for yourself and find out What Beckoning Ghost!

See you at the next show, MonsterGirl

3 thoughts on “Boris Karloff’s Thriller: What Beckoning Ghost?

  1. Monster Girl, your contributions on Karloff’s Thriller television show are just incredible and insightful. I have to watch this episode again; it’s been years and I consider myself quite the Karloff buff. You should contact his estate about publishing a book about his show. There is a book out now by Warren but it is thin at best and doesn’t have the magnificent photos you have captured. Have you thought about a book looking in-depth at some episodes?

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    1. Hey Ed!- Well that’s just the neatest thing of you to say. In fact I do have Warren’s book. Just recently purchased it as I was curious about it being published by McFarland and all. To answer one question- YES… it has been one of my dreams to write a THRILLER companion book. The show continues to entertain and quite actually amaze me in the way it pushed boundaries and synthesized some of the best macabre story telling. Great acting, directing etc. I never tire of it. And I’m so glad that you’ll be revisiting a few episodes yourself. Thanks so very much for kind words too. Please stop back any time and tell me what you think or to suggest an episode you think I should cover next-cheers Joey

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