Norman Lloyd directs this Henry Slesar story starring the lovely Carol Lynley who plays Sister Pamela Wiley, a gentle soul who has come to the crossroads of her faith. It is a simplistically beautiful tale about faith and finding ones place on earth.
The Reverend Mother portrayed by the wonderful Isobel Elsom believes that Sister Pamela’s crisis will go away in time. Sister Pamela is sent on a very special mission to meet the once young hooligan named William Downey from parochial school she’d tried to change for the bette. He has invited sister Lydia to his mansion after thirty years of silence to give her a very special statue of St Francis. It’s a gesture of thank you and a very sacred piece of art. On the way back to the convent the statue is stolen at the train station.
The bronze statue falls into the wrong hands by petty thief (Clu Gulager as schemer Jimmy Bresson) and so Sister Pamela puts herself in harms way in order to set things right!
With Sara Taft as Sister Lydia and Charity Grace as Sister Gem (Jennifer Morrison from Andy Griffith’s Alcohol & Old Lace), Clu Gulager is perfect as the ruthless Jimmy K Bresson and R.G. Armstrong as the imposing William Downey.
The wonderful Partricia Collinge plays an old fashioned lady Naomi Freshwater, who has been befriended by a fire & brimstone preacher spouting scripture in an obsessive way. The enigmatic Peter Falk is the cab driving preacher Robbie Evans who comes from the coal mines of Pennsylvania, had a vision during a cave in and changed his life. Did he possibly kill his first wife… well you’ll have to wait and see.
Now as a seemingly kind companion to sweet old Naomi, he spends time with her reading bible verses and hoping to gain her trust so he can build his grand temple on the money she’ll leave him in her will. The dear and sheltered Naomi has a bad heart and suffers a fatal heart attack one night when Robbie forces her to dance too rigorously. She collapses on the settee begging for her little pills as Robbie coldly watches her die. The scene is absolutely brutal in it’s heartlessness. Quite a powerful scene for just a one hour anthology show. I myself was left speechless and stunned by it’s ruthlessness. Adding to the grisly atmosphere was the non stop record spinning a bedazzling swing melody while the tortured old women clutches at her chest. I don’t know if it was the lighting or just Falk’s cold-blooded unwavering expression that left me chilled to the bone.
Falk plays the perfect sociopath, with only one nearly over the top performance during a bible thumping sermon under the tent. When the classy worldly niece Laura (Dina Merrill) shows up, Robbie tries to woo her into marriage hoping to hang onto the old Victorian mansion that he feels is owed to him. Laura hires Robbie to clean out the attic and create a big old bonfire to burn the remnants of her life there.
At first Laura believes his ‘Man of God’ act as Naomi did, but Laura is a wild roaming sort who doesn’t wish to be tied down. This brings out the psychopath in Robbie, as he relates in detail how his first wife tried to hold him back, she was a sinner and he had the calling.
I won’t give away the ending, of course, but it’s a real tent stomper of a mystery, with psycho-sexual misogyny, delusional religious fanaticism and menacing mayhem afoot lead by an all star cast of actors. Directed by one of my favorites Joseph Pevney based on a story by V.S. Pritchett as published in The New Yorker.