From The Vault-My Name is Julia Ross (1945)

MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945)

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“I don’t know what this is all about, but I promise you some very serious trouble unless you stop it immediately. You know perfectly well I’m Julia Ross.”

Directed by Joseph H. Lewis  (The Mad Doctor of Market Street 1942, So Dark the Night 1946, Gun Crazy 1950, A Lady without Passport 1950, The Big Combo 1955) Screenplay by Muriel Roy Bolton from the novel The Woman in Red by Anthony Gilbert. With a fabulous odd angled, shadow stricken spin by cinematographer Burnett Guffey it’s no wonder this suspense thriller has the elements of a stylized psychological noir.  

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Nina Foch is Julia Ross a young English girl seeking employment. She answers an ad at a fake employment agency run by none other than Anita Sharp -Bolster as Sparkes who’s even more cantankerous in this role. Julia, saddened by the news that the guy she loves is marrying another girl, thinks she’s found the perfect job working for a wealthy widow Mrs. Hughes (Dame May Witty) who’s son, the creepy Ralph lives with her.

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George Macready is exceptional as a psychotic who is prone to fits of violence. He has already killed his wife, stabbing her to death and throwing her body into the quiet sea.

Ralph Hughes– {Looking out at the ocean] “Beautiful, isn’t it? Would you like to listen to the sea and hear what it says? It doesn’t say anything, does it? That’s what I like about the sea. It never tells its secrets, and it has many – very many secrets.”

Ralph has a thing for knives, and mommy Hughes has to keep taking sharp objects away from him and locking them away in a drawer. Dame May Witty is superb as his overprotective mother who is willing to concoct an elaborate scheme and even kill in order to cover up her son’s murder.

Ralph Hughes- “It’s all Marion’s fault. She shouldn’t have cried.”

Mrs Hughes- “Ralph, you never told me – was it an accident, or did you intend to kill her after she made her will?”

Ralph- “I didn’t plan it. I liked her well enough, but when she found out I’d been lying about my income, she accused me of marrying her for her money. I said of course that was what I’d married her for. Then she cried. She was always crying. Then she slapped me. I had my knife in my hand, and I…” [He begins slashing at the sofa cushion with his knife, slicing it over and over]

Mrs. Hughes- “Stop it, stop it!” (she tries to take the knife away)

Ralph- “Don’t do that!”

Mrs. Hughes- “Put that away! Ralph, I’m trying to help you.”

Ralph- “I still say we should have called the police and told them a prowler broke in and killed her.”

Mrs. Hughes- “With the marks of your fingers on her? The scratches on your face?”

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Julia goes to live at the house, but once she’s there, Mrs. Hughes, Ralph, and Sparkes drug her tea and spirit her off to the ocean village of Cornwall.

They’ve burned her clothes, stopped any means of communication from getting through, put bars on her windows and convinced the village that she’s out of her mind, so no one believes her story about being Julia Ross being held prisoner by these seemingly well bred murderous grifters.

There they gaslight Julia, telling her that she is the first Mrs Marion Hughes who has had a nervous breakdown. They’ve even convinced Alice the maid (Queenie Leonard) that she’s going mad, and that she’s suicidal. Alice gossips around town and soon after everyone even the police, the doctors and the reverend and his wife believe the Hughes’ story. It seems like there’s no escape for Julia in sight. Along the path to doom, Ralph torments Julia with his menacing presence, and every attempt Julia makes to escape is thwarted. .

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They plan on making it look like she’s committed suicide so they can bury her as Mrs, Hughes, since the real wife is lost at sea. And take her money

After it looks like Julia has taken an overdose of poison…

Ralph –“Why try to save her? Let her die. That’s what we want.”

Mrs. Hughes- “Don’t be stupid, Ralph. If she’s taken poison, we must act as though we cared!”

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This is a very taut little suspense yarn that keeps you on the edge up until the end. With some extraordinary camera work and a very simple tale of murder, mistaken identity and mayhem!

Co-starring Ottola Nesmith as Mrs. Robinson, Joy Harrington as the resentfully sullen Bertha, Doris Lloyd is marvelous as Mrs. Mackie, Julia’s landlady, Roland Varno as Julia’s love interest Dennis Bruce, Olaf Hytten as Reverend Lewis and Leonard Mudie as Peters.

There are thousands of films in my collection, this has been one of them!-MonsterGirl

Boris Karloff’s anthology tv series: It’s a THRILLER!

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SILVER SCENES IS HOSTING THE UNIVERSAL BLOGATHON! SO I THOUGHT I’D BRING OUT THE UNIVERSAL TELEVISION PRODUCTION OF BORIS KARLOFF’S ANTHOLOGY… LET ME ASSURE YOU, IT’S A THRILLER!!! VISIT SILVER SCENES AND CHECK OUT ALL THE WONDERFUL CONTRIBUTIONS TO THIS HALLOWEEN CELEBRATION!

Classic TV Blog Association is hosting the MeTV Summer of Classic TV Blogathon

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“I think the title leaves the stories wide open to be based on melodrama not violence or shock. They’ll be stories about people in ordinary surroundings and something happened to them. The whole thing boils down to taste. Anybody can show you a bucket of blood and say-‘This is a bucket of blood’, but not everyone can produce a skilful story”Boris Karloff (1960)

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At the bottom of this feature you will find links to my older Thriller posts. Some of my favorite episodes- as well as 4 newly covered episodes in brief for the MeTV Summer of Classic TV Blogathon!-Masquerade,Parasite Mansion, Mr.George and The Purple Room!

From the show’s opening iconic musical score, you know something deliciously sinister is about to occur. The word THRILLER appears against a fractured white web like graphic title design quite a bit in the style of Saul Bass. The discordant piano and horn stabs of modern jazz already bring you into the inner sanctum of menacing story telling. As Boris would often say as a precursory welcome,”Let me assure you ladies and gentlemen, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff, this is a thriller.”

Boris Karloff’s Thriller was an anthology series that ran from 1960-1962. It included 60 minute B&W episodes, 67 in all, that were expected to compete with The Twilight Zone ’59-’64 and Alfred Hitchcock Presents ’55-’62.

Thriller was filmed at the same network and sound stage as Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Producer Writer & Director Douglas Benton claims though not hearing it directly that Hitchcock resented Thriller, as he considered Hubbell Robinson encroaching on his territory.

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Benton states, “Actually we weren’t doing the same thing he was, he was doing some very sophisticated ‘twist’ material. Hitchcock was doing the sort of thing that they started out to do on Thriller… We {Frye, Benton et al} came along and improved the ratings considerably and got a tremendous amount of press and Hitchcock didn’t like the competition. I don’t think he ever came out and said ‘get rid of ’em’ but he did allow them to enlarge his show from -a half hour to an hour, and that made it more difficult for us to stay on.” {source: Boris Karloff-More Than A Monster The Authorized Biography by Stephen Jacobs}

The series was developed by Executive Producer Hubbell Robinson program director and then executive vice president at CBS who was responsible for dramatic shows like Studio One & Playhouse 90 and produced Arsenic and Old Lace (tv movie ’69) with Lillian Gish & Helen Hayes. Boy oh boy would I like to get my hands on a copy of that!

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Lillian Gish, Helen Hayes with Bob Crane rehearsing for Arsenic and Old Lace ’69

In 1959 he left CBS to start his own production company, Hubbell Robinson Productions. Robinson had said “Our only formula is to have no formula at all,” endeavoring that each week’s episode would not be like the week before, bringing viewers one hour feature pictures that were “consciously and deliberately striving for excellence. {…}Each plot will be unique, unusual.” Robinson {source:Boris Karloff-More Than A Monster The Authorized Biography by Stephen Jacobs}

Also on board were producers William Frye, Fletcher Markle & Maxwell Shane (The Mummy’s Hand ’40, Fear in the Night ’47) who added their vision of a superior mystery & horror anthology for MCA’s Revue Studios which would conform to the trend of anthology series’ featuring a host to introduce each week’s story.

The format had somewhat ambivalent themes, leaving the show’s narrative straddling both genres of crime melodrama and tales of the macabre. But… either of these atmospheres created by some of the best writers, directors and players delivered a highly intoxicating blend of both, remaining a powerful anthology with unique dramatic flare.

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Karloff loved the title for the show, “It’s an arresting title. And it does not tie you to one type of show. You can have suspense and excitement, without getting into violence {…} There will be none of the horror cliches on this programme {…} we will deal with normal people involved in unusual situations.”

Boris Karloff was very critical of horror for the sake of horror, during Thriller’s run,“We’re in an era of insensate violence. Today it’s shock, so-called horror and revulsion. I think the idea is to excite and terrify rather than entertain. The story is muck for the sake of muck. The over emphasis of violence on screen and tv has reached the point of being utterly absurd… That’s one thing you won’t find on Thriller-violence for the sake of violence, shock for the sake of shock.”{source:Boris Karloff-More Than A Monster The Authorized Biography by Stephen Jacobs}

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Boris’ prelude to Dark Legacy
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Boris Karloff presents The Hungry Glass
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Boris Karloff introduces Hay-fork and Bill-Hook

Not only was there unmistakable atmosphere to each of Thriller’s episodes, the stories themselves were lensed in a unique way that was very ahead of it’s time. The actors brought a serious attitude to their characters and the plot development, and didn’t treat them as merely short pulp stories as fodder for the tv masses. This was an intelligent show, and the presence of Boris Karloff added a charming and cerebral primacy to the show’s narration. It was like being tucked in by your remarkable grandfather who loved to tell a good spooky tale to you right before bedtime. I’ve said this plenty, I wish Boris Karloff had been my grandfather. Everyone who has ever worked with Karloff had nothing but glowing praise for the great and gentle man. He exuded a quiet grace and was the consummate professional taking every part seriously and extremely generous with his time even as he suffered from his physical limitations. Karloff had been getting on in years and his grand stature was riddled with arthritis causing his legs to bow.

Actress Audrey Dalton said this, “Just the perfect gentleman. A terribly British, wonderful wonderful man.” Actor Ed Nelson who was dying to work with Karloff said, “He was a very gentle man” Douglas Benton had said, “Boris Karloff-God, what a lovely man.”

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Karloff as Clayton Mace the phony mentalist in The Prediction

While filming The Prediction the scene at the end when he must lie down in the pool of rainy water and die, Karloff asked director John Brahm “Is this the best way for the camera?” who said, “Yes, it is but good lord you don’t have to lie there and have gutter water coursing up your britches like that!”  Karloff replied, “Oh yes I do! This is my work. I insist.” {source: Boris Karloff-More Than A Monster The Authorized Biography by Stephen Jacobs}

Every installment of the show offered us a chance to see Karloff as he enters the Thriller stage like a sage Fabulist delivering us the evening’s program with a refined articulation of philosophy and captivating story telling encapsulated in a compelling little prologue, often infused with it’s own brand of dark humor.

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Continue reading “Boris Karloff’s anthology tv series: It’s a THRILLER!”

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.

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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

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“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?”
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Adam-“Didn’t I tell you why you got the place so cheap?”Gil-“You said the local characters think its unlucky”
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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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“When you let out that blasted howl… I cut my hand”

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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.

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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!

Pigeons From Hell [Essay on Boris Karloff’s Thriller] “Is anybody home?”

Pigeons From Hell~aired June 6 1961

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Adapted for the screen by John Kneubuhl (The Screaming Skull ’58, Two on a Guillotine ’65 both have a similar eerie Gothic sensibility) and directed by John Newland. (One Step Beyond 60s tv series, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark ’73) Pigeons From Hell was another story taken out of Weird Tales Magazine from a story by Robert E. Howard (Author of Conan the Barbarian), in 1938, which he based on old legends that his grandmother had told him in West Texas.This also seems to coincide with similar themes of Voodoo by Zora Neale Hurston  Author Folklorist/Anthropologist during the time of the Harlem Renaissance who wrote the non-fiction exploration of Haitian/Caribbean rituals in Tell My Horse in 1937, just a year earlier.

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Starring Brandon De Wilde as Timothy Branner, Crahan Denton as Sheriff Buckner, Ken Renard as Jacob Blount, David Whorf and Johnny Branner, and Ottola Nesmith as Eula Lee Blassenville.

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With original music by Jerry Goldsmith and Mort Stevens which is perfectly haunting for this Southern Gothic tale. And fabulous art direction by George Patrick and set design by Julia Heron who also worked on The Incredible Doktor Markesan (Spartacus ’60) and John McCarthy Jr. The Blassenville house is a place of fear and desolation. The camera frames the characters within the tired structure itself, cobweb laced door frames, dark staircases that hold their ascent and black box rooms with scattered dusty relics.

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The story takes place one fateful night when two New York brothers Johnny and Tim Branner, driving over a rickety wooden bridge (shot in obvious day for night), suddenly hit a muddy ditch and begin spinning their tires to no avail. Now they remain stranded under a wonderfully bewitching weeping willow, a classic prop for a southern Gothic tale,in the swamp lands of the Louisiana countryside.

The opening scene is embellished with the willow’s mossy tendrils, swaying,drifting, blowing as if by an unseen lazy wind. And so it begins.

The boys get out of the car and Tim played by the very wholesome looking Brandon De Wilde says  “Welcome to the fabled south, land of Crinoline, Magnolias, lovely ladies and swamps”

Johnny defends himself for having been chided about his short cut, “Okay okay so it’s not the new york thru way you’ve got to admit that this is the way it truly is”

While Johnny goes off to find a pole that they can use to dislodge the tire from the mud that’s when a strange wailing starts, like that of a distressed alley cat in heat.

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Johnny wanders off starting to reach deeper into the context of the landscape. As he pushes aside the dangling mossy vines, he stumbles upon dozens of pigeons begin cooing madly. He discovers the desolate antebellum plantation, The Blassenville Mansion dying from decay. The place seems plagued  by these mysterious, demonic pigeons. There is an eerie cackling, unearthly wails and the pervasively hellish fluttering of their wings. They begin to converge on Johnny, coming right at his face, like a scene out of Hitchcock’s adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s The Birds  which wasn’t released until two years later in 1963.

Once Tim catches up after hearing his brother’s bloodcurdling screams, Johnny tells him that the pigeons seemed like they were trying to kill him! “That ‘s just it it was like they were attacking me”

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The two young men decide they’re tired and should take refuge in the old house for the night.

Like many great southern Gothic tales, this one is surrounded by the presence of something lurking behind the silent deteriorating walls. The wonderful B&W and shadows of pale and steely gray cinematography by Lionel Lindon  ( Alfred Hitchcock Presents ’55, The Manchurian Candidate ’62, Dead Heat on a Merry- Go- Round ’66)

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Time has stood still. There’s a sense that the house is diseased with a family secret, much like one of my other favorite episodes Parasite Mansion. The setting bares the remnants of a Robert Aldrich film like Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte ’62. We break for Boris’ prologue.

By an old gnarled tree Boris Karloff steps out to greet us. A cautionary deep string flourish leads the way, as he looks around, standing in a swirl of mist.

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“The swamp is alive, crawling with creatures of death. Creatures that lurk, camouflaged in the under growth waiting patiently for an unsuspecting victim. And our young friend was alarmed by a flock of pigeons. Harmless you say…Well you’ll see that he has good cause for alarm. For those were no ordinary pigeons. They were the pigeons from hell. That is both the title and the substance of our story. Why… spirits come back from the dead to guard their ancestral home against intruders. Spirit that in life fed on evil and now in death return to feed upon the living. Return each night driven relentlessly by the spell of a terrible curse”
“Join us now as night is falling in the old house where evil dwells two brave young brothers dare to intrude”

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Once Johnny and Tim are inside the house,we see a large winding staircase that hints at a time when this might have been an opulent showplace.I was struck by a frame which shows the disconnection with life outside the old house with it’s splendid chandelier which looms prominently over the two boy’s heads as they enter the empty dusty gray of beginning of the house.

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Tim calls out as they start to climb the stairs, “Is anybody home?” There’s a quick cut to a darkened room filled with cobwebs and the outline of an old seamstress dummy. To the left of screen we see a door as it subtly closes ever so slightly. It’s an eerie touch, that lends to the menacing atmosphere of the decrepit house.

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There is no furniture downstairs yet a strange portrait of a woman who seems to be reigning over the emptiness, the place is a musty, decaying hollow shell of another era like the exoskeleton of a giant decomposing beetle. Preparing to take refuge over night on the lower floor they set out their sleeping bags, but Johnny still seems like he’s in a state of shock.He begins to walk around and finds a cobweb covered painting of a woman whom he senses holds the secret to what is haunting the place. From the beginning Johnny does seem to have an uncanny second sight which is causing him great distress. Staring at the painting, a poignant violin melody begins it’s undercurrent, it is the theme of this mysterious woman. Dissolve, into the spooky, dreamy gray facade of the mansion. Columns, the rhythmically otherworldly drone of these sentinel pigeons guarding their ancient Gothic citadel. Winged gatekeepers to a graveyard.

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Tim is awakened in the middle of the night and discovers that his brother Johnny is not there. We hear a sweet, distant vocalise like the siren Lorelei of Greek mythology who lured the sailors onto the rocks. Johnny has been aroused by this haunting lullaby lilting in the air, and seems to be drawn upward as if in a somnambulist’s trance. Moving by some unseen provocation, the voice leads him up the staircase.

We are sharing his enchantment. We follow him. Now we hear the pigeons in a fury. Louder like a heart pumping blood, pulling us up the stairs with Johnny. Once Tim starts to stir he discovers that his brother is not in his sleeping bag next to him.

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wonderful silhouette of Johnny lurking in the shadow regions of the Blassenville house under it’s spell… holding a hatchet

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Tim proceeds to look for his missing brother. The vocalise is more audible to him now, as Johnny ascends the stairs there is a crescendo of fluttering, wings, a female voice. Tim about to reach the top of the stairs is startled by his brothers screams. Johnny emerges from the shadows, blood flowing down his face. He is holding a bloody hatchet. He moves towards Tim and strikes with the hatchet but misses and sinks it into the wall behind his brother. Tim runs down the stairs, calling his brother’s name. “John, John!” He runs out of the house fleeing in terror into the dark night through the mossy guilded trees.

He stumbles into the swamp after hitting his head on a rock. Johnny still sleepwalking or is he the walking dead, holding the hatchet, collapses as he buries the weapon in the sleeping bag where Tim’s head would have been.

Johnny walks down the staircase still in a trance, holding the hatchet up as if ready to strike.

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This is where county Sheriff Buckner (Crahan Denton) enters the story. He is attending to the gash on Tim’s head. Sheriff Buckner tells him that a local, Howard had found him while coon hunting and found him out cold in the woods, bringing him to this nearby cabin. Tim wakes screaming “Johnny, Johnny… Where am I?” He begins telling Sheriff Buckner that Johnny’s head was smashed but he was still walking with a hatchet in his hand. “He was walking down the stairs to me, his head was split, he was dead, I know he was dead.” Buckner realizes that the only place he could be talking about is the old Blassenville Plantation.

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In order to clear his name and to recover his brother’s body, Tim agrees to go back to the house with Sheriff Buckner. Buckner seems not to believe the boy, and is pretty sure that he’s either crazy or murdered his own brother. Back at the Blassenville house, Tim tells Buckner, “He came down those stairs” the sheriff holds his lantern and shines light on a blood stain. Tim says, “Look there’s my brother’s blood” Buckner gripes, ” Yeah yeah yeah I see”

They go into the room where Johnny is lying dead on the floor-“He tried to kill me, he tried to kill me” The somber violin and the use of shadow underpin the tension. Buckner doesn’t believe Tim yet.

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Why do you suppose he went upstairs” Tim says “I don’t know but from the moment we saw this house it was as though he were listening all the time. just listening… and then those pigeons started, they’re not there now, but I saw them!” Tim struggles, to press the truth but Buckner tells him that it’s the judge and jury that he has to convince. Sheriff Buckner wants to go upstairs and investigate but Tim doesn’t want to be left alone, so he follows him. The lantern shines light on the bloody trail leading up the stairs.

They find Johnny’s body face down on the sleeping bag still holding the hatchet which is placed on the spot where Tim was sleeping. He’s dead.

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An unseen and eerie breeze seems to dim their lantern

An effectively creepy moment happens while they are searching the upstairs, the lantern goes out. Buckner tells Tim there’s plenty of kerosene and the wick is fine, and there standing right on the spot where Johnny had been struck by the hatchet. Buckner gets spooked and tells Tim they’re getting out of that room and going back downstairs. Once at the bottom of the stairs and the lantern lights up again-

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Buckner says, “What ever it is up there, I aint gonna tackle it in the dark”

The sheriff decides that he believes Tim’s story and that the only way he’s going to get anyone to believe it is to find out what’s in the house. They put Johnny’s body in the station wagon and go back into the house and “wait for something to happen”

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Tim sees the portrait and asks “Who is she?” “I’m not sure, one of the Blassenville sisters I think. Miss Elizabeth, she’s the last one who lived here. She lived here for years after her sisters were gone… Townsfolk wondered how long they were going to hold onto this house,falling into ruin, plantation gone all to weeds, then when they disappeared no one was surprised… Sisters growing old in a place like this, no one to take care of them, cause they had a mean streak in them. All the plantation workers ran away. With the exception of Jacob Blount, who’s very old and half out of his mind. They beat him… the sisters, but he stayed on. And there was a young servant girl, Eula Lee…they beat her too. Finally she ran away.”

Tim wonders if what ever is in the house chased the sisters out as well. Buckner tells him that the last Blassenville sister left the house over fifty years ago.

Back upstairs they find a piano, dust all over everything… tons of it but nothing on the keys. It’s as though somebody’s been playing it. Then they find a diary with what looks like Elizabeth’s name on it. The sad violin melody, the Blassenville theme begins to sway again. Tragically drawn out notes. Tim tries to read the fine writing. “I can sense someone prowling about the house at night, after the sun has set, and the pines outside are black.Often at night I hear a fumbling at the door, I dare not open it. Oh merciful heaven, What shall I do”

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The sheriff responds. “The thing was after her too!” Tim continues reading from the diary “All the help have run away, my sisters…gone, I am here alone. If someone murdered my poor sisters.(pause) Then, Eula Lee named Jacob Blount and Eula Lee would not speak plainly, perhaps she feared I shall die as hideously as they.” Then Buckner says “We’ll see Jacob Blount” Jacob Blount is portrayed by the wonderful Ken Renard.

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They arrive at Jacobs shack. He’s an old raggedy man lying in his cot.Buckner starts shaking Jacob and says “I’ve got some questions I wanna ask you, Come on boy get up. (I was very offended at this gesture, Jacob was a very old southern black man and the use of the term ” boy” was a very racist remark. I don’t believe he would have referred to an old white male this way) He proceeds to tell him that tonight a boy was killed over at the old Blassenville Place. Jacob looks terrified.

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In an accent assumed to be of Caribbean origin Jacob tells them “Nobody dare (there) now, all dem (them) dead, but de come back at night, all dem pigeons” Buckner interrogates him, and tells Jacob that Miss Elizabeth thought he knew who murdered the sisters, and she might still be in the house, after 50 long years. Eula Lee would have reason. Elizabeth was afraid her sisters had been murdered Eula Lee would have reason… they beat her. “Why did they beat an innocent servant girl?”

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“Eula Lee was no servant… She was a lady of quality. A Blassenville like them… Eula Lee was their half sister. They had the same mother, but different fathers” Sheriff Buckner reasons, “That would explain part of it, the sisters rage at Eula Lee. Elizabeth’s terror of her. That plantation that house she could live there alone for years… It is Eula Lee in that house”

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Jacob tells them, “Life is sweet to an old man” meaning that someone would harm him if he continued to talk about it. But he says “No Human… No Human. De big serpent will send a little brudda (brother) to kill me if I told. I promised when de make me maker of Zuvembies (Voodoo superstition. They’re women who are not human anymore)So she knew I was maker of Zuvembies, so she come and stand right dare in my hut, and beg for de holy drink. They live forever, time mean nuting, an hour, a day, a year, all de same. She can command de dead, de birds, de snakes, de fowls, and only a led bullet can kill her”

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Then begins the sound of the unholy fluttering of wings outside the hut. “Listen, no more no more, If I tell, she will come” As Jacob starts to stoke the firep with a stick he begins to scream wildly. He’s been bitten by a snake. A little brother has visited him, and he is now dead.

Buckner and Tim go back to the plantation where they find pigeons sitting on the sheriff’s wagon where Johnny’s dead body is laid out. Interesting touch which would later be profoundly, iconically amplified in The Birds in ’63

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Tim wakes up and finds Sheriff Buckner missing. The climax of Pigeons From Hell leads us once again to the sweetly haunting, mesmerizing musical motif that is the Blassenville theme. The eerie woman’s vocalise now summoning Tim up the stairs. We see, in a slow shot, an old decaying hand not quite in focus yet, reaching around the corner in tattered rags. Until it is framed in necrotic splendor.

Tim keeps ascending up the stairs in a hypnotic state. The Lullaby, the southern Gothic call of Eula Lee, and we now see the old crones desiccated face.The pigeons begin their demonic cooing.

There is some wonderful use of shadow, reminiscent of a good classic suspense thriller as we see Tim’s shadow cast in silhouette on the rotting drapery then moving further deeper into the house’s darkness.

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She’s waiting, she opens the door all the way, holding a meat cleaver. A horrifying vision that still holds it’s shock value watching it nearly thirty times I figure. There’s something quite gripping about a lost soul living in desolation who comes erupting out of darkness, commands even the smallest living creatures, and wielding a very sharp instrument of pain and death.

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One of my favorite images from the episode. Eula Lee is a presence of grand Gothic dread and frightening spirit

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Just as she’s about to hack into Tim, Sheriff Buckner shoots at her and she falls away. Once Tim comes out of his trance, he follows Buckner behind a secret passageway and they stumble onto an incredibly macabre and horrific discovery. With a small candle lit, they find three skeletons, embellished in lace and pearls, “Our three sisters, all murdered, the way your brother was, the way you were supposed to be” Then they turn and see something stage right. Walking slowly. The sweet sorrowful melody begins to play on the violin, the resolve to the nightmarish years at the plantation.

Eula Lee is slumped in a chair, Buckner mutters,“Eula Lee, Eula Lee” Buckner holds the candle to her face-It is an eerie yet poignant moment.

Is she dead? Her eyes stare off -we hear the sweet vocalise once again as it leads us out of the episode. The last thing we see is a close up of her ancient face.

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Fade to black.

I haven’t read Howard’s original publication of the story, so I am not sure where he is coming from in terms of message. There are definite racial themes in this adapted script. But from reading an excerpt from Howard’s story I think that the racial overtones are more severe there. I hesitate to use the word “miscegenation ” because it is problematic in the fact that people find this term offensive. Usually scholars use this when discussing the historical relevance of interracial relationships. The taboo of the mixing of ethnic blood lines. Coming from a time when the process of racial interaction was taking place because of the European Colonization of The Americas and the Atlantic Slave Trade. The idea that the Blassenville sisters raged against Eula Lee for being the product of a biracial relationship.

Having the same mother, but not sharing a white father, was a bold underpinning motive for the turbulence and hatred that inflicted the curse upon the family. And the story does “Otherize” Eula Lee.

The fact that she seeks retribution through such “non-Christian” methods, the implication that she’s a savage. Read the little tidbit from Howard’s story below; The references to Eula Lee being a beast only reinforces my sense that she was considered “Other” With words like beast and bestial nature. Of course the story was couched in very supernatural terms but the thread of racism seems so pervasive in this story.

Here’s an excerpt from the original story that didn’t make it into the Thriller script: The name Griswell had been the original last name for Tim and Johnny.

Sheriff Buckner:

“They say the pigeons are the souls of the Blassenvilles, let out of hell at sunset. The Negroes say the red glare in the west is the light from hell, because then the gates of hell are open, and the Blassenvilles fly out.

Was that thing a woman once?” whispered Griswell(Tim). “God, look at that face, even in death. Look at those claw-like hands, with black talons like those of a beast. Yes, it was human, though — even the rags of an old ballroom gown. Why should a mulatto maid wear such a dress, I wonder?” “This has been her lair for over forty years,” muttered Buckner, brooding over the grinning grisly thing sprawling in the corner. “This clears you, Griswell (TIm) — a crazy woman with a hatchet — that’s all the authorities need to know. God, what a revenge! — what a foul revenge! Yet what a bestial nature she must have had, in the beginnin’, to delve into voodoo as she must have done——” (“Pigeons From Hell” by Robert E. Howard)

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