Women-in-Peril – 4 Obscure Gothic Thrillers of the 1940s!

As a treat I thought I’d talk about 4 really interesting films that were released amidst the slew of suspense thrillers of the 1940s. Some Gothic melodrama and a few perhaps conveying an almost hybrid sense of noir with their use of flashback, shadow, odd camera angles and elements of transgressive crime. I’ll just be giving a brief overview of the plot, but no worries there are no spoilers!

I recently had the chance to sit with each film and said to myself… Joey, these would make for a nice collection of obscure thrillers so without further adieu, I offer for your enjoyment, The Suspect, Love From A Stranger 1947, Moss Rose & The Sign of the Ram!

THE SUSPECT 1944

The Suspect

Directed by Robert Siodmak (The Spiral Staircase 1945, The Killers 1946, Criss Cross 1949, The Dark Mirror, Cry of the City, The File on Thelma Jordan 1950) and adapted to the screen by Bertram Millhauser and Arthur T Horman from the novel This Way Out written by James Ronald. Basing this film very loosely on the Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen murder of his wife that was sensationalized at trial in 1910.

The Suspect stars the inimitable Charles Laughton, (Dr. Moreau – Island of Lost Souls 1932, my favorite Quasimodo in William Dieterle’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1939, the most lovable ghost Sir Simon in The Canterville Ghost 1944, The Paradine Case 1947, The Strange Door 1951, Witness for the Prosecution 1957, Spartacus 1960, Advise and Consent 1962 and notably–director of two films–his masterpiece Night of the Hunter and his uncredited The Man on the Eiffel Tower 1949)

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The film also stars the underrated Ella Raines (Phantom Lady 1944, Impact 1949) Dean Harens, Stanley Ridges, (Possessed 1949, The File on Thelma Jordan and No Way Out 1950) Henry Daniell , Rosalind Ivan and Molly Lamont (The Dark Corner 1946, Devil Bat’s Daughter 1946) Raymond Severn plays the delicious little urchin Merridew who works for Phillip as he tries to keep the little guy on the straight and narrow. Merridew would make the perfect name for a little tabby cat!

Charles Laughton gives one of his most subtle performances as a kindly man trapped by an abusive wife. Siodmak as usual creates a dynamic framework for this psychological thriller that is lensed in shades of darkly ominous spaces that seems to shape itself around Laugton’s comfortable face and Ella Raines intricate beauty.

from IMDb trivia – Lux Radio Theater broadcast a 60 minute radio adaptation of the movie on April 9, 1945 with Charles Laughton, Ella Raines and Rosalind Ivan reprising their film roles.

Music by Frank Skinner (Blond Alibi 1946, Johnny Stool Pigeon, The Brute Man, The Spider Woman Strikes back and way more to his credit see IMDb listing) With cinematography by Paul Ivano. Who did the camera work on director Hugo Haas treasures like Strange Fascination 1952, One Girl’s Confession 1953, Hold Back Tomorrow 1955!

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And marvelous gowns and hats by Vera West. (The Wolf Man 1941, Shadow of a Doubt 1943,Flesh and Fantasy 1943, Son of Dracula & The Mad Ghoul 1943, Phantom Lady 1944,Strange Confession 1944, Murder in the Blue Room ’44, House of Frankenstein ’44, The Woman in Green 1945, Terror by Night 1946, The Cat Creeps, She-Wolf of London, Dressed to Kill, Danger Woman & Slightly Scandalous 1946.)

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In 1902 London, well respected middle class Englishman, but unhappily married shopkeeper Phillip Marshall (Charles Laughton) develops a loving and warm friendship with young and beautiful Mary Gray (Ella Raines) who’s father has recently died, leaving her down on her luck and looking for a job. Phillip Marshall is such a kind and genteel man he stops to say a kind word about his neighbor Mrs Simmon’s garden, loves his son and shows real affection. Is like a father to young Merridew. Is beloved by the community. Even when he approaches Mary, and she hasn’t yet looked up from her tear soaked hanky, thinking she’s being approached by a lecherous man in the park, “I’m not that sort” tells her, only wanting to see if she needs help.

Mary like Phillip is lonely… the first night Phillip begins to walk her home- “A cup of tea, a six penny novel and a good cry.”
Mary- “I’m afraid you’ve been looking in my window.”

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Phillip’s dreadful wife Cora (Rosalind Ivan –perfectly suited to play the emasculating harpy-she had a similar role tormenting Edward G Robinson in Scarlet Street 1945) is a reprehensible shrew who humiliates and demeans both her husband and her son (Dean Harens who had more room to act in Siodmak’s terrific noir Christmas Holiday 1944 starring a very different kind of Gene Kelly and the self-persecuting Deanna Durbin.) John is shown moving out of the house, because his horrible mother has burned some important papers of his. She got into one of her rages and before he could stop her she burned a whole weeks work.

Cora Marshall is vicious and cruel, showing no maternal feeling, caring little that her son is leaving home.

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Cora-“That’s just what young hopeful did, he’s clearing out bag and baggage that selfish ungrateful good for nothing.”
Phillip-“What did you do to him?”
Cora- “What did I do to him… that’s right put the blame on me. All I did was bring him into the world, nurse him, make myself a doormat for him to walk on!… Go on, go to him and tell him from me that when he leaves this house needn’t think he can come crawling back. Deserting his own mother!… And what do you think you’re doing now?”
Phillip- “I’m moving into John’s room.”
Cora- “Of all the indecent…we’re married aren’t we?”
Phillip (deep sigh)- “Oh we’re married all right.”
Cora –“Then how dare you! I forbid it do you hear me. I forbid you to treat me like this.”

Phillip says, “Now Cora that’s all over now that John’s gone. It’s all over and done with, do you understand me?… I’m moving out of here and there’s nothing you can do about it”
Cora- “Oh yes there is. There’s plenty I can do!”

They wrestle with his clean folded white shirts that he’s busying himself moving out of the bedroom. She tries to grab them and he finally loses his composure and yanks them away.

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Cora- “What’s got into you.. I’d like to know what’s going on in your head.”
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Phillip- “It’s much better that you shouldn’t Cora, it might frighten you…”

Saddened by his John’s departure who he loves and will miss, prompts Phillip to move into his son’s room. Cora, so bent on appearances is driven to tirades of abusiveness toward the meek and genteel Phillip. Harassing him at every turn. I might have thrown her down the stairs myself or given her one of those late night glasses of milk!

The scene with Merridew just tickles me and shows how kind, compassionate and caring Phillip is. He calls Merridew over talking to him in a quite earnest and fatherly tone, all the while you can tell he’s quite fond of the little fellow and visa versa.

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Phillip- “Merridew I have to bring a very serious matter to your attention- I regret to say there’s a shortage in your accounts-there’s a penny missing from the stamp box.”
Merridew- “It… it was for a sugar bun this morning but I’ll put it back on pay day honest Mr. Marshall”
Phillip- “And the tuppence the day before yesterday what was that for?”
Merridew- “Acid drops sir.”
Phillip- “Acid drops??? quizzically… that’s very serious. And the hay penny the day before?”
Merridew- “For the monkey with the hurdy gurdy but I’ll put it all back Saturday every last farthing. “
Phillip- “That’s what all embezzlers plan to do.”

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tears in Merridew’s voice make it quiver as the camera shows Mary listening in, she smiles and laughs at this whimsical inquisition.

Merridew- “But I’m not an embezzler.”

Phillip- “Yes, but you can get started that way. It’s the first step that counts… after that it all becomes too easy. Six pence tomorrow, half a crown the day after… then a five pound note… I know you’ll always mean to pay it back, but I’m afraid you’ll finish by paying it back in the Portland quarries”

Merridew- “Don’t send me to no quarries please Mr. Marshall (sniffling)”

Phillip- “Well not this time Merridew. Now stop sniffling and wipe your eyes.” he hands him a hanky.

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Mary has come into the shop looking for employment. When Phillip tells her there isn’t a position available he later finds her on a park bench crying. He takes her to dinner, gets her a job with a colleague and the two begin a very tender friendship.

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Phillip continues his platonic relationship with Mary, but once his wife finds out that he’s been seen supping with the young lady, he breaks it off, as he’s a gentleman who truly thought his wife would want out of a loveless marriage.

Still, Cora threatens him with scandal as well as making trouble for Mary. When Cora refuses to divorce him, worried that gossip will spread that she has failed to hold onto a husband, he is driven to the point of frustration and despair. She tells him the neighbors are all beginning to gossip about him coming in at all hours-

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Phillip- “None of that business Cora.”

Cora- “Ha! Married people’s lives is everyone’s business and I’m not going to be made of object of pity in front of my friends do you hear!I wonder what ever possessed me to tie myself up with a poor stink like you… walked through the forest and picked a crooked tree that’s what I did. A crooked fat ugly tree.”

Even after she’s been so cruel, he tries to reason with her about getting a divorce and face things honestly by admitting that they’ve never been happy together. He asks her to let him go. But she wants to punish him, because she is a bitter and cruel woman calling him immoral and indecent.

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Phillip is very decent in fact, even though there’s only been friendship between he and Mary, he breaks it off with her so as to do what’s expected of him telling Mary that he behaved badly but he was afraid that she wouldn’t want to see him again. He was sure Cora would let him go… Phillip tells Mary , “And I couldn’t let you go once I’d met you.”

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But Cora won’t be happy til she “drives them both ‘into the gutter where you belong!”

Laughton is adorable and wonderfully believable as a romantic figure because of his gentle nature.

His murderous response is more to protect Mary from Cora’s wrath, who tells him with a face like a Victorian harridan spewing a poisonous vitriol-

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“You better be afraid. As sure as the sun rises tomorrow, I’ll give her the Merry Christmas she’ll never forget”
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Paul Ivano’s brilliant camera angle frames Laughton as somewhat diminished, seemingly trapped or rather oppressed by the space around him.

And so, Phillip murders his wife. We see him grab one of his canes and assume though we don’t see him actually bashing her head in with it, that he has in fact brained her. The next morning she is found dead at the bottom of the stairs, and it is deemed an accident.

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Added to the plot’s layering of Sturm & Drang is the always wonderful scoundrel in Henry Daniell’s Gilbert Simmons, Phillip’s neighbor a stumbling drunkard who also beats his wife (Molly Lamont) Mrs Simmons and Phillip also have a very sweet relationship, one that ultimately anchors Phillip to his integrity. But I won’t reveal the outcome of the story. The miserable Gilbert Simmons also has the distinction of turning to blackmail adding to his other earthly vices.

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Amidst all these dreary, grim and dark ideas, the film still emerges as a beautiful story, partly due to Siodmak’s ability to guide suspense along it’s way with an appealing cadence. As Foster Hirsch states in his must read Film Noir-The Dark Side of the Screen, “Siodmak films like Christmas Holiday and The Killers have an extremely intricate narrative development…{…} the relative extremeness of Siodmak’s style is reflected in his obsessive characters.”

The Suspect works as a great piece of Melo-Noir mostly due to Laughton’s absolute perfection as the sympathetic, trapped gentle-man. As always he is masterful with his intonations, sharpened wit and ability to induce fellowship with the characters he’s playing… well maybe not so much with Dr. Moreau, Capt. Bligh, Judge Lord Thomas Horfield or Sire Alaine de Maledroit in The Strange Door. But he’s a lovable sort most of the time, one can’t deny.

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Charles Laughton and Margaret O’Brien in Jules Dassins’ The Canterville Ghost 1944-based on the story by Oscar Wilde

Ella Raines is just delightful as Mary. She’s such a treat to watch as you start to believe that this beautiful young woman genuinely has fallen for this older, portly yet kind hearted misfit. You find yourself hoping that he gets away with his wife’s murder, and that the two find happiness together.

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Scotland Yard Inspector Huxley (Stanley Ridges) stalks Phillip Marshall believing he killed his wife

Phillip is staunchly pursued by a Scotland Yard Inspector Huxley (Stanley Ridges) who has the tenacity of Columbo. Speaking of which, a poster of The Suspect appears in an episode of Columbo“How to Dial a Murder” in 1978.

LOVE FROM A STRANGER 1947

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On the darker more sinister side of these suspense yarns we find Sylvia Sidney as Cecily Harrington at the mercy of a very deranged bluebeard in John Hodiak as Manuel Cortez.

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the exquisite beauty of Sylvia Sidney

Sylvia Sidney Love From a Stranger

Directed by Richard Whorf who became more fluent in directing for television. Written for the screen by Philip MacDonald (Rebecca 1940, The Body Snatcher 1945 for Val Lewton, The Dark Past 1948, Boris Karloff’s Thriller episode The Fingers of Fear 1961, The List of Adrian Messenger 1963) based on Agatha Christie’s short story Philomel Cottage. Hair Stylist Eunice Helene King is responsible for slicking back Hodiak’s swarthy and murderously Lothario hair, he’s almost Draculian. He definitely covets his slickety hair as he shows his first sign of deranged pathology when Cecily tries to stokes his hair and he lashes out at her, telling her not to touch it.

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The marvelous costumes equip with capes, sequins and ostrich feathers are by Michael Woulfe (Blood on the Sun 1945, Macao 1952, Beware, My Lovely 1952)

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Isobel Elsom plays Auntie Loo Loo with her usual exuberance, Ann Richards is the faithful friend Mavis Wilson. Anita Sharp-Bolster as Ethel the maid (wonderfully crabby Christine in The Two Mrs Carrolls)

And again a terrific score by Hans J. Salter. This period piece is lavishly framed by Tony Gaudio (The Letter 1940, High Sierra 1941, The Man Who Came to Dinner 1942) Once the protagonist and her murderous husband honeymoon at their hideaway cottage, the lens turns the film into an almost chamber piece, becoming more claustrophobic as Manuel and Cecily begin to awaken into the revelation of his dangerous nature.

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Sylvia Sidney  plays Cecily Harrington, an unassuming English girl in Liverpool who has just won £50,000 in the Calcutta Sweepstakes which was a fortune in turn of the century England. Cecily meets Manuel Cortez (John Hodiak) when he sees her name in the newspaper next to the headline of his latest murder. He follows her then arranges to make it appear as if he’s looking to rent her flat. She is taken with this mysterious stranger and suddenly breaks off her engagement to her fiancee Nigel Lawrence (John Howard) rushing into marriage with the mysterious stranger who turns out to be a Bluebeard who is after her money.

The swarthy Manuel Cortez has already alluded the police for the murder of three women, believed to have drowned while trying to escape he has changed his appearance, darker hair no beard. Dr Gribble (Philip Tonge) who is a crime connoisseur collects journals and books, one with a drawing of him showing his beard. It also mentions his earlier crime as being in South America and New York (Hodiak’s character is given several Spanish aliases-Pedro Ferrara and Vasco Carrera)

The newlyweds spend the summer at their secret honeymoon cottage where he’s been planning to kill her and bury her body down in the cellar.

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Isobel Elsom plays Auntie Loo Loo with her usual exuberance, Ann Richards is the faithful friend Mavis Wilson.
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Manuel Cortez pretends to be looking for a flat to rent, showing up at Cecily’s door he has actually followed her from their ‘accidental’ meeting at the post

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Cortez begins to work his Bluebeard charms on Cecily
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The handsome John Howard as Cecily’s fiancee Nigel Lawrence is crushed to find her love has gone cold, as she is now entranced by the swarthy Manuel Cortez
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Neither Nigel nor Mavis trust this mysterious stranger with the slickety hair and cape
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Everyone around Cecily knows there’s something not quite right

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Auntie Loo Loo is surprised at her nieces impetuous behavior

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Ethel and billings the gardener greet the newlyweds at the cottage they’ve spirited off to.
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There’s a dark cellar with a lock on the door. That never bodes well!

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Digging the hole!
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which poisons to use, decisions decisions
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Manuel warns Cecily to stay away from his experiments in the cellar
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Auntie Loo Loo and Mavis manage to find out where the honeymoon cottage is and pay Cecily a visit to make sure she’s alright
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The couple are going away on a long voyage soon, though Manuel hasn’t shown her the tickets

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Auntie Loo Loo is worried!
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Dr Gribble- Walking over to the book shelf- “Ah criminology are you interested in criminology Mr Cortez?”
Cortez- “Yes, it’s a sort of hobby of mine doctor.”
Dr Gribble- “Well we’re fellow enthusiasts”
Cecily “Yes I think it’s a horrid morbid past time.”
Dr Gribble “But fascinating Mrs Cortez. Here’s a great favorite of mine. Criminals and their mentality. That’s great psychology… Bless my soul the latest journal of Medical Jurisprudence and the Criminal. I should have thought I was the only person within a hundred miles radius who ever so much as heard of this publication.”
Manuel Cortez-“Really I’ve subscribed to it for years”
Dr Gribble “Let’s see did I read this issue? Ah yes this is the one with the account of that South American Carrera. It’s a very interesting case.”
Manuel Cortez- “I don’t believe I’ve read it.”
Dr Gribble- “You should have. This fellow Carrera was a professional wife murderer. They caught him after he completed his third crime. Then he was drowned trying to escape.”
Manuel Cortez- “Oh yes I remember. They never found the body did they?”
Dr Gribble- “No as a matter of fact they didn’t. I don’t think there’s any real doubt he’s dead!”

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Manuel catches Cecily by the cellar door. Look his hair has finally lost control!

Love From A Stranger is perhaps the more melodramatic and Gothic of all these films I’ve talked about in this post, but perhaps the most unrewarding in terms of it’s depth. While there are some truly terrifying scenes, the queer chemistry between Sidney and Hodiak creates a distance from the narrative. It’s still truly worth watching as part of the canon of 40s suspense melodramas.

Sylvia Sidney has a certain edgy sensuality to her, that doesn’t make her performance thoroughly implausible for the story but perhaps a different actress might have brought another style of vulnerability to the role. And Hodiak has an unctuous, gritty sort of sex appeal, that made his part as a psychopath believable. He’s got intensely dark focused eyes, sharply defined features and an iron jawline that slams shut, when he’s internally scheming. Toward the end he brings it a bit over the top, but he’s sort of good at playing a surly mad dog.

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Told to read aloud from the journal of criminology- “There is no doubt at all that Vasco Carrera the last name he was known by is a truly remarkable character. He posed as a great world traveler women even those from a cultured background succumbed very quickly to his perculiar charms
possessed of a remarkable charm of manner Carrera exerted an extraordinary fascination over women”

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YOU AND ME 1938-Sidney, Sylvia and George Raft
YOU AND ME 1938-Sidney, Sylvia and George Raft- Now that’s chemistry!

Perhaps the one issue I have with the casting is the chemistry between Sidney and Hodiak that never truly rings authentic. He’s too internally frenetic to be romantic… mysterious yes, but he’s not convincing in his wooing of Cecily. And the character of Cecily doesn’t seem to have the layers that peel innocence away, unveiling a vulnerable yet eruptive sensuality that would be unconsciously drawn to the scent of a dangerous man. That’s why Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight and Joan Bennett in Fritz Lang’s Secret Beyond the Door 1947 work so well.

John Hodiak is a puzzle for me. I’ve been trying to decide whether he’s one of the most intriguingly sexy men I’ve come across in a while or if I find him completely cold and waxen in his delivery as a leading man.

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John Hodiak and Tallulah Bankhead in Alfred Hitchcock’s marvelous floating chamber piece Lifeboat 1944

He had me going in Hitchcock’s Lifeboat 1944. I would have thrown my diamond Cartier bracelet over the bow to tumble under the tarp for a few hours with that sun kissed, salt sprayed crude adonis, sweaty, brash, unshaven -the whole deal. Just watched him in Somewhere in the Night 1946, once again, found Hodiak’s character of George Taylor compelling in his odd way of conveying vulnerable but faithful to the lure of the noir machismo. I felt sorry for a guy who can’t remember who he is or if he should just stay forgetting- in case he was a rotten human being.

But as the cunning and psychopathic lady killer in Love From A Stranger, he sort of makes my skin crawl which I supposed means he did a fabulous job of inhabiting the role of Manuel Cortez right.. Maybe he would have had better chemistry with someone like Alexis Smith or Audrey Dalton.

Now, I haven’t yet seen Basil Rathbone’s version in director Rowland V Lee’s 1937  film also known as A Night of Terror with Ann Harding -still based on the short story by Agatha Christie but set in contemporary England, Rathbone plays the intrepid type of urbane gentleman who sweeps Ann Harding off her feet and plunges her into a sudden and dangerous marriage. Where he then plots to killer her and take her money. In the earlier version, the heroine too gradually realizes that she’s in danger…

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Basil Rathbone and Ann Harding in the 1937 version of Love From a Stranger

Sylvia Sidney looks stunning as the new bride who begins to notice the strange behavior of her husband and realizes once she goes down into the cellar that Manuel is hiding something. He spends hours locked away down there preparing for the moment he will kill Cecily and has forbidden her to go down there, claiming that he’s doing experiments which are dangerous. Well that’s true, since he’s mixing poisons and digging her grave.

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This version places it back in Victorian England, perhaps due to the success of the melodramatic thrillers that were proving to be so successful in the 40s like, Rebecca, Gaslight, The Lodger, Hangover Square, The Woman in White, Fritz Lang’s The Secret Beyond the Door 1947, The Two Mrs Carrolls 1947.

Continue reading “Women-in-Peril – 4 Obscure Gothic Thrillers of the 1940s!”

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.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents 1955

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!”

Thriller with Boris Karloff: 14 Episodes in Brief

1)The Purple Room-airdate October 25,1960-Rip Torn inherits Black Oak Mansion from his recently deceased uncle, but with one condition;he must live in the house for one full year. Patricia Barry and Richard Anderson (The Night Strangler , The Six Million Dollar Man) play his cousins who lure him into spending one night in the haunted Purple Room! Black Oak Mansion makes use of Universal’s Psycho house.

2) Fingers Of Fear-aired Feb 21 1961-This disturbing and psychologically progressive episode deals with a child killer.It opens with a stark and chilling scene of an elementary school teacher chasing a ball (bouncing balls are usually foreboding of an impending shock! )from the playground only to discover the body of a mutilated little girl in the shrubs. The police start looking for an overweight brutish man, and a mentally ill man fitting the description starts to fear that he will be arrested for the crime. This starts a series of events that are filmed with a taut and thoughtful narrative until the shocking climax where the real murderer is caught. The final scene is quite disturbing when the killer violently attacks a doll, thinking it is a little girl. Directed by Jules Bricken, but could have been filmed by Sam Fuller. Highly recommend Fuller’s The Naked Kiss.

3)The Ordeal of Dr Cordell airdate March 7 1961-A doctor, Frank Cordell, played by Robert Vaughn ( The Man From U.N.C.L.E)trying to find the cure for nerve gas accidentally stumbles onto a chemical vapor that stirs a murderous uncontrollable rage in him, every time he hears a bell. This episode taps into Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 short story The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde as Cordell modulates between these dueling personalities.

4) Parasite Mansion airdate April 25 1961-Pippa Scott plays a woman who wrecks her car, then gets shot at and faints only to awaken in an old dark house inhabited by an extremely strange family that are beset by the fear of a family “secret” in the form of violence that has plagued their home and family for three generations. Poltergeists,telekinesis,stigmata,alcoholism, insanity, backwoods vengeance and family dysfunction all play themselves out at the hands of Granny brilliantly acted by the incredible Jeanette Nolan, Beverly Washburn as Lollie ( Spider Baby ).Written by Donald S. Sanford and directed by Herschel Daugherty.

5) Mr George airdate May 9 1961-After a little girl loses both her parents, she is left in the care of her last remaining relatives, a sociopathic provincial trio who plan to kill her for her inheritance. But the child has a special guardian, a ghost named Mr George who is watching out for her safety at every turn.Written by Sanford, and directed by Ida Lupino. Virginia Gregg, Howard Freeman and Lillian Bronson as Adelaide the simple minded sister apropos of a Tennessee Williams character. The musical dynamic to this episode in particular is it’s own character within the plot. it seems to guide the narrative masterfully through a childlike lens.

6) Terror In Teakwood airdate May 16 1961-A concert pianist obsessed with being the greatest living pianist, takes extreme measures to improve his abilities.Guy Rolfe (Mr Sardonicus) plays Vladimir Vicek the tormented musician who goes to drastic and unholy ends to achieve greatness.Hazel Court plays Leonie his beautiful wife. Directed by Paul Henreid. Bette Davis’s love interest and doctor in Now Voyager. Perhaps my favorite film of the great Ms Davis! The theme is very reminiscent of The Hands Of Orlac . Also stars Charles Aidman.

7) What Beckoning Ghost airdate September 18 1961-Judith Evelyn plays Mildred Beaumont, a woman, yet another concert pianist, recovering from a heart attack,goes downstairs one night hearing a funeral dirge, and has a vision of her own dead body lying in repose in an open coffin.She faints and upon awakening is told by her husband and sister that she has started having memory lapses and hallucinations. Are they trying to drive her crazy or to her grave? Written by Donald Sanford from a story by Harold Lawlor first published in Weird Tales (July 1948) and directed by Ida Lupino. photo right Reggie Nalder from Terror in Teakwood.

8) The Premature Burial airdate October 2 1961-loosely based on Poe’s story, Sidney Blackmer (Roman Castavet the patriarchal warlock in Rosemary’s Baby ) plays a cataleptic man who suffers a seizure and is mistakenly buried alive. His doctor friend Boris Karloff breaks into the crypt and saves his life. After being revived by the galvanic battery! Blackmer becomes obsessed with this never happening again. However his young wife Patricia Medina and her artist lover Scott Marlowe are more interested in his inheritance. This episode has a wonderfully morbid tone to it.

9) The Weird Taylor airdate October 16 1961-Writer Robert Bloch brings this macabre story to life directed by Herschel Daugherty.

An abusive husband and bitter man, a tailor is asked to make a special suit of clothes for a wealthy man. The tailor doesn’t know that the man has accidentally caused his son’s death during one of his black mass rituals.The father’s only goal now is to bring his son back to life and having paid one million dollars for a rare book on sorcery which has the formula for creating a suit that if worn can bring back the dead!.George Macready is wonderful as the mournfully obsessed father.Henry Jones is Erik Conrad the angry tailor who doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into.

10) God Grante That She Lye Stille airdate October 23 1961-In 1661 a woman is burned at the stake for being a witch. She swears that her spirit will avenge her death. 300 years later,a girl descendant from the witch returns to her ancestral home and begins having to fight off the ghost of the witch who is now trying to possess her very body and soul! Henry Daniell plays Vicar Weatherford the descendant of the man who burned the witch 300 years prior.

11)Masquerade airdate Oct 30 1961-A young couple, a writer and his droll wife are on their honeymoon down south after being caught in a thunderstorm, stop at a house to seek shelter. This episode is laced with a lyrical quality and much campy humor.What they find, is a bizarre family led by John Carradine ( love him!) Jed Carta who taunts the couple with local stories about the Henshaw Vampire. Is the family a family of vampires?cannibals or just a bunch of psychopaths who kill wayward visitors for their valuables?Tom Poston as Charlie Denham, and Elizabeth Montgomery (Bewitched)as Roz Denham.The banter between the cast is so enjoyable. Pictured here John Carradine as Jed Carta sharpening his butcher’s knife.

12)The Return Of Andrew Bentley airdate Dec 11 1961-in 1900’s Ellis and Sheila Corbett arrive at the home of his Uncle Amos an occult enthusiast, who reveals that he is dying and plans on leaving everything to them as long as they remain in the house, never to leave and to keep vigil on his crypt in order to protect his eternal slumber from the mysterious Andrew Bentley and his minion demon that follows him around like a ghoulish pet.Written by Richard Matheson and directed by John Newland who also plays Ellis. Antoinette Bower is Sheila and Reggie Nalder is Andrew Bentley. Nalder is another actor with a very distinct face.

13)The Remarkable Mrs Hawk airdate Dec 19 1961-Mrs Hawk runs a pig farm. Best hogs in the county.She also goes through handy men like Kleenex. They all seem to disappear without a trace. When the last hired hand to go missing, it stirs curiosity in his friends,so they set out to investigate the goings on. Turns out that the lady is the Greek Goddess Circe who is masterful at turning men into swine! John Carradine plays “Jason” Longfellow, Paul Newlan as Sheriff ” Ulysses” Willetts and Jo Van Fleet as the remarkable Mrs Hawk. Directed by John Brahm and written by Donald S Sanford. The original script http://www.geocities.com/emruf7/hawk.htm

14) The Storm airdate January 22 1962-Nancy Kelly ( The Bad Seed’s mother ) as Janet Wilson after finding the body of a dead woman in the trunk in her cellar, is then stalked by a killer during one terrible stormy night! Directed by Herschel Daugherty.

A few other of my favorite episodes are~Dialogues With Death, Well Of Doom ,The Last of The Summervilles , Hay Fork and Bill-Hook, What Beckoning Ghost,A Wig for Ms Devore and The Closed Cabinet!