Boris Karloff’s Thriller: What Beckoning Ghost?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT BECKONING GHOST?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “Boris Karloff’s Thriller: What Beckoning Ghost?”

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!