Boris Karloff’s Thriller: The Ordeal of Dr Cordell: “I know that science and ego make lousy chemistry”

Boris Karloff’s Thriller The Ordeal of Dr. Cordell Episode release date: March 7, 1961

Directed by Lazlo Benedek, Written by Donald S. Sanford and music scored by Morton Stevens. Starring Robert Vaughn as Dr. Frank Cordell and Kathleen Crowley as Dr. Lois Walker.

There are obvious elements of  Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde with more of a neo realism that displaces the Gothic romanticist nature of the story of dualities of the mind/soul connection transplanting it in a modern setting, making it almost hyper eerier. This episode is also one of the few in the series that is an integration of post world war II science -fiction mystery with the reoccurring themes of crime drama and Gothic horror that most of the other episodes pivoted on in this timeless hybrid television show. Not only are there the traces of Neo Noir realism of the 60s, it flirted with good science vs bad science. I find a correlation with the original novella published by Stevenson in the late 1800s.


The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is the original title of a novella written by author Robert Louis Stevenson that was first published in London on Jan  5th 1886. The work is commonly known today as simply Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Dr Henry Jekyll has unleashed a bestial alter ego Edward Hyde, a violent misanthrope. A fracturing of the self, into two clashing and opposing natures. It is the ultimate parable of good vs evil where 2 vastly different personalities within the same person battle over their moral character and the question of right and wrong.




The invasion of the darker sides of the id and human nature infiltrating the everyday human’s mind. The id is virtually our innate instinctive impulses, drives our motivations, and where our primary thought processes become manifest. The term was first used by Freud in the 1920s. We saw Walter Pidgeon’s Dr Morbius fall victim to his own id in Fred M. Wilcox’s sci-fi masterpiece Forbidden Planet (1956) a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Or in a more contemporary venue consider Michael C. Hall’s Dexter and his infamous Dark Passenger.

The Ordeal of Dr Cordell is also a story using a very common theme of the late 50s early 60s Neo Realism trend, about growing paranoia of society becoming aggressively violent.

The episode can also be viewed as a hybrid noir /chamber drama like that of The Thing From Another World (1951) as a lot of the scenes involving science good vs evil remains within the constructs of the laboratory and the gas chamber booth. There are tinges of  patriotism vs communism. Anxiety over chemical and nuclear warfare layered into the plot as Cordell inadvertently discovers by trying to formulate an anti war weapon/ antidote a more sinister device because it’s more internal more personal. The episode could be lens as a statement against war, violence, fear of letting morality slip away out of control giving into the darker sides of human nature, in particular the dangers of people who dabble in scientific research under the guise of betterment of mankind only to unleash something more profoundly destructive.

The episode contains some extraordinarily dissonant music, utilizing a range of instruments from what I could swear is Gil Melle’s signature violin work at times Mephistophelean and Baroque in tone. I cannot find any reference to Melle having worked on any projects with Mort Stevens, although the 2 were emerging on the film and tv score scene at the same time. Perhaps he did the studio session and is just uncredited with the performance. If anyone knows, I would love to hear about it, as I am a huge Gil Melle fan as well as Mort Stevens. What’s missing in terms of it’s sound is only the salient reverberation of his 70s style electric violin sound, that he used in let’s say Kolchak The Night Stalker and Night Gallery series or Michael Winner’s adaptation of Jeffrey Konvitz’s The Sentinel (1977) Which was a great read. Starring Christina Raines and Burgess Meredith as a jaunty little devil. Continue reading “Boris Karloff’s Thriller: The Ordeal of Dr Cordell: “I know that science and ego make lousy chemistry””