Friday 13 January 2017

four more Thrillers (1961)

A few more episodes of NBC’s Boris Karloff-hosted anthology series Thriller that I’ve watched recently.

These episodes are excellent examples of one of the greatest strengths of the series - it’s not just visually impressive by the standards of early 1960s television, it’s visually impressive by any standards. Production values are extremely high. The series was made at Revue Studios in Hollywood and Revue was basically the television arm of Universal at that time, which of course meant that television series made there had the resources of a major film studio to call on (including some great sets built for big-budget movies and of course the studio backlot). 

Thriller is also outstanding for the very cinematic quality that was achieved. The lighting is as good as you’d see in a top-of-the-range major studio B-movie or even in many cases the equal of lower-budgeted A-features. Despite the very tight shooting schedules the directors and the cinematographers made the extra effort and it paid handsome dividends.

Mr. George was based on a short story by August Derleth and directed by Ida Lupino. A little girl has been left a large fortune. Young Priscilla is cared for by her three middle-aged cousins, all of whom feel that the money should rightly be theirs. If only an accident were to befall the little girl they would have that money. Accidents do happen. Sometimes they can even be made to happen. The difficulty is that the girl has a protector, Mr George. Mr George is dead, but he still protects her.

Ida Lupino does a wonderful job here, with clever use of camera angles and framing but without these techniques ever appearing intrusive or gimmicky.

The cast is superb. Nine-year-old Gina Gillespie manages to be sympathetic without being  irritating as Priscilla.

Mr. George is a very fine episode that skillfully avoids the obvious pitfall of excessive sentimentality.

Parasite Mansion initially gives the impression that it’s yet another story about an innocent city-dweller discovering that all country people are psychotic knuckle-dragging rednecks but mercifully it’s really not that sort of story at all.

Marcia (Pippa Scott) is a young schoolteacher driving down a deserted country road at night in the rain when someone starts shooting at her. She then finds herself in a spooky old decayed mansion inhabited by a very scary family. The Harrod family has fallen on very evil times due to a family curse. In order to keep the curse a secret they are prepared to kill any strangers unwise enough to venture onto their property. 

Marcia thinks she’s figured out the nature of the curse but she’s way off beam and she’s in an increasingly desperate situation. It appears that her only hope of survival is to somehow discover what the curse really is and then persuade the Harrods to confront it.

Jeanette Nolan is outrageously over-the-top as the terrifying Granny. James Griffith gives a very complex and subtle performance as the tortured elder son Victor. Beverly Washburn  is terrific as the troubled but possibly very dangerous younger sister Lollie.

Parasite Mansion is pleasing atmospheric and it thankfully doesn’t go in the obvious direction. An excellent story and particularly well executed.

Dark Legacy, written by John Tomerlin, is lots of fun, with a stage magician whose dabblings in the occult became very serious. All his relatives seem to be magicians as well (although second-rate ones) and they’re all hoping that when he dies he’ll leave them the secrets to his most famous illusions. He does leave his secrets to one of them but they’re not quite what was expected. They might be somewhat dangerous.

This story is not played too seriously. In fact it’s deliberately outrageous but it works and stage magic combined with the occult is usually a winning formula.

Thriller began as basically a crime mystery series but after somewhat disappointing early ratings it moved more in the direction of supernatural horror (and the ratings improved dramatically). A Good Imagination, written by Robert Bloch, is a twisted murder story very much in the style of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and represents a kind of throwback to the early style of the series but in this case executed with real panache and some delicious black comedy. Edward Andrews gives a delightful performance as Frank Logan, a jovial and imaginative murderer. He’s a somewhat fussy book dealer while his wife detests books. She has other interests, principally men.

This is a hugely entertaining story. It can be seen as an homage to Edgar Allan Poe and indeed the whole point of this story is that Frank Logan uses books as an inspiration for his murders.

So four episodes here, and all four are very good indeed.

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