Sunday 30 April 2023

Thriller - three 1973 epidodes

A look at three episodes from Brian Clemens’ horror anthology series Thriller, one of the finest series of its type ever made. All three episodes originally aired in 1973.

The Colour of Blood

The Colour of Blood is the fifth episode of the first season of Thriller. Brian Clemens wrote the script, Robert Tronson directed.

The Carnation Killer, a crazed sex murderer who has killed at least nine women, has been caught. He has been found guilty but insane and he is now on his way to a hospital for the criminally insane. Everyone can breathe a sigh of relief.

Unfortunately Arthur Page (for that is the Carnation Killer’s real name) never reaches the hospital. The prison van crashes and Page escapes.

Page hopes to lose himself in the crowds at Waterloo Station. But first he must have a red carnation for his button hole. He simply doesn’t feel dressed without it.

He is rather surprised when a young blonde woman carrying an attache case suddenly latches onto him. As luck (in this case bad luck) would have it Julie Marsh is waiting to meet a man she has never set eyes on.

A man named Graham has inherited a large sum of money and a house in the country. Julie’s job is to meet Graham at Waterloo Station, hand over the money and then take him by train to Westerling (the house he has inherited). Julie will recognise Graham by the red carnation in his button-hole.

It’s just very bad luck for Julie that the first man she sees with a red carnation is not Mr Graham, it’s Arthur Page the insane sex murderer. Page might be insane but he can also be very charming and appear very normal, and Julie has no idea that she’s chosen the wrong man and that she’s about to take him out into the country to a very isolated house where she’s going to be quite alone with him.

But there are some major plot twists that are about to kick in and take the story in a rather different direction. There are nasty surprises in store for just about everyone.

Norman Eshley’s chilling performance as Page is what stands out most in this episode. It’s a neat little script, which relies a little on coincidence but the coincidences are entirely plausible. There’s some effective suspense and some creepy moments. All in all an excellent episode.

Murder in Mind

Murder in Mind was scripted by Terence Feely from a story by Brian Clemens. It was directed by Alan Gibson and was broadcast in May 1973.

It starts with a murder that isn’t.

Tom Patterson (Donald Gee) has held the very humble rank of Detective-Constable for all of a week. Like any keen young copper he dreams of solving a major case. And then a major case seems to drop into his lap. A woman wanders into the police station in the middle of the night and confesses to a murder. Since he’s the only detective on duty it’s Tom Patterson’s case.

But it ends disappointingly. Betty Drew (Zena Walker) had had a blow on the head and her confession was all nonsense.

There’s something about the case that keeps niggling at Tom Patterson. He’s not sure what it is but he feels that there’s some connection he should have made but he didn’t and nobody else did either. There wasn’t any murder and it was all Betty Drew’s imagination and it would be better for Tom to forget all about it. But Tom still feels that there is a puzzle here somewhere.

Brian Clemens has come up with a very intricate script this time. There’s a perfectly straightforward explanation for what has happened, the straightforward explanation being that Betty was concussed and confused and imagined a murder that never happened. Everybody accepts the straightforward explanation, apart from Tom. And of course the viewer is likely to agree with Tom - that there is an alternative explanation. But it requires the pieces of the jigsaw to be pieced together in a different way. The alternative explanation is convoluted but it’s clever and it’s plausible.

But if Tom is right then there might be a murder after all.

The acting is solid but for me the highlight is Ronald Radd’s performance as Superintendent Terson. Good episode.

A Place to Die

A Place to Die was scripted by Terence Feely from a story by Brian Clemens. It was directed by Peter Jefferies and went to air in May 1973.

It’s a basic story that has been done countless times and i’s an idea that was very popular at the time - a remote community that seems perfectly normal but in fact follows either paganism or satanism. To be fair, in 1973 the idea was still reasonably fresh.

It’s also another story of innocent city folk who foolishly move to a rural area only to find themselves in a nightmare world of primitive superstition and terror.

Dr Bruce Nelson (Bryan Marshall) has just taken over a practice in a small village. He and his American wife Tessa (Alexandra Hay) are looking forward to getting away from the stresses of city life.

The first sign that something odd is going on comes when they meet their seriously weird housekeeper Beth. Beth reacts with wonder when she sees Tessa. She excitedly informs the other villagers that Tessa is moon-pale and moon-gold and limps with her left leg. The villagers know what that means. Tessa is the Expected One. And it’s almost Lady Day, and this year Lady Day coincides with a full moon. The signs are clear.

What is going on is obvious to the viewer very early on, we know what Bruce and Tessa have wandered into, but they have no idea. That of course sets up the suspense very nicely. The viewer doesn’t know how Bruce and Tessa are going to get out of a terrifying situation. Another fine episode.

Final Thoughts

Three more very solid Thriller episodes. All worth watching.

Sunday 9 April 2023

Patrick Macnee's Dead Duck (Avengers tie-in novel)

Dead Duck is an original novel inspired by the TV series The Avengers. It was published in 1966 and written by Patrick Macnee. At least Macnee’s name appears on the cover as the author. Of course he didn’t write it. The book seems to have been written by Peter Leslie who wrote some very decent TV tie-in novels. It is just within the bounds of possibility that Macnee may have had some slight input into the book.

Dead Duck was actually the second Avengers novel credited to Macnee, the first being Deadline in 1965.

Steed takes Mrs Peel to lunch, to a very swish French restaurant. He has told her that the duck is divine. One of the other customers would tend to disagree -he has a couple of bites of his duck and keels over dead.

It seems to have been a heart attack. For some reason Steed is suspicious (he sees a man handing over a package to a girl just after the unfortunate diner’s demise) and does some checking. There have been rather a lot of deaths from heart attacks in this part of East Anglia recently. A lot more than one would normally expect.

The victims all have one thing in common. They have all recently eaten, and all have eaten duck.

The story feels like an Avengers yarn. There’s a poacher. With a beautiful daughter who tends to point guns at people. There are two odd old men conducting research - on birds. There’s an old house surrounded by elaborate but oddly childish booby-traps.

Steed and Mrs Peel go both undercover, Steed as a journalist and Emma as a housemaid.

The story gets more Avengers-like. Steed engages in a life-or-death struggle with a bird. There’s mention of a sinister but mysterious character named Worthington whom nobody sees. There’s a South American connection. And there’s a horrifying conspiracy involving, naturally, birds.

There are two villains and they’re fine Avengers villains.

Steed finds that his gadget-loaded umbrella comes in very handy indeed. Not to mention his armoured bowler hat.

The tone strikes the right mock-serious note. And Steed’s plan to unmask the conspiracy is absurdly far-fetched but amusing.

And there are the right touches of Avengers surrealism.

A good TV tie-in novel has to get the characters right. They have to be convincing as the characters from the TV series. This novel certainly gets Steed right. It gets Mrs Peel right in terms of personality but she’s not quite as much of an action heroine as she is in the TV series. She doesn’t get sufficient opportunities to strut her stuff and demonstrate her prowess in unarmed combat.

There’s some of the witty repartee between Steed and Mrs Peel that you expect, but perhaps not quite enough.

These are minor quibbles. It’s an engagingly offbeat story with a fine crazy finale. Fans of the TV series should enjoy this novel. Recommended.

The only other Avengers novel I’ve read is a later one, Keith Laumer’s The Drowned Queen (which features Tara King), and it was quite good.

Peter Leslie also wrote a couple of the Girl from U.N.C.L.E. novels.