Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Where the Action Is - Series 4 Episode 6, Saturday 8th February 1975

The story...

Two men are playing a card game - the exceptionally wealthy Walter "Daddy" Burns and Tommy Vaughan. Tommy loses and Burns outlines a new game in which two guns will be placed on a revolving table - one with live bullets, the other with blanks. The wheel will be spun and Vaughan is to pick up the nearest gun and have first shot at Burns. He has to hope he gets the gun with live bullets even though that will mean killing Burns. The wheel is spun, he picks up the nearest gun and shoots at Burns but it becomes evident he has picked the one with blanks; Burns is unharmed and - despite Vaughan's pleas for mercy - shoots him dead.

Action then switches to Eddie Vallance, a young American gambler in a casino. He loses and is then invited to meet a very attractive woman. In her room his drink is drugged and he loses consciousness. When he awakes he finds himself in a large house - the same one owned by "Daddy" Burns. The woman he met was Ilse - Burns's girlfriend. Eddie then learns that he is not allowed to leave the house - if he tries he will be shot. 

Eddie plays various games against Burns who insists he is the best poker player in the world. a claim that Eddie disputes. Eddie certainly needs to prove Burns wrong because a very special final game is planned. At the end of a poker match Eddie will go through the same lethal "game" as Tommy Vaughan and either he or Burns will be dead. Burns doesn't seem keen on losing so Eddie knows he is playing for his life against all the odds... 

Review

Although this episode rarely gets mentioned in dispatches it has a solid reputation and arguably under-rated. Without question it has a very unusual setting and theme but it works well and is probably the most stylish outing.

The teaser is both remarkable and very powerful. Burns's scheme with the guns is deeply disturbing but he isn't ruffled at all. Tommy Vaughan on the other hand is understandably very frightened (a strong performance by Larry Cross). The difference in reactions should maybe have alerted the viewer that Burns had an ulterior reason for his confidence. The arrival of Eddie Vallance shows we are going to be watching a very slick operator. Eddie is effortlessly cool and stylish. He has tremendous wit and resilience. He is placed in an extraordinary situation - drugged and transported to a mysterious house from which there is no escape. He is confused but he never loses his cool and keeps on top of his game.

The house and its estate, from which there is no escape, bears some resemblance to the village in The Prisoner.  Not only that but like Number Six he is rendered unconscious so that he can be taken there. Maybe the similarity is a little too strong but it is still well done. The gentility of the staff is quite amusing - particularly the remark that they can only wound Eddie if he tries to escape - "We're not allowed to kill you Sir." Eddie does try to get out but despite his own ingenuity - just like Number Six - he finds the odds are too great. The staff such as Winters are too canny - and addicted to gambling - to be defeated.

Eddie Vallance and the deceptive Ilse (Edd Byrnes & Ingrid Pitt)

Daddy Burns is a great villain. Although genial on the surface it doesn't take long for a rather nasty substance to emerge. Winning is everything for this man but he has to find new and illicit means of excitement. His arrogance is just a cloak for a combination of corruption and insecurity. Although he likes to give the impression of a man of exceptional talent and boldness he can only succeed by stacking everything in his favour. Tommy Vaughan could not expose him and paid with his life and a similar fate seems to await Vallance.

The battle of wits between Burns and Vallance is marvellous. The dialogue just crackles with panache, particularly from Eddie but Burns is great value as well. Eddie in particularly excels when it matters most at the end in the final "death game". Edd Byrnes gives a super display as Vallance in an inspired piece of casting - just right for such a stylish part and maybe there could have been mileage is spinning-off such a memorable character into a private detective / agent series of his own. However Irish actor James Berwick is also outstanding as Burns. His American accent is exceptionally well done and will convince many a viewer that they are seeing the real thing. The two actors bring out the best in each other and all their scenes are engaging and entertaining without ever lacking dramatic edge.

Ingrid Pitt is best known for her horror roles and has a rather different task here, albeit still playing a character on the wrong side of the tracks. Ilse has a smouldering sexuality and her attraction to Eddie is evident but she probably has an even greater attraction to money and success. Burns will satisfy her as long as he is on top but she is clearly prepared to change sides if it suits her. Ingrid is fine in this enigmatic role.

Overall this intriguing episode seems to be on the boundary between Thriller proper and a somewhat different but also engaging investigatory show. There are some limitations which prevent this being one of the higher-rank of Thriller. There is maybe a lack of pace, with the story perhaps needing an extra dimension. The gambling references can be a touch complex at times, although they are still manageable. Winters is quite an engaging figure but the other staff members could have had more impact. The close of the episode seems rather abrupt and could have either been developed a little further or better edited. However these are small reservations and this is a satisfying episode - even down to its splendidly slick title.

Monday, October 18, 2021

A Killer in Every Corner - Series 4 Episode 5, Saturday 1st February 1975,

The story...

Sylvia, Helga and Tim are students thrilled to be invited to the home of renowned psychologist Professor Carnaby to learn about the experiments he is conducting into how conditioning techniques can be used to prevent violent behaviour. At the home they find two men - Boz and George Kesselheim - whose violent outbursts can be controlled simply by the Professor playing them a specific piece of music. However both Tim and Helga later go missing and Sylvia starts to fear that the Professor is not all he seems. She fears she is in great danger with Slattery - a journalist also staying at the house - her only ally...

Review

Another popular outing among fans. It has never wholly convinced me but is certainly rising in my estimation and creates tension skilfully. It is good but for me - given the excellent standards of the show - it still has plenty of superior counterparts.

This was the closest Thriller ever came to science fiction. Carnaby is a rare scientist highlighted in the show. His experiments take the powers of conditioning to remarkable levels. On the surface he is an extremely courteous and supportive man but in reality he is prepared to conduct the most shocking experiments on unknowing subjects. Cleverly the exact motivations and morality of Carnaby are never stated. Is he a villain? Probably, but not of a conventional sort. He does not seem prepared to use violence himself but is happy to use his "staff" in such a way. He claims to be conducting these experiments in order to cure those with homicidal tendencies and that may be his sincere intention. Carnaby is best described as amoral. He experiments on people with the same lack of feeling as a scientist would test on chemicals or maybe animals. He is more committed to science than to human life. He is quite prepared to deceive people and play with their lives. Good may ultimately have emerged from his experiments but at what price? Patrick Magee seemed to specialise in villainous or sinister roles and gives a typically good account on this occasion.

Professor Carnaby is witness to Boz's destructive tendencies - but believes he can control them

Boz and Kesselheim are making progress thanks to the Professor but they remain deeply unstable and insecure. The scene in which Kesselheim taunts Boz who then cuts him down is very strong. Boz in particular has great loyalty to Carnaby, and maybe with good reason, but Carnaby still treats him almost as a plaything. These parts are well-performed with Max Wall especially notable in a straight role. Fellow comic actors / comedians Arthur English and Ken Jones had appeared in the previous series in small but memorable parts. Max had a much darker role to play but showed it was well within his compass.

The students are all very likeable. They are enthusiastic and feel tremendously privileged to spend time with the Professor. It seems too good to be true - and so it proves. Joanna Pettet as Sylvia fills the American blonde heroine role with aplomb. She conveys skilfully the traditional heroine qualities - warmth tempered by perceptiveness to danger. There was a tendency towards blonde heroines in the later series of which she is a very good example and this may be why she was one of the few American guests to return for a second appearances in the rather less heralded A Midsummer Nightmare in Series 6.

The final ten minutes or so as Sylvia comprehends the deadly events in the house are very strong. There is an excellent mixture of chasing, stalking and struggling as Sylvia tries to save herself from Carnaby and latterly one of his "staff". This is not unlike the events of I'm the Girl He Wants To Kill, albeit neatly compressed into a few minutes. The climax is also unusual and probably rather more realistic (though still dramatic) than most in Thriller. 

All considered a very interesting effort. Not an emphatic success but one can see why it has made such a strong general impression.

Notes: 

Four of the seven featured characters are killed. This proportion of over half is the highest of any episode.

The end credits of the movie version are one of the few to scroll over a freeze-frame of the final shot - less "creative" but more effective and less distracting than the bizarre and commonly inaccurate artistic montages that were usually used.

 


Friday, October 15, 2021

Killer with Two Faces - Series 4 Episode 4, Saturday 25th January 1975

The story...

Bob and Terry Spelling are identical twins but with a fundamental and deadly difference - Bob is a successful architect; Terry is a psychopathic killer confined in an institution for the insane. Terry manages to escape by overpowering staff and impersonating the prison doctor and then and goes on a killing spree, mainly of women who he considers "perfect" and with whom any relationship to his twisted mind can only go into decline. He takes advantage of his exact likeness to Bob and this puts Bob's friends and contacts in particular danger including American fashion designer Patty Heron who he has just met...

Review

This was one of the earlier episodes I saw when it was included in the Bravo repeats in 1996. It disappointed me then and has done on subsequent viewings. My experience has certainly not been unique and it generally comes well down viewers' Thriller ratings. However on my very recent viewing I was pleasantly surprised to really enjoy it. I'm certainly not going to say that this must now be considered a "Thriller classic" or that my past views were wrong. I hadn't watched it for many years and sometimes that means an episode is viewed with a much fresher mind which can lead to a much more positive - or negative - rating. Maybe next time I'll find it disappointing again but perhaps it does show that opinions can change over time and it's always important to speak as we find and not be led so much by past experience or other ratings.

The basic story idea is certainly a good one - a tale of an escaped serial killer with the added dimension of confusion over identities. Admittedly the confusion with identical twins is something of an over-used idea but the foundation is promising. The escaped psychopathic serial killer had been the basis for one of the earliest and best-remembered Thriller outings - The Colour of Blood. Maybe for some viewers that was part of the problem - the story seeming somewhat derivative. The Terry Spelling character has also been seen as much less magnetic than that of Arthur Page (played by Norman Eshley) in Colour. There is no doubt that the characters are very different - Page is a younger man, outwardly charming, even playful in his demeanour and certainly very attractive to women; Terry Spelling by contrast is more introverted and lugubrious, less self-confident except when he goes in for the kill. Overall Page has better screen-presence but it would have been too tempting and too easy to just create a very similar character. The very different personality of Terry does create an important difference from the earlier episode - not as memorable but a useful variation and perhaps quite fitting for someone who (unlike) Page has been in custody for years and is more worn-down and less self-assured.

Ian Hendry was one of the best-known and most popular TV actors of the 1960's and 1970's and he has a heavy load here having to play both Spelling twins. He does a very good job even if the characters are not as compelling as others in Thriller. In fact both Bob and Terry largely come across as similar personalities. At first Bob - when he meets Patty Heron on the train - is a rather annoying, pushy "ladies man" type character but later he settles down into a more serious, even downbeat style. For example we see him resisting the advances of his former fiancee Jenny soon afterwards, feeling he cannot trust her. Discovering that his brother was on the loose also inevitably dampens his mood - not just worries about what Terry would do but also subject to being mistaken for him. This similarity in personality and even clothing (Terry having accessed Bob's flat and taken some of his clothes) does add to the confusion which is useful on-screen with those encountering the twins unsure whether they were with the safe or the deadly one. 

Villains in Thriller would often have a "trademark" and Terry is no different . He has a preocuppation with perfection and often uses the word "perfect" in prelude to his attacks. The use of this word is similar to the very sinister repetition of the word "marvellous" in Someone at the Top Of the Stairs although the impact was greater in the latter, perhaps due to it being used by many characters and adding to the macabre atmosphere of that house and its residents. The term does have a deeper significance here as it reflects how the twins' father had been preoccupied with achieving standards of perfection and Terry in particular had struggled to meet these, causing a difficult relationship with his father.

Donna Mills made her third and final appearance in the show as Patty but this is the least memorable. She is certainly not helped by a bizarre hairstyle which seems an architectural construction in itself! She acquits herself quite well, notably in the later stages as she starts to realise that the man she is with is not Bob but the highly dangerous Terry.

Patty struggles to work out whether she is with the safe or deadly Spelling twin

The police characters here are sound. There is an echo of Sign It Death in the way that they fail to notice a body hidden in a trunk. The other major character is the wealthy but rather dislikeable Mr Bradley (well-played by David Lodge) whose new fully-automated home forms the setting of the latter stages of the action. It's possible that the unappealing nature of Bradley plays a part in some of the low ratings but I feel the character's abrasiveness serves a useful role including tension with both Bob Spelling (who designed the house) and Patty.

There is quite a high body count in this edition but this does not always augur for a strong Thriller which is often at its best when the murders are used sparingly and attention focused on suspense. In this respect The Next Victim from the final series is rather similar (although probably a greater offender). Interestingly in both there is a scene of an attempted murder. Attempted murders - except at the climax of the hero or heroine - were unusual in the show where the villains were almost always successful in their actions.

Overall while this certainly not Thriller at its best it still has the capacity to intrigue and entertain and maybe benefits from fresh viewing. It's also possible it may be better received by viewers who see it before The Colour of Blood and who don't come to it with those expectations from what is arguably the show's definitive "psychopath" story.

Notes

It is perhaps a touch unlikely that in the later stages both Bob and Terry Spelling are wearing identical clothes even down to the same tie! However it makes other characters' confusion over who they are seeing more profound.

TV movie title-watch

These start with a very good, haunting refrain from a musical box with a rotating ballerina. Dialogue from Terry Spelling is interpolated into a murder in the opening titles, a technique that was also used in the new titles for Good Salary - Prospects - Free Coffin (renamed "Mirror of Deception")..

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Night Is the Time for Killing - Series 4 Episode 3, Saturday 18th January 1975

The story...

The action opens with an attempt to kill Ivan Malov, an Eastern European defector. It then switches to a young American woman, Helen Marlow. She is booked onto a luxury train journey to aid her recovery from a nervous breakdown following the death of her fiance. An Australian traveller, Bob, befriends her but it is tough going as she is still very depressed. Her distress becomes much worse when she seems to see a dead passenger. Bob and others assume she is hallucinating but she is quite convinced. However there are people on the train who are not what they seem, and who have murder on their mind...

Review

My first impressions of this episode were fairly lukewarm but it has grown on me and I would now consider it to be very good, albeit some way from the top rank.

The teaser of an attempted assassination and intelligence conference seems oddly disconnected from an anxious young woman boarding a train but later it makes sense. The choice of such a clearly English actress as Judy Geeson to play an American did not inspire early confidence. This is no criticism of Judy but rather a wish that either an American actress had been hired or - better still - the character rewritten as English. Either solution would have created a better result. As it transpired Judy does a very good job in a demanding role but I'd always prefer a character to be played by someone of that nationality.

The smoothie Bob (played by James Smillie), the only Australian character seen in the programme, is a little annoying at first with his rather obvious charming of Helen but when he moves into serious mode the results are much better. Helen's experience of loss and depression is very well depicted. Her struggle to be taken seriously as she starts to see very disturbing things is skilfully conveyed. This scenario occurred on a few occasions in Thriller, with Bob in the familiar intermediary "sceptical but open-minded" position, but it is neatly accomplished.

Bob tries to support a shaken Helen

Although these two might appear to be at the centre of the story there is no doubt that the dominant character and the chief reason for its appeal is that of Hillary Vance who is possibly the most entertaining figure seen in all of Thriller. He is brilliantly funny. Unlike Matthew Earp in his two episodes, Vance uses his wit against others. A remarkably cultured man, he is devastatingly sarcastic, turning particularly on the hapless waiter. Charles Gray is quite superb in this part and there is no doubt that it raises the episode above the ordinary. Again in a typical Thriller touch it is never quite clear what Vance does. Granted he is a diplomat - but where does he work, and why should he be so important to Malov - and to Malov's opponents? Vance never talks of anything political but of course that does not mean he has no such interests. As in all the espionage stories it is clear that the Eastern bloc are up to no good but the exact nature of their activities is unclear. Evidently they want to eliminate the defector Malov but why is never established.

The theme of impersonation was used in the other two espionage stories but this is the most elaborate of all. The physical and vocal impersonation of a key character is perfect and is effectively science fiction; it may be stretching credibility but it's important to make the story work.

The climax is a strong one and matters are rounded off with a great final line. In addition the episode provides an early sight of Duncan Preston - later a long-time Victoria Wood stalwart - in a straight role as part of a newly-wed couple with his wife played by Jacki Piper, another performer more associated with comedy but in no way out of place here. Overall a strong and often under-rated effort, and definitely for me the best of the three espionage tales

Notes

For the third time in the first four episodes of Series 4 a train is a key setting, although this story is set almost entirely "on board". Euston station is featured. Bob's leaping across the tracks at the climax may not have impressed safety experts! The TV Movie version was retitled "Murder on the Midnight Express" and the new titles were one of Dolphin's better efforts backed by an excellent strident piece by Syd Dale - "Danger - Musicians at Work".

Although Jim Smillie as Bob played the only overtly Australian character in Thriller other Australian actors did appear in the show including one in this episode - Alister Williamson as secret service agent Barkley - but he was playing an apparently British character. Reg Lye was another Australian actor to appear in Thriller (two episodes - Spell of Evil and Good Salary - Prospects - Free Coffin, playing a caretaker on both occasions) but no reference was made to his Australian background. Australian actors appearing in British shows in that era played apparently and sometimes overtly British characters quite frequently, something that meant they weren't restricted to just playing Australians.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Nurse Will Make It Better - Series 4 Episode 2, Saturday 11th January 1975

The story... 

Charley Harrow - daughter of an American diplomat - is left paralyzed from the waist down after a riding accident, Charley finds it very difficult to cope with her condition and her depression and violent outbursts make her unmanageable for the nurses brought in to care for her. That is until the arrival of Bessie Morne who somehow connects with Charley, lifts her mood and gives her hope. Amazingly one day - and seemingly thanks to Bessie - Charley is able to walk again. A miracle cure - but one that comes with a devastating price...

Review

A great episode, certainly the best of Series 4 for me. While this may not be cited as an ultimate favourite as often as other supernatural outings such as Someone at the Top of the Stairs or One Deadly Owner it also doesn't attract critics in the way those episode sometimes do. It has some minor limitations but it does very little wrong and deserves its fine reputation.

Witchcraft had been previously covered in Spell of Evil but the results were less than outstanding. This is far better in all regards - story, characters, performances and direction. Maybe it is the tale of evil inveigling itself into a family which makes such an impact. The Harrows are happy and prosperous and then Charley suffers her terrible accident. Unsurprisingly she becomes upset, bitter and almost unmanageable. Into this transformed situation comes Bessie. Her warmth and kindness are evident. She does not get ruffled by her new charge and starts to make progress but the viewer can tell that all is not well and Charley's sister Ruth is alive to trouble. Against seemingly impossible odds Bessie works wonders - with a little help from down below. The price to be paid for Charley's miracle cure will be immense.

Ruth & Suzy Harrow look up in amazement as their sister Charley stands at the top of the stairs. Their father & Carson are also astounded.

This is a very dark and disconcerting tale. Bessie's mild-mannered personality makes her evil-doing all the more unsettling. At no point does she get angry or raise her voice. Even under challenge she responds in a taunting and utterly confident manner. Charley is a headstrong character even before her accident and she provides ready material for Bessie who transforms her into something very deceitful and destructive. 

Edgar Harrow provides a familiar role as a sceptic, failing to see Bessie's Satanic work until it is almost too late. Security man Carson initially has a similar position but very soon he starts to sense all is not well. Ruth, however, in true heroine mode (and typically for an American guest star!) is alert to danger right from the start and she proves to be a formidable opponent for Bessie. 

The character of the drunken priest Lyle is maybe surprisingly absent for the great majority of the episode, particularly given Patrick Troughton's profile as an actor. Aside from the teaser and two brief wordless scenes he does not appear until the final ten minutes. Carson and Simon are two more fine characters while the briefly seen Fullers (especially the wicked Mrs. Fuller) are memorable. The only let-down is Suzy who is annoying and rather unconvincing, unaided by a hideous bubble perm. These characters still need strong performances and they get them. Diana Dors is marvellous and shows that behind her celebrity image lay a very capable and under-rated actress. Undoubtedly she is the chief reason for the episode's high reputation. Andrea Marcovicci is one of the best American guests and plays the heroine part beautifully. Ed Bishop, Patrick Troughton and Michael Culver are all very impressive. Ed was restricted to guest appearances after UFO but his display here shows his great ability which deserved starring parts. Although Linda Liles's legs seem to move more as the paralysed Charley than any able-bodied character - and her American accent is almost non-existent - she is still in fine form. The direction is excellent, with the spells and scenes when Bessie's book and box are examined especially unnerving. Astutely we never know the contents - the looks of horror say it all.

The climax is generally good - like that in Spell of Evil it is not wholly convincing due to limitations in special effects but it's still better done than in the earlier episode. Earlier on the off-screen killing of Carson's dog Porter is rather unpleasant. It is intended to signify the evil spirit brought into the house (& that the dog - unlike most of its human counterparts - senses something wrong with Bessie) but it would have been best avoided and is maybe the only real fault.  Despite this though, one of the very best and most memorable stories.

Observations

It's been speculated that the name "Simon Burns" may well be a pun on the theme of fire in this story. It may even be a hint of the possible fate for him if Bessie is not thwarted. Most likely it is sheer coincidence but an example of how the show opens up such readings to viewers. Burns was a surname used very frequently in Thriller and Brian Clemens said he often picked names simply because they were earlier to type (!) than for any narrative reason although it's not impossible he may have felt it an appropriate story to use it again.

In common with Spell of Evil this is one of the small number of Thriller episodes not to feature either a police officer or private detective. The security man Carson does handle some of the investigations and protection duties that an officer might have done but against a supernatural threat the characters realise that they need help rather different than conventional law enforcement.

Patrick Troughton contends with David de Keyser in Someone at the Top of the Stairs and Ralph Bates in Murder Motel (Series 5) for the star character in Thriller who appeared for the least screen time although unlike those characters he did feature at both the beginning and end of the episode.


Monday, October 11, 2021

Screamer - Series 4 Episode 1, Saturday 4th January 1975

The story...

American Nicola Stevens is working in Britain for the US Embassy. She is travelling by train to see her friends Jeff and Virna Holt when a female passenger draws attention to a newspaper story about a rapist in the area who has not been caught - the police just have a basic description that he is man with short, blond hair. This news does make Nicola uneasy but her anxiety increases even more when the woman gets off at the next stop and a man with short, blond hair gets on and sits opposite her. Nicola is relieved to get off at the next station and makes her way quickly to where the Holts live. She opens the door, gets inside but has left her keys in the lock. When the Holts return they are horrified to see Nicola with her clothes torn and that her worst fears have occurred - she has been raped. For Nicola recovery is a long and difficult process. She often sees the face of her attacker when she looks at men - sights that terrify her but also leave her determined for revenge.

Review

Although there is concern about some of its content this is generally a popular episode among fans. Not with me though. I have never been impressed and it contends with Murder Motel for my least favourite episode. Why the discrepancy?

For almost thirty years Screamer was handicapped by appalling titles added for the ITC version which was the only one available. These gratuitous and tasteless scenes showed the prelude to a rape, although clearly not that of Nicola Stevens. They were poorly done as well - badly directed and performed and clearly shot in the USA. They were totally at odds with the subdued nature of the episode and could only mislead viewers - either into switching off believing they had stumbled upon an amateurish production, or to watch on thinking they were due to see something with lots of sex and violence. Film-Rite had a pronounced tendency for taking such liberties but these are the worst titles of all. However the DVD releases have restored the ATV version to its correct place and the ITC titles can be discarded. However even in ATV form I am not happy with the story.

The most obvious area for unease, commonly cited, is a remark by the lady talking to Nicola on the train. She warns her of the rapist and then jokes that at her age rape could be taken as a compliment. Unsurprisingly this comment has caused concern. It is offensive, even if not meant seriously, but it must be placed in context. Back in the 1970's flippant attitudes to rape were sadly quite common, and they can still occur today.

Other than this though, the story deals with rape in a sensitive and well-informed manner. Nicola demonstrates that rape can happen to any woman and is not inflicted only on those who are "sexually irresponsible" who have some way supposedly "provoked" the attack. The police treat her case sensitively and seriously, not doubting her story or questioning her behaviour as happens all too often to victims in the real world. The medical staff also give her great support. However a revelation at the end - though in some ways a remarkable twist - results in a very unsatisfactory conclusion. 

Nicola's unease escalates during her train journey

Another unhelpful aspect is the depiction of the female officer assigned to trap the rapist. This woman - an almost entirely silent statuesque plain-clothes officer - seems to be included chiefly for the benefit of male viewers. Shots of Inspector Charles leering at her and seeming sexually intimidated by a very attractive woman much taller than him could almost have emerged from a cliched Seventies sitcom rather than a sophisticated drama. The officer does skilfully physically outwit a prospective attacker, offering a different dimension to the normally physically helpless stereotypes of women, but overall the character just seems to be included for sex appeal and even weak comedy value than for more progressive purposes. In another story this would be less obtrusive but it really jars in a drama about male sexual violence.

There are further limitations of the episode for me. The Holts are a very pedestrian couple and unfortunately are on-screen a great deal. Inspector Charles is one of the most unedifying Thriller detectives and makes for very uncomfortable viewing. The German private detective Balsam (played by Wolfe Morris) is a quirky figure with some witty lines, and things do pick up with his arrival. The edge with Charles livens things a little but the end results are only mildly effective.

Nicola is a fairly interesting figure but better is expected of the chief character. Pamela Franklin does a good job in this role, especially passing well as an American. Most impressive is how she communicates Nicola's unease on the train when the man she suspects as the rapist sits opposite her. It is clear that Nicola is a complex and troubled person and there is some interest in her faltering recovery. She clearly has a good pair of lungs judging by the repeated screaming but that does become rather wearying for the viewer. Her hallucinations are a feature of the story as Nikki imagines the man's face in many different places. Some of these are very clearly signalled as men around her suddenly take on the man's face but on other occasions there is no sign which can be confusing. 

These manifold depictions of the man provide a lot of screen time for Jim Norton. Firstly he appears genuinely on the train as what we later discover to be a silent German tourist. These scenes are well-performed and directed, appropriately disconcerting. Secondly, we see him extensively and with voice as the English farm-worker. He finally appears extensively in Nicola's obvious hallucinations. Jim does a good job in these complicated parts.

There are other strengths. The direction is excellent as Nikki rushes home, closes the door with relief behind her and then we see that she has left the key in the door. The closing minutes which take place in semi-darkness are suspenseful and well done. Generally the story improves in the final part but it isn't enough to counteract the negatives.

To end on a positive note, it's rare that one can look on one of the least favourite episodes of a series and still find it worthwhile viewing. A mediocre episode of Thriller is still worthy of examination, and there are few productions for which that is true. Many other viewers have found more to appreciate and so it's particularly important to check it out and draw your own conclusions..

TV movie title-watch

In contrast to the gratuitous opening titles the end artwork is comparatively subdued and avoids the curious and often inaccurate montages usually seen. 

Monday, October 4, 2021

The Next Scream You Hear - Series 3 Episode 6, Saturday 6th July 1974

The story...

Bernard Peel (Christopher George) is an American businessman living in England, married to an exceptional corporate lawyer. He returns home from a party one evening, has a drink and falls asleep. He is woken by the doorbell and is alarmed to find the police. They tell him they have been tipped-off about an incident involving him and his wife. He is utterly incredulous. An inspection of the house shows evidence of a violent incident and of a female visitor, but Bernard denies all knowledge. Matters get far worse when the boot of his car is opened and his wife's body is found.

Bernard is arrested by the police for the murder of his wife. He strenuously denies responsibility and calls in the services of the foppish but remarkably skilled private investigator Matthew Earp (Dinsdale Landen). Earp approaches the case with typical incisiveness and is true to his word that he will prove who killed Jennifer Peel.

Review

The third series opened with five quite exceptional stories so maybe it was too much to expect its closing member to match that standard and so it proved. Even allowing for that it is one of the least impressive episodes of Thriller, although it does have its virtues.

The story premise is quite a novel one for the show. The onus is on trying to clear a suspect who the police feel certain has killed his wife, whereas usually stories were either whodunits or made clear the identity of the killer from the start. Of course if Bernard Peel is not the killer the quest is to find the real culprit. Unfortunately the action never really catches fire, maybe because so many of the characters are quite unremarkable. There is no problem with the performances but very few make a real impression. The outstanding exception of course is the fabulous Matthew Earp. Earp was the only character to reappear in Thriller and he is excellent, just as witty and incisive as in An Echo Of Theresa. It has to be said that neither episode was particularly distinguished and both rather need this character's presence. Dinsdale Landen was made for this role and it would have been useful to see him in further adventures, either within Thriller or elsewhere. Once again he shows not just mental acumen but physical prowess and bravery. There are also some neat exchanges with Gifford (Edward Hardwicke) the detective who quietly resents Earp's involvement as well as his enormous fees.

Bernard Peel is shocked to find the scene of an apparent crime - and himself under suspicion by the police

Of the remainder of the cast Christopher George does a fair job as Bernard Peel. Hans Meyer has a nice part as a director of Peel's business who is clearly suspicious of him and unhappy about being down the pecking order. There is a note-worthy appearance by veteran actor Richard Todd as Tulliver, one of Bernard's colleagues. Suzanne Neve returned in another key role in Won't Write Home Mom - I'm Dead in Series 5 while Belinda Mayne does a nice turn as a rather unhelpful and unenthusiastic shop assistant whom Earp encounters..

The twist at the end is one of the most inventive. In a better episode this would have been a hugely satisfying conclusion but here it's really just the television equivalent of a consolation goal. Perhaps this was the start of Thriller's relative decline although it still had numerous high points to come. Series 4 which followed six months later was rather underwhelming and although Series 5 was impressive (though not quite as good as Series 3) the final series was something of an anti-climax. Judged away from the Thriller context this would be quite good value and the show, even when it slipped below this standard, is still well worth watching.

Notes

Gifford applies the handcuffs to Bernard Peel in a fraction of a second, displaying amazing skill and speed.

Christopher George's wife Lynda had been the star of the preceding story Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are.

TV Movie title-watch 

1974 was a big year for the martial arts and they make an appearance here, with karate being employed by one assassin. Unfortunately they also make for a very silly piece of art-work on the movie end-titles in which a fist above what is supposed to be Bernard Peel's head (though looking more like Lieutenant Colombo) appears to be pulling his hair! 



Where the Action Is - Series 4 Episode 6, Saturday 8th February 1975

The story... Two men are playing a card game - the exceptionally wealthy Walter "Daddy" Burns and Tommy Vaughan. Tommy loses and B...