Random Musings: Go behind the Veil with Boris Karloff

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Veil

In 1958, horror icon Boris Karloff hosted and starred in the 11-episode anthology series, The Veil, which was created by Frank P. Bibas.

Unlike the case with his later 1960-1962 anthology series, Thriller (where he played characters in five episodes), Karloff acted in all but one episode of The Veil.

Here’s a look at some of them.

“Crystal Ball”, purportedly based on a true incident, concerns lovesick writer Edmond Valier (Booth Colman). He’s been rejected by Marie (Roxane Berard), who announces her intention to marry his publisher (Leo Penn). She gives Edmund a crystal ball as a gift. He discovers that in it he can see Marie’s assignation with an artist named Philippe (Albert Carrier).

Karloff plays his uncle.

“Food on the Table”, Karloff tells us, is based on a report in the files of the Gloucester (Mass.) Historical Society. Karloff plays John Elwood, a sea captain who murders his wife, Ruth (Kay Stewart). Her ghost makes her displeasure known.

In “Doctors”, Karloff plays Carlo Marcabienti, a country doctor in a tiny Italian village. A young girl is very sick, but Dr. Marcabienti is unavailable, having gone out to see another patient. The girl’s family won’t accept Marcabienti’s son, Angelo (Tony Travis), a city-educated physician, despite his insistence that he needs to operate immediately. Angelo sends someone to fetch his father and the old man arrives in time for Angelo to perform a tracheotomy.

Or did he? We later learn the car sent to fetch Dr. Marcabienti broke down en route. And that the doctor himself, having returned home with an injured hand, was asleep in his study. The implication is that the image of the doctor was either a result of the family’s fervent prayers or his own concern about the family caused his “astral body” to visit their home while he slept.

In his introduction, Karloff alleges the events depicted were real.

“Girl on the Road” is a variation of the “vanishing hitchhiker” ghost story. John Prescott (Tod Andrews), encounters a young woman named Lila Kirby (Eve Brent) who’s having car trouble. He drives her into town. That evening, she vanishes from a place called Lookout Point.

Karloff plays Morgan Debs, a powerful man in the community and one whom Lila seemed to fear. At first glance the implication is that he’s a local crime or political boss. It turns out he’s more sympathetic.

Debs reveals that Lila died three years earlier when her car plunged off Lookout Point. However, unlike the situation in the more familiar version of the “vanishing hitchhiker” story, other people in “Girl on the Road” see Lila.

Debs (Lila’s uncle, it turns out) told Prescott that this was the second time she reappeared.

In “Summer Heat”, a man named Edward Paige (Harry Bartell) sees a murder in the apartment across the street from his own. The police investigate, but find the apartment empty. Later, when a woman rents the place and is subsequently killed, they accuse Paige of committing the crime and having invented an alibi for himself.

Karloff plays a psychiatrist who is convinced Paige saw something real.

Other supernatural or otherwise unexplained phenomena explored in The Veil include reincarnation (“Return of Madam”); visions of distant events (“Vision of Crime” and “Jack the Ripper”) and helpful ghosts (“Destination Nightmare” and “Genesis”).

Thriller

With respect to Thriller, many episodes are thrilling, per se, but the series sometimes suffered from a lack of focus. Many of the “thrilling” early episodes are thrilling in the suspenseful sense, not the scary/supernatural sense. Which is fine, in and of itself, but they hardly seem the sort of stories to be hosted by Boris Karloff.

For example, “The Fatal Impulse” involves a desperate search to find a bomb being inadvertently carried by an innocent woman. It has a few clichés (from our 2014 POV, most shows from the early 60s do), but it’s still suspenseful.

More in the supernatural vein are such episodes as “The Cheaters”, which I first read about in the early 1980s; “The Grim Reaper” and “The Incredible Dr. Markesan.” That last features Karloff in a central role.

“The Cheaters” stars Harry Townes as the last of a series of individuals who come into possession of a unique pair of spectacles (“cheaters” is a slang term for glasses), made from a special grade of glass. These glasses are supposed to reveal the truth. However, it seems some truths are best left unknown.

In “The Grim Reaper”, William Shatner stars as Paul Graves, a man concerned about his elderly, somewhat eccentric aunt Beatrice (Natalie Schafer). She’s purchased a painting of the Grim Reaper, which, legend has it, caused its creator to commit suicide and which begins to bleed when someone is due to die. Paul urges his aunt to get rid of the painting.

In “The Incredible Dr. Markesan”, Dick York and Carolyn Kearney star as a young, penniless couple, Fred and Molly Bancroft, who arrive unannounced at the home of Fred’s uncle, Dr. Konrad Markesan (Karloff). They hope he’ll put them up until they can secure jobs at the nearby university.

All things being equal, they should have stopped at the Bates Motel instead. Or at least obeyed Dr. Markesan’s instructions to remain locked in their room at night.

Between the two series, I think The Veil is a better fit for Karloff’s talents. The fact that he acted in all but one episode would seem to reinforce that. Many episodes of Thriller could have been hosted by Alfred Hitchcock and would have had the same impact.

Episodes of The Veil usually had a “tag” scene; Thriller episodes didn’t. In many instances, Thriller episodes could have used a “tag.” More so the earlier crime/suspense stories than the supernatural ones. What happens next in many of the latter episodes is best left to the viewers’ imaginations, but the lack of resolution in most of the former episodes is annoying.

Both The Veil and Thriller are available on DVD, the latter in a complete series box set and a “best of” sampler of 10 episodes. Not all episodes of those series are gems, but both shows are worth a look. The Veil is especially so if you’re a Karloff fan.

Copyright 2014 Patrick Keating.

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