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Television

Films on TV

Jack Edmund Nolan


Samuel A. Peeples' account of an evening spent in the home of Robert Bloch (Films in Review, Aug.-Sept. 1968) rekindled an interest I have taken in Bloch ever since I first observed and heard him address conventions of science-fiction writers. Not that he has done much sci-fi. Bloch's forte has been, and is, psychological horror.

He's a tall, bespectacled, austere man whose cultured voice and effective platform delivery produce an impression of an ideologue who has learned to control, and make the most of, the fixations which dominate him.

He was born in '17 in the Mid-West; skipped grades in grammar school; at 14 was corresponding with veteran horror-fictionist H.P. Lovecraft. Two years later, at the bottom of the Depression, he sold his first short-story to a magazine called "Weird Tales." Since then, he has sold over 400 stories, novelettes, non-fiction articles, and movie, radio, and tv scripts. His most famous short story, "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper," is an inventive rearrangement of historical fact and has been plagiarized in many forms. The most recent uncredited use of it, I think, is Barre Lyndon's for the '65 movie, Dark Intruder.

Bloch has been involved with 70 or more tv-films but with only a few films-for-theatres. The best known of the last is Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho ('60), which is derived from the Bloch novel of the same name. For the '62 re-make called The Cabinet of Caligari Bloch devised scenes containing a naked human in water and other "thrills" for voyeurs. He has written scripts of two of William Castle's crude "horror" films Strait Jacket ('63) and The Night Walker ('64) and four scripts for British cameraman-turned-director Freddie Francis. The last half of the first of these four, The Skull ('65) is virtually senseless (a detached skull goes floating around after one of the characters), and the other three aren't much better: The Psychopath ('66) based on a Bloch original; The Deadly Bees ('67) which Bloch co-scripted with Anthony Mariott and which hinges on a diseased relationship between women and bees; and the offensive Torture Garden ('67) in which humans are encouraged to dream evil dreams and act accordingly.

To provide a glimpse into the recent Bloch mind I cite below what I regard as the best Bloch-related segments from six different teleseries:

  1. Bloch wrote half a dozen of the half-hour segments of the teleseries called "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" from Mme. Mystery ('58) which concerns two things that fascinate Bloch (Hollywood and the idea that dreams influence reality), to Bad Actor ('61), a super-sadistic item about a head in an ice-bucket. The segment that interested me the most is The Greatest Monster of Them All ('61), which Robert Stevens directed. Bloch's script derived from a short story by Bruce Walton that had the same title and tells of a movie producer and director who hire for a film which satirizes "monster movies" an actor who had impersonated monsters in movies of the '30s. In the course of making the satirical film the humiliated actor actually bites the director in the neck and thereby causes his death. When the producer asks why the actor did it, the screenwriter answers: "After all, he was the greatest monster of them all."

  2. Bloch was involved in approximately 15 of the one-hour segments of "Thriller." About half were Bloch scripts from Bloch Stories; several were Bloch originals-for-tv; the rest were Bloch adaptations of stories by other writers or adaptations by other writers of Bloch stories. My favorite "Thriller" segment is The Weird Tailor ('61), which Bloch wrote from his own short-story and which Herschel Daugherty directed. Ponder the sort of imagination which conceived this: A father tells his son not to step into the father's "witch's circle." The son does so and dies and his corpse is refrigerated. The father then buys, for $1,000,000, a book which tells how to have a suit made that will bring the dead back to life. The father contracts for such a suit from a tailor whose angry wife puts the suit on the tailor's dummy, which comes to life and runs off with the tailor's wife.

  3. The final segment of the '61-'62 teleseries called "Bus Stop" one of producer Roy Huggins' few failures was I Kiss Your Shadow ('62), which John Newland directed from a script by Barry Trivers based on an original-for-tv by Bloch. In it, a lawyer begs his supposedly vampiristic sister to "go easy" with her new husband. The ending: the lawyer is revealed to be the vampire.

  4. Bloch was responsible for about 20 of the segments of "Alfred Hitchcock Hour." One of them, Water's Edge ('64) is based on a Bloch story that has a finale in which rats eat John Cassavetes alive while Ann Southern looks on. My favorite segment in this teleseries is Annabel ('62), which Paul Henreid directed from a script Bloch fashioned from the Patricia Highsmith novel titled The Sweet Sickness. In it a young chemist won't accept the fact that his ex-girlfriend has happily married another. He kills her husband, and, when she re-marries, lures her to his house and kills her.

  5. Producer Sheldon Leonard's popular "I Spy" teleseries ('65-'68) has at least one segment relating to Bloch: There Was a Little Girl ('66) which is based on a Bloch story of the same name. The spirited, teenaged daughter of a US Cabinet member kicks off international incidents in Mexico and is extracted from resulting complications by US agents.

  6. The teleseries called "Journey to the Unknown" used Bloch material twice. Most recent use: Girl of My Dreams ('68), which Bloch and Michael Bird wrote from a story by a friend of Bloch's (Richard Matheson). It has a husband use for extortion his wife's clairvoyant dreams. But the best Bloch-related segment of this teleseries is The Indian Spirit Guide ('68) which Roy Baker directed from an original-for-tv by Bloch. A private-eye protects a rich widow from spiritualistic mediums until "a vision" concocted by one of the mediums fires three real arrows into the detective's chest.

1969, the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, Inc.

This article originally appeared in 20 Films in Review 167 (March 1969), as an installment of the Films on TV column, by Jack Edmund Nolan and is reprinted here with the permission of Films in Review.

The Webmaster wishes to thank Films in Review for their kind permission to reprint this article, and invites all readers to visit the Films in Review website.