A PROMISE TO MURDER (ALPHA VIDEO) 1955/1956; released on DVD December ,2015 (ALPHA/OLDIES.COM) 2 hours. $7.99 http://www.oldies.com/product-view/7723D.html
It gets harder and harder to find and rediscover classic films and television, therefore it is always a welcome surprise when you are greeted with not one but two classics of the golden age of television. Making the package even more delightful is that they star the great character actor Peter Lorre.
In 1951, Lorre had directed and starred in Der Verlorene (THE LOST ONE,1951). The film was a financial and critical flop at the time. Personally, Lorre also suffered bankruptcy and gained one hundred pounds due to long standing illnesses that finally went out of control.
Returning to the U.S., he found work still in major films (TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA,1954, Disney) as well as the new medium of television. Live television dramas were bringing about new talent in directors writers and actors, but many older actors were being rediscovered and offered often more challenging parts in the live scripted dramas of the era.
Lorre was the first Le Chiffre in the CLIMAX! TV version of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale, only that Bond had been Americanised into Jimmy(!) Bond (Barry Nelson). The series obviously liked his work, for they brought him back four more times.
This disc from Alpha has two of his appearances, A Promise to Murder (CBS, 8.30pm, Nov 17,1955, season 2 episode 10) and The Fifth Wheel (CBS, 8.30pm, Feb 9,1956, season 2 episode 20). They allow Lorre to show the scope of his acting, from quiet almost introspective to nearly spoofing his persona from Arsenic & Old Lace (WB, 1944).
A Promise To Murder is based upon an Oscar Wilde’s 1891 story ,” Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime”( his story was first published in The Court and Society Review, in late 1887 ,then in 1891 gathered into the collection Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories ,which included The Canterville Ghost and two other stories. When the collection was reissued, a fifth story was added). Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime is a clever little tale about a palm reader who tells the Lord that he is destined to be a murderer. Seeing as he must murder to be free of the prophecy ,the Lord first tries to poison an Aunt with poison. She dies and he thinks it is due to him. However, his fiancé finds the poisoned pill and so he discovers the aunt died from natural causes. He now goes on a spree to try and kill. The tale ends with a wonderful twist.
For Climax! the tale is updated to the present day 1950s. A barrister, Randy (Louis Hayward) has his palm read by Mr Vorhees (Lorre) at the insistence of his aunt, Lady Bertha (Ann Harding). The palmist predicts to Randy that several events will happen to him, ending with murder. As the predictions begin to happen, Randy becomes more and more agitated, because the final act will be of him causing someone’s death.
Superbly played by all involved, the show plays out like a three act murder theatre piece.
Less serious is The Fifth Wheel, which is considering the series’ title, is almost an oddity, as it is more a comedy than a thriller.
The Fifth Wheel involved two bumbling robbers (Lorre & former boxer Buddy Baer, the latter to star in the GIANT FROM THE UNKNOWN (Howco,1958)) pull a heist and hide the money in an old car. Unbeknownst to them, the car is repossessed and sold to a Reverend Muldoon (Hume Cronyn) who goes off a fishing trip with a fellow Reverend Mccarkle (the always delightful James Gleason), unaware of the $35,000 hidden in the spare tire (the fifth wheel of the title). This fun piece of fluff also features Bonita Granville, Arthur Treacher (as a stern Bishop).
Both of these shows are definitely collectible and well worth having if you are a fan of classic tv, of Lorre, of thrillers, or just fine storytelling.
Kevin G Shinnick