Sunday, May 20, 2012

"The Chaser"

John McIntire and George Grizzard
"The Chaser"
Season One, Episode 31
Original Air Date: May 13, 1960

Roger Shackleforth: George Grizzard
Leila: Patricia Barry
Professor A. Daemon: John McIntire
Homburg: J. Pat O'Malley
Old Woman: Marjorie Bennett
Tall Man: Rusty Wescoatt
Blonde Woman: Barbara Perry

Writer: Robert Presnell, Jr. (Based on the story by John Collier)
Director: Douglas Heyes
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Merrill Pye
Set Decoration: Henry Grace and Keogh Gleason
Assistant Director: Don Klune
Editor: Bill Mosher
Sound: Franklin Milton and Philip Mitchell
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
"In this library, a certain professor sells things. Ointments, salves, powders, sovereign remedies, nectars, concoctions, decoctions, and potions, all guaranteed. Next week he'll sell one to a lover boy so that he can slip an affectionate mickey into the champagne of his lady love. It sets up a most bizarre and very unexpected chain of events. On The Twilight Zone next week, 'The Chaser.'

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
"Mr. Roger Shackleforth. Age: youthful twenties. Occupation: being in love. Not just in love but madly, passionately, illogically, miserably, all-consumingly in love, with a young woman named Leila who has a vague recollection of his face and even less than a passing interest. In a moment you'll see a switch, because Mr. Roger Shackleforth, the young gentleman so much in love, will take a short but meaningful journey into The Twilight Zone."

            Roger Shackleforth is madly in love with a beautiful woman named Leila, a woman who wants nothing to do with him. Roger spends most of his time swooning and attempting to see Leila. When he holds up a line at a public telephone attempting over and over again to successfully get Leila to pick up the phone on the other end, a man waiting to use the phone for an emergency forces Roger out of the booth. The man says that he understands Roger's dilemma perfectly and then gives Roger a business card. The man tells Roger that the namesake belonging to the business card can solve Roger's problem. Though not believing his problem can be solved so easily, Roger heads over to the address on the business card.

            What Roger finds is a house with a front door that opens itself to visitors and reveals a large entryway leading to an even larger room crammed floor to ceiling with endlessly high shelves crammed to the brim with books and other assorted items. Here Roger finds a grumpy, older man named Professor A. Daemon. The professor's abode is an apothecary where he offers all sorts of potions and elixirs designed for different purposes. He initially attempts to sell Roger glove cleaner, for $1,000, a liquid with no odor, no taste, and no trace, guaranteed to work. Roger, who still doesn't know why he even bothered to come here and doesn't yet understand how the professor can help him, turns down the sale of the glove cleaner and turns to leave. The professor manages to get Roger to admit his own dilemma and, to the professor's great disappointment, it is a simple need for a love potion, what the professor calls "the simple parlor trick" of his profession. The love potion will only cost Roger $1. Though he doesn't believe for an instant that it'll work, Roger is willing to try anything for Leila's love and buys the potion.
            Roger shows up unannounced at Leila's apartment with two glasses and a bottle of champagne. He begs his way into her apartment with the promise to leave her alone if she will just have one drink with him. Leila reluctantly agrees. While Leila is in the other room getting dressed, Roger pulls from his pocket the small bottle of love potion and empties it into Leila's glass of champagne. Leila returns and quickly empties her glass of champagne in order to get Roger out of her place and Roger watches eagerly to see if the potion will work. At first, it appears that it won't work at all as Leila's feelings toward Roger show no transformation. Then, after she reluctantly agrees to give him one last, small kiss to remember her by, she stops Roger at the front door, obviously feeling a change come over her. Then the change comes on full blast and she leaps into Roger's arms.
            Flash forward through six months of marriage and Roger is miserable. The love potion worked only too well and Leila's affections are suffocating Roger. She dotes upon him every waking second, an annoyance which becomes insufferable. Roger reaches the breaking point and manages to pry himself away from Leila's clutching hands to return to Professor Daemon's apothecary. The professor tells Roger that he's been expecting the young man to return and again offers him the "glove cleaner," reiterating that there's no odor, no taste, and no trace, guaranteed to work. Only one thousand dollars. Roger at first plays like the love potion has worked perfectly and his marriage to Leila is a dream come true. But it's obviously a sham and the professor has seen it a thousand times or more. They always come back some time later and want a solution to the problem caused by the love potion. Roger finally breaks down and admits the problem. The solution only cost a thousand dollars and it so happens that Roger already has a check made out in his coat pocket. The professor gives Roger the glove cleaner, snatches the check from his hand, and sends the young man away on his grim errand with only this advice: give Leila the glove cleaner immediately because if he doesn't do it right away, Roger will never have the courage to do it later.
            Roger returns to Leila with two glasses and a bottle of champagne, a mirror situation to when he first applied the love potion. This time, however, he will give Leila a dose of death in the form of a tasteless, odorless, traceless liquid. Roger manages to get Leila out of the room for long enough to dump the deadly liquid into her champagne. When Leila returns, however, she tells Roger that she has great news for him. She then holds up a tiny knitted sock, signifying the coming of a child and Roger, holding both glasses of champagne, drops the glasses, spoiling the chance to administer the "glove cleaner." Roger, in a state of shock, mumbles that he couldn't have done it anyway. Outside, the professor lounges in a patio chair, smoking a cigar. When he blows a puff of smoke, it is in the shape of a heart.

Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
"Mr. Roger Shackleforth, who has discovered at this late date that love can be as sticky as a vat of molasses, as unpalatable as a hunk of spoiled yeast, and as all-consuming as a six-alarm fire in a bamboo and canvas tent. Case history of a lover boy who should never have entered The Twilight Zone."

Patricia Barry with George Grizzard
                Though simple in concept and execution, "The Chaser" works well as a comedic fantasy, whereas so many other comedic attempts from the series do not, because of the excellent performances of the three principal actors, the direction from one of The Twilight Zone's greatest craftsman, Douglas Heyes, the wonderful set design, and the source material, John Collier's unforgettable vignette.
                The episode is fable-like in its simplicity and can seem, when viewed today, to be rehashed from a dozen other fictions dealing with the good intention gone bad. The Twilight Zone would delve again into this fictional pool with lighter attempts such as season four's "I Dream of Genie," and darker material such as "The Man in the Bottle," from season two. It does well to remember that the story, and much of the innovative Collier’s other work, were the initial seeds for fictional constructs that would later be borrowed from and added upon for years to come.
"The Chaser" succeeds because the episode doesn't stray too far one way or the other, too dark or too light, and comes off as a perfectly executed dark comedy. The ending is really the only weak part of the episode, as it seems anticlimactic compared to the preceding action, yet still works as a darkly humorous closing to the play. It is interesting to note that "The Chaser" is the only episode from the show’s first season that is not scripted by either Rod Serling, Charles Beaumont, or Richard Matheson, three writers that contributed heavily to the overall output of scripts for the show. It was filmed from a script by Robert Presnell, Jr. which dates back nearly a decade before its production for The Twilight Zone. Pesnell's script first aired as "Duet for Two Actors" on February 20, 1951 for The Billy Rose Show (aka Billy Rose's Playbill Theater). For its production on The Twilight Zone, the story rights were bought from John Collier for $2,000. Producer Buck Houghton bought the film script from Presnell but did not hire Presnell to make any further changes to the script for its production on The Twilight Zone. It is almost certain, however, that Rod Serling had a hand in reshaping the script from its initial form as changes were necessary to accommodate the differences in set design and the natural narrative flow dictated by such changes.

                London-born John Collier (May 3, 1901-April 6, 1980) began his career as a poet and occasional novelist. His 1930 satirical novel, His Monkey Wife, or Married to a Chimp caused a sensation when published and has seen several reprintings since. He soon relocated to America in hopes of a writing career in film and television. Also at this time, he began publishing sardonic tales of crime and fantasy, a collection of highly influential short fiction upon which his reputation rests. Collier's tales are generally domestic fantasies with a healthy dose of crime, fantasy, and dark humor. Though he disdained the comparison, Collier is most readily compared to Saki (H.H. Munro), both stylistically and tonally, as the two writers separated themselves from other British fantasists through the vein of irreverent humor and biting misanthropy coursing through all of their fictions. Collier, like Roald Dahl after him, published most of his off-beat and macabre short fiction in the pages of The New Yorker. "The Chaser" was first published in the December, 1940 issue of that magazine and was later collected in Collier’s early collection, Presenting Moonshine (Viking Press, 1941), a book which also contains many of Collier's greatest stories, such as "Green Thoughts," "Evening Primrose," "Thus I Refute Beelzy," "Another American Tragedy," and "Bottle Party." 
                 It is difficult to overestimate the scope of Collier's influence on subsequent writers of fantasy and weird fiction, and to the formation of shows such as The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Collier worked to bring the macabre and the weird into the realm of the everyday, signifying a thematic trend which would bring his work in line with the writings of Americans Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Bloch, Fredric Brown, and Henry Kuttner, and English writers L.P. Hartley, Roald Dahl, and Gerald Kersh. In his introduction to the New York Review Books reprint of Collier's seminal collection Fancies and Goodnights (2003), Ray Bradbury states that when Rod Serling visited Bradbury's home with the idea to begin a fantasy television program, Bradbury heaped upon Serling books by excellent writers of short fantasy fiction. Upon the top of the pile Bradbury placed the works of John Collier. Bradbury also states that he initially sought work on the Alfred Hitchcock Presents television program because of the producers' taste for the stories of John Collier. Though "The Chaser" was, unfortunately, the only Collier story adapted for The Twilight Zone, it should be noted that some of the adaptations of Collier's work on Alfred Hitchcock Presents are today considered classics, including "Wet Saturday," "De Mortuis," and "Back for Christmas." Among Collier's other noted creations is his uncredited work on the screenplay for John Huston's The African Queen (1951), starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, and an unproduced screenplay adaptation of John Milton's Paradise Lost. Collier's famous 1940 short story "Evening Primrose" has been adapted numerous times for radio and television, perhaps most memorably as a filmed stage musical starring Anthony Perkins with lyrics and music by Stephen Sondheim. This adaptation was written by James Goldman, directed by Paul Bogart, and originally broadcast on ABC on November 16, 1966.
                Director Douglas Heyes, who had only one previous credit on The Twilight Zone to this point, Charles Beaumont's "Elegy," would go on to direct some of the most memorable episodes of the show, including "The After Hours," "The Howling Man," "Eye of the Beholder," and "The Invaders." Hayes and the production crew, especially photographer George T. Clemens and set designers Henry Grace and Keogh Gleason, do an exceptional job with "The Chaser." Working with only three main sets, their designs nonetheless dictate the brisk pacing of the episode and in the process create an unforgettable and instantly recognizable set in Professor A. Daemon's apothecary. The narrow yet expansively tall set is awe-inspiring and was impressive enough for Serling to use it as the setting for his trailer on the previous episode.
                Other than his subsequent appearance for The Twilight Zone, the excellent season four episode "In His Image," George Grizzard (April 1, 1928-October 2, 2007) also starred in the pilot episode Boris Karloff's Thriller, the similarly titled "The Twisted Image." Grizzard was a theater trained actor from age 7 who made his initial mark on the Broadway stage in plays such as "The Disenchanted" (1958), "Big Fish, Little Fish" (1961), and Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1962), nabbing a Tony Award nomination and an Outer Circle Critics Award in the process. Grizzard further made his mark on anthology television with roles in episodes of Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond, Playhouse 90, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, besides finding roles in traditional television fare such as Dr. Kildare, Rawhide, Ironside, Marcus Welby, M.D., Hawaii Five-O, The Cosby Show, and Murder, She Wrote. Later in life, Grizzard found roles in films such as Wonder Boys (2000), Small Time Crooks (2000), and in his last credited role, Flags of Our Fathers (2006).
                Actor John McIntire (June 27, 1907-Jan 30, 1991) has over 140 credits to his name, usually portraying tough, authoritarian figures such as policemen and judges, in films ranging from The Asphalt Jungle (1950), The Far Country (1954), Psycho (1960), and Rooster Cogburn (1975) to family fare such as Lassie: A New Beginning (1978) and voice-over work in Disney's The Rescuers (1977) and The Fox and the Hound (1981). McIntire also made his mark on television throughout his career, most noticeably with his long tenures on Naked City and Wagon Train. McIntire also starred in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
                Actress Patricia Barry (November 16, 1921-October 11, 2016) should be a recognizable face to fans of The Twilight Zone as she also starred in season four's "I Dream of Genie" and in the Joe Dante directed segment of Twilight Zone: the Movie, a remake of the original series episode based on Jerome Bixby short story "It's a Good Life," co-starring fellow Twilight Zone alum Kevin McCarthy. With over 135 credits to her name, Barry made her mark with appearances on the soap operas Days of Our Lives, All My Children, Guiding Light, Knot's Landing, and Dallas. She made her initial breaks as a pretty face in films in the 1940's before becoming a regular presence on the live anthology programs of the late 1940's and early 1950's. With intermittent work in film, Barry was mostly a mainstay on the small screen throughout the rest of her career, with some of her credits including Boris Karloff's Thriller, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, Rawhide, Perry Mason, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Columbo, and Charlie's Angels.
                "The Chaser" is a quaint episode with little complexity but with a great deal of charm, some humorous innuendo, and some great dialogue. It is also the only offering on the show from the works of writer John Collier, a writer whose style seems to have, in many ways, permeated the majority of the show's output (much like the work of Ray Bradbury, another writer responsible for only a single episode). This, in itself, marks it a rare and valuable episode. It also sports an excellent cast and shows director Douglas Heyes beginning to find the creative magic that would lead him to create many of the most memorable episodes of the show. In all, it's a darkly humorous pleasure and almost certainly the show's finest comedic episode of the first season.

Grade: B

Grateful acknowledgement is made to Martin Grams, Jr. for The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic (OTR, 2008). 

--Director Douglas Heyes directed several additional episodes of the series, including the classic episodes, "The After Hours," "The Howling Man," "Eye of the Beholder," and "The Invaders." Heyes wrote three episodes of Rod Serling's Night Gallery, "The Dead Man" (based on the story by Fritz Leiber and which Heyes also directed), "The Housekeeper," and "Brenda" (based on the story by Margaret St. Clair), the latter two being written under the pseudonym Matthew Howard. Heyes re-teamed with actress Patricia Barry for an episode of Boris Karloff's Thriller titled "The Purple Room," the first of three episodes written and directed by Heyes. That episode is considered one of the finest of the series and marked a distinct shift in the series from stories of mystery/suspense to stories of supernatural horror. Through Heyes's fine work on Twilight Zone, he was brought by producer William Frye to NBC/Universal to help steer Thriller toward material more becoming of Boris Karloff. 
--As stated above, George Grizzard also appears in the fourth season episode "In His Image," scripted by Charles Beaumont and directed by Perry Lafferty.
--Patricia Barry also appears in the fourth season episode "I Dream of Genie" scripted by John Furia, Jr. and directed by Robert Gist.
--Marjorie Bennett also appeared in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "Deliveries in the Rear."
--A very similar story to "The Chaser" appeared three years after the story's original publication in the famous comic book Tales from the Crypt. In issue #25, cover dated Aug-Sept 1951, the third story offering was titled "Loved to Death!!" Hosted by the Cryptkeeper, plotted by publisher WIlliam M. Gaines and editor Al Feldstein, and scripted by Al Feldstein with art by Jack Kamen, the story follows the narrative course of the "The Chaser" very directly until culminating in a much grislier end. Not wanting her lover to drink from a dirty glass, the woman, affected by a love potion, accidentally gives the man the glass with the poison that was meant for her, thus killing him. When the man awakens in the afterlife, he is overjoyed at finally being free from her suffocating affections. Until, that is, the woman kills herself and finds him in the afterlife. To the man's increasing horror, she is now a horrifyingly mangled corpse and still very much obsessively in love with him. This story was later adapted for the Tales from the Crypt television program and originally broadcast on HBO on June 15, 1991.
--"The Chaser" was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama by Dennis Etchison, starring Stephen Tobolowsky. 



  1. What a terrific writeup of a great episode! I have always wondered about John Collier, and your comments make me want to seek out more of his stories. Doug Heyes was one of the best TZ directors. What really shocks me is that Patricia Barry was 38 when this was filmed. How is that possible? Zowie!

  2. Thanks, Jack and you should definitely seek Collier out. He reminds me a lot of a British Fred Brown, with that same clever wit and very macabre streak, so I certainly think you'll dig it. Patricia Barry was surely a beauty and could play that babydoll character to perfection. Heyes is probably more responsible than any other TZ director for the indelible images from the show and I can't wait to delve to his truly great episodes, starting soon with "The After Hours." Thanks for reading and stay tuned.

  3. I'd like to second Mr. Seabrook's praise for your review, Jordan. A fair and balanced (no, not the Fox News kind) write-up of a charming episode, one I'd rate just a bit higher, though the pace is a bit sluggish. It's also interesting to watch as a warm-up for the series as a whole, which was still finding itself. The Chaser does not, much of the time, feel all that much like a Twilight Zone. I'll always remember the "glove cleaner" turn of phrase from McIntire's warlock or whatever he was. A nice touch.

  4. Thanks, John! I definitely think that Collier fit the mold the Hitchcock series better than the Zone, which saw many fine adaptations of his stories. I think the combination of his distinctly British sense of humor and the fact that stories of crime with only marginal fantastic elements made him a natural for Hitchcock's show. Still, I enjoy this episode a great deal. Thanks for reading!

  5. I'm glad I read this review today, because I've always thought this episode was the most Hitchockian of all zone episodes, now I know why.

  6. I caught The Chaser again tonight and enjoyed it. John McIntire seemed to be filling in for John Carradine, though his performance was completely his own.

    As to a Hitchcockian (half-hour) Twilight Zone I think The Silence qualifies as well. It's the one in which clubman Franchot Tone makes a bet with an obnoxious young man that he can't go a year without speaking.

    1. You're completely right about "The Silence" being well-suited for the Hitchcock series. I think "The Jeopardy Room" from the fifth season suits Hitchcock's show as well. Also, "The New Exhibit" from the fourth season would have been right at home on the Hitchcock Hour. And if it wasn't so clearly a product of Rod Serling, I would say "The Shelter" would have been an interesting addition to the Hitchcock series.

  7. I enjoyed this episode for many reasons..McIntire's experienced, sage, don't listen to me at your own peril demeanor, Grizzard's hopeful, her love will solve everything (until it doesn't) attitude, and, of course..The always wonderful Patrica Barry's pretty girl who gets what she wants manner. Story itself is, I thing, what all men want..That one magic potion to make a woman not interested in us, fall madly in love with us. But not this much. One of my favorites.

  8. The Chaser is a fun episode where the lonely guy finally gets his dream girl who ends up getting more than what he bargained for Ala "Be careful of what you wish for because you might just get it!", however; upon further examination, is kind of creepy since the protagonist, Roger, date rapes Lelia with a "love potion" he purchases from the Professor Daemon, and quite frankly, is a selfish and disturbed way of "buying" a woman's love in more ways than one! It is the ultimate experience when love is a two-way street, and in Roger's case, drugging Lelia and then considering drugging her again to break the spell, takes another turn, when Lelia proclaims to dear hubby, that a little visitor is on his/her way, in which case, Roger drops the bottle saying, "I could never do it". Yep, sure, you couldn't! As I said, this is a fun episode, and is pure fantasy, but is a one trick pony of a short half-hour episode. I would compare this episode loosely to "Short Drink from a Certain Fountain" where the protagonist wants to appear younger to his Barbie Doll wife who disdains him and feels desperate enough to drink an experimental drug which his brother, a doctor, gives him only to get so younger, that he begins as an infant for his fickle wife has to raise as a son in order to collect on the inheritance in a reverse whammy. I would rate this episode as a C+. I wonder if the premise of the movie which came out about 10 years ago, Benjamin Button, was loosely based upon this episode? Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays everyone!

  9. > the only weak part of the episode, as it seems anticlimactic compared to the preceding action, yet still works as a darkly humorous closing to the play.

    So you'd rather he poison his wife.

  10. I just read your review. Well done, sir! I’ve always loved this episode. Most reviews I’ve read on “the Chaser” are negative but vague in their arguments. This was the best of the comedic episodes. George grizzard was terrific

    1. Hey, thanks for reading! This is just a fun episode and the production design is outstanding. Grizzard is great as always but throw in Patricia Barry & John McIntire and it puts it over the top.

  11. The threshold outside the Professor's laboratory and home has a setup for two double doors, and the #22 above them. I believe this would be re-used again for the creepy morgue in "Twenty-Two". Am I right?

  12. I've never read the John Collier short story that "The Chaser" is based on; which is why I've always wondered if the fact that neither Roger nor Professor Daemon ever comes right out and says that the "glove cleaner" is a deadly poison was due to network constraints about portraying murder. Serling was always having trouble with the narrow-minded network brass, so this would have been perfectly in character.