Watching Boris Karloff’s The Veil

Boris karloff the veil

Good evening. Tonight I’m going to tell you another strange and unusual story of the unexplainable which lies behind The Veil.

I’ve been on a bit of a Boris Karloff kick since the beginning of the year, after rewatching Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. So I was pleased to discover The Veil, a supernatural-themed anthology series from 1958, which, unfortunately was never broadcast. Only ten episodes were made (and an additional one acquired from another studio), all with intros and outros by Karloff. Karloff also played a character in all the episodes but one. Counting the “unofficial pilot,” there are twelve episodes total.

The Veil isn’t as strong a show as Twilight Zone or Outer Limits, but it’s not bad at all, and some of the episodes are excellent. Unlike Twilight Zone or Outer Limits, The Veil supposedly presents real-life supernatural episodes, what we might call Forteana. Karloff even sometimes refers to his “research” in his episode commentary, as if he himself had discovered the stories. I don’t believe that these stories are based on real incidents, but many episodes do have that open-ended feel of true-life anecdotes, without the neat tied-together structure of fictional tales.

It’s a pleasure to watch Karloff and several other excellent actors in each story. I recognized a few faces (several from Twilight Zone), and people who are real classic TV or classic film buffs may recognize a few more. If you recognize someone in an episode that I didn’t call out, please do let me know in the comments.

The episodes are short, a perfect snack sized TV break when you need one. They are (at least mostly) in the public domain, and you can find them on YouTube or the Internet Archive. Ten of the episodes are on Amazon’s Prime streaming service. In the mini-reviews below, I link to each episode on YouTube.

Karloff went on to host a more successful series, Thriller, which I plan to watch soon.

And now, shall we step behind The Veil?

Theveil

0. (pilot) The Vestris
My rating: Quite Good.

This is the “unofficial pilot” for the series: it’s actually an episode of Bell Telephone’s anthology series Telephone Time, which, like The Veil, was produced by Hal Roach. Mary Norrich, a ship captain’s wife, falls ill and sees strange hallucinations that urge the ship to “steer northwest” — and off course into the ice floes.

Host Frank Baxter attributes the story to politician and social reformer Robert Dale Owen, though he implies it is a real incident (there was a maritime tragedy involving a ship called the Vestris, in 1928 — this episode is not about that). Solid acting by Rita Lynn as Mary Norrich, Torin Thatcher as Captain Norrich and Tommy Duggan as the first mate, with Karloff in a brief role.

Ben Wright, in another brief role, may also be a familiar face, as he seems to have been ubiquitous on TV in the fifties and sixties. I recognize him from several appearances on Hogan’s Heroes, and from the Twilight Zone episode “Dead Man’s Shoes”, as a British-accented homeless person. He was also the voice of Roger in the original animated 101 Dalmatians, and of Grimsby in The Little Mermaid.

Bonus: the video I linked to includes the original TV ads for telephones. Since Ma Bell had a monopoly over telephone services in the U.S. at the time, one wonders why they still felt the need to advertise.

1. Vision of Crime
My rating: Not bad.

George Bosworth has a vision of his brother’s murder, and returns to London to investigate. He finds himself defending a man falsely accused of the crime.

The viewer knows who the killer is from the beginning; the suspense is more about whether Bosworth will figure it out, before he is arrested for the crime himself. Karloff plays a pompous but incompetent police sergeant, with a young Patrick Macnee (Steed from The Avengers) as his more able constable. Robert Hardy (Cornelius Fudge from the Harry Potter movies) plays George Bosworth.

2. Girl on the Road
My rating: Pretty good.

John Prescott encounters a woman with a broken down car on the side of the road. Her name is Lila, and she’s out of gas, so he offers to drive her to the nearest gas station — with a little stop for cocktails on the way. The bartender seems to recognize her, and when they overhear him phoning a man named Morgan Debs (Karloff), Lila runs away and disappears. Debs is a wealthy and influential man in town, who warns our hero not to try to find Lila. But of course, that doesn’t work.

This one has a more Twilight Zone-ish vibe than most of the others, and you can think of it as a twist on a popular urban legend.
Prescott was no doubt more sympathetic in 1958 than he is today; watching it now, he seems a bit creepy. He stopped for the cocktails without actually asking Lila, and when she insisted she wanted to get back to her car, he wouldn’t take no for an answer. So this episode loses some enjoyability points for that, and also for a rather muddled reveal.

Tod Andrews, who played John Prescott, also played the father in the last episode of Twilight Zone, “The Bewitchin’ Pool.”

3. Food on the Table
My rating: Not bad.

Captain Elwood (Boris Karloff) returns after a long sea voyage, but doesn’t seem too anxious to see his lonely wife, Ruth. We learn that Elwood married Ruth for her money (which is gone) — and that one of his old flames is now a wealthy widow. What’s he gonna do?

A lot of IMDb reviewers really like this one, because Karloff gets to be the bad guy! It’s nice to see him in the lead, rather than just a supporting role, but I didn’t find him quite convincing as an abusive and selfish husband. Rewatching the episode, I can see that he is trying to be subtly cruel and brutal, and he does give off a sinister aura in the scene where he “reconciles” with his wife. But for the most part, his performance doesn’t stray far enough from the “affable Uncle Boris” vibe he gives out in most of the previous (and subsequent) episodes of the series. I would have preferred a persona more like Charles Boyer as Ingrid Bergman’s husband in Gaslight, or Karloff’s own performance as the bestial Baron Gregor in The Black Room (a fun movie that really shows off Karloff’s acting chops).

The supernatural bit of this story is mild, though appropriate for the story. Elwood’s richly deserved karmic punishment happens offstage — we only hear one character tell another about it. So points off for that.

Kay Stewart gives a heartfelt, sympathetic performance as his neglected wife Ruth, who knows exactly what’s up, but loves Elwood anyway. I don’t know anything about her, but she seems to have shown up in several Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes.

4. The Doctors
My rating: Not bad.

Boris Karloff is Dr. Carlo Marcabienti, resident doctor in a small Italian village. His son, Angelo a successful surgeon, comes home to visit from the big city. A villager comes for the Doctor’s help when a little girl falls ill. Dr. Carlo is on another call, so Dr. Angelo sees the girl instead. The family doesn’t trust that Angelo is “a real doctor,” and won’t let him treat the girl, now near death, until Dr. Carlo arrives.

I guessed the ending of this one two-thirds of the way into the episode, but I enjoyed it anyway. Seeing how stubborn the child’s father was about insisting on “the real doctor” was rather annoying, but I guess that was the point. On the plus side, I think a good number of the Italian accents are real.

Dr. Marcabienti’s housekeeper Maria is played by Argentina Brunetti, who had a long and interesting career — check out the “Personal Quotes” section of her IMDb page.

5. The Crystal Ball
My rating: Silly, but kinda fun.

Fortune-hunter Marie dumps her boyfriend, struggling writer Edmond Vallier (Booth Colman), because she’s going to marry Edmond’s wealthy publisher, Charles Montcour. As a parting gift, she gives Edmond a crystal ball: “a symbol of the future, to commemorate our past”. Seriously, what? Vallier of course becomes terribly depressed and writer’s blocked, and eventually starts seeing his ex’s life in the crystal ball — including the fact that she’s cheating on her new husband.

Karloff (with just a hint of a French accent) provides a comic touch as Edmond’s Uncle Andre, a jolly playboy who is convinced that the answer to his nephew’s woes is in Uncle Andres’s little black book, which is “well known in Paree…”. Booth Colman occasionally looks like he’s having trouble keeping a straight face as Karloff clowns around. Patrick Macnee got that look on his face a few times in “Vision of Crime,” too. Montcour is played by actor/director Leo Penn, Sean Penn’s father.

6. Genesis
My rating: Not bad.

Jamie, the prodigal son, returns to his parents’ farm when his father becomes gravely ill. After John Sr. dies, both Jamie and his older brother John, Jr. (who stayed to help his parents work the farm) produce wills, each claiming to be the sole heir to the family farm. Jamie’s will is more recent — and he wants to sell the farm and put his mother in an old folks’ home. Karloff plays the family lawyer, sympathetic to Johnny’s side.

Plotwise, this one wasn’t my favorite, but I liked the acting, especially Johnny’s demeanor as his mother dotes on the returned Jamie. Johnny stayed on the farm all these years to help his folks, and now it’s “Jamie, Jamie, Jamie…”. I felt a bit sorry for him. Come to think of it, I always felt a little sorry for the “good brother” in the biblical Prodigal Son parable, too.

Katherine Squire, who played the mother, Emma, also played the teacher Mrs. Langsford in the Twilight Zone episode “One More Pallbearer” and the old lady at the beginning of the Twilight Zone episode “In His Image.” Great performances, both of them.

7. Summer Heat
My rating: Very good.

In the midst of a New York heatwave, nebbishy clerk Edward Paige witnesses a murder committed in the apartment across the way from his. But when he calls the police, they find that the apartment is empty and uninhabited. No murder here. It’s the heat, the cops say when Paige insists that what he saw was real. It does funny things to you….

An excellent episode, with a Twilight Zone-ish vibe at the beginning, and a cop-show vibe at the end.

Karloff plays Dr. Mason, the psychiatrist at Bellevue who examines Paige after the police take him in for evaluation. Harry Bartell plays Paige with a slightly comic twist; he played the head of Mission Control (more serious, less nebbishy) in the Twilight Zone episode “I Shot an Arrow into the Air.” Paul Brayer, who plays Lt. Davis, is also a TZ alum; he played the bartender in a key scene of “And When the Sky Was Opened.”

8. The Return of Madame Vernoy
My rating: Arrghh!

Young Santha Naidu of Delhi believes that she is the reincarnation of Sita Vernoy, the wife of Professor Armand Vernoy of Muthra. Sita died fifteen or twenty years previous. Santha has all of Sita’s memories, and wants to return to her husband. He, of course, doesn’t know quite what to make of her.

Actually, this might rate a Not Bad if not for the actors attempting “Indian” accents by using that terrible, generic “foreign” accent so common to mid-Twentieth century television (anyone remember “Mission Impossiblese”?). Ouch, ouch, ouch. And to be fair, Mama Naidu (Iphigenie Castiglioni) sounded like she was speaking in her own (Austrian) accent. Still wrong, but less painful to listen too.

Julius Johnson plays Rama, Santha’s childhood friend, who wants to marry her. I assume Johnson was African American (not much info about him at IMDb), but he at least has coloring and a profile that could plausibly be South Asian. Lee Torrance, the Caucasian actor who played Santha, not so much. Still, I like to contemplate the quiet subversion of “Santha” and “Rama” as a mixed-race (potential) couple on 1950’s television.

Karloff plays Professor Goncourt (not Indian, so Karloff doesn’t have to fake an accent — hurray), a friend of Professor Vernoy.
A young George Hamilton plays Krishna, Vernoy and Sita’s son — looking at IMDb, it appears to be his earliest credited role. Thankfully, he doesn’t attempt the accent. Jean del Val (Professor Vernoy) was the dying scientist whom Raquel Welch, Donald Pleasence, and company get injected into in Fantastic Voyage.

I did appreciate that Vernoy seemed rather squicked out at the idea of taking a girl younger than his son to be his wife. Judging from the way the episode ended, so did the writer and/or director. So much for the idea recently floated around that “things were different back then.” They were, but not that different.

9. Destination Nightmare
My rating: Quite good.

Karloff in a lead role again, as Pete Wade, Sr., a former pilot and the owner of Wade Air Services, an international aviation company. He wants his son, Pete Jr., to learn the ropes (including piloting) so he can take over the business. On a routine flight over France, Pete Jr. falls into a trance, changes course, and nearly crashes the plane. What does the face that he saw in his trance have to do with his father’s wartime secrets?

Karloff sheds the “Uncle Boris” persona to play the gruffer role of a strict and overdemanding father. I liked the prickly chemistry between him and Ron Hagerthy, who played Pete Jr. The reveal was a bit convoluted, but overall a good episode.

Ron Hagerthy played a gangster in the Twilight Zone episode “Dead Man’s Shoes”, which also featured Ben Wright (“The Vestris”).

10. Jack the Ripper
My rating: Very good.

A professional clairvoyant in 1880’s London begins to dream of the Whitechapel murders before they happen. When he tries to tell the police, they suspect him of being the Ripper.

This is commonly considered the best episode of the series. It was made at a different studio and acquired by Roach Studios. Karloff provides the usual opening and closing narration, and a little in the middle, but doesn’t appear in the episode itself.

I liked the relationship between the clairvoyant, Walter Durst, and his wife Judith, who advises him on his professional appearances. Usually in these situations the wife is portrayed as grasping and avaricious, more interested in the money her husband can make than in his welfare. But Judith seems genuinely interested not only in the potential publicity, but in her husband’s well-being — and in finding the Ripper.

Niall MacGinnis, who plays Walter Durst, is best known to me as Zeus/Poseidon from Jason and the Argonauts. He was also Doctor Karswell in Night of the Demon (which I haven’t seen yet, but want to). Robert Brown, who played M in several Bond films in the eighties, here plays the Constable.

11. Whatever Happened To Peggy?
My rating: Very good.

Widowed mother Ellie Cooper visits her home town after many years, to show her sixteen year old daughter Ruth where Mom grew up. But Ruth awakens one day with no memory of who she is, and not recognizing her mother. Ellie brings Ruth to Dr. Madison (an old flame of hers), who realizes that Ruth seems to be possessed by the spirit of Peggy Perry, who died at the age of sixteen, many years ago.

Karloff and Olive Blakeney play Peggy’s parents. Dr. Madison is played by Whit Bissell, best known to me as Mr. Lurry, the space station commander in the Star Trek TOS episode “The Trouble with Tribbles”. The IMDb trivia for that episode says that writer David Gerrold thought about having the Cyrano Jones character be a befuddled old man who didn’t realize the consequences of bringing the tribbles on board the space station. And apparently he had Boris Karloff in mind for the role! How cool would that have been?

Denise Alexander is delightful as Ruth. I didn’t know who she is, but she’s big in the soap opera world, with a long running role on Days of Our Lives, followed by another long running role (or two, depending on how you count it) on General Hospital. Apparently, she’s Laura’s mother — as in Luke and Laura, the only thing I know about General Hospital, and that was ages ago.

This episode belongs to Olive Blakeney and Shirley Mitchell, who play Peggy’s and Ruth’s mothers. Mrs. Perry is happy to seemingly have her daughter back, but guilty about taking Ruth away from Mrs. Cooper, and terrified at losing “Peggy” again to the same accident that killed her the first time. Mrs. Cooper wants to do what’s best for her daughter, but is heartbroken that she seems to be losing Ruth to Mrs. Perry. A good ending episode to this short-lived series.

4 thoughts on “Watching Boris Karloff’s The Veil

  1. Karloff, indeed, had an interesting career. Being brought up on “Frankenstein,” I always assumed the movie bore some resemblance to the novel. Not much. Shelley’s “Frankenstein” is a masterful work (probably the first) of science fiction and a poignant depiction of the “monster.” It offers astute commentary on the human condition, the importance of “appearance” in daily life, man’s inhumanity to man, the question of how to define what it means to be human, how we can become like the thing we hate, what obsession looks like; and our desperate and essential need for human contact, love, and friendship. Anyone with a passing interest in any of these concerns would be well advised to read the original novel.

    1. This past Christmas, I bought my husband Dover’s reissue of the Lynd Ward illustrated edition of Frankenstein. It was as much a gift for myself as for him. I’ve not yet had read it, but it is definitely on the “to read” pile — which is a very high pile, unfortunately.

    1. The titles of each of my mini-reviews hyperlink to the YouTube video of the episode, if you are okay with youtube. They are also on Internet Archive (though harder to find, because their search isn’t great). I think there are DVDs of the series out there, too.

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