Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Veil, starring Boris Karloff (1958)

Everyone's dear friend Boris Karloff has some stories he'd like to share with you. Stories of the strange, the supernatural, and the unexplainable. Everything that goes on behind the veil of human understanding. Events such as visions of murders before they happen, possession from beyond the grave, past lives, and hauntings from spirits that want the truth about their deaths to be known...

The Veil (or Beyond the Veil as I keep mistakenly calling it) is an anthology series from the 1950s that had a harried production history. After only 11 episodes, it was cancelled before it could even be aired, on the grounds that there weren't enough episodes for syndication. Despite the care that went into making the series, it was stuffed into a vault to be forgotten about, never aired on television. Thankfully all these years later the show has been rediscovered, and it often referred to as the best tv show never seen.

As a host, Boris Karloff is very polite! He says please and thank you, and wishes us all a good evening. It's a treat! He delivers his lines like this is a subject close to him, and not just one he's feigning an interest in for a paycheck.

The stories here are all very interesting, and creative. Whether they're truly based on real stories or if that was just for the camera I don't know, but just about all of them  are kinds of paranormal stories that are heard time and time again, with no explanation. It's the fact that The Veil never goes overboard which is what really sells it as a legitimately true to life feeling program. Something I like about the show is the human element to it.

Vision of Crime is a decent first episode. The story is neat, although the fact that we're shown who the killer is right from the get-go does rob the mystery from the proceedings. Everything goes how you expect it, but it's all well written. Karloff's comedy relief policeman is also bloody hilarious!

Girl on the Road is an interesting tale of a mystery woman who appears and disappears, after entrancing a man passing through. Despite his small role, Karloff's presence looms over the episode very effectively. One random thought, this was one of the episodes I feel could've been a whole movie. Have more scenes with the lead and the girl, and a little more intrigue into the mix, and voila!

Food on the Table features Karloff at his most villainous in the series, as a scheming husband plotting to murder his wife in order to marry a rich widow. The characters feel well fleshed out, with good depth to them, both good and bad =. The only issue is that this is an episode that feels like it could've been a movie in a bad way. While Girl on the Road simply would've been improved with further expansion, Food on the Table outright needs it. This widow the villainous sailor wants to marry never appears, and the ending is very abrupt, with Karloff being ok in one scene, then gone the next, the whole final act being offscreen. A full length 60 minute runtime would've easily fixed these issues. These problems aside though, this is still a very good episode, with little else to complain about.

The Doctors has interesting themes and messages, and while the Italian townspeople are a bunch of assholes with their bullheaded stubbornness, it works for the story. The supernatural element is subtle and understated, only coming in at the end, but it feels perfectly used.

The Crystal Ball feels like a very human episode, in that the presence of the crystal ball doesn't lead to murder or insanity. It's a springboard for the episode's themes on the dangers of longing and obsession, with a low-key ending that doesn't go terribly wrong for anyone except the 'villain', and even they're not that badly off. Just enough to get what they deserve. The characters in this story are a bit of a weird bunch, with Karloff's friendly uncle being the only normal one. Still, everyone fills their roles, and no-one feels unneeded.

Genesis starts off strongly with its tale of a family's black sheep coming back to ruin everything after he's left the family farm and inheritance in the recently deceased father's will. The supernatural element is small, perhaps a little too small. A ghost appears for like half a minute ]to say 'The will! Look at the will!' pretty much], and that's it. His cryptic remarks of Genesis = made me think that biblical story would play a part in the ending, but it's simply a conduit for the finding of a hidden new will. Rather than be reformed by this new information and be given depth, the evil brother remains a one-dimensional dickhead and simply loses because of new legal documents, rather than anything more interesting.

Summer Heat is another favourite of mine. From his opposite apartment a man witnesses a murder that hasn't happened yet, and must convince the police of the truth, and catch the killer. It's the acting that really sells this story. t's well written too of course, but the performers do everything they can, to great effect.

My least favourite episode was probably The Return of Madame Vernoy. The plot was a bit weird and almost uncomfortable. The characters were strange, a few of them superfluous, and the episode wanted an exotic location like India without having the money for it, resulting in obvious Americans with bad Italian accents as Indians, and some who don't even bother with make-up or traditional clothing at all, as if the wardrobe department had run out by the time they got to them! The Hindu beliefs angle is interesting though, and the ending was satisfying.

Destination Nightmare has a neat little story, with an interesting father-son dynamic to boot, meaning the episode has more than just one thing to show for itself. The characters are decently fleshed out, although while the haunting is neat, it did leave me a little confused, and there's a bit of an infodump at the end that made my brain melt, and left me even more confused about the ghost's motives, or at least the almost/borderline lethal way he was going about things.

Jack the Ripper is one of the most interesting episodes. It's a neat addition to the Ripper mythology, and it gets quite a few of the facts straight too (err, minus a pretty major goof regarding the order of victims), and while it doesn't show the more grisly stuff (since the TV network would never have allowed it), they do at least mention them, so it doesn't feel like a sanitisation of history. The characters are likeable, with the heroic clairvoyant being believable and noble, while his wife is an interesting take on someone who's doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. Fame and money are pretty on the forefront for her, but she still does many acts of legit good in this pursuit, which makes her feel well rounded.

One thing of note about this episode is that it wasn't even intended to be an episode of The Veil! It was shot for something else entirely, which presumably fell through, and was bought up by the TV company that produced this show. You'd never know if you weren't told. Despite the absence of Karloff, it fits seamlessly in with the stories and themes of the series.

And lastly, Whatever Happened to Peggy has one of the more intriguing plots, although the execution feels a bit lacking. The episode's midsection is very good, but the beginning is very abrupt and confusing, and the end seems to come with no real major event. The possession just stops and that's it.

While some episodes here and there aren't perfect, all have at least something to recommend them, and none are dull.

The acting in The Veil is one of the highlights! Boris Karloff is the best aspect by far. In just about every episode, he has a role besides that of just the host, and each time he completely changes his appearance and demeanour, becoming a different man time and time again. Sometimes he's a supporting character, other times the lead. He does superbly in all! His performances range from the cruel and manipulative, the warm and familial, a concerned doctor, or an investigating policeman. He ranges from being a coldhearted villain, to a comedy relief foil, and it's to his credit that he nails every one. It's not just the make-up that helps make him appear a different man each time-It's his acting skills. Karloff is regarded by many to be one of the greatest actors of all time, and that's truly an assessment that's easy to see. Not only was he a great performer in front of the camera, but all the stories of his actions behind the camera, from advising younger actors, to his efforts in helping establish film unions and establishing safety laws speak of an all-round great guy/top bloke.

The rest of the acting varies. The majority of the performances are good, while some are either unimpressive, or are decent but fall victim to stage habits, like looking to a nonexistent audience instead of the person you're talking to. There are many great performances too. My favourites were Harry Bartell in Summer Heat, and Niall MacGinnis in Jack the Ripper

The Veil really is an undiscovered classic. It's not perfect, but it's a very good watch, with nice stories and great acting. It's also a public domain show, and thus very easy to find and watch! At only 25 minutes lng per episode, and only 11, it won't take too much out of your schedule to give this a try...

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