Thriller – The Cheaters (12/27/60)

tcheaters01I always considered Robert Bloch’s screenplay to Psycho to be about as perfect as you can get — well-paced, quotable, manipulative, funny, scary.  I guess it should be no surprise that 3 of these first 5 episodes of Thriller — Fan Favorites — have been written by him or adapted from his work.  I would like to read more of his work, but sorry Amazon, I’m not shelling out $18 for a paperback of his best.

A not particularly useful prologue (hey, who wrote this rubbish!)[1] shows us a very crabby Dr. Van Prinn inventing a new type of spectacles.  When he tries them on, he looks in a mirror and screams in horror much as I do at Eye-Glass World.  They’re just glasses — they aren’t going to make me look like George Clooney.

Van Prinn is so distraught at what he sees (but we do not) that he screams in horror. Host Boris Karloff informs us that he hanged himself before dawn.  Rather than destroy the damnable specs so no one else suffers his fate — won’t someone please think of the children! — he apparently tucks them away in a desk drawer where they remain for 200 years.

Act II

tcheaters02Maggie and Joe live in a modest home (better than the Kramdens’ apartment, maybe more like Norton’s — which always sounded a little nicer, but I’m not sure was ever seen).  Maggie is just the kind of nagging shrew that we usually get from Alfred Hitchcock.  She is berating poor junkman Joe about bidding $100 on a blind lot from an abandoned building.  She is really a harridan, continuing to insult him as his young, single, handsome, athletic employee Harry enters the apartment.

They find nothing but disintegrating books, a lot of cobwebs, and broken furniture. Charlie mocks Joe just as his wife did and leaves thinking they have been had; but Joe finds the glasses which have been hidden away for 200 years.  He has been having trouble seeing, so these are the titular “cheaters” in the optical sense of the word.

When Joe gets home, Maggie is as dolled up as she can get.  She apologizes for being so rotten and selfish that morning.  When he puts on the titular cheaters, though, he can hear the truth from Maggie and see her “true” face — she plans to kill him. Charlie comes over to the house and Joe, through the specs, can see their unexpressed thoughts.  A gas company wants to buy their property for big bucks (because where better to drill than in a residential neighborhood (well (no pun intended), this was in the days before the EPA was created by Richard Nixon (that’s right, Richard freakin’ Nixon!)).  Not only that, Charlie and Maggie are planning to kill him — which explains Charlie’s interest in this 20-year older . . . I’m running out of synonyms that don’t stat with C.[2]

Joe brutally takes a tire iron to Maggie and Charlie.  A policemen overhears the disturbance and runs into the house.  Joe looks at the glasses and yells, “the cheaters, the cheaters!” adding a nice double-meaning to the title.  He raises the tire iron to pulverize the spectacles, but is gunned down like Michael Brown — except he was going for the glasses and not for the cop’s gun; or to attack him physically; or to rob a convenience store; or to assault a clerk.  Otherwise, pretty similar.


tcheaters03The story cleverly maintains continuity by having the glasses show up in an estate sale to get rid of the contents of Maggie and Joe’s home.  They are purchased by an old woman who can see that her children are planning to murder her.  She sees through the specs that the trustee of her husband’s estate is in on the murder plot so she jams a gigantic hatpin into his heart.  That hat must have been the size of Turd Ferguson’s.

Act IV

tcheaters04A year later, at a costume party, her son is mocked for lacking spectacles to complete his Ben Franklin get-up. Once his wife provides the specs, he finds he can hear his guests’ thoughts about the cards they are holding.  When he accuses another player of cheating, it gets turned around so he appears to be guilty. There is a fight and Thomas Jefferson clubs him in the head, accidentally killing him.  Cleverly, another twist on the word “cheater.”

Act V

tcheaters05Sebastian Grimm, one of the players at the game, takes the specs, suspecting that they have some special property.  He is writing a book about the glasses and goes to the old Van Prinn place, abandoned for decades.  He wants to know why Van Prinn hanged himself.  His wife begs him to not go upstairs, to go home with her.

He goes up, puts on the cheaters and looks in the mirror just like Van Prinn.  Grimm sees a hideous reflection, for reasons I am not clear on.  Did he do something that I missed?  Was it the hubris to think he could look within his own soul?  Was he seeing the evil that is in all humans?.  He screams in horror and claws at his face until it is bloody.

On the plus side, he does stomp on the glasses and put and end to their trail of carnage.  So there should be some redemption for that.

Great episode.


  • [1]In retrospect, the prologue was an integral part of the story.  But am I going to start rewriting at 1 am?  Well, for that matter, is there any evidence that I ever do?
  • [2] Ya kinda need to know the yacht is name The Seaward.  Thanks for mangling one of the best jokes of the series.  And screwing up the aspect ratio.
  • Etymology Corner:  I’ve been using “for that matter” a lot lately — kind of a weird phrase.  I recently bookmarked an article on “believe you me” that I will actually read some day.
  • For all my praise of Robert Bloch, he did write 3 of my least favorite episodes of Star Trek.  On the other hand, dude wrote 3 MFing episodes of Star Trek!
  • Title Analysis:  Finally, I can give an A.  The multiple meanings and continuity were beautiful.

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