This post was part of my month-long celebration of Vincent Price–TCM’s October Star of the Month in 2013.
Last week I wrote about Vincent Price’s early stage career and this week I’d like to focus some of his notable television appearances. As regular readers know, every month I try to spotlight a particular telefilm that deserves more recognition in a yearlong feature I’ve christened Telefilm Time Machine. But this month I thought I’d take a small screen diversion into Vincent Price’s extensive career in television. Price only appeared in a few telefilms but he made many appearances on TV specials, game shows and popular dramas that endured him to audiences and undoubtedly gained him many new fans.
Programs as varied as BATMAN, THE BRADY BUNCH, DANIEL BOONE, F TROOP, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, LOVE AMERICAN STYLE, GET SMART, HERE’S LUCY, THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW, COLUMBO, THE BIONIC WOMAN, THE LOVE BOAT, HOLLYWOOD SQUARES, SCOOBY-DOO and THE MUPPET SHOW (just to name a few) all benefited from Price’s talent and worldwide celebrity. It’s also worth pointing out that Price’s last performance was in a made-for-TV mystery called THE HEART OF JUSTICE (1992) where he has a few scenes playing the elderly neighbor of a pulp writer (Dennis Hopper). Price’s television appearances are so numerous and noteworthy that instead of focusing on just one standout role I decided to compile a list of my favorites that should appeal to classic film fans eager to see Vincent Price in some of his most interesting small screen successes.
ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS – “The Perfect Crime” (1957)
Alfred Hitchcock lent his name to 270 episodes of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS but he only directed 17 of them including The Perfect Crime. This marks the only time that Hitchcock and Vincent Price worked together and after watching you’ll wish that they had teamed up more often. Price plays a celebrated detective who’s visited by a lawyer (David Gregory) one evening and the two men begin to discuss a complicated homicide that may have been the “perfect crime.” The episode takes place in one room and Price and Gregory’s lively back-and-forth banter about murder and motives recalls Hitchcock’s ROPE (1948). Gregory manages to rile Price who turns increasingly aggravated as this brisk 25-minute show unfolds until it reaches its shocking climax. The Perfect Crime perfectly illustrates why Hitchcock was called “The Master of Suspense” and Price was lovingly referred to as “The Merchant of Menace.”
THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. – “The Foxes and Hounds Affair” (1965)
Vincent Price never got the opportunity to play a James Bond villain but in this entertaining episode of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. we get an enticing peek at how he may have handled that unattainable role. The Foxes and Hounds Affair features Price as the menacing Victor Marton, a member of the evil THRUSH organization hell-bent on getting his hands on a dangerous mind-reading gadget. He faces many obstacles during his quest including the clever agents of U.N.C.L.E. (Robert Vaughn & David McCallum) and a beautiful but deadly female foe played by Patricia Medina (Joseph Cotten’s wife), who was one of the actor’s dearest friends off screen. Price and Medina both ham it up before the camera and appear to be having a blast working together so it’s a lot of fun to observe these two old pros engage in some not-so-friendly on-screen rivalry.
AN EVENING WITH EDGAR ALLAN POE (1970)
This unique television special produced by AIP (American International Pictures) features Vincent Price reading four of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories; “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Sphinx”, “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Pit and the Pendulum.” What could have easily become a tedious exercise in another actor’s less capable hands is transformed into a thrilling hour of TV thanks to Price’s enthusiastic reading. Price brings Poe’s suspenseful tales to life with various costume and set changes as well as plenty of acting bravado, and his passionate performance is almost too big for television. This is a great companion piece to the AIP films Price appeared in which were based on Poe’s spine-tingling tales. And if you’re looking for an alternative to watching horror films this Halloween, AN EVENING WITH EDGAR ALLAN POE might be the perfect substitute. It’s appropriate for all ages and it’s an enjoyable introduction to Poe as well as “The Master of Menace.”
THE MOD SQUAD – “A Time of Hyacinths” (1970)
When Vincent Price landed in Hollywood many assumed that the tall handsome actor would develop into a romantic leading man. But tastes began to change and after playing a screen heavy with suspect motives in a number of critically acclaimed films it became apparent that Price was destined to play dangerous villains and madmen. A Time of Hyacinths is one of my favorite MOD SQUAD episode because it allowed Price the opportunity to return to his romantic roots at age 60 to play the mysterious John Wells who captures Julie’s heart. The episode begins with Julie (Peggy Lipton) abandoning her fellow Mod Squad members (Clarence Williams III & Michael Cole) to stay at an isolated beach house where she can recover from the stresses of her demanding police work. A storm begins to shake the walls of Julie’s quiet retreat so she turns on the TV to catch the weather report and comes across a Vincent Price film (HIS KIND OF WOMAN; 1951). Julie begins to watch the movie but eventually drifts off to sleep until a sudden knock on the door jolts her awake. She’s shocked to see a man that looks like Vincent Price standing on her porch but he claims to be John Welles, a friend of the beach house owner who has only stopped by to grab some wood for his fire. This unlikely pair of world-weary beach dwellers quickly develop a friendship with romantic overtones that takes a supernatural turn when Julie realizes that no one else seems to have the ability to see or communicate with John Welles. Is he a figment of her imagination? A romantic fantasy figure given life by Julie’s apparent fascination with classic movies? Or is he just a mournful and lonely ghost haunting the secluded beach? You’ll have to watch to find out but it’s well worth your time. Vincent Price and Peggy Lipton’s tender encounter will melt your heart unless it’s made out of stone.
ROD SERLING’S NIGHT GALLERY – “The Class of ‘99” (1971)
Vincent Price appeared in two of my favorite NIGHT GALLERY segments and the first was The Class of ’99. In this sci-fi inspired short Price plays a college Professor teaching a verbal examine at some high-tech school. It becomes apparent that his students are incredibly uneasy about the exam and their nervous demeanor escalates as the Professor’s questions turn more and more personal. The Class of ’99 brilliantly explores race relations, class tensions, and Vietnam War anxieties all within the span of a few minutes and to this day it remains one of the most powerful television experiences that I’ve had. Price’s low-key performance adds to the tension because you naturally expect him to ratchet it up at any moment but that moment never comes. Price gets out of the way and lets Rod Serling’s bleak futuristic tale take center stage allowing us to appreciate the range and depth of his acting abilities.
ROD SERLING’S NIGHT GALLERY – “The Return of the Sorcerer” (1972)
In this second NIGHT GALLERY episode Price is back to his old tricks playing a malevolent sorcerer who hires a naïve language expert (Bill Bixby) to translate a passage from the Necronomicon (a book of spells often cited in H. P. Lovecraft’s work). When the translator becomes distracted by Price’s beautiful wife (played by Tisha Sterling who was the daughter of actors Robert Sterling and Ann Sothern), he soon begins to suspect Price’s motives. This incredibly eerie episode of NIGHT GALLERY is bound to chill and thrill horror fans who will appreciate the gruesome twists and turns this short supernatural tale takes. It’s also beautifully shot by director Jeannot Szwarc and cinematographer Gerald Perry Finnerman who seem to have found inspiration in Corman’s Poe films with Price. The ornate sets decorated with murals simulating paintings by William Blake are also a sight to behold. Watch this on Halloween night and you’re bound to suffer nightmares thanks to the dark magic conjured up by The Return of the Sorcerer.
– The Sound of Vincent Price
by Kimberly Lindbergs, originally written for TCM.com and published October 10, 2013