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In the 1954-55 season when James Mason was host, Buzz Kulik plied his trade as a director on this show before moving on to direct episodes of 'The Twilight Zone'. Charles Bennett, famous for his Hitchcock and DeMille collaborations in the 30's and 40's also wrote 'The Browning Version' which was aired on the 7th April 1955.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'Lux Video Theatre' was the television version of an extremely popular
radio show. 'Lux Radio Theatre', hosted by no less a personage than
Cecil B. DeMille, was an anthology series featuring radio
dramatisations of popular films ... often starring the same big-name
actors who had appeared in the films. It was during a radio performance
on 'Lux Radio Theatre' that Helen Hayes was tagged 'the first lady of
the American stage'.
'Lux Video Theatre' employed a format similar to its radio predecessor: this was an anthology series, featuring adaptations of prestigious works. For copyright reasons, the video incarnation tended to dramatise stage plays in addition to offering tele-versions of movies. (At this time, the film industry strongly distrusted the television industry, believing that moviegoers would stop going to cinemas if they could stay home and watch TV.)
The 31 December 1951 episode of 'Lux Video Theatre' starred Boris Karloff in a dramatisation of Irish playwright Lord Dunsany's one-act drama 'The Jest of Hahalaba'. The original play was a single brief two-hander, really more of a skit. For purposes of 'Lux Video', Dunsany's 10-minute play is expanded and 'opened up' to fit the 30-minute time-slot. The script adaptation is by David Shaw, the direction by Richard Goode.
Boris Karloff stars as Sir Arthur, a dissipated Englishman obsessed with black magic. (This character appears to be at least partly inspired by the notorious Aleister Crowley, who conducted his life as if he were a fictional character.) Sir Arthur goes to the theatre to witness a performance of the magician Yannu (played by supercilious actor Arnold Moss, a poor man's Vincent Price). Although Yannu is ostensibly a conjuror, a mere stage-magician, Sir Arthur has reason to believe that Yannu is a sorceror with genuine magical abilities. Indeed, Yannu offers Sir Arthur an intriguing deal: in exchange for a vast sum of money, Yannu will persuade the demon Hahalaba to provide him with tomorrow's newspaper, so that Sir Arthur can read the news a day before it happens.
SPOILERS COMING. The deal is made, and Sir Arthur eagerly reads tomorrow's stock market quotations and racing results. But what's this other item in the paper? Why, it's Sir Arthur's obituary! Oo-er! He clutches his chest and pops his clogs, thus making the obituary come true.
Boris Karloff's performance here is not one of his shining moments, but that's hardly his fault. The staging and camera work in this very low-budget production are leaden. The attempts to depict a London street on an American soundstage are laughable, including a 'Here now, what's all this' constable and a street hawker selling pretzels!
Lord Dunsany wrote a staggeringly large number of plays, quite a few of which were performed in the West End, but I believe that 'The Jest of Hahalaba' was actually written as what used to be called a 'chamber play': meaning that it was intended to be *read*, like a short story, rather than to be performed by actors. Indeed, this particular material works better as a short story. It's always a pleasure to see Boris Karloff -- a disciplined and understated actor -- but this material is beneath him.
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