In a well-known episode of the early 1960s anthology series "Thriller", an orphaned girl is placed in the care of three cousins who would rather inherit her family's fortune. She is comforted by her friend "Mr. George", who does not take kindly when her guardians try to murder her.
This adaptation of a story by August Derleth is far afield from folklore, but (in common with several of the author's best-remembered stories) offers a striking treatment of the wonders and terrors of a child's imagination, which "special needs" children may respond to particularly well. One could do an effective lesson on film adaptation by having students read the story and then watch the episode. Unfortunately, the only place this reviewer can report to find the story is a 1963 collection of the same name, at last report still in the ASU library. Turning to the screen treatment, the girl is played by a young actress who manages to charm without being artificially "cute". The villains are played by three impressive character actors, in roles run the gamut from a mad woman as child-like as the girl herself to her domineering sister, with an indecisive, overintellectual man in the middle. Several departures from the story detract somewhat. The doings-in of two characters are pointlessly reversed, in setups that fit awkwardly with their characters (though the script and actors deserve more than due credit for building up the characters enough for it to be noticeable). Several of the story's darker elements are left out, including speculation about who the girl's father was (a striking indication of how sensitive some subjects were even at the start of the 1960s). Also problematic is perhaps the most talked about element, the voice of Mr. George. It introduces an extra variable in the pacing and stagings of several scenes, which in this reviewer's opinion on the whole detracts from the proceedings. It could have been more effective simply to show the scenes as they were reportedly filmed, with only the child actress's responses being recorded. Still, the few lines are read with enough feeling and texture to forgive any quibble.
David N. Brown