Year 1971
Studio NBC
Show Night Gallery, Episode 2-11
Producer Jack Laird
Director Jack Laird
Writer Alvin Sapinsley
Cast

Bradford Dillman

Louise Sorel

Length ??

 
Pickman’s Model

‘‘... by God Eliot, it was a photograph from life!’’

pickman picture In his short story "Pickman's Model," Lovecraft spins a tale of steadily mounting dread that builds to a predictable ending implicit in the title.

The story unfolds as a long monologue designed to climax in a moment of shocked revelation. Lovecraft's first person technique gives the narrative a certain immediacy and believability. It's as if the character were talking directly to the reader, giving testimony. At the same time this approach weakens the story in two ways: first, we know from the start that the speaker has survived whatever menace he may have encountered, and second, the first person point of view diminishes narrative possibilities by reducing the story into a kind of report. The result is a psychic distancing that safely removes the reader from the events of the narrative.

SUMMARY OF THE SHORT STORY

Thurber (the narrator) tells Eliot (the listener and by proxy the reader), why he has terminated his friendship with the brilliant painter, Richard Upton Pickman.

Thurber explains that he was the last of Pickman's friends to drop him. By articulating his motive Thurber hopes to justify his general nervousness and his terror of subways and cellars.

The problem isn't Pickman's disturbing subject matter, though his horrific paintings are "... enough to get him ostracized in nine-tenths of the homes and clubs of Boston." Artistically, Thurber has nothing but praise for Pickman's unique talent. He theorizes that only artists of a certain greatness can capture the essence of true horror: a nightmare, a witches Sabbath, a portrait of the devil, whatever. "There's something those fellows catch -- beyond life -- that they're able to make us catch for a second."

Pickman is such an artist.

Thurber recalls the time Pickman invited him to his studio, an ancient and decrepit building hidden among the twisted labyrinthine streets of Boston's old north end. Pickman sought such a place because there he "can catch the night spirit of antique horror and paint things that I couldn't even think of in Newbury Street." He rented a specific building because of the "queer old brick well in the cellar" which he believes is a link to a bygone system of tunnels below the city, most of which are caved in or bricked over.

Our narrator must brace himself with alcohol before he can go on to describe the studio itself and the subjects of the paintings there: "demonic portraiture," more specifically ghouls. "They were usually feeding," Thurber tells Eliot, "I won't say on what."

In one room Pickman has displayed "pictures which turned colonial New England into a kind of hell." Particularly upsetting is one called The Lesson: "... a squatting circle of nameless doglike things in a churchyard teaching a small child how to feed like themselves?"

Another canvas shows the child's ghoulish counterpart among a human family. "...in the supreme irony Pickman had given the [changling's]) features a very perceptible resemblance to his own."

The next room contains more ghouls painted against modern backdrops: subways, contemporary streets, recognizable skylines.

Thurber marvels more and more about the quality of the artistic achievement, realizing Pickman is not "a fantasist or romanticist at all...." He is "... a thorough, painstaking and almost scientific realist."

Now Pickman leads Thurber to the cellar and, after skirting the mysterious covered well, into his actual work area. There Thurber sees unfinished paintings, art supplies, and a camera used, Pickman explains, for photographing backgrounds.

Thurber cries out when Pickman unveils an especially large, grotesque and lifelike painting of a ghoul.

Strangely, his cry disturbs Pickman.

In response they hear odd noises from the next room. Pickman exits, fires six rounds from a revolver, and returns, "...cursing the bloated rats that infested the ancient well."

At the end of the evening Thurber leaves Pickman and resolves never to see him again.

Thurber's monologue concludes when he shows Eliot a photograph he had pocketed in the studio. It does not show a backdrop, as Pickman had said. Instead it depicts a hideous ghoul.

Lovecraft's tale ends predictably, melodramatically, and as is so often the case, in italics: "...by God Eliot, it was a photograph from life."

ANALYSIS

Let's look for a moment at the sorts of changes and contortions Pickman's Model had to go through to mutate into a teleplay.

Although a story about paintings is made to order for NIGHT GALLERY's unifying theme, one wonders why this particular tale was chosen. The difficulties in adapting it for television are myriad and obvious; there is no way to do a "faithful rendering." It's all talk; it lacks immediacy. The suspense builds from argument and innuendo rather than from action and conflict. More precisely, there is no action and conflict. Even the fight and shooting take place "off stage." No important relationships exist among any of the characters (we are indifferent about Pickman's diminishing circle of friends). The monster is never shown and even the paintings, if reproduced as Lovecraft describes them, are static and would have been considered too gross for TV in 1971.

PICKMAN'S MODEL, in many ways typical of Lovecraft's earlier work, predates the so-called "Cthulhu Mythos" by at least a year. The menace it portrays is specific rather than "cosmic," and the intellectual narrative technique -- the contemplation of hideous possibilities -- may be fine in a short story, but is insufficient for prime time TV drama which demands action and conflict combined with direct and immediate danger to sympathetic characters.

Scriptwriter Alvin Sapinsley had his work cut out for him.

SUMMARY OF NIGHT GALLERY SEGMENT

A painting of a ghoul is used to transition from Serling's introductory comments into the Lovecraft segment, which, like the short story, begins with two men talking. Here their conversation is used as a frame story.

Larry, a gallery owner (Jock Livingston) and Eliot, an artist, (Joshua Bryant) are meeting in Eliot's newly-rented studio. They're discussing a painting Eliot has discovered upon moving in: is it, or is it not, a genuine Pickman?

The last authentic Pickman sold for $100,000.00 at auction, Larry explains. Now, because Pickman himself vanished 75 years ago with no relatives, friends or heirs, the painting is Eliot's to sell (no mention is made of Eliot's landlord's claim to the property).

By extension, the men conclude that the long-vacant building Eliot has rented must be Pickman's old studio!

Again using the painting as a transitional device, we flashback 75 years to a dashing young Pickman (Bradford Dillman) addressing his art class at the girls' school where he's employed. He is sardonically charming, witty and handsome as he tells his students to paint what they see. Already he is a more three dimensional character than his counterpart in the short story.

Giggly Miss Goldsmith (Louise Sorel, who roughly corresponds to the story's Thurber character) wonders where Pickman "sees" the ghouls he paints? "In my mind's eye," he tells her.

He then examines the painting she's working on. It shows Pickman's face beside a vase of wilting flowers.

"This is what you see in me?" he asks.

"It wasn't meant to be a cruel thing," she awkwardly explains. "I only meant there's was a sort of power, a magnetism, something in your eyes...." Obviously the young lady is smitten with her teacher.

When class ends, new conflict appears in the person of Mrs. DeWitt (Joan Tompkins), apparently the headmistress of the school. She fires Pickman because, she says, he sets a generally bad example and because his work is inappropriate for her genteel young ladies. Miss Goldsmith overhears. When she tries to console him, Pickman seems greatly offended. Taking his painting with him, he departs mid-argument.

No longer giggly, but inexplicably confident and articulate, Miss Goldsmith follows him to a lower class restaurant and brazenly presents herself as "sympathetic company."

"I've never felt the need for human companionship," he rebuffs.

"Then I shall make it my project to awaken those feelings in you." In brash, unladylike fashion she sits and invites herself to tea, clearly determined to be Pickman's friend rather than dropping him as did her counterpart in the short story. She also notices that Pickman wears gloves, a fact he quickly tries to conceal (though why these gloves were never an issue during art classes is not explained).

In adapting the short story, screenwriter Sapinsley did well to change the gender of one character in order to establish a romantic tension with all its attendant emotions. However, he -- or possibly director Laird -- didn't seem to know quite what to do with this young lady. At first she comes off as a slightly foolish girl, then, by perhaps tipping his hat to 1971 vintage feminism, Sapinsley makes her a poised, articulate and purposeful young woman. (Consistent with the character's inconsistency, she'll go through another more irritating transformation near the end of the segment, i.e. reversion to feminine stereotype.)

Presumptuously, Miss Goldsmith accuses Pickman of seeing his own soul as a beast, then assures him that he sees falsely.

Impatient with this banter, Pickman says he's going to his studio to paint. Miss Goldsmith invites herself along. She's curious: she has heard that he's working on a series of paintings so horrible that to look upon them would turn a man to stone. (Apparently she feels women must be immune.)

Though he doesn't explain the source of the compulsion, Pickman admits he's driven to paint "... a legend which tells of an eldritch race more foul and loathsome than the putrid slime that clings to the walls of hell... who live deep beneath the earth in dark tunnels, surfacing in the dead of night... to practice their unspeakable acts and breed their filthy spawn until the day arrives when their swollen numbers will finally arise and ravish the earth like a noxious plague."

This speech, though Lovecraftian in tone, appears nowhere in the source material. However, its inclusion here -- complete with its elder race and its growing threat to human beings -- positions this rendition of Pickman's Model closer to the "Cthulhu Mythos" than was Lovecraft's own version.4

Visibly shaken by Pickman's intensity and terrifying words, Miss Goldsmith insists she see the paintings. Again he refuses. As a last resort she confesses that she is in love with him.

Apparently unmoved, he walks away... but in his haste he has left behind the painting.

In the next scene Miss Goldsmith is discussing Pickman with her Uncle George (Donald Moffat). He too knows the legend of the foul nocturnal beasts, and doesn't seem to be laughing at it. He even adds some details, including information about women who inexplicably vanished in the night.

Uncle George studies a Pickman street scene his niece owns. It is the view from Pickman's window, so, they realize, they can use it to locate the artist's studio.

This painting lap dissolves beautifully into the North End street it represents. The resolute Miss Goldsmith, painting in hand, has located Pickman's studio. Bravely -- like too many heroines in horror tales -- she lets herself in while we glimpse odd fleeting shapes that slither about grotesquely. Lights mysteriously go out, rats skitter around, and red eyes follow her progress as she ascends dark stairs. These flashes and suggestions are pure Lovecraft.

At the top she finds Pickman's bedroom/studio. It is full of paintings of horrid otherworldly beasts.

Pickman appears and orders her away. He takes his painting from her and stashes it in the place Eliot will find it 75 years later. Then he repeats that she must leave. But are we starting to sense some compassion in his tone? Perhaps he has some feelings for her, after all.

A sound in the next room tells him it's too late.

Pickman grabs a club and excuses himself, saying "Did you not understand when I said I had no use for human company?"

Alone now, she looks at the paintings remembering what Uncle George had said about the creatures that carried off human women for the foul purpose of procreation. During this tense scene the alert viewer comes to the same conclusion as Miss Goldsmith when she sees two paintings side by side: the first shows a woman being carried off by a beast; the next shows the same woman standing beside a sinister looking lad who is apparently her son.

Is it the young Pickman?

She hears Pickman's voice ordering something back to the cellar where it belongs. We hear growling, then the sounds of a fight that stops abruptly.

Is Pickman coming back?

The latch is turning.... The door is opening....

A clawed hand is seen. Is it Pickman's sans glove?

A snarling monster walks in. It is Pickman's Model, an anticlimactic hybrid of man and rat and dog. (Academy award-winning make-up artist John Chambers, best known for is work in Planet of the Apes, designed and fabricated the ghoul in less than a week. Chambers credits Tom Wright, who did many of the Night Gallery paintings, with illustrating the creature through his concept sketches.)5

The ghoul sweeps Miss Goldsmith into its arms and heads off toward the cellar. Pickman comes to and frees Miss Goldsmith. Monster and man struggle. During the fight (if the viewer's still alert) we get a peek at what's under Pickman's glove: just as we suspected, a claw. It is this clue, heavy-handed though it may be, that tells us Pickman's not entirely human. The same information was suggested by the paintings mentioned above, and conveyed with ambiguity by the changling's picture in the source material.

The combatants fall off a balcony, while the "liberated" Miss Goldsmith succumbs to a screaming fit before escaping into the street. This stereotypical female behavior may seem especially offensive today. In 1971 it must have been perceived, at the very least, as inconsistent. Certainly it can be judged cowardly during any age; she makes no attempt to aid the "man" she loves as the monster carries Pickman off toward the cellar. She and the script never come to terms with the fact that none of this violence and horror would have occurred if it were not for Miss Goldsmith and her relentless and unwelcome intervention.

Another painting transitions us slightly ahead in time. The climax has passed. Uncle George and Miss Goldsmith are in Pickman's studio reminiscing while they wait for the bricklayers.

"The man must have been insane," says Uncle George as he looks at the squalid surroundings and weird paintings.

"No," Miss Goldsmith explains, "he painted what he saw. And what he was."

With that we jump 75 years into the future to join Eliot, Larry, and the frame story in Pickman's studio. Larry wants to search the premises in hopes of finding more of Pickman's valuable artwork.

In the basement they discover what looks like a bricked-over well. What is it? they wonder. The men decide to break it open and look inside. But Eliot hesitates, afraid of what they might find. "Pickman's paintings weren't the only thing that disappeared," he cautions. "Pickman did too."

They begin to bash their way into the well. The camera cuts to its interior where a monstrous face waits and growls. THE END

So Sapinsley's screenplay uses the frame story to tie ancient evil to modern times. Although we never learn precisely what happened to Pickman (has he transformed into the critter in the well?), we realize that just after the story stops, Larry and Eliot -- and by extension everybody else -- will be in big trouble: something horrible will again be loosed upon the world.

It can be argued that in many ways the screenplay is better crafted than the story. It has more dimensions and more substance. Unfortunately, it is dated in a way the story will never be.

A minor tale. A minor adaptation. But the second best we have!