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CBSRMT Episode Information
Title:
Death is a Woman
Plot:
A trio of friends are invited to the seaside residence of another of their comrades, and he discloses the power of a mysterious talking painting in his bedroom. After each taking a turn sleeping in their friend's quarters, they learn a new thing about the women they love.
Episode:
1041
Air Dates:
First Run - December 25, 1979
Repeat - April 15, 1980
Writer:
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Rating:
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9 Responses to Episode 1041


In my humble opinion possibly the Best Mystery Theater episode is "Death Is a Woman" from Christmas night, 1979 (I may be biased because this was the first episode I ever taped). I feel it has everything an RMT fan is looking for-- a script by Elspeth Eric, who wrote some of the most original and powerful episodes of the series, strong performances by two of RMT's best-- Gordon Heath and Bob Dryden, a truly creepy setting ( an old victorian mansion, with no electricity, perched high above the Pacific Ocean),a touch of the supernatural (there's a painting in the master bedroom of a beautiful woman who talks to the sleeper in the bed at night) and a chilling ending with one shocking twist after another, which like all the best endings leaves you hanging and forces the listener to interpret what happens next. Check it out if you get a chance and 'til next time.........Pleasant Dreams!

An eccentric gentleman that lives in a "weird house without electricity", high on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, invites a couple of old school chums for a visit. He hasn't seen them since school days many years earlier. He relates details about a painting of a woman in his bedroom to his friends - the painting talks. Both gentlemen get their chance to spend the night in the room. That's all of the ingredients you need for this strange recipe.

If indeed the latter element is something Ms. Eric originally meant to include, she was "spot on" in that even the self-proclaimed "gayest of the gay" can fall madly in love with the opposite sex (there are a lot of examples out there, but for one in particular google "Bob and Rose", a short-lived but critically acclaimed BBC show created by Russel Davies based on a real-life story of a good friend of his) and I agree...she may indeed have been his true love. Interesting, strange title for this episode in that I've not yet figured out what it means...

I've always intepreted the title to mean--just what it says-- "Death Is a Woman (In the form of Evelyn and/or the painting)". Certainly, their obsession and jealousies of Evelyn led to the demise of two of the central characters. And, what happened to Gregory Chalmers? Was he ever prosecuted? Thus, also, "dying" (at least figuratively --with the loss of freedom and the life he had known-- by being sent to prison) at the hands of a woman. Certainly, the authorities would have eventually investigated the disapperance of Blaine and Whitehead and the trail led right back to Chalmers. Did he try to pin it on Evelyn? What happened to Evelyn? Did Chalmers try to end her obsession of him permanently? Perhaps, Jenson, who certainly began to suspect what had really happened at luncheon --when he saw the broken railing-- was resourceful enough to cover up everyhting. ("That Jenson..... he can do anything!") Another question I have-- was Evelyn an innocent in all this? Was she just as heart-broken as the others-- loving the one person she could never have? Or, did she lead Blaine and Whitehead on-- knowing, eventually, somewhere, sometime there'd be a fatal confrontation between the two? Did she instigate the whole reunion, with Chalmers as her puppet? I'm also curious to know what other listeners think about the painting. Did it really have supernatural powers? Or, was it all auto suggestion? Did the characters just hear what their own insecurities and obsessions led them to hear? Or was the painting some kind of demi-goddess "Entity" --seeking sacrificies? Where did the painting come from? And, where is it now? Just some more food for thought.

"The cult of germination has always been associated with the cult of the dead. ... In most popular representations, death is a woman ...." -- Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (1949) [See also Karl S. Guthke, The Gender of Death: A Cultural History in Art and Literature (1999), for examples of female representations of death in mythology and folklore of various cultures.] (Death is a Woman was also the US title of a 1966 British film, not related to our story.)

That's interesting to know. I wonder if that's what Elspeth Eric was quoting? It certainly fits the motif of the story!

The script for this episode was well crafted and taut. No fat, with good pacing. Having never heard this particular episode, I was very curious where it was all leading. The fact that the painting seemed to state the same words to everyone led me to believe it was not auto-suggestion as I would expect different individuals to "hear" different words, if the message was emanating from their own subconscious. I enjoyed that fact that this show is open to interpretation in several ways; was the painting actually talking? Why did the host want to kill his guests? What was the sequel to this story? RMT at its best. The only thing the show lacked was a werewolf.

This is another Elspeth Eric psycho-drama, and (IMO) although I don't think it's the primary theme a secondary facet of this show is (suggested) homosexuality. The late, great, out-of-the-closet Gordon Heath (who we lost too early to AIDS) plays a man living in an elegant house only with a male servant (played by Robert Dryden) whom he befriended in San Francisco. It isn't the first overt or covert reference to that subject in the RMT: - "Picture of Dorian Gray" very overtly dealt with the subject without directly mentioning it. (I wonder if Oscar Wilde, who himself struggled with same-sex attraction, could even market that novel were he in today's politically correct climate. Actually, his novels, like "Dorian Gray" were frequently about morality and the consequences of immorality.) - "The Secret Sharer", where the newly-minted captain of a ship about to sail (played by Norman Rose) finds a naked young man swimming next to his boat (played by Mandel Kramer, who by this time in his career didn't sound that young) and keeps him in his cabin, taking pains to let no one know the young stowaway is there. Based on a short story written by Joseph "Heart of darkness" Conrad. - "The sinister shadow", where a single, lonely woman finds companionship in a bar with a woman who appears to be her exact double. (This might also have been an Eric play). The woman's domineering, mean mother, who's been trying to get her daughter to date men, gets angry and seems to intimate that she's a lesbian.

I know I've mentioned it before, but this is my all-time favorite episode! I'm prejudiced, though, 'cause this was the first episode I ever taped off the radio. It was Christmas night 1979, I was 12 years old and I'd just received my first tape recorder, which I had been asking for-- for almost a year--with the express idea of taping RMT. This episode has such a creepy atmosphere...the House--"High over the Pacific"--with no electricity and at the top of a treacherous winding road. And first-rate acting by Bob Dryden and Gordon Heath (his performance is right up there with his portrayal of the professor in "The Dominant Personality"). Heath's slow, methodical depiction of a character we come to realize isn't just eccentric, but downright insane (the monologue where he describes the sea's relentess and slow, but ultimately victorious triumph over the rocks, paints a picture of something akin to Chinese water torture and reveals to us his own slow descent into madness) and even homicidal(if passively-- after all, he steers his two "friends" down a path he knows will prove fatal) is chilling. And the dialogue! (Talk about living up to E.G.'s invtation to join him in an "Adventure in the Macabre!) Chalmers: (after his guests have "departed") "Now I'll have to have that railing repaired." Chalmers: "They left... Thay left right in the middle of luncheon." AND.... Jenson: "Mr. Blaine and Mr. Whitehead....I hope they left on good terms with each other." Chalmers: "I can't really say that they did." This episode operates on so many different levels....A Bizarre love triangle or is that square or (counting Jenson) a pentagon?........A horrifying plan of deception, manipulation and revenge (and revenge for what? Because they never sent him any Christmas cards? Of course, this man is quite mad!)....and the supernatural overtures of a "talking" painting. I think it's absolutely clever-- how we never get to hear the painting speak ourselves or for that matter (And I know it's radio) "see" the painting. None of the scenes take place in the bedroom. Like Evelyn, the painting is kept "Off-Camera". This would have worked as a great stage play (In a very minimialist approach-- like "Rope"). I know some of Elspeth Eric's scripts aren't the greatest, but this one is absolutely superb. Especially, the fact the ending is left entirely for the listener to decide what happens next........ One final note (I can hear the cheers!) being only twelve when I first heard this-- I completely missed any homosexual aspects in this tale. They're definately there.....though Chalmers description of his painting-- leads me to believe that's his one, true love. Also, was it because Evelyn was the only woman for him (And he obviously wanted nothing to do with her) that he shunned all women from then on...or was he just never interested in the female species from the very beginning?

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