A late-19th century Boston artist who paints ghoulish creatures of legend is the subject of this H.P. Lovecraft Night Gallery story review, “Pickman’s Model.”
Season 2 Episode 11—aired 12/1/71
“Pickman’s Model” **1/2
Teleplay by Alvin Sapinsley • Story by H. P. Lovecraft
Directed by Jack Laird
Bradford Dillman as Richard Upton Pickman
Louise Sorel as Mavis Goldsmith
Donald Moffat as Uncle George
Jock Livingston as Larry Rand
Joshua Bryant as Eliot Blackman
Joan Tompkins as Mrs. DeWitt
Robert Prohaska as the Ghoul
One of the few, if only, times the painting that begins in Rod Serling’s opening appears in the segment itself, a canvas of a frightening looking beast, appearing something of a cross between a human and a rodent dissolves from Serling’s gallery to the opening shot, which is a framing device for this story.
Eliot Blackman (Joshua Bryant, unfortunately terrible) has come upon this painting reputed to have been done by one Richard Upton Pickman, an artist of the late 19th century and of whom little is known in present day (1971) Boston. He has bought the home where he thinks Pickman may have lived and is discussing Pickman with his friend Larry Rand (Josh Livingston, better, but seemingly acting in a different production than Bryant). This scene gets things off to a dreadful start. Bryant plays things in too contemporary a manner and Livingston is acting as if he is one of Rod Taylor’s friends at dinner in The Time Machine (think Sebastian Cabot).
They give a bit of background on Pickman, that he was broke and taught young women of well-to-do backgrounds the techniques of painting.
We then dissolve back to the late 19th century where the aforementioned Pickman is teaching such a class and using that same painting as an illustration. One of his students, Mavis Goldsmith (Louise Sorel) has a strong interest in Pickman, somewhat of a crush.
The students have been told to paint what they see and she has painted a vase of flowers which are wilted. She tells the teacher that she sees a power, a magnetism in his eyes. He suggests that the painting of the hideous creature is what he sees, perhaps even a sort of self-portrait.
As the class concludes, Pickman is informed that his services are no longer required as some of the young women’s parents find him an improper influence on their daughters, what with examples of beastly creatures rather than bowls of fruit, one supposes.
Miss Goldsmith overhears his dismissal and expresses outrage over this injustice to Pickman. He waves her off and leaves, and she follows him to a tavern where he has taken a table to have tea. He’s surprised by her appearance there.
When she asks him more about the painting of the creature and of the rumor that he is working on an entire series of such grim paintings, he tells her a story of a legend (or maybe it’s not a legend) of creatures from the Boston area’s past that are “more foul and loathsome than the putrid slime that clings to the walls of Hell,” creatures that live underground and come up at night to feed and to “ravish young women to breed their filthy spawn.” Creepy stuff, indeed. This is the best scene of the story and both Dillman and Sorel are quite good here.
Miss Goldsmith is understandably shocked by this yet when Pickman moves to take his leave of her and return to his studio, she asks to accompany him, a suggestion which he strongly rejects. When departs, he leaves behind his painting, which Miss Goldsmith takes with her.
At home, she discusses the legend that Pickman told her with her uncle (Donald Moffat). He confirms the legend and when he looks at an earlier Pickman painting that she bought which depicts a block of buildings in Boston, he recognizes it as a hardscrabble neighborhood in Boston’s North End and concludes it must be the scene from outside Pickman’s studio.
Miss Goldsmith tracks the exact spot and goes there to return the painting Pickman left at the tavern. She discovers the door to his home is open and she lets herself in. We, but not she, see a shadowy creature scurry up the stairs. From his earlier comment that his painting of the creature was self-portrait, this appearance suggested to me that the creature is Pickman.
In the attic, she discovers the rumored series of lurid works and Pickman (has he changed back to human form) finds her and upbraids her for barging into his home uninvited. We then hear noises outside the door to this room and Pickman goes out and from the sounds of it, does battle with something (so maybe he’s not a/the creature).
There is then a silence and footsteps. The doorknob turns…and in comes the creature! He chases Miss Goldsmith around, knocking paintings off their easels and stepping on some in his wake. Pickman returns and again battles the creature, allowing Miss Goldsmith to escape. Their fight ends in the two of them breaking through a second-floor bannister and crashing to the floor below, where Pickman is either dead or unconscious and the creature drags him off.
As we go back to the present, Blackman and Rand descend to the basement of what they believe was PIckman’s studio and find a sealed well which they decide to open with a pick. We see underneath the red eyes and ghastly face of a creature, waiting to be let loose…
I have very mixed feeling about this particular segment. It has a lot of strong stuff in the middle but both the framing device and the final scene in Pickman’s time really fall flat. If Pickman was not a creature himself, then why did he apparently live with them when they were deadly? Why not just find another place to live? Was Boston’s real estate market that bad in the late 1800s that not only rats and cockroaches were accepted, but lethal man-sized hedgehogs as roommates, too?