As we’ve stated before on this blog, Carnacki is arguably William Hope Hodgson’s most popular character. Not only has he survived WHH’s death in comics and literature but he has been adapted on TV not once, but TWICE!
The first appearance by Carnacki on TV is a truly unusual one. Produced as an episode of Pepsi-Cola Playhouse, this 1954 adaptation of “The Whistling Room” starred Alan Napier as Carnacki. (Napier, as most students of pop culture can tell you, would go on to fame as Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred, in the late 1960’s TV Batman show.) This was the 42nd episode of the first season of the show (remember when shows had more than 5-13 episodes in a season?) and was directed by Alex Gruenberg who was a popular Television direction in the 1950’s. Gruenberg was also a force in what we now know as “Old Time Radio” and an interview with him is included in the book, Five Directors: The Golden Age of Radio.
Sadly, this adaptation bears little resemblance to the original story and Napier’s Carnacki comes off as something of a buffoon. Much of the suspense and terror of the tale is lost with Napier’s delivery of such lines as “there’s enough of my magic fluid there to disintegrate a whole army of ghosts!” The clumsy introduction of technology, in the case of the “daylight gun” come off rather moronic and unintentionally hilarious. Still, it remains an entertaining adaptation if only because it is one of a very small number!
Thanks to Hodgson fan Dan Ross, this show has been uploaded to YouTube and can be viewed here:
Carnacki, and the viewers, fare somewhat better with 1971’s adaptation of “The Horse of the Invisible” as the 5th episode in the BBC series, The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes. Produced by Thames Television, this series presented the adventures of many of Holmes’ rivals who were virtually unknown to modern viewers. The series was preceded by a book collection edited by Hugh Greene in 1970 and which also included “The Horse of the Invisible”.
In this adaptation, Carnacki is portrayed by veteran character actor Donald Pleasence who was some years away from his landmark genre role in Halloween (1978). Although Pleasence brings the seriousness to the role that Napier lacked, his interpretation of the character is lackluster. Carnacki, as written by Hodgson, is opinionated and energetic in his cases whereas Pleasence is wordy and rather dull.
The episode was directed by Alan Cooke who had a long career directing episodes of many and varied television shows. The script was written by Philip Mackie who is perhaps best known for the screenplay to The Naked Civil Servant (1975). The production values of the series are excellent and it looks exactly the way we have been taught to believe that Victorian England looked like but it does have the unmistakable air of a 1970’s show.
Obviously, the need exists for a proper adaptation of Carnacki! Perhaps even an entire series! Maybe one day these hopes will be answered but, until then, we have to satisfy ourselves with Napier and Pleasence which is still not a bad combination.