William Conrad, the corpulent character actor best known at the time for playing Marshal Matt Dillon on the GUNSMOKE radio show, directed three straight horror films that were released by Warner Brothers in the first half of 1965. In addition to acting jobs for hire, Conrad had stepped behind the camera for the occasional directing gig in episodic television, as well as producing Warner Brothers shows like KLONDIKE and 77 SUNSET STRIP.
MY BLOOD RUNS COLD was the middle child of Conrad’s horrific triptych, balanced between the equally medium-budgeted TWO ON A GUILLOTINE and BRAINSTORM. Oddly, after grinding out these three chillers, Conrad ditched directing for good, more or less, and became an unlikely late-in-life TV star on CANNON, a CBS detective show for Quinn Martin that aired five seasons from 1971 to 1976. He didn’t direct even an episode. Maybe he got the bug out of his system at Warners.
Shot in black-and-white and widescreen Panavision by Oscar winner Sam Leavitt (THE DEFIANT ONES), who keeps the camera gliding smoothly and surely under Conrad’s direction, MY BLOOD RUNS COLD is a thriller about reincarnation. Let’s call it a mix of Bridey Murphy and Norman Bates, as the clean-cut young man who meets cute with rich girl Julie Marriday (Joey Heatherton) when her car sideswipes his motorbike turns out to be a raving psychopath.
It’s love at first sight for Ben Gunther (Troy Donahue), who tries to convince Julie that he loved her in a past life and forks over a century-old locket with a photo of Julie’s lookalike great-great-grandmother inside. Julie’s wealthy widowed father, Julian (Barry Sullivan), who disapproves of her stoic wimp boyfriend Harry (Nicolas Coster), pushes Ben and Julie together at first. But...something just ain’t right with that boy.
I called MY BLOOD RUNS COLD a thriller because that’s the way it was always described in TV GUIDE, but it may be the least thrilling thriller of 1965. GUNSMOKE producer John Mantley wrote the screenplay from BEN CASEY producer John Meredyth Lucas’ story, and it plays like a middling TV show — lots of dialogue, a low body count, and not a thing to threaten the censors. All the murders are depicted off-screen, and it takes forever for Donahue’s character to show off his true flipped-out nature. Conrad acts more interested in the sibling rivalry between Sullivan’s Julian and his more free-spirited sister, played by Jeanette Nolan.