Night Visions – Hate Puppet (09/06/01)

nvhatepuppetAndy Harris (Chad Lowe) is walking and talking, but sadly this was not written by Aaron Sorkin, so he walks right into a wall of a Russian and falls to the ground.  The Russki has splashed cappuccino foam all over his face; or maybe, judging from the howl he lets out, he is rabid.[1]

Harris is a stand-up guy after he stands up, so apologizes.  He gets no response from the comrade other than the aforementioned howl.  He thinks maybe Ivan put a curse on him as people immediately begin treating him like shit.  His brother chews him out, a waitress is surly, and his boss reams him for being late to a meeting for the 3rd time in 2 years.  In an action that I would absolutely welcome, his boss ejects Harris from the meeting. Unfortunately, he also ejects him from the firm.

Walking home with an ex-bankers box under his arm, he inadvertently walks through a construction site.  One of the city workers blasts him for ignoring the cones, then shockingly takes a shovel to him; then a pipe grinder [2], making it his most productive morning in 10 years.  Harris barely manages to escape and find a cop.  The cop seems to already know the details of what happened.  He tells Harris that it is a scene from a book he read last week.

Harris goes into some sort of archaic bricks & mortar shop that sells books made of dead trees — the late-great Borders if I know my fonts (this was back when this country had two kinds of borders, heyooooo!).  He sees a video of author William Price reading from his book Hate Puppet — he is performing the scene with the commie.  He even uses Andy’s name and says that the man’s howl meant “You have filled me with hate, and so hate shall fill those around you.”

He finally makes it home and his wife Linda seems nice and normal . . . at first.  Amazingly, she saw the same book and purchased it because she noted the similar name and likeness to her husband.  He tries to grab it to see his fate (SPOILER), but she refuses to hand it over, and suddenly also turns against him.  I mean, really against him — pointing a gun at his melon.

He tries to explain that her anger and irrationality is being caused by the curse . . . no, the one issued by the Russian.  As she is about to fire, he wrestles her to the ground and she ends up being killed in the struggle.

Distraught, Harris takes the gun to William Price’s home and points it at him.  He goes all Annie Wilkes on him and demands that Price write a sequel that reverses everything that has happened today.  At gunpoint, Price begins typing as Harris dictates.  In the sequel, as per Harris, it was all a bad dream and his wife is still alive. Before he can get to the part about her having bigger boobs, the cops arrive, and Harris kills himself. Relating the tale to a bartender, Price says that Harris was just a crazy fan.

There is a switcheroo that is well-intentioned, but so so botched that I don’t even want to recap it.  OK, briefly:  the idea is that Harris’s plight has now descended on Price.  You would expect that the beats would be repeated, but tightened up.

  • In the bar, Price sees a commercial for a movie called Breakdown Lane which will be the theme of his ordeal.  Harris had no such harbinger.
  • He accidentally runs into another hulk of a man.  In his case the man does not lay a curse on him, but just walks away.
  • He has knocked out of the man’s hands a manuscript entitled Breakdown Lane. Nothing similar in Harris’s case.  Price reacts as if this is very ominous, instead of laughing and saying, “Dude, I just saw an ad for your movie!”
  • Driving home, his car stalls in front of poster for Breakdown Lane.  Getting even more meta than Harris.  More meta than a man from St. Ives.
  • He opens the hood of his car and stuffed into the battery is a page from the screenplay for Breakdown Lane.  What the hell?.

Price reads aloud, “If Price had heeded the radio he night not have made the acquaint-ance of the axe-wielding maniac standing behind him.”  OK, that’s pretty cool, but the idea of the parallel story just has crazy random differences.  Harris seemed to have free will, it just so happened that the book predicted his actions. Price seems to actually be stalked by Breakdown Lane; the forth wall is breached as it inserts itself into his reality. That could have been a good episode, it just isn’t a good fit here

So Breakdown Lane is a movie about a writer who is a character in that same movie who has written a book about a character that thinks he is a character in that same book.

Post-Post:

  • [1] He also rent his garment, but I can’t compete with this guy.
  • [2] Well they called it a pipe grinder, but I had no idea what it was.  It didn’t look like any pipe grinder that Google found.
  • Only one picture in this post.  The visuals didn’t really grab me and the YouTube quality was awful.  Too bad . . . cuz them Lowe boys sure is purty.
  • There actually is a movie called Breakdown Lane, but I suspect you’d spend your time more wisely watching Breakdown.
  • Not relevant, but this aired 5 days before 9/11.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – Murder Me Twice (12/07/58)

ahpmurdermetwice0102The tuxedoed Miles Farnham walks in carrying two snifters of brandy. He hands one to similarly tuxedoed Bill Pryor.  Only one of them will be getting his deposit back.

Pryor mentions he has heard that hypnotism is now being used in some dental practices.  Farnham assures him that “we’ve come a long way since the days when hypnotism was regarded as a form of magic or witchcraft.”  True — it is now regarded as buffoonery or hucksterism.

He assures the crowd that a person cannot be hypnotized against his will.  Pryor’s wife Lucy bravely agrees to be a test subject.  Farnham easily puts her under so that she can hear and feel no one but him.  He takes her back in time.  When he asks her name, she surprises him by saying her name is not Lucy, but Dora Evans of the Philadelphia Evanses, circa 1853.  She goes on about seeing president Benjamin Pierce and about tending her gardens (although, I suspect “the help” did most of the tending).  She further recalls stabbing her husband in the back with a pair of pruning shears and actually commits that same act at the party, impaling [1] her husband!

ahpmurdermetwice0109She tells her story to Assistant DA William Burke.  He later tells Farnham that the Philadelphia Historical Society has confirmed that there actually was a Dora Evans. In 1853, she stabbed her husband with a pair of pruning shears.

Farnham later goes to see Lucy Pryor.  He tells Lucy that he believes she dug up the story about Dora Evans and used it as an excuse to murder her husband.  He sees himself as the only one whose testimony can keep her out of jail.  Before he can even state his terms, Lucy throws him out of her house.

At the coroner’s inquest, Farnham is asked if it is really a possibility that Lucy was possessed by Dora Evans — he proclaims it as fact.  The coroner reads into the record Farnham’s previous charges of fraud and malpractice.  Farnham is outraged that his professionalism and accreditation are being challenged.  After all, he has a degree in metaphysics.  As proof, her offers to put Lucy Pryor under hypnosis in front of the court.

ahpmurdermetwice0121

Harrumph, harrumph!

He pulls his Popeil Pocket Hypnotizer from his jacket and once again puts her under.  She is again possessed by Dora Evans and son-of-a-bitch if she doesn’t ram the shears into Farnham’s back!  BRAVO — I did not expect that!

The DA catches Lucy in the hall. He assures her they are alone, so she can speak freely.  He asks if she planned the whole thing.  She replies with a smile, “Would’st not thee like to know?”  What the hell is that — did they speak that way in 1853?

Another thoroughly enjoyable outing.  Tom Helmore (Farnham) played a perfectly mannered snake-oil salesman, and Phyllis Thaxter (Lucy) sailed through the episode perfectly.  Her performance, along with the direction kept the story and visuals interesting. Being AHP, ya know it is all a scam, but she really sells the ambiguity.  This is especially striking after the second stabbing.  As everyone surrounding her is panicking, she remains blank-faced.  She is still, and fading into the background as the others thrash like waves around her.

Great stuff.

ahpmurdermetwice0151

There is a lot of interesting framing of Lucy after the 2nd murder. She seems to be placid in a sea of confusion  — out-of-it in every sense of the word.

Post-Post:

  • [1] I had first used “skewered” but then saw that it doesn’t mean what I always thought it meant.
  • AHP Deathwatch:  No survivors.
  • AHP Proximity Alert: Herbert Anderson (Dennis the Menace’s dad) was just in an episode a month earlier — give someone else a chance!
  • Title Analysis:  Doesn’t make much sense.  Mr. Pryor was murdered once, Mr. Farnham was murdered once, and poor Mr. Evans was murdered three times.
  • Phyllis Thaxter (Lucy) played Clark Kent’s mother in Superman.  No, the good one. Why do I always think she was in the 1950s Superman?  Thinking of Phyllis Coates, I guess.  But then Lois Lane was played by Noel Coward, right?
  • Tom Helmore (Farnham) was in a memorable episode of Night Gallery.
  • George Shearing, Billy Shears, Harry Shearer, Norma Shearer, Rhonda Shear. Mostly Rhonda Shear.
  • The Popeil Pocket Fisherman is advertised as available at Woolworth, Woolco, and Korvette’s — all defunct.  Coincidence?

Twilight Zone S4 – Of Late I Think of Cliffordville (04/11/63)

Industrialist — and has anyone outside of a Hollywood production ever been called that? And have they ever once been the economy-driving, job-creating, philanthropic good guy? — Deidrich walks down a long hallway filled with secretaries who will soon be replaced by computers, Mr. Coffees and younger, hotter secretaries.  He is going to see his former protege William Feathersmith.

Both of the men are immediately unlikable.  Deidrich checks his watch and insists “I’m a busy man.”  Feathersmith bites the tip off his cigar and spits it across the room; plus he’s bald.  To his credit, Deidrich is appalled by this — the cigar thing, I mean.

Deidrich had hired Feathersmith many years ago when they were both young men, despite his appalling manners.  He soon found Feathersmith to be “a predatory, grasping, conniving, acquisitive animal of a man.  Without heart, without conscience, without compassion, without even a subtle hint of common decency.”  Maybe Feathersmith is just getting even for a bad reference when they parted ways.

Feathersmith has called Deidrich in to tell him that he has bought Deidrich’s bank note which is payable upon demand; and that he is demanding it.  He takes great pleasure in stealing the company from Deidrich, destroying everything he has worked for. Feathersmith cackles boorishly as the crushed man walks from his office.

tzcliffordville03Having ruthlessly achieved every-thing he ever wanted, he tells the janitor he is thinking about his youth in Cliffordville.  By coincidence, the janitor also grew up in Cliffordville. They apparently had a pretty good school system because he tells Feathersmith he is like Alexander the Great who wept because he had no more worlds to conquer.  Though a janitor, like Hans Gruber, he clearly had the “benefits of a classical education”.  Feathersmith wishes he could go back to Cliffordville and do it all over again. And this being a zone with twilightish qualities . . .

As he is leaving, he accidentally exits the elevator on the 13th floor.  He is unable to recall either the elevator, or the nearby Devlin Travel Services owned by the lovely Julie Newmar.  Serling is working from the Cruella DeVille book of villain names here. This isn’t intended for 7-year olds, but let’s not quibble.

She offers to send Feathersmith back to 1910 Cliffordville.  All for the low, low price of oh, say, everything he has except $1,400.  He regrets not having the time to bang the banker’s hot daughter because he was so busy working.  He wants to experience the excitement of rebuilding his fortune and ruining the lives of countless men.  He agrees to give up $36 million because he knows the future and this time will bet on Harry Truman, the 1969 Mets, Pet Rocks, Japanese Cars, Microsoft then Apple then Microsoft then Apple, VHS, Blu-Ray, and take a short position on Hillary Clinton.  Both times.

tzcliffordville08Of course, being TZ, things don’t work out the way he planned.  He blows the $1,400 immediately on land that turns out to be worthless at the time.  He woos the banker’s daughter and finds that she is er, not the beauty that he remembered.  Everywhere he turns he just misses opportunities, misremembers details, and realizes that he doesn’t know how anything works so he can’t preemptively invent anything.  He tells people repeatedly that he is “not a crummy draftsman, or a two-bit blue-print man.  I’m a promoter, a financier.”

The Devil gets the last laugh.  She mocks Feathersmith for being “a wheeler and a dealer, a financier, a pusher, a manipulator, a raider.  Because you are a taker instead of a builder, a conniver instead of a designer, a user instead of a bringer.”  In other words, “You didn’t build that.”

tzcliffordville07Feathersmith begs Ms. Devlin to send him back to the future.  His last act before leaving 1910 starts the wheels in motion for another well-played twist.  The execution is slightly bungled, but it is still very satisfying.  Unfortunately, Serling is not finished typing.  He has to insert one last jab at capitalism.  In his world, it is impossible to have money without being an asshole (although, I suspect, he excepted himself).

I could point out that it has some similarities to an episode just 3 weeks earlier.  The aging make-up and bald-caps were sometimes too obvious, but this was not filmed for HD; it is actually kind of charming in a high-school production sort of way.  The main negative is that Feathersmith is so obnoxious and so grating that it isn’t even fun to watch him; not even as his own arrogance dooms him.

Nonetheless, Another good episode in the much-maligned (sometimes by me) 4th season.

Post-Post:

  • Julie Newman went on to be Catwoman in the 1960s.  She excelled at roles that required pointy things on her head.
  • It seems impossible that Albert Salmi (Featherstone) could have been in this episode and also in Caddyshack.  It’s one of them things that shatters your perception of time.

Fear Itself – Family Man (06/19/08)

Dennis Mahoney (played by the unfortunately-named Colin Ferguson) is attending a perfect church in his perfect suit with his perfect wife Kathy and 2.0 perfect young children.  They are quite the active members, knowing the 2nd verse to Amazing Grace, cooking for the upcoming church pancake breakfast.  Daughter Courtney blurts out that the secret ingredient is ice cream.  I’m going to go out on a limb and guess vanilla.

They go back home to their perfect McMansion and dad agrees to play a little catch with son Sean.  First though, he must crunch a few numbers at the office.  On the way, Kathy calls his cell and asks him to pick up some milk   Sadly, she did not also ask him to look to the right, where he would have seen a pickup truck ready to T-Bone him.

He awakens in the hospital, but discovers that his family can’t see or hear him.  He is joined by Richard Brautigan (no, not that one).  Brautigan is a serial killer a/k/a “The Family Man”.  He takes Mahoney on a tour through the hospital whose staff now seems to be frozen in place.  Brautigan shows him his own body where he is dying from gunshot wounds, then shows Mahoney his body which was in the auto accident. Strangely, Brautigan seems to know what is going on and is unphased by it.

fifamilyman3Mahoney does regain consciousness, but that’s all he regains — he awakens in Brautigan’s body.  Of course, he tries to tell this to his court-appointed attorney and comes off looking crazy; even for a serial killer.  Holy crap, the attorney says Brautigan is wanted for 26 murders and 19 kidnappings.  Mahoney protests that he is just a banker, probably expecting a bailout or a bonus for his body’s reign of terror.

To his credit, his attorney says spiritual transmigration is a crappy defense.  To his debit, he tells Brautigan that the only real evidence the state has is a shoe-print and the testimony of a 3-year old girl.  The rest of the evidence is circumstantial, which is inadmissible in TV-court.  He thinks he might be able to get Brautigan off.  He is a little concerned that Brautigan’s juvenile shenanigans might be used by the  state — you know, murdering one’s own entire family can really be blown out of proportion.

His jailers aren’t so impressed; they rough him up and toss him back in his cell.  He is brought out when he has a visitor.  When he sits down, it is like looking in a mirror (except the image is not reversed) as he sees his face on “Family Man” Brautigan sitting across from him.

Visitor’s Day:  Brautigan tells Mahoney he is sorry the way things worked out, but that it is God’s will. Brautigan considers this his chance at redemption; and at boning Kathy. His attorney returns and tells him that tapes have been found showing him “raping and murdering entire families, one by one.”  I hope that sentence is grammatically incorrect. It might be possible to avoid the death penalty by disclosing where the bodies are buried.

Is it Sunday already?  The family is back in church.  Just as in the Star Trek Mirror Universe [1], it is easier for a civilized man to blend into a savage environment than for a savage to blend in to a civilized setting.  Brautigan is just not used to decent folk.  He loudly belts out Amazing Grace (which must be in the Top-40 of 1779 as they appear to sing it every week).  He is ready to chow down the pancakes rather than helping with them, he snaps at his kids.  Sure, he is being a lout, but strangely his wife doesn’t cut him any slack for just nearly being killed and maybe suffering from some noggin trauma.

Distraught over the loss of his family, Mahoney accepts a deal from the DA to show them where the bodies are in exchange for a life sentence.  While on the field trip to find the bodies in the field, Mahoney overpowers the guards and goes back to his house.  He and Brautigan end up in a struggle and both die again.  Mahoney regains consciousness and this time regains his correct body also.

fifamilyman2Tragically, Kathy and Sean have been killed by Brautigan in Mahoney’s body, but Courtney is still alive.  When the police ask who killed her family, she points at Mahoney, now back in his own body.  It is a nice ending unless you think about it.  A man who has killed 26 people breaks into the house of this nice church-going family.  Not only that, Mahoney has been stabbed in the chest, beaten with a frying pan, thrown through a glass table and strangled. Are the police really going to take the word of a traumatized 9 year-old girl against the likelihood that Brautigan was the killer?

None of that matters, though — it still feels right.  The performances were uniformly excellent.  It was, however, strange that there wasn’t more carryover of mannerisms. We only got to see pre-switch Brautigan in one scene, but that body seemed to retained so of the same tics — head tilted 15 degrees, frequent sneer — even after Mahoney occupied it.

Many people seem to think this was the best episode so far, or maybe even of the season.  I wouldn’t go that far — it is very good, but I still have to award 1st to The Sacrifice.

Post-Post:

  • [1] Or maybe it was the one where the transporter splits Kirk into passive Kirk and Yeoman-Rand-sexually-assaulting Kirk.
  • A point is made of showing 2 bloody spiderweb cracks in the pickup’s windshield, but a passenger is never mentioned.  In fact, the driver is never mentioned either. Wouldn’t it have made sense to have Brautigan be the driver, fleeing from police?  At least that would have provided some nexus for the body-switch to have occurred.  As is, it is never addressed.
  • Another Star Trek connection: Clifton Collins Jr. was the Romulan to whom reboot Kirk said, “I got your gun.”