The Hitchhiker – My Enemy (11/25/89)

Holly is a little miffed at her boyfriend that she had to spend her birthday with her future in-laws at the restaurant they chose — the Burger Hut.

Lou:  There’s no pleasing you, is there?

Holly:  Just because you can’t doesn’t mean there isn’t.

Well now, starting off with a fun zinger like that, and spoken by a circa 1989 Joan Severance, this episode of The Hitchhiker has immediately established a lot of goodwill.  I have to debit the account for the awful wig they put her in (not pictured), but this is still a good start. [1]

Meanwhile in another part of town, movie star Jane Ambergris [2] — also played by Joan Severance — pulls up to the studio in her white Porsche Carrera.  The awful wig on Holly in the first scene was just to contrast the well-coiffed beauty of this character.  Her license plate 813 FAD is thrust in our face like it means something, but I don’t get it.  Jane gets a look at some of the contestants in her look-alike contest and takes off in disgust like she had just seen contestants in my look-alike contest.

In her tiny, run-down house, Holly gets dolled up for the contest.  She makes herself up every bit as beautiful as Jane, which I predict will not make Jane any happier.  It really makes you wonder what the hell Lou used to reel her in.  She goes to the studio where Jane has reluctantly returned.  Kudos to the director for a nice bit of business here with the contestants all wearing identical purple gowns.  The clacking of their heels as they flock up and back on the sound-stage floor is pretty fun.  A slightly malevolent look-alike mannequin the background is also effective.

Jane hides out in her dressing room until everyone is gone.  However, Holly has hung around.  She brags about how she can do anything Jane can do; so Jane shoots her.  She puts the gun in Holly’s hand so it will appear Jane Ambergris committed suicide.  Jane dumps out Holly’s purse and finds her drivers license.  She makes herself over to look like Holly.  Here, it gets complicated.

Jane makes herself over as Holly so she can escape from the fun, glamorous, fast-paced, high-pressure life she is living — I guess Holly didn’t have a picture of Lou in her wallet.  She writes a suicide note and leaves it for the studio chief.  She also takes the time to set a fire before leaving.

On the way to . . . somewhere, Holly’s car breaks down.  A cop gallantly drives Jane to the address on the car’s registration.  At the house, the cop says, “I’ll just wait here until you’re safely inside.”  Jane opens the door and enters.  After the cop drives off, Jane explores Holly’s house.  She screams when she discovers Holly has murdered her boyfriend and in-laws.

Jane suddenly doesn’t want to be Holly anymore.  She tears off the wig and cries, “I can prove who I am!  I’m still Jane Ambergris!”  A radio apparently turns itself on and the announcer says, “A suspicious fire broke out tonight at the studio of glamorous star Jane Ambergris.  However, thanks to the the actions of a passing maintenance man, there were no injuries.”  Jane is confused and says she couldn’t have missed.  Fearing Holly will take over her life, Jane goes back to the studio.

She sees the studio head and concocts a self-defense story to explain why she tried to kill Holly.  He takes her onto the sound-stage where she sees a mannequin on the floor with a bullet hole between the eyes and a pistol in its hand.  She tries to run.  The exec stops her.  He asks, “Why did you sign the suicide note “Holly”?  Was it because that is you too?  Who are you now, Jane or Holly?”  Jane looks as confused as I am.  The titular hitchhiker shows up, but that guy’s never any help.

“For Jane Ambergris, fame had become a facade she could no longer bear to hide behind.  But by discarding one mask, only to assume another, she was doomed to lose touch with the woman she once was.”

Thanks for clearing that up.  What are we to believe?  I think we are supposed to believe that movie star Jane Ambergris invented Holly to find the simpler life she wanted?  How long was this going on?  She said she had heard Lou’s stories 10,000 times, so they have been together quite a while.  And why would she be with this loser anyway?

They do have a little bit of an out because the studio exec says he has not seen Jane in a week.  Is that because she was playing house with Lou?  I like a good identity mystery, but there are just too many loose ends and contradictions here to make any sense.

Maybe the duality of her personality is reflected in the same license plate appearing on both Holly’s car and the fire chief’s car.   Or maybe someone screwed up.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] I also love the simple dress she is sporting as she runs into the house.  But really, Joan Severance was going to make anything look good.  Lou, on the other hand — I don’t know what the hell he’s wearing.  He has a short-sleeved T-Shirt that somehow still has the sleeves rolled up, a sleeveless denim jacket, and a rogue hoodie mysteriously hanging out of his back collar.
  • [2] What is up with Hollywood and ambergris?  It sounds like a disgusting slime.  Let’s just leave it alone.
  • The writer has a story-by credit on the similarly incomprehensible Miracle of Alice Ames.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (12/20/59)

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is really kicked around by TV.  The 1960s Twilight Zone famously aired a pre-fab French production in order to afford the final season supply of Lucky Strikes for Rod Serling.  I assume AHP is just using it to give them time to prepare for the smelly 1960’s which begin in 12 days.  At least AHP made an American production of it.  No wonder Bierce was bitter.

Three Union soldiers are installing a plank on the titular Owl Creek Bridge.  A fourth is tying a hangman’s noose while a few others stand by.  This seems like a lot of resources to kill this one guy, but it is a Union job – heyyyyooooo!  C’mon, a train runs right over this bridge, just give him a shove; plus, you have guns!  As they work, Farquhar flashes back 12 hours.

He was “safe and secure” in his home being served dinner by his sassy housekeeper slave, Hattie. [1]  He is depressed over the death of his wife and child.  She says she can sympathize because she was depressed over the death of her son Joshua; she  seems pretty chirpy with her slave status though.  Farquhar spots a harp in the corner and imagines his wife playing it, which would make any normal person actually miss her less.

A Rebel sergeant (James Coburn) rides up.  He says the Yanks are moving closer, all the way to the titular Owl Creek Bridge.  Farquhar was a soldier, but lost a leg and a brand new sock in Shiloh.  He speculates on blowing up the bridge so the Yanks can’t advance.  The sergeant warns him that any civilian caught around that bridge would be “hanged on the spot.”

Farquhar ignores the warning and sneaks down to the bridge.  He pulls out a can of Short’s Solidified Greek Fire.  When he tries to throw it at the bridge, the same sergeant, who had only pretended to be a Rebel — he’s the world’s first confederate Confederate — shoots him in the arm.

Back on the bridge, the sergeant puts the noose around Farquhar’s head.  He prays for the frayed rope to break.  After he walks the plank, he finds himself in the river below.  He struggles to pull the noose off his head.  Fortuitously, he is being executed by seven men so addle that Farquhar is actually able to escape by swimming up-stream.  He further confounds the squad by coming ashore the last place they would suspect — the riverbank.

Farquhar runs back toward his house.  On the way, he finds his old friend slave Josh.  I still can’t figure out whether he was Hattie’s husband or son.  Either way, he is supposed to be dead.  Josh leads him home on an unfamiliar trail.  He is surprised when Josh leads him through a Union camp and no one notices them.

Clickable pic. Pretty obvious where it goes.

When Farquhar arrives back at his house, his uncredited (i.e. dead) wife runs out to greet him.  We snap back to him hanging by the neck at the bridge.  His escape only occurred in his mind, in the seconds before he died.

The episode is not as stylish as the TZ version, but then, that was actually an Oscar-winning short film.  It is a change of pace — or really, change of location — for the series.  As always, AHP turns out a quality product.  It really works best if you haven’t seen the TZ episode, read the short story, or had it spoiled by some idiot blogger.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] C’mon, they named the slave Hattie?
  • From the director of Old Yeller, The Absent Minded Professor, Son of Flubber, Mary Poppins, and The Love Bug.

Twilight Zone – Song of the Younger World (07/17/87)

I try to never pre-judge, but this title does not bode well for a series that too often forgets its sci-fi / horror roots and wallows in sentimentality.

Meet Tanner Smith, circa 1916.  Disciple of Jack London, Tanner Smith now consigned to what is affectionately known by the Bowery Boys as The Ref [1].  A grim sojourn into solitude, despair, pain and sooner than he knows, a curious corner in the Twilight Zone.

OK, they get me excited with that pain & despair talk, but Charles Aidman’s raspy avuncular voice mitigates the dread as usual.

Tanner goes into the barn where the headmaster’s daughter Amy Hawkline is doing whatever it is that you do to horses.  He gives her a line that never works for me, “I’ve been watching you.”  Possibly his success is due to him not having a Nikon with a 400mm lens slung over his shoulder.

They discover a mutual interest in reading, and the library.  Tanner especially likes books about wolves.  She is afraid of her father catching them, so Tanner leaves.  They meet up that night in the barn.  Amy brings him another Jack London book about wolves.  Fearing the evening is veering off course, he blurts out, “A wolf mates for life, Amy.  Did you know that?  For all his life.”  He is on thin ice, however, when he continues, “and lady wolves don’t make the guys wear sheep’s intestines on their John Thomas!”  He has also brought her a gift, a cameo necklace.  As they finally get down to a literal roll in the hay, the Headmaster discovers them and beats Tanner half to death.

Amy says she hates her father and he belts her.  If he catches them together again, he’ll “see that he is found dead in some dark hallway.”  Town drunk Hoakie overhears this and goes to Amy’s room.  He says he won’t let them get hurt.  Amy says, “You?  You’re just a broken down old bum — what could you do?”  Hoagie tells her to go f*** herself.  No wait, that’s what I would have said.

Acting!

Amy decides the only way they can escape is through the front door or during the ample time they spend outside.  No wait, it is through a mystical old book.  By staring at the horizontal markings, you will begin to drift off, just like when reading Pilgrim’s Progress.  “Then you pass right through it,” she says.  “But to where, Amy?  Where?” Tanner asks, in one of acting’s all-time worst line readings.[2] “A better world,” she says.  “A free world.”

After Tanner is scared away by one of the Headmaster’s goons, Amy gives it a try.  She stares at the lines until she is briefly transported to another world.  Headmaster Hawkline catches her having incorrect thoughts and takes the book away.  A man ahead of his time, like college presidents a hundred years later, Hawkline decides ideas he doesn’t agree with must be suppressed.  Well, he actually tosses the pages into the fire, but that’s coming in our century too, I tells ya.

I cropped this picture. The shots of the wolves are stunningly poorly composed. Maybe it is just stock footage.  Call Nat Geo next time, for cryin’ out loud.

Amy kills herself, or at least appears to have.  Tanner blames Hawkline and tries to brain him with his own cane, but the old man fights him off.  His goons throw Tanner into the basement.[3]  Later, Hawkline takes a pistol downstairs to kill Tanner.  Hoagie has sneaked Tanner the page from the book.  He disappears into the page just as Amy did.

The final shots are of two white wolves running free in a younger world.  One of them is wearing the cameo.  I hope Tanner and Amy like running down small animals and eating them raw.  And shivering outside during the winter without the glow of blazing books to warm them.  Are they still human souls?  Do they each really want to have the sex with another animal now?  Although Tanner did find a loophole in that sheep’s intestine thing.  Well played, old boy.  Well played.

So, I was completely off-base on the title (see below).  The actor playing Tanner is just dreadful.  Roberts Blossom takes a break from playing likable old coots to be an effectively sadistic headmaster (well, he did play the Devil in Burning Man and that serial killer in Home Alone).  Jennifer Rubin is fine as Amy, but those shots of her gazing banjo-eyed into the portal are a hoot.  The score was a little over the top at times, but better than usual.

Overall, a pretty good TZ.  But it would have made a better Night Gallery.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] House of Refuge, Reformatory for Wayward Boys.
  • [2] To be fair, it is a brutal line to say.  Maybe only William Shatner could have pulled it off.  No, seriously.
  • [3] They put him into what I assume was a straight-jacket of the time.  But it really looks like they sewed him into a giant stripper’s thigh-high boot.
  • If I were smart, I would have recognized Song of the Younger World as a line from Call of the Wild.  Song of the Undiscovered Country — that I would have gotten.  But only after Star Trek VI came out.
  • Noel Black also directed the great To See the Invisible Man, and the even greater Private School.

Tales of Tomorrow – Youth on Tap (09/26/52)

Pre-inflation Dollar Store — everything is 15 cents.

In an unusual pre-credit opening, one unidentified man kills another unidentified man.  Yeah, that was important enough to shake up the structure.

After the commercial, we open in a diner where Jeff is slow-dancing with his waitress girlfriend.  She pulls away and says, “All week I’ve been waiting for you to come through the door and say ‘Kitty, I’ve got some money.  We can get married now and buy the gas station’.”  Then she wastes money on a pinball machine . . . while talking to her boyfriend . . . which she TILTs.  He says they just need $1,000 by Thursday to buy the station.

A man in a black suit walks in and sits at the counter — presumably one of the men from the first scene, probably the one who was not killed.  Kitty puts on her apron and goes behind the counter.  Although, after after slow-dancing with boyfriend, and playing that grimy pinball machine, I would not want her handling my food.  She snaps at Jeff that maybe she will get a $1,000 tip tonight.  She realizes what a shrew she is being and runs out.

“Very lovely girl,” the man in black lies.  Jeff tells the man the reason he looks beaten down is because he is trying to raise $1,000 . . .  but he has money for cigarettes.  The man — Dr. Platan — plops $1,000 on the table in front of Jeff.  All he wants is a pint of Jeff’s yummy A-negative blood.  Jeff says he might only be a truck driver, but he knows lots of people have A-negative blood [1] and “you can pick it up at any blood-bank” although I’m not sure blood-banks do a brisk over-the-counter business.

Jeff agrees to the deal, happy that he and Kitty can be married that night.  As they get up to leave, Dr. Platan says he must leave through the rear entrance because he is being followed.  Jeff says, “Back-door, front-door, it’s all the same to me” which might cause Kitty to reconsider.

Jeff goes with Platan back to his lab which looks a lot like my grandmother’s living room.  Platan directs Jeff to a bed and hooks him up to the machine that draws the blood.  He had warned Jeff that there would be a slight tingle, but it turns out to be very painful.  He passes out.  Platan is not as unethical as he might seem as he does not bogart the cash he gave Jeff.  He anxiously takes the bottle of blood and transfers a dose to a big-ass syringe, calling it “a new lease on life.”

After the commercial, Jeff regains consciousness on the bed — oddly, face-down.  He threatens to break Platan’s neck, then notices that the doctor looks much younger.  Platan says, “I’ve taken the essence of your youth for myself.  There is a banging at the front door.

An old man busts in and says he’s been tracking Platan for a long time.  He draws a pistol which might have been more effective if it had actually been visible in the frame.  The old man sees Jeff is undergoing the same process Platan performed on him.  He says even though he looks 60, he is only 29.  In days, the 35 year old Jeff will look like a 60 year old man with a 30 year old wife; which is about right in Hollywood.

The old man wants Platan to perform the same procedure again so he can Rogaine regain his youth and vitality.  Platan says he should grab the waitress from the local diner, she has the right blood type.  After threatening to kill Platan for what he did, the old man is surprisingly cool with this plan.  He ties Platan up and leaves the recuperating Jeff to go get Kitty.

The man brings Kitty back to Platan.  He discovers that Kitty is able to give Jeff a new transfusion without suffering the usual side-effects — she will not rapidly age.  So Jeff and Kitty are back to normal.  Platan admits he can’t help the old man because he is the wrong blood type.  I don’t get this, because, his type was obviously compatible during the first transfusion.  But I’m no doctor.

There is a tussle over the gun.  Jeff gives a pretty good speech asking what is the point of Platan living 160 years — he has done nothing with his life.  He has never known love, he is a leech.  In a radical plot twist, never before seen in Hollywood, Jeff decides to let the police handle it.

This was a pretty good episode, of course, grading on a massive curve — this is the “Don’t Buy” of TV reviews.  The acting was better than usual.  Jeff’s final speech was well-done.  There was even a final scene of the happy couple dancing which was a) sweet, and 2) not pure exposition.  It actually infused a little heart into the episode.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] It is about 6% which would have been about 9,000,000 people then.  Still, the odds that he and Kitty were both A- would have been just .36%.  TILT.
  • Robert Alda (Jeff) was Alan Alda’s father.
  • Mary Alice Moore (Kitty) went on to turn the world on with her smile, to take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile.  Wait, that was Mary Tyler Moore.  Mary Alice Moore appeared in the Tales of Tomorrow production of Frankenstein.
  • Looking at the old videos, I see the “Who can turn the world on with her smile” line came in a later season.  Originally, the first line was a very downbeat, “How will you make it on your own?

Outer Limits – Identity Crisis (03/27/98)

Behind an ultra-secure chain link fence of the same kind that kept us so safe from Captain Trips years ago,[1] the military is performing super-secret Super-Soldier experiments.  There is a tower of sparking electronic equipment in a building that looks like the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA.  The giant doors open a few feet to let in a soldier and dramatic backlighting.  But why did they make him wait outside?  And, they do know there is a little man-size door cut into giant ones, right?  To be fair, the production here is great.  Whoever scouts out such locations deserves more cash than most of the actors.

The shirtless soldier walks fearlessly to the sparking tower.  He is bulky, and sporting the Vladimir Putin style of camo with no shirt.  We can tell he is not fully human, though, by his clunky walk; also his smooth, bulbous head with cables coming out of it.  He climbs the tower, suffering no effects from the fire, magnetism, noise or whatever the unmentioned danger is supposed to be.  He not only performs some non-scheduled repairs while he’s up there, but tempts fate by flossing his teeth.

The soldier descends and walks to one of a pair of pods that were purchased from old Brundle estate.  He is sealed inside and the transfer process is initiated.  The consciousness inside the super-soldier is transferred back to the noggin of Captain Cotter McCoy (Lou Diamond Phillips).  The scientists are thrilled that the super-soldier shell came through virtually unscathed.  His boss, Colonel Peter Butler, jealously thinks McCoy gets a little too much credit for merely “driving” the synthetic body.  But he might just be twitchy because the other kids called him Peanut Butler [2] as a kid.

< uninteresting 5 minute scene with wife >

The next day, McCoy is again secured in the pod.  During the transfer process, his katra is successfully transferred to the Michelin-solider.  After the transfer, however, there is a malfunction in McCoy’s pod.  It is an interesting concept as the McCoy-bot realizes what is happening and tries to rescue his body.  Sadly, by the time he can open the pod, his body has been burned to death.

Needless to say, McCoy is peeved.  To make things worse, his consciousness can only operate in this experimental body for a short time.  So his wife won’t even have a chance to be disappointed that he is not anatomically correct; and bald.  Regardless, McCoy locks the scientists up and goes home to see his wife.

McCoy rings the bell and runs — what a scamp!  When his wife comes out, he speaks to her from behind the bushes.  Soon, he collapses and she runs to him.  “What have they done to you?”  She takes him inside.  He explains the sitch to her.  He had never been able to tell her about his top secret work, and its danger to his life and hair.

In an act of Holmesian perspicacity, the soldiers track him down at his house.  They come in, machine guns a-blazing.  Hilariously, the spray of bullets hits a vase of flowers and it bursts into flames.

Amazing Exploding Vase

Mr. & Mrs. McCoy escape and go to the chief scientist’s house.  They find his father is visiting, but he plays no part in the story at all.  I guess he is there as a reason for the scientist to obey McCoy’s demand that he come home.  This is kind of misguided anyway.  As he further deteriorates, McCoy demands an explanation from him as to what went wrong.  Surely their time would have been better spent working on a solution in the lab, or rousting some homeless guy with an able body and a nice head of hair.

They go back to the lab — told ya so!  The scientist has an idea how to give McCoy more time.  When they get there, they find out Col. Butler has transported into the back-up prototype body, although WTF he would choose this particular time to test drive it can only be explained by plot-necessity.  He jealously tells McCoy he was tired of him “always being in the lead.  Whenever we were up for the same assignments, the same promotions, they always went to you.”  Dude, you do know Colonel outranks Captain, right?

Anyhoo, there is a fight between the two prototypes.  You can probably guess what happens at this point.  McCoy needs a body, and Butler’s soulless husk of a body is already sitting in the pod.  What seemed to me to be a couple of yuge errors in this sequence turned out to be an unexpectedly clever way of manipulating the characters to this conclusion.  It is not explicitly shown that McCoy’s consciousnesses is transferred into Butler’s body.  In fact, it kind of looks like they blew it.  So rather than the final scene being trite and obvious, it does preserve some element of suspense.

The last scene is the funeral for McCoy’s body.  That McCoy now inhabits Butler’s bidy is confirmed by Mrs. McCoy’s last line, “Let’s go home, Cotter.”  So she gets her husband’s soul back, and McCoy gets the weirdest promotion ever.  He will also forever be revered as a god at the officer’s club as the dawg that started plowing his best friend’s wife 5 minutes after her husband’s funeral.

Another good episode.  Lou Diamond Phillips was great as McCoy, even when in the rubber suit.  Sadly, his wife was a bit of a non-entity.  However, the strength of the story, script and production design made this a winner.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] Despite the guards and portentous music, there isn’t much dangerous going on behind this fence.  That fence in The Stand has bothered me for years, though.  You’re monkeying around with a virus that can kill 99.4% of humans and you put it behind a flimsy roll-away Sears chain link fence?
  • [2] Which was better than McCoy’s nickname, Blue Diamond Filberts. [3]
  • [3] Sadly, Blue Diamond does not sell Filberts.  Also, why would fictional kids call him a name that riffed on an actor who would play him 30 years later?  I’m getting dizzy.