Hermie Jenkins tells a caged toucan, “Shut your stupid beak. A dog gets house-broken in 3 months. You ought to be ashamed of yourself!” Well, what could the bird have possibly done wrong? He sits on a perch in a cage and shits. There’s not a lot of room for error.
Hermie takes care of his wife Myra’s menagerie. She has cages of birds, monkeys, raccoons, etc and bowls of fish around the house. Hermie is also kept on a pretty short leash as Myra gives him a shopping list for the animals’ food along with his $10 allowance.
Hermie’s neighbor George envies his “family” and 15 years of marriage. His wife died 9 years earlier. The homophobic transphobic fascist patriarchal h8er George says “a home ain’t a home without a woman.” And speaking of transphoboic, WordPress better get their ass in gear and update their spellcheck dictionary unless they want trouble.
Given his own unhappy situation, Hermie comically just assumes George killed his wife (i.e. death by natural causes on AHP). Turns out she died from pneumonia. Strange this had never come up before — they live in Florida where “How did your [husband / wife] die?” is second only to “Hot enough for you?” in conversation starters. George spent two years trying to get over his wife’s death. He traveled to “Hawaii, Acapulco, Las Vegas, Monte Carlo” which sounds pretty good to Hermie. George laments, “Since she’s gone, my life is nothing but beer and fishing.” Which also sounds pretty good.
After going to the store to buy brine shrimp, Hermie picks up Myra’s copy of Pet News. He sees an ad for Hansel Eidelpfeiffer selling snakes by the seashore. He drops the hint to Myra that “Snakes are the most affectionate pets in the world. Everybody knows that.” He tells her that snakes are great, just misunderstood. He reminds her of “that act in Tampa you wouldn’t go see — the snake dance striptease? That dame had ’em twining all around her.” He convinces her she should get a little one and she says she could carry it around with her.
The next day, Hermie goes to see Hansel Eidelpfeiffer. And if you’re going to have a Hansel Eidelpfeiffer, he should probably be played by Michael J. Pollard. Hermie tells Hansel he is a professor working for “that Cape Canaveral thing”. He says they need a poisonous snake for an experiment. Hansel suggests a Coral Snake, very handsome with bands of black, red and yellow which might have been diversity overload for 1960s NASA.
He gives the snake to Myra as the titular anniversary gift. From a safe distance, he tells her the snake loves to be used as a garter or a necklace. Garter snake — ha, I just got that! After unsuccessfully trying to make friends with the cold-blooded snake, she tosses it back to Hermie. The snake bites him and he drops dead — literally just drops right of frame — in a classic death scene.
After the coroner arrives to collect Hermie’s body, now also cold-blooded, George finds the snake. He and the coroner both identify it as a non-poisonous King Snake.
George assures the grieving Myra, “Hermie would never slip you a hot snake.” No wonder she was such a shrew. Heyoooooo!
Turns out Hermie had merely died of a heart attack, thinking Myra had just handed him a poison snake.
There is a lot to like here — several live animals, a real snake. Barbara Baxley is entirely adequate as the controlling, emasculating, oblivious Myra. I really did despise her, but I think it was more from the writing than the performance. Hmmmm, maybe that means she played it just right. She was childlike and pleasant, yet evoked those negative reactions. On second thought “well done!”
Harry Morgan, like The Wizard of Oz, is both great and terrible. He wasn’t much of a nuanced actor. His stiffness worked for him in roles from Dragnet to MASH. When he loosens up, it seems so against type, that it is pretty funny. He milked a lot of good laughs out of this one. On second thought, he was great too.
20 year old Michael J. Pollard was just magnificently odd as Eidelpfeiffer. My only minor complaint is the handling of his character. Both the coroner and George identified the snake as harmless, so I’m taking their word for it. I just don’t see Eidelpfeiffer making that mistake. 
-  For more background on the story and production, head over to bare*bonez e-zine. Jack says Eidelpfeiffer took advantage of Hermie. So I was wrong about that too. Man, I suck at this.
- AHP Deathwatch: Michael J. Pollard is the sole surviving performer. However, director Norman Lloyd will be 103 in November. Or maybe I should say, he is currently 102.
- The 35th wedding anniversary is Coral, but I guess Hermie couldn’t wait that long.
- On two occasions, Hermie calls Hansel “Assenpfeffer.” What the hell? [UPDATE] After some research (mostly of the theme to Laverne & Shirley), I guess he was mocking Eidelpfeiffer’s moniker by calling him “hasenfeffer.”
- It has stuck with me for years that Harry Morgan on MASH once referred to snakes as a poison ropes. That’s pretty good.