Alfred Hitchcock Presents – Backward, Turn Backward (01/31/60)

This episode confused the hell out of me.  Unlike The Hitchhiker, I happily admit it is my probably my fault when an AHP episode confuses me.

A crowd has gathered outside the Thompson house.  Inside, detectives are searching for clues about the murder of Matt Thompson.  The sheriff [1] says, “All they want is Phil Canby’s head for dinner.”  The murder weapon, a Langstrom 7″ wrench, was left behind, but was washed with dish detergent.  “He scrubbed it in the sink, then washed the sink.”  Maybe he could kill somebody at my place a couple times a week.

[1] My problems began immediately as the episode opens on two men talking about a murder case.  One of the men is dressed in a suit and the other is dressed like Indiana Jones.  Turns out, he is the sheriff, but they don’t give you any indication.  Sure, if you realllllly look for it, you can see a holster from one angle, but your eye is really drawn to the fedora, and he is not wearing a badge.  Also, the conversation by the two unidentified men about two other men who would not appear on camera for quite a while just made my head spin.

Thompson’s neighbor Mrs. Lyons had been telling people something like this was going to happen because the killer was “Phil Canby, chasing after a girl young enough to be his grand-daughter.”  She saw Phil Canby kiss Sue Thompson “right on the mouth” and it made her “sick to my stomach” because he was 59 years old.  The sheriff points out that Canby proposed to the girl, and she accepted.  That doesn’t mollify Mrs. Lyons.  “The very idea, a girl still in her teens marrying an old fool like that!”

He asks, “Are you prepared to testify you heard the Murray baby [2] crying last night at 10:30?”  She says, “Absolutely.”  Further, it had to be that baby because there wasn’t another one on the whole block.  Canby swears the baby was asleep at that time. [3]

[2] When the baby is first mentioned, it lacks any context.  Why is he asking about a baby?  What would its cries indicate?  In what house was it located?  The Murray house apparently, but who are the Murrays?

[3] Before the Sheriff leaves Thompson’s house, he asks the detective if the ambulance can take the body.  What?  The body has been there the whole time?

Sheriff Willets goes next door to Canby’s house. [4]  The door is answered by his daughter Betty.  He asks to see Phil Canby, but they are interrupted by baby Phillip [5] bawling in the kitchen.  As soon as Phil Canby enters the kitchen — Sweet Jesus, he is old! — baby Phillip stops crying.   OK, Mrs. Lyons said the baby was crying at the time of the murder which is meant to suggest that Canby wasn’t at home.  So maybe I’m starting to get it.

[4] When the sheriff leaves Thompson’s house to go next door, we don’t know where he is going.  Then when Betty Murray answers the door, we don’t know who she is.  She is young and cute, so it is natural to assume she is Sue Thompson.  In fact, the actress is 3 years younger than the 35 year old Lolita playing the teenage Sue (not to be confused with the Sue who would play the teenage Lolita in 2 years).

[5] The baby has to be named Phillip also?  Could they make this any more confusing?  And doesn’t that immediately suggest it is the love child of Phil Canby and Sue rather than Phil’s grandson?

Betty says she doesn’t understand why the town is so quick to pin the murder on her father.  Like all daughters, she supports her old father nailing some teenager.  While the Sheriff is talking to Canby, Sue comes downstairs. [6]  He asks her to describe what happened the night before.  Last night, she asked Phil to her house to fix the drain.  There was an argument and Mr. Thompson said he’d have Canby put into an institution before he let Sue marry an old man.  Sue says her father was alive when Canby left.

[6]  Maybe thus is nit-picky, but why was Sue upstairs at the Canby house?  Or is it the Murray house and they just let Canby live there rather than send him to a nursing home?  Maybe she wouldn’t want to stay at the house where her father was just murdered, but why was she not just lounging around the living room.  Well, Canby had been upstairs, maybe they were . . . I don’t even want to think about it.

After the funeral, the Sheriff comes to arrest Canby.  Sue has a tantrum and begins bawling like a baby.  “That’s what Mrs. Lyons heard,” Mr. Murray says helpfully in almost his only line.  From this, they all conclude that Sue killed her father and reacted hysterically, crying like a baby. [7]

[7] But the crying did not come from the house where the baby was.  Maybe Mrs. Lyons can hear the whole block, but her direction is way off.

The ending is not a complete non-sequitur as the 35 year old actress played the 19 year old Sue as having the emotional maturity of a child; which makes the relationship even Moore creepy.  The twist is just a little too silly.  It is not helped by an erratic performance from the Sheriff, and some clunky staging and exposition.  This is especially surprising coming from writer Charles Beaumont.

I’m confused.  However, AHP is so consistently well done, I must just be tired.  Or, as one commenter suggested, a moron.

Notes:

  • Also messing with my head:  I initially typed the wrong names for Thompson vs Canby just about every time I used them.
  • Also, I have never once spelled Sheriff correctly on the first try in 1,000 attempts.

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