Alfred Hitchcock Presents – Touché (06/14/59)

With this episode, AHP puts the grave in accent grave.

Unfortunately, it is an acute accent. That’s not all that goes wrong here. This might be the most deadly dull episode so far.  This is surprising as it features Robert Morse.  He might be obnoxious and a terrible actor, but he ain’t dull.

Bill Fleming and his young friend Phil enter the hunting lodge and hang up their jackets, revealing their manly-man plaid flannel shirts.  They order a couple of Bourbon Sours.  After a strangely jarring edit, Phil tells Bill he was pretty talkative last night after a few too many Glenlivet Glen Rosses.  It was just the usual AHP guy-talk; you know, about killing a man.

Bill remembers talking about his cheating wife who “makes up to every man she meets except her husband” whatever that means.  Part of the problem might be that when they got married, she was “a cute, freewheeling little 22 year old cupcake” and Bill was fifty. She is currently fooling around with Bill’s former friend Baxter.  That actor is only four years younger than Bill so she definitely has a type.

Seeing an epee on the wall of the lodge, Phil asks Bill if he ever considered challenging Baxter to a dual.  They talk and talk (and talk), the two men sitting at the table, until the 12-minute mark. This could get tedious under any circumstances, but Paul Douglas as Bill is just deadly-dull.[1]  Even though it is a fine performance, it is just mind-numbingly flat.  I completely buy him as a former boxer, and as a lumber business millionaire, though — he’s even got the flannel.  I bet that’s what attracted his young wife; no, not the flannel, the thing before that.

When Bill returns home from his hunting trip, Baxter and Laura are lounging around having drinks.  They make no effort to disguise what they were doing.  Bill takes a couple of swords off the wall and tosses one to Baxter.  Bill takes a few jabs at Baxter who reluctantly picks up the other sword.  In the midst of this tedium, I have to give AHP kudos for the duel.

Bill has no experience with the weapon, and Baxter is only a swordsman in the Urban Dictionary meaning of the word.  This is not the standard TV match where they then expertly cross swords up then down, up then down, then slide the blades down to the hilt as they gaze love-hatingly into each other’s eyes.  They clumsily clash swords a few times — more Episode 1 than Episode 6.  Mostly it is Bill chasing Baxter as he runs through the house.  He nicks Baxter a couple of times, then finally just runs him through.

Cartwright!

Bill goes to the Police Station and tells them he killed a man.  It is only now, as Bill spills his guts, that we learn Baxter’s first name is Phil.  Hmmmm.  On the witness stand, he describes how it was a fair match. Sure, being a former heavyweight champ, he could have punched Baxter out any time.  But he figures Baxter could have then sued him in that case. He sees this as a fair fight which Baxter lost.

He is found not-guilty, but immediately after the trial is called into the judge’s chambers. The judge says since Bill was the beneficiary of “the liberal provisions of the civil code in reference to duels” he must enforce another provision in that statute.  If you slay a person in a duel, you must provide for the widow and children of the person — and Baxter had a son.  Despite being found not-guilty, Bill is ordered to treat the poor 28 year old orphan as if he were a child.  Say, this is a liberal provision.   The judge orders Bill to pay out $100,000 plus a monthly allowance of $1,000 per month for life. [2]

His lawyer protests that it is too much, but Bill disagrees.  He says, “To be rid of Baxter . . . it’s cheap at half the price” which makes no sense.  He goes back to his house and finds his wife in her usual position of brazenly lounging around, swilling booze with another man. Surprise — it is his old pal Phil . . . Phillip Baxter Junior!  The smirking punk asks Bill, “Since I’m going to be your guest for the next 50 years, would you mind if I called you ‘Dad’?”

  1. This slightly misses the mark. There should have been a reference to an “allowance” in his zinger for it to truly work. Guest?
  2. This does not put Bill in a Dad-role — he and Phil Jr. are equals as lovers of the tramp Laura.
  3. Bill did not know his “pretty close friend” Baxter had a son?
  4. So, in the 1950’s you could not show a husband and wife in the same bed, but it was OK to have a dude making out with his father’s married girlfriend?
  5. And Jocasta Laura was OK with this?
  6. When Phil Jr. planted this idea in Bill’s head at the lodge, he had to know he was setting his own father up to be killed.
  7. And Jocasta Laura was OK with this? [3]

None of this would have mattered much if not for the talky opening and Paul Douglas’s lethargic acting.  I must admit, though, Robert Morse was not quite as hammy as he would become, and he elevated the episode to an “OK”.

Post-Post:

  • [1] Sadly, three months after this episode aired, he would be deadly-dead at the increasingly-young-to-me age of 52.
  • [2] In 2017 dollars:  $835k + $8k/month.  Holy crap!
  • [3] I know — strike-outs = lowest form of humor.
  • AHP Deathwatch:  Only Dodie Heath (Laura) is still with us.
  • I kept thinking Bill’s house looked like a Chinese restaurant, and his wife was dressed like a hostess.
  • . . .
  • Douché . . . I held out as long as I could.
  • [UPDATE] For more information on the episode’s source material and author, head over to bare*bonez ezine.  I initially missed this as a search for Touche without the accent came up empty.  What are we, in l’âge de pierre?

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