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.

The Sad Serbian – Frank Gruber (1939)

A racket to mulct the multitudes is plenty reason for murder.

Mulct?  Yep, real word.

Sam Cragg is the kind of guy who will repo a car at a funeral, i.e. efficient.  He busts Anthony Druhar at his grandmother’s funeral.  His entire family can only come up with $32, so Cragg agrees to stop by his house the next day for the balance.

It is a good day for Cragg as he finds Druhar dead, with his head twisted around backwards.  So I guess he gets the $32 and the car.  There is a piece of paper sticking out of Druhar’s pocket.  Cragg reads, “For value received, I promise to pay Tony Druhar five thousand dollars — WC ROBERTS.”  So, a pretty good day for WC Roberts, too.

A moment later, a character futurely known as Prince gets out of a cab.  “He is wearing a black, single-breasted coat which is open showing a fawn colored waist-coat.  Under it is a pair of striped trousers and below that, believe it or not, white spats.  On his head, he’s got a pearl gray Homburg.  He’s carrying a pair of pig-skin yellow gloves and a cane.”  He introduces himself as Prince Peter Strogovich.  He was just about to give Druhar a job.

The cops show up and briefly detain Cragg and the Prince, but neither is a suspect.  On an unrelated case the next day, their paths cross again.  Cragg sees him leaving a candy store that Cragg is heading for.  Inside “sits the biggest woman I’ve ever seen in my life.  She’s six foot two or three inches tall and big all around.  She weighs 290 or 300 and none of it is flabby fat.”  She asks what he is looking for and he says — heehee — “a dick magazine.”

He sees the Prince exit the saloon across the street where he must have only had a shot.  The Prince hires Cragg to locate a man who owes him money — WC Roberts!  He says that his cousin was the King of Serbia, Peter Karageorgovich.

Cragg goes to an address the Prince (because I ain’t gonna keep typing Karageorgovich) gave him.  He asks the super where to find WC Roberts.  The man laughs and pulls out his own $5k note signed by WC.  He says the Irish are buying them for $5, but the Polacks and Serbians are paying up to $20.  He says the Prince is in cahoots with WC and directs Cragg to a big Serbian hootenanny that night.

The Prince is giving a speech about how Edison and Westinghouse and Ford stole ideas from WC Roberts.  The notes are to fund lawsuits against them.  The giant woman is on the stage with them.

Blah, blah, blah.  And I mean that in the nicest possible way.  The story takes enough twists and turns that your time would be better spent reading the story rather than reading this blog.  But really, what wouldn’t be?  It zips right along and is filled with characters like the Prince, the giant woman, Cragg’s boss & secretary.  Cragg sets a trap involving a children’s book and the post office.

It all good fun.  Hopefully Frank Gruber shows up again in the anthology.

Other Stuff:

  • First published in the March 1939 issue of Black Mask.
  • Also that month, Howard Carter suspiciously succumbs to King Tut’s curse a mere 17 years after finding the tomb.  And some Hitler stuff.

Pastorale – James M. Cain (1938)

1.

It looks like Burbie is about to be hung for thinking himself “so damn smart.”  And this was the year before Gone With the Wind, when damn meant something.

When Burbie was 16, he ran away with a travelling show.  Ten years later, he returned with all his fingers so thought he knew it all.

Lida was just like him.  She made her living “selling dry goods to the men” and fortunately was not a prostitute.  She married an older fella about a year before Burbie returned.  He starts meeting her in the cornfield to play hide the cob after her husband goes to bed each night.  Eventually they decide they will have to kill him.

Burbie enlists another ex-con, Hutch, to help him do the deed.  He tells Hutch there is a literal pot of money just awaitin’ to be stolen.  While Lida is at the store, they go to the house and kill the old man.

2.

Hutch gets angry when he discovers the pot of money contains only $23 in pennies, nickels, and dimes, and a couple of those are Canadian.  Burbie claims he thought there was $1,000 in the pot.  He magnanimously volunteers to let Hutch have the whole thing even though neither of them knows that word.  When some visitors drive up, they replace the empty pot and take the old man’s body with them as they sneak out the back way.  They pick up some tools and drive out to the woods.  Finally, one of the stories I post about gets it right:

So Burbie dug the grave.  He dug for two hours, until he got so tired he couldn’t hardly stand.  But he ain’t hardly made no hole at all.

The excuse here is that the ground is frozen.  But for most dudes, that’s probably about right pace at any time of year.  They throw the body into the shallow grave.  When the head is still sticking out, Hutch beats it down with a shovel.  LOL.

On the way back, Burbie admits that he has been plowing Lida’s crop circle, Hutch turns the truck around.  He forces Burbie to cut off the old guy’s head so they can take it to Lida.  He plans to put the head in a box with a ribbon and surprise Lida when she opens it.

3.

Burbie is not thrilled at this idea.  The first chance he gets, he tosses the severed head out of the truck.  The bad luck continues as it lands on the frozen ice of a river.  The crack of the ice — the old guy must have had one of them Ted Kennedy 50-pounders — alerts Hutch.  He tries to kill Burbie, but he literally runs home, and hides beneath the covers of his bed.

The next day, a gruesome sight is found at the river.  There is still a human head sitting out on the ice, Hutch’s horse [1] is”damn near froze to death” and Hutch himself is at the bottom of the river “stiff as a board.”  I guess he had the $23 of change in his pockets.  The head ties Hutch to the murder, but Burbie gets away with it.

Some time later, however, he feels compelled to tell his life story to a group of people, including the constable.  He was so proud of all the women, all the liquor, Lida, and Hitch alone being nailed for the murder that he just couldn’t hold it in.

A short, fun romp.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] OK, they were in a horse-drawn carriage.  But truck was so much easier to type.
  • First published in the March 1938 issue of The American Mercury.

Ray Bradbury Theater – Banshee (02/22/86)

Screenwriter Douglas Rogers is taking a cab to meet with renowned Irish director John Hampton.  The cabbie says that Hampton left one wife to take another.  He continues,  “We know all about him, and can tell far more than we know.”  What?  Is this a joke?  A mistake?  An Irish colloquialism?  I am too fatigued with RBT to care at this point.  This is the last episode I need to watch, and son-of-a-bitch if I don’t have to read the short story too.

Hampton greets Rogers at the door.  He immediately begins pulling pages from the file, glancing at them, and dropping them to the floor.  After skimming, skipping, and discarding pages, he pronounces, “Damn you, it’s good!”  Hampton is distracted by a sound outside.  He says it is the titular banshee, “The spirits of women who roam the woods the night someone is to die.”

Hampton challenges Rogers to go outside and have a look.  He humors the old drunk and walks into the woods.  And walks and walks.  He sees nothing for 2 1/2 minutes which, in TV time, is enough to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.  Then he sees the woman in white.  She gazes past Rogers to the house.  “Is he in there now,” she asks.  “The great animal who walks on two legs.  He stays, all others go.  Girls are his napkins, women his midnight feast.”

I started transcribing, thinking it would eventually pay off.  She droned on for 5 minutes which, in TV time, is enough to hike the Pacific Crest Trail twice.  She tells Rogers to go back to the house and send Hampton out.

Blah blah blah.

There is just nothing interesting here to grab onto.  The performances were fine.  If you want to see a foppish Peter O’Toole chewing the scenery in pair of knickers, this is your lucky day.  Me, I just found him annoying.  Charles Martin Smith is solid as always.  He has shown up on Twilight Zone, Tales from the Crypt, and Outer Limits and always delivered.

I could even imagine the story working on film, but it just was not well-adapted.  The long walk into the woods and the long scene with the banshee were excruciating.    There were some mind games between the two men which could have been a fun duel, but that too is painful to watch.  Finally the last scene is just squandered.  An unknown entity rattling the doorknob, if properly set up, is a classic.  To be fair, that did create a tiny bit of suspense.  However, Rogers fleeing up the stairs for a freeze frame and fade to black was just an utter nothing.  It could have been worse — in the short story, Rogers literally jumps into bed and pills the covers over his head.

Other Stuff:

  • Nothing to see here.
  • Thus endeth RBT.

Faith – Dashiell Hammett (Unpublished)

Fifty men are sitting in the barracks of the canning factory listening to Morphy rail about the factory, the boss, the equipment, the pay.  They are described as “migratory workmen”, which means they were Americans who traveled the USA doing those jobs that Americans won’t do.

Feach laughs, which is considered a huge faux pas.  Morphy asks what is so funny.  He says, “I’ve saw worse, and I expect to see worse” ironically not referring to his grammar.

The next night Morphy proclaims there is no God.  Feach clearly believes otherwise. Morphy demands proof of God’s existence.  Several nights later, Feach wags his finger at Morphy and screeches, “Of course there’s a God!  There’s got to be!”  It took him a week to come with that?  Pascal put more thought into it.  He also cites “the moon and the sun and the stars and flowers and rain.”  Morphy is unimpressed and says “Edison could have made them for all you know.”  Yeah, except he wouldn’t have let God get the credit.

Feach’s most convincing argument is that he knows there is a God because God cursed him.  He had a wife and kid in Ohio — lightning burned down his house with them in it.  He started work in a coal mine and 3 days later a cave-in killed 14 men.  He worked in a box factory that burned down within a week.  He was sleeping in a house in Galveston that was destroyed by a hurricane.  He shipped out of Charleston and all hands except him drowned.  Tough break about the wife and kid, but I’m not seeing the curse.  Feach thinks God is trying to kill him — what a glass-half-empty kind of guy.

Feach says it is happening “because I done a thing” but doesn’t elaborate.  Morphy says “A hell of a Jonah you are!”  Feach warns them that something bad is coming, and not just that last episode of Ray Bradbury Theater in 5 days.

That night, Feach pours gasoline around the 2 barracks and burns them to the ground.  His excuse to Morphy is “Maybe I done it.  And maybe Something used me to do it.  Anyways, if it hadn’t been that, it’d maybe been something worse.”

I’m not sure where Hammett was going with this one.  Are Feach’s tragedies self-inflicted?  Maybe he set the fire that killed his wife and kid, but he didn’t cause a hurricane.

Or was killing his family the thing he done and God really was trying to kill him with the other calamities?  If so, then Hammett muddled the narrative by having the box factory burn down — that could have been by Feach’s human hand.

Was the box factory the same situation as the barracks — him causing a disaster to prevent a larger disaster?  We know he is a fire-bug.  Or was God indeed working through him?

I liked the story and the style.  Of course, it was unpublished, therefore maybe not finished.  If you take it as a fragment, it’s pretty good.

Other Stuff: