The Hitchhiker – Man at the Window (03/12/85)

Dude, that ain’t a Segway. Take it out on the street.

Arthur Brown is covertly aiming his Popeil Pocket Parabolic microphone at people on the street.  And by covertly, I mean dressed in leather, reclining like Rose being sketched by Jack in Titanic, his motorcycle parked beside him apparently having been driven up onto the walkway.

He hears an old man complaining about being an old man, and he hears a young woman with a black eye talking on the phone about having an affair.  Quite reasonably, he follows the woman.  The titular hitchhiker tells us, “Arthur Bradley Brown steals the words of others and uses them like they were his own” — just like Amy Schumer.

Arthur slowrides, following the woman as she walks to the studio of her lover.  He leaves his bike parked perpendicular to the curb, and sneaks up the fire escape.  He finds her window, and watches her.  So in the first three minutes, he is eaves-dropping, endangering pedestrians, holding up traffic, stalking, blocking the road, trespassing, and Peeping Tomming.  Ladies and gentleman, our protagonist.

Arthur had wisely called before midnight to get the free suction cup attachment for the microphone, which he sticks to her window. Turns out the woman, Diane, is having the affair with another woman, Carla Magnuson.  She makes excuses for her husband and the black eye he gave her.

That night, Arthur goes to Diane’s house and snoops outside her window for a while.  She assures her husband she was just in the city window-shopping, and that there is no one else.  They start making out, which is fine, but I think this scene could have been accomplished without seeing Michael Madsen’s butt.

Arthur is a writer.  He transcribes the scenes he has witnessed into a screenplay and takes it to his agent.  He had been a hot new talent at one time, but the drugs derailed him.  His agent is glad to see he is better than ever.  He has a few suggestions, though.  Apparently, his agent also represents Stephen King — his editing advice is: don’t cut anything, more more more!  He wants to add a scene — inexplicably not a further exploration of the lesbian affair — but of the husband finding out.

At home, stuck for a 3rd Act, Arthur calls Diane’s house to instigate trouble.  Her husband John answers, and Arthur says he is her boyfriend.  John says, “I’m her husband, you son of a bitch.”  The next day, the scamp sends flowers to Diane with a card that says, “To my best girlfriend.”  She wisely tells the delivery boy to take them away before she gets another shiner.

Diane storms into Carla’s gallery and accuses her of making the call and sending the flowers.  The flowers, I get, but why does she think Carla made the call.  Wouldn’t her husband have said a man called, or your boyfriend called?  Arthur is eavesdropping again, this time with a camera.  He takes a picture of Carla giving Diane a back-rub next to a gigantic nude photo of her.  Because, if you’re having an affair with the wife of an abusive psychopath, ya really want to prop the super-sized evidence up in front of a window that doesn’t even have curtains.

Arthur goes to Diane’s house, and this time breaks in.  He installs a bug on her phone and leaves a picture of Diane’s nude photo in their living room.  Finding this, her husband, predictably, starts slapping her around.  Arthur actually feels a little remorse when he overhears this.

The husband — Michael Madsen, playing his usual role of a muscle-head who is not particularly muscular — is a cop.  He detects a signature on the nude in the photo. In a nice bit of exposition, he calls a buddy on the force to get a number for a photographer named Magnuson.  This allows Arthur to overhear the address.  In the bedroom, Diane has picked up the extension, so she also knows where her husband is heading.

All three take off separately for Carla’s studio like the opening of It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.  The husband wants to kill “the guy”, Diane wants to warn her lover, and Arthur is thinking if he saves Carla’s life she will so grateful they will have a three-way.  Arthur gets there first and tries to warn Carla that John is on the way over with a gun.  Diane arrives next.

Diane:  John’s coming.

Carla:  That’s what he said.

Hee-hee.  Both women are baffled who Arthur is and why he is there.  John finally arrives and Carla breaks a perfectly good whiskey bottle over his head.  When the cops show up, they inexplicably shoot Arthur who is just standing there with his hands up.

This one grew on me as I thought more about it.  The story could hardly be simpler.  Maybe the lesbian love affair was a shocker in 1985, but it can’t support a whole story in 2017; at least not without significant nudity.  The direction called attention to itself a couple of times, but that’s OK.  Some of the shots such as through the fire escape (pictured above) and Arthur’s motorcycle riding were stylishly designed.  Performances were competent.

Maybe it is grading on a curve, but an OK episode.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – The Blessington Method (11/15/59)

In one of the great opening scenes of the series, JJ Bunce (Dick York) is sitting on a pier.  OK, it doesn’t sound like much so far, but stick with me.  An elderly fisherman approaches and says York is in his spot.  York is an affable guy, so scoots to the side so the 93 year old can sit.  York helps him out by pointing out a big fish.  The old man leans over the water to check it out.  York pushes him into the water.  Maybe he had a cement hip because he sinks like a stone.

Dick York was ludacris playing a thug in Vicious Circle.  However, in The Dusty Drawer, he seemed to find his niche.  He is a smiling sociopath who has no problem ruining or ending people’s lives if it fits his idea of justice or commerce.  Or maybe he’s just smiling because he knows he will be playing Elizabeth Montgomery’s husband in a few years.

Bunce walks into the offices of uber that-guy Henry Jones[1] This being the exotic future year of 1980, we get a couple of bits of business that aren’t all that far-fetched.  Bunce introduces himself as being from the Society for Experimental Gerology.  He seems to know every detail of Jones’ life including that he fell madly for Adlai, and has a shrill 82 year old harridan living with him.[2]  Even worse, Bunce’s statistics show that with 1980s medical advances, the old shrew [3] — his mother-in-law — could live another 32 years.  Bunce suggests he could make the problem go away.  Jones is outraged and throws him out of his office.

After an awful evening at home with his mother-in-law, Jones strides purposefully into his office the next morning.  Bunce is waiting for him. He has a plan to knock off the old woman for the low, low price of $2,000 with insanely low APR.  He is instructed to leave his mother-in-law for a nice day in the park.  Bunce finds her there in her wheel-chair.  After a brief conversation about how the old have an obligation to make way for the young — hint, hint, Bill & Hillary — he wheels her right off the pier.  Bravo!

Bunce finds Jones fishing in a transparent row-boat.  Whether that was a past thing or a future thing, I don’t know.  Bunce gives him the good news.  However, he suggests that some day Jones might have a “strapping young son-in-law” who will find him a burden.  On the other hand, his daughter will finally be somebody else’s problem. [5]

If I ever used the word delightful, I would use it for this episode.  It has great performances from Jones and York.  York goes a little overboard with the fluttering eyelashes, but I just take that like Norman Bates’ manic twitchiness.  The peeks into the future aren’t particularly prescient, but are pretty amusing and well sprinkled through-out the episode without being jarring.  Finally, the callous murders of the old people are so over-the-top that they are just a hoot.

The minorest of minor issues:  Jones realizes that he might face this same treatment from his kids.  Yeah, but in 30-40 years, so I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it.[4]

Other Stuff:

  • [1] I guess this is the new Uber that-guy.
  • [2] Well, I threw in the Madly/Adlai part because I liked the sound of it; and being embarrassed about your vote is one thing all Americas can share.
  • [3] The shrew seems fairly amiable as rodents go; it’s not really even a rodent.  How did they become synonymous with nasty women?
  • [4] Actually, part of his response — and it is well-handled — is a new self-awareness.  He is suddenly aware that his smiling, loving kids might some day have him killed.  He was once that respectful younger person, and realizes what an ingrate he has become.
  • [5] His teenage daughter is 29 and living at home.  At least they got that prediction right.
  • Saying grace before dinner, Jones says, “Our father, who art in space.”
  • AHP Deathwatch:  Nancy Kilgas is still hanging in there.  Of more interest is Elizabeth Patterson who was born just 10 years after the Civil War.

Twilight Zone – The Convict’s Piano (12/11/86)

Ricky Frost is minding his own business tapping out a tune on the table as if he were playing a piano.  Unfortunately, he is in prison where that translates as “break my fingers, please” with an encore of “thank you sir, may I have another.”  A fight breaks out nearby and Ricky stupidly tries to help a friend.

He gets a minor wound in the hand that is a little baffling.  As a pianist, his hands are his life.  Yet, at no point is he overly concerned about this wound to his hand.  There is no suggestion that this could end his piano playing days.  Given that, why was the wound even written to be on his hand?

The doctor worries that Ricky is not fitting in.  He has pissed off the white gang, and “even though you play like Ray Charles, you hardly qualify for the black gang.”  Ricky refuses to stand by while others get knifed.  The wound gets him a cushy work detail.

It was 90 years ago today . . .

He is handed off to a grossly miscast Norman Fell as Eddie O’Hara.  Maybe having been there 50 years, you get special privileges.  He has a hat, smokes a cigar and is wearing a vest even though the last thing I would want to be in prison is a dandy.

Eddie: You’re the piano player.  Knocked off your girlfriend.

Ricky:  She was my former girlfriend.  They found her in a car that had been stolen from me but I couldn’t prove any of that.

That exchange bugged me, but it’s not worth dissecting.  The bishop is coming to the prison, and O’Hara wonders if Ricky can play Ave Maria on an old piano they have in the attic.  It was a gift from O’Hara’s old pal Micky O’Shaughnessy around the time he disappeared, back when major appliances were allowed as gifts in prison.  And there’s nothing guards encourage more than a huge supply of unguarded piano wire in prison.

Ricky opens up the keyboard.  He finds sheet music for The Maple Leaf Rag in his stool — heehee!  As he begins playing, he is transported back to 1899.  He is a member of a band dressed like Sgt. Pepper playing a concert in a park.  When he stops playing for a second, he is transported back to the prison attic.  Later in the yard, he asks O’Hara how to avoid trouble.

Ricky: How do you get along in here?

O’Hara:  I believe in the 11th command-ment.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you . . . but do it unto them first!

This sounds clever, but makes no sense in multiple ways.  Again, let’s just move on.  The next time Ricky is able to get to the piano, he plays the WWI song Over There.  He is transported back to a bar in 1917 where dough-boys are waiting to ship out.  He pockets a box of matches and manages to sip a beer while playing with one hand.  When he removes both hands from the keyboard, he re-materializes back in prison.

While the doctor is removing the stitches from his hand, Ricky tells him about the piano.  The doctor, understandably, is dubious.  However:

Dr. Puckett:  If I were smart, would I be working here?

Bloody hell!  You’re a doctor!  OK, you’re not doing cancer research, but you earned a medical degree!  Maybe it’s time to point out this teleplay is from a writer with only one other credit on IMDb — another TZ segment which did not interest me enough to post about.

Apparently Ricky has freer run of the prison than Michael Scofield, because he is soon back in the attic with the piano.  Today’s selection is Someone to Watch Over Me (1928). [1]  O’Hara comes and Ricky asks him if he would like to go back to face O’Shaughnessy.  He proves it is possible by showing him the box of matches he pocketed.  He says, “I was there yesterday, the Shamrock Club in Chicago.”

What the hell?  He got those matches when he transported to the WWI bar.  One of the soldiers referred to being from 103rd street which sounds a lot more like New York than Chicago.  He offers to take O’Hara with him, but ends up being transported by himself.

O’Shaughnessy is critical of Ricky’s ivory tickling skillz.  He’s not crazy about the piano, either.  He orders a lackey to send it to young O’Hara at the state pen.  Then he sits beside Ricky and takes over the piano playing.  Since there was never a break of hands on the keyboard, O’Shaughnessy is now the driver and Ricky does not fade away.  Once O’Shaughnessy quits playing, he transports to the prison where old O’Hara punches him out for framing him and stealing his gal.  Ricky is a free man, and goes on to tickle the ivories of O’Shaughnessy’s flapper gal. [2]

Despite some gaps in math, dialogue, casting, and logic, this is a winner.  It takes a simple, high concept story and plays it out with justice being meted out all around.  Joe Penny has had a huge career, but he seems like such a natural talent, I’m surprised he wasn’t in more prestigious shows and movies.  Even though I felt Norman Fell was miscast as O’Hara, he’s still Norman Fell and that counts for something.  Another great asset is that, since this episode centered on certain songs, there was less opportunity for the awful TZ scoring to ruin the episode.

This is never going to be considered a classic, but it would have been a worthy episode on the classic 1960s series.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] The sheet music for Someone to Watch Over Me says 1928.  Since it was written in 1926, I take it we are to believe 1928 is the date Ricky goes to.
  • O’Hara has been in jail for 50 years, or since 1936.  So how did O’Shaughnessy send him the piano at the prison 8 years before he got there?
  • [2] By ivories, I mean boobs.  Just to be clear, boobs.  Under the B, boobs.  Which probably didn’t get much sunlight.  So, ivory-like.
  • [2] So this girl ended up banging all 3 guys.  Flapper, indeed.
  • Thank God for CTL-F or O’Shaughnessy would never have been mentioned by name.
  • I would encourage people to click the Maple Leaf Rag link above because it is very entertaining.  Here is a more convenient link, but to be honest, it is to pictures of Emily Ratajkowski.

Ray Bradbury Theater – The Crowd (07/02/85)

After midnight, Spelliner leaves a party and is driving his white Datsun 280-Z home when a dog runs in front of him.  Not being a bike messanger, he actually swerves to avoid it and flips the car.  He tries to crawl out.  Before the wheels even stop spinning, he is surrounded by people.  And not the kind of people you expect to be out at 2 AM, but a nice cross-section of male & female, young & old, white & off-white.  When the ambulance arrives, the crowd disperses.

A few days later, he is back at work in his neon sign studio.  He and his partner Morgan hear a car wreck and go to the window.  Spelliner pulls out his Casio digital watch and times that it only takes 21 seconds for the crowd to assemble.  They are the same people that flocked to his accident.

Spelliner first tries roaming the streets with a camera hoping to witness an accident.  Luckily, Morgan is able to get his hands on a stack of surveillance tapes [2] and episodes of America’s Wackiest Fatal Car Accidents.  He finds the same group gathering at 11 different accident sites.  There is one man in dark clothes whose face is never visible.

Shop Spelliner’s Gallery for all your Sumo-Wrestler ass art needs.

He shows all this to Morgan, who asks what the connection is.  Spelliner then produces morgue photos of these same people who had been killed in auto-accidents.  His friend suggests he drop it.  Spelliner believes the crowd is former accident victims who try to steal the air of those injured in current accidents.  He wants to meet these killers.

They go out looking for trouble.  They see no accidents, but do see some of the crowd-members individually walking around which kinda undermines the story. Spelliner panics and runs over Morgan, and flips his car again.  Spelliner climbs out of the car.  The crowd has assembled around Morgan lying dead in the street.  He looks around and sees Morgan is now one of the crowd.

There was a great premise here that falls far short of its potential.  Part of the problem is simply the times.  The synths, the hazy cinematography, the goofy clothes, the neon — they just don’t time-travel well.  Some of the fault must also fall on Nick Mancuso’s painfully dull performance as the awkwardly named Spelliner [1] (to be fair, I’m not sure it was ever spoken, but it was tough to type).  Morgan was mostly a non-entity as well.

Credit where it is due. It is a simple shot, but maybe the best in any RBT episode.

And what of the faceless man on the tapes?  Surely that was supposed to be Spelliner or Morgan, but it is just left hanging.  I’m not saying that would have made sense, but it would have tied things up.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] It is slightly more manageable as Spallner in the short story.
  • [2] I guess they are surveillance tapes.  When he hands them to Spelliner, he says something I have been unable to decipher after multiple replays.
  • LOL — Googling the episode, I found a New York Times article that called HBO’s Hitchhiker series “embarrassing”.  Shockingly, they did not blame Donald Trump.

Outer Limits – In the Zone (02/20/98)

“The Ageless One” Tanner Brooks has just slammed something into something to win The World Octal Federation match.  He has seen better days, though, and isn’t even in the top 10 anymore.  He gets a visit in his dressing room from Michael Chin who says he can help him win the championship.  To prove it, Chin speeds around the room at super speed.

Brooks goes to see Chin at his lab.  He explains that his process accelerates the human neuro-musculature system so that a person can react to events in a much shorter time scale.  Brooks subjects himself to the process.

His next match is against a woman, Helen “The Hammer” Draybeck.  This is a pretty lousy test of his skillz.  While the lovely Ms. Draybeck could no doubt kick my ass, I don’t know of a single sport where strength is an asset that a woman can beat a pro-level man.

Helen: You feeling good today?

Brooks:  My health insurance is all paid up.

Helen: You won’t be.

Are they even working from the same script?  Helen dominates him in the match and is fairly easily able to grab the ring.  Rather than stuffing it in the slot, she holds it up and milks cheers from the audience.

She has only a few seconds of screen time, but she’s getting the rest of the pictures. Go figure.

Dr. Chin’s process kicks in.  Brooks is able to move at super speed to yank the ring out of Helen’s hand and slam it home for a victory.  That leaves Helen baffled, although the ref, the ring announcer, the press, and the fans seem to have not noticed that he moved at about 500 MPH to do it.

Brooks goes on with more treatments and wins repeated victories in the arena.  Afterward, in the shower, he begins to see the water falling in slow motion.  Outside, he sees a fan about to be hit by a truck and exhibits the usual tropes:  1) victim “saved” by being pushed away to safety so quickly that the truck would have actually had less impact, 2) the driver doesn’t stop to complicate the narrative.

Brooks finally gets his title shot.  When he goes up against his younger, stronger opponent, he kicks his ass.  He is easily able to grab the ring.  Before he can put it in the slot, however, he begins to go out of synch with this reality and appears to vanish.

There was a funny shot of Pasdar that made him look really fat, but Helen wasn’t in it.

His wife and, for some unfathomable reason the ring announcer, go to Chin’s lab. Brooks’ wife goes through the same process to try to rescue him.  When she goes into the same hyper-state as Brooks, Chin and the announcer appear to be frozen to her.  She believes Brooks went back to the arena, so makes her way through the frozen city to find him.

Blah blah blah.  This version of The Outer Limits has always gone heavy on sentimentality.  They usually pull it off far more successfully than the 1980s Twilight Zone.  Sometimes, however, the score and an actor as uninteresting as Adrian Pasdar can sink the episode.  And this is in spite of an interesting story, Pat Morita as Chin, and a Selena Gomez look-alike as his wife.

Outer Limits was pushing its luck here.  If you are going to put the word Zone in a title, it had better be great.  And it really better not make you think of a Twilight Zone episode with the same gimmick.  Or a 1980s Twilight Zone episode.  The super-fast person / frozen masses trope is a classic, and I dig it every time (like also on Star Trek episodes); just maybe use a different title.

Other Stuff:

  • Helen fought in American Gladiators as “Ice”.
  • Kudos to Adrian Pasdar for great agility in the arena.
  • It would just be churlish to point out the super-speedy person would burst into flames.