Alfred Hitchcock Presents – Graduating Class (12/27/59)

Miss Siddons arrives at Briarstone Women’s College to accept a job offer from her old pal who is now the principal.  After a meet and greet with her friend and the vice-principal, she heads to her first class, European Literature.  The VP expresses doubt, but the P says Miss Siddons has had a tough life.  She lost her mother and father when she was in college.  Then she went to Germany to visit her uncle.  Darn the luck, the war started and she was stuck there for the duration.

When Miss Siddons enters her classroom, the well-groomed, neatly-dressed students turn to face the front, stop yakking, and give Miss Siddons their full attention.  Wait, is this AHP or TZ?  Well, it is AHP’s last episode of the 1950’s. Buckle up Al, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. [1]

Miss Siddons gets right to business as if these students were there to learn.  She humorlessly says, “You will find that I insist on punctuality and on attention.  You will also find that at the end of the semester you will have learned European Literature.”

After class, Miss Siddons is standing at the bus stop looking like Mary Poppins with her flat pork pie hat and valise.  A carload of girls pulls up in Gloria’s car and offers her a ride, which she surprisingly accepts.  She says she was under the impression that the students were not allowed to drive cars to school.  Vera says Gloria is PC.  Wait, what?  Gloria explains that means Privileged Character.  Privileged, really?  These girls women were really ahead of their time.  I eagerly await the scene where they pull down the statue of Jedediah Briarstone.

Another girl explains that Gloria’s family is still at their summer place.  So I guess she really is privileged.  Until they come back to town, she is allowed to drive the car to school.  They offer to take her to the malt shop, but she declines.

She asks to be dropped off at her apartment at the Clifton Arms.  As she is searching for her key, her tubby neighbor across the hall introduces himself as Ben Prowdy.  He invites her to the local bar — she says she doesn’t drink.  He suggests a movie — she says she expects to be busy for several weeks.  Wow, I didn’t get this much deja vu from yesterday’s Curious Case of Edgar Witherspoon.

The next day in class, Miss Siddons lectures, “It is not generally known that the author of the classic European horror story Frankenshtein was the wife of the English poet Shelley.”  C’mon, you lived in Germany for years and you say Frankenshtein?  She writes the name on the chalkboard.  Sadly, before I can see if she spells it with an H, Vera sneaks in late.

Miss Siddons admonishes her for this third violation.  To put her on the spot, Miss Siddons asks Vera if she knows who Prometheus was.  Vera says, “Isn’t it one of those funny little things we studied in Zoology?” which got a laugh out of me.  The stern Miss Siddons tells her, “The ancient Greeks regarded Prometheus as the creator of the human race.”  Vera replies, “I don’t see why we have to waste our time on a lot of people who’ve been dead for hundreds and hundreds of years!”  Rather than cowering, apologizing, asking Vera’s permission to go to the restroom, and ultimately resigning, the teacher calmly explains to the immature student that she has just demonstrated why she desperately needs to be educated.  Well, bravo Miss Siddons, but that’s no way to ever be promoted to Administration.

Gloria catches Miss Siddons in the hall after class.  Apparently, the lecture continued on to cover Shelley’s The Last Man.  Gloria was hoping Miss Siddons had a copy she could borrow. Miss Siddons tells Gloria what a great student she is, and Gloria invites her home to have tea with her mother.  While there, Miss Siddons sees Gloria’s mother is sickly and learns that her father is in Iraq — their summer place in Iraq, I guess.  Although I would picture that as more a winter getaway.

Miss Siddons doesn’t have the book Gloria asked about, but cares enough about her to check out an antique bookstore — the book is the antique, not the bookstore . . . the bookstore won’t last long enough to become an antique.  Ben Prowdy happens by and hits on her again.  She says maybe some other night.  We can tell by her rare smile that she actually means it.  She is startled to see, across the street, Gloria going into an establishment called 7th Heaven with a man.  She tries to follow, but the doorman says, “No ladies allowed without escorts.  You wouldn’t want the club to get a bad name, now would you, lady?”  I think this place will have a shorter life-span than the bookstore.

The next day, Gloria dozes off in class.  After class, Miss Siddons asks her to stay.  Gloria lies and says she was up late taking care of her mother.  That night, Miss Siddons goes to a movie with Ben.  Robert H. Harris is a little bit of a mystery to me.  He is 50ish, short, balding, and shaped like a fat potato.  Yet on AHP, he seems to be quite a success with the ladies in more than one episode.  He is kind of shaped like Hitchcock — maybe it was some kind of wish-fulfillment on Hitch’s part.

After the movie, she and Ben again walk down the only street in the city.  She sees Gloria wearing a fur coat, coming out of 7th Heaven with a man and they start swapping spit.  She explains to Ben why this is so upsetting to her.  They follow the couple to an apartment building where they see them as silhouettes in the window until the light goes out.

Seeing Miss Siddons is upset, Ben says, “Let me take you home.  Young people have different ideas about things today.  What was wrong when we were young — .”  Miss Siddons cuts him off, ” — is still wrong!”  Well, there’s the cost of two movie tickets shot to hell.  Miss Siddons enters the building to slide a note under the door.

The next morning, Gloria comes to Miss Siddons’ apartment, furious at being tracked.  When Miss Siddons explains that she was just trying to protect her, she explains that she is secretly married and the man is her husband. She was afraid the shock would kill her mother, so she was waiting for her father to get back from Iraq where he become used to both shock and awe.

The next day, Gloria is absent from class.  She left a letter that the other girls have already read.  There is a twist, but I’ll stop here.  Not to avoid a spoiler, but because the episode is wearing me out.  It is a little bit of a slog, and I’m not sure why.  Yeah, Miss Siddon is a very proper, stoic woman, but she is a believable character.  Prowdy and Gloria both provide some energy and humor.  It just feels like it is 2 hours long.

Back in November.  Or December, but I really prefer the 30-day months.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] Yeah, yeah — the quote is wrong in 3 different ways.
  • AHP Deathwatch:  Julie Payne and Gigi Perreau have not graduated yet.
  • Marlon Brando’s sister Jocelyn makes her 2nd AHP appearance, and she is even more poorly utilized here.  AHP has one more chance to do right by her.

Twilight Zone – The Curious Case of Edgar Witherspoon (09/24/88)

The curious case I got was a curious case of deja vu back to the Patterns episode of Night Visions.  In that post, I had a paragraph stating how each step of the plot was evident from the start:

Of course Martin’s OCD tics are going to be the glue that keeps the world together.  Of course Critchley is going to be skeptical.  Of course Martin is going to be found to be telling the truth.  And of course Critchley will inherit the burden that he was skeptical of.

Change the names, and this is exactly the same story.  That is not necessarily a bad thing.  I guess it is a broad enough trope, like time-travel, that no one can claim to own it.  And I am a sucker for this particular trope, so case dismissed.  I give it a Trumpian pardon — maybe not deserved, but who’s going to stop me?

I deleted about 500 words above that just seemed superfluous; although beautifully composed.  Harry Morgan played Edgar Witherspoon perfectly.  As a young man — or at least as young as Harry Morgan ever was — he was a bit of a stiff.  The laughs he got back then seemed to be from hamming it up or due to funny words coming out of his Dragnet facade.  In this episode, he seems to have arrived at peak coot-hood.  He is a fun old guy, believably sincere with his krazee ideas.  Unfortunately — and I’m going to use that word a lot — the psychiatrist seems to be in a different episode, and the rest of the cast are just non-entities.[1]

Unfortunately # 2:  This is the first episode of the 3rd season (although the 4th episode on the DVD?) and the first appearance of Robin Ward as the announcer.  I was often critical of Charles Aidman’s avuncular voice undermining many episodes, so a change was welcome.  I’m not sure this is an improvement, though.  From one outing, he strikes me as if he is trying to emulate both Aidman and Rod Serling.  I hear shades of them both in his delivery.

Unfortunately # 3:  The score, as is frequently the case, is just entirely inappropriate.  Harry Morgan was fine being eccentric, but I would rather have had the score show a little more seriousness.  These scores too often cheapen the stakes with musical flourishes and little pixie dust sounds.  The psychiatrist’s performance was grimly at odds with the rest of the episode, but maybe he was closest to getting it right.  The island of Tuatau was destroyed by a tidal wave for cryin’ out loud!  Do you have no feelings atoll — heyooooo! [1]

And yet, for all the belly-aching, I really enjoyed it.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] This is not so funny after the events of Barbuda.  Or before.
  • Yikes, what a dreadful pedigree:  The psychiatrist was on an episode of Ray Bradbury Theater, his secretary was also in a RBT, Edgar’s niece was in the dreadful Poltergeist remake, and the new announcer was in a Hitchhiker.

Tales of Tomorrow – The Horn (10/10/52)

Shop Foreman Jake Lippitt wants to fire Max Martinson.  He arrived 6 months ago with big plans for new musical instruments, but has produced nothing.  Company President Heinkle wonders if Lippitt is afraid his daughter Evelyn might become interested in Martinson.

Heinkle calls Martinson into the office.  He says he needs only another 2 months to finish his new instrument.  It uses a new principle in the transmission of high frequency sound waves.  He says if it is properly used, “it will do more to heal the world’s wounds than any corp of diplomats.  Improperly used, it will be more destructive than the H-Bomb.” As I get older, I’m starting to wonder if he doesn’t have that backwards.

When Lippitt claims that 2 violins Martinson built were returned as defective (i.e. did not sound like cats f***ing), Evelyn leaps to his defense.  Further, she says her engagement to Lippitt is off.  Later she joins Martinson in the workshop.  She says Lippitt became bitter after he couldn’t hack it as a concert pianist.  She was just looking for an excuse to end the engagement.

Exactly 2 months later, Martinson brings in his new horn to demonstrate to Heinkle.  He blows the horn, but there is no sound. A few seconds later, however, there is a musical riff.  Whether it is a delayed reaction from the horn, or part of the score, I don’t know.  Old Mr. Heinkle gets up and says, “That’s funny, all of the sudden I feel excited!  I feel exhilarated and I don’t know why!  A moment ago I was dog tired!”

Evelyn eggs him on to blow the horn again.  Heinkle gets angry, “Stop it, stop it!  Put that horn down!”  Martinson explains that the horn communicates emotion, any kind, “whatever emotion the player is feeling.”  So Martinson was really bi-polar in the last 30 seconds.  Or blowing hot and cold, as they say.

I guess the musical cue was the score because Martinson explains the sound is ultra-sonic like dog whistles which can only be heard by dogs and MSNBC hosts.  Heinkle has a great idea.  He asks Evelyn to call in Lippitt which seems like a great idea if they can condition him from being such a dick.  Bizarrely, however, Martinson decides to instill the emotion [sic] of acrophobia in him.  Even more bizarrely, Heinkle goes along with this.

Lippitt comes in and sits down.  Hidden on the 6th floor balcony of Heinkle’s office — apparently the violin business used to be YUGE! — Martinson begins blowing his horn.  Lippitt gets very tense and anxious.  He croaks out, “I’m falling, I’m falling.”  Then he falls — sadly, to the floor, not the pavement 60 feet below.

Some time later, Evelyn and Martinson have gotten engaged.  There is a banquet that night to celebrate Martinson’s invention and the fact that he is donating it to a committee of scientists.  He believes physicists will research the nature of sound, doctors will research emotional disorders, military men will control the morale of thousands of troops.  His only stipulation is for it to be used for the benefit of all mankind.  More likely, the main tunes it will play will be “Must Buy Coke” and “Vote for ______ [insert corrupt politician name here]”

Martinson goes to the shop to get the horn and finds that Lippitt has broken into his locker and taken it.  Lippitt suggests that 2 enterprising men like them could make a fortune with it even if one of them was a parasitic jerk.  When Martinson disagrees, Lippitt brains him with a 4 X 4 and steals the horn.

He runs back into  Heinkle’s office since this factory only has 2 rooms.  Like all businessmen, Heinkle keeps a gun in the office.  He pulls it on Lippitt, but the punk knows the old man won’t shoot him as he descends on the fire escape — he might drop the horn and destroy it.

Lippitt looks over the balcony and says, “Look down there.  Thousands of people, all ready to be led.  And, believe me, I’m going to lead them.  Whether there’s one man or an army of men, with this, I can do anything I want!”  Except play the piano.

Martinson regains consciousness and comes in to see Lippitt holding the horn.  He threatens to drop it if Martinson comes any closer.  He blows the horn, transmitting the thought that Heinkle should shoot Martinson.  Martinson implores the old man to wake up from the trance.  For some bogus reason, Heinkle turns and approaches Lippitt standing on the parapet.  This is all is takes for Lippitt to fall backward to his death.

Evelyn assures him he can make another horn, and much more quickly this time.  Martinson thinks not, people just aren’t ready for it.  Kudos to them on one point:  Usually when a sci-fi prototype is destroyed, an invention is strangely unable to be duplicated.

A very simple premise, but the episode is not as egregious as most.

Other Stuff:

  • Franchot Tone (Martinson) was really the only one to give a solid performance here.  He would later be in a classic episode of The Twilight Zone.

Outer Limits – The Vaccine (04/03/98)

After a devastating plague which has destroyed 99.9% of humanity, Marie Alexander writes, “Journal Entry Day 91.  If not for the quarantine that was already in place when the disaster struck, we would surely be dead.”  Unexpectedly, a truck pulls into their compound.  A man in fatigues and a gas mask gets out of the truck and holds up a sign that says I HAVE VACCINE.

Yea!  The group of 13 survivors is saved!  Oh, wait — he only has 3 doses.  The soldier hands her the medicine and instructions for determining who should get the vaccine, written up by the government.  The criteria are:

  • Healthy adults 19 to 40
  • Adults able to reproduce
  • No adults with communicable diseases
  • Children not recommended
  • No adults with degenerative diseases
  • No physically or mentally handicapped adults
  • Adults that are physically fit

The catch is that they must wait 3 days for the vaccine to gestate before hey can use it.  In the mean time, they are running out of fuel and food.

This is a classic set-up that has suspense and character work practically baked into it.  Surprisingly for Outer Limits, the premise can’t save the episode.  It is just deadly dull.

Much as it pains me to admit it, the government’s criteria for choosing the vaccine’s recipients are pretty solid.  The casting decisions also make the choices not as difficult as they should have been.

Marie definitely must survive because she 1) meets the age criteria, 2) has valuable medical skillz, 3) is Maria Conchita Alonso. [1]  

They have a kid in the group.  He has another 7 – 15 years left before he reaches his reproductive years, depending on how big a dork he is.  Anything, including standard childhood diseases, could take him out.  We need babies now!  This should be an agonizing decision, but the episode just can’t make me care.

There is a bed-ridden old man who already had terminal cancer before the plague hit.  Why is he even there?  He is certainly not a candidate.  Why would they not make that character someone who possesses a skill vital in the short term?  Then you must weigh whether his immediate contributions are worth the fact that that he will die before reproducing.  Although he would be a happy guy dutifully knocking up as many women as possible before he goes.

There are a handful of other older people.  Again, they just aren’t part of the equation.  Their presence creates no drama or suspense beyond whether the Depends supply will hold out.

A young man named James is working as Marie’s de facto lieutenant.  He is good with the old people and with the kid.  He has been keeping the generator running.  When it is low on fuel, he risks his life to go siphon gas out of some nearby cars.  He is fit, smart, motivated and compassionate — a keeper.

There are a few warm (for now) bodies and then the two antagonists in the episode, Graham and Barb.  They are both disgraceful, self-centered jerks.  Graham can’t be trusted to work with the group, or stay with them.  He is young and fit, but appears to have no useful skills.  All of this also applies to Barb, but she has a uterus.

There’s your slate: Marie, James, Barb.

To be fair, Marie does have a plan for “passive inoculation.”  By choosing the recipients by blood type rather than the government criteria, it might be possible to save the others by transfusion — if they live that long.  This would mean giving the shots to Barb, the kid and an old woman.

Nice try, but that sounds a little iffy.  With those transfusions coming up, they need the doctor to be immunized.  Also, the government’s criteria “Children not recommended” could be interpreted as the vaccine being dangerous to them.  Through a pretty convenient switcheroo and some goofy science, the good guys live and the bad guys lose.

A rare missed OL opportunity.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] At 40 years old, she’s cutting it close.  That is Maria Conchita’s age, though, so the character is probably 25.
  • Graham looks amazingly like Brendan Fraser.
  • Barb looks amazingly like Fox Mulder’s sister.  But she’s played by the same actress, so . . .

Mini-Review:  mother! is the best movie I will never recommend to a single person.

The Hitchhiker – My Enemy (11/25/89)

Holly is a little miffed at her boyfriend that she had to spend her birthday with her future in-laws at the restaurant they chose — the Burger Hut.

Lou:  There’s no pleasing you, is there?

Holly:  Just because you can’t doesn’t mean there isn’t.

Well now, starting off with a fun zinger like that, and spoken by a circa 1989 Joan Severance, this episode of The Hitchhiker has immediately established a lot of goodwill.  I have to debit the account for the awful wig they put her in (not pictured), but this is still a good start. [1]

Meanwhile in another part of town, movie star Jane Ambergris [2] — also played by Joan Severance — pulls up to the studio in her white Porsche Carrera.  The awful wig on Holly in the first scene was just to contrast the well-coiffed beauty of this character.  Her license plate 813 FAD is thrust in our face like it means something, but I don’t get it.  Jane gets a look at some of the contestants in her look-alike contest and takes off in disgust like she had just seen contestants in my look-alike contest.

In her tiny, run-down house, Holly gets dolled up for the contest.  She makes herself up every bit as beautiful as Jane, which I predict will not make Jane any happier.  It really makes you wonder what the hell Lou used to reel her in.  She goes to the studio where Jane has reluctantly returned.  Kudos to the director for a nice bit of business here with the contestants all wearing identical purple gowns.  The clacking of their heels as they flock up and back on the sound-stage floor is pretty fun.  A slightly malevolent look-alike mannequin the background is also effective.

Jane hides out in her dressing room until everyone is gone.  However, Holly has hung around.  She brags about how she can do anything Jane can do; so Jane shoots her.  She puts the gun in Holly’s hand so it will appear Jane Ambergris committed suicide.  Jane dumps out Holly’s purse and finds her drivers license.  She makes herself over to look like Holly.  Here, it gets complicated.

Jane makes herself over as Holly so she can escape from the fun, glamorous, fast-paced, high-pressure life she is living — I guess Holly didn’t have a picture of Lou in her wallet.  She writes a suicide note and leaves it for the studio chief.  She also takes the time to set a fire before leaving.

On the way to . . . somewhere, Holly’s car breaks down.  A cop gallantly drives Jane to the address on the car’s registration.  At the house, the cop says, “I’ll just wait here until you’re safely inside.”  Jane opens the door and enters.  After the cop drives off, Jane explores Holly’s house.  She screams when she discovers Holly has murdered her boyfriend and in-laws.

Jane suddenly doesn’t want to be Holly anymore.  She tears off the wig and cries, “I can prove who I am!  I’m still Jane Ambergris!”  A radio apparently turns itself on and the announcer says, “A suspicious fire broke out tonight at the studio of glamorous star Jane Ambergris.  However, thanks to the the actions of a passing maintenance man, there were no injuries.”  Jane is confused and says she couldn’t have missed.  Fearing Holly will take over her life, Jane goes back to the studio.

She sees the studio head and concocts a self-defense story to explain why she tried to kill Holly.  He takes her onto the sound-stage where she sees a mannequin on the floor with a bullet hole between the eyes and a pistol in its hand.  She tries to run.  The exec stops her.  He asks, “Why did you sign the suicide note “Holly”?  Was it because that is you too?  Who are you now, Jane or Holly?”  Jane looks as confused as I am.  The titular hitchhiker shows up, but that guy’s never any help.

“For Jane Ambergris, fame had become a facade she could no longer bear to hide behind.  But by discarding one mask, only to assume another, she was doomed to lose touch with the woman she once was.”

Thanks for clearing that up.  What are we to believe?  I think we are supposed to believe that movie star Jane Ambergris invented Holly to find the simpler life she wanted?  How long was this going on?  She said she had heard Lou’s stories 10,000 times, so they have been together quite a while.  And why would she be with this loser anyway?

They do have a little bit of an out because the studio exec says he has not seen Jane in a week.  Is that because she was playing house with Lou?  I like a good identity mystery, but there are just too many loose ends and contradictions here to make any sense.

Maybe the duality of her personality is reflected in the same license plate appearing on both Holly’s car and the fire chief’s car.   Or maybe someone screwed up.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] I also love the simple dress she is sporting as she runs into the house.  But really, Joan Severance was going to make anything look good.  Lou, on the other hand — I don’t know what the hell he’s wearing.  He has a short-sleeved T-Shirt that somehow still has the sleeves rolled up, a sleeveless denim jacket, and a rogue hoodie mysteriously hanging out of his back collar.
  • [2] What is up with Hollywood and ambergris?  It sounds like a disgusting slime.  Let’s just leave it alone.
  • The writer has a story-by credit on the similarly incomprehensible Miracle of Alice Ames.