The Hitchhiker – O.D. Feelin’ (01/28/86)

You touch me, he dies. If you’re not in the air in thirty seconds, he dies. You come back in, he dies.

God, the 1980s — cultural nadir of America.  The big-shoulder clothes, the rolled up jacket sleeves, the parachute pants, the over-produced music, the synths, the big hair, the punk motif, the MBA-mentality, the manic coke-snorting yuppies, The Hitchhiker. Confidence is not high.

Sandra Bernhard (playing the charmingly-named ‘Rat’) witnesses a drug deal.  She is pure 80’s homeless / punk chic with spiky bright yellow hair.  There is a Mexican Stand-Off between three white guys, a black guy and no Mexican guys that leaves them all dead guys.  Rat walks onto the scene and makes off with a wristwatch and a brick of cocaine.

She walks home tapping a crystal-knobbed cane in front of her.  Wise Man — a true 80’s dude with both a tiny pony-tail and a mullet — says to his rotund, inevitably-named associate Fool, “Look who’s tapping his way down the street.”  OK, Sandra Bernhard was always kinda androgynous, but I don’t get the use of his.

Wise Man and Fool follow Rat to her, by definition, Rat-infested home. They peek in the window and see that within seconds she has already thinned the herd by overdosing on the coke.

Damn them for actually giving me a good laugh as they enter her hovel via crashing through the window. They take the cocaine . . . I mean with them.  A few seconds after they leave, partners of the drug-dealers break in.  It’s just as well Rat OD’d or she would have been murdered twice by now anyway.  Looking out the window, one of them sees, “Wise Man and that fool” running away, so I guess Fool isn’t his given name.

The episode is wearing me down as usual, but this time in a good way.  Yeah, the 80’s atmosphere is awful, but if you look beyond that, there are some fun performances and dialogue here winning me over.  Sadly Fool does not survive the scene.[1]  His death forfeits logic and the laws of physics for a shock laugh, but that seems like a good trade to me this time.

Wise Man goes to see The Chemist (played perfectly by Joe Flaherty). Whether it was intentional or not, his ditsy blonde assistant Orchid gets a laugh from me by calling him Wiseman [2] as if it were his name. While Chemist and Wise Man are weighing the cocaine, Orchid pours some champagne — hey, there’s a brick of coke right there! [3] We are tipped off that Orchid has slipped poison into one of the glasses.  Son-of-a-bitch if I wasn’t fooled again!  She killed The Chemist and she and Wise Man end up in the sack.

Orchid leaves Wise Man and takes the cocaine to The Duke.  The drug-dealers, always a step behind, find Wise Man and kill him.  Now he is Dead Man.  And on it goes through The Duke and Mr. Big.

The ending . . . well, I don’t even understand what happened.  It was fun and unexpected and looked great, though.  The Hitchhiker could use a lot more episodes like this.

Great stuff.

Post-Post:

  • [1] Played by the then ubiquitous, now dead, always likable Dennis Burkley.
  • [2] Unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger who just didn’t care when he pronounced Batman like it was his name.
  • [3] I’ve got an I Get a Kick Out of You shaped hole right there with nothing to go in it.  Yeah, I could have linked to Blazing Saddles, but I always wondered if Frankie really mentioned Cocaine.
  • The top picture caption is an Escape from New York reference.  I had mashed up a comparison, but they don’t look as similar as I remembered.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – A True Account (06/07/59)

A reel-to-reel tape tells us, “The following is a true and full account and hereby sworn by me, Paul Brett, Attorney at Law.”  Dang, you had me right up til that last part.  The tape continues on, leading into a flashback . . .

Mrs. Cannon-Hughes comes to Brett’s office and tells him she knows of a murder that was committed.  He agrees consulting a lawyer is a prudent move and bills her four hours.  She begins her story, leading us into the rarely seen flashback within a flashback.  Or is it three-deep, with the tape being the first flashback, Mrs. C-H being the second, and her recollection being the third?  This is why Inception didn’t win the Oscar vote . . . or did it?

Miss Cannon is a live-in nurse to the elderly Mrs. Hughes.  We join the story just as Mrs. Hughes croaks from natural causes (“natural causes” on Alfred Hitchcock Presents = MURDER!).  Mr. Hughes keeps her on the payroll until the funeral, then gives her a severance check.  It isn’t long, however, before Mr. Hughes gives her a call.

She puts on her white uniform, white shoes and white cap and goes to casa de Hughes. When she gets there, she finds this was just a ruse to get her to go to a concert with him.  She eagerly accepts.  Things progress quickly through the concert phase, dinner phase, driving to the airport phase, and now he is helping her paint her living room. After a few horizontal strokes of latex — has this guy ever picked up a paint brush before? — he asks her to go away with him.  Soon they are married.

Once back from the honeymoon, she feels Mr. Hughes has become “distant, hard to reach”, perhaps fearing another room needs painting. He refuses to let her see her old friends.

One night, she notices he is not in bed.  She gets up to look for him, but he sleepwalks into the bedroom.  He mutters, “Here, drink this and go back to sleep.  I know you took some earlier, but this is doctor’s orders.”  He goes through the motions as if giving medicine to his dead wife.  So we have a ultra-rare sighting of a flashback within a flashback within a flashback.  Or is it . . . nevermind, it’s getting late.

She tells Brett that she suspects murder because he never should have given his wife that medicine; that was her job.  Brett suggests that maybe their marriage is an insurance policy — Hughes married her just in case there were questions, and a wife can’t testify against her husband in TV court [1].  She says that if he knew she saw him sleepwalking he would kill her!

I’ll say this for AHP, they get right to it — the next shot is at her funeral with Brett in attendance.  Zing!  It is staged so that it is impossible to see until the end — this is Mr. Hughes funeral, not hers.  Kudos!

On the reel-to-reel, Brett tells us the coroner has ruled Mr. Hughes’ death a suicide. This leaves the new Mrs. Hughes very rich; she asks Brett to help settle the estate.  Before long he is touching her hand.  Soon he will be making some horizontal strokes of his own; coincidentally, also in latex. [2]

One night after they are married, his wife is having a nightmare.  She says, “Drink this, Mrs. Hughes. Have another dose.  Mrs. Hughes, I know you took some earlier, but you have to have another dose.  Drink it.”

Brett continues on the tape stating that he believes she committed two murders and would kill him if she suspected he was on to her.  That is very perceptive as we see him lying dead on the floor as the tape plays.  His wife washes the glass that contained the poison, and tosses the tape into the fireplace.

Hitchcock returns for his usual closing remarks.  Or was this whole episode a flashback by him?  And was that framed in a flashback to 1959 by Hulu?  And am I flashing back in recalling it now?  And will you flashback as you remember reading this in a few days?  Probably a “no” on that last one.

Good stuff.

Post-Post:

  • [1] This doesn’t make much sense.  How would spousal abuse ever get prosecuted? Or maybe it didn’t in the 1950’s.
  • [2] Just an assumption on my part on his part.
  • AHP Deathwatch:  No survivors.
  • Mrs. Cannon-Hughes-Brett gets no first name, but three last names [UPDATE below].
  • For a more in-depth look at the episode and its source material, check out bare*bonez e-zine.  Jack says Miss Cannon’s first name is Mabel in the original story and Maureen on AHP.  I was going by IMDb, which is on thin ice with me anyway after deleting the IMDb Message Boards — now how will I know the worst movie ever?
  • Miss Cannon has a roommate well-played by Marlon Brando’s sister.  If you grew up with Marlon Brando, could rooming with a serial killer be any crazier?
  • There is a strange opening vignette where a cute nurse is taking Hitchcock’s blood pressure.  He is lying on a table with a sheet over him.  As he ogles her pumping the device, a bulge emerges from his mid-section.  This really was a different time.

Twilight Zone – Button, Button (03/07/86)

This segment begins by setting up a story that never arrives.  Norma Lewis (Mare Winningham) is such an insufferable shrew that you have to think that characteristic must be of some great importance to the plot.

Maybe something happened in her past that made her this way . . . not that we’re told.  Surely this will be the catalyst for a dose of 1960’s TZ style cosmic comeuppance . . . eh, not really.  Maybe it will be cathartic when this battle-ax is bumped off in a grizzly fashion . . . nope.  Maybe . . . maybe . . . I got nothing.  She is just a nasty woman for no good reason; so unlikable, that it really casts an unnecessary pall over the whole segment.

OK, money is tight.  The car is broken and she has stolen a shopping cart to get her groceries home.  Her husband Arthur (Brad Davis) is clearly far too good for her.  He is a handsome guy with a cheerful attitude.  All he wants is a kiss after working on the car, but she pushes him away.  She might have nabbed the cart expecting him to push her around town.

The doorbell rings.  This surprises them because WTF would drop in on this couple?  Arthur goes to the door, and finds a package has been left on their doorstep.  He hands it to Norma, I guess hoping it is a bomb.  Inside is a wooden box with a glass dome over a red button.  There is a note on the bottom telling them Mr. Stewart will be by the next day.

The next night, Mr. Stewart comes to the apartment and explains to Norma how the device works.  If the button is pushed, someone she does not know will die, and she will receive $200,000.  When Arthur gets home from work, she gives him the 4-1-1 through a constant sneer and cigarette smoke.

The premise is solid gold, but Mare Winningham sinks the episode.  OK, maybe there isn’t much time in a 20 minute segment to create a nuanced character.  However, there is no need for a character to be so pointlessly repulsive she is unwatchable.  In discussing their options, every sentence is a scream delivered like a zinger, everything is negativity and sarcasm, she is smoking like a chimney, and constantly scrunching her face into a sneer.  And how long is she going to wear that same t-shirt?

Brad Davis also plays it very over-the-top, but at least his character is a decent human being.  Because they are both playing it so broadly, clearly that was the intent of the director.  It just doesn’t suit this story, though.  I guess the writer had issues with it too because he had his name taken off the episode.

Of course Norma is going to push the button.  She is low-life trash and her husband is too whipped to stop her.  They take a long time to get there, but there is never any doubt. Imagine if this had been a classy couple; maybe moderately well off but just suffered some big financial loss.  Or a preacher who sees only the immediate good the money could do for people around him.  Or a parolee who is struggling to be a better person.  Or a dying man who wants to provide for his family.  There would have been some tension then.

She pushes the button, but there is a twist.  I peeked at the Wikipedia page for the short story, and I must admit the TV version has a better ending.  But, overall, what a squandered opportunity.

The most positive thing I can say is that it makes me really appreciate yesterday’s Profile in Silver.  In particular, Andrew Robinson’s performance just gets more amazing.

Post-Post:

  • Classic TZ Legacy:  Written by TZ royalty Richard Matheson, but he used an alias in the credits.  I would love to hear that story.
  • The same short story was the basis for The Box starring Cameron Diaz.  I saw it on 03/23/10, but don’t remember a single frame.
  • Brad Davis was just in the execrable Why Are You Here?

Twilight Zone – Profile in Silver (03/07/86)

Professor Joseph Fitzgerald wraps up his Wednesday Harvard Economics lecture by saying. “We’ll pick this up on Monday.”  So the Harvard Economics class-week is only 3 days?  That would explain a lot.  I know the day of the week because it is November 21, 1963.

One of his students mentions he will be writing a paper about President Kennedy’s speech at the Trade Mart the next day.  In the incredibly unlikely event that the speech doesn’t occur, he wisely has a sure-fire backup plan to interview Aldous Huxley that afternoon.  Back in his office, Fitzgerald empties his pocket of some trash, a piece of gum and a 1964 dollar coin bearing Kennedy’s profile.  He draws the curtains and a colleague from the future, Dr. Kate Wange, materializes.  It is not a formal status report. She just wants to know how he is doing.

Fitzgerald is upset that he must be so detached from everyone here.  He is especially troubled that he has spent the last three years studying Kennedy but hardly got to know him as a man — maybe they should have sent Kate instead.  Now his assignment is ending and he will be forced to watch the assassination.  She busts him for violating the rules by carrying the coin, but wishes him well on his trip to Dallas.

Fitzgerald transports 3,000 miles to Dealy Plaza just as Kennedy’s motorcade makes the turn.  I guess he transported ahead a day to the 22nd also, but that isn’t mentioned. He raises a camera that puts Abraham Zapruder’s to shame and films the cars.  He pans up the schoolbook suppository building and sees Oswald.  He just can’t let history play out as it had before.  He shouts a warning, Kennedy ducks, Oswald misses, and Jackie gets to wear that snappy pink dress another day.  Most injured in this new timeline:  Aristotle Onassis.

The Secret Service detains Fitzgerald, but quickly determine he is “an upstanding citizen.”  He’s from Harvard, after all, and knows Robert MacNamara.  He is taken to Love Field to meet Kennedy who was disappointed to find out it was an airport.  They have to make a quick exit as tornadoes are bearing down on them — wait, what? Fitzgerald is invited to fly back to DC on Air Force One.

Fitzgerald learns that his disruption of the timeline caused the tornadoes, and now the Russkis have captured West Berlin, and Khrushchev was assassinated.  He determines that his shenanigans will inevitably lead to a nuclear holocaust.  He reluctantly admits to JFK that he is from 200 years in the future, and shows a holographic film of the assassination as it really happened.  JFK realizes he must go back and take the bullet in order for the world to survive.

Hologram: Still more solid than Oliver Stone’s version.

Fitzgerald manages to save the world and JFK and not blow the timeline.  There is another fun wrinkle but why give away everything.  Well-played!

Andrew Robinson does an amazing job as JFK in every facet that he has control over — the accent, the inflections, the mannerisms.  Unfortunately he does not bear the slightest resemblance to JFK — and has his own very distinct look — so his performance, though excellent, is a little jarring.  Enormous credit must also be given to the script by J. Neil Schulman which must serve multiple functions; not only the premise, but the dialogue that drives it, the political discussions, and having the words tailored to be absolutely believable coming out of JFK’s mouth — all amazing.  Maybe it is an idealized version of Kennedy, but that’s OK.

At the risk of gushing a little, the set design and production are also phenomenal. Jackie didn’t really have anything to do but was perfectly placed and costumed.  Dealy Plaza and the assassination were cut together — I assume — with footage from another production, but it flowed beautifully.  Even the White House, seen in hundreds of movies, felt more real than ever, down to JFK’s rocking chair in the Oval Office.

The best TZ segment so far.

Post-Post:

  • Classic TZ Legacy:  In Back There, a man goes back in time to save Lincoln.  In No Time Like the Past, a man goes back in time to save Garfield.  Where’s the love for McKinley?  Also, Barbara Baxley (Wange) was in Mute.
  • Title Analysis:  I’m not thrilled with this one aspect of the segment.  I get that it is a reference to Profiles in Courage, and to his profile on the dollar.  But then, Profile in Coinage would have been much worse, so maybe it’s OK.
  • Chappaquiddick!  Whew, been holding that in for 30 minutes with nowhere to use it.

Science Fiction Theatre – The Strange Doctor Lorenz (07/09/55)

I know, you’re thinking he is strange because he went into proctology. Those guys must have hookers in their booth at doctor career day.  But no.

Nurse Helen enters and the overbearing music tells us she is concerned for Dr. Garner’s heath, that he works too hard and has no life, that there are unrequited feelings, that the composer had a few too many at lunch.

While Garner peers into his microscope, Helen goes behind a screen and changes clothes.  When she comes out, she catches him fingering his prick.  No wait, he is pricking his finger — and finding it numb.  He says he is afraid he will “lose the use of the finger, then the finger itself, then the next one, then the next one, then the hand, then both hands.” He says he can’t marry her in his condition.  She insists she loves him and maybe there will be a cure.

Dr. Garner gets a call from a woman whose son was burned and makes a house-call. Maybe this episode should have been called The Strange Dr. Garner.  When he and Helen arrive, they see the boy’s wounds have already been treated by a friend of the local handyman who lives in the swamp.  Despite suffering serious burns that afternoon, the boy is completely healed.

The handyman gives them directions to Dr. Lorenzo’s house in the swamp.  Lorenz tells them he is a doctor, but of Chemistry.  He takes a sip of the honey-concoction he was been working on and pronounces it, perfection!”  That’s nice, but then he offers the same spoon to Helen for a taste.  Then Garner uses the same spoon.

Garner asks Lorenz about the boy’s “3rd degree burns over an area 1/3 the body . . . healed almost completely in 3 hours” making me suspect the free-masons were behind this episode.  Lorenz abruptly leaves the room and goes upstairs to sleep.  His servant — hey, TV’s Fred Ziffel [1] again! — tells them there are rooms prepared for them.  Rooms, so don’t even think about it.

The next morning, Helen goes to Garner’s room and wakes him up.  He has apparently slept in his suit and tie, and on top of the bedspread.  He washes his hands and discovers the numbness in his hands is gone.  Just that spoonful of honey he had the previous day cured him.

Lorenz tells them he has mastered communication with our Apian-American friends.  Garner tells Lorenz, “The whole world will be grateful when news of your discovery is made public.  With the facilities of a big pharmaceutical company, production can be stepped up.  Every man, woman and child will have access to your curative.”  Let’s do the math . . . some bees, they make the honey.  $750 a pop sounds about right.

Sadly, Lorenz says that is not possible, and once again abruptly leaves.  That night, the handyman breaks in to get his hands on that sweet honey.  He doesn’t spot Helen, though, so instead looks for the miracle bee-juice.  Lorenz catches him, but refuses to give him the potion because his ailment — a stiff knee — is not serious enough.  When the handyman pushes him aside, Lorenz unleashes some bees on him.

While patching up Lorenz, Garner asks why he didn’t just let the man have a swig.  Oh yeah, there is one side-effect:  If you have been cured using the elixir, a mere bee sting will kill you.  That’s why he only administers it to “those who would have surely died without it.”  Er, like the kid with the burns?  Or Garner with the numb hands?  Actually this only results from prolonged use of the drug.  Garner’s numbness is even starting to return. [2]

Just as in The Brain of John Emerson, the elderly Lorenz dumps this obligation on Garner.  Just as in Conversation with an Ape, Garner says he can’t expect a hottie like Helen to move to the swamp.  She overhears and promises to move to the swamp and support his experiments, but if things get too tough, she might hide his OFF.

Post-Post:

  • [1] Not actually much Fred Ziffel in that clip, but I did enjoy it.
  • [2] Lorenz does mention that he will give the burned kid a regular supply.