The Hitchhiker – Best Shot (04/28/87)

Attorney Steve, of the law firm Steve, Attorney at Law is cruising through the city in his new Porsche which I’m sure he pronounces with 2 syllables. OK, maybe that’s the correct pronunciation, but it still sounds pretentious. [1]  A regular client has landed in jail, but Steve is more interested in getting away for the weekend.

His buddy Brett is having an earnest discussion about the death penalty with a couple of his students.  I am pleasantly surprised that after setting Steve up as a dick, they didn’t make his buddy a staunch death penalty opponent (i.e Hollywood good guy).  His student, clearly not wanting an A in his class, finds the whole idea ghastly and cruel.  Actually I think I like Steve more than the student.

Brett climbs in and they hit the road.  Steve tosses a beer can out of the car.  He asks if Brett would like to drive — not because of the alcohol, but because he wants to show off his new toy.  As Brett tools along at 85, Steve suggests a shooting contest.  I am again surprised as this does not involve drinking shots at 85 MPH, and also does not involve guns.  Steve pulls a video-camera out of the back seat.

Brett pulls up beside a station wagon.  Very creepily, Steve films the dog in the rear, the kids in the back seat, then mom driving.  While Steve is turned around looking for his weed, a dude bounces off the windshield.  Brett was turned around too so did not see what they hit.  They stop.  Steve finds a dead body thrown down the embankment.  He tells Brett it was a dog.

Blah blah blah.  The episode is fine, but tedious to recap.  And, frankly, I’m so happy to again have the power, air-conditioning and wi-fi trifecta back after Irma, that this isn’t holding my attention.  The boys go to a roadhouse where they run up against the great Brion James.  Or maybe the middle section seems less interesting because the episode has such a great ending.

The dead man was a friend of James.  Some good ol’ boys from the bar bury Steve so just his head and shoulders are above ground.  Then they force Brett to drive over his buddy.  There is nothing graphic, but there doesn’t need to be.  The situation and the cartoony Tales From the Cryptian revenge make for a memorable conclusion.

Other Stuff:

  • [1]  That Nietzsche dude is on thin ice with me, too — an E sound on the end just sounds so richtig.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – Specialty of the House (12/13/59)

Oh joy, another episode set in England.

Laffler takes his friend Costain to an exclusive dining club; so exclusive that it is down by the docks, hidden behind a plain door like that secret restaurant at Disneyworld with the topless Snow White waitresses. [1]  The club has only 40 members and they come from as far away as Singapore to dine there.

There is no menu and only one meal is served each night.  Sadly the titular Special of the House is not being served tonight.  The waiter brings out a cart with the soup course.  Costain takes a sip and finds it a little flat.  He suggests it could use a little salt and is chastised as if he had put ketchup on a steak. [2]  He is told no condiments are allowed, although, I would put that more in the seasoning category.

The main course comes.  Laffler says it is fine but nothing compared to the titular Specialty of the House, Lamb Amirstan.  They make plans to return the next night.

They have another fine meal, but Laffler is disappointed that they again are not offering the titular Specialty of the House.  He tells Costain that the lamb dish is prepared only with lambs from a certain flock on the Ugandan border.  This is the only restaurant in the world where it is available, although I suspect the Ugandan farmer sneaks a rack occasionally.

Costain finally meets the owner, Spirro.  She modestly says she only supervises the kitchen.  The only dish she actually prepares is the titular Specialty of the House, Lamb Armistan.  She says the meat takes 3 days to marinate, that it should be ready for tomorrow night.

The next night, Laffler tries to prevent his friend from entering, but Spirro allows him in.  They are sitting at the same table when the titular Specialty of the House is served.

All seems to be forgiven as Laffler leaves Costain in charge of his Import / Export business while he goes on vacation.  Before going to the airport, Laffler has time for one last meal at Spirro’s.  Costain will join him later after drawing up a memo about a bauxite shipment.  Laffler spills the beans that he is becoming a lifetime Spirro’s member and has nominated Costain as a member.

Outside the club, Laffler finds the waiter fighting with another man.  The man falls and cracks his noggin.  Laffler wants to call the police, but the waiter says Spirro will take care of it.  When Laffler learns the titular Specialty of the House is not being served that night, he demands to see Spirro.  She consoles him by taking him into the kitchen.  The other members are astounded as this has never happened before.

She shows him around the kitchen, then introduces him to the chef who is holding a butcher knife.  When Costain arrives, she promises him that the titular Specialty of the House will be on the menu soon.

The story here is counted on to sweep you away, and it pretty much does.  When you look closer there are a few problems.  I just watched the episode, but I couldn’t pick Costain out of a line-up 5 minutes later.  Robert Morley was fine as Laffler, but I always get the feeling with him that I’m supposed in awe of his awesomeness, and I never see it.  Spirro was a man in the short story.  IMDb Trivia says the character was changed to a woman to appeal to a wider audience.  It also might have helped to not cast a woman that looked liked the love-child of Kathy Bates and Aunt Bee.

  1. In the plot, I see no reason for the scuffle involving the waiter.  All it does is telegraph the twist if you give it any thought.
  2. There is no need for another body anyway.  They already know Laffler is going to be next on the menu.  Proof of that is that Costain is bringing Laffler’s picture for the lifetime member wall.
  3. And why is that, anyway?  Is Costain in cahoots with Spirro?
  4. He did seem to settle into Laffler’s office pretty quickly.  In England, does the temp who fills your position inherit your estate?  That would still make more sense than that crazy entail on Downton Abbey.
  5. At the end, why is Spirro vague about when the next titular Special of the Day will be served?  We know it takes 3 days to marinate the meat.  Three days would have been a perfect answer to end the episode.

Still, it is a great episode.  I appreciate the subversive subject matter just as I did on the previous cannibalism episode Arthur.  In that episode, people were eating chickens that had been fed people.  Here, the cannibalism is direct.  As AHP edges closer to the sixties, it just gets weirder.  Groovy!

Other Stuff:

  • [1] Further research suggests I might have dreamed this.
  • [2] I planned linking to an article about Trump giving the media vapors by eating ketchup on his steak.  They were all asinine, just looking for a reason to spew hatred.  Who gives a sh*t; dude likes ketchup.  It’s not like he put it on a hot dog — now that is grounds for impeachment.
  • AHP Deathwatch:  Costain is still on the menu.
  • The original short story won the Best First Story Award in the Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine contest of 1948.

Twilight Zone – Voices in the Earth (07/10/87)

“Spectroscopic readings indicate that the atmosphere is in perfect chemical equilibrium.”  OK, what but do these figures mean?  They can’t be percentages because they don’t add up to 100%.  Whatever they are, Carbon Dioxide seems to be winning in a rout.  Sensors show no life, not even “simple amino acids in the oceans.”

Tuvok — wait, what?  Tim Russ, anyway — asks “There was a name for this one in one of the old languages wasn’t there Professor?”  Professor Knowles [3] says, “Yes, Earth.  They called it Earth.”  If any of these guys is named Adam, I’ll scream.  Even though that’s the kind of simplistic cornball story I secretly love — so really, there’s just no winning with me.  There were very smart guys working on this show.  Why would they use such a clunky, illogical line anyway?

  1. The crew is from Earth.  They all seem to be from English speaking countries.  The captain actually is English.  They are still speaking English.  How is it an old language?
  2. Wouldn’t history classes in 2987 teach about Earth since it was, you know, the unambiguous origination point of the entire human race; the one thing we could all agree on?
  3. Wouldn’t science classes use it as an object lesson on the importance of ecological awareness?
  4. Hey, Tuvok, did ya get on this ship not knowing what the destination was?  No wonder you got lost in the Delta Quadrant.

The ship lands and the crew gets out to explore the sepia colored planet.  Captain Jacinda Carlyle says, “There’s not much left after 1,000 years, is there?” as they walk through the incongruously intact city.  To be fair, the overhead shot as they landed showed much more destruction.  Presciently, the Twin Towers are gone.

Carlyle says all artifacts have been stripped from Earth.  Knowles says he is looking for  “feelings, a sense of place, what it must have been like to live here when the skies were blue.”  This is the first space flight funded by Hallmark.  Carlyle tells him to take a good look because in 4 days, mining vessels will begin tearing the planet apart looking for precious metal, minerals, and loose change.Knowles goes off exploring by himself even though Carlyle is played by the lovely Jenny Agutter.  He finds an old record store which puts the abandonment of Earth somewhere between 2001 and  2006.  He places a CD in a player.  Some other bloggers have a beef that the CD player still works, but whaddya gonna do?  Ghostly images of hipster customers appear, browsing through the vinyl LPs.  As Knowles heads for the door, a pale figure in a boxy suit appears and says, “Are we not men? Remember us, Professor.”  Then, like all record store customers, he disappears.

Knowles goes back to the ship.  Carlyle asks the historian how Earth got in this condition.  What Knowles says:

They used refrigerants that slowly ate away the ozone layer.  They burned the tropical rain forest to make way for farmland, using the ashes for fertilizer.  Entire species simply vanished forever from the Earth.  By the time they poisoned the whole biosphere, they had the technology to leave it behind.   So they fled into space, and cast the Earth aside like a half-eaten apple . . . You know the irony?  The Earth today is almost exactly as it was millennia ago, before the very first rainfall.  And for millions of years, there had been no rain.  Then when the Earth cooled enough, rain fell, delivering nutrients to the ocean, and life emerged.

That’s pretty good, but what he should have said was:  “Hey, there’s M*F*ing ghosts over at Tower Records!”

This is a great looking set, but is really a good location for a record store? It is the window at the bottom right. It looks more like where you would buy a Mogwai.

He goes back to the record store without telling anyone about his discovery.  Many more ghosts appear.  A transparent woman says, “We’ve been waiting so long.”  A translucent old man says, “Why did you leave us?”  A see-through girl says, “Are you back to stay, all of you?”  Their leader explains, “We’re the ones you left behind.  All the souls that ever were.”  [1]  The old man explains that humans are their children; they wish to see see their children grow up.  The souls are unable to travel in space, thus they are doomed to stay on the Earth.  The leader asks Knowles to convince others that Earth still contains life of a sort.”

Knowles brings Carlyle back to the record shop to prove the existence of the souls, and that Michael Jackson wasn’t just a myth .  He finally tells her what he has seen, but she is skeptical.  When they get to the store, it is as empty as a Sears (I got tired of the record store references).  He shouts for the souls to appear, but they do not come.  As soon as the pair leaves the building, hundreds of souls appear.

That night, the leader enters the body of Professor Knowles, when Jenny Agutter is just a few feet away (this should in no way be considered a rape-joke; it is barely a -joke).  He tears a table leg from the deck and goes to the bridge.  He begins clubbing the computers like a baby seal, but the crew restrains him.

Knowles goes back to the building and shouts to the souls, “You cowards!  Show yourselves!”  They reappear, and the leader explains.  They can’t travel in space in this form.  But if they can possess the crew as he did with Knowles, they might be able to make the journey.  He admits he doesn’t know what would happen to the crew’s bodies as a result of this prolonged possession.  Oh the irony, of using them up like they did to the Earth and casting them aside.

As the ship is about to lift off, the crew hears thunder.  It is beginning to rain for the first time in 1,000 years, which is typical since Al Gore DXII [2] just said rain was a thing of the past.  They are even beginning to pick up signs of life in the oceans.  A crewman says, “It is as if something is accelerating evolution somehow.”  There is even a small patch of vegetation under the ship.  Well until they take off, when it will be burned to a cinder.

This transformation was fore-shadowed as the souls were earlier revealed to have some ability to manipulate their environment.  They weren’t sure what the risk would be to them, however, if they did it on a global scale.  This is why Knowles called them cowards.  It all wraps around pretty nicely, certainly better than I am describing it.

The episode also looks great, hence the larger pictures.  The only minor quibbles I could make are about the space-suits and the ship.  The suits are a little silly — not the Reynolds Wrap numbers they wear outside, the casual gear in the ship.  And there are a few shots of the ship after landing where I can’t even figure out if the POV is from above or the side; but that could be the low-quality DVD.

Martin Balsam (Knowles) gets most of the screen time and shoulders most of the story.  He handles it as effortlessly as you would expect from a guy who has been doing it 112 years.  Jenny Agutter (Logan’s Run, American Werewolf in London) is not given much to do, but is a classy and elegant as always.  The rest of the crew are fairly non-descript except Tim Russ who has the mustache of a 14 year old boy.

A welcome, all-too-rare, stand-out episode.  There is one more episode left in the season.  From what I’m reading online, it does not get better in season 3.  But what do a bunch of bloggers know?

Other Stuff:

  • [1]  That would be over 100 billion souls, so Earth must be getting pretty crowded.  Also, everyone seems to be from the latter days of Earth; and the suburbs.  What was the cut-off?  Did some Cro-Magnon get to come, but his dad didn’t?
  • [2]  Other than kings, why do you never hear about anyone higher than a rare IV?
  • [3] If my last name were Knowles, I would tell everyone my nickname was Grassy.

Twilight Zone – Time and Teresa Golowitz (07/10/87)

 

Well, the episode gets right to business; I’ll give it that.  Mono-monikered Broadway composer Bluestone is pounding out a new tune on the piano in his swanky Manhattan condo when a man appears.  He says, “Who the hell are you, and how did you get in here?”  The man compliments the tune, but says Bluestone will never get a chance to see it performed.  Bluestone steps through the piano and is horrified to see his body in a sweater-vest; also, because it is on the floor dead.

The man — the Prince of Darkness — says the gang “below-decks” loves his music.  What would it take for him to play them a tune now and then?  Bluestone says he wants “to make it with Mary Ellen Cosgrove.”  He is careful to add about his long-ago crush “as she was.”  Let’s hope they didn’t meet in 6th grade.

The man sends Bluestone back in time.  Some awkwardness is ironed over by the fact that he puts Bluestone back in his high-school body; and also, for some reason, made him Middle-Eastern.[1]  However, it is a little disconcerting that the actor portraying young Bluestone is 24 and the actress portraying Mary Ellen is 15.  Not to mention the fact that it is a 52 year old man in the younger dude’s body. [2]

Bluestone is greeted by his original moniker Binky Blaustein as he enters the party of high schoolers.  He realizes that his memories of Mary Ellen are warped, that she is “just a kid”.  He spots another girl, the titular Teresa Golowitz.  The Devil has now possessed the body of Laura — Gina Gershon, who frankly blows every other girl at this hootenanny off the screen.  Binky admits he never paid much attention to Teresa because she was too plain.  The Devil reminds Binky that Teresa committed suicide the night of this party.  He tells Binky the whole sad story, then says, “Excuse me.  Laura has to go to the little girl’s room.”  What?  Ewwwww . . . That’s creepy even for the devil.

Binky starts talking to Teresa, but is impressed into service by a jock.  He says, “You’re a big show-tune man, Blaustein.  How about something from Broadway?”  Wait, shouldn’t this line have been delivered by a kid the jock later beats up?  OK, this scene is set in 1948.  Maybe this was normal behavior for high school kids then.

Binky begins playing How About You.  Mary Ellen begins singing, but is quickly eclipsed by Teresa emerging from the background to belt out the tune.  Binky catches up with her outside and begs her to work with him to develope her talent, thus preventing her suicide.  Back in the present, Teresa is now a Broadway star, famous singer, expert on politics, and respected climatologist.

Despite having no physical resemblance to Bluestone, Grant Heslov is excellent as Binky.  I didn’t really associate him with the older character, but I completely bought him as a character older and more mature than his physical appearance.  Gene Barry as the Devil seemed to play his role a little effeminate for reasons that elude me.  The other performances were unexceptional; except Gina Gershon who was exceptional.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] I’m not good at guessing ethnicities.  It is Grant Heslov, who was just in The Outer Limits.  He seems to play a lot of Middle Easterners.  Also Hispanics.  I guess Hollywood isn’t good at ethnicities either.
  • [2] Although not as egregious as the movie Big where a 28 year old woman slept with a 14 year old boy.  A offense like that could get her a weekend in jail.

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.