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.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – Road Hog (12/06/59)

I wouldn’t mind seeing London.  I guess it would be interesting to see France.  But in the opening shot of this episode, I did not need to see a little girl’s underpants; and she is literally credited as “Little Girl” on IMDb.[1]

She is a butterfly whisperer, playing with a Monarch Butterfly on the porch of a rural gas station / cafe. Salesman Ed Fratus takes pleasure in grinding it under his shoe as he steps up on the porch. [2] When she starts to cry, he laughs and musses her hair.  He obnoxiously tries to sell the cafe owner on various salacious products — key chains with nudie picture viewers, risque playing cards, Pomade lubricant — oh wait, that’s for your hair.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch — literally, the Pine ranch (although they do not literally raise pine trees) — Davey Pine has just been gored by a bull.  His father and brother load him into the bed of the pickup to take him to the hospital.  They get stuck behind Fratus, poking along on a narrow dirt road.  Clay Pine blows the horn, trying to get by, but that just irritates Fratus who yells, “Stupid farmers!  Cornholing Cornpicking yokels!”  Clay yells that it is an emergency.  Fratus yells back, “So what, ain’t no skin off my nose!”

Pa Pine tells Clay, he has to get around the car, no matter what it takes.  When Clay tries to pass him, Fratus runs him off the road into a mudhole.  The Pines have to fill in the mudhole so they can drive out.  They finally make it to the hospital, but it is too late.  Davey is dead.  The doctor says if they had only gotten Davey there 15 minutes earlier . . .

Sons Clay and Sam Jr are ready to find the man and kill him, but Pa says they will do things his way.  Pine psychically goes to the gas station and demands to know who the driver of the station wagon is.  The owner rats out Ed Fratus.

Pine sits in the cafe day after day waiting for Fratus to return.  He just sits and stares at the cafe door, even refusing a free beer.  Eventually Fratus does return — and fortuitously on a day when Clay and Sam Jr are in the cafe.  When he enters, Clay and Sam Jr go outside.  Clay puts a hose in his mouth and starts siphoning the gas out of Fratus’s car.  They leave him enough for 2-3 miles, which would have been about a gallon back then.

Pa says nothing as Fratus and the owner do a little business.  Fratus leaves, and a few minutes later, the Pine family finds him stranded by the side of the road.  Pa says he has a drum of gas back at the ranch and uses his truck to push the car back to his house.  He tells Sam to gas up the car while he and Fratus have a drink.  As we are all guilty of doing, Clay was storing two bottles of unlabeled clear liquid on the same shelf — one liquor and one poison.  They make a big deal about preventing Fratus from drinking the poison.  After a few glasses, Pa tells him the story of Davey and how he died because of a titular road hog.

The perfectly-cast sweaty, fat-faced Fratus says, “You did poison me.”  He screams that he still has time to get to the hospital.  He takes off in his car, but darn the luck, Clay’s truck is blocking the road.  Trying to pass Clay, Fratus runs off the road and is killed.  Of course, it is revealed that there was no poison.

Classic AHP.  Robert Emhardt (Ed Fratus) was so smug and full of hate, I don’t know how he went out in public without people punching him in the face.  If I ever meet Stephen Colbert, I’ll ask him.

Other Stuff:

  • [1]  I always thought the rhyme referenced “a little girl”, but it seems to be the more generic “someone.”  I guess I could rewrite the opening, but do I appear to put that much effort into this?
  • AHP Deathwatch:  Richard Chamberlain, Jack Easton and Betsy Hale are still making the effort.
  • [2] Unlike Eckles in A Sound of Thunder, this was done on purpose and gleefully.  I actually did expend some effort to add that above, but couldn’t figure out how to do it.
  • These were the two filthiest vehicles I’ve ever seen, even before running off the road.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – Special Delivery (11/29/59)

10-year old Tom is excited to receive a box of mushrooms in the mail from the Great Bayou Novelty Greenhouse. [1] He hasn’t been this wound up since the Spinach Telegram of ’56.  These are Sylvan Glade Jumbo Giant mushrooms that can be raised in your basement for fun and profit.

Tom’s father Bill is flagged down by his neighbor Roger.  He asks if Bill has noticed that people are disappearing.  Roger says, “Something strange is going on in the world.  Something terrible has happened.”  Bill recalls Mrs. Goodbody said something about flying saucers.

What the . . . Mrs. Goodbody was just mentioned three posts ago in The Screaming Woman.  That was a reference to the Ray Bradbury Theater episode Boys! Raise Giant Mushrooms in Your Cellar!  This AHP episode was adapted from the same short story, 30 years earlier.  Mrs. Goodbody does not actually appear in this episode, so viewers and readers had to wait three decades to be disappointed.  By the 1980s, TV technology had advanced so far that RBT could disappoint viewers on a weekly basis.

Tom tells Bill he is “afraid for me, my family and even right now for you.  And your friends, and your friends’ friends” although their friends can go f*** themselves.  He advises Bill to keep his eyes open for the next few days.  He predicts something terrible is going to happen.

Tom’s mushroom crop is, er . . . mushrooming.  They give his mother the willies, but she wouldn’t know a toadstool from a toad’s tool.  Roger’s wife Dorothy calls and tells Bill that Roger, “vanished, disappeared, dropped out of sight.”

Bill goes to Roger’s house to interrogate his 10-year old son Joe.  The boy says he didn’t see or hear anything.  His dad’s closets were just empty, and he was gone.  As Dorothy begins speaking, Joe turns and stares directly into the camera.  This might be the single creepiest image I’ve seen so far for this blog.  Dorothy says there was no history of insanity in Roger’s family . . . that maybe he was kidnapped.  Bill snaps at her about why the kidnappers would take all his clothes.  Dude, she just lost her husband and is left with a demon child — give her a break!  Joe turns away from the camera and goes down to their cellar.

Bill goes home and tells Cynthia, “He’s gone all right.”  She says, “Doesn’t this kind of thing happen to a lot of men in their 40s?”  They get a telegram  from Roger: TRAVELING [SIC] NEW ORLEANS.  THIS TELEGRAM POSSIBLE [SIC] OFF-GUARD MOMENT.  REFUSE ALL SPECIAL DELIVERY PACKAGES — ROGER.

Bill gets a call from the police.  Roger was just picked up on a south-bound train in Green City.  The police say “he was polite, cheerful and in good spirits” and denied sending a telegram.  The only special delivery package they received was Tom’s mushrooms.  Bill calls Dorothy to see if they received any packages.  She says, like all the boys on the block, Joe has taken up mushroom farming.

Bill ponders whether Roger was right.  Maybe the earth is being invaded by things from other worlds.  “How could creatures from outer space invade us without us noticing?”  He realizes it could be done by dust, spores, fungi, mushrooms.  And the swamps of Louisiana would be a great places for them to take root.  Bill stares directly onto the camera and asks “Tonight.  In this very minute.  In how many homes all over the USA are billions of mushrooms being grown by innocent boys in their cellars?”

Seeing Tom has stored some mushrooms in the refrigerator, Bill conjectures that the alien species would propagate by people eating the mushrooms and being controlled.  Bill opens the cellar door.  Tom tells him to not turn on the light because it is bad for the mushrooms.  There is a very tense confrontation and an ending that that leaves just the right amount to the imagination.

It is strange that AHP let Bradbury get away with sci-fi stories like this and Design for Loving.  I can think of only one other sci-fi / fantasy episode in the 4 1/2 seasons I’ve watched.  On the other hand, they seemed to have an excellent system of vetting stories.  This episode is so good that I’m surprised it is not as iconic as Lamb to the Slaughter or Man from the South.  It certainly isn’t representative of AHP, but is one of their most effective episodes.

Since the RBT version was not as good, I have to wonder how much of the success is due to Norman Lloyd’s direction.  The episode was filled with great moments such as two characters addressing the camera (and I think the kid was going for 4th wall breakage), the glowy white mushrooms at the bottom of the stairs, and Bill almost being hit by a car.  The ending becomes more like Thriller as Bill realizes what is happening, yet is drawn into the conspiracy.

Excellent.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] The return address is 713 Canal Street — a McDonald’s.  I might have known.
  • Cheers that I’ve actually eaten there.  Jeers that I was in New Orleans and ate at freakin’ McDonald’s.  C’mon, it was just breakfast.
  • AHP Deathwatch:  Roger’s family — Dorothy and Joe — is still with us.  I must say, though, Joe’s photo on IMDb might be even creepier than when he stared into the camera.  It looks like he has just wrapped up a porn shoot.  He is naked, daintily holding a towel over his junk.
  • [UPDATE] I somehow missed that this was covered in depth over at bare*bones ezine.  Interesting and well-written as always.
  • [UPDTE 2] Another blog reminds me that this is suspiciously similar to Bradbury’s Zero Hour.  Both feature aliens taking over the world by using children to carry out seemingly innocuous tasks that are baffling to their parents.

 

Completely off-topic, but this story of the nurse being arrested is burning me up.  As a supporter of the police, the first shorter video is infuriating.  The longer second video makes me question my beliefs.  A cop, with other officers standing by, explains to the nurse why this is her fault like every guy who ever slugged his wife.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – Dead Weight (11/22/59)

Courtney Masterson is making out with 21 years younger Peg, perhaps as over-compensation for having a girl’s name.  They are at a Lover’s Lane overlooking the city.  Rudy Stickney approaches the car, pointing a flashlight and a gun in their eyes.  He forces them out of the car and nabs Courtney’s purse wallet.  The wallet is loaded with dough, but Rudy isn’t satisfied.

He has Courtney open the trunk and tells him to get in so he can have his way with Peg, perhaps as over-compensation for having to rely on phallic objects to get people to notice him.  When Peg makes a run for it, Courtney knocks Rudy to the ground causing him to drop his gun.  Rudy pulls a knife, but Courtney has his gun.  He forces Rudy into the trunk. Ya know, if the episode ended right here, I would be happy.

Courtney locks Rudy in the trunk, throws his golf clubs in the back seat, and prepares to drive to the police station where he will probably be arrested for kidnapping.  Peg points out that this could generate headlines which might be of interest to his wife.

Courtney drives back to Peg’s apartment.  He had a chance to reveal Rudy to a cop stopped beside him at a light, but did not. He sees Peg to the door, realizing he’s not going to get the kind of junk in the trunk he had anticipated tonight. He drives Rudy back up to Lover’s Lane.  And by the way, this is the biggest f*ing  car I’ve ever seen in my life.

He lets Rudy out of the trunk.  Rudy says he isn’t going to forget this, which is remarkable given the brain damage the carbon monoxide must have caused.  Courtney does the right thing, the fair thing, the honorable thing, the responsible thing, the mature thing, the civil thing, the just thing — he shoots Rudy dead.  At the police station, he says he picked Rudy up hitchhiking and it went bad.  The detective asks a few questions, says he’s a lucky man and sends him home.

This is all excellent, but the episode regresses to the mean pretty quickly.  Luckily, the mean on AHP is still pretty great.  Spoiler:  Courtney’s wife had a PI tailing him who witnessed the whole evening.  He blackmails Courtney to keep his shenanigans secret.  The nerve of his wife having a PI tail her husband; it’s just that kind of distrust that can ruin a marriage.

The ending just doesn’t seem worthy of what preceded it.[1]

Other Stuff:

  • [1] In the light of day, I have no idea what my beef was.  It was a pretty good twist.
  • AHP Deathwatch:  Julie Adams (Peg) is still with us.  She was just in an episode of Lost.
  • Holy crap!  That was 10 years ago?  What have I done with my life!  Also alive: Reita Green, suspiciously credited as Reita.
  • Title Analysis:  A perfect AHP title, just not for this episode — there was no dead weight.

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.