Alfred Hitchcock Presents – Touché (06/14/59)

With this episode, AHP puts the grave in accent grave.

Unfortunately, it is an acute accent. That’s not all that goes wrong here. This might be the most deadly dull episode so far.  This is surprising as it features Robert Morse.  He might be obnoxious and a terrible actor, but he ain’t dull.

Bill Fleming and his young friend Phil enter the hunting lodge and hang up their jackets, revealing their manly-man plaid flannel shirts.  They order a couple of Bourbon Sours.  After a strangely jarring edit, Phil tells Bill he was pretty talkative last night after a few too many Glenlivet Glen Rosses.  It was just the usual AHP guy-talk; you know, about killing a man.

Bill remembers talking about his cheating wife who “makes up to every man she meets except her husband” whatever that means.  Part of the problem might be that when they got married, she was “a cute, freewheeling little 22 year old cupcake” and Bill was fifty. She is currently fooling around with Bill’s former friend Baxter.  That actor is only four years younger than Bill so she definitely has a type.

Seeing an epee on the wall of the lodge, Phil asks Bill if he ever considered challenging Baxter to a dual.  They talk and talk (and talk), the two men sitting at the table, until the 12-minute mark. This could get tedious under any circumstances, but Paul Douglas as Bill is just deadly-dull.[1]  Even though it is a fine performance, it is just mind-numbingly flat.  I completely buy him as a former boxer, and as a lumber business millionaire, though — he’s even got the flannel.  I bet that’s what attracted his young wife; no, not the flannel, the thing before that.

When Bill returns home from his hunting trip, Baxter and Laura are lounging around having drinks.  They make no effort to disguise what they were doing.  Bill takes a couple of swords off the wall and tosses one to Baxter.  Bill takes a few jabs at Baxter who reluctantly picks up the other sword.  In the midst of this tedium, I have to give AHP kudos for the duel.

Bill has no experience with the weapon, and Baxter is only a swordsman in the Urban Dictionary meaning of the word.  This is not the standard TV match where they then expertly cross swords up then down, up then down, then slide the blades down to the hilt as they gaze love-hatingly into each other’s eyes.  They clumsily clash swords a few times — more Episode 1 than Episode 6.  Mostly it is Bill chasing Baxter as he runs through the house.  He nicks Baxter a couple of times, then finally just runs him through.

Cartwright!

Bill goes to the Police Station and tells them he killed a man.  It is only now, as Bill spills his guts, that we learn Baxter’s first name is Phil.  Hmmmm.  On the witness stand, he describes how it was a fair match. Sure, being a former heavyweight champ, he could have punched Baxter out any time.  But he figures Baxter could have then sued him in that case. He sees this as a fair fight which Baxter lost.

He is found not-guilty, but immediately after the trial is called into the judge’s chambers. The judge says since Bill was the beneficiary of “the liberal provisions of the civil code in reference to duels” he must enforce another provision in that statute.  If you slay a person in a duel, you must provide for the widow and children of the person — and Baxter had a son.  Despite being found not-guilty, Bill is ordered to treat the poor 28 year old orphan as if he were a child.  Say, this is a liberal provision.   The judge orders Bill to pay out $100,000 plus a monthly allowance of $1,000 per month for life. [2]

His lawyer protests that it is too much, but Bill disagrees.  He says, “To be rid of Baxter . . . it’s cheap at half the price” which makes no sense.  He goes back to his house and finds his wife in her usual position of brazenly lounging around, swilling booze with another man. Surprise — it is his old pal Phil . . . Phillip Baxter Junior!  The smirking punk asks Bill, “Since I’m going to be your guest for the next 50 years, would you mind if I called you ‘Dad’?”

  1. This slightly misses the mark. There should have been a reference to an “allowance” in his zinger for it to truly work. Guest?
  2. This does not put Bill in a Dad-role — he and Phil Jr. are equals as lovers of the tramp Laura.
  3. Bill did not know his “pretty close friend” Baxter had a son?
  4. So, in the 1950’s you could not show a husband and wife in the same bed, but it was OK to have a dude making out with his father’s married girlfriend?
  5. And Jocasta Laura was OK with this?
  6. When Phil Jr. planted this idea in Bill’s head at the lodge, he had to know he was setting his own father up to be killed.
  7. And Jocasta Laura was OK with this? [3]

None of this would have mattered much if not for the talky opening and Paul Douglas’s lethargic acting.  I must admit, though, Robert Morse was not quite as hammy as he would become, and he elevated the episode to an “OK”.

Post-Post:

  • [1] Sadly, three months after this episode aired, he would be deadly-dead at the increasingly-young-to-me age of 52.
  • [2] In 2017 dollars:  $835k + $8k/month.  Holy crap!
  • [3] I know — strike-outs = lowest form of humor.
  • AHP Deathwatch:  Only Dodie Heath (Laura) is still with us.
  • I kept thinking Bill’s house looked like a Chinese restaurant, and his wife was dressed like a hostess.
  • . . .
  • Douché . . . I held out as long as I could.
  • [UPDATE] For more information on the episode’s source material and author, head over to bare*bonez ezine.  I initially missed this as a search for Touche without the accent came up empty.  What are we, in l’âge de pierre?

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.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – The Dusty Drawer (05/31/59)

Boarding houses were apparently much more popular in the 1950s than I ever realized.  Or maybe it is just a dramatic device that enables AHP to assemble colorful oddballs in a scene; like when an episode is set in England.

Norman Logan and William Tritt are two fairly odd balls having breakfast at Mrs. Merrell’s Boarding House. Tritt receives a telegram.  He tells Logan that if it is another telegram from him, “I shall slap your face.”  It is indeed from Logan who is sitting within slapping distance.  Logan smirks as Tritt reads the wire: “When are you going to pay me back the $200 you stole?”

Logan again confronts Tritt as he is leaving for work.  Ten months ago, Logan deposited $324 but bank teller Tritt only credited him for $124.  He suspects Tritt used the extra $200 to cover a screw-up on someone else’s account.  If he works at Wells Fargo, it is probably a fake account; if he works at HSBC, it probably belongs to a terrorist; if he works at Bank of America, I’ll be surprised if he can find his way to work tomorrow.

Tritt tells him he cannot afford to make a mistake.  “I’m going a long way at that bank,” he says.  Having risen to the position of teller at age 51, I’d say he has bigger problems.

Logan goes to the bank that day to cash in some bonds.  It just so happens that Tritt now handles that function — say, he is moving up.  He has a seat at Tritt’s desk.  After fumbling the bonds as he waits, he notices that Tritt’s desk has an unusual drawer which actually opens on the customer’s side.  When Tritt comes to his desk, Logan has a big smile.  He says he will cash the bonds later and cheerfully exits the bank to Tritt’s befuddlement.

Inside . . .

Logan’s next stop is at a toy store where he buys the most realistic toy gun in the shop.  He returns to the bank.  When Tritt joins him at the desk, Logan furtively pulls the gun on him and demands $10,000.  When Tritt goes to get one of those canvas bags with the big $ on it, Logan stashes the gun in the secret drawer. Tritt manages to alert the guard who pulls a non-toy gun on Logan. Tritt is delighted at this turn of events and tells the guard to take Logan’s gun.

Of course, the guard’s search comes up empty.  Logan helpfully removes his overcoat, scarf, and jacket to be searched.  He takes the suspenders off his shoulders and offers to drop his pants, but the bank president stops him.  When no gun is found, Tritt looks like a boob. Logan looks magnanimous for not suing.

A month later at dinner, another telegram is delivered, but this time to Logan.  He drives Tritt crazy by not opening it at the table because that would be rude.  Tritt tells the group that Logan is taunting him, that this is just part of a ruse to get him fired.  Logan tells him he has a persecution complex and opens the envelope.  He tells the other boarders it is from his mother.  Tritt snatches the telegram.  It says, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

Later, Logan comes to the bank again.  This is a fairly plot-intensive episode.  Rather than give a rote play-by-play, I’ll just say there are more shenanigans at Tritt’s expense and Logan gets another chance to drop his pants.  This guy is always about 5 seconds from taking his pants off.  I’m starting to think that was the real reason behind his ruse.

Outside . . . doesn’t matter to this guy.

This is a tight little episode.  It is stuffed full of throwaways in the background, yet has a complex story unwinding in the foreground. I liked the Christmas setting even though it seemed to last for months.  There was the “Christ-mas Spirit” of not prosecuting Tritt for his first breakdown, the tunes whistled by Logan to irritate Tritt, the centerpiece and tree that come and go with the season, the heaping snow drifts outside the bank, Logan slipping on some ice.

The other boarders are really non-entities, but the script gives them bits of business. There is old, and I mean old, Mrs Merrell, bits about bad eggs, and later counting the oysters in the oyster stew.  One of them is even played by J. Pat O’Malley who was in every TV show ever made since 1864.

90% of acting seems to be in the casting.  Philip Coolidge is perfectly cast as the nervous, shifty Tritt.  Dick York is far more successful here than he was in Vicious Circle.  There, as a supposedly menacing thug, he was laughable.  Here, as the smirking tormentor of Tritt, he is charismatic and amusing.

Despite the lack of a murder or cheerleaders, a great episode.

Post-Post:

  • AHP Deathwatch:  No survivors.
  • Also dead:  Sadly, Elizabeth Montgomery.  Only relevant here because she played Dick York’s wife in Bewitched, but it’s an excuse to link to a hot picture.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – Your Witness (05/17/59)

Attorney Arnold Shawn has his client Kenneth Jerome on the witness stand when his wife Naomi enters the courtroom.  His client has been involved in a auto accident which killed a woman.  Not being a Kennedy, he is looking at hard time.

Naomi is troubled by Arnold saying in court that he is searching for truth when he has been banging other women; and of course, the lawyer thing.  She flashes back to a conversation they had a month ago when she confronted him about the cheating.  Naomi accused him of dismissing it as if it were “a night out with the boys” which would have been a second problem.  Arnold said that after 10 years of marriage, having another woman show him some attention made him feel like “king of the barnyard” which is 1950s for cock of the walk.

Strangely enough her emotional flashback expands to include Al Carmody dropping by with info on the prosecution’s surprise witness Henry Babcock.  He is going to testify that when Jerome hit the woman, he was running a light.  Babcock is a model citizen, but Carmody and Arnold are sure they can dig up some dirt on him in pursuit of, you know, justice.

A month later, back in the courtroom, in what must be the longest hit-and-run trial ever, Arnold calls Babcock to the witness stand.  He testifies that Jerome hit the woman, backed up 50 yards to take a look, then drove off.  Unable to deny the facts, Arnold accuses Babcock of volunteering to testify because he wanted to be famous.

Seeing Arnold once again turn the truth into a lie, Naomi has another flashback.  Soon after the first flashback, Arnold says he was working late.  Naomi accuses him of lying, and has proof he was seeing the woman he had promised not to see again.  He casually continues eating a sandwich, and accuses her of being prudish.  She asks why he married her in the first place.  He answers, “Your father was an extremely influential man a dozen years ago and he had an extremely attractive daughter, also a dozen years ago!”  Oh shit!

Naomi is not so much on the pro-honesty band-wagon at this point.  As if Arnold hasn’t hurt her enough, he continues, “After all, it’s been 10 long years since you were 25!” Wait, she’s over the hill at 35?  That’s just into MILF porn range!  She is certainly no zero, but she seems to be rocking a size-zero dress — and back when that meant something.  This woman is svelte.  Brian Keith always seems like a coiled spring of hostility, and he is really brutal to her.  She is crushed.

Back in the courtroom, Arnold is cross-examining Babcock . . . I guess — I’ve never seen an episode of Law & Order, or Judge Judy.  Arnold brings up a lot of irrelevant facts such as why Babcock did not hear the woman earlier, that he doesn’t make much money, that he is lonely since his wife died, that he’s the janitor at a strip joint [1], that he is color-blind, and that he was fired from his job for having cataracts that impaired 85% of his vision. Well, those last two actually sound pretty relevant.  He is ruled incompetent as a witness and Jerome is found not guilty.

Naomi catches her husband in the hall.  She has the papers for him to sign so they can get divorced.  He thinks the current situation is fine and even suggests she get a little action on the side too. He tells her, “You could still be an attractive woman if you tried.”  See, he can be nice when he wants to.

In the parking lot, Naomi runs his ass down.  Too bad the only witness was just proven by Arnold to be an incompetent witness due to lousy vision.  D’oh!

This one is a little bit of a slog.  Naomi certainly isn’t the hag Arnold makes her out to be, but she is kind of dull.  Arnold is just thoroughly unpleasant with his cruelty and twisting of the law.  Two such presences do not make for a great viewing experience. However, the ending is pleasantly sharp and ironic . . . if you don’t think about it.

We are never told when Babcock had the corrective surgery.  If before Jerome’s accident, he should have spoken up.  If after then Arnold was right to nail him.  Either way, he has had the surgery by he time of the trial, so he could easily testify against Naomi.  But why would he after Arnold humiliated him on the stand?  Well, he was described as a model citizen.  Pffffft — should have stopped thinking while I was ahead.

Post-Post:

  • [1] The Chichi Club, where Arnold tells us young beautiful girls dance.  Sure, he shows a picture of the intersection, but we’re supposed to take his word about the girls?
  • And what cruel bastard hires an 85% blind man to work in a strip club?
  • AHP Deathwatch:  No survivors.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – A Night With the Boys (05/10/59)

Irving Randall is in a poker game with 3 co-workers.  Well, 2 co-workers and his jerk of a boss.  His boss Smalley goads him into betting over his head, not with it.  He loses big. On the way home, he is stopped by a cop for walking alone at such a late hour.  The cop warns him this neighborhood is not safe at night.

This gives him a swell idea.  I often criticize AHP for its many shrewish wives, but the pusillanimous husband is just as much a stock character.  What really defies belief is why the lovely wives married these worms when everyone knows beautiful women prefer fat overbearing oafs.  Afraid to tell his wife Frances he blew a week’s salary in a poker game, Irving roughs himself up, tears his suit, rubs dirt all over himself, gives himself a nasty cut on the cheek, then tells his wife he was robbed by a teenager.

He says, “This big kid, 16 maybe 17 sneaked up behind me . . . he took my wallet, my whole week’s salary.”  They are still newlyweds, so Frances is genuinely more concerned about Irving’s well-being than the cash.  She does demand that he call the police to report the robbery.  To his dismay, the police call to say they caught the thief.

Irving goes to the police station.  He tells the detective he lost $96.  The kid was found with $92, so it seems like a good fit if the kid had the munchies for 21 McDonald’s cheeseburgers ($.19 in 1955).  Irving is very sheepish about the whole thing.  Actually, he was pretty sheep-like before this happened; he’s even wearing a wool suit. He asks, “How can I be sure the cash is mine?”  The detective says, “Because he was caught exactly 3 blocks from where you were mugged, running like the devil was chasing him.  That’s what I meant by real evidence.”  Well, that is pretty fishy, but not exactly conclusive.

While I absolutely love the premise, this episode is a hard sell because so far the PJ-clad Frances is the only likable character.  And even she is on thin ice with that 1950’s night gown that contains more fabric than I wear to work.  Otherwise:

  • Smalley is a loud-mouth bully.  The other two players were non-entities in their suits and vests, while he was a cigar-chomping jerk in a Hawaiian shirt.  He took pleasure in tormenting Irving.  As he is also Irving’s boss, we know it will just continue in the morning.
  • The uniform cop is unnecessarily hostile to Irving who was just walking down the street.  And to profile for a second, is a well-groomed guy in a suit & tie really a likely criminal unless he is in Reservoir Dogs, or Congress? [1]
  • The detective is a hard-ass very eager to connect dots that might put this kid in jail.
  • The kid does himself no favors with his insolence, arrogance, and especially offensive to me, hair — just a huge shock of tall, thick, upswept hair.  The bastard.
  • Finally, Irving is such a jittery specimen that it is hard to empathize with the corner he has put himself into.  And how he did he land Frances, although he is a pretty handsome guy.  The bastard.

Irving is also not helped by the make-up representing the scar he gave himself.  He cut himself with a rock which actually was probably a better choice than the tin can that was next to it.  Unfortunately, this is shown as a long 3/8-inch wide streak of jet-black greasepaint.  A wound that massive should have sent him to the hospital, and maybe the basement of the hospital.  It is just very distracting whenever it is on camera.

Irving says since he got the money back, he does not want to press charges against the kid — just to give him a break.  The detective is surprisingly receptive to that forgiving attitude.  Maybe I misjudged him.

When the kid is told Irving is not going to send him to the big house, he gives a great reading of “Thanks for the break” letting Irving know he knows this is BS and that Irving is up to something.  Maybe I misjudged him.

Irving brings home the cash and shows it to his wife.  Unfortunately, he can’t feel good knowing the truth about how he got it.  On the plus side, she is wearing a different gown and this one is much, much better.  Maybe I misjudged her.

The next morning, Irving has to stop by Smalley’s apartment to pick up some papers.  He finds Smalley roughed up with a band-aid on his chin.  He was robbed by some kid of $92.  Irving finally feels some relief with the confirmation that the kid was a crook after all, and he didn’t steal money from an innocent person to cover his own shame at losing the money in a card game.

Smalley grovels and asks Irving if he can borrow a few bucks.  Irving shows some backbone and confidently says with a smirk, “Sorry, you know how it is.  I’m a married man.”  So maybe I misjudged him. [3]

Well, Irving might feel better, but he isn’t really off the karmic hook.  To cover his own issues, he put the kid back on the street to continue his crime spree.[2]  Also, indirectly, Irving stole back the money that Smalley won fair and square in a poker game. And feels great about it because that big poopy-head Smalley was teasing him.

A great premise and a pretty good episode.

Post-Post:

  • AHP Deathwatch:  Joyce “I’m not Alice or Trixie” Meadows and Buzz Martin are still with us.  Sadly, as noted on a previous episode, Sam Buffington (Smalley) died at only 28, almost exactly a year after this episode aired.
  • AHP Proximity Alert:  William Kruse was just in an episode 2 weeks ago.  Give someone else a chance!
  • [1] Or a banker.  Or a lawyer.  Or a car salesman.  Or a pharmaceutical executive. Or a tobacco lobbyist.  OK, this profiling thing isn’t working out.
  • [2] Crime and spending — really the only two things where you can spree.
  • [3] When he first sees Smalley, Irving covers his scar to avoid questions.  After hearing Smalley’s story, he gains some confidence and stops hiding it even though, at that point, he has more reason to avoid explaining it.  The strangest thing is that Smalley never mentions the giant Harvey Dent-sized wound at all.
  • John Smith, who played Irving, was born Robert Errol Van Orden.  His name was changed by the same agent who rebranded Tab Hunter and Rock Hudson.  Clearly he was working on deadline when he came up with John Smith.
  • For a more in-depth look at the episode and its source material, check out bare*bonez e-zine.