Alfred Hitchcock Presents – Banquo’s Chair (05/03/59)

The episode opens with the same type of pointlessly specific title cards that Hitchcock aficionados will recognize from Psycho.  Blackheath . . . near London . . . October 23, 1903 . . . 7:20 PM.

Inspector Brent is making a call on Major Cook-Finch.  Brent asks to see Cook’s dining room and to speak to his “man” Lane.  Brent’s plans are as meticulous as the title cards, as he dictates everything from the seating arrangement to the position of the gas valve. The Shakespearean actor Robert Stone arrives.  Before the actor can have an hysterical tantrum about leaving England if George V takes the throne, Brent explains the haps.

There was a murder 2 years ago in this house.  The suspected murderer, John Bedford, is the guest of honor.  He was the sole heir to his Aunt Mae’s estate, but had an alibi. Inspector Brent has devised a plan where an actress will appear to be the ghost of Aunt Mae.  She appears during the pheasant and Bedford blurts out a confession.  They read him the Miranda Warning [1] and haul him off to gaol.

This episode uses one of the oldest tropes on TV — the pseudo-supernatural event that is staged, and occurs despite the unexpected absence of the perpetrators.  Not only is this lazier than I expect from AHP, it breaks with their tradition of non-supernatural episodes.  I can think of only one previously.

And it was directed by Alfred Hitchcock?

Not only that, but it ran laughably short.  Hitchcock’s vignettes seemed longer than usual, but the closing credits really showed the padding.  My God, they just went on and on. The make-up and gaffer credits were on the screen so long their mothers were saying, “Get on with it already!”  The union called and said, “We’re satisfied, let’s move on!”.  The theme was repeated countless times.  Really an off week for AHP.

Post-Post:

  • [1] I didn’t realize this was a thing outside the US, much less in 1903. Although, back then it referred to Carmen Miranda and was a warning to wash fruit before eating it.
  • AHP Deathwatch:  According to IMDb, Kenneth Haigh (John Bedford) is listed as still alive at 88. But I have to wonder who notifies them in case of death.
  • Banquo is a reference to a character in Macbeth, and not Spanish for Bank as I thought.
  • For an in-depth look at the episode and the original work it was based on, check out bare*bonez e-zine.  Spoiler:  He liked it a lot more than me.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – The Impossible Dream (04/19/59)

A couple are is dancing and discussing what a tramp the woman is (by 1959 standards, anyway).  There are 2 gunshots which are effective shocks even though (i.e. because) they are so unrealistically staged.  They are dancing very close and shown from just below the shoulders when the shots are heard.  It is almost comical what a non-sequitur they are. Before the shots, the woman’s arms do not move, so it is as if she was holding the gun between them the whole time.  As we hear the shots, there is absolutely no recoil.

The camera pulls so far back we can see the director — no wait this has been a scene filmed for a movie.  Stage-victim Oliver Matthews picks himself up and heads for his dressing room.  He opens up a bottle of hooch and unloads on his assistant, Miss Hall.  He hates the film, hates that he has been reduced to a small role, and hates having to act beside Myra Robbins.  But he’s not just a h8ter, he does love that booze.  Miss Hall gets him to put down the bottle by offering a sedative.

Her slavish devotion is repaid by Matthews telling her, “You ought to find yourself a man.  You’re drying up,  Pretty soon you’ll have fewer choices.”  He goes on a Serling-esque harangue of self-pity about himself and mockery of Miss Hall.  This a pretty pathetic pair.  Even as Matthews is cruelly taunting Miss Hall on the way out the door to Mexico, she is obsequiously fawning over him.

We are tricked as he actually goes home, not that the director gives us any clue — this could have been a place in Mexico.  However, the wardrobe lady from the film set  who Matthews had earlier pretended not to know walks in and is all smiles.  I was expecting that his previous ass-hattery was an act and that he would be charmingly in love with the lowly wardrobe lady, Grace Dolan.  Well cheers to them for fooling me, but jeers for them subjecting me to another depressing co-dependent train-wreck of a relationship.

In this pairing, Dolan is blackmailing Matthews to keep quiet about his role in her daughter’s murder.  Ya know, most parents might take such evidence to the police.  He insists that he is broke and can’t keep paying.  She nastily demands that he write the check anyway and damn well better find a way to cover it.  As she is leaving, he asks her to stay for a drink which is not at all suspicious.

As she is looking through his record collection, he dumps a bottle of his sedative in her glass and charmingly stirs it with his finger.  As a result of the drug or his grubby finger, Dolan passes out.  She is so disgusting that he isn’t tempted to do anything but kill her.  He loads her in the car, wraps her in chains and gives her a long shove off a short pier.

He returns home and finds Miss Hall there.  She knows what Matthews did, but will not tell the police as long as he will be her boyfriend.

This episode is a victim of its own success.  Franchot Tone is just great as Matthews.  And, by great, I mean repulsive.  Miss Hall is so needy, you go right past empathy into thinking “what’s wrong with this woman?”, and Grace Dolan is just as nasty as Matthews. There is just no one to root for or identify with.

Post-Post:

  • AHP Deathwatch:  No survivors.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – The Waxwork (04/12/59)

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L to R: The Avon Emeralds, Waxwork.                 LotR: Lord of the Rings

  1. This is the exact same establishing shot as opened The Avon Emeralds.
  2. This episode aired in 1959.  Why was it so important to set it in 1955?  Not exactly a period piece.
  3. Why was it necessary to set either episode in England?

Raymond Houston is quite the wild-man.  He heads off to the Marriner’s Wax Museum and buys both a guidebook and souvenir program.  He sneaks off the tour and up the stairs to find the owner.  He is a reporter with a great idea — he wants to report on politics without contempt or bias, and ask penetrating questions with insistent follow-ups. No wait, this isn’t The Twilight Zone; he just wants to spend the night in the museum.

Houston specifically wants wants to spend the night in the Murderer’s Den.  He has a bit of a gambling problem.  Writing this swell story will put a few bucks in his pocket.  After an interminable and unnecessary tour of the waxworks, Houston is locked away for the night.

He has a phobia about being locked up, so quickly becomes anxious.  Surrounded by the wax murderers, he stares longingly at the door.  Sweat pours off of his brow as he loosens his tie.  He types a few words:  This is no place for anyone with a weak heart . . . or weak nerves.

So far, this is the only remotely interesting thing about this episode.  Consider:  21 years later, Barry Nelson (Houston) would play the hotel manager in The Shining — a story about a writer trapped in a confined area for a pre-determined period of time who goes a little mad and types drivel on his typewriter.

It gets a little more interesting as we are treated to a POV shot which, like Charlotte McKinney, looks out over an impressive rack.  We witness the agitated Houston going from figure to figure in a panic.  Somehow the guillotine chops off a wax head.  Even more incredibly, he manages to get his hand caught in the afore-mentioned and afore-grounded rack.  Houston runs up the stairs to the door, but it is locked tight.

I’m getting a little restless myself.  Blah blah blah.  This episode had a lot of potential. Sadly it was torpedoed by too much unnecessary exposition, a very dull turn by Everett Sloane as the owner, and an unexceptional performance by Barry Nelson.

The Twilight Zone had a much better wax museum visit in The New Exhibit.

Post-Post:

  • AHP Deathwatch:  One of the guards is still with us.
  • Houston name-checks one of the murderous figures as Landru.  His waxy ass was also seen in The New Exhibit.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – Cheap is Cheap (04/05/59)

ahpcheapis12An AHP Christmas episode.  Unlike TZ, I expect AHP to stick to its charter and give me a watchable episode.

Alexander Gifford is coming home with no Christmas bonus.  He is just sick thinking about “the 4% it could have accumulated in the bank over the next few years.”  I am just sick thinking of the .00001% my money is getting.

After a good gag with a newspaper, the parsimonious Alexander chides his wife for leaving a light on.  He sees a gift on the table and wishes his wife a happy birthday.  He didn’t forget — he reminds her, “What about our understanding?  Didn’t we agree a long time ago that it wasn’t necessary to demonstrate our affection for one another by the extravagant exchange of unnecessary items?”  I can think of another way affection will not be demonstrated that night.

Jennifer got the gift for herself.  “Don’t, worry.  I’m not getting anything for you,”  she zings him in a pitch-perfect retort.  She then horrifies Alexander by sitting down to eat a nice steak while serving him “stewed soup meat.”  Hey, wait a minute, he remembers, her birthday was 2 months ago.

ahpcheapis20She explains today is her new birthday.  While cleaning the closet, she found hidden bank books showing a balance of $33,000 [1].  He explains that is for their old age.  She calls him a cheap, miserly, penny-pinching, money-grabbing . . .”  She can’t say asshole on TV, so she asks for a divorce.  Alexander is stunned. He thinks, “That would be a terrible thing.  I didn’t want to part with Jennifer . . . not in this community-property state.”  So he decides to kill her — Ho ho ho, AHP rules!

Alexander recruits a hitman.  The hitman tells him to go see his friend Arthur who will sell him some poison.  The Chemist has just the thing — a perfume that when dabbed behind each year goes pshhhhh.  I can’t figure out what this means.  He prides himself on his poisons being undetectable, but he makes a sound like this eats right through the skin into her brain.  Anyway, at $600 the price is a little steep for Alexander.

Alexander gets the better (i.e. cheaper) idea of giving his wife food-poisoning.  Since he can’t wait for Chipotle to be created, he visits a young scientist at the university and manages to steal some botulism by drawing it into his fountain pen.  He applies it to a ham in their refrigerator, then claims not to be hungry at dinner.

ahpcheapis28That night, Jennifer’s eyes roll back in her head and she keels over dead. Well, not quite.  Arthur calls the doctor who finds she is in very bad shape, but still alive.  The doctors says if she makes it through the night, she has a small chance to recover.  Not one to take risks, Alexander smothers her with a HOME SWEET HOME pillow.

The bad news keeps coming for Alexander.  The doctor tells him a funeral will cost $160.  Disgusted that Jennifer is still squandering his money even in death, he donates her body to medical science.  He counts up a cool $75 as he walks out the door of State University Medical School.

What the hell — they had the perfect ending and they uncharacteristically bungled it! Alexander had gotten the botulism sample at the university.  There was even BEAT TECH graffiti on the blackboard [3].  He could have disposed of the body properly for $160, but the cheap bastard handed her body over to the same institution where he purloined the poison in his Parker pen.  That same young scientist should have taught an autopsy class and discovered the botulism matched the strain in his lab.[2]  Thus Alexander’s cheapness would have been his undoing.

ahpcheapis34This was such a good episode that the last minute fumble is not a deal-breaker.  The performances are uniformly great.  Dennis Day as Alexander was believably prim and parsimonious.  Alice Backes was almost too good as Jennifer.  She had a sly delivery, an interest-ing angular beauty and a smile that cut through the jokes.  She could have been the standard AHP cookie-cutter shrewish wife, but turned the part into a real person.  The thugs were appropriately menacing and even kind of textured characters.  Their mugs sold the menace, but their deeds and manners showed more depth.  The chemist was a dead-ringer for Bunsen Honeydew, and you can’t go wrong with that.

The script was also a winner.  There were actual jokes, not just a reveal followed by a jaunty musical stinger.  All in almost all, a most wonderful time-slot of the year.

Post-Post:

  • [1] $270k in 2016 dollars.
  • [2] As always, Alfred Hitchcock assures us in the epilogue that Alexander was caught.  He still never makes the connection to the university, though.
  • [3] Home of the world renowned VISITORS.
  • AHP Deathwatch:  No survivors.
  • Title Analysis:  OK, we get it — he’s cheap.  I don’t really get the title.
  • A rare bit of 1950’s meta:  The hitman refers to the famous Lamb to the Slaughter episode of AHP which is, naturally, unavailable on Hulu.
  • OK, not really a Christmas episode, but it was mentioned.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – The Kind Waitress (03/29/59)

ahpkindwaitress22Thelma the Waitress is worried that Mrs. Mannerheim is late for dinner. The elderly Mrs. M strolls in wearing a dead fox around her neck which was the style at the time.  She confides in Thelma that she never takes the medicine the doctor gives her, which probably explains her longevity. “When the time comes, the Lord will take me.  Medicine won’t help.”

Mrs. M asks her to sit down for a chat.  She asks Thelma about her living arrangements at the rooming house (“crummy, but cheap”), and confesses that she is very sick.  Apparently having never seen AHP, Mrs. M tells Thelma that she has put her in her will.  After Mrs. M’s death, she will be able to quit this job, and move into a nice apartment. That’s all well and good, but can I get some water over here?

Thelma didn’t mention that she lives with her musician boyfriend Arthur.  Apparently having never seen AHP, Thelma tells him about being included in Mrs. M’s will.  Arthur has immediate plans for the money, like starting his own band.  When she estimates the haul might be $50k, he leaps up and starts blowing his clarinet.

Mrs. M continues coming to the diner, but starts complaining about the service.  Thelma tries to hold her tongue, but is getting a little ticked off.  Arthur is getting a little peeved too, ahpkindwaitress21waiting for months for the “old bag” to die.  Thelma claims to still like her, but Arthur can see the signs, and has a plan.  Thelma initially thinks he is crazy, but comes around.  She will put a little something in her tea, so that over time it kills her.

When Arthur goes to the drugstore to get some poison, the pharmacist asks him to sign his name.  Arthur is no fool — they could trace that right back to him!  So he checks six books about poison out of the library — nothing suspicious there.  After pouring through the books for days, he decides on Anatine, which must have been around page 3.

Suddenly, the clarinet player is Walter White with the flask and coiled copper tubing dripping a distilled poison into a beaker.  The next day, Thelma puts a small dose into Mrs. M’s tea.  Mrs. M drinks it down as Thelma looks on nervously.  Over a short period of time, this should kill her.

ahpkindwaitress01

That’s her speaking:  What a gal!

This goes on for a six months, driving Arthur crazy and making Thelma sick with guilt.  One day, Mrs. M is too ill to come to the diner, so Thelma brings a tray up to her.  Thelma forgot to bring the milk and Mrs. M asks her to go get it.  There is an argument, then Thelma tells her off.  When Mrs M threatens to take her out of her will, Thelma strangles her.

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Why can’t I meet a girl like this?

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Ha-cha-cha . . . now we’re talkin!

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Well, still a keeper.

The coroner testifies that she was strangled.  She is asked why Arthur has blown town, but she insists he had nothing to do with it.  Thelma is held for trial.  Mrs. M’s doctor tells the coroner that he had prescribed Anatine — a poison in large doses, but with some medicinal value in lower doses.  He says he suspected she was not taking the medicine.  “Actually, Anatine was the only thing keeping her alive.”  Those words echo in Thelma’s mind as she is escorted from the hearing.

Kind of beautiful because if Thelma had been nice and done nothing, Mrs. M would have died sooner.  Less obvious:  If Thelma had been super-nice and insisted Mrs. M take her prescribed medicine, the double dose would also have killed her.

Not a classic, but a solid episode.  I rate it an 18% tip.

Post-Post:

  • AHP Deathwatch:  Amazingly, the oldest cast-member Mrs. Mannerheim (Celia Lovsky) is still alive at 120 years old.  Just kidding, they’re all dead.
  • What the hell?  Mrs. Mannerheim was the old Vulcan chick in the Star Trek episode where Spock gets horny.  Her character’s birth-date is given as 2122 so we are five years closer to that date than to the actual birth-date of the actress.
  • Definition of Anatine:  Resembling a duck.