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.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – Dry Run (11/08/59)

Welcome to guys talking.  I hope you like guys talking because that’s all we serve. Catch of the Day: guys talking.  Soup de Jour: guys talking.  Happy Hour: half price on guys talking.  Ladies Night: Sorry, still guys talking — this is Hollywood after all.

We begin with three guys talking.

They are admiring the piranha in Mr. Barberosa’s office.  Barberosa likes the piranhas’ dependability.  Prentiss says, “Yeah, you can depend on him to snap your finger off the minute you put it in the water.”  He says he will stick to raising rabbits which is just bizarrely random and never followed up on.

After Prentiss leaves, Barberosa lectures Art about dependability.  He says in his organization, “I am the coach.  I depend on teamwork.  Maybe that’s why we keep going strong while most of our competitors fold up when the going gets a little tough. Because I can depend on everybody on the team.  And they can depend on each other, too.”

He says he has had his eye on Art and is ready to move him up in the organization.  Art said he appreciates the chance and Barberosa busts him, “I don’t like that word, chance.  I hand-pick the people who work for me and I look for one quality, dependability.”  Dude, how did you not see that coming!

Art says, “Well, you can depend on me.”  Good boy!  You’ll go far!

Barberosa has one last test for Art before promoting him.  He just did a deal with a man named Moran, and wants Art to deliver the payment; and then kill him.  He even gives Art an untraceable pistol.   Barberosa specifically instructs him to hand Moran the cash before killing him; which should be a tip-off that something is awry — why does it matter if he is going to kill Moran anyway.  He will get the new job if he can handle that hit; oh, and pass the typing test.

Art drives out to the Old Valley Winery — are there really any new valleys?  He looks around the dark winery.  The lights come on and Moran is holding a gun on him.  He demands that Art hand over the $10k which must be in $1,000 bills because the envelope is pretty slim.

They have a glass of wine while Moran goes on and on about Barberosa.  Moran offers a toast to Barberosa, “May his cheap heart burn in — hey, that’s pretty good, huh kid? — cheap heart burn.  Cheap heartburn, don’t ya get it?”  If he does, he’s smarter than me.  OK, heart and burn go together to make heartburn, but where does cheap fit in?  He specifically repeats it like it is a real bon mot but it is barely even a mot.

Over the next 15 minutes, Moran talks Art into joining his organization.  All Art has to do is betray (i.e. kill) Barberosa.  Art is convinced.  As he is leaving, Moran pulls a gun and tells him Barberosa will be disappointed that he flunked the dependability [1] test.  Bang!

Yeah, you could question why Moran let Art walk up the long stairway and get the high ground before pulling his gun.  Or you could question why Moran drank twice as much wine as Art if he knew he had a tough shot coming up.  Or you could question why Barberosa gave Art a revolver where he could even see there were no bullets in the chambers.[2]  But none of that matters.

They had a very talky episode that was redeemed with a good twist.  To make it palatable, they recruited four heavy hitters:  Walter Matthau (The Odd Couple, Fail Safe, Bad News Bears), Robert Vaughn (The Man from UNCLE) [3], David White (Bewitched), and Tyler McVey (OK, three heavy hitters)[4].  Their big roles were in the future, but there’s a reason they had such success.

Matthau did the heavy lifting.  He had to make a 15 minute conversation tolerable, and pulled it off expertly.  The winery set, though small, was very well designed to allow for gloom, movement, casks and an interesting place for the conversation.

So, unlike Touché, we have a very talky AHP episode that works due to good performances.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] It finally hit me that loyalty was the word that should have been used throughout the episode.  But then they would have lost the piranha metaphor.  I guess a Cocker Spaniel wouldn’t have been exotic enough.
  • [2] OK, maybe there were dead bullets in the cylinders.  They weren’t blanks because all he got was a click.
  • [3] As an aside, I saw the Man from UNCLE movie last week.   I learned that Henry Cavill’s stiff portrayal of Superman is one thing you can’t blame Zack Snyder for.  But his suits are fabulous.
  • [4] To be fair, Tyler McVey had a huge career, he just never had a truly iconic role.
  • AHP Deathwatch:  No survivors.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – Anniversary Gift (11/01/59)

Hermie Jenkins tells a caged toucan, “Shut your stupid beak.  A dog gets house-broken in 3 months.  You ought to be ashamed of yourself!”  Well, what could the bird have possibly done wrong?  He sits on a perch in a cage and shits.  There’s not a lot of room for error.

Hermie takes care of his wife Myra’s menagerie.  She has cages of birds, monkeys, raccoons, etc and bowls of fish around the house.  Hermie is also kept on a pretty short leash as Myra gives him a shopping list for the animals’ food along with his $10 allowance.

Hermie’s neighbor George envies his “family” and 15 years of marriage.  His wife died 9 years earlier.  The homophobic transphobic fascist patriarchal h8er George says “a home ain’t a home without a woman.”  And speaking of transphoboic, WordPress better get their ass in gear and update their spellcheck dictionary unless they want trouble.

Given his own unhappy situation, Hermie comically just assumes George killed his wife (i.e. death by natural causes on AHP).  Turns out she died from pneumonia.  Strange this had never come up before — they live in Florida where “How did your [husband / wife] die?” is second only to “Hot enough for you?” in conversation starters.  George spent two years trying to get over his wife’s death.  He traveled to “Hawaii, Acapulco, Las Vegas, Monte Carlo” which sounds pretty good to Hermie. George laments, “Since she’s gone, my life is nothing but beer and fishing.”  Which also sounds pretty good.

After going to the store to buy brine shrimp, Hermie picks up Myra’s copy of Pet News.  He sees an ad for Hansel Eidelpfeiffer selling snakes by the seashore.  He drops the hint to Myra that “Snakes are the most affectionate pets in the world.  Everybody knows that.”  He tells her that snakes are great, just misunderstood.  He reminds her of “that act in Tampa you wouldn’t go see — the snake dance striptease?  That dame had ’em twining all around her.”  He convinces her she should get a little one and she says she could carry it around with her.

The next day, Hermie goes to see Hansel Eidelpfeiffer.  And if you’re going to have a Hansel Eidelpfeiffer, he should probably be played by Michael J. Pollard.  Hermie tells Hansel he is a professor working for “that Cape Canaveral thing”.  He says they need a poisonous snake for an experiment.  Hansel suggests a Coral Snake, very handsome with bands of black, red and yellow which might have been diversity overload for 1960s NASA.

He gives the snake to Myra as the titular anniversary gift.  From a safe distance, he tells her the snake loves to be used as a garter or a necklace.  Garter snake — ha, I just got that!  After unsuccessfully trying to make friends with the cold-blooded snake, she tosses it back to Hermie.  The snake bites him and he drops dead — literally just drops right of frame — in a classic death scene.

After the coroner arrives to collect Hermie’s body, now also cold-blooded, George finds the snake.  He and the coroner both identify it as a non-poisonous King Snake.

George assures the grieving Myra, “Hermie would never slip you a hot snake.”  No wonder she was such a shrew.  Heyoooooo!

Turns out Hermie had merely died of a heart attack, thinking Myra had just handed him a poison snake.

There is a lot to like here — several live animals, a real snake.  Barbara Baxley is entirely adequate as the controlling, emasculating, oblivious Myra.  I really did despise her, but I think it was more from the writing than the performance.  Hmmmm, maybe that means she played it just right.  She was childlike and pleasant, yet evoked those negative reactions. On second thought “well done!”

Harry Morgan, like The Wizard of Oz, is both great and terrible.  He wasn’t much of a nuanced actor. His stiffness worked for him in roles from Dragnet to MASH.  When he loosens up, it seems so against type, that it is pretty funny.  He milked a lot of good laughs out of this one.  On second thought, he was great too.

20 year old Michael J. Pollard was just magnificently odd as Eidelpfeiffer.  My only minor complaint is the handling of his character.  Both the coroner and George identified the snake as harmless, so I’m taking their word for it.  I just don’t see Eidelpfeiffer making that mistake. [1]

Great stuff.

More, More, More:

  • [1] For more background on the story and production, head over to bare*bonez e-zine.  Jack says Eidelpfeiffer took advantage of Hermie.  So I was wrong about that too.  Man, I suck at this.
  • AHP Deathwatch:  Michael J. Pollard is the sole surviving performer.  However, director Norman Lloyd will be 103 in November.  Or maybe I should say, he is currently 102.
  • The 35th wedding anniversary is Coral, but I guess Hermie couldn’t wait that long.
  • On two occasions, Hermie calls Hansel “Assenpfeffer.”  What the hell?  [UPDATE] After some research (mostly of the theme to Laverne & Shirley), I guess he was mocking Eidelpfeiffer’s moniker by calling him “hasenfeffer.”
  • It has stuck with me for years that Harry Morgan on MASH once referred to snakes as a poison ropes.  That’s pretty good.