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?

Outer Limits – Music of the Spheres (05/09/97)

College student Devon Taylor is listening to space.  He thinks he can detect a pattern coming from Sirius. [1]  His professor finally tells him to go home, but he grabs the tape to listen to later.  When his younger sister Joyce overhears the tape, she is able to clearly hear the pattern.  In fact, she puts on a set of head-phones and snoozes all night with it playing.

Her father finds her in the morning.  He immediately assumes she is on the drugs.  To be fair, her pulse is racing and she is acting weird.  And he should know the symptoms because is has two doctorates — the one of his character, and being played by Dr. Johnny Fever.  Before he can tell her to just say no, she grabs the tape and runs out the door to school.

Joyce gets everyone at school listening to the groovy space music.  Devon insists that there is a message embedded in it, which is likely since it sounds suspiciously like the transmission sent in Contact.  He goes looking for Joyce at a rave where the music makes everyone look like they’re playing that game Riker brought onto the Enterprise; you remember, the one that induced orgasms . . . c’mon, you know you want to click it.

Devon sees that the euphoric teens are addicted to the music like crack.  He is a little over the demographic so is able to resist its charms.  It also has the side-effect of causing metallic scales on the kids’ skin.  He goes to the booth where the DJ has the easiest job in the world — one tape, on a loop.  When Devon grabs the tape, the people stop their orgasmic, slack-jawed moaning and scream in pain like when I accidentally hit the Firefox back-button to my sister’s Facebook page at an inopportune time.

Joyce and the other teenagers are taken to the hospital.  All of them are getting the same metallic plating on their skin even though soap and water would take care of most of it. Devon looks in Joyce’s eye with one of those lighted doctor doohickeys and says, “Her iris is changing.”  No, Mr. Know-It-All, her pupil is changing, not her iris. Seriously, does anyone in TV finish the sixth grade?

After Devon sends the tape to a friend in Japan, he is responsible for a global outbreak. The Feds show up and confiscate his stereo, oscilloscope and nudie magazines.  The enigmatically-named Dr. Riddle is called from the CDC, but she is no match for the 20 year old Devon.  She confirms that the disease is spread by a signal that is like music to teenagers and random noise to adults . . . just like _____________ . [2]  It also instills an intense desire to share with others, thus explaining Bernie Sanders’ success. Oh, and it comes from space.

The CDC decides the best course of action is to play the signal in reverse.  In addition to confirming Paul is dead, this also kills Joyce.  Thank God Devon is there to turn the original tape up to eleven and revive her.

Devon further concludes that the changes are a gift from aliens.  Our sun is about to shift to a blue dwarf.  Only those who have evolved the metallic skin will survive. The CDC agrees and the government starts broadcasting the signal, finally using that goofy Emergency Broadcast System, and on PBS, although they wisely schedule it during Downton Abbey so someone will actually be watching.

All the kids on Earth are soon covered with a gold shell making them look like small Oscar statues, which will drive Roman Polanski crazy.  Adults are able to get a treatment which will give them the same metallic shell. For reasons not well explained, Joyce & Devon’s father opts out.

I always like a mystery that has to be solved.  And the magnitude of the story — human evolution & sun shift — certainly lend gravitas to the story.  Add in a little star-power (no pun intended), and a few minutes of padding don’t seem too big a price to pay.

Post-Post:

  • [1] The pattern is to cancel every 3 months before the welcome-back offer expires. I ain’t paying full price for radio, man!  Actually, I saw later that they were saying Certus, not Sirius.  That isn’t a thing, so I have no idea what they were going for.
  • [2] Mad-Libs time.  [Name some dreadful young people’s music].
  • Devon is played by Joshua Jackson who would go on to play a similar brainiac on Fringe.  Surprisingly, he is great here as a 20-year old know-it-all and less annoying than the know-it-all he played as an adult.
  • Joyce is played by Kirsten Dunst, three years after Interview with the Vampire and three years before the greatest movie in the history of cinema.
  • Title Analysis: About as perfect as you can get.
  • Music of the Spears.
  • Music of the Sneers.
  • Music of the Shears.

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.

Outer Limits – Double Helix (03/28/97)

Well, we start off with a laugh as Dr. Martin Nodel walks in wearing what appears to be David Byrne’s big suit in charcoal gray.  I can imagine maybe the shoulders were a little padded in 1980s style, but the sleeves end mid-palm, so there was apparently a problem in wardrobe.

He asks his students if they consider themselves Darwinians [1].  There is a priest present among the students wearing his black suit and collar.  I’m not sure why he’s there; you might as well have a fireman sitting there. [2]  Nodel is researching junk DNA which he thinks could contain messages from God.  Others think it might be leftovers from evolutionary dead-ends such as gills or tails, which makes sense.  Nodel thinks it is there for future evolution which makes no sense.  I am on team-evolution, but it is not known for acting pro-actively as my back can attest.  To prove his theory, he has come up with a way to activate that DNA.

He has done the testing and I haven’t, so maybe he’s right.  He uncloaks an aquarium which contains a big fish with less space than those bowls used to torture beta-fish.  To the shock of the students, the bass lowers four legs and climbs on to a bit of dirt so that it now has less room than those pens used to torture veal.  I must say it was pretty effective, although not as much as if it had started singing Take Me to the River.  And Nodel had just the suit to join in.

Nodel has self-diagnosed himself with the markers of Wilson’s Disease, which I believe is known more colloquially as Soccer Balls.  Nodel injects himself.

He begins team-building stunts with his class.  He has the guys form a circle around a circle of the girls.  The girls then do a trust fall where they tip over backwards and trust the guys not to grab their boobs.  They then do the experiment where six of them lift a classmate using just their fingers, and are really trusting of the guys.  Nodel tells them they are going to be working in close quarters and will have to abandon all modesty.  He reminds them that they had already committed to having not had any surgery or bodily alterations.  The dude with the dopey pierced ears doesn’t seem to understand the question.  Oh yeah, then the professor says they all need to get naked.

They protest, but he insists he needs to examine them for birthmarks, scars and tattoos. Unsurprisingly, earring guy has a problem with this and bails.  The remaining students strip.  He notes one of the girls has a small tattoo, but upon closer examination, he decides it is tolerable.  He detects an appendectomy scar on another girl and boots her out because she is not a whole person as humans naturally evolved. He found no defects on any of the guys, so maybe he wasn’t checking them out as closely.

At home that night Nodel, worries that he is left with only 6 subjects when he needs eight. He suddenly cringes in pain.  He takes off his shirt and we see his horribly deformed back.  He realizes that the scars are actually a map.

The next day, he tells the students they are officially part of his research project.  He gives them a list of supplies to bring with them the next day.  I hope clean clothes are on the list because they all seem to be wearing the same clothes as yesterday.  WTH was the wardrobe department doing during this episode?

He is still two bodies short.  Fortuitously, his estranged son drops by with his strange girlfriend.  Nodel drives them out to the designated meeting place.  As they are exploring the area, they are surrounded by soldiers.

The soldiers lead the group to an underground facility housing a mysterious object.  Like Admiral Yamamoto, it has stayed in the same position since WWII.  Even digging out the ground below it will not cause it to fall.  The army figures it is 60 million years old. The object is too hard for them to even take a sample.  Nodel sees a triangular indentation on the object.  He pulls his glove off to reveal a similar triangular deformity on his palm.  The weird part is that the marking on the object has the point at the top.  When Noel presses his palm to it, his scar has the point at the bottom.  It should have been like a USB connection where he has to reverse it three times to get it to go in.

A blue light shoots out and raises Nodel like Jesus with his arms outstretched.  He speaks in the voice of the aliens.  They spread their their genetic material across the universe like a hotel bedspread to assure the continuation of their race. The object is a vessel to take the group back “home” so the aliens can see how we growed up. NASA can’t keep track of its moon rocks and home movies for 40 years [3], and they’re expecting these aliens to have a welcoming committee after 65 million?

Like Roy Neary, with no regard for their safety, they board the ship and leave behind family, friends and student loans without a thought.

Pretty straightforward, but dang if it didn’t reel me in like it always does.

Post-Post:

  • [1] It is kind of Jesus-fishy that Darwin had a name so ripe for turning into a noun.  Wallacerians would never have taken off.  See also, Alexander Graham Bell.
  • [2] Of course, he is there for shots of him grimacing as Nodel talks about evolution. It is just strange that he appears with the students, and not with the administrators that come in later.
  • [3] Or so they would have us believe.