The Hitchhiker – Nightshift (09/15/85)

hnightshift30We open with workmen clearing the debris from a massive roof collapse.  A reporter tells us the accident “left one man dead and one man miraculously alive” as we pan across a dead body on the ground.  A pulse is detected in a body previously thought to be dead.  But how did the reporter already know there was a survivor?  Where was this Nostradamus on Election Night?

The titular hitchhiker tells us, “Jane Reynolds works the night shift at an old age home, governing her charges with rules and an iron hand. [1] But there are some rules that bend when the night shifts.”[2]  We meet her making the rounds in the television room, taking a board game away from some oldsters, taking a cat from an old lady, and reminding another that her husband is dead.

That night, her boyfriend Johnny drops by for some hanky-panky.  And by hanky-panky, I mean taking a look at the jewelry Jane has lifted off the old people.  Johnny quite rightly points out that these geezers would have had their assets picked clean by their kids by the time they end up here.

hnightshift32Their date is interrupted by a new patient being admitted to the home.  It is the revived man from the roof collapse.  Played by Darren McGavin, he is credited as “Old Man” which in this episode is about as helpful as crediting “White Guy” on Seinfeld.  Jane is immediately captivated by his ring which really looks more like a high school graduation ring than a precious jewel; or maybe it’s a ruby — I’m no icthyologist. [4] She gives up after she is unable to slip it off his bony finger.

Johnny comes back, and he too is stunned by the ring.  I can understand that maybe he’s never seen a high school graduation ring, but she’s a nurse, for cryin’ out loud!  They work together to remove the ring.  Johnny suggests Vaseline, but this is no time for love.  She suggests muscle relaxant, but he whips out a knife.  Fortunately, they are interrupted by an old lady in a wheelchair.  They wheel her out, and the cat comes into Old Man’s room.

Regrouping in the med room to get the muscle relaxant — I thought that knife idea had real potential —  the poor couple is again interrupted.  The patients are distraught that the old lady’s cat has been killed.  Jane gets so upset that she smacks one of the geezers.  Not that I approve, but she must be worn out — she apparently is the only nurse and works a 24 hour shift.

hnightshift36After dispatching the mob which actually remembers pitchforks and torches, she returns to find Johnny has gone.  She grabs the muscle relaxant and heads back to Old Man’s room.  She injects the old man and works the ring off his finger.  Suddenly he awakens and grabs her hand.  He sits up, breaking the restraints across his bed.  She runs, but Old Man ambles after her.  She barricades herself in the laundry room, but flees when she sees Johnny’s corpse.  Old Man relentlessly follows her as she tries to escape.  When he catches her, he slits her throat with a little knife hidden in the ring.

In a strange coda, the patients are assembled in the hall as the police investigate the murder.  It is filmed from the detective’s POV. [3]  He asks what happened, and an old lady leads them into the office.  They spin the chair around to reveal Jane, dead, with white hair and having aged a few decades.  Well, hadn’t the cops already found her?  Why else would they be there?

The last scene is a newly rejuvenated Darren McGavin seeing the headline RETIREMENT HOME SLAYING at a newsstand.  He must still have a menacing aura of evil around him because the newsstand guy totally lets him walk off with the paper.

There is a great episode here somewhere, it just isn’t on the screen.  Darren McGavin is squandered in the role of Old Man.  He is such an affable and comedic actor, that he should have been used in another episode because, God knows, this series is utterly lacking in humor.  He is fine here, but the role is undemanding.  Margot Kidder just doesn’t work for me at all.


  • [1] Just like the coolly efficient, misunderstood Nurse Ratched.
  • [2] Title Analysis:  I like it!  Much of it literally takes place during Jane’s shift at night.  It also conveys the otherworldliness of the night as things shift away from reality.  But why is it spelled as one word?
  • [3] The commentary explains this was due to budgetary (i.e.union) reasons.
  • [4] I know that is a fish-guy, but I can’t think of the fancy word for jeweler and I can’t find it on Google.
  • In the commentary, and on IMDb there is talk of a nude scene.  I didn’t see it, and I can’t say I’m too disappointed.  If it was censored off the DVD, though, that I have a problem with.
  • Directed by Phillip Noyce (Dead Calm, Patriot Games, Salt)

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