Episode 1.32: The Baby Sitter

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Starring: Thelma Ritter, Mary Wickes
Written by: Sarett Rudley (teleplay), Emily Neff (story)
Directed by: Robert Stevens
First aired May 6th, 1956

Episode Grade: B

Hello again, my friends. Yes, we are still not even done with Season 1, because there are 42 billion episodes per season in the AHP canon, unlike the 13-22 episodes we have today on network television.

This is the only episode which stars Thelma Ritter, one of the greatest character actors of all time. Thelma Ritter is just fantastic to watch; a natural, likable actress, who never gave a bad performance. This episode also stars the incomparable Mary Wickes, another great character actor….Interestingly, though Thelma Ritter is the bigger “star,” more people today know Mary Wickes (though most don’t know that they know her, until they’re shown a picture or a clip of a film, and then they go, “Ohhh I know her!”)…..I should also tell you that I inadvertently drank an entire bottle of wine on my own, so right now I’m all buzzy and I want to kiss all of you.

So let’s get on with it.

The episode, I mean, not the kissing. Or both. Whatever. Look, just NEVER MIND, okay?

Hitch’s Intro:

Remember that time the title card said “BROUGHT TO YOU BY BRISTOL MEYER”…..? That was funny.

Well this episode doesn’t even have an intro. Maybe because it stars the great Thelma Ritter, who starred in Hitchcock’s Rear Window? Is that the reason? Let’s just say it is.

Episode Re-Cap & Commentary:

We begin with a close-up of Lottie Slocum (Thelma Ritter). “Doomed!” she’s saying to the police. “Doomed to a violent end, that Clara Nash was!” The police officer (Ray Teal! remember him? Oh hello Ray Teal!) is losing patience with her. “I know,” he says, “and I’m trying to find out, with your help, who murdered her.”

Lottie really thrives on this drama, we can see already. Her daughter Janie (Rebecca Welles) tries to control her mother, but Lottie is crying “I was practically the last person to see her alive, ME!” The detective (he isn’t given a name, poor guy) says, “If you could just spare a few minutes of your valuable time….” and Lottie goes off on another tangent saying how a person’s whole life can be changed just by somebody getting murdered. (Changed, ended, whatever.) She was given flowers from the “women’s club….with a very kind note of sympathy” PLUS an invitation to talk about her experience on “that fatal night.” Just the day before, she was a baby sitter, paid 85¢ an hour (that’s $7.34 of today’s money….and either way, holy shit, CHEAPO), and now everybody wants to talk to her. She loves this attention. Bleah.

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Episode 1.31: The Gentleman From America.

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Starring: Biff McGuire
Written by: Francis M. Cockrell (teleplay), Michael Arlen (story)
Directed by: Robert Stevens
First aired April 29, 1956

Episode Grade: C+

Hitch’s Intro:

Hitch is sitting at a desk, his arms crossed, two books in front of him, and a lit candle. The chair he is sitting in is rather ornate. And behind him, on the door, is a sign that says “QUIET.” He asks us if we believe in ghosts (of course not), and as he’s talking about how much good sense we have, the books, the candle, and the desk disappear. The chair disappears. This one is a ghost story. “Please turn out your lights,” he tells us. “I’m sure the warm glow from the picture tube will be sufficient to melt all your fears of the dark.”

Episode Re-Cap & Commentary:

This is LONDON, MAY 1940. It says this in Ye Olde Very Fancee Englishy Font. There’s a shot of an English side street. That’s the exterior shot.

The interior is of a gentleman’s club—no, no, not the fun kind. The stuffy, upper-crusty, tweed-and-leather kind. There are a lot of white men, all stuffed shirts, reading the paper, playing chess, drinking brandy (is that brandy? …..whatever), and there is a horse race being broadcast over the radio on the wireless. We see a very, very cute man, Howard Latimer (the very, very cute Biff McGuire), looking very pleased and sort of fist-pumping in a satisfied way. Another stuffy Englishman comes into this Great Room of Fun and Excitement, Sir Stephen Hurstwood (Ralph Clanton), who has actually bet on one of the horses. He’s made a safe bet on Brown Meadow (ew, what does that mean? Brown meadow? Yuck), and we find out immediately that he owes the club £600, so he’s got to win.

Suddenly, Howard Latimer is just ecstatic, yelling “HO HO!” because the horse he bet on, Curly Top, is the winner by half a length. Howard had £500 on Curly Top, and it pays 10 to 1 (unlike Brown Meadow, which pays 2 1/2). So Howard’s payout is £5500, which is a £5000 profit. In 1940, that was equal to $7532. In today’s money, that would be $65,555, just to have some perspective. That’s a nice chunk of money. I’ve never seen that much money in my life. Doubt I ever will. But anyway, the point is the very, very cute Howard Latimer has just won a whole bunch of money. And he’s also from America. We know this because of his accent, and because of his very American, very, very cute face. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned that he’s very, very cute, but…..he is. Very, very cute. That’s not sarcasm. I mean it. Biff McGuire is just adorable. 

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Episode 1.30: Never Again.

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Starring: Phyllis Thaxter, Warren Stevens
Written by: Gwen Bagni, Irwin Gielgud & Stirling Silliphant (teleplay), Adela Rogers St. John (story)
Directed by: Robert Stevens
First aired April 22, 1956

Episode Grade: A

Friends, this is an exceptional episode. It is unforgettable, exquisitely acted. But I can’t be funny about. There’s nothing funny about it.

This is an episode about alcoholism.

Phyllis Thaxter gives an excellent performance as Karen, a woman who wakes up trying to remember what happened the night before. She has a hangover. Her lips are dry, her eyes are sunken, and she notices her hand is bandaged. She doesn’t recognize the bed she is in. She worries that her boyfriend Jeff (Warren Stevens) is going to be angry with her.

She remembers bits here and there, beginning with her getting ready for a party, not having had a drink in a little over a month, and feeling antsy. She looks very pretty. Jeff comes to pick her up and she insists that he have a drink in front of her, to prove to herself that it doesn’t bother her. They have a small argument in her apartment, but Karen apologizes and says she just doesn’t know who she is anymore. She feels lost without her drinking–as if it somehow defined her. ….This makes me think of the beautiful line in Shawn Colvin’s song “The Facts about Jimmy.” Colvin sings “I used to get drunk to get my spark/and it used to work just fine/and it made me wretched but it gave me heart/I miss Jimmy like I miss my wine.”

Jeff is taking Karen to a party with people from his advertising firm. She says she doesn’t know “smart talk” and Jeff assures her it’s just chit-chat. Going out will do her good. (Going out to a cocktail party? I dunno, Jeff….) As Jeff’s boss, Renee, steals him for a moment to go over some business, Karen promises not to touch a drop of alcohol. She wanders throughout the room, lonely, and bravely rejecting all offers of cocktails. One man finds this not very sporting, and hands her a martini, saying “Don’t be disagreeable.” Karen holds the drink and then notices Renee closing the bedroom door.

While she sits at the party with no one to talk to, another man hands her a drink. “No thanks,” she says, “I have one.” And Marlow (Jack Mullaney) takes her single martini and hands her a double. Just then, Jeff and Renee return from the bedroom, and Jeff sees Karen holding a glass. Karen walks up to Renee and throws the drink in her face. Karen is then horrified at what she did and runs out.

Karen remembers that she took a taxi back to her apartment, and Jeff followed her home. He’s angry. “Can you ever forgive me?” she asks him. And Jeff replies, “Next time, I’ll give you something to be jealous ABOUT.”

Poor Karen is terribly insecure, she thinks nobody likes her, and as she explains this to Jeff, she rips the necklace off her neck. She doesn’t understand why Jeff is with her, when they are at parties with clever girls around. Jeff says, “Well, if you’re like this now, how are you going to be when we’re married?” And Karen is surprised and kisses him. “I happen to love you,” Jeff says. Jeff is a good man, we know this.

Karen says she wants to go back to the party to redeem herself. Renee, now in a glorious gown, says it’s all forgotten, and gets Karen a ginger ale. But as the bartender pours her a glass of ginger ale, she goes to the balcony, where Marlow meets her again, and hands her a drink. “Where did you go?” he asks her. She tells him she went out. He says he went out too for a while….”like a light.” Marlow and Karen talk a little on the balcony. They’re both lost, they’re both wallflowers. And we find out that Marlow is Renee’s little brother, and he is so different from her, he drinks. They notice Renee talking to Jeff, and Marlow–not knowing who Karen is–says that the man his sister is talking to is going to marry a woman who’s a drunk. Karen takes the drink from Marlow’s hand and downs it in a single gulp. Karen and Marlow start drinking together. They decide to bar hop on the Upper East Side.

We then see Karen and Marlow at a bar somewhere on 3rd street, the jukebox playing. Karen–who was looking so pretty and sweet–is a mess. Her hair is disheveled and she can hardly stand up straight. Marlow isn’t nearly as drunk as Karen is; he just wants to play records on the jukebox. Karen is blind drunk. It is a pathetic sight. She grabs a bottle from the bar, and the bartender tells her she’s had enough, and she begins to hit him and scream. She downs a third of scotch, which she has poured into a large, large brandy glass, and she sees Jeff enter the bar with Renee. Jeff says he’s going to take her home, but she falls, and the brandy glass breaks, cutting her hand and wrist. That is why her hand is bandaged when she wakes up. 

As Karen lays in bed, sweating and nervously remembering the night before, a nurse comes into Karen’s room, and gives her a shot. “Which hospital is this?” Karen asks.

“This isn’t exactly a hospital,” the nurse replies. “It’s the city jail.”

“Why am I here?” Karen asks.

“You killed a man last night,” the nurse answers. “Jeff Simmons. His throat was cut. With a brandy glass.”

Karen lets out a heartbreaking and desperate scream.

Notes:

Hitchcock notes at the end that there is nothing funny or fun about this episode. They showed it “in hopes that it might help someone.”

This episode makes me incredibly sad. It is awful. Every time I see it, I want the ending to be different, but it never is.

This is the first time we see Phyllis Thaxter. Thaxter is my most favorite actress in the AHP canon. She is ALWAYS good. She is just a fantastic actress. It’s sad, I think, that nobody knows her today. But my gosh, she is just wonderful to watch. Her performance in this episode is fearless, and without vanity. Thaxter’s own history is fascinating. She suffered from polio, but came back swinging. Her performances are warm, engaging, simple, and understated. We will see much of her in other seasons.

Jeff is played by Warren Stevens. He was also in Premonition. He passed away in 2012 at the venerable age of 92.

We will see Jack Mullaney (Marlow) in one more episode this season.

Louise Albritton plays Renee, Jeff’s boss. This is her only AHP appearance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Episode 1.29: The Orderly World of Mr. Appleby.

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Starring: Robert H. Harris, Meg Mundy
Written by: Victor Wolfson & Robert C. Dennis (teleplay), Stanley Ellin (story)
Directed by: James Neilson
First aired April 15, 1956

Episode Grade: A

Hitch’s Intro:

Very simple. Just Hitch. He addresses the ladies.

“Has your husband recently acquired a far-away look in his eyes? In the event that something unforseen happens to you, do all of your worldly goods go to him? Is he, at this moment, nervously excusing himself from the room? If you have answered ‘Yes’ to all the above questions, you receive a score of 100, a gold star for neatness. And my advice to leave for mother’s immediately.”

Episode Re-Cap & Commentary:

Lawrence Appleby (Robert H. Harris) owns an antique shop. He’s showing a few pieces to a tall, spinstery woman (Meg Mundy) who is supposed to be plain, but she’s also, I think, uniquely attractive. She has high cheekbones, a full mouth, and a gracious manner. She’s wearing a tweed suit. She’s not really interested in anything Mr. Appleby is showing her, and asks about a jewel box on the counter. Appleby snaps at her that it’s NOT FOR SALE! The woman says, “Everything that’s the least bit good seems to be spoken for.”  She then picks up what, I guess, is a ceramic camel, and Appleby rudely says that the pieces are fragile and he’d appreciate it if she didn’t handle them.

Appleby is small, bald, stout, expressive, and fond of bowties. He’s also rude and persnickety. He leaves the woman at the counter and greets another man (Michael Ansara!) who’s entered the store. “May I show you something?” Appleby asks him. The tall man picks up a piece and says, “You might tell me where this came from” and Appleby freaks out again. It turns out the man isn’t a customer. He is Mr. Dizar, of Dizar and Son, from whence Appleby acquires a lot of his pieces. Appleby is heavily in debt to Dizar. He owes Dizar $12,000 (which is $104,247 of today’s money). He doesn’t have it. His pieces haven’t sold, and mainly because he can’t bear to part with them. So Appleby is a bald, persnickety man who is in love with antiques and makes no money at all. What a winner.

As Dizar and Appleby talk, the tall woman breaks a piece–the ceramic camel. Appleby is distraught and yells at her. The woman is apologetic and gracious about it, and writes him a check for it. The piece is $1000 (about $8,700 today). We see, on her check, that her name is Martha Sturgis. Appleby calls her “MRS. Sturgis,” and Martha corrects him: “Miss.” After she leaves the store, Dizar tells Appleby that now the debt is $11,000, and it’s due in two weeks.

At Appleby’s home, his wife Lena (Louise Larabee) is on the couch, reading a magazine, eating candy and listening to big band music. There’s a blanket on the couch that’s not folded, and evidently this is supposed to mean that Lena is a terrible slob. Even though the rest of the apartment is spotless. Lena complains that she can’t even have a cat to keep her company. “You know very well that a cat would scratch up the furniture!” he scolds. Wow, Appleby would HATE my house. We have FOUR cats! And right next to me, on the couch, is an unfolded blanket. He makes Adrian Monk seem like The Dude from The Big Lebowski. Appleby asks his wife for money from her “endowment” and she won’t sign it over. She screams “You’re not getting it, so forget it!” and storms out. Appleby takes a book off the shelf. It’s entitled: Accident or Murder. He then arranges the rug near the fireplace, making sure it’s real slippy-like, and moves a chair over (did they, like, tell him how to do this, in the book?) and then he sits down, and calls to Lena. He asks her to bring him a glass of water. He bends over to pretend he’s tying his shoe. As she reaches the rug, he pulls it quickly out from under her. She falls, hits her head, and dies. It’s not a very elegant murder. It’s kind of a silly murder. What if she just tripped? I mean, what made him think this would work? Oh but it does work. Appleby picks up the phone and says, “Operator. I want to report an accident.”

And so Appleby gets his money. He has paid Dizar, and tells him he’s looking at more pieces. Dizar insists that they will send him things, but only if Appleby pays on delivery. Appleby objects, saying there is no more money from his wife’s estate, and Dizar suggests he let the nice lady Martha Sturgis buy some things….she must be very rich.

Appleby brings Martha the jewel box she had been looking at previously. She’s flattered and nervous, because it’s such an expensive gift, and she insists on paying him for it. But Appleby says he intends to get to know her very well. Martha might be included in that Lovable Alfred Hitchcock Heroines™ thing I’m going to write after this season is over. Martha is shy and proper, but also warm. After a very short period of time, Appleby suggests they get married. Martha becomes very nervous, but then tells him he must talk to her lawyer, Mr. Gainsborough, who is like a second father to her, and has been looking after her since her own father died.

Mr. Gainsborough tells Appleby that Martha has a lot of money and Appleby acts like, “What? I had no idea” and then “Oh I don’t even care about her money” and Gainsborough tells Appleby to spend the next month showing Martha great devotion. After a month, she may agree to marry him. At one point Gainsborough says “Mr. Appleby, have you ever been married?” and Appleby says, “Yes,” and Gainsborough says, suspiciously, “Divorced?” and Appleby answers with a shocked “NO!” …Yeah, he didn’t divorce his wife, he just murdered her is all.

Martha and Gainsborough insists that Appleby live in Martha’s house. Appleby agrees.

Their marriage seems downright ….well, not just chaste, but cold. That’s Appleby’s fault. He comes home from work late, and complains to Martha that Dizar is threatening to close in on him, and buy all his stock. Martha says it wouldn’t really be a terrible loss, the curios don’t sell, and then he and she can just have a nice leisurely life together. But Appleby is, like, in love with his antiques and is angry that she doesn’t understand. While they’re talking, the phone rings. It’s Mr. Gainsborough. He calls her every night, as he had done since her father’s death. She answers the phone, standing on the rug near the fireplace, and Appleby gets an idea.

One night, Appleby comes home and there is the cutest kitty sitting on the chair. He says, “Martha, what is THIS?!” and Martha picks up the cat and says warmly, “This is Dicky. I bought him to keep me company.” She snuggles with cute fluffy kitty and Appleby is disgusted. She and Dicky go into the kitchen for his dinner, and Appleby sets up the rug by the fireplace again, and moves the chair. He then sits in the chair, and calls for Martha to bring him some water. He bends over, pretending to tie his shoe. She comes in with the water, and he PULLS THE RUG!

And then we hear Martha ask, “Was that how you did it before?”

She says, “Was it ‘accident or murder’?….Yes I found the book. Even then I didn’t believe it…..” She then has a wonderful monologue here, about things Mr. Gainsborough found out about the first Mrs. Appleby. Initially she was going to kick him out, but then she tells him that he must sell his pieces to Dizar, and live the rest of his days with her, to protect other unsuspecting and innocent women. She feels it is her duty to protect the world from Appleby.  “There is a letter in Mr. Gainsborough’s safe that is certain to hang you if I were to die, under whatever circumstances. And Mr. Gainsborough will continue to call here every night at this hour to see that I am well, and happy.”

The phone rings, and she tells Appleby to answer it. It’s Gainsborough, asking for Martha. Appleby tests him and says Martha’s busy and can’t come to the phone. Gainsborough is then furious with him, and says he has ten seconds to put Martha on the phone. Martha walks over to take the receiver.

The Twist:

But Martha TRIPS ON THE RUG and FALLS and HITS HER HEAD and DIES!!!!!

And Gainsborough is on the phone going, “Appleby, your time is up!” And the music plays my favorite “Oh no you di’nt” sting. DUN DUUUUN!!!

Please make a note of it:

Robert H. Harris is Lawrence Appleby. We saw him in the episode Shopping for Death. He was a very capable character actor. He is in six more AHP episodes.

The lovely Meg Mundy is Martha Sturgis. She was a model, and a good actress too. She has a very compelling face–she is what they once would have called a “handsome woman.” She does a wonderful job in this. Her voice is soothing and rich. She is in one more AHP episode, in Season 2.

Gage Clark is Gainsborough. He had a consistent career throughout his life, but he died at the age of 64. He is in 3 more AHP episodes, in later seasons.

Dizar was played by Michael Ansara, who was also in Shopping for Death. He was married to Barbara Eden. He is in one more AHP episode, and it’s in this first season!

Louise Larabee is the harsh Lena. She plays another harsh, doomed wife, in one of my favorite AHP episodes, in the second season.