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Dynamite Blows Two Ways
Bat Masterson

The dynamite (Susan Cummings) so to speak is aimed by a rival at a cattle drive Masterson spearheads after a lucky hand in a card game.

A rifle shot sends it cascading into nothingness figuratively, the rival and his hired hands literally.

 

Profit-Sharing Plan
Alfred Hitchcock Presents

A retirement scheme worth considering, but for the drawbacks.

In honor of Hitchcock’s service to the company, a cake, an early clip.

 

Ten O’Clock Tiger
Alfred Hitchcock Presents

The doped racehorse bites back, in the person of a veteran boxer given the stuff all the way to a championship bout.

Hitchcock supporting his mustachioed brother on his shoulders, the one who only likes the commercials.

 

Act Of Faith
Alfred Hitchcock Presents

The literary lion uncased, or how The Locked Stable came to see the light of day.

Hitchcock on the back of a fire truck through improbable locales.

 

A Piece Of The Action
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour

An early idea of Hitchcock’s that may have come to him by way of Yeats finds its expression here in a telltale analysis along lines suggested by the plays. A single event or situation is broken down into parts presented simultaneously or consecutively, or a sequence of events (a recurring situation) is cumulatively assembled, and this in either case is associated with Surrealism by revealing another, spiritual reality immanent in the drama.

The cheating dealer who dies at the outset is tacitly identified with the father who died a loser at cards, an example to his two sons, one of whom is now a professional gambler and the other a law student. The dream is seen in the gambler’s aristocratic wife, a blonde paragon who looks askance at three-day poker games, and very much like the student’s wealthy fiancée, who can’t be maintained on a clerk’s salary.

The logic of all this is relentless, hopeless and admonitory, with a wicked glee of remote abstention. Girard has plenty of scope for mid-to-full-scale operations, and achieves a thrilling intensity in the final game, to which Robert Redford contributes a fully-formed performance as the student. Gene Evans as a very sore loser reveals the ferocity of a snarling cat, his minions have the faceless malice of their kind, Gig Young has one of the complex, tricky roles that are the soul of the piece, Martha Hyer is the blonde wife, and Nick Dennis plays the chauffeur in a Stroheim neck brace, without explanation.

 

Ride The Nightmare
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour

A sustained piece of experimentation toward achieving very accurately the precise note of a nightmare on film. Gena Rowlands takes the part, as Hitchcock would say, of the audience’s viewpoint, usually in the foreground as the innocent bystander of events that register on her face emotions like fear and perplexity. Later she is dragged along by Hugh O’Brian in an escape like the lover’s entrance in Un chien andalou visibly encumbered.

It opens very like Wes Craven’s Scream, the phone rings and a stranger says “I’m going to kill you.” It’s actually a former partner in a robbery that went bad years before.

Murder, kidnapping, blackmail, pursuit and a fire attend the call. The first scene verges on The Trouble with Harry as the caller arrives and is dispatched, his body put in the freezer (a drunken neighbor, Olan Soule in a superb performance, comes in to borrow ice) and then buried in the hills, but the thing is slowly wrought into the torpid, helpless strains of clearly identifiable nightmare, thanks to Girard’s constant attentions to his actors’ every movement in just the sort of slowly credible quick action that seems thrilling and impossible to wake from.

The chief villain (John Anderson) is consigned to the flames pleading for help, like the end of I Confess. The dream in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation is closest to this by way of realism and congruity with the sense of a dream, but there’s nothing quite like it.

 

Hangover
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour

A sequence of mornings-after and flashbacks regulates the end of an ad man’s career and marriage. He cannot remember from one day to the next where he’s been and what he’s done, he wakes up to find a beautiful woman in his home, the office barred against him, a receipt in his pocket, his wife gone. “Creative advertising” is his line, he’s spent eight months devising a total media campaign for Colton Motor Co.’s new car, the Colton Cosmic, a very futuristic gizmo that looks like a product of the space program. He drinks copiously, the blonde steered him to a table at closing time when he, bar-hopping and bombed, addressed the nixing bartender as a fink and loudly proclaimed to the clientele, “You’re all finks! I’ll buy all finks drinks!” He calls her a cab next day, they wrangle and part.

He arrived late for the agency presentation at a hotel convention room, bribed a bar open to fortify himself beforehand and took the podium with a pitcher of vodka. Unable to answer questions from the floor straightforwardly, he was fired on the spot.

The receipt is for a silk scarf from The Sweaterama, bought to prove his soberness. His wife had promised to leave after one more bender, he finds the scarf protruding from a basement door, remembers putting it around her neck. “It proves that Blake was wrong, that Driscoll was wrong, that you’re wrong about my drinking! You’re beautiful, Sandy, the scarf is beautiful! It’s for you, it’s just for you!” She stands inside the door, openmouthed and dead.

Hitchcock opens with a slingshot from “World War Two, B.C.”, and closes with a solemn remark on the ills of alcoholism.

The final image anticipates Frenzy. This ultimate satire of the sponsor is not directed at him but his agency, of course. Girard’s direction is masterful to an extreme, met at every recourse by Tony Randall’s acting as Hadley Purvis, whose nickname is “Had”. The blonde is Jayne Mansfield, looking every bit as out-of-this-world as the Colton Cosmic.

 

An Out For Oscar
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour

Los Angeles is described, from the desert viewpoint of Las Vegas, as “subtropical” with “bananas in the driveway”. The situation is akin at moments to Lang’s Scarlet Street or Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder, but the real basis is a satire of It’s a Wonderful Life.

A timid bank employee marries a shakedown artist who has killed her mark, a casino executive. She and her lover are expelled, he to Mexico and she to the streets, whence she is whisked off to L.A.

Her quondam partner is brought back across the border to help the slattern with her plan. He will rob her husband at the bank, in exchange for granting the poor dupe a divorce. The partner makes a separate deal to kill her, but the husband fails to carry out his part of the bargain. He draws a pistol and fires, becoming a hero at the bank. Two police detectives attend his testimonial dinner. One marvels at his perfect crime, the other demurs, shnooks like him never get away with anything.

 

Run For Doom
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour

A jazz musician’s flighty mistress has started seeing a young doctor on the side. She’s played by very blonde Diana Dors, so as Scott Brady drinks and smokes in her absence, he stares at a Barbie doll on the table before him.

She’s the singer in front of his trio (guitar, bass, him on piano). The doctor is knocked out by the floor show, on their honeymoon she takes up with an Army lieutenant. A fight between the two men leaves the husband a murderer, and the soldier a man overboard at night.

The doctor’s father having keeled over at their engagement, an inheritance makes the couple rich. She closes the bank account and dumps him, but the jazz musician strangles her. Thinking she’s dead, the doctor retrieves his money from her suitcase, but she wakens and demands it. He finishes the job, the police downstairs with a confessed culprit are only waiting to question the girl.

The resemblance to Losey’s Accident is structural and not superficial, lending great force to the final shot of John Gavin’s face moving into frame oddly shadowed in anguish.

The jazz numbers are very well done (“Just One of Those Things”, “How Long Has This Been Going On?”). Brady in sunglasses at an upright acts the part. Dors and Gavin give brilliant performances. Girard’s shipboard murder scene suddenly achieves a very realistic effect with a view over the railing after a shifting tussle. Dors and Brady go at it similarly in a fight all over the doctor’s house.

 

Blood Bargain
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour

On its stunning surface, an exercise in Hitchcockian surprise. The shock comes in afterwards, as the inner structure stands revealed.

A hit man takes a contract on a bookie. The victim’s wife is in a wheelchair after a marital spat. The hit man determines the bookie is rueful, that his wife loves him, that he’s trying to make amends. Swiftly an arrangement is made to save the victim, a body is substituted. The bookie is given a pistol to defend himself against freelancers, the couple fly out of the country.

After collecting his fee, the hit man is picked up by the police. His victim is dead at home, the wife comes in to testify who shot him.

A down-angle of the hit man’s right hand shows it hanging limply at his side, with a half-full coffee cup dangling from it on a tilt. He stares openmouthed at the witness. “Are you naive,” says the bustling lieutenant.

 

The Dividing Wall
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour

The very complexity and detail of the writing make for a dreamlike response from the images, pointed here and there like signs. The row of masks ending in a girl’s face, the garage pit, the cobalt-60 container with its port, the garage and the little shop side by side, and the map with toy cars and train rehearsing the robbery, are concrete instances for the camera, the script supplies off-camera biographies and characters and histories effusively. The plot alone is sufficiently involved for a feature, combining an analysis of Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly with an element of Mann’s Man of the West.

Three ex-cons steal a company safe by placing their truck on the other side of the tracks as a breakdown. The shift change at the police station puts a squad car there to call a tow truck from their garage, the plant is robbed back over the tracks, a midnight train screens them again from police, they tow the truck to the garage (with the safe in it).

The safe is heavier than expected, with a sealed container inside. Thinking it holds industrial diamonds, one opens the side port and sticks his fingers in, before another notices the radioactivity warning on the end.

The burned man is shot at the hospital entrance by the ringleader. The youngest of the three has made the acquaintance of the girl who tends her father’s shop next door, they fall in love (again with many details, she was married at 15, gave up her son for adoption, the ex-con was sent to the reformatory for stealing a school bus, wants to race cars, went to prison for auto theft). The cobalt permeates the wall dividing the shop and garage, her father becomes ill. The Atomic Energy Commission is searching the city. The plan is to flee to Mexico.

The main theme is controlled by the youngest ex-con’s claustrophobia, he can’t work under a car, can’t bear enclosed spaces at all (Girard conveys the feeling with a sharp zoom on clammy walls).

The escaping ringleader is killed in a shootout as the AEC, the National Guard and the police move in. The young con is trapped under the truck, in the pit he warns the girl away from the cobalt, whereas his terrors have before incapacitated him. Men in safety suits pull him out, the two are united.

The ringleader is sympathetic to the boy’s condition, he knew a guy who walked up flights of stairs to see his parole officer each time rather than be in an elevator. Nevertheless, he throws the boy into a closet to shake him loose from the girl (it takes 30 seconds) and knocks him into the pit, finally, before meeting his fate across the street, the boy had been trying to remove the cobalt rather than making a getaway.

The masks in the beginning are perused by a little boy, who purchases one to chase a little girl in. The robbers wear plastic masks of smiling or stern masculine faces.

Mrs. Colucci produces a dramatic effect at the shop simply by asking for change to make an important phone call, something is amiss, the boy and girl face each other at a distance after quarreling over her past, Mrs. Colucci exits the phone booth and heads for the door saying to no-one in particular, “They got nobody to go and call,” the two embrace passionately.

The cobalt-60 is “used to X-ray steel beams.”

 

A Short Drink from a Certain Fountain
The Twilight Zone

The young blonde whistle-stop has no use for her rich old husband so he takes a youth formula and becomes irresistible, finally he’s a babe in arms she has to take care of.

And now she’s aging, he’s quite young, it must be served, as the saying goes.

 

Water’s Edge
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour

Cellmates have a topic of conversation. One dies, the other pursues it.

The widow is gone to fat, doesn’t know where the goods are. It’s a long road down the terrain of memory that winds up at an old boathouse infested with rats.

The money’s in a crawlspace under the roof, and so is a skeleton. She beats him to the punch, ties him to a post and leaves him for the rats. He knocks her down nonetheless and she falls on a sharp point, killed. The rats descend. The original murder was jealous, arranged by her to have a payroll.

Robert Frost, The Birds, Ann Sothern and the technical excellence of John Cassavetes’ acting in the crawlspace, tenuously reaching over the skeleton for the money box, or on the boathouse floor taking in the scene, with growing realization, right in front of the camera.

 

Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round

The absolute criticism is that Girard’s film is a by-the-boards timewaster from day one, to which the answer is that his absolute surrealism trumps all cards.

In short, not beating about the bush, the O. Henry finale so-called is anything but, and every significant detail of the thing adds up to an astonishing wealth of accuracy. Finally, there are no insignificant details.

Peckinpah, Jewison, Grosbard and other directors have followed suit with masterful analyses, none surpassing the original.

“An interesting debut,” says Sarris.

 

The Mad Room

A constellation slowly revealed, consisting of the late General’s widow, a new museum laboriously constructed to his memory, the widow’s staff, and two orphans freshly released from a mental hospital.

Surpassingly strange, and very ancient by virtue of a refraction in the structure setting the action on Vancouver Island (the hospital is in Toronto), which gives the thing an odd British slant.

“A tasteless remake” (of Charles Vidor’s Ladies in Retirement), according to Halliwell, who could not follow the plot, “nauseating.”

It went by Variety, too, and Time Out Film Guide.

 

The Mind Snatchers

The threshold of masculinity and femininity is crossed in a U.S. Army medical experiment (not yet funded by Congress) at a military hospital outside Frankfurt. A Teflon-coated wire is inserted into the cranium, self-administered electric shocks stimulate the brain in a form of treatment intended for pain and mental illness.

There are only three patients in the old castle, a lieutenant with “a hole in his stomach”, a sergeant dying of lung trouble, and a misfit private whose arm was broken by MP’s arresting him on an assault charge.

The first dies on the operating table, the relief of his pain means the extinction of his person, as Buckminster Fuller would say (the private says it). The second suffers by miscalculation a stimulation of the “pleasure centers” that proves incapacitating rather than salutary. The third receives a state of happy submissiveness.

Many people are alarmed at the proximity to actors in a play, the New York Times critic was shocked at seeing The Happiness Cage close-up on the screen. The performances are all of the best, Christopher Walken as the English major turned tough soldier, Ronny Cox as the sex-crazed cowboy, Bette Henritze as the contractually compassionate nurse, Joss Ackland as the “honey-tongued” neurosurgeon, and Ralph Meeker as the Major who ramrods this project, the ultimate expression of which is the misfit’s answer to a reporter’s question at a press conference announcing the final breakthrough. What was it like, talking with the President? “The happiest day of my life,” he says, stimulating his cortex with a portable apparatus.

 

If I Should Die Before I Wake
The Sixth Sense

A magnificently surreal exhibition of mother-daughter conflict. The girl died at eight, “she loved me”, the other daughter is married to a ballplayer.

The old house has a vision of murder and a body in the basement. Nothing is visible, upon inspection. The grown daughter lives in the shadow of her late sister.

Suddenly a hailstorm, lights out, the newly-dug trench in the basement, exactly like the vision. In the little girl’s room, the realty agent is stealing the mother’s jewelry, he aims his pistol. The caretaker quells him with a shovel-blow.

Mother and daughter are reconciled.

 

A Name for Evil

Russell’s Tchaikovsky refused to change one note of his work in the face of criticism, that is the position here.

Girard’s masterpiece is very closely related to Frankenheimer’s Seconds, it takes a different tack to conclude. It’s also a very good analysis of Resnais’ L’Année dernière à Marienbad.

The theme is countered by Parrish’s “Last Stop at Willoughby” (The Twilight Zone) and Welles’ The Trial.

Girard equates throwing your television set out the window with an emasculating wife treated the same way, and the work can justly be compared to Powell’s Herzog Blaubarts Burg.

A perfectly extraordinary score by Dominic Frontiere and very fine cinematography by Reginald Morris accommodate the conception.

 

Gone with the West

Gone with the West is purely a classic Western arrived at by means that are unexpected but fairly logical. Girard is more impatient than the Italians, much of his technique can only be explained with reference to the New Wave or the Nouvelle Vague. The entire language of film is altered to suit his pleasure, he leaves out what bores him or is unnecessary, explains nothing or very little. He takes fifteen minutes or so to shake out the uninitiated, then he embarks.

Like Goya, he has been thought mad or foolish in this last film, nothing could make more sense. For the film structure, he has telescoped the form of Huston’s The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, which is founded on Hathaway’s portion of How the West Was Won. The sparseness and technical ease win him a recognition of the virtues inherent in the Westerns of Robert N. Bradbury, for example, and so by way of a learned response to the great Italians, and with reference to current American models, Girard arrives at an instantaneous freedom exactly in keeping with his text.

The townspeople are a nightmare of Roaring Boys and Whores under the thumb of Mimmo (Aldo Ray), the town boss. Little Moon (Stefanie Powers) is raped during a cockfight on a sunny, crowded street (Robert Walker, Jr. is bearded as the sheriff with a tin star). Jud McGraw (James Caan) is turned out of a territorial prison where men are strung up naked by their heels and whipped, he takes a job with a blacksmith who’s set upon by thugs for tribute money, the last honest man in town to reluctantly leave. McGraw and Little Moon separately take to the hills above the town, meet up and rain destruction down upon it.

The concentrated work Girard put in on The Mind Snatchers is completely reversed in this rapid, subtle, free-handed and directly cogent film. There’s very little dialogue, Little Moon talks Mexican and McGraw doesn’t say much, there’s a good deal of comedy (much of it silent), the pace only luxuriates in the final attack by box kite and dynamite, after a catapult built from scratch (and a small preparatory model held in the hand to calculate the works). There’s no philosophizing or discourse or reasoning, no meditation or views other than the Lolita look at the town from a high angle, almost perpendicular.