Names: Starring Bo Hopkins, Stephen McHatte, Kim Lankford, “and JOHN IRELAND.” Story by H. A. deRosse.Written by Stanford Whitmore. Directed by David Wickes.
We open on a photo featuring two men in outdoors wear and a woman standing between them. The setting appears to be a diner, as the picture is surrounded by stacked Styrofoam cups, coffee filters, and sugar dispensers. A completely generic old-timey country western song plays in the background.It’s pretty clear that this is going to be a Canadian portrayal of typically gun crazy and murderous American hicks.
The camera pans out and indeed establishes that we are in a diner.In fact, I think we’re in THE diner, the Platonic ideal.The only people there are a couple, Joe (Stephen McHatte) and Rae (Kim Lankford), who from her uniform is evidently the diner’s waitress.They are sitting at the counter and fervently making out.When they draw apart, we see it’s the woman and one of the men from the photo.Anyone who can’t figure out where this is going hasn’t seen a lot of pseudo-noir suspense stuff.
We cut outside. Situated in hiding across the road is Lew (Bo Hopkins), decked out in full hunting gear (including a dead varmint, just to make sure we ‘get’ it). He is watching the diner, significantly called Lew’s Truck Stop, through a detached rifle scope. He’s the other man from the photo. Therefore I believe we can safely assume that Rae is his wife, and the guy macking on her is supposedly Lew’s best friend, and that hilarity will ensues.
From Lew’s current vantage he can only see the outside of the place, so apparently he’s just establishing that Joe and Rae are alone in the diner together.
Inside, perhaps as a make-up for the no doubt viewer-displeasing scanty nudity of the previous ‘feminist’ episode, we are getting right into it:
FIRST APPEARANCE OF THE OBLIGATORY NIPPLE: 2:35. (And the opening credits ran 1:10, so you can’t fault their efficiency.)
Joe has carried Rae over to the diner’s pool table (!), which seems both uncomfortable and unsanitary, and she is now straddling him.Things continue as you’d expect.Let’s just say that he puts one in the corner pocket, if you know what I mean.
This goes on for a while, mostly so that we can appreciate Rae’s assets, although for suspense purposes we occasionally cut outside to Lew, who looks increasingly pissed.
Lew reattaches his scope to his rifle, and points it at the diner (although again, there’s no way to see inside the building to aim), when suddenly down the road between him and the truck stop meanders…THE HITCHHIKER! The Hitchhiker and Lew seem to see one another, and Lew lowers his rifle with a frustrated look. The Hitchhiker continues on for another yard or two, pauses for a look at the diner, and turns to the camera.
Hickhiker Intro: “Rae Bridgeman and her husband Lew run this place.They were born and raised not far from here, along with their friend Joe Caldwell. [Holds up a small dry plant stalk in one hand, although where he got this from….] Roots run deep in this land, and so do passions.[Crushes and rends stalk, drops to ground.] And they can twist and turn you like a fever running wild through the brain.” (Wow!)[Ken’s Judgment:A lame, sadly linear intro.Still, the attempt to spice things up via the use of a prop at least adds novelty. Perhaps our host will incorporate charts or laser pointers at some juncture. Maybe a PowerPoint presentation. Also noticeable is having the Hitchhiker actually become part of the story, if only momentarily. I don’t recall this sort of thing becoming a regular feature, but we’ll see.]
Back inside.Rae is all aglow with post-coital satisfaction, while a more reticent Joe is playing pool.(!) She says she wishes they’d taken up a long time ago, but Joe, to his disappointment, is more rueful.The secrecy (as far as they know) of their affair is weighing on them.The central problem, as stated for our edification in the bluntest terms possible, is that Rae loves both Lew and Joe, although the latter seems her go-to guy in the hot pants department.
They continue to lay things out between them (and, just coincidentally, for us) at some length.Gee, thanks.Heavy ladles of mediocre ‘characterization’ and picaresque dialogue are exactly why viewers tune into this show.On the other hand, they probably thought this episode was an homage to Tennessee Williams, and this is their attempt to replicate his soapy excesses.Or whatever.In any case, Joe leaves, and outside Lew tracks him on his motorcycle through his rifle scope.His finger tenses ominously over the trigger before Joe rides safely out of sight.
The diner’s now open, although due to budget constraints (the casting department clearly blew their wad getting comparatively ‘name’ stars) there’s only one customer, traveling salesman Jack Guttman (John Ireland).Lew enters and acts normally with Rae.The three engage in chicken fried dialogue served up with gravy and all the fixin’s.For his part, Hopkins seems to have prepared for his role by spending rigorous hours imitating Jed Clampett in his bathroom mirror. Here they establish that all country folks are (naturally) hunting freaks.However, then things go in an even more jaw-droppingly insulting direction:
Rae:”I hope you don’t mind, honey, but I was telling Mr. Guttman you in Viet Nam.”
First of all, how the hell would that come up in a short conversation with a stranger?Second, nice.It’s not enough that Lew is a flannel-shirt wearing, gun-toting hillbilly whose wife and best friend are cheating on him.No, he’s got to be a Deranged Viet Nam Vet.In any case, Jack was a soldier back in WWII, and a right-wing blowhard to boot, and so he has no problem with Lew’s service.
Joe re-arrives at the diner as part of his cover.He generally eats breakfast there, and so left before Lew arrived (or so he thought) so that he could return later.”Oh,” Lew tells Guttman, hearing the motorcycle outside, “that’s my old buddy from ‘Nam.”Rae mentions that Joe saved Lew’s life there. [Future Ken: Which proves to have nothing to do with anything.] Hoo-eee, this’s gettin’ thicker’n molasses on a snowy day.In any case, given this set-up, I assume Lew and Jack will end up stalking each other through the woods, and that the whole situation will be a Grand Statement on the folly of Viet Nam?If so, my advice, Gentle Reader, is that you might could be better off watching Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort, which covered similar ground a wee bit better than this here is likely to.
Jack prepares to leave, but first pauses to give a blustering Hoo-rah speech of the sort scriptwriters think all American military veterans are prone to.(Well, except the sorrowful ones who are irrevocably damaged deep down in their souls.)He brags about killing captured German soldiers if they were found with American cigarettes on them, how much money he makes, the (what else?) Cadillac he drives, and how he sleeps like a baby.I think the idea is that he is encouraging the violence in Lew’s heart, or some damn thing.His job then done, Jack departs.
As we return focus to our three main *ahem* characters, ersatz Ry Cooder guitar strumming is heard on the soundtrack.(Oh, bru-ther.)The staging here continues to be, well, overtly stagy, so I believe I was right that they intended to do a Tennessee Williams thing here.They did so very badly, but then, so did Williams at times.Boom!, anyone?
Lew, playing sly (or so we imagine), suddenly invites Joe out for some deer-shining that night, just like they used to do in the good ol’ days before the war.Deer-shining is sort of like dynamite fishing, and involves using spotlights to freeze a deer in place while you shoot it.Rae is against it, protesting the morality of the thing.We assume, however, that she is actually more nervous about the idea of her husband and lover out alone in the woods with guns.
Joe agrees.However, he and Rae grow more uncomfortable when Lew insists that she come along too, purportedly to keep an eye out for the game warden.You see, like dynamite fishing, deer-shining is illegal.But, you know, Southern Boys.Man, Neil Young was so right.
In any case, Rae and Joe have to act normal, given the circumstances, and so they agree to Lew’s prodding.Various Significant Glances are exchanged, more I Can’t Believe It’s Not Ry Cooder…Oh, Wait, Yes I Totally Can chords are strummed, and Joe takes his leave.Lew then sends Rae home to make sandwiches for tonight’s activities.(Uhm, why doesn’t she make them at the diner they own and are currently standing in?)
Rae takes advantage of being told to leave.Arriving in a (what else?) mud splattered 4×4, she stops by the shoddy lakeside shack where Joe runs his (what else?) bait and boat rental business.She’s worried that Lew knows about them and that his impromptu, all night hunting invitation masks more dire plans.Joe, however, is tired of Living a Lie, and figures tonight is as good a time to hash times out as any.He tells Rae to go home, and turns his back on her.
Later Rae is dressed in her civvies and making the sandwiches back at the diner (whatever), carving up a loaf of ham with a knife several centimeters shorter than a cavalry sword.Lew sneaks up on her and she is startled.He smiles and notes that in ‘Nam they called him The Phantom.
She attempts to seduce him into staying home by, well, attempting to seduce him.However, it wouldn’t be much of a Hitchhiker episode if she succeeded.On the other hand, it’s not much of a Hitchhiker episode anyway.On a third hand, pretty much every episode of The Hitchhiker was not much of a Hitchhiker episode…. I’m getting a headache.
However, the seduction part proceeds because, you know, this is a Hitchhiker episode.She bends down to, uh, perform a close, personal favor for him, while he stands and gazes upon the long, hard, upthrusting carving knife he now holds in his hand.These are the kinds of moments that make one wish to travel back in time so as to punch Sigmund Freud in the face.That moment passes, in any case, and oddly we skip over this opportunity for another nude scene.Maybe the actress only agreed to one of those.
That night we catch up with the three of them in Lew’s 4×4. More Perhaps Meaningful Dialogue, more Significant Glances, another (well, the same one, actually) Not Ry Cooder riff.Then they arrive at their wooded destination.The guys unlimber their guns and portable spotlights, and then Lew leaves her a shotgun.
I guess the idea is that if she gets detected by the game warden, she’s to fire in the air to alert them to leave off. Or something. I don’t know. Anyway, I’m sure she’s given a gun for some Plot Reason, like it’s empty or loaded with blanks by Lew, or else she’ll ‘ironically’ shoot Joe by mistake, or something. [Future Ken: Nope, they make a big production out of giving her a gun, and then it never comes into play. Whatever.]
The boys enter the woods, and the whole thing starts bringing back memories of The ‘Nam. (Seriously?I mean, what, they haven’t been hunting together since the war? This was made in 1985, twelve years after the war ended. There’s no indication that the guys didn’t immediately come home afterwards.)
Here Lew confronts Joe about the adultery. Joe basically shrugs and says “You would have done the same thing.” Lew lets this pass, at least for the moment, and they split up and head into the tree line.
At this point we’ve got over seven minutes of show left (albeit with end credits and such), so I expect we’ll get a few minutes of the two making their way through the brush before anything happens. I must say, Lew makes a pretty noticeable amount of noise moving through the woods he’s hunted in all his life. I can only assume his wartime nickname of The Phantom was meant to humorously counterpoint his actual lack of stealth.
Joe ties his light, normally kept on the hunter’s hip, to a tree trunk.He turns it on, and from a hiding position, moves it to and fro with a cord. Lew falls for this, and seeing the light fires at it. Joe then pulls the cord, and the light falls to the ground, as if he’d been shot. He’s now in a perfect position to ambush Lew when the latter comes to investigate.
Meanwhile, the, uhm, tension is notched up with an increasingly nervous Rae disobeys both their orders to stay by the truck and ventures into the woods after them. (Chicks.Am I right, gentlemen?) You wouldn’t have thought the two men would begin their vendetta only a hundred yards into the woods, but what do I know? Seeing Joe’s still lit spotlight, she wanders over and picks it up. Having thus made herself a target, this forces Joe to abandon his position to tackle her to the ground as another shot rings out.
Rae continues to jabber—chicks, am I right, gentlemen?—so as to concretely explicate the program’s brilliant and otherwise entirely original and subtle intellectual concept that Lew and Joe are acting like soldiers out to finish a war, as “neither one can make a truce.”
She insists on trying to talk to Lew, and in a better show, this would really be interesting. In most of these things everyone is a complete heel (with the occasional complete innocent set up in counterbalance), so the idea that she is willing to risk her life to try to stop two men she loves—and set against each other—from killing one another is actually potentially something you could do something with. The problem is the ‘potentially’ part.
Still, they do follow this through.Joe sends her back to the truck, and for some reason believes that she’ll obey this time. Instead, as soon as he runs off, rifle in hand, she returns (where the hell has Lew been all this time) and, assuming a tragic mien, picks up her flashlight….
WARNING!! READ NO FURTHER IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO LEARN THE ENTIRELY PREDICTABLE UNPREDICTABLE CLIMAX OF THIS EPISODE OF THE HITCHIKER.
…and continues into the woods as the men resume stalking each other.(Again, I have no idea what Lew thought happened just now, but in any case, everyone is back at square one.) She assumes a position, turns on the flashlight, and sure enough is shot down by Lew. Joe runs in horror over to her body, and is holding it when an equally (I guess) devastated Lew finds them.Lew raises his rifle to finish things, but in the end cannot pull the trigger. He throws down his gun and weeps over his wife’s corpse.
And yes, that’s it.Wow.That was worth a half hour of everyone’s lives.
The Hitchhiker Wraps Things Up:”Joe and Lew are going home now. The way they figure it, their secret is safe and there’s not much left to do. But if they could only see what’s around the next bend, they’d know that Rae’s isn’t the only life that will have ended tonight.” (Huh?I mean, Wow!)
Special Edition of Ken Predicts…: It’s pretty unusual, perhaps unique, for there to be a narrative coda following the Hitchhiker Wrap Up, but I’m assuming for irony’s sake that as they are heading back, Joe driving and Lew in the flatbed with Rae’s body (which is right where I paused it), a deer will jump out, freeze in the headlights, and ironically cause them to crash and kill off the guys too. This seems like entirely too much frosting on a very, very small sliver of cake, but….[Back to the show] They drive down the dark forest road, a grieving Joe driving, a weeping Lew in the flatbed holding his deceased wife. Suddenly…ah, I was wrong. See, instead of a deer causing a crash, the headlights of an oncoming semi truck catch blind Joe (see, he himself is like the deer—get it?) and…freeze frame. Cue two minutes (!) of end credit. Man, it’s like they just ran out of money or something.
Well, first of all, this is just a very confused episode. They try a few new things here, apparently having gotten bored only 10 episodes into the show’s run. Our Thumbbusting Host is giving slightly more to do, actually (again) becoming part of the story for a few seconds, and then returning to set up a final ‘twist’ rather than appearing after all is done in the very best—or, more aptly, very worst—Rod Serling tradition.
However, this experimentalism didn’t last long, perhaps because if this is the best they can do with it, why bother? His appearing before the final twist is entirely lame, and actually steps on the supposed final jolt rather than enhancing it. The fact is, this show didn’t last four seasons and eighty-five (!) episodes because of its artistic qualities. This is the second episode in a row that was light on nudity, which frankly was the program’s main claim to fame. Apparently complaints must have been heard, because they wisely returned to emphasizing that quickly. On a final note, stretching the end credits out for two entire minutes is ridiculous.
The script here is a real mess. These things were, at least in a broad sense, modeled on the old EC horror comics. (HBO later went directly to that source, of course, with their Tales from the Crypt series.) The main problem is that here they have two ‘themes’ going; the men fighting a last war, and the whole deer shining thing.
They never come close to adequately integrating the two. Pretty much the episode, and the entire hunt sequence climax, really revolves around the Final War idea. Then, all of the sudden, the 20 second ‘twist’ ending spins on the deer shining. The latter is doubly weird because we never actually saw them doing any deer shining, or even actually hunting a deer. Frankly, they would have been far better off breaking this up into two episodes that, while thin, at least would have had some thematic integrity to them.
Finally, the whole idea that the guys have to die to, after Rae sacrificing herself to save them, just feels stupid and entirely tacked on. In fact, I’ll go further than that, and say the ending *was* tacked on. Between how entirely unnecessary it is, and the weird way the Hitchhiker is used here, I’m assuming the script originally ended on a plain note of tragedy with Rae’s death. If so, then apparently that was too abstract for somebody here, though.
By the way, I’m sorry if this piece seems a bit little in the meat department. I work with what I’ve given, you know?
Gratuitous Naked Boobies? Yes, but here it’s almost like it was a contractual thing (which it probably was), one they got them out of the way and moved on from as quickly as possible.
Loads of ‘Adult’ Language: Eh, a little.
Whatever Happened To…
No fans of ’80s b-movies needs an intro to Bo Hopkins, the sandy haired actor who was a ubiquitous presence in that era’s drive-in fare. Specializing in Southern everyman parts, especially town sheriffs, Hopkins began his extensive film and TV work in the 1960s’, mostly working in westerns, war and other action oriented genres. With his line in redneck characters, his casting here was pretty much right up his alley.
Following his appearance in The Wild Bunch (1969), he became part of director Sam Peckinpah’s stock company. He also earned a regular buck playing heavies in the usual wide variety of ’70s TV shows. 1977, meanwhile, saw him starring in the awful Italian Tentacles, which heralded his appearing also into the occasional horror film. Mr. Hopkins appears to have retired from screenwork in 2003.
Stephen McHattie has a somewhat similar career, his craggy face putting into the Lance Henriksen / William Fitchter school of actors. Unsurprisingly, his bread and butter was in villainous roles, although his most famous part might be as Dr. Reston, Elaine’s manipulative shrink in four episodes of Seinfeld.
Like Hopkins, McHattie kept busy with both TV and movies roles, but has a much stronger background in genre stuff. On the television side, he appeared in The X-Files, Quantum Leap, Highlander, MANTIS, Tales from the Darkside, the late ’80s version of The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and many more besides.
He actually appeared in two episodes of The Hitchhiker, played the recurring part of Gabriel on Beauty and the Beast, and voiced supervillain The Shade on the recent Justice League cartoon series.
Mr. McHattie continues to keep busy, working pretty much constantly through the 2000s. He recently appeared in 300, and will play the older version of the original Night Owl in the upcoming The Watchmen movie.
It’s hard not to wince during Kim Lankford’s nude scene here. Ms. Lankford had only recently ended the only really notable part she would ever have, the role of Ginger Ward on the primetime soap Knots Landing. Her four year ride on the show ended in 1983 (although she did return for the 1997 Knots Landing reunion mini-series), and after that she mostly got episodic guest work on television programs.
Unlike many femme performers to appear on The Hitchhiker, Ms. Lankford did not specialize in nude work. Indeed, save an appearance in 1990 on the dramedy series Dream On (another HBO show primarily known for featuring tons of female nudity), nothing in her filmography suggests any other nude work at all. Ms. Lankford seems to have retired from acting as of 2000, perhaps choosing to focus on her ailing live-in boyfriend, singer Warren Zevon, who passed away in 2003.
Born in 1914, John Ireland (Jack Guttman) was a popular character actor in the movies from the mid-1940s on, racking up nearly 200 credits as listed on the IMDB. He was also a sometimes infamous rake with the ladies, as when he was 45 and dated the 16 year-old Tuesday Weld.
Unsurprisingly, Mr. Ireland too moved into episodic TV work in the ’50s, and began specially in playing heavies, especially gangsters.In the late ’60s, he moved to Italy and appeared in a zillion Spaghetti Westerns (he has 10 such credits for 1968 alone!) and the like before returning to the States a few years later. He was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for 1949’s All the King’s Men, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Mr. Ireland passed away in 1992, and continued working up until his death.