The Hitchhiker (Ep. 13): Murderous Feelings

Names: Starring Franco Nero, Sonja Smits, Renee Soutendijk. Music by Michel Rubini. Written by Charles Israel. Directed by Mai Zetterling.

Set up: We open panning over some train tracks, a sight none too obscured by what is clearly some dry ice fog. Blonde Sara Kendall (Renee Soutendijk) is walking in slo-mo along a depot platform, peering nervously into some more ‘fog’. The view is all distorted, so we’re pretty obviously meant to be in a dream.

A trenchcoated man, his face obscured by a hat and muffler, is stalking her. Sara begins to run off, but the man follows her. She ducks into a sitting train, he does the same. Distorto-Lens™ continues, as does the slo-mo, which just coincidentally eats up some of the episode’s running time. However, I’m sure they purely chose the effect for its stunning artistic impact.

Sara eventually sees Cabin E, and is drawn to it. She opens the door and enters the compartment.  Inside, she sees the fully clothed, hatted and trenchcoated Mystery Man apparently (dry?) humping another obscured figure on the bunk. The door to the passageway slams shut behind her. She gets the door open and the chase resumes.  Well, pursuit. ‘Chase’ makes it sound like there’s an element of speed or excitement attached.

The two run (in slo-mo) down the otherwise deserted passageway. Finally Sara ends up on the open platform at the rear of the train. A red klieg light colors one area of dry ice fog, and I sadly realize between that and the masked and gloved man that director Zetterling was probably going for a Mario Bava-esque giallo thing here.  Let’s just say that she doesn’t quite get there.

Sara rears back as far as she can go as the Man stretches out his hands toward her. She falls from the train from the tracks below. This would perhaps be more frightening if even if the dream the train appeared to be moving faster than 100 feet an hour.

Cut to Sara, sitting on the couch of her psychologist, Dr. Peter Milne (Franco Nero, looking quite a bit like Stacey Keach). She is rousing from her dream / retelling of same with tearful panic. Mr. Nero might be trying to affect an Austrian accent—he is, after all, playing a psychologist—or maybe it’s just his normal Italian accent.

[Behind the two is a ‘wall’ of those pebbled glass bricks, one which looks pretty familiar from earlier episodes of the show. One can only assume these were popular pieces of low-budget set design, being cheap and quick to set up.]

Milne assures his sobbing patient that it’s just a dream, “your unconscious trying to send a message to your conscious mind.” Gee, thanks, that’s worth a hundred and fifty bucks an hour. Sara turns and gazes ardently at him, their hands clasped. She calls him Peter. Could their relationship have taken an inappropriate personal turn? On The Hitchhiker?! Seems unlikely.

Against all odds, however, this seems to be the case. She pulls him onto the couch next to her. “Until you came along, I couldn’t let anyone touch me,” she expositories. Things take a Totally Unexpected Turn as she lets down her hair and disrobes. Man, you just never knew where this program was going to go.

I’ll say this for Ms. Soutendijk, though. She quite evidently never felt the need to get the nearly obligatory-in-the-‘80s big fake boobs. And good for her.

The scene goes on for a while, indicating again that the script (shocking!) was a bit thin to cover half an hour, or twenty-four minutes, anyway. Still, I’ve seen worse. It’s not shot in slo-mo or accompanied by bad, smoky jazz music. Ms. Soutendijk is attractive and, being European, pretty unselfconscious stripping for the camera. And it cuts away before the fake grinding, so that’s appreciated.

Anyway, we then segue from Illicit Passion to some foggy woods (??), wherein trods…The Hitchhiker!

Hitchhiker Intro: “ Dr. Peter Milne and Sara Kendal are on a journey together, traveling into the subconscious, a place where shadows of the past are just around the corner and their darkest fears wait beyond the next door.” (Wow!)

Back to Milne and Sara, as they bask in, you know, the Glow. I have to say, I would have expected their hair to be at least slightly mussed or something, but no, they both look quite composed. Also, is she paying for this part of her ‘treatment,’ or does he at least put her off the clock for the sex stuff?

Just to make, you know, really, really sure we get the character dynamic here, they again have Sara blather on about how she only ever feels safe when she’s with Milne. See? See how vulnerable she is? Man, I wonder if Milne will pay some sort of price for his caddishness before the episode is over.

Relaxed after their bout of Afternoon Delight, Sara muses that The Dream seems so far away now. Perhaps, she says, it’s been banished forever. (Good sex will do that, presumably.) Milne disagrees, noting (what else?), “there’s no way The Dream will go away, until you sort out how you really felt about your father.”

This upsets Sara, who is defensive about how Milne keeps “talking about the murderous feelings (wow, she said the title!) I might have had about my father!” Also, “might have had”? I don’t know, murderous feelings seem like they would be strong enough that you’d know if you had some or not.

Apparently the idea is that Sara maintains she loved her father, while Milne believes she in fact subconsciously hated him to a murderous extent.

I can’t really tell if they mean to suggest that Milne is actually exacerbating Sara’s issues for  his own motives. Maybe that’s the idea…maybe. These things are often so haphazardly written that you just have to guess at stuff.

Assuming this is the case, perhaps Milne will be the victim of his unstable patient’s transference of these suppressed murderous inclinations. He is, after all, her father substitute now, her protector. “Oh, god,” Sara moans, “I wish that I didn’t have to share you with other people!”  Lines like that seldom bode well on this show.

That night, Sara returns to her rather gothic-looking and somewhat decrepit house. This again was perhaps meant to suggest a Bava movie. As pensive piano music plays, she is seen moving around the abode, lighting her way with a handheld candle. (!!) She sets this down and clutches an aged stuffed animal to her chest, presumable another sign that she has ‘issues.’

She enters what was clearly her father’s den, the one room that seems to have electric lighting, not to mention the sole chamber not layered with dust. She looks upon a photo of her and her father, the latter of whom unsurprisingly sported a mustache somewhat like Milne’s. Get it?

Picking up a knife (or very sharp, sizable letter opener) from his desk, Sara mutters, “You don’t always know what you’re talking about, Dr. Milne.” A suspense chord is heard, so that we ‘get’ this is ominous somehow. Then she uses the knife to whittle at a pencil.

Eventually she looks up, shocked to see that the wind is blowing the curtain through a window that clearly shouldn’t be open. Hefting the knife, she goes over there for a looksie.

Here the Distorto-Cam™ resumes its work, indicating that this is another dream. She turns when the door slams shut of its own accord. Then the Mystery Man’s arms reach around from behind the curtain and encircle her. The gloved hands proceeds to leisurely cup her breasts. It’s like a nightmare version of that Janet Jackson photo.

The hands start ripping off her blouse. At this, she raises the blade she’s holding and stabs back through the curtain. The knife is bloody as she continues to hack away. Then…we cut to her in bed. It was all a dream! Wow, what an unexpected climax. (And gee, what are they setting up for later?)

Sara is next seen climbing a long, outdoor flight of stairs.  More fog indicates this is another dream. However, we then see that said ‘fog’ is smoke emanating from a leaf fire. (They used to let you do that sort of thing.) Could this be a…joke? A wink at the audience? I mean, the show wasn’t exactly known for its sly sense of humor. Or any sense of humor, really. It’s possible, though, I guess.

Sara continues on towards an old manor house. A rather dubious plaque designates the building to be the Cambridge International Conference Center. (For what it’s worth, there are scenes in this shot on actual locations, like this manor. Considering how chintzy the sets can occasionally be on this program, this is a bit of a plus.)

Sara enters, and approaches a sign denoting Milne to be the Keynote Speaker at an address to the New England Psychiatric Society. Indeed, he can be heard inside a nearby room, just finishing up his lecture on Schizophrenia and the Unconscious. Always give your lecture a catchy title, I suppose.

The doors open and several extras exit, carefully not saying anything lest they violate union rules. Milne emerges a bit later, conversing with an adviser, Dr. Fischer. The latter expositories how Milne is all but certain to be elected the next President of the NEPS. He warns, though, that this frontrunner status will draw as many enemies as admirers. “No mistakes, Peter!” he warns. Like, oh, I don’t know, getting stabbed to death by a patient you’re banging?

Milne is next approached by an improbably dishy reporter, Susan Carter (Sonja Smit). She demands an interview; a second interview, actually, as he’s already given her one. That’s not enough, though. “I need to find out why you, of all people, should be qualified to lead the psychiatrists of this region,” she maintains. Wouldn’t the NEPS just be a trade organization? I’m not sure how Milne would be ‘leading’ a group of private practitioners. Also, what outlet does Carter write for? This doesn’t exactly sound like New York Times material.

Milne is having none of it, however. “I know you have a reputation for blackening the names of those you write about,” he replies. So…why did he give her an interview to start with? And again, who does she write for? A trade magazine, I suppose. Again, though, the idea that she’s some steely newshawk who threatens *gasp* Milne’s shot at the Presidency is a tad ridiculous.

At this point Milne notices an agitated Sara standing in her long white coat about ten feet away. Having caught his eye, she runs over to him and throws herself into his arms. “I meant to wait until you were free, but I couldn’t!” she gasps. “I need you so much!” Needless to say, Carter looks upon this example of PDA with pointed curiosity. Milne, trying to keep his cool, ushers Sara out with all due expediency.

Once outside, he gets her to settle down a bit. Surprisingly, considering this show usually went in for villainy with a Snidely Whiplash-level of subtlety, they forgo the opportunity to have Milne cruelly dress her down. He instead just sends her off, telling her to attend their usual appointment.

For no apparently reason than because the plot requires it, Milne then reenters the conference room. There he’s ignored by the other attendees, emphasizing how unlikely it is that he wouldn’t just take the opportunity to flee.

However, they have to allow Carter to corner him again, which she quickly does. It turns out Milne has a reputation for taking the doctor / patient relationship farther than he should. Carter threatens to get all Bernstein and Woodward on his ass, and then departs. A suspense music cue informs us this is, uh, suspenseful or something.

We cut outside, where Carter chases Sara down. Milne sees this through a window, and clearly isn’t pleased about it. He watches as the two leave together, arm in arm.

Cut to Milne’s office. Fischer calls him, warning that Carter is sniffing around and asking if there’s anything he should know about. (If Milne has a reputation for sleeping with patients, wouldn’t Fischer already know about it? That’s the sort of gossip that would spread quickly.)

Hanging up, Milne gets on his Dictaphone and starts describing Sara as “increasingly unstable and suicidal.” He also says that she has severed their doctor / patient relationship, which is patently untrue. Clearly he’s laying the ground work for bumping her off. Man, I hope she doesn’t ironically kill him instead, due to his planting the idea that she has always born Murderous Feelings for her father. That would be pretty ironic, huh?

Sara returns to her hilarious spooky house and is startled by a noise from upstairs. She goes up to investigate, accompanied by Eerie Music and Exaggerated Clock Ticking. Entering her father’s study, she finds one of his cigars laying lit in the ashtray. The picture of the two seen earlier now lies smashed on the floor, and as in her dream, the curtains are billowing in front of the open window.

She starts to back out of the room, but the Man in Black (or rather Milne dressed like him—whether by design or not, Franco’s distinctive face is apparent above the obscuring muffler) appears from behind and grabs her. As in her dream, he starts disrobing and fondling her. His hands then start tracking up to her throat.

However, his nefarious plans are cut short when the doorbell rings. He withdraws, leaving Sara panicked but unharmed. Milne peaks a look outside, and sees that it was his nemesis Carter at the door. Having received no answer, the reporter departs. Still, Sara’s life has been at least temporarily saved.

Sara next appears in Milne’s parking garage. Unsurprisingly she’s rather agitated, and grows further so when Milne tells her that their sessions are futile and that they should break them off. She refuses to accept this, however, and Milne appears to accede. He tells her that her only hope is a more radical treatment.

He tells her to go the train station—yes, the one from her dreams—this evening and take the late train. You know, the whole Confront Your Fears thing. Presumably, though, what he’s really doing is maneuvering her back into danger.  And so we get a replay of the opening of the episode, as Sara walks down the (still deserted) train corridor.

Sure enough, she again comes across Compartment E, and as in her dream, steps inside. There she is confronted again by the sight of the Man in Black humping away at something on the bed. Needless to say, the figure is actually Milne, again in disguise. He moves toward the terrified Sara, and….

Warning: Read no further if you do not wish to
learn the super-shock surprise twist ending of
this amazing episode of
The Hitchhiker!!!

…the stress of the situation in fact triggers an epiphany. “You raped me!” she cries. “You raped me, Daddy!” Say what you will, but apparently Sara *did* harbor black thoughts about her father. So Milne called that one.

Anyway, she flees from the compartment, and again flees screaming down the (even now still deserted) corridor, Milne running after her. The chase goes on for a bit, since they had another minute or two to kill. Eventually, though, he corners her on, that’s right, the platform at the back of the train.

He lowers his muffler and she sees that it’s him. She then—are you ready to have your mind blown?!—reaches into her pocket and produces the knife established earlier in the episode. He backs away, and IRONICALLY, it’s he who fatally falls to his death from the moving train.

The weirdest thing is that the way this last bit is played, it doesn’t seem like Milne actually meant to kill her at all. Apparently he was just trying a bit of extreme shock therapy, and honestly trying to cure her. Which, again, actually worked, since she did have a breakthrough about her father raping her. So apparently he dies a horrible death more because he’s a jerk than because he was actually attempting to kill her.

This doesn’t correspond with the earlier bit where he was making false notes on his dictaphone, however. I swear, the scripts for this show are consistently bewildering. It’s like they were written by several people, who never consulted with their cowriters to see what they were doing.

Anyway, walking alongside the tracks comes…The Hitchhiker!

The Hitchhiker Wraps Things Up: “Peter Milne was willing to betray the secrets of a sacred trust for the pettiness of his own ambition.* But what he didn’t count on was when you lure someone to the edge of darkness, there’s always a chance you’ll be the one to fall.” (Wow!)

[*Er, what “secrets” did he betray? Seriously, why do these Hitchhiker bits things so seldom seem to match the episodes they are meant to comment upon? Faced with a similar situation at the end of The Man in the Window episode, I posited that they altered the script at some point but never bothered to change the Hitchhiker’s commentary to match. I assume something similar happened here.]

By the way, after The Hitchhiker walks past, the camera pans over to some clear space to provide a vista they can lay the end credits over. However, this pan reveals the shadows of the camera crew, apparently cast into view by a poorly placed klieg light.

Afterword:

You know, if you remove the breast shots, this serious could have been commissioned for the Lifetime Channel. Nearly all the episodes feature men who abuse the women in their lives, and reap some awful comeuppance. Sometimes they’re abusing their wives or lovers, but often they’re authority figures taking advantage of vulnerable women in their trust—doctors, film directors, teachers, etc.

Occasionally the episode’s bad guy is a woman, but not all that often. Otherwise it clearly falls into that ‘Men At Best Suck and Usually Are Dangerous Psychopaths’ thing that seems to be the Lifetime Channel’s mission statement.

Gratuitous Naked Boobies? Shockingly, yes.

First Appearance of the Obligatory Nipple: 4 minutes, 51 seconds.

Whatever Happened To…:

Franco Nero (Dr. Peter Milne): No fan of Italian Westerns or Dirty Harry-esque cop movies can be unaware of Franco Nero. Even early in his career he was appearing in primo junk, as with his repeated role in the conjoined, super-crazy Italian sci-fiers Wild, Wild Planet and War of the Planets.

Working mostly in his native land, Mr. Nero appeared in a constant stream of (mostly) genre pictures. His most famous junkfood movie is probably 1981’s Enter the Ninja. This was Cannon’s first foray into the martial arts movie, the genre they became most associated with during the decade that followed.

Mr. Nero’s biggest mainstream role was as Lancelot in the musical Camelot (1967), starring opposite Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave. He and Ms. Redgrave became lifelong partners, finally wedding in 2006. They remain hitched to this day, which represents one of the long-lasting show biz relationships I can think of.

Norwegian Renee Soutendijk (Sara Kendal) first came to fame as the star of the Dutch arthouse hit Spetters (1980), an early film by Paul Verhoeven. She continued to work steadily in low-watt fare both in the States and in Europe. Probably her most famous role, past Spetters, was as the Terminator-like android Eve in 1991’s Eve of Destruction, opposite Gregory Hines. As with Mr. Nero, she continues to work today.

Sonja Smits (Susan Carter) already appeared in these pages as the post-op transsexual in the Face to Face episode of The Hitchhiker. That was the one with Robert Vaughn as a plastic surgeon who pays an awful price for sleeping with his patients, which is *completely* different than being a psychiatrist who pays an awful price for sleeping with his patients.

Ms. Smits had already starred in the gawdawful horror flick The Pit. Two years after that she limned what was easily her most high-profile role, as the female lead in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome. She went on to costar in a couple of long-running Canadian TV shows, Street Legal and Traders. Ms. Smits apparently gave up acting in 2008, however.

This was the third and final Hitchhiker episode Swedish actress, director and writer Mai Zetterling helmed, following Hired Help and And If We Dream.

Composer and ace studio musician Michael Rubini scored 23 episodes of The Hitchhiker. This was the high point of his film and TV career, as he also around the same time scored such high profile movies as The Hunger, Band of the Hand and Manhunter. After that the projects were less notable, however. He more or less stopped composing film and TV back in the mid-‘90s.