The Hitchhiker (Ep. 14): Night Shift [REPOST]

Note: This was actually the second of my Hitchhiker reviews, back at the old site. Before I procured the Canadian—more or less—chronological sets, I was working off an American—more or less—best of set. Hence the “Disc’s Plot Description” below, a bit not found in the later reviews; the Canadian sets don’t have those. Now we’ve reached episode 14, though, so it’s time to haul it over here.

The episode almost marks the beginning of season 3 of the show, when I think it really started hitting its stride.

Disc’s Plot Description: “A cruel nurse at a retirement home bullies her patients to suit her whim. She and her boyfriend have it made until new “patient” Darren McGavin prescribes some treatment of his own.”

Names: Stars Margot Kidder, Darrin McGavin. Directed by Philip Noyce.

Set up: We open on workers clearing bodies from a burned-out building. In a less than original stroke, a radio broadcast is heard which serves to establish some facts. These primarily center on an extremely wizened old survivor (McGavin) of said conflagration, one found covered in ashes and apparently in a coma. The camera at this point pauses to focus on a large, bejeweled gold ring on the man’s hand.

Next we meet Nurse Jane Reynolds (Margot Kidder). Wow, they must have spent a lot of time coming up with that moniker. She’s walking to work in her starched white uniform, which is adorned with clunky black glasses. Her hair, naturally, is pulled back in a tight bun. She might as well be coming from a Nurse Ratchett look-alike contest, and indeed, the episode does very little to dispel that notion.

That she’s a sourpuss is established when two very ‘80s punk girls walk by with (what else?) a boom box. She pauses to shoot them a nasty look, and then continues on her way, in the process walking past…The Hitchhiker!!


Hitchhiker Intro: “Jane Reynolds works the night shift in an old-age home, governing her charges with rules and an iron hand. But she is about to discover that there are some rules that bend…when the night shifts.” (Wow!)

We cut to the old folk’s home where Jane works. She strides arrogantly down the tiled hallway, much in the fashion of someone who rules her charges with rules and an iron hand. With about 22 minutes of running time, they waste little of it establishing her as a scoundrel of the sly, subtle Snidely Whiplash School.

First she peeks into a bedroom. The occupant, a gasping old woman, begs to be taken to the bathroom. Jane smiles and replies with fake sweetness that she’ll return later. She then proceeds to the common room, where in about half a minute she performs a good half dozen mean-spirited acts. This ludicrous display of villainy is so overripe and comical that it might well lead the unwary to postulate that they’ve come across a parody of bad suspense shows:

  • Jane enters the room and immediately stops to force some pills down the throat of a barely conscious old man.
  • A couple of oldies are playing a board game. Seeing them, she asks acerbically, “Why do we have this room?” One fellow, knowing the drill, tiredly responds, “To watch television, Miss Reynolds.” That explains why there are games and music boxes in there, too, I guess. Also, if the idea is that everyone is to gather and watch television, then why is the room filled with numerous and widely scattered card tables? In any case, Jane comes over and packs the game away. Meanwhile, she spots yet another individualist, this one playing solitaire. “Are you waiting for an engraved invitation?” she tartly inquires.
  • An old woman is dancing with somewhat exaggerated joy to the tune of a music box. Jane snaps the device off. That’s not the half of it, either. See IMMORTAL DIALOG.
  • An old woman in a wheelchair is happily petting a cat. “We do not bring animals in this room,” Jane observes sternly. She strides over and shoos the cat off the old woman’s lap. At this point she sees that the lady has a gold bracelet, which she immediately confiscates. The woman begs for the trinket to be returned. “It’s all I have to remember,” the old woman mewls. Needless to say, her pleas have little effect.
  • Jane lines the last patients up before the TV set. Seeing that an interesting show is on—I’m assuming it’s not an episode of The Hitchhiker—she changes the channel and puts on a documentary featuring a snake consuming a large frog. “That’s what happens to bad people,” she notes with satisfaction. Hmm, I think I just heard the Foreshadowing Bell™ tolling.


 

Later, Jane is playing with the old woman’s bracelet when the exterior door buzzer sounds. Excited, she sprays on some perfume and goes to surreptitiously let in her–three guesses–strenuously sleazy boyfriend, Johnny. They make out for a bit, and then she takes him to her office and shows him the bracelet. He declares it to be worth about twenty bucks and slips it into his pocket. Then he makes a phone call, while she, er, passionately smothers his face and neck with kisses. Blech.

Their frolicking is mercifully cut short when the door buzzer sounds again. Jane stashes the bottle of booze she and Johnny had been sharing and straightens her uniform while he takes his leave. His expressions during all this have been of someone who’s extremely bored. The general idea is that he’s stringing her along for the loot—which he presumably tells her is worth less than it really is—and easy sex, all of which she’s too besotted to notice.

Jane opens the outer door and lets in two paramedics. These, as you may have guessed from the DVD’s plot description, wheel in the aforementioned comatose survivor of the fire. After the medics leave, Jane notices the previously established gold ring. She attempts to pry it off his finger, but no go. Frustrated, she stalks from the room, whereupon *gasp* the Old Man’s eyes pop open.

Later (I guess), Johnny returns, in response to a summons from Jane. She tells him of the ring and takes him to the Old Man’s room. However, despite their endeavors, the item stays stubbornly in place.

Being an impatient sort, after about twenty seconds Johnny pulls a switchblade and prepares to amputate the Old Man’s finger (!). I don’t know, that seems like the kind of thing somebody might notice. However, in a really lame shock sting, they are interrupted by the old lady who earlier had the cat. This has now gone missing and she’s searching for it. Angry, Jane wheels the woman back to her room.

Johnny, frustrated in his endeavor, returns to Jane’s office. Jane joins him and again attempts to engage him in amorous activities. However, he’s too distracted by the thought of the ring. Meanwhile, the cat ends up in the Old Man’s room. The Old Man’s eyes again come open. Exit the pussy, albeit offscreen, so as not to offend any animal lovers.

Jane is preparing a syringe of muscle relaxant when she and Johnny hear a scream from the Old Woman. “Someone killed my cat,” she shrieks. Jane trots out into the hallway to find her charges clustered around the cat’s body, which lies on the floor sporting a slit throat. The patients begin to angrily shout at her, apparently under the impression that only Jane would be nasty enough to do such a thing. When they balk at returning to their rooms, she slaps one old fellow in the face and orders them to their beds.

Jane returns to her office to find Johnny gone. A big blast of Suspense Music lets us know this is more alarming than we might otherwise rationally suspect. His absence exacerbates her bad mood, and she grabs the hypodermic of muscle relaxant and heads down to the Old Man’s room. There she prepares to give him the shot. However, he *gasp* stirs a bit, and she straps him down in case he should awaken. Oddly, though, she leaves his one arm free, the one with the ring. There’s no real reason for this, other than the script said she should.

Jane administers the shot and then reaches for his ring. This time it comes off easily, and she pauses to admire it. Whereupon *gasp* the Old Man’s eyes come open and he grabs her wrist. She pulls free and he shrugs off the restraining straps, which might seem more impressive if they didn’t appear designed to slide right off.




She jogs down the hall with the Old Man slo-ooo-owly following after her. See, that adds tension, and stretches out the running time to boot. 22 minutes might not seem like a very long time. However, as you can imagine from this plot description, our ‘story’ needs all the padding it can get. Notice, for example, how they had Johnny arrive, leave, and then return again. There’s an extra minute or two right there.

Out in the hall, Jane finds herself trapped. One of her charges, gleeful at the opportunity for a little payback, turns out to have copped Jane’s key ring. Laughing, the old woman waves the jingling keys before locking herself in her room. Jane then attempts to, uhm, I don’t know, but anyway she slowly rolls a gurney down the hall towards her lackadaisical stalker. Then, just in case he should somehow survive this devastating assault, she locks herself (with the manual door lock) in the laundry room.

Jane backs into a rack of uniforms, whereupon (three guesses) an inert arm falls across her chest. *Gasp!!* The limb belongs to Johnny, just in case you were wondering. Someone has killed him and then sprayed his hair with gray stage make-up to make him supposedly look tremendously aged. After that, I guess they propped his body up, somehow, behind a rack of uniforms in the rear of the laundry room so that—just in case—somebody were to lean against said rack, Jimmy’s arm would fall over and produce a scary shock-sting.


Screaming, Jane runs into a connecting examining room. There she actually attempts to procure a weapon, of sorts, by trying to open a narcotics cabinet and get at the drugs and needles. However, the cabinet is naturally secured, and of course she doesn’t have her keys. Then, after waaaay too long a time, we see that the Old Man has, amazingly, survived the Rolled Gurney of Doom. He begins to tug on the doorknob, and there’s ominous music and stuff, and they waste a bit more time. Eventually, though, he gets in. The episode does have to end at some point, after all.

Blah blah blah. The Old Man enters the room, the music does that ‘spidery note’ thing, and they go to slow-mo in a rather desperate attempt to add a little flourish to the proceedings. He grabs Jane as she attempts to get past and forces her down upon a table, whereupon his ring pops open to reveal a small blade. Jane struggles and screams, but he manages to slice her neck, spattering blood on a nearby wall. (Wow, ironically dispatched with the very object she attempted to zzzzzz….) We fade away.

The next morning the police are on the scene. However, they fail to get much out of the patients, who seem pretty content with the way things have turned out. Eventually, the camera takes us into Jane’s office. We see the back of a gray-haired head peeking over the top of her swivel desk chair. I don’t want to surprise the hell out of you, but the chair is then swung towards the camera, whereupon we see Jane’s markedly aged corpse. Sha-zam!!


We cut to a magazine stand. A newspaper headline screams “RETIREMENT HOME SLAYING”—slow news day, I guess (plus there were two slayings)—and a hand with a familiar ring reaches forward to snag a copy. The camera pulls back, and it’s the Old Man, only now he lacks the heavy pancake make-up and the gray paint in his hair. In other words, he now looks as old as McGavin was at the time, maybe in his fifties. (Hey, at least he gets an actual acting moment. In the rest of the show he lies in a bed or stumbles around like a mummy. In any case, McGavin earned his paycheck without ever having a single line to utter.)

Seemingly quite happy, The Not-Quite-As-Old Man sucks in some air. He then turns and walks away, strolling right past…The Hitchhiker!!


Get a haircut, hippie!

The Hitchhiker Wraps Things Up: “Jane Reynolds preyed on the weak and defenseless as she made her nightly rounds…until fate delivered an ancient creature to her doorstep…and showed the predator, what it’s like to be the prey.” (Wow!!)

********

It probably isn’t a good sign when after about ten seconds of thought the causal viewer can whip up a more fitting conclusion than the one the actual paid writers provided. Still, wouldn’t it have been more satisfying if Jane lost her youth but remained alive? Now old and helpless, and with her story making her sound delusional, she would find herself committed to the old age home, at the mercy of the very people she had spent so much time tormenting. Is it just me, or wouldn’t that have had a little more punch?

  • Things I Learned:  Old people like to argue about Darwinism over a game of checkers.
  • Things I Learned: A facility for indigent old people can keep afloat with the income from seven or eight patients.
  • Gee, could that TV documentary on predators of the animal kingdom be acting as some sort of subtext or foreshadowing? I wonders.
  • Gasp!!  A spring-loaded old lady in a wheelchair!!
  • Wouldn’t the old man’s ring have been noted on the paramedics’ report? By which I mean, wouldn’t somebody notice if it suddenly turned up missing?
  • I am completely and entirely convinced that that is a real dead cat and not a very obvious, bedraggled prop. Really. Truly.
  • In a shoving match on opposite sides of a door, an old woman beats a young, healthy one who’s in fear for her life.
  • Having a hospital gurney lazily rolled at you doesn’t exactly enter you in Michael Myers Invulnerability Sweepstakes.
  • Ouch! The synthesized version of the theme music they used for the end credits here is just dreadful.
  • Man, it sure takes a lot of people to make a crappy 22 minute TV episode.

Immortal Dialogue:

Jane, shutting off an old woman’s music box: “The dance is over, Mrs. Cranshaw!”
Mrs. Cranshaw: “How very sad. I used to waltz with my husband, Charles, you know. He is such a handsome man.”
Jane, with mock sweetness: “Charles is dead, dear.”

Gratuitous Naked Boobies?  Nope. Margot Kidder at the time was still too big a star to pop her top, especially for a TV show. She does reveal her corset (!), however. Meanwhile, let’s be frank: We wouldn’t really wouldn’t want to see any of the other women in this episode taking a shower or anything.

Presumably if they had ended up without a ‘name’ actress to play Jane, we would have gotten more action. Her antics with her boyfriend indicate a ready-made contingency plan for such, had a lesser-known but more pliable starlet garnered the role.

[From Original ReviewNote: After writing this review, I learned of a much more comprehensive DVD collection of Hitchhiker episodes that had been released in Canada. The more limited American disc I was originally working off of was just a rental, so I decided to purchase this larger set.

While looking over this episode there, I discovered this version did indeed feature a quick boobie shot of what was quite obviously a body double for Ms. Kidder, along with some fondling of said appendages.  What a great gig for some lucky aspiring actress, eh?

Also, there’s rather more gore in this version.  In other words, oddly, the American set contains versions that, while they do contain some nudity, profanity, violence, etc., appear to have less so than those featured on the Canadian set.

As well, Jabootu Shadow Minister of Proofreading Bill Leary notes that Ms. Kidder did appear in a nude Playboy pictorial, indicating that she wasn’t always adverse to appearing in the buff.  However, that was in March 1975 issue, and thus some years before she appeared in Superman: The Movie and became a legitimate star, assuming legitimate stars end up making guest appearances in episodes of The Hitchhiker.

Loads of ‘Adult’ Language? Not so much, just a little mild blasphemy.

Whatever Happened To…:

  • The script was written by April Campbell and Bruce Jones. Yes, it took two people to whip this winner up. They appear to have been a married couple at some point. In 1989, anyway, they co-wrote a TV movie entitled My Boyfriend’s Back, which centered on the reunion of a ‘60s girls’ singing group. Ms. Campbell took an “April Campbell-Jones” credit for that one. Three years later, she penned with another writer the thriller Prey of the Chameleon, which featured Daphne Zuniga as an identity-shifting serial killer. Ms. Campbell’s last listed credit on the IMBD appears three years after that, for another teleplay entitled Awake to Danger. Continuing the trend for Ms. Campbell’s projects to score vibrant leading ladies, this one starred Tori Spelling. Mr. Jones, meanwhile, remains better known as a successful comic book writer. Along similar lines, he co-wrote the paperback tie-in adaptation of the film Daredevil. Which maybe you wouldn’t think would require two different authors, but what do we know?
  • Director Phillip Noyce has gone on to become a successful director of box office hits like Patriot Games and The Bone Collector. He kept his hand in with supernatural suspense TV shows by helming the pilot for Fox’s 2003 program Tru Calling.
  • Margot Kidder’s career hit the skids following Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, after which she more or less disappeared from the public eye. One of her most impressive credits from this period involves her taking over from Whoopi Goldberg the role of Gaia in Captain Planet and the Planeteers. (She presumably was awarded the gig based on her experience with truly awful superhero projects.) In the late ‘90s, she hit the papers when she publicly went Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. To be fair, this was a popular show biz hobby at the time; see also Robert Downey, Jr. and Anne Heche. Luckily, Ms. Kidder was able to obtain help. Subsequently, to quote an adoring biographical entry on the IMDB, “Margot has sustained her career in film, television, and theater, recently appearing in a Canadian stage production of The Vagina Monologues.”
  • Darrin McGavin has starred in almost as many TV series as Robert Conrad, Henry Morgan or Robert Urich. He’s most fondly remembered by genre fans as the fitfully intrepid reporter/monster-slayer Carl Kolchak, and by the public at large as the wacky father in the perennial holiday classic A Christmas Story. Mr. McGavin passed away in 2006.
  • Stephen McHattie (Johnny) is a busy character actor. He has appeared in tons of genre shows, including Tales From the Darkside, the ‘80s revamp of The Twilight Zone, Quantum Leap, Highlander, M.A.N.T.I.S., The X-Files, Mutant X, Birds of Prey and two different Star Trek series. Film work includes mostly minor roles in The Ultimate Warrior, Beverly Hills Cop III, Theodore Rex and Pterodactyl Woman from Beverly Hills. He continues working today.
  • Dorothy Davies (Mrs. Cranshaw) appeared in films as far back as the 1920s and ‘30s. After this period she apparently retired, only to return decades later to appear in 1967’s Night Beast, a film directed by Larry Buchanan’s assistant director (!!). More impressive credits include roles in the early David Cronenberg thriller Shivers and the neato suspense flick The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane. Her activities following her appearance here are unknown, although presumably she’s passed away by now.
  • Enid Saunders (the lady with the cat), coincidentally enough, appeared in Superman III, a film that Margot Kidder only had a cameo in. She also appeared in the depressingly popular Look Who’s Talking.