Friday, January 22, 2010

TZ Promo: “The Hitch-hiker” (1/22/1960)

I discovered old radio shows like Suspense and Inner Sanctum a few years before I discovered The Twilight Zone. I bought a few of them on cassette, and one of them was "The Hitch-hiker," an episode of Suspense from 1942 that starred Orson Welles as a man who, while traveling cross-country by car, is menaced the same ominous man hitch-hiking along the way. The radio script was written by Lucille Fletcher, wife of film and radio composer Bernard Herrmann, who contributed the musical score for the radio production (a nice bit of synergy that would be repeated, in a fashion, 18 years later; more on this below). Fletcher also wrote Suspense's most famous episode, "Sorry, Wrong Number."

Rod Serling's take on "The Hitch-hiker" changes the protagonist from male to female (the beautiful Inger Stevens is marvelous in the role), but otherwise remains very faithful to Fletcher's original tale. Alvin Ganzer's direction is superb (watch for the scene where our heroine almost gets the business end of a moving train), and the cinematography by George T. Clemens is appropriately dark and moody (the final scene is masterfully done).

Perhaps the most interesting component of the episode, however, is the underscore. "The Hitch-hiker" doesn't feature a composer credit; rather, it is "stock-scored" (i.e. scored using assorted cues from the CBS Music Library, often by multiple composers and without any perceptible unifying theme). At some point in time before The Twilight Zone debuted, Bernard Herrmann recorded a number of suites (collections of short cues) designed to be used and re-used in various CBS shows. Much of the music he contributed was actually recycled music he'd written years earlier for various radio shows. And, delightfully (as these things tend to delight people like me), some of his original "Hitch-hiker" radio score appears in the TZ adaptation! This brilliant touch elevates an already-great episode to sheer excellence. Needless to say, it's one of my top ten favorite episodes of all time.

Bernard Herrmann

Herrmann's score (well, five out of nine total cues) was released on the 1983 vinyl LP The Outer Space Suite from Cerberus Records (which is obviously way out of print). Those same five cues were later released on CD in 1999 on the 4-disc Twilight Zone 40th Anniversary collection (which, as far as I know, is still in print and easily obtained).

Incidentally, Suspense wasn't the only radio program to produce "The Hitch-hiker." It was first done by Campbell Playhouse in 1941, and later in 1946 by Mercury Summer Theater. Orson Welles starred in all three. The Suspense version can be found here.

Who exactly is the hitch-hiker? I won't give it away, but if you see him on the side of the road…. Man, keep on driving. Don't stop.

Next week's episode features a battle of wills between a cranky man in a Las Vegas casino and a most insistent slot machine. Take a gamble on it, won't you?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have to say that "The Hitch-Hiker" is my favorite TZ episode. The main reason being Ms Stevens' acting...she does a superb job.

She understands the material so well. She starts out giving a quizzical look at the little mousy man , but behind that look you can see that she is uneasy. That uneasiness builds until she is about to have a nervous breakdown. Then, she comes to terms with her situation, "I think I know, I think I know." I think she always knew.

In the scene where she is stopped for a detour and the HH comes up to her car, she gets hysterical and yells at him. I believe she knows just what her predicament is, but she can't admit it to herself (Stevens is perfect in that scene). So, she keeps running but she can't get away from the truth.

The phone call home and her acceptance and understanding after that call is some of the best acting I've seen. I find that last segment intensely poignant.

Excellent story, direction, photography, score and above all, acting.

I don't think Stevens hits a wrong note in that entire episode. The story and Stevens were made for each other.