An Alfred Hitchcock Primer
by Kristin Battestella
Fans of old school thrillers young or old can earn their suspense credentials with these early Alfred Hitchcock nail biters.
The Lady Vanishes – Only one lovely train passenger has seen the titular dame, causing rail car mayhem for Margaret Lockwood (The Wicked Lady) and Michael Redgrave (Mourning Becomes Electra) in this 1938 mystery. Travel delays and assorted languages invoke the tourist hustle and bustle as our ensemble is humorously introduced – from the governess rambling about her past charges and country songs or dances to cranky Englishmen commandeering the phone just to ask the line from London for the cricket scores. All the rooms are let out in this hectic hotel save for the maid’s quarters, and she comes with the room, wink! The bellhop is trying not to look at the scandalous bare legs as our bachelorette orders caviar and champagne, but the men in bed together is gay in both senses of the word with jolly good innuendo. This quirky inn comforts the audience yet there are whispers of pretty American girls and the almighty dollar getting preferential treatment, newspaper sensationalism, and intensifying continental troubles. A hit on the head at the train station leads to a kaleidoscope of confusion, unfamiliar faces, magic tricks, and slight of hand illusion. Everyone’s interconnected – incognito affairs, musicians, a famous doctor, magicians, and foreign diplomats. Some genuinely don’t recall seeing the woman in question, but others have an ulterior motive for not wanting the train delayed, willful gaslighting compounded by lies, lawyers watching their own back, and that unreliable bump on the head. Tea in the dining car alone, suspicious wine glasses – complaints about non-English speakers, nationalism, political secrets, and conspiracies. Who’s really on who’s side? Train whistle harbingers pepper the constant hum of travel, matching the rail montages, impressive rear projection, and black and white photography. Despite the confined setting, the pace remains fittingly on the move with perilous comings and goings between cars. There are stoles and divine hats, too, but that giant monogram scarf looks more like a napkin stuck in her collar! Humorous bunging in the cargo with magician’s rabbits, trick boxes, false bottoms, and contortionists is good on its own, however, perhaps such fun should have happened earlier before the serious mystery escalates. There are some contrived leaps as well – it’s amazing how all the Englishmen can shoot to kill and do it so easily – and though not naming the enemy country is understandable thanks to political relevance then and now, the obligatory bad guys are just nondescript. Likewise, one can see why the sardonic comedy teams and shootouts were included, and Flightplan really steals from this right down to the writing on the foggy window. Fortunately, the ticking clock race to the border, wrong track turns, gunfire standoffs, and international chases roll on right up to the end. But seriously, what it is with Hitchcock and trains already?
Lifeboat – Journalist Tallulah Bankhead is stranded on the high seas with torpedoes, sunken ships, u-boats, and Nazis in this 1944 self-contained thriller nominated for Best Director, Story by John Steinbeck, and Black and White Cinematography. There’s no need to waste time on spectacle with the in media res sinking – flotsam and jetsam with everything from English playing cards to dead Germans heralds the nationalism and wartime grays to come amid damp passengers, dirty sailors, famous dames, mothers, babies, and injuries. Tallulah’s in furs, smoking a cigarette, and dictating what junk to bridge aboard, and despite the tiny boat space, multiple conversations happen fore and aft thanks to strategic intercutting between the immediate wounded and more self-absorbed survivors. Fog and windswept water sprays accent the superb rear projection, and the strategic filming captures everyone from all angles with foreground zooms and background silhouettes. Natural ocean sounds and the rocking of the ship, however, might make sensitive viewers seasick. There are numerous colloquialisms as well as accents and translations, but conversation is all we have – a stage-like talkative jam packed with insinuating layers, interrogations, and double meanings. Can you make your own law in open waters and toss the Nazi overboard? Everyone feels the need to establish who’s American, Christian, or had relatives in Czechoslovakia and France, and the black cook is surprised he’s included in all the decisions. It’s unfortunately expected that Canada Lee’s (Cry the Beloved Country) Joe is the least developed character, yet he’s also the most genuine person starboard. This is also a more diverse ensemble than often seen in today’s movies, and three women talk to each other about shell shock and lacking supplies but nobody knows the right prayers for a burial at sea. Cold, wet, sleepless individual vignettes allow the refreshingly flawed stranded to come clean, and at the time having a Nazi officer as a realistic character rather than an evil archetype was understandably controversial. Testy questions on who’s skipper, united sympathies, and diplomatic delegating drop the formalities, as after all “we’re all in the same boat.” However, information is not always forthcoming and no one knows the course to Bermuda – except Herr Kapitan. Can you trust his seamanship? A compass, typewriter, watches, diamond bracelets, brandy, and newspapers with Sir Alfred in the classifieds add tangibles and some humor alongside baseball talk, debate on the superior rowing capabilities of the Master Race, and other unexpected camaraderie, for “dying together is more personal than living together.” Repeated “Some of my best friends are…” quips also address differences as rambling on past regrets becomes veiled talk about shocking revelations and amputations. Lost material possessions give way to symbolic shoes, bare feet, shirtless men, and tattoos, but there’s time for intense poker, lipstick, and flirtation. Bermuda is the macguffin, and storms, hunger, delirium, suspicion, and men overboard get in the way of getting there. Rather than just special effects cool, wet and wild action heightens the internal boat suspense as beards grow and tables turn. They’re surrounded by undrinkable water, rain is precious, fishing bait is nonexistent, and sudden twists happen with nothing but a splash. Violent mutinies and shellfire are surprising to see in a forties movie, but Bankhead is a stunning, strong, sexy older woman able to be kissing or angry in the same scene – a multifaceted female role few and far between these days. Once stripped bare by the consequences of welcoming your enemy, do you accept your fate, continue to row, or laugh at the irony? Perhaps this warning against fatally lumping all together and the guilty lessons learned in such a no win situation can only be appreciated in retrospect, as this tale tries to see everything from both sides, remaining gripping from beginning to end with nothing but eight people in a boat in the middle of the ocean intensity. It makes one wonder why nowadays everything is so gosh darn bombastic.
Sabotage – Buzzing light bulbs go dark in this 1936 caper based on The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad – not to be confused with Hitchcock’s previous Secret Agent or later Saboteur. Whew! Crowds are both confused and giggling in this blackout, singing or arguing by candlelit and wanting their money back from the down picture show. Flashlights, the silhouetted skyline, shadow schemes, and askew camera angles add to the power tampering suspicion, and suspenseful notes follow our mysterious man in black as he returns home, washes his hands, and claims innocence – despite his neighbor’s claims to the contrary. He talks of money coming soon yet doesn’t want to draw attention to his cinema business, but the professional, public, and domestic are intertwined with families living above the bustling marketplace. Fine dresses, fedoras, and vintage cars add to the quaint, however no one is who they seem thanks to grocers with an angle, Scotland Yard whispering of trouble abroad, and shadowed men with their backs to the camera conversing over promised payments. The innocuous movies, aquarium, and pet shop host seemingly innocent ingredients used for making bombs, and onscreen days of the week lie in wait while the public is occupied by the picture show, hoodwinked by what’s in plain sight. Creepy packages, trick bird cages, and threatening “sleeping with the fishes” coded messages become a tongue in cheek nod to the nature of cinema and hidden observations as covers are blown and men scatter. Our wife is clueless abut her husband and oblivious to her family being used for information, creating an interesting dynamic for her between the handsome detective and a damn cold, cruel husband. Who are behind these plans and why? Despite several great sequences, convenient plot points leave too many unanswered questions. The busy start is rough around the edges, meandering for half the movie before becoming eerily provocative as a child delivers a fatal ticking package in the middle of the crowded market. We know the route and the time – delaying for street sales, demonstration detours, and interfering parades ups the suspense alongside traffic jams, stoplights, and montages featuring clock tower gears, dangerous flammable film, our innocuous brown papered package, and the puppy on the bus next to it! A clock on every street corner checks each five minutes passing amid town criers, newsboys, crescendos, and clues in the film canister that go for the big shocker while silent visuals bring the threats home to the dinner table. Although I don’t think today we’d have a cartoon singing “Who killed Cock Robin?” but that might just be me.
The 39 Steps – Like Maugham’s Ashenden stories, I wish there were more adaptations of the other Hannay books by John Buchan, not just numerous remakes stemming from this unfaithful but no less landmark 1935 picture with Robert Donat (Goodbye, Mr. Chips) joining our original icy blonde Carroll and all the Hitchcockian one can muster including the mistaken man, foreign intrigue, macguffin secrets, and budding romance. Cheeky dance halls host marriage jokes, brawls, chases, and gunshots with shadowed men in trench coats, pipes, and fedoras. Double decker buses, netted pillbox hats, stoles, and more period touches such as newspapers, lanterns, and milkmen contrast mysterious maps of Scotland, missing fingers, knives in the back, and a gal whose name depends on where she is and which country is the highest bidder. The mercenary espionage, air defense hush hush, and ticking clock is upfront in telling us what we need to know whilst also revealing a whole lot of eponymous nothing. Danger tops each scene thanks to suspicious phone booths, perilous bridges, and jealous husbands spotting those knowing glances across the dinner table during Grace. Police at the door and women both helpful or harmful compromise potentially rural calm – news travels fast and a spy must always be on the lookout. Whom do you trust when no one is who they seem? Lucky hymnal twists and false arrest turns escalate from one location to the next with ironic parades, impromptu speeches, cheering crowds, and charismatic escapes despite handcuffs, sheep, and romantic comedy tropes. Filming through doors, windows, and Art Deco lines accent the men in disguise, overheard rendezvous, and small hiking silhouettes against the pretty mountain peaks. Trains, airplanes, and rapid waters add speed to the pursuit. The superb cabin car photography and railroad scenery don’t need the in your face action awesome of today, for chitchatting folks reading the daily news is tense enough for the man who’s picture is beside the headlines. While some may find the look here rough around the edges or the plot points clichéd, many of our cinematic caper staples originate here. The full circle music, memories, and shootouts wink at the facade of it all, remaining impressive film making for the early sound era with great spy fun and adventure.
I Married a Witch a Trickster Delight
By Kristin Battestella
While many adore the subsequent Bell Book and Candle or Bewitched, have had Peek A Boo hairstyles, or even know of Veronica Lake thanks to her sexy Oscar winning look-alike Kim Basinger in L.A. Confidential; it seems not many today appreciate the 1942 magical romp that started it all, I Married a Witch.
Burned at the Salem Witch Trials thanks to the testimony of Jonathan Wooley (Frederic March), Jennifer (Veronica Lake) curses Wooley and all his male descendents to be unlucky in love. Centuries later when lightning strikes a tree and frees their spirits, Jennifer and her father Daniel (Cecil Kellaway) continue to interfere with politician Wallace Wooley (also March), his campaign for governor, and his impending marriage to socialite Estelle Masterson (Susan Hayward). Jennifer plans to make Wally fall in love with her just to ruin him. Unfortunately, when she is injured, Wally mistakenly gives her the love potion she intended for him. Now that she’s in love with a mortal, Daniel disastrously interferes on his daughter’s behalf. Jennifer, however, has bigger plans now: using witchcraft to save Wally’s campaign.
I’ll get the bit of the bad out of the way first, for only the dated production here hinders I Married a Witch. The black and white looks somewhat unrestored, dark and tough to see sometimes. The historical montage opening the film also has poor period stylings or seems quick and on the cheap. Modern audiences might also be a little lost on some of the thirties mannerisms and dialogue, and the sound is often tough to hear. While kids might enjoy this partial inspiration for the television series Bewitched, viewers with short attention spans might groan at early scenes with only smoke, fire, and old speaketh voiceovers. However, having said all that, the light-hearted comedy and hijinks of love story from director Rene Clair (The Flame of New Orleans, And Then There Were None) and writers Robert Pirosh (Combat!) and Marc Connelly (Captain Courageous) win with magical charm and innocent fun.
Well then, let’s talk about that peek a boo queen herself, Veronica Lake. Although the diminutive star of Sullivan’s Travels and This Gun for Hire doesn’t actually appear for the first fifteen minutes, we like the off-screen witch Jennifer when we hear of her fun curses. Despite her initial vengeance and maliciousness, we enjoy her vocal tricks and thus are thrilled when we finally do get so see those famous blonde tresses. Lake may seem a one trick pretty, but her witchy ways are delightful and her comedic dialogue is right on time. Though the pair seem visually at odds and she spends most of the time being carried by March; Lake has the sardonic match and onscreen weight to be a 290-year-old witch testing Wallys’ heart. Jennifer’s supposed to be bad, purely a spiteful witch causing love trouble for the sake of a long ago wrong, yet she’s whimsical and adorable all the same. Likewise, Oscar winner Frederic March (Best Years of Our Lives, Death of a Salesman, The Desperate Hours) proves he’s more than the straight, heavy, and serious dramatic leading man we so often enjoy. Wally’s wedding day hysterics are almost side splitting- caught in a repeatedly false starting ceremony and running ragged over two women! March would be the exceptional straight man indeed- if not for his perfect balance of witty, proper performance and humorous presence.
While Lake’s luster may have fallen over the decades, the budding and future Best Actress Susan Hayward (I Want to Live, Reap the Wild Wind) is wonderful as the snotty socialite set to marry Wally. Any other time, we’d love to pedestal Hayward, but in I Married a Witch, the audience can’t help but appreciate her bearing the brunt of Jennifer’s tricks. Dads Cecil Kellaway (The Postman Always Rings Twice) and Robert Warwick’s (The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex) J.B. Masterson are also great fun as the at odds parents who similarly enough have their daughters- and thus their own- best interests at heart. Classic fashion and style lends a wonderful visual support, too. Not to be outdone by slim cut suits or tilted fedoras, the pre-war ladies’ costumes here are glorious. The lengthy gowns and puffy sleeves just add an extra touch of class not often found in today’s recreations. I Married a Witch was contemporary at the time, but now it is a wonderful period piece to us with great music, sweet looking cars, and great old houses. Sure, some of the flying brooms and objects moving by themselves look hokey, but most of the smoke and mirror effects are simplistically good. Thanks to a fine story and great performances, fancy effects aren’t required to suspend the belief needed for I Married a Witch.
Fans of the old school cast, classic films aficionados, or families looking for some wholesome witchy fun can certainly find a short 80 minutes for I Married a Witch. Naturally, it is full of pre-war magical innocence rather than proper Wicca motifs, but again, the delight here wins against any datedness of the time.
Recent Lady Horrors
By Kristin Battestella
These contemporary pictures provide a little bit of everything for our would be ladies in peril – be it camp, scares, ghosts, or morose thrills.
The Love Witch – Artist, witch, and murderess Samantha Robinson’s (Doomsday Device) romantic spells go awry in this 2016 comedy written and directed by costumer/producer/Jill of all trades Anna Biller (Viva). Rear projection drives and teal eye shadow establish the tongue in cheek aesthetics while cigarette smoke, colorful lighting schemes, purple capes, and nude rituals accent flashbacks and sardonic narrations. Magic has cured our dame Elaine’s nervous breakdown after her husband’s death, and she’s starting fresh in a quirky tarot themed apartment inside a sweet California Victorian complete with a bemusing chemistry set for making potions with used tampons. Kaleidoscopes, rainbow liners inside dark retro clothing, blurred lenses, and spinning cameras reflect the “vodka and hallucinogenic herbs” as magic bottles, local apothecaries, and pentagram rugs set off the pink hat and tea room pastiche. Our ladies are so cordial when not plotting to steal the other’s husband! Her dad was cruel, her husband had an attitude, and her magic guru is in it for the sex, but she’s spent her life doing everything to please men in a quest for her own fairy tale love. When is Elaine going to get what she wants? She’s tired of letting the childlike men think they are in control, but she puts on the fantasy each man wants nonetheless, impressing a literary professor with her libertine references as the to the camera elocution and intentionally over the top Valley acting mirrors the courting facade. Psychedelic stripteases tantalize the boys onscreen, but the actresses are not exploited, winking at the customary for male titillation while instead providing the viewer with a sinister, if witty nature and classic horror visuals. Different female roles as defined by their patriarchal connections are addressed as ugly old eager dudes tell matching blonde twins that stripping or a rapacious sex ritual will be empowering – because a woman can’t be content in herself or embrace sexuality on her own terms unless there is a man to ogle her – while our man eater must break a guy down to the emotional baby he really is for her gain. It isn’t Elaine’s fault if men can’t handle her love! A man not in love can be objective while one wanting sex will excuse anything, and the shrew wife or female black subordinate are put out to pasture for an alluring white woman – layering the women in the workplace and racial commentaries as similar looking ladies must switch roles to keep their man. Tense evidence creates somber moments amid police inquiries, toxicology reports, and occult research – so long as the casework doesn’t interfere with their lunch order, that is. Is this woman really a witch or just a bewitching killer in both senses of the word? Is it batting her eyelashes lightheartedness or is she really an abused, delusional girl masking her trauma as a blessed be? The serious topics with deceptive undercurrents and feminist statements will be preachy and heavy handed for most male audiences with uneven pacing and confusing intercuts. However the fake blood in the bathtub, renaissance faire ruses, and melodramatic humor combine for a modern Buffy trippy satire dressed as a retro gothic That Girl homage that takes more than one viewing to fully appreciate.
My Cousin Rachel – Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener), Holliday Grainger (The Borgias), Ian Glen (Game of Thrones), and Simon Russell Beale (The Hollow Crown) begin this 2017 Daphne du Maurier mystery with happy strolls on the beach and fun bachelor times be it lovely greenery, carriages in the snow, or reading by the fire. The epistle narration gives a hear tell on the titular marriage via secret letters recounting illness and a wife forbidding correspondence before final, unfortunate news leaves the estates to heir Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games) on his next birthday – not the unseen widow said to be so strong and passionate. She’s a suspicious enigma for the first twenty minutes before a cross cut conversation introduces the charismatic storyteller, where the audience isn’t sure who is more uncomfortable or telling the truth despite the captivation. Divine mourning gowns, black satin, and lace veils add to the half-Italian allure amid more period accessories, libraries, old fashioned farming, candles, and top hats. Between would be scandalous horseback rides, church whispers, and awkward tea times, our once vengeful youth is smitten by Rachel’s progressive charm. Interesting conversations on femininity break Victorian taboos, for childbirth is the only thing a man knows about a woman and if she has a foreign remedy she must be a witch. Is Rachel wrapping her wealthy cousin around her finger? Can she when he is forbidding her work giving Italian lessons? Rachel is dependent on his allowance, and at times they both seem to be recreating the late benefactor and husband between them – the awkward new master wearing the dead man’s clothes and she the woman he didn’t think he needed. Such romance and heirloom Christmas gifts could be healing for them both, but viewers except the other gothic shoe to drop amid holiday generosity, seasonal feasts, and group songs. Overdrafts at the bank, raised allowances, a history of previous lovers and duels – Rachel puts on her finest grieving widow pity with a child lost and an unsigned will that would leave her everything. Is she orchestrating a careful seduction or is he a foolishly infatuated puppy despite clauses about remarriage or who predeceases whom? The ominous nib etching on the parchment leads to cliffside shocks, birthday saucy, blundered engagements, drunken visions, and poisonous plants. The suspicions turn with new illnesses and financial dependence, as Rachel goes out on the town and says what she does is nobody’s business. After all, why can’t she have a life of her own if the estate is now hers? Why should her independence be defined by a man’s piece of paper? We relate to Rachel, but she can only cry wolf and fall back on her sob story so many times… While this isn’t as creepy as it could be – audiences expecting horror will find the pace slow – the drama and mood are well done amid the wrong conclusions and written revelations. Were the suspicions warranted? The finale may not be satisfactory to some, but the unanswered questions and ultimate doubt remain fitting.
What say you, Addicts?
A Dark Song – Psalm warnings, beautiful skyscapes, and an old house with no heating paid for up front set this 2016 Irish tale amid the train station arrivals and others backing out on this specific plan with west facing rooms, twenty-two week diets, and purified participants having no alcohol or sex. More fasting, dusk to dawn timetables, serious interviews on why, and reluctant rules of the procedure build the cryptic atmosphere as the price for this dangerous ritual rises – speaking to a dead child isn’t some silly astral projection, angel psychobabble bollocks, basic Kabbalah, or easy Gnosticism you can find on the internet. The isolated manor with salt circles and invocations feels seventies cult horror throwback, however the metaphysical talk and extreme meditation bring modern realism as tense arguing, religious doubts, and questions on right or wrong match the bitterness toward the outside world. Hallucinations, sleep deprivation, and vomiting increase while physical cleansings and elemental phases require more candles and blood sacrifices. Some of the slow establishing and ritual minutia could have been trimmed in favor of more on the spooky half truths, suspect motives, need to be pure, and distorted state of mind. Black birds hitting the windows and missing mementos don’t seem to get the waiting for angels and forgiveness rituals very far for the amount of time that has passed, and heavy handed music warns us when something is going on even as more should be happening. A third character also seeking something he cannot find may have added another dynamic rather than two extremists getting nowhere, and short attention span audiences won’t wait for something to appear in those first uneven forty minutes. After all, with these symbols painted on the body and awkward sex rituals, wouldn’t one suspect this is just some kind of scam? Untold information, vengeance, backwards baptisms, near death extremes, and knife injuries meander on the consuming guilt and mystical visions before demons in disguise make for an obvious finale treading tires when the true angels, spirits, and goodness revelations were there all along. Maybe more seasoned hands were needed at the helm or a second eye to fix the pacing and genre flaws, for the quality pieces suffer amid the bleakness. This really shouldn’t be labeled as a horror movie, but it doesn’t capitalize on its potential as a psychological examination and surreal stages of grief metaphor either.
Shut In – Widowed Maine psychologist Naomi Watts (The Ring) is trapped in a storm while being haunted by little Jacob Tremblay (Room) in this 2016 international but already problematic PG-13 paint-by-numbers crammed with the isolated blonde, ghosts, kids horrors, weather perils, and one spooky basement. Accidents and home movies on the cell phone also laden the start before the lakeside locales, snowy blankets, and paraplegic burdens. The grief and inability to care for an invalid teen is understandable, and our step-mom considers sending him to a facility. However, the frazzled woman increasingly replacing her sick son with a younger therapy patient and the creepy temptations on holding the invalid under the bath water become hollow thanks to the obligatory it was just a dream jump cuts. Unnecessary technology and time wasting glances at watches and clocks are also intrusive – the camera focuses on dialing 911 with the finger poised over the send button and intercutting person to person like a traditional phone call flows much better than up close Skype screens. Weatherman warnings and news reports as the research montage lead to flashlights outside, icy footprints, and car alarms, but again the tension falls back on textbook raccoon scares with round and round scenes outside in the snow or inside on the phone doing little. Maybe one doesn’t think straight in the panic, but most of those frosty searches include shouting for a deaf mute boy who can’t hear you nor answer back. The psychology is also common fluff, i.e. teens have difficulty with divorce, you don’t say – Skyping Oliver Platt (Chicago Med) provides better therapy, so we know what’s going to happen to his character! Besides, all the shadows in the hallway, hidden wall panels, unexplained scratches, locked doors opening by themselves, and ghostly little hands in the bedroom yet the women still end up talking about a man. Fading in and out transitions mirror the sleeping pills and drinking, but such shifts break the world immersion before the storm even hits. When the doctor says her bloodwork indicates she’s being drugged, mom doesn’t even care – because the twist is for the audience not the main character. Lanterns, black out attacks, and video evidence right before the power failure could be good, but random people arrive despite blocked roads and the oedipal sociopath jealously provides a dumb chase finale as the stalker conveniently sing songs “Hush Little Baby” so we know where he is when he’s coming for you. Good thing that foreboding blizzard talked about the entire movie stops in time for the lakeside happy ending that apparently has no legal, medical, or parental consequences.
The Addams Family Season Two is More Spooky Good Fun
by Kristin Battestella
Gomez Addams (John Astin), his wife Morticia (Carolyn Jones), children Wednesday (Lisa Loring) and Pugsley (Ken Weatherwax), Grandmama (Blossom Rock), Uncle Fester (Jackie Coogan), and butler Lurch (Ted Cassidy) all return for another thirty episodes of the 1965-66 Season Two of The Addams Family – bringing along the ooky other side of the family with Aunt Ophelia and Granny Frump.
Year Two steps forward by going back to explain how Gomez was supposed to marry Morticia’s sister Ophelia in the wonderful “Morticia’s Romance: Part 1.” It’s their “lucky” thirteenth wedding anniversary and this flashback recounts everything from Morticia bringing Kitty Cat and Cleopatra to the house to her curing Gomez of his chronic bronchitis with her French. While their mothers discuss the dowry, Morticia digs graves for her beheaded Anne Boleyn doll, and each side consults Uncle Fester and Cousin Itt on the dilemma. It’s great to see The Addams Family give their hallmarks a fresh spin, and the shrewd decision to make this two parts allows more time for the lovable internal hijinks. By “Morticia’s Romance: Part 2” Ophelia suspects Gomez is reneging on marrying her despite signing over his elephant herd and Brazilian nut plantation for $50,000. Excellent puns, family quips, breaking the fourth wall, and even a moral on telling the truth instead of hiding behind cowardice gives everyone their moment, combining for some of the best in the series. Thing finds romance too in “Morticia Meets Royalty” when Princess Millicent aka Aunt Millie from Iowa arrives along with her handmaiden Lady Fingers – whose father used to be Millie’s footman. She’s right, Thing is left, they’re the perfect match! It’s totally silly watching shy hands open and close boxes but darn it’s entertaining as The Addamses go out of their way to make their penniless royal relative at home complete with tiaras, cavalier capes, feathered caps for the whole family, knee pants for Lurch that split, and of course, Fester the Jester. Odd episodes that only The Addams Family can do are the best, and when the family moonbathing is interrupted by a call from the photographer for a man of the year magazine in “Portrait of Gomez,” Fester decides to capture the essence of Gomez himself with an unstable powder pop camera. Is the perfect DMV photo what Gomez needs? If only he could pass his driving test without Thing to handle the gearshift!
While some may dislike the mistletoe intruding on the spooky in “Christmas with the Addams Family,” it’s neat to see how The Addamses spin the holiday when a nasty neighbor says there’s no Santa. They can’t remember all the reindeer names, but presents like “Holiday Macabre” poison perfume for Ophelia, a gloomy bare tree with broken ornaments, and all the family together breaking the fourth wall ironically sum up much of the series. From a Deck the Halls sing a long with Thing on the hand bell to Santa Fester stuck in the chimney, this family sticks together no matter what. While this episode also repeats many of The Addams Family staples – a child dilemma, each relative tries to solve it, hysterics ensue – Pugsley and Wednesday figure out the delightful Addams twist. After all, when Itt arrives as Santa, the jig is up. Of course, every silver lining has its cloud, and two weeks of blue skies and sunshine give everyone cabin fever in “Morticia and Gomez vs. Fester and Grandmama.” Arguing over spoiling the kids with dynamite explodes into alligator wrestling and crocodile tears, leaving Lurch stuck in the middle of the dividing lines – literally. Fortunately, “The Great Treasure Hunt” reminds Gomez and Morticia that there’s nothing more romantic than a dark, chill attic with a porch swing during a thunderstorm, and upon discovering Peg Leg Addams’ sea chest and sextant, well, “My, wasn’t he the naughty one!” Fester’s game for adventure if money and rum are involved as the treasure map suggests, but captain of the family Gomez goes “aft to shiver me timbers.” The pirate put-ons are a lot of fun, but The Addamses debate sending their children to private school in “Addams Cum Laude” when their old principal rebuffs bringing dynamite to recess. Gomez drop $10,000 to skip the waiting list but ultimately buys the school to run it properly – with Fester as Dean of Demolition alongside Advanced Head Shrinking, Theoretical Taxidermy, Itt as School Speech Therapist, and Thing ringing the school bell. Seeing the family take over such a formal setting is wild, because what parents would object to their child learning Do It Yourself Dentistry?
The Addams Family does however have its fair share of inconsistencies, with Gomez writing Romeo and Juliet knockoffs and loving their great last three days and happy ending before being upset that they died in another episode. Spotty doctors, psychoanalysis, and relatives are referred to when their plots repeat, and incest jokes between Ophelia and Fester join Indian giver, Chinamen, and gypped talk. Gomez plays Samurai, Morticia sings random Japanese words, and broken Spanish misunderstandings hamper “Morticia’s Dilemma.” Likewise, casual suicide talk with reminders to leave a note may be inappropriate for young audiences alongside the hookah and screwdriver puns. While “Halloween, Addams Style” has everything from Cousin Cackle, a séance to call Aunt Singe, and a horse in the living room to bobbing for apples while perilous on a giant see saw, porcupine taffy, and bite size salamander sandwiches cut with the guillotine – repeat gags and regular folks taking over equal too many disappointments. Why do The Addamses need to prove there are such things as witches when both Morticia and Grandmama have had tricks up their sleeves? “Morticia the Sculptress” placed back to back with “Morticia the Writer” is also too repetitive, and there’s no need to call Sam Picasso for a rerun of Grandmama’s inspiration from last season nor give the fainting neighbors a Trading Spaces disaster in “Morticia the Decorator.” “The Addams Policy” sees the living room bear Smokey go up in smoke – only to have another outside insurance scheme and the bear back in the next episode – and The Addams Family simply uses the same plots too many times. In some ways, it’s amazing the show lasted as long as it did with this one trick writing, and I doubt the series would have lasted another season in color if it continued resorting to the same old same old. The production probably thought the episodes would never be seen again, but binge viewing makes such short sighted flaws much more obvious.
Even in black and white, Carolyn Jones’ big blue eyes shine when she is dressed like a twenty-two year old Wednesday complete with a headless Marie Antoinette doll for the “Morticia’s Romance” flashback. As a bridesmaid, Morticia gives her sister a bouquet of thorns, and she’s still making paper dolls with two heads and three legs. She has several different black night gowns or black lace veils to match her black parasol and paints during thunderstorms – capturing lightning perfectly when it strikes her canvas. Morticia loves the Supreme Court and their black robes, for “Black is such a happy color,” and when Gomez first sees her with her hair down in her black wedding dress, she vows to never wear another so long as it keeps driving Gomez crazy. Morticia prefers fried eye of newt and barbecued turtle tips, and although she finds Poe exciting, she’s terrible on the bagpipes. The Addamses play crochet together in the living room and Morticia does Gomez’s dentistry drilling, and while it looks like they sleep in the same double bed, we never see them in it together at the same time. Morticia also uses her husband to play Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board but I don’t think that’s what he had in mind. Gomez is also put off with “Book now, bubele later” when Morticia seeks to rectify books that defamed giants, goblins, and witches in “Morticia the Writer.” She takes the typewriter to the cave while dreaming of best sellers, but Gomez’s fears of literary fame going to her head leave him sabotaging her demented work with daisies and meadows.
Speaking of daisies, Carolyn Jones does double duty on The Addams Family this season as her white wearing, blonde with daisies in her hair older sister Ophelia Frump. While the duel trickery is apparent today, Ophelia’s absent mindness countering Morticia’s crossed armed cool is great fun. I don’t know why they didn’t include Ophelia from the beginning, for she receives more attention in five episodes than the children do all season. Ophelia is super strong and roughs up Gomez with Judo, contrasting her delicate, aloof sprite appearance. She loves water fountains, dampness, quicksand, and the sink – Ophelia’s supposedly a great cook but breaks dishes when she washes them – and although she sings in harmony, she’s terrible on the fiddle and lyre. Those flowers grow directly on her head, but Ophelia hates nightshade and poison sumac. She claims to weed her hair from ten to eleven, however it’s also said that Ophelia loves “weeds.” After she takes over their swing, Gomez says he didn’t realize she was such a swinger, and Ophelia loves sliding up and down the fire pole while insisting that blondes really do have more fun. Her man needs to like a romp in the swamp or he is too maladjusted, but in “Ophelia Finds Romance” Morticia and Grandmama don’t like her beau’s button up style. Gomez thinks he’s so perfect he must be phony and checks up on him while trying to fix her up with Cousin Itt. Unfortunately, Ophelia is still having love troubles in “Ophelia Visits Morticia” when a different fiance runs off with the Peace Corps – one of six to get away from her that year. Ophelia was ready with wilted lilies for the wedding but is left riding a golf cart around the yard instead. By The Addams Family’s final episode “Ophelia’s Career,” she has traded her man troubles and potential old maid status for a career search. Will she use science for some new discovery or just conjure another man? The series repeatedly reuses her Judo flip action, but Gomez’s reactions are delightful shade – “Have you tried offering them money?”
Fortunately, John Astin’s Gomez loves doing death defying balancing acts or fencing with his wife, and it was Morticia who initially gave him the idea to crash his trains. He hangs upside down from the chandelier when he’s depressed, and in the flashback Gomez wears short pants and a top hat, remaining a weak sniveling coward versus the muscular Ophelia – whom he hates and hides in a cave to avoid. Aristotle the Octopus was his pet, and Gomez’s favorite person in history is Ivan the Terrible, a choice Morticia agrees was “sweet.” Gomez eats yummy cold yak, makes cocktails with henbane, carves pumpkins, and plays bad mitten inside when not composing terribly at the harpsichord. The father of two insists he gives the orders at home, but allows that nobody has to obey them. When sleepwalking in “Gomez the Cat Burglar,” Fester says Gomez coming back with mud on his shoes is better than lipstick on his color, and the physical gags lead to some witty sleep escapades. Will snake charming or psychic control soothe Gomez or is yak stew to blame for his love of loot? Gomez uses Wizzo the family super computer to make himself a better scoundrel for political office in “Gomez, the People’s Choice.” Although not a bad episode in itself, the notion of a lark candidate running dirty mudslinging politics and saying whatever he pleases to gain the every man vote is a satire too close to home these days. It’s not as funny a farce as it should be when Wizzo predicts impeachment, chaos, mismanagement, corruption, and bankruptcy. Luckily, Gomez has dozens of his one best suit and puts on his favorite “Deadwood No. 5” cologne – so what if he can’t drive. The poor boy is also still being put off by Morticia no matter how much her je ne sais quoi stirs him. They don’t kiss the entire season again, and Gomez is pushing for some action right up until the last episode of The Addams Family. He suggests they go to the playroom and play…hockey! (Where are the gifs of this?!) Ultimately, Gomez does wonder where he would be without Morticia’s hand on the tiller of the good ship Addams. Wink.
Fester is specifically stated as Morticia’s uncle this season – he’s the one who shot the arrow that brought her parents together! He breaks the fourth wall and goes back up the fire pole as a shortcut to his bedroom full of mad scientist experiments that Fester calls his “chemistry set.” He also thinks one handsome devil in the family – himself with blonde hair – is more than enough, and a midnight picnic in the swamp with moonbathing after is his favorite outing. Fester wears a mini hourglass watch, waxes his head, walks on hot coals, motorcycles through the house, and remains trigger happy as ever whether he’s relaxing on a bed of nails or steaming in an Egyptian sarcophagus. He takes a correspondence course in brain surgery, too, practicing with a hammer and chisel alongside several antics and witty one liners so zany they have to be told rather than seen. Fester likes to keep an open mind, so good thing you can see in one of his ears and out the other. When not being sneaky or underhanded, he’s really a lovable softy, even writing to the bearded lady in “Uncle Fester, Tycoon.” Fester replies to her autographed picture with a marriage proposal – leaving Morticia to don a bearded mama disguise to convince him otherwise. After all, he doesn’t even have a nickel for the postage! The unworthiness inspires him to take a business course instead, providing Jackie Coogan with some great speeches on mergers and success. Though similar to pen pal plots from last season, Fester also gets fit in “Fester Goes on a Diet” with some wacky television exercise programs, personal trainers, and one of those vibrating belts to match his flickering light bulb.
Dear Lurch has been serving The Addamses since Gomez was a boy, nursing him but wearing ear plugs when Gomez plays the harpsichord. Lurch dislikes duets with Ophelia and prefers going to the movies with Thing. Unfortunately, The Addams Family doesn’t give him a spotlight until nearer the end of the season. The family realizes that between milking the octopus, brushing the alligator, filling the pillows with cement, and filing the beds of nails there’s too much for him to do in “Lurch’s Little Helper.” Gomez, Fester, and Pugsley build a custom second butler straight out of Lost in Space, and initially Lurch likes being head butler and the robot calling him sir. He rings for Assistant Smiley to do any of his menial tasks – giving himself time to put his feet up or wear a top hat to take an afternoon constitutional. Soon, however, Lurch objects to the machine doing better work, fearing for his job even though The Addamses recognize Smiley doesn’t have that special morose Lurch touch. This is another pleasing little episode that keeps The Addams Family at home with everyone involved. Likewise, the second to last episode “Lurch’s Grand Romance” has Lurch crushing on Morticia’s visiting school friend Trivia – who’s no relation to any of the named dropped Addamses called Trivia and different from the similar Cousin Melancholia matchmaking from Season One. Lurch finds her flapper style and showbiz hopes beautiful, and though Trivia finds him and his infatuation cute, there’s no time for love on the path to stardom. Can Lurch change her mind? Ted Cassidy’s nervousness and stumbling stature contrast her speedy hyper pep, and from Fester’s dainty handkerchief dropping rehearsals to Wednesday teaching Lurch The Droop, the entire clan helps in the courting. I don’t know that Lurch is my favorite, but his spotlights are some of The Addams Family‘s best, and it would have been fun to see Lurch and Trivia as a regular on/off couple in their opposite escapades.
Blossom Rock’s Grandmama is called Esther by the Frumps, and the old gal pulls out her own tooth for a bubbling cauldron ingredient. Unfortunately, she’s hardly present this season with no dedicated half-hour – Grandmama is more often said to be in the cellar wrestling alligators for her own selfish pleasure when not shooting the yak for the yak stew or making salamander puffs too rich for Lurch. She hides in a suit of armor when Morticia is trying her hand at the bull whip but can call the hoodwink via her crystal ball when she sees it. Grandmama may go off vacationing on Devil’s Island, but she won’t have anyone in the house who calls the black curtains ghastly, as any such guest isn’t a true Addams. While the more zany family mentions like two headed Cousin Crimp are too ridiculous to have appeared, The Addams Family ups the familial mayhem with Margaret Hamilton (The Wizard of Oz) as Grandma Franny Frump, Grandmama’s old friend from Swamptown High. She dresses very Victorian rigid and old fashioned to match her clipped manner, but Morticia insists her mother is pretty on the inside despite her harsh exterior in “Happy Birthday, Grandma Frump.” She wants to give her a beauty makeover for her birthday, but Granny Frump thinks everyone else looks worse for the wear. Fortunately, she does approve of the children playing Chinese water torture, for its a nice, clean game. The Addams Family often wastes too much time on derivative tropes when this episode is the perfect example of how to have a delightful guest and keep it all quirky kin. Hamilton has some great moments with the kids, leading to birthday secrets revealed and mistaken surprises. Granny Frump suspects Gomez is planning to put her away rather than an all expenses paid trip to a beauty farm, and more wonderful scenes follow as she and Fester plot revenge. I wish we could have seen her more – or that this kind of zest was used for Grandmama Addams and a rivalry between them.
Lisa Loring and Ken Weatherwax both seem to have had bittersweet lives after The Addams Family, and Wednesday and Pugsley also take a backseat this season, alternating appearances or being silent together in group scenes. School plots that begin with them often turn into something else, and if Cousin Itt was to be featured more, maybe they should have written the children off as staying with odd relatives. However, they do look just adorable in little matching stocking cap pajamas, and their favorite bedtime story is Murders in the Rue Morgue. At different times, The Addamses try to cheer up both kids with toys, but the macabre children know how to say please and thank you and agree to give items away when they get extra for Christmas. Though initially in favor of their guillotine, the brief governess Thudd turns out to be not “their kind of people,” a fraud with apples and sugar plums in her bag. Wednesday is disappointed that history class never tells them how many heads were lost in the French Revolution and prefers a bowl of sea slug for desert. Her poem says “a spider is a girl’s best friend,” and the way she teaches square Lurch how to be a groovy swinger is hysterical. “Feud in the Addams Family” becomes more about snobby neighbors and those “One-D” Adamses objecting to Gomez, but there are some wonderful Wednesday scenes as everyone tells her how to woe the boys – with a dress from her mother, dancing lessons from dad, a gun from Fester, and hair tips from Grandmama. While Pugsley spends time with his chemistry set i.e. dynamite, his crush on his teacher in “Gomez the Reluctant Lover” is full of adult misunderstandings instead. Gomez and Morticia get Pugsley a jackhammer as a toy – but Gomez thinks its for body building, Morticia finds its marvelous, and it leaves them both shaking and stuttering with wild innuendo. Fortunately, Pugsley wants to work for his money in “Pugsley’s Allowance,” leaving the ten-year-old’s parents to think he’s fallen in with the wrong crowd when $200 a week (!!) apparently won’t do. Gomez offers to make his business Addams and Son, but he can’t explain to Pugsley what they would actually do.
Thankfully, the handy Thing has been Gomez’s friend since childhood and is always ready with a hanky. While others find it too peculiar, Morticia calls Thing a charming helper, and it gets lovesick without Lady Finger after the decrepit, stealing hand Esmeralda replaces her. It seems there are a lot of hand servants, who knew? Thing signs for packages and never misses a phone call, but the zebra burger eating strangler plant Cleopatra is seen less often. Homer the spider and Aristotle the octopus are briefly mentioned, but there’s less focus on goofy pets save for “Cat Addams,” when The Addamses suggests a mail order lion for the feeling down Kitty Cat before planning a safari to take him wife shopping. The Africa talk, spears, and faux village scenes are stereotypical, but the big cat stock footage makes good for an entire episode. Either it was genius to do such a feature late in the season or at that point, The Addams Family was totally bereft of ideas. Luckily, Cousin Itt sweeps up the slack when not setting his hair in curlers and sitting under the car hood to dry. He shrinks briefly when Fester leaves him in the dryer, and though he’s thicker than blood or water, Itt is free as a tumbleweed and looks like one, too. Itt wants the lead in Romeo and Juliet in the “My Fair Cousin Itt” season premiere, but he must work on his super fast speech for regular folk to understand him – resulting in some bemusingly deep vocals. Itt gets a Hollywood attitude, but a threat to cut his hair and casting calls to star as a hairy beast in a sci-fi flick fix that. His big shaggy dog sleeps on Itt’s little bed in “Cousin Itt’s Problem,” and all the adults cram into his tiny attic room with Fester’s bald cure when Itt starts losing his hair. Where exactly do you put the thermometer to take his temperature? Gomez wonders what he is under that hair, and Itt answers, “roots.”
Year Two’s credits are the same save for a new featuring card for Jackie Coogan, and that sliding poll in the living room makes use of speedy moves and reverse footage. The double trickery with Morticia and Ophelia onscreen together is easy to spot save for one split screen scene stealer, and this series makes the most of that repeat train action. The cave has an echo with an on/off switch, and whimsical incidental music accompanies an education record on the phonograph. There’s more furniture, too – great settees and a park bench with a lamp post where Itt sits by the fireplace. There’s also a trampoline indoors, which Lurch says “has its ups and downs” Ba dum tish! The Addams Family is available on DVD in volume sets or as a complete series as well as streaming options, however the 1977 reunion special Halloween with the New Addams Family is currently available on Hulu only. The regulars return for this seventy-four minute color TV special – a potential new series pilot – but the house is seventies Gothic cheap with red hotel velvet. Cleopatra is also bigger, however the plastic greenery is obvious, and remaining black and white would have helped this tremendously. Everyone has their moment with naughty puns, black umbrella gifts, and prayers for clouds alongside Lady Fingers, Ophelia, musician Wednesday, and witch doctor Pugsley. Unfortunately, the new Grandmama and Mother Frump are played too hammy over cauldrons and cleavers, and odd outdoor daylight, unnecessary family members, and crooks in drag waste too much time on outside messes when all we really want to see is that Addams zing in color. It’s even the same lion! From bodybuilders in tiny speedos to a weird sing a long and the Saturday Morning Special flat feeling, this forgettable novelty is for The Addams Family completist alone.
With sixty-four shows overall, The Addams Family has a lot of episodes for its short Two Seasons. The repeat plotting and standard sitcom same old can be tiring at times, however the winking subtext, quirky characters, and standout episodes remain a fun marathon for the whole macabre family any time of year. This clan embraces their ghastly charm, and we can too with The Addams Family.
Check out some vids of Mount Holly Writers Conference, November 18, 2017.
Panels with Terri Brisbin, Tina Gabrielle, Maria Imbalzano, and Myrtha Jasmin
discussing Paranormal Romance.
Check out some vids of Mount Holly Writers Conference, November 18, 2017.
This panel features Krista Magrowski, Brian McKinley, Gary Frank,
and K. Edwin Fritz discussing Trends in Horror and Thrillers