Alfred Hitchcock Hour- Body in the Barn: “To bring to the light of day the two lies that together make a truth. “

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As part of the THE GISH SISTERS BLOGATHON hosted by Movies Silently & The Motion Pictures

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Photo of Lillian Gish courtesy of Doctor Macro

Although Lillian Gish set the standard for excellence when she first started out in silent film having been discovered by D W Griffith in 1912, I’ll always love her as the resolute Rachel Cooper in Charles Laughton’s masterpiece Night of the Hunter 1955

Not to mention her memorable performances as Mother Mary of Mercy in Portrait of Jennie 1948 and Laura Belle McCanles in Duel in the Sun 1946, & Victoria Inch in The Cobweb 1955. I’d love to see the 1969 television version where she plays Martha Brewster in Arsenic and Old Lace where she co-stars with Helen Hayes.

In Body in the Barn, Lillian Gish brings her manifest greatness to bare as Bessie Carnby a strong willed old lady who refuses to be coddled toward death, is a centerpiece of the community and loves the Apple Jack she hides under her pillow. When she butts heads with new neighbor Samantha Wilkins the sparks fly and Gish gives one hell of a performance!

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The Alfred Hitchcock Hour

Body in the Barn (3 Jul. 1964)

Season 2, Episode 32

Hitchcock Theme

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Directed by Joseph Newman with a teleplay by Harold Swanton from a story by Margaret Manners.

Wonderful set direction by Julia Heron and John McCarthy Jr and cinematography by William Margulies.

Lillian Gish plays Bessie Carnby an intractable grand old lady who refuses to hold her tongue when the pretentious Samantha Wilkins (Patricia Cutts) and her ‘saggy kneed’ husband Henry (Peter Lind Hayes) move to the county and put up a fence.

Maggie McNamara is Bessie’s niece Camilla Peter, Kent Smith (Cat People) as Dr Adamson, Josie Lloyd (Lydia Crosswaithe The Andy Griffith Show and daughter to Norman Lloyd) as The Wilkins’ housekeeper Nora, James Maloney as Ed the storekeeper Doodles Weaver as Gregg, Bruce Andersen as Huckaby Richard Niles as the Deputy and Kelly Thordsen as Sheriff Pate O. Turnbull.

What makes this simple genteel mystery story set in a bucolic quaint American town work so well is Lillian Gish’s fortitude that brings a stunning exactness to her performance as a stubborn and proudful woman who’s fierce independence won’t let the truth be denied it’s due.

In the opening prologue Hitch as one of his various props is dressed up like a scarecrow. It was suggested that since he’s been frightening people for years ‘why not birds’.

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It’s one of his funniest little introductions as he tells us about the evenings story all Tuxedoed, stuffed with straw…and typically cheeky.

He had a number of visitors “One little girl and a tin woodsman who are quite bothersome. They seem to be under the absurd impression that I’m going to be Up the road dancing with them…”

The story as Hitch suggests is one which inhabits a ‘Bucolic Mood.’ A pleasant little tale of homicide, lust, deceit revenge and greed. A story that works its way backwards in order to bring us up to the present day, using the lead character Bessie Carnby’s narration to tell us how things came to be the way they are. The episode has a bit the voyeurism of Rear Window 1954 in it.

Lillian Gish brings to life Bessie Carnby, a staunchly proud woman, fearless and pragmatic. She’s an irascible old gal who’s been fending off death for years, can stand on her own two feet and doesn’t like the idea that Samantha Wilkins, a harpy who owns a prosperous farm in the county has put up a fence along the community path.

Samantha’s veins are filled with ice as she bosses her husband Henry around and doesn’t care about being a good neighbor. After Effram Judge, Bessie’s handyman falls off the cliff into the white water rapids below though the body is never found, the vitriol and venom flows between these two women who have no need to parse words.Bessie blames The Wilkins fence for Effram’s accident. Samantha Wilkins shows no sympathy or concern for the poor man’s death or what the community thinks about her fence. It’s on her property and that’s that.

Bessie lives with her niece Camilla and is seen after by Doc Sam Adamson. The unassuming Henry Wilkins befriends Bessie and Camilla and gets himself invited to dinner. But when he doesn’t show up, Bessie becomes suspicious that the virulent Samantha might have killed her husband and buried him in the barn.

Bessie has been listening to Camilla who shares Henry’s private confidences that his wife once attempted to murder him and he fears she will try again. After months with no letters or postcards or calls Samantha refuses to tell anyone where her husband might be, Bessie and Camilla are convinced that something foul is afoot after Bessie spys on Samantha with binoculars watching the woman go back and forth to the barn with flashlight and shovel.

Gossip and nosiness go with any small community, but once Bessie sneaks into the barn to snoop around she discovers a grave and now Sheriff Turnbull and the town discover a quick-lime cadaver clutching one of Samantha’s buttons and wearing Henry’s wedding band. The body is thus identified as that of Henry Wilkins.

All eyes are on Samantha now as she is the number one suspect in her husbands murder.

I don’t want to give away the ending to the story so I’ll leave you in the barn with the quick-lime stiff.

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Doodles Weaver as Gregg
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the clerk catalogs the milk glass vase which secretly holds Bessie’s note inside

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Body in the Barn opens with moving men unloading the Carnby’s farmhouse antiques into a large truck. Bernard Herrman’s musical imprint pokes through the bucolic mood with clarinets and strings paying homage to nature and the simple life.

A dealer Mr. Huckaby (Bruce Andersen) is walking around appraising and cataloging all the contents of the house. The sundry knickknackery and antiques like milk glass, etc. Huckaby’s clerk (Charles Kuenstle) drops a milk glass vase as he fumbles with his clip board.

When Huckaby inquires what it was, he assures the clerk that it was only a replica and to forget it. But the camera pans downward to show shreds of packing paper amidst the shattered shards of milk glass on the floor, and one rolled up hand written note sitting in the middle of the confetti debris.

Composer Herrmann’s wondrous musical swirls assist the lens in closing in on the note that was hidden within the small vase. Thus begins the voice over… as Bessie narrates the evening’s story.

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The voice over begins-“By the time this is found, it’ll be all over. Justice would have had it’s day. The scales will be in balance again…

“By the time this is found, it’ll be all over. Justice would have had it’s day. The scales will be in balance again. {the scene begins to cross fade}
It will be all over with me too. I’m ill and tired and I’ve been dying so long I’m bored with it… I’d lived in the county a long time. This is my home. These are my people. Now they’ve turned against me. But still I owe them something. I owe it to them to set history straight. To bring to the light of day the two lies that together make a truth.”

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We are dropped into a landscape of vast open field. Lillian Gish  as Bessie Carnby and our narrator is running frenzied in a nightgown and robe as if carried by the wind.

Aunt Bessie runs feverishly to the seaside cliff. She is met by her niece Camilla. “Aunt Bessie you turn right around and go on back home.” Bessie says, “Not on your life” Bessie asks her niece, ‘Who was it? Who fell off that cliff last night? “ There is nothing you can do about it right now go on back to the house” ” Was it Effram?” She looks at her aunt direly. Bessie begs her “Tell me, tell me” “They think so… they haven’t found him yet.”

Bessie takes in a deep breath.

Camilla runs after her fiery Aunt. The sheriff asks the Wilkins, “What time did you hear him yell?”

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“A little past 8 I’d say” Henry answers,  “Before 8” he looks at her. “Samantha I was in the barn by 8” She insists in her rigid tone, “He yelled before that” Henry replies, “I could have sworn” “About 10 to, I was in the kitchen and I heard it from the opened window”

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Bessie, out of breath comes running up the hill and asks the sheriff, if they’ve found the body. He points to the raging waters below and tells her that if he fell into that, he probably won’t be found by this side of Tightwater.

Sheriff Turnbull says, “He had no business walking this path, dark coming on with his eyes as bad as they were Bessie.” She defends such a notion, “He wasn’t used to this path!”

Samantha Wilkins snaps, “He could have taken the road.” “A mile and a half out of his way” Bessie croaks out a passionate condemnation at the cold hearted woman.

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The sheriff asks “Is this a piece of his MacInall?”

“He was wearing it when he left” Bessie begins to cry.

Sheriff Turnbull figures, “Well he probably got it caught in the fence here and tried to get it loose and  got careless with his footing.”

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“He wasn’t used to that fence… none of us are” Bessie spins around and glares at Samantha Wilkins who says. “I’m sorry about that”
Bessie exclaims , “It’s a great comfort to us all Mrs Wilkins… A great comfort to us all… He has a nephew in Rhode Island and he’ll feel a sight better when I tell him that the woman who put up the fence that killed Effram Judge is sorry.”
Samantha Wilkins’ caustic tongue doesn’t hesitate, “If it was my hired man I would have driven him home.”
Bessie meets Samantha’s barbs head on, “Or if you were me you would have stayed in bed like the doctor ordered.”
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“My fence belongs on my property line that’s where i put it and that’s where it’ll stay”

“My fence belongs on my property line. That’s where I put it and that’s where it’ll stay… If it fenced off a short cuts that’s too bad it’s legal and proper… make of it what you will but don’t try to put the death of Ef Judge on my conscience.” –Samantha Wilkins

The banter between Lillian Gish and Patricia Cutts is a wonderful piece of dramatic interplay.

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” I don’t have to put it there Mrs Wilkins , that path’s been a public thoroughfare for over a century YOU had no right.”

Lillian Gish’s performance here is spectacular as she modulates her voice from an inner strength that springs forth from a life long wisdom to a tone of righteous indignation.

The two woman frame a powerful exposition of the old vs the modern vs the sacred traditionalism of small town ethics and suggests to us a commentary on class struggle. The modern world has intruded on the old quaint ways of a simpler time. With the wealthy and almost demonic Samantha, entitled and encroaching on the quaint ways of an old fashioned woman and the world she used to inherit. Causing one man’s death and alienating an entire community. Before the Wilkins came and put up the fence, life was simple. Bessie spells it out in her tirade perfectly.

Samantha starts to attack Bessie, “Since when…” but her husband Henry breaks in as if to plead with his wife to show some compassion, “Samantha…”

Sheriff Turnbull finally breaks up the quarrel, “Now there’s no point hashing this thing over now.”

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Samantha Wilkins voices raises up an octave, “I’m not gonna stand here and hear that old biddy blame me…”
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Bessie objects “Biddy!” Samantha adds “Yes and a snooper and a gossip and a community nuisance.” Bessie tries to argue, “You listen to me” Samantha overpowers her, “No wonder I put up that fence it’s the only protection I got with a neighbor like you.”
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“I’ve been a good neighbor all my life. I’m a respected member of this community. I was a friend of the McKelvys long before you bought High Hollow. You and that saggy kneed excuse for a husband.” Samantha shouts, “Shut your mouth.”
“We got along before you. There was this give and take between us. None of this building of fences. We got along. But you (she points her finger at Samantha Wilkins) You’ll get your comeuppance you. You’ll see you’ll get your comeupp…”

Suddenly Bessie appears to have an attack. She collapses and Sheriff Turnbull catchers her.

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Henry Wilkins picks her up and tells her he’s taking her home. She’s gasping for air and out of breath but she tells him to put her down. Camilla calls out “Aunt Bessie…” In a rasping voice she tells him “I’ll get there on my own two legs.”

The sheriff tells Bessie that if the doc knew what she was up to he’d have her hide.

Henry begins to carry her. She continues to argue with the exhausted breath she’s got left.

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Samantha comments to Sheriff Turnbull “I guess I”m to blame for that too.” He answers her, “I wouldn’t be at all surprised.”

Continue reading “Alfred Hitchcock Hour- Body in the Barn: “To bring to the light of day the two lies that together make a truth. “”

Pigeons From Hell [Essay on Boris Karloff’s Thriller] “Is anybody home?”

Pigeons From Hell~aired June 6 1961

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Adapted for the screen by John Kneubuhl (The Screaming Skull ’58, Two on a Guillotine ’65 both have a similar eerie Gothic sensibility) and directed by John Newland. (One Step Beyond 60s tv series, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark ’73) Pigeons From Hell was another story taken out of Weird Tales Magazine from a story by Robert E. Howard (Author of Conan the Barbarian), in 1938, which he based on old legends that his grandmother had told him in West Texas.This also seems to coincide with similar themes of Voodoo by Zora Neale Hurston  Author Folklorist/Anthropologist during the time of the Harlem Renaissance who wrote the non-fiction exploration of Haitian/Caribbean rituals in Tell My Horse in 1937, just a year earlier.

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Starring Brandon De Wilde as Timothy Branner, Crahan Denton as Sheriff Buckner, Ken Renard as Jacob Blount, David Whorf and Johnny Branner, and Ottola Nesmith as Eula Lee Blassenville.

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With original music by Jerry Goldsmith and Mort Stevens which is perfectly haunting for this Southern Gothic tale. And fabulous art direction by George Patrick and set design by Julia Heron who also worked on The Incredible Doktor Markesan (Spartacus ’60) and John McCarthy Jr. The Blassenville house is a place of fear and desolation. The camera frames the characters within the tired structure itself, cobweb laced door frames, dark staircases that hold their ascent and black box rooms with scattered dusty relics.

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The story takes place one fateful night when two New York brothers Johnny and Tim Branner, driving over a rickety wooden bridge (shot in obvious day for night), suddenly hit a muddy ditch and begin spinning their tires to no avail. Now they remain stranded under a wonderfully bewitching weeping willow, a classic prop for a southern Gothic tale,in the swamp lands of the Louisiana countryside.

The opening scene is embellished with the willow’s mossy tendrils, swaying,drifting, blowing as if by an unseen lazy wind. And so it begins.

The boys get out of the car and Tim played by the very wholesome looking Brandon De Wilde says  “Welcome to the fabled south, land of Crinoline, Magnolias, lovely ladies and swamps”

Johnny defends himself for having been chided about his short cut, “Okay okay so it’s not the new york thru way you’ve got to admit that this is the way it truly is”

While Johnny goes off to find a pole that they can use to dislodge the tire from the mud that’s when a strange wailing starts, like that of a distressed alley cat in heat.

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Johnny wanders off starting to reach deeper into the context of the landscape. As he pushes aside the dangling mossy vines, he stumbles upon dozens of pigeons begin cooing madly. He discovers the desolate antebellum plantation, The Blassenville Mansion dying from decay. The place seems plagued  by these mysterious, demonic pigeons. There is an eerie cackling, unearthly wails and the pervasively hellish fluttering of their wings. They begin to converge on Johnny, coming right at his face, like a scene out of Hitchcock’s adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s The Birds  which wasn’t released until two years later in 1963.

Once Tim catches up after hearing his brother’s bloodcurdling screams, Johnny tells him that the pigeons seemed like they were trying to kill him! “That ‘s just it it was like they were attacking me”

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The two young men decide they’re tired and should take refuge in the old house for the night.

Like many great southern Gothic tales, this one is surrounded by the presence of something lurking behind the silent deteriorating walls. The wonderful B&W and shadows of pale and steely gray cinematography by Lionel Lindon  ( Alfred Hitchcock Presents ’55, The Manchurian Candidate ’62, Dead Heat on a Merry- Go- Round ’66)

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Time has stood still. There’s a sense that the house is diseased with a family secret, much like one of my other favorite episodes Parasite Mansion. The setting bares the remnants of a Robert Aldrich film like Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte ’62. We break for Boris’ prologue.

By an old gnarled tree Boris Karloff steps out to greet us. A cautionary deep string flourish leads the way, as he looks around, standing in a swirl of mist.

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“The swamp is alive, crawling with creatures of death. Creatures that lurk, camouflaged in the under growth waiting patiently for an unsuspecting victim. And our young friend was alarmed by a flock of pigeons. Harmless you say…Well you’ll see that he has good cause for alarm. For those were no ordinary pigeons. They were the pigeons from hell. That is both the title and the substance of our story. Why… spirits come back from the dead to guard their ancestral home against intruders. Spirit that in life fed on evil and now in death return to feed upon the living. Return each night driven relentlessly by the spell of a terrible curse”
“Join us now as night is falling in the old house where evil dwells two brave young brothers dare to intrude”

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Once Johnny and Tim are inside the house,we see a large winding staircase that hints at a time when this might have been an opulent showplace.I was struck by a frame which shows the disconnection with life outside the old house with it’s splendid chandelier which looms prominently over the two boy’s heads as they enter the empty dusty gray of beginning of the house.

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Tim calls out as they start to climb the stairs, “Is anybody home?” There’s a quick cut to a darkened room filled with cobwebs and the outline of an old seamstress dummy. To the left of screen we see a door as it subtly closes ever so slightly. It’s an eerie touch, that lends to the menacing atmosphere of the decrepit house.

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There is no furniture downstairs yet a strange portrait of a woman who seems to be reigning over the emptiness, the place is a musty, decaying hollow shell of another era like the exoskeleton of a giant decomposing beetle. Preparing to take refuge over night on the lower floor they set out their sleeping bags, but Johnny still seems like he’s in a state of shock.He begins to walk around and finds a cobweb covered painting of a woman whom he senses holds the secret to what is haunting the place. From the beginning Johnny does seem to have an uncanny second sight which is causing him great distress. Staring at the painting, a poignant violin melody begins it’s undercurrent, it is the theme of this mysterious woman. Dissolve, into the spooky, dreamy gray facade of the mansion. Columns, the rhythmically otherworldly drone of these sentinel pigeons guarding their ancient Gothic citadel. Winged gatekeepers to a graveyard.

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Tim is awakened in the middle of the night and discovers that his brother Johnny is not there. We hear a sweet, distant vocalise like the siren Lorelei of Greek mythology who lured the sailors onto the rocks. Johnny has been aroused by this haunting lullaby lilting in the air, and seems to be drawn upward as if in a somnambulist’s trance. Moving by some unseen provocation, the voice leads him up the staircase.

We are sharing his enchantment. We follow him. Now we hear the pigeons in a fury. Louder like a heart pumping blood, pulling us up the stairs with Johnny. Once Tim starts to stir he discovers that his brother is not in his sleeping bag next to him.

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wonderful silhouette of Johnny lurking in the shadow regions of the Blassenville house under it’s spell… holding a hatchet

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Tim proceeds to look for his missing brother. The vocalise is more audible to him now, as Johnny ascends the stairs there is a crescendo of fluttering, wings, a female voice. Tim about to reach the top of the stairs is startled by his brothers screams. Johnny emerges from the shadows, blood flowing down his face. He is holding a bloody hatchet. He moves towards Tim and strikes with the hatchet but misses and sinks it into the wall behind his brother. Tim runs down the stairs, calling his brother’s name. “John, John!” He runs out of the house fleeing in terror into the dark night through the mossy guilded trees.

He stumbles into the swamp after hitting his head on a rock. Johnny still sleepwalking or is he the walking dead, holding the hatchet, collapses as he buries the weapon in the sleeping bag where Tim’s head would have been.

Johnny walks down the staircase still in a trance, holding the hatchet up as if ready to strike.

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This is where county Sheriff Buckner (Crahan Denton) enters the story. He is attending to the gash on Tim’s head. Sheriff Buckner tells him that a local, Howard had found him while coon hunting and found him out cold in the woods, bringing him to this nearby cabin. Tim wakes screaming “Johnny, Johnny… Where am I?” He begins telling Sheriff Buckner that Johnny’s head was smashed but he was still walking with a hatchet in his hand. “He was walking down the stairs to me, his head was split, he was dead, I know he was dead.” Buckner realizes that the only place he could be talking about is the old Blassenville Plantation.

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In order to clear his name and to recover his brother’s body, Tim agrees to go back to the house with Sheriff Buckner. Buckner seems not to believe the boy, and is pretty sure that he’s either crazy or murdered his own brother. Back at the Blassenville house, Tim tells Buckner, “He came down those stairs” the sheriff holds his lantern and shines light on a blood stain. Tim says, “Look there’s my brother’s blood” Buckner gripes, ” Yeah yeah yeah I see”

They go into the room where Johnny is lying dead on the floor-“He tried to kill me, he tried to kill me” The somber violin and the use of shadow underpin the tension. Buckner doesn’t believe Tim yet.

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Why do you suppose he went upstairs” Tim says “I don’t know but from the moment we saw this house it was as though he were listening all the time. just listening… and then those pigeons started, they’re not there now, but I saw them!” Tim struggles, to press the truth but Buckner tells him that it’s the judge and jury that he has to convince. Sheriff Buckner wants to go upstairs and investigate but Tim doesn’t want to be left alone, so he follows him. The lantern shines light on the bloody trail leading up the stairs.

They find Johnny’s body face down on the sleeping bag still holding the hatchet which is placed on the spot where Tim was sleeping. He’s dead.

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An unseen and eerie breeze seems to dim their lantern

An effectively creepy moment happens while they are searching the upstairs, the lantern goes out. Buckner tells Tim there’s plenty of kerosene and the wick is fine, and there standing right on the spot where Johnny had been struck by the hatchet. Buckner gets spooked and tells Tim they’re getting out of that room and going back downstairs. Once at the bottom of the stairs and the lantern lights up again-

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Buckner says, “What ever it is up there, I aint gonna tackle it in the dark”

The sheriff decides that he believes Tim’s story and that the only way he’s going to get anyone to believe it is to find out what’s in the house. They put Johnny’s body in the station wagon and go back into the house and “wait for something to happen”

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Tim sees the portrait and asks “Who is she?” “I’m not sure, one of the Blassenville sisters I think. Miss Elizabeth, she’s the last one who lived here. She lived here for years after her sisters were gone… Townsfolk wondered how long they were going to hold onto this house,falling into ruin, plantation gone all to weeds, then when they disappeared no one was surprised… Sisters growing old in a place like this, no one to take care of them, cause they had a mean streak in them. All the plantation workers ran away. With the exception of Jacob Blount, who’s very old and half out of his mind. They beat him… the sisters, but he stayed on. And there was a young servant girl, Eula Lee…they beat her too. Finally she ran away.”

Tim wonders if what ever is in the house chased the sisters out as well. Buckner tells him that the last Blassenville sister left the house over fifty years ago.

Back upstairs they find a piano, dust all over everything… tons of it but nothing on the keys. It’s as though somebody’s been playing it. Then they find a diary with what looks like Elizabeth’s name on it. The sad violin melody, the Blassenville theme begins to sway again. Tragically drawn out notes. Tim tries to read the fine writing. “I can sense someone prowling about the house at night, after the sun has set, and the pines outside are black.Often at night I hear a fumbling at the door, I dare not open it. Oh merciful heaven, What shall I do”

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The sheriff responds. “The thing was after her too!” Tim continues reading from the diary “All the help have run away, my sisters…gone, I am here alone. If someone murdered my poor sisters.(pause) Then, Eula Lee named Jacob Blount and Eula Lee would not speak plainly, perhaps she feared I shall die as hideously as they.” Then Buckner says “We’ll see Jacob Blount” Jacob Blount is portrayed by the wonderful Ken Renard.

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They arrive at Jacobs shack. He’s an old raggedy man lying in his cot.Buckner starts shaking Jacob and says “I’ve got some questions I wanna ask you, Come on boy get up. (I was very offended at this gesture, Jacob was a very old southern black man and the use of the term ” boy” was a very racist remark. I don’t believe he would have referred to an old white male this way) He proceeds to tell him that tonight a boy was killed over at the old Blassenville Place. Jacob looks terrified.

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In an accent assumed to be of Caribbean origin Jacob tells them “Nobody dare (there) now, all dem (them) dead, but de come back at night, all dem pigeons” Buckner interrogates him, and tells Jacob that Miss Elizabeth thought he knew who murdered the sisters, and she might still be in the house, after 50 long years. Eula Lee would have reason. Elizabeth was afraid her sisters had been murdered Eula Lee would have reason… they beat her. “Why did they beat an innocent servant girl?”

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“Eula Lee was no servant… She was a lady of quality. A Blassenville like them… Eula Lee was their half sister. They had the same mother, but different fathers” Sheriff Buckner reasons, “That would explain part of it, the sisters rage at Eula Lee. Elizabeth’s terror of her. That plantation that house she could live there alone for years… It is Eula Lee in that house”

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Jacob tells them, “Life is sweet to an old man” meaning that someone would harm him if he continued to talk about it. But he says “No Human… No Human. De big serpent will send a little brudda (brother) to kill me if I told. I promised when de make me maker of Zuvembies (Voodoo superstition. They’re women who are not human anymore)So she knew I was maker of Zuvembies, so she come and stand right dare in my hut, and beg for de holy drink. They live forever, time mean nuting, an hour, a day, a year, all de same. She can command de dead, de birds, de snakes, de fowls, and only a led bullet can kill her”

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Then begins the sound of the unholy fluttering of wings outside the hut. “Listen, no more no more, If I tell, she will come” As Jacob starts to stoke the firep with a stick he begins to scream wildly. He’s been bitten by a snake. A little brother has visited him, and he is now dead.

Buckner and Tim go back to the plantation where they find pigeons sitting on the sheriff’s wagon where Johnny’s dead body is laid out. Interesting touch which would later be profoundly, iconically amplified in The Birds in ’63

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Tim wakes up and finds Sheriff Buckner missing. The climax of Pigeons From Hell leads us once again to the sweetly haunting, mesmerizing musical motif that is the Blassenville theme. The eerie woman’s vocalise now summoning Tim up the stairs. We see, in a slow shot, an old decaying hand not quite in focus yet, reaching around the corner in tattered rags. Until it is framed in necrotic splendor.

Tim keeps ascending up the stairs in a hypnotic state. The Lullaby, the southern Gothic call of Eula Lee, and we now see the old crones desiccated face.The pigeons begin their demonic cooing.

There is some wonderful use of shadow, reminiscent of a good classic suspense thriller as we see Tim’s shadow cast in silhouette on the rotting drapery then moving further deeper into the house’s darkness.

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She’s waiting, she opens the door all the way, holding a meat cleaver. A horrifying vision that still holds it’s shock value watching it nearly thirty times I figure. There’s something quite gripping about a lost soul living in desolation who comes erupting out of darkness, commands even the smallest living creatures, and wielding a very sharp instrument of pain and death.

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One of my favorite images from the episode. Eula Lee is a presence of grand Gothic dread and frightening spirit

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Just as she’s about to hack into Tim, Sheriff Buckner shoots at her and she falls away. Once Tim comes out of his trance, he follows Buckner behind a secret passageway and they stumble onto an incredibly macabre and horrific discovery. With a small candle lit, they find three skeletons, embellished in lace and pearls, “Our three sisters, all murdered, the way your brother was, the way you were supposed to be” Then they turn and see something stage right. Walking slowly. The sweet sorrowful melody begins to play on the violin, the resolve to the nightmarish years at the plantation.

Eula Lee is slumped in a chair, Buckner mutters,“Eula Lee, Eula Lee” Buckner holds the candle to her face-It is an eerie yet poignant moment.

Is she dead? Her eyes stare off -we hear the sweet vocalise once again as it leads us out of the episode. The last thing we see is a close up of her ancient face.

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Fade to black.

I haven’t read Howard’s original publication of the story, so I am not sure where he is coming from in terms of message. There are definite racial themes in this adapted script. But from reading an excerpt from Howard’s story I think that the racial overtones are more severe there. I hesitate to use the word “miscegenation ” because it is problematic in the fact that people find this term offensive. Usually scholars use this when discussing the historical relevance of interracial relationships. The taboo of the mixing of ethnic blood lines. Coming from a time when the process of racial interaction was taking place because of the European Colonization of The Americas and the Atlantic Slave Trade. The idea that the Blassenville sisters raged against Eula Lee for being the product of a biracial relationship.

Having the same mother, but not sharing a white father, was a bold underpinning motive for the turbulence and hatred that inflicted the curse upon the family. And the story does “Otherize” Eula Lee.

The fact that she seeks retribution through such “non-Christian” methods, the implication that she’s a savage. Read the little tidbit from Howard’s story below; The references to Eula Lee being a beast only reinforces my sense that she was considered “Other” With words like beast and bestial nature. Of course the story was couched in very supernatural terms but the thread of racism seems so pervasive in this story.

Here’s an excerpt from the original story that didn’t make it into the Thriller script: The name Griswell had been the original last name for Tim and Johnny.

Sheriff Buckner:

“They say the pigeons are the souls of the Blassenvilles, let out of hell at sunset. The Negroes say the red glare in the west is the light from hell, because then the gates of hell are open, and the Blassenvilles fly out.

Was that thing a woman once?” whispered Griswell(Tim). “God, look at that face, even in death. Look at those claw-like hands, with black talons like those of a beast. Yes, it was human, though — even the rags of an old ballroom gown. Why should a mulatto maid wear such a dress, I wonder?” “This has been her lair for over forty years,” muttered Buckner, brooding over the grinning grisly thing sprawling in the corner. “This clears you, Griswell (TIm) — a crazy woman with a hatchet — that’s all the authorities need to know. God, what a revenge! — what a foul revenge! Yet what a bestial nature she must have had, in the beginnin’, to delve into voodoo as she must have done——” (“Pigeons From Hell” by Robert E. Howard)

MonsterGirl