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

Annex - Gish, Lillian_07
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.”
CapturFiles_54 my fence belongs on my property line thats where i put it and thats where itll stay
“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.”

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