Thursday, March 1, 2012

Robert Bloch on TV Part Ten-Alfred Hitchcock Presents: "The Big KIck"

by Jack Seabrook

“The Big Kick” was Robert Bloch’s last script for the half-hour Alfred Hitchcock Presents series, and it was the next to last episode to be aired on NBC, premiering on June 19, 1962. One of my favorite moments from this episode, which features the beatnik crowd, comes when a character called Monk recites the following poem to his beat pals in a coffee house:

Diagnosis
You say your name is society and you think you’re sick?
Sit down, patient, and I’ll examine you!
Uh huh, just what I thought:
That complexion of yours--grey as a flophouse bed sheet.
Your breath--reeking of smog and sewer gas!
Headaches? What do you expect, with nothing but cash registers clanging inside your empty skull?
Of course your stomach hurts!
You’ve swallowed too many dreams, too many hopes, and turned them into one gigantic ulcer.
Look out—your hands are trembling—any minute now and you may drop a bomb!
I’ve got news for you, society—you’re not sick, you’re dead!
And I’m going to bury you and dance the twist on your grave!
(Punctuated by guitar strums and greeted with snaps of applause.)



Monk (Thomas Bellin) recites the poem "Diagnosis" to a crowd
of beatniks that includes Linda (Susanne Wasson)
When Robert Bloch decided to set a story in the early 1960s’ beatnik culture, the result was delightful.  “The Big Kick” first appeared as a story by Bloch in the July 1959 issue of Rogue, a men’s magazine that consistently featured good short fiction by top science fiction and mystery authors. The tale concerns Judy, a young woman with a beautiful body who wants nice things. She finds a reason for living in Mitch and his “casual brutality”—he teaches her the “whole beatnik bit,” but she couldn’t “make the intellectual bit.”

Mitch and Judy listen to poetry
In Mitch and Judy’s world, everything is about kicks; still, Judy worries about her future. Mitch points out Kenny at a party. Kenny is “the society type,” who likes to hang around with beatniks. Judy comes on to Kenny, who treats her like a queen; Mitch insists that she “be nice” to Kenny so that he will start giving her money. Kenny tells Judy that he knows that Mitch set him up with her. Kenny sees the beats as the latest in a series of rebels, following in the footsteps of the Lost Generation, the Communists, and the existentialists. Judy is offended and rebuffs Kenny, but Mitch tells her that Kenny will be back because he is a masochist.


Wayne Rogers as Kenny
Kenny does come back, but he does not react when Judy tells him that she and Mitch are going away together. Later, Kenny has a diamond bracelet delivered to Judy. She drives Mitch to the jewelry store to return it and collect the cash. From outside, Judy sees Mitch detained by the manager and she realizes that Kenny gave her a stolen bracelet and tricked Mitch.
Judy goes home alone and is soon joined by Kenny, who freely admits having set up Mitch. He lectures her on beatniks and she offers to “be nice” to him so that he will get Mitch out of jail. Kenny turns down her advances, confessing that he is not a masochist (as Mitch had described him) but a sadist. As the story ends, “he pulled out the knife and showed her the big kick.”



This is a great little story with an effective surprise ending. All along, the reader is led to believe that Kenny is an upstanding citizen and that the beatniks are society’s outcasts. It is a shock when it turns out that the real deviant is the seemingly strait-laced Kenny.
To adapt “The Big Kick” for television, Bloch retained the plot and fleshed out the story by adding some scenes and by increasing the examples of beatnik speech and activity. The show opens with Judy’s landlady coming downstairs to her apartment to complain about the loud jazz music that blares from inside. Mitch and Judy are broke and hungry and living in a hovel. They go to a beat gathering seeking food and witness a poetic performance (“Diagnosis,” above), followed by a feast on shoplifted food.
Near the end, Judy does not call Kenny a masochist, but rather a “weak fool” who is “afraid.” She may be suggesting that he is impotent, but he pulls a large knife and stabs her, remarking that he has “the biggest kick of all.”

One of the fun things Bloch does in this episode is to exaggerate the way the beatniks spoke. Mitch looks at a carton of milk and calls it “milksville.” He tells the landlady: “It’ll be quiet as Mouseville.” Mitch and Judy eat “breadsville” and “meatsville,” and the university where Kenny works is referred to as “Thinksville.” Mitch tells Kenny, “we have our own study course, majoring in kicks.” Kenny is the voice of the establishment, telling Judy that “blowing an instrument off key or splashing blobs of paint on a canvas—that doesn’t justify freeloading as a way of life.” Kenny’s conservative attitude and appearance are more pronounced in the television version than in the story, making the final twist more shocking; Kenny seems so conservative, almost standing in for the viewer of the program, yet Mitch’s assessment of him as a “real sicknick” turns out to be uncannily accurate.
Mitch is played by Brian Hutton, born in 1935. He played small roles, mostly on TV, from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s. His career took a turn when his friend Douglas Heyes (known to fans of Thriller and The Twilight Zone as an inventive writer/director) helped him get started as a director on TV; he eventually directed feature films such as Where Eagles Dare (1968) and Kelly’s Heroes (1970), both starring Clint Eastwood.
Returning to the Hitchcock/Bloch family was Anne Helm, who was so lovely and haunting in “The Changing Heart.” Here, she is blowzy and tousled, with heavy eyeliner, false eyelashes and teased hair. She looks like a poor, hungry slob, even when she tries to clean herself up for dinner with Kenny. Read more about Anne Helm here.

Kenny is played by Wayne Rogers, who fits the part perfectly. Rogers would later find fame and fortune as Trapper John on the TV series M*A*S*H from 1972-1975. Today he is a successful businessman and a contributor to FOX TV news.
“The Big Kick” was directed by Alan Crosland, Jr., who had also directed Bloch’s adaptation of “The Gloating Place.” As in the prior program, the direction is serviceable, with a couple of nice camera setups: one, looking through a skylight into the coffeehouse, and another, looking through the jewelry store window to see Judy sitting in her car.

The story has been reprinted in such collections as Blood Runs Cold (1961), Such Stuff as Screams Are Made Of (1979), and Bitter Ends (1990). The TV show has not yet been released on DVD but can be seen on YouTube here. I strongly recommend that you put on your beret, grab a cup of coffee, and tune in to “The Big Kick”! You’ll dig it the most!
Sources:


Sources:

AllMovie. Web. 28 Feb. 2012. <http://www.allmovie.com/>.
"The Big Kick." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. NBC. 19 June 1962. Television.
Bloch, Robert. "The Big Kick." 1959. Bitter Ends. New York: Carol, 1990. 285-92. Print.
Galactic Central. Web. 29 Feb. 2012. <http://philsp.com/>.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb. Web. 28 Feb. 2012. <http://www.imdb.com/>.
Wikipedia. Web. 28 Feb. 2012. <http://www.wikipedia.org/>. 


5 comments:

Peter Enfantino said...

I would say your assessment of this happenin' shindig is the most!

Matthew Bradley said...

Can't remember if I've ever seen this one, but I'll have to make a point of doing so now, if only to see the director of two of my favorite films in an acting gig!

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks guys! I've seen an awful lot of Clint Eastwood movies, but never those two!

Todd Mason said...

I'd almost say, too free with the ending, but otherwise of a piece with the rest of your fine tracing of the Bloch scripts through this period...I've only recently read the uncut version of the Douglas Winter Bloch interview, where he mentions the scale-pay he and the other writers for Ziv syndicated series were getting (but it was his entryway, thanks to the encouragement of Samuel Peeples).

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Todd! My last line was an in-joke--in the story, Mitch tells Judy that "I dig you the most." Is that interview available online? I'd like to read it.