Monday, May 8, 2017

Final Performance (1965)

Franchot starred in Final Performance, episode 14 of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour's third season, in 1965. The episode aired on January 18th and costarred Sharon Farrell and Roger Perry. Although the show doesn't get as much airtime as Franchot's Twilight Zone and Hitchcock Presents episodes, you may still be lucky enough to catch this one on television. (For example, I know that the American broadcast station Me-TV airs Alfred Hitchcock Hour weeknights at 1 a.m. at the moment.)

Cliff (Roger Perry) is a film writer on his way to Hollywood, but is pulled over by a policeman after he is seen speeding through a small town and picking up a teen girl named Rosie (Sharon Farrell). Although Rosie was hitchhiking, she lies and says that Cliff forced her into the car.

Rudy (Franchot Tone) is spinning bowls at the diner when Cliff comes in. This is a small town and Rudy says that no one ever stops at his diner and cabins unless their car breaks down. It’s no time at all before Rudy begins telling the out-of-towner that he was once Rudolph the Great and knew all the big stars. He has even named his cabins after stars and assigns Cliff to the Al Jolson cabin.

Cliff is surprised when Rosie comes out of the backroom to lead him to his cabin. When they are alone, Rosie apologizes for lying to the cop, but said she didn’t want to get into trouble because Rudy “looks after” her. A suspecting Rudy comes looking for Rosie, and from his cabin, Cliff witnesses Rudy possessively grab her wrist and lead her back to the diner.

Concerned, Cliff follows and Rudy is quick to entertain him with vaudeville stories, even showing Cliff his own cabin full of photos of Rudy with bygone celebrities. Franchot fans will notice that the photo of Rudy as a cowboy is a publicity photo for Franchot’s 1940 film Trail of the Vigilantes. The conversation about his past as an entertainer causes Rudy to explain that he arrived in this small town and owned the diner after his traveling fair ended here. Rudy was once married to another performer Maggie, but she has since passed away. Together, they raised Rosie after Rosie’s own parents perished in a fire.

It’s apparent (and quite disturbingly so) that Rudy views Rosie as a replacement for his wife and is grooming her for marriage. Indeed, when Rosie comes into the room, Rudy announces that she’ll be his bride as soon as she’s 18. Understandably, Rosie is uncomfortable around him and tries to squirm out of Rudy’s grip and out of his line of sight at every possible chance. Cliff, too, is visibly uncomfortable around Rudy and disapproving of his interest in Rosie. As the creepy older man eager to make a young girl he raised into a wife and living a life far removed from the present, Franchot turns in a performance that will make your skin crawl. He gets it just right: the desperation to be a star, frustration with the new generation, and utter psychotic obsession with a young woman. As Rudy, Franchot is slimy and pathetic and cruel and pitiful.

In another scene, Rudy asks Cliff if he thinks that a woman who flirts with other men deserves punishment:
Don’t ya think she deserves some kind of punishment?...Opportunity comes at the strangest time so you wait and you wait and you practice and you’re ready for it. You don’t run around like a chicken with its head off just to satisfy some anxious woman. No. You wait. You work in a diner like this even, if necessary, and you get ready for it. And if you can’t wait, and you can’t sit still, and they can’t stop playing around with other men, you don’t deserve what ya got, do ya? Well, do ya?
No, no. No, sir, Mr. Allen, because if you don’t appreciate what ya got, ya don’t deserve any of it. I tried to tell that to Maggie. I tried to tell her…I got my Rosie now. She’s gonna wait. She’s gonna wear this dress…My Rosie’s very pretty, isn’t she?...How pretty?....Pretty enough for you?...And spoken for, too!

If you've not seen much of Franchot's later work, you may be surprised at his appearance. Franchot looks much older than his years here and in most of his 60's work. This difference in appearance (and his voice, for that matter) can be attributed to a combination of heavy smoking, heavy drinking, and his facial reconstruction surgery from the Payton affair. I'm not sure of the exact year that he was diagnosed with lung cancer. I've heard varying accounts, but it may also be that he was already showing the signs of the cancer that would take his life three years later.

Throughout the show, Rudy teases that he has a speciality act that will blow Cliff away. We hear about it throughout the episode, but Rudy always stops short of performing it saying that he wants to practice and get it just right.

Rosie’s dying to get out of town before the marriage. She hates when Rudy touches her. When he tries to kiss her, she runs to Cliff causing more jealousy on Rudy’s part.

Cliff walks in on Rudy and Rosie doing an old-fashioned vaudeville routine in their “theatre”, an empty barn/tent. The policeman is there as their only audience member. After a dance number, Cliff painfully watches them perform an outdated comedy routine. Proud and in his element, Rudy is clearly delusional to think that this form of entertainment will draw in modern audiences.

After the show, Rudy threateningly tells Cliff that he should leave soon and warns him to keep away from Rosie. But in an odd change of heart, Rudy later asks Cliff to stay and write a new routine for him.When Cliff declines the offer, Rudy is enraged and spouts off a hateful speech about the new generation and their lack of appreciation for the old way of doing things. When Cliff returns to his room, a terrified Rosie, living in a world of male dominance and unable to save herself, is there waiting.
Cliff, I’m afraid. I’m afraid every time I’m near him!

Later, when he goes to leave and sees how depressed and miserable Rosie is, Cliff decides to secretly take her away from Rudy. When he returns to pick her up, Cliff is greeted by Rudy alone and Rudy is finally ready to perform his specialty act for him.

The long-awaited performance is eerie and shuddersome, and an ending that will remain with you long after it is finished.

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