Gilbert Speaks on “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour”

9 Aug

49

In the good ole days, we boomers enjoyed the best of television’s outstanding programing with shows like Twilight Zone, Outer Limits and the Alfred Hitchcock Hour. There are certain episodes from all three series that have squirreled their way into my memory. There is one in particular that may have sparked my obsession with the paranormal genre. Where does the Woodbine Twineth? You’ll need to follow closely to learn. Meet me after the jump.

Where the Woodbine Twineth

Directed by Alf Kjellin and based on a short story by Davis Grubb, this thirteenth episode of the third season of the Alfred Hitchcock Hour featured Margaret Leighton, Carl Benton Reid, Juanita Moore, Joel Fluellen and the delightful Eileen Baral. As far as I’m concerned, after watching this episode for the first time in 1965, then again this past week, both the plot and Baral’s performance was one of the most haunting episodes of all the entire series.

Plot

The episode begins with a funeral. Little Eva Snyder, all of six-years-old, is now an orphan. Her father is now buried in the same grave along side her mother. Her only family at her side is a paternal grandfather and aunt. Captain King Snyder (Carl Benton Reid) is away for long periods of time with his fishing boat, but he loves his little granddaughter very much and wants her to live with him and his daughter Nell (Margaret Leighton).

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Nell, although excited to care for the child, has her own issues that she’s trying to work her way through. Nell is considered an old maid because she’d never married. We can pick up on the resentment with a conversation she has with her father. Nell devoted her life to a sickly mom, then for caring for her father after her mother’s death. Apparently, her brother was able to enjoy his life both with a career and a marriage which produced the adorable little Eva.

Eva

Eileen Baral was the ideal actress to play little Eva. This pint-sized actress exuded cutie-pie-adorable from every pore of her body as she professionally matched the talent of her adult counterparts. Eva has imaginary friends who she chats with constantly much to the consternation of her aunt. Eva’s defense that her little mouse size friends are real, fall on deaf ears. Nell doesn’t do nonsense and, she doesn’t do childhood imaginary friends. She constantly corrects the child whenever little Eva talks about Mr. Peppercorn and Mingo.

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As stern as Nell is with the child, Suse the maid (Juanita Moore) is just the opposite. She takes Eva under her wing and includes her in the daily routine of housework and baking. Suse is not bothered at all about Eva’s unseen friends until Eva mentions something strange about her doll, Numa (Lila Perry).

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Numa is a beautiful black doll that the captain gave to Eva on one of his infrequent trips home. The doll is the same size as Eva. Nell is worried when Eva tells her that Mr. Peppercorn and Mingo arranged for the captain to buy that doll after Nell frightened the fairy folk from the home.

Conclusion

This episode stuck with me for all these years and I was overjoyed to catch this episode one night because of my insomnia. I identified with Eva, because like her…I could see through the veil that separates life from death and one dimension for another.

Nell was a good woman who truly loved Eva, but Nell did not understand the mind of a child. She should have allowed Eva her friends, imaginary or not, because this little girl had lost much: both her parents. Suse understood Eva’s need for friends, even though Suse was very uncomfortable when Eva told her that Numa and she took turns becoming the doll. Whenever Eva became the doll, she would go to a place where the Woodbine Twineth. Was this where Mr. Peppercorn and Mingo also lived?

Nell didn’t understand how powerful imagination is until it was too late. Awakened one night by children’s laughter Nell goes into the woods where she spots Eva playing with another little girl. Nell chases the child away thinking it’s one of the neighborhood children from the wrong side of the tracks. This show definitely revealed the racist side of the south with Nell’s attitude towards the unknown child. Unfortunately for Nell, it was Numa that she’d chased away. Eva was in the box. The show doesn’t tell us if Eva has to stay a doll forever, or if she is happy playing with her friends Mr. Peppercorn and Mingo. We don’t even know if Numa makes it safely back to the Woodbine, or if she’s forever trapped in a world that is incapable of treating all children as equals.

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Luckily for me, my parents had the same gift as I did for seeing spirits, plus I was never discouraged from using my imagination. Maybe, when I’m done writing the book about the two ghosts in my attic, I will write about Eva’s adventures with Mr. Peppercorn, Mingo and Numa. Maybe in my story, Nell succeeds in convincing Eva to come home.

Mr. Grubb, who wrote Where the Woodbine Twineth, also wrote another favorite of mine, The Night of the Hunter and I will be doing a review of this film very soon.

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