Sunday, 18 March 2018

Patients Take Over the Asylum

            After the food bank on Saturday I rode down to No Frills at Jameson and King because I needed more Earl Grey tea. I also got some salad ingredients and fruit. The President’s Choice Earl Grey that I bought turned out to taste too much like perfume though.
That night I watched the first teleplay from the second season of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and it was better than any story from the first season. It was written by Robert Bloch, who also wrote Psycho. A mental hospital has a head doctor named Dr. Norton, who wears very thick glasses. As therapy he lets one of the patients, whose name is name is Fenwick, and who is a former doctor, make the rounds and keep case studies. But Dr. Fenwick is frustrated about being locked up, so when he hears that he will be a patient there for quite some time longer, he takes Dr Norton’s glasses, breaks them so he is helpless and then strangles him to death.  Fenwick tells the other patients that Norton has gone away and left him in charge. He locks up all of the nurses and orderlies and sets the patients free to fill the roles of nurses and orderlies, and even puts a woman who poisoned her four husbands in charge of the kitchen. Fenwick receives a call from a woman asking to speak with Dr Norton. He says, “This is he.” She says she is his niece that he’s never met and asks if she can come to visit him, so he says yes. When she arrives he tells her about his theories of permissive therapy and how all mentally ill people should be set free. Nathalie goes to her room but hears the woman in the room across the hall shouting in a thick cockney accent, “I want my dinnah!” The woman is Sarah, an elderly former actress who stays in bed all the time because of her “condition”, which is that she thinks she is pregnant and has thought so for the last five years. Nathalie comes to ask what is wrong and Sarah tells her that Andrew usually brings her dinner but he hasn’t come. She asks Nathalie to go to the end of the hall to check if the food is on the dumbwaiter. Nathalie is about to pull the dumbwaiter up when she hears someone banging and shouting “Help!” above her. She goes upstairs and finds Andrew locked behind bars. He tells her that he recognizes her from her picture that he is Dr Norton’s assistant, that the others are locked up too and that she has got to help them get free. Nathalie doesn’t know whether to believe Andrew or not. Just then “Nurse” Gibson comes in and chastises Andrew for getting Nathalie upset and she leads her down to dinner because everyone is just crazy to meet her. Nathalie discovers that many of the guests at the table were inmates and she approves of permissive therapy but doesn’t understand why the people upstairs are still prisoners. Nathalie goes upstairs to bed but finds that Sarah still hasn’t been fed so she goes to the dumbwaiter at the end of the hall and pulls it up. Inside is the body of Dr. Norton. She screams. Dr Fenwich calls the police and an inspector arrives but when Nathalie takes him to the dumbwaiter it’s empty. The inspector goes downstairs to question the people in the kitchen. Nathalie goes to her room and tries to lock the door but finds the key that Fenwich gave her isn’t the right one. She goes downstairs to look for Dr Fenwich and sees Nurse Gibson ascending with a tray. She asks, “Is that Sarah’s dinner?” “No, it’s mine.” “But Sarah hasn’t eaten!” “Let her starve.” Fenwich’s office is empty. Nathalie goes in, opens his roll top desk and once again finds Dr Norton’s body. She cries out and then the inspector bursts in. He sees the body and exclaims, “Dr Norton!” She suddenly learns that Fenwich is not Norton and that her uncle is dead.  Nathalie tells him that Fenwich must have killed her uncle but Fenwich arrives and she realizes that the inspector is just another patient pretending at a job for therapy. Fenwich tells “Inspector” Roberts that he is doing a fine job and he should continue playing the role. Nathalie runs out of the room but Fenwich reminds her that the front door is locked. She goes upstairs and runs into another patient, named The Major, who tells her that Fenwich is also a patient and he was committed years ago for murdering his wife. Fenwich thinks that his wife is still alive and thinks that that is who is visiting him when his sister comes to see him. Nathalie wonders how he can be allowed to be in charge but the major says, “Got to be tolerant! We all have our little quirks!” Nathalie goes to her room and finds bars on the windows and a cut phone line. She goes back upstairs to where Andrew is caged and he says she’s got to find the key to get him out. He tells her to ask Sarah for help. Sarah goes to room and discovers that another patient, a kleptomaniac named Nicky is visiting her and he has already stolen the keys. He is reluctant to let Nathalie take the keys but Sarah persuades him. She goes back upstairs but none of the keys fit Andrew’s cell. Fenwich walks in and begins to strangle Nathalie but suddenly the police burst in. “Inspector” Roberts had called “his superiors” because Fenwich had encouraged him to continue playing his role of policeman and so he did so to the best of his abilities.
The theatrical trope of lunatics taking over the asylum goes back at least as far as “Marat/Sade” in 1808.
Dr Fenwich was played by Ray Milland, who starred as the professional tennis player that murdered his wife in Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder”.

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