Nan Adams – Inger Stevens
The Hitch-Hiker – Leonard Strong
Sailor – Adam Williams
Mechanic – Lew Gallo
Counterman – Russ Bender
Gas Station Man (a.k.a. Mean Old Bastard) – George Mitchell
After the intro we pan down to a car on the side of the road. A mechanic is messing about with a tire while a very attractive blonde watches.
Her name is Nan Adams, she’s 27 years old. Her occupation? Buyer at a New York department store. At present, on vacation, driving cross-country to Los Angeles, California from Manhattan.
The mechanic asks her how fast she was going and Nan says around 60-65. The mechanic says with a blowout and shoulders like pudding (the road’s shoulders, not Nan’s) by all rights she shouldn’t be calling for a mechanic. Someone should have been calling for a hearse. Ok, Mr. Mechanic, that’s a little insensitive. I would also like to point out that they seem to be in a desert with hard-pack shoulders. When I think of “pudding” shoulders, I think muddy and washed out, not hard pack. In other words, she should have been fine during a blow-out.
I’m also curious as to how she called for the mechanic when she’s out in the middle of nowhere. I kind of doubt she has a cell phone. The mechanic tells Nan to follow him back to town and he’ll get her fixed up with a new tire.
Minor incident on Highway 11 in Pennsylvania. Perhaps to be filed under accidents you walk away from. But from this moment on, Nan Adams’ companion on her trip to California will be terror. Her route, fear. Her destination, quite unknown.
As Nan is getting in her car and getting ready to go she sees a little, older man with his thumb out. Back at town she’s paying for the call and a new tire. It comes to a whopping $29.70. Damn. I wish tires were still that cheap. She pays him out of a huge cosmetics box. As she’s going to close it she sees the same little man with his thumb out.
The mechanic brings back her change but she’s all freaked out by the little man appearing again. He asks her what’s wrong and she says nothing, she was just looking at the hitch-hiker. He turns to look but doesn’t see the hitcher. She says he probably got a lift. But that it’s funny, she also saw him back at the tire changing party. The mechanic tells her to have a safe trip and she leaves. As she leaves the hitch-hiker pops up in the screen to let us know that yep, he’s still there.
We get some very nice shots of Nan driving and thinking to herself. She saw the hitch-hiker again 50 miles later and then again on her way through Virginia. She says he’s not really menacing, he’s drab and mousy, even. She can’t think of a reason to think of him at all, except that he seems to be following her. Not only following her but somehow getting in front of her. It doesn’t really scare her, just makes her a bit uneasy. Gives her the feeling that something’s off.
At a diner, tracing her route, she asks the waiter if they get many hitch-hikers around there. He says no way, no one ever stops to pick up hitch-hikers because it’s a long straightaway and no one wants to ride with a hitch-hiker that long. She says thank you and leaves.
Later down the road she’s stopped at a construction site. She goes to get out but sees the hitch-hiker. He comes up to her window with his thumb out and looks really sad when she ignores him. He asks her if she’s heading west. She freaks out and tells him that she’s only going up the road, she’s not going west. She pulls around the blockade and takes off.
Going down the road she keeps seeing the hitch-hiker. She stops at a railroad crossing light and sees him. Again. So she tries to cross against the light on the tracks and (bet you didn’t see this coming) her car stalls out. So, of course, there’s the obligatory car trying to start, train coming and blowing it’s horn tense scene. Her car starts at the last minute and she hits reverse and watches the train go by. Now she’s afraid of him. She thinks he was beckoning to her , trying to get her to cross the tracks so she’d be hit. Um, ok. You have purposely avoided this guy and you chose to start across even though a train was coming. I think this one’s on you, Nan.
She’s trying to decide whether to go on to California or turn back for New York. “Stabbing little thoughts gouge her brain”. That sounds painful. She doesn’t want to be “unspeakably, nightmarishly alone”. She just doesn’t know what she’ll do. She’ll be seeing him everywhere.
And she’s right. The next shot is of her emerging from a tunnel and there he is. I think Freud would probably have something to say about it. She’s been on the road for 3 days and nights now. She’s getting into a routine: eat, sleep, drive, repeat. She doesn’t think of it as a highway now but an escape route. In New Mexico she takes a side road, hoping to lose him. Then she runs out of gas. Then she sits there “refrigerated by fear”. That’s…a different way of saying “frozen with fear”. She grabs her purse out of the car and starts walking. She also leaves the lights on so she’ll come back with gas but her battery will be dead. Way to go, Nan. Conveniently she runs out of gas near a GAS-EATS sign. She’s also on the lookout for her hitcher friend.
She runs all the way to the gas station. Unfortunately it’s closed but she does manage to wake up the butthead inside. She wants to buy a can of gas but he tells her to come back in the morning. Nan tells him that she can’t stay there. She tells him there’s a suspicious man there and she thinks he might rob her. The kind, understanding man says fine. After she gets robbed come back and he’ll call the police. Who says chivalry is dead?
He closes the window and the curtains on her, leaving her crying. A hand reaches out and touches her shoulder. It scares her at first but the hand does not belong to her hitch-stalker but a sailor. He wants to know what she’s doing out there by herself. She tells him why she’s there and that the Mean Old Bastard won’t give her any gas. He says he saw her car and that she left her keys in it. She asks if he lives around there and he says no, he’s on his way back to his ship in San Diego, California. She says she’d give him a ride but the M.O.B. inside won’t give her any gas. The sailor uses his Man-Magic to get the M.O.B. to give them some gas.
They hop in her car and the first thing he asks is if he can take his shoes off. Wtf, dude?! Is this a normal thing? He says his feet are like hot bricks after walking for so long. She tells him to go ahead but doesn’t really look like she wants him to. I don’t blame her. I’m sure she really, really wants to smell your hot, sweaty feet for the next thousand miles.
He says he lucked out and got a ride in the middle of the night. Not only a ride but a ride with a beautiful woman. He says the guys back at the ship won’t believe it. She’s not really listening. When he repeats himself she jokes that she’ll sign an affidavit and get a notary to sign it. She asks if he hitch-hikes much and he says that he does sometimes. He says cars usually won’t pick up hitch-hikers at night. He looks a bit creepy. Talking more to herself she theorizes that perhaps a guy hitch-hiking, if he got enough rides in cars going fast enough then the hitch-hiker could get ahead of a car only going 40-45 miles per hour. He says I suppose and she brushes it off as a thought she had driving for so long.
She sees the hitcher again and drives toward him. The Sailor freaks out and grabs the wheel. Nan starts asking if he saw the hitch-hiker. The Sailor says he didn’t see anything. It’s a good thing he has the wheel because she’s not looking at the road at all, just staring at the sailor. She sees the hitch-hiker again and tries to run him over this time. They miss and pull over to the side of the road. Nan insists that he must have seen the hitch-hiker that time. Sailor Man says he didn’t see anything at all. Sailor Man wants to know what she was trying to do. Nan says she was trying to kill the hitch-hiker. This shocks Sailor Man a bit. Nan says if she could kill the hitcher she could maybe make him stop following her. Sailor Man starts to look at her like she’s crazy and wants out of the car. Nan starts to plead with him to stay, saying she’ll take him all the way to the docks and that she really, really likes him. That’s why she picked him up because she liked him and was hoping they could be friends. I get the feeling she’s just saying this because she’s desperate. This gives him a moments pause but then he figures safety trumps hot and crazy. He is polite about it though. He tells her to get a good night’s rest, takes his shoes and leaves. He tells her that she needs a good night’s sleep, not a boyfriend.
Nan pulls up to the El Toro diner to make a call home. She wants to hear her mother’s voice. A familiar voice. Something to anchor her back to reality and make sure she’s not going crazy. A strange woman answers her mother’s phone. Nan thinks she has the wrong phone number but Mrs. Whitney says that Mrs. Adams, Nan’s mother, has been in the hospital with a nervous breakdown after the accident. Nan wants to know what’s going on. Mrs. Whitney says that it’s all been very sudden. Mrs. Adams had a nervous breakdown when her daughter, Nan, died six days ago when her tire blew out in Pennsylvania and her car flipped over.
Nan isn’t afraid anymore. Now she knows the worst and she knows who the man is and that he’ll be waiting for her. She gets in her car and pulls her visor down. In the mirror is the hitch-hiker. He says “I believe you’re going my way”.
Nan Adams, age 27. She was driving to California, to Los Angeles. She didn’t make it. There was a detour through the Twilight Zone.
I really like this episode. Since Inger Stevens (Nan) carries almost all of it, she does a very good job. Leonard Strong (The Hitch-Hiker/Death) does a great job. He does look unassuming and not very scary but Nan gets her fear of him across very well. For him not speaking he does great facial expressions. He looks a little sad when he smiles at her. This would be in my list of top-rated episodes.
Thank you for joining me for this week’s Twilight Zone Tuesday. Be sure to come back next week for the next episode: The Fever.