Alfred Hitchcock Presents “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” Seasons 4 and 5

31 01 2011

Continuing our look at episodes of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” directed by the master of suspense, we move on to seasons four and five.

In season four of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” Hitch direct only two episodes. The first is called “Poison,” based on a story by Roald Dahl, which aired on October 5, 1958.

Set on the south sea island of Malaya, the story takes place after midnight as Timber Woods (Wendell Corey) returns to his quonset hut home after a party. He finds his business partner, Harry Pope (James Donald), lying rigidly in bed, covered in sweat. Pope swears that while he was reading, a poisonous snake slid into bed and curled up on his stomach, and that he’s been lying completely still for hours.

Woods laughs it off, saying that Pope is drunk as usual, but Pope insists that he’s not, and that he needs help. Woods decides to grab the thing, but Pope won’t let him. They decide to call for a doctor to come with venom antidote, and while they wait for the doctor, Woods torments Pope, threatening to tell his girlfriend about his alcoholism unless he gives up his half of the business. Pope, struggling not to move or cough, has no choice but to agree.

The doctor arrives and administers the serum, but is still worried about the snake. He decides to try putting the thing to sleep with chloroform, which he pours down a tube inserted under the bedsheets. After waiting a few minutes, the doctor and woods gently pull the sheet back to find no snake. Pope is certain that there was a snake, but Woods laughs it off, sending the doctor on his way.

Still laughing at his former partner, Woods offers him a drink. Pope throws it in his face, but Woods shrugs it off and takes a seat on the bed. Yawning, he puts his head down on the pillow, and the snake strikes. Woods is poisoned, and there’s no way to reach the doctor in time.

The master of suspense lets the suspense build slowly but surely in “Poison.” Until the very end, we’re not quite sure whether or not there is a snake in that bed, and when we find the answer, the snake does just what we want him to by poisoning the bad guy. The episode echoed season one’s “Breakdown,” as both feature a protagonist who cannot move, for very different reasons, of course. Hitchcock, meanwhile, discusses his new device for discouraging pickpockets: a snake in his coat pocket.

John Williams returns in “Banquo’s Chair,” broadcast on May 3, 1959. Set outside of London in 1903, the story must have appealed greatly to Hitchcock, as it is from a rather similar mold to his early film “The Lodger.” Here, Williams plays Mr. Brent, formerly a police detective, who’s played a visit to a Major Cockfinch (Reginald Gardiner), who recently bought a house where a woman had been killed two years before. Brent had investigated the murder but never resolved it, but now that he’s retired, he’s determined to find the answer using some unorthodox means.

At the time of the murder, Brent had suspected young Roger Bedford of killing the woman, his aunt. He was her only heir, but at the time, he had an alibi. At the time, Brent had no way of disproving Bedford’s story; now, however, a new production of “Macbeth” has opened on the London stage, starring a woman who’s a dead ringer for the victim. Brent has convinced her to dress as Bedford’s aunt to startle a confession out of him.

Brent has invited Bedford to dinner with Cockfinch under the pretext that some new evidence in the aunt’s killing has surfaced. Brent puts off that topic till after the meal, though, and while they eat and talk, the woman appears in the shadows of the next room, looking for all the world like an apparition. Bedford, who’s been growing increasingly nervous the whole evening, jumps out of his seat and threatens to kill her again, at which point a police officer enters the room to arrest him.

While Bedford is led away, Brent and Cockfinch congratulate each other, and the woman playing the aunt joins them. The woman apologizes, saying she’s just arrives, and asks if she’s too late. Brent stares into the camera in shock.

“Banquo’s Chair” is an old-fashioned ghost story, and if it’s hoary, it’s also fun to watch as Hitchcock revisits the kind of tale that appealed to him since he had been a boy.

Williams, a favorite character actor of Hitchcock’s, appeared in seven more episodes of the series which were directed by others.

Season five, like season four, featured only two episodes directed by Hitchcock. In “Arthur,” first shown on September 27, 1959, Laurence Harvey plays a chicken farmer with a modern, scientific approach to his trade. Wearing a white lab coat, he tells the story of how he became a murderer. It began when his girlfriend, Helen (Lauren Court), tells him that she’s breaking off their engagement to marry someone else.

Arthur takes the news coolly, letting Helen go without much of a fight, but when she returns to him a year later, after leaving her husband, he views her with a cynical eye. He now sees how demanding she is, and before she talks him into accepting her back into his life, he sneaks up behind her and strangles the life out of her.

Things heat up with Arthur’s police sergeant friend, played by Patrick Macnee, traces Helen to Arthur’s farm. Arthur tells his story so simply that he believes he’s thrown the sergeant off his trail, but the police haven’t given up. While Arthur is away, they tear the farm apart and find nothing. Eventually, the police give up, and Arthur finishes his story by explaining that he got rid of Helen’s body by grinding it up and mixing it into the chicken feed.

Hitchcock’s introduction to this episode has him taking up chicken farming as well, but he can’t seem to get his hens to lay geometrically shaped eggs.

The fun of “Arthur” is mostly in the performances, as the punch line – how he disposes of the body – is not much of a surprise. As in “Lamb to the Slaughter,” it’s hard to believe the police wouldn’t look in the right place for evidence of murder.

Hitchcock directed only one more episode in this season: “The Crystal Trench,” which premiered on October 4, 1959. It’s an enjoyable throwback to Hitchcock’s films of the late 1930s, particularly “Secret Agent.” Set around 1910 at the Schwarzhorn peak in the Alps, possibly in Austria, the story concerns mountain climbing and icy death.

The episode stars James Donald as the British mountain climber who’s been asked to tell a fellow hotel guest, Patricia Owens, that her husband has died while climbing the Schwarzhorn. Owens can’t believe it, but after speaking to the climbers’ mountain guide, played by Werner Klemperer, she realizes that her husband is indeed gone. Donald reluctantly agrees to climb the mountain himself to recover the body, but when he finds it precariously perched, and when he and his companions attempt to recover it, it falls off the mountain and into a glacier.

Donald, meanwhile, has a realization of his own – that he is falling in love with this young widow. She, however, is determined to keep the memory of her late husband alive, saying that she will never remarry. Months go by, and Donald asks her to marry him, but she refuses. She then takes him with her to meet a scientist who explains the glacier’s movement. Donald realizes that Owens intends to recover the body of her late husband when it emerges from the glacier – in forty years time!

We next see Donald and Owens forty years later, gray and wrinkled, as several workers dig at the glacier’s edge. They find the body as predicted, perfectly preserved by the ice, giving us a poignant moment of reunion between the young husband and his wife, now so much older than him. The moment is shattered, though, when Donald takes a locket off the body to show Owens. When he opens it, the picture inside is not of Owens but of another young woman.

“The Crystal Trench” has a strong impact because instead of being about a mere murder, it’s about a wasted life.

Hitchcock himself does some mountain climbing in the introduction, cutting a rope that’s in his way – and that happens to have his business partner on the other end. With false innocence, he sends the partner to his doom, watching him fall and then saying, “I seem to have made a faux pas.”


Alfred Hitchcock Presents “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” Season Three

12 01 2011

We continue our look “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” with episodes from season three directed by Hitch himself. As in season two, Hitch directed just three episodes of the series this time out.

Alfred Hitchcock’s first episode in season three of his TV series is “The Perfect Crime,” broadcast on October 20, 1957, and starring Vincent Price and James Gregory, best known as Inspector Luger from the TV series “Barney Miller.” It’s essentially a two-man show, with Price as a self-important detective and Gregory as a defense attorney in New York City, around the 1920s.

Gregory has paid a visit to Price’s apartment to talk about a murder case Price had solved involving a small handgun that’s part of his display of murder weapons. Price tells the story of that case, explaining how he solved the murder, and how criminals always make obvious mistakes that allow him to catch them.

The tables turn when Gregory explains that there’s another side of the story: the truth, which is that Price sent the wrong person to the electric chair. Confronted with the truth, Price agrees to stay away from Gregory’s clients, but then turns and strangles Gregory. We rejoin Price sometime later, on his return from a vacation, when he’s being visited by reporters, and he drops a few hints to tell us he had burned the body and put the ashes in a vase.

Production codes being what they were at the time, Hitchcock used his final segment to explain that a cleaning woman knocked over the vase only to find gold fillings among the ashes, which implicated Price in the death of Gregory. “The Perfect Crime” is a fun, chatty tale worthy of Edgar Allan Poe, with a teleplay by Stirling Silliphant, who later wrote “In the Heat of the Night,” “The Towering Inferno” and “The Poseidon Adventure.”

Barbara Bel Geddes stars in “Lamb to the Slaughter,” adapted for television by Roald Dahl from his own story and first seen on April 13, 1958. In this episode, perhaps the best known from the entire run of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” Bel Geddes plays pregnant housewife Mary Malone, who awaits her police captain husband’s return at the end of the workday. When he arrives he acts withdrawn and uncommunicative, but she tries to help him, offering to cancel their dinner plans and fix something simple.

As she walks toward the kitchen, her husband finally speaks, explaining that he intends to divorce her. She begs him not to, but he refuses to discuss the matter. Looking shaken to the core, she go to the freezer to get a piece of meat for his dinner. She selects a large leg of lamb, unwraps it, carries it to where he stands in the living room, and smashes in his head with it. Then, after making sure he’s dead, she goes ahead and puts the murder weapon in the oven to cook.

As she had planned earlier, she slips out to the corner store for some vegetables. On her return home, she calls the police and messes up the living room to make it look like there had been a scuffle. The police soon arrive, question her and examine the room. The evening grows late, and she offers the police some of the dinner she had been cooking for her late husband. The episode ends as the police enjoy the delicious weapon that killed their captain.

“Lamb to the Slaughter” is a fun episode, full of dark humor, filmed in a fairly straightforward way. There’s a bit of split-second editing when Bel Geddes swings that leg of lamb; we see both her and her husband as she swings, and then – an edit! – followed by a closeup of just her as he is struck.

Bel Geddes made several other appearances in the series, as well as acting for Hitchcock again in “Vertigo.”

Keenan Wynn plays an American traveller, Mr. Butibol, on the Queen Mary in “Dip in the Pool,” based on another story by Roald Dahl that ran on June 1, 1958. His wife has just inherited some money from a relative, and while she wants to tour Europe, he would rather spend time in the casinos. After dressing for dinner in his favorite gaudy plaid jacket, he meets with a man he’s befriended on the voyage, who is both more worldly and more wealthy.

The friend and his wife find Butibol a bit on the gauche side, but the man puts up with him, agreeing to a drink after dinner “at the pool.” The pool, it turns out, is not for swimming – it’s a daily auction of lots to bet on the day’s travel. Later, at the auction, Butibol tries to use what information he’s gleaned from various members of the ship’s crew before bidding most of his remaining money on the low end of the estimated miles travelled.

The next morning, Butibol awakens to realize that the ship is making better speed than expected – and that he is likely to lose. Then, he concocts a plan: He’s going to find someone to witness him falling into the water. The ship will be forced to stop while he is rescued, drastically cutting its progress so that he can win the pool. Unfortunately, the woman he picks is a poor choice. She watches him jump overboard rather serenely, and when her mother comes along, we learn that she is recovering from a nervous breakdown. Her mother tells her there was no man, and that is the end of Butibol.

Wynn is always fun to watch, and his coarse manner makes him believable as a social climber. On an odd note, the wife of Butibol’s friend is played by Fay Wray. Also, Hitchcock’s intro and final notes show him on a deck chair, out at sea; during the opening, he’s reading a copy of the new “Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.”

Alfred Hitchcock Presents “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” – Season Two

29 12 2010

We continue our look at “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” with episodes directed by Hitchcock himself from season two…

This season opened with the episode “Wet Saturday” (September 30, 1956), starring Sir Cedric Hardwicke, who appeared in “Suspicion,” and John Williams. Hardwicke plays Mr. Prince, patriarch of a wealthy family, who stands in his living room with his wife, daughter and son on a rainy afternoon as they attempt to deal with a crime of passion.

With Mr. Prince asking questions, the daughter, Millicent, tearfully explains that she killed a schoolteacher whom she believed was in love with her. He had come to see her in the Princes’ stables with the good news that he had been offered a job, which meant that he could now marry. Unfortunately, he intended to marry someone else, and so Millicent grabbed a crocquet mallet and brained him.

Just as they finish the tale, Captain Smullet pops in from the rain for a visit, and soon finds himself framed for the murder. On entering, Smullet heard the Princes discussing how easy it would be to want to kill the teacher, and Smullet agreed without realizing that it wasn’t just an idle conversation. Prince and his son, a foppish failed medical student, bring Smullet to the stable and, after planting some of Smullet’s hair on the corpse, force him to dispose of it.

Stepping back into the house, Mrs. Prince offers Smullet a drink, not realizing what had happened, but Smullet insists on leaving. With the captain gone, Prince tells his wife and daughter that everything’s been taken care of, and then calls the police to report the murder.

In his wrap-up of the episode, Alfred Hitchcock explains that the police did not believe the story, especially when Smullet insists that he is innocent.

The fact that the story has to be concluded verbally makes the episode fairly unsatisfying, although the performances of Hardwicke and Williams are a lot of fun. At the end, Hitchcock makes a very funny joke, pouring himself a drink from a teapot. Then, when he finds the milk pitcher empty, he says, “Oh dear, all out of vermouth!’

In “Mr. Blanchard’s Secret” (December 23, 1956), a busybody writer spies on her new neighbors, the Blanchards, in a story that puts a new spin on the voyeuristic mystery of “Rear Window.” Although the Blanchards moved in weeks ago, our writer still has not met Mrs. Blanchard, and is beginning to wonder whether she exists at all – or even if she is alive.

Although the husband, John Fenton, discourages her overactive imagination, Mrs. Fenton snoops around the Blanchards’ house. Her suspicions are aroused further by Mr. Blanchard’s skulking around her yard in the middle of the night and by his generally brusque manner. When Mrs. Blanchard shows up for a visit, though, Mrs. Fenton puts aside her ideas that murder may have been involved. But after Mrs. Blanchard takes a broken silver lighter and Mr. Blanchard is seen leaving his house in the middle of the night with a large, heavy bag, Mrs. Fenton convinces herself that he’s killed her to stop her kleptomaniacal ways from ruining his career. The next day, though, the Blanchards stop by with the lighter, which they’ve had fixed.

Mr. Blanchard’s secret was no secret at all. The episode has fun with the energetic Mrs. Fenton, but the whole thing is based on the very dated premise that Mrs. Blanchard would obey her husband to the extent that she does.

The wrap-up to this episode does not address the fact that there is no secret, but instead talks about something unrelated. Not a very satisfying episode.

After the disappointing “Mr. Blanchard’s Secret,” Hitchcock’s final episode of the second season of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” was the suspenseful “One More Mile to Go,” broadcast on April 7, 1957.

The story begins in the California countryside, as we observe a married couple arguing in their living room. The camera looks in through a window, so we can’t quite hear what they’re saying – but when the woman storms away from her husband, he follows with a fireplace poker with which he kills her. He then puts her body in a burlap sack , deposits it in the trunk of his car, and adds iron chains and other metallic items. Then it’s off to a lake where he intends to lose her – but as he turns off the highway, he’s pulled over by a traffic cop who says the man’s taillight is out.

The cop insists that it’s too dangerous to leave the light till the next morning. It will have to be fixed now. The man heads back to a gas station, but as the attendant works on it, the same cop arrives at the gas station. The attendant can’t seem to be the light to work, so the cop says the man had better open the trunk so they can have a look at the wiring. The man nervously says he doesn’t have the trunk key (they had separate keys back then), and as the cop tries to open the trunk with a crowbar, the light comes back on. With the light working again, the man goes back to his errand.

On the same road again, the same cop pulls the man over again. The taillight has gone out once more. This time, the cop tells the man to follow him to the police station so the mechanic on duty can pop the trunk and fix it – no charge. Sweating bullets, the man pulls onto the road, following the cop to what will surely be his arrest.

This was a very tense story, told in a simple, compelling way. It fits into Hitchcock’s film career in a larger way, due to the fact that the first act of the story – from the argument until the first time the man is pulled over – is told visually, with no dialogue outside of the muffled argument. How the man was going to escape the gas station without being caught kept me on the edge of my seat, in fact.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”

20 12 2010

Although Alfred Hitchcock is the indisputable Master of Suspense in film, he was intrigued by short form storytelling as well as full-length features, going back as far as his short stories written before 1920 before he even entered show business. He made two short films in the early days of his career: “Always Tell Your Wife,” from 1923, and “An Elastic Affair,” from 1930, both lost to the ages.

Hitchcock’s involvement with short film began again in the 1940s with the “Bon Voyage” and “Aventure Malgache,” propaganda films he made with French actors during the waning days of World War II. He was also intrigued by radio drama, and was briefly involved with the popular radio series “Suspense,” directing its debut episode in 1940 (more on that soon).

In the 1950s, Hitchcock continually looked for ways to take greater control of his work, often serving as his own producer and “discovering” his own starlets. Hitchcock’s greatest vehicle for self promotion premiered on October 2, 1955 – just one day before the premier of “The Trouble with Harry.” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” was more than just a hit. It carried Hitchcock into a new realm, transforming him from one of film’s greatest directors into an internationally recognized personality.

It was Lew Wasserman, head of MCA and Hitchcock’s agent, who had the general idea that Hitchcock’s personality was big enough, his humor droll enough, that he could play a role in this new show. He would serve as a master of ceremonies, introducing each week’s half hour program with sly commentary, delivered in his deadpan drawl, and punctuating the story with a final quip. Hitchcock’s commentary was written through the series entire run by James Allardice, who would also write speeches for Hitchcock, as well as the amazing trailer for “Psycho.”

This was the age of TV dramas like “Playhouse 90” and, a few years later, “The Twilight Zone,” essentially anthologies that presented different shows with different casts each week. “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” focused on crime stories, sometimes simple, sometimes with a strange twist that would veer close to the supernatural – or, at least, the unexplained.

The series ran as a half hour from 1955 through 1962, and then expanded to a full hour under the name “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour” for another three years, ending its original run in 1965. In that time, the series featured a wide variety of stars, including Hitchcock regulars like John Williams, Edmund Gwenn and Hume Cronyn to newcomers like William Shatner, Dick Van Dyke, Robert Redford and Angie Dickinson, as well as fading stars like Fay Wray, Claude Rains and Peter Lorre. The series also brought attention to writers like Roald Dahl, then best known for his short stories, and Robert Bloch, writer of “Psycho.”

For support, Hitchcock turned to someone he could trust: Joan Harrison, who had worked on screenplays for several of his movies in the 1940s, would produce the series, with actor/director Norman Lloyd serving as associate producer. Hitchcock’s involvement with episodes he did not direct was fairly limited: He would review the stories briefly and watch screenings of the finished episodes; reportedly, he had two responses to the screenings. He would say either “That was interesting,” meaning he liked it, or “thank you,” meaning he did not.

The most memorable thing about the series has to be its opening: The music, “Funeral March for a Marionette,” composed by Charles Gounod, had been a favorite of Hitchcock’s for many years. As the music plays, the series title appears over the now-famous self caricature of Hitchcock. A shadowy silhouette of Hitchcock steps into the frame, fitting into the caricature, and then, we cut to Hitchcock himself, looking into the camera, intoning the words that would become his signature greeting: “Good evening…” (You can download an MP3 of the theme song on the right from the My Shared Box.)

Hitchcock himself directed 17 half-hour episodes of the series and one full hour episode. In the next few weeks we’ll look at these episodes – those directed by Hitchcock – starting tonight with season one.

“Alfred Hitchcock Presents” made its debut on CBS television on October 2, 1955, beginning with Hitchcock’s explanation that the series will present tales of suspense and mystery, and that he would introduce the shows and then return at the end to wrap things up and “to tidy up afterwards for those who don’t understand the endings.”

Like the E.C. crime comics of the period, “Revenge,” the series’ first episode, has a shock ending. Here, a young couple, Vera Miles and Ralph Meeker, have relocated to a trailer park on the beach in California following her mental breakdown. They’re full of life and energy as he goes off to his first day of work, but when he arrives home he finds her unconscious. She was attacked by someone, but there are few clues, so the police can’t help.

They decide to get out of the park, although she’s so traumatized she can only say a few syllables at a time. But while they drive around, she sees her attacker. The husband follows him into a hotel and beats him to death, then gets back in the car. As they drive along, she suddenly says, “There he is! That’s him!” again – just as police sirens begin to wail.

The economy of the storytelling and the compositions scream “Hitchcock.” The most striking element of the story is the shift of the couple from vivacious and even sexual before the assault to traumatized, almost deadened inside, after it.

Hitchcock sums up the story: “It goes to show you: Crime doesn’t pay, even on television. You must have a sponsor.”

Joseph Cotten reunites with his former director for “Breakdown” (November 13, 1955), which opens with Hitchcock reading a horror paperback, leading him to mention the writer Louis Pollock, whose simple yet powerful story was adapted for this episode.

Cotten plays an executive on vacation. While giving dictation and talking with an associate, he receives a call from someone he just fired. The man is heartbroken to be let go, but Cotten’s executive shows no compassion. He then begins his drive back to New York, but before long, he’s forced to drive around a work detail about to get back on a truck to return to prison. In driving around them, he nearly hits a tractor; he swerves back the other way and crashes into the prisoners.

Cotten awakens to find himself completely paralyzed; he can’t even blink, but we can hear his thoughts, and he’s completely aware of his surroundings. All he can do is wait and hope for rescue. Two groups of men come by, one to loot the scene, the second are prisoners looking to secure clothes to help them escape. All the while his thoughts scream for help, but he can’t make them see that he is alive.

At last, a sheriff’s patrol comes by to collect the dead. They assume he, too, is dead, although he has discovered that he can move one finger, but there’s too much commotion for anyone to notice. Finally, in the morgue, the medical examiner is about to sign his death certificate when he sees tears in the man’s eyes. The medical examiner runs to get help as the episode comes to an end.

Cotten gives an amazing performance, as we see his paralyzed face in nearly every scene of the episode while we hear his voice, sometimes near panic, sometimes calm and rational. Hitchcock explores different angles on the scene, even shooting Cotten through a hole in the cracked windshield at one point. Of Hitchcock’s four episodes in the first season of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” this may be the strongest.

In “The Case of Mr. Pelham” (December 4, 1955), Tom Ewell plays a successful lawyer whose sense of self is shaken to its very core. The story opens as he meets a psychiatrist friend at his club bar. As he explains, for the past few days people have been telling him that they’ve seen him in places he hasn’t been: At a prize fight, on a street corner, even at his own home, where his butler claims to have seen him when he was out.

Pelham can’t make sense of it: When he arrives at work late after a restless night, his secretary presents him with letters he dictated that very morning to be signed. When he gets home, his supper has been eaten already. The psychiatrist wants to see Pelham in his office, but Pelham is convinced that someone’s trying to take his place. To throw the imposter off his trail, Pelham, who by now is getting more jittery by the minute, buys an uncharacteristically loud tie — and when he gets home, his double is already there. It is the loud tie that allows the butler to identity Pelham as the imposter, and to accept the imposter as the real Mr. Pelham.

The story closes a year later, with Pelham’s look-alike coolly shooting pool with a friend, calmly reminiscing about the time a look-alike tried to horn in on his life, only to go insane right in front of him.

In the epilogue, Hitchcock struggles as he is dragged away by sanitorium workers, as a Hitchcock double – or is he the real McCoy, or possibly MacGuffin? – accuses the other of being a phony.

John Williams, who played the delightful Chief Inspector in “Dial M for Murder,” stars in “Back for Christmas” (March 4, 1956) as Herbert Carpenter, a British metallurgist who is about to travel to Los Angeles with his wife to consult at an airplane factory.

We first see Carpenter working in his basement, digging a pit that he and his wife (played by Isabel Elsom) discuss as part of a wine cellar; as she leaves, though, he mumbles to himself about the pit being adequate to her height. He has murder on his mind, but just why, we don’t yet know.

It becomes apparent soon enough, though. When the maid brings in lunch, the wife, Hermione, tells her husband that it’s shephard’s pie, his favorite. He says it really isn’t, but she insists that it is. She lays out every detail of their departure, repeatedly reviewing what they’ve done and what they need to do. Carpenter shows just the tiniest tics of annoyance, but holds back. Their friends are coming soon to wish them a pleasant trip.

While their friends take tea, they discuss the trip. Hermione promises that they’ll be back by Christmas, even though the company that has hired Herbert has offered him a full-time job. She says that they will be back because she has a surprise for him.

After the friends leave, Herbert puts up with more of his wife’s annoyances, as she insists on redoing some of their maid’s work. Finally, he lures to the cellar, ostensibly to ask a question, and while she leans over the pit, he clubs her. He buries the body and leaves for his trip.

In the U.S., Herbert quickly settles in, enjoying his new home, and writing a letter in the voice of his wife to their friends; as he does so, he plans that in the next letter he’ll start to hint that they will stay in the U.S. after all. But when his morning mail comes, he receives a shock: included in it is an estimate from a contractor for his wife on a job of digging up the cellar to make a proper wine cellar, with work to start immediately so that it will be done by Christmas. With that, Herbert realizes that he’s finished.

Hitchcock’s introduction and final word on this episode has to do with head shrinking – and, as he says, this episode has nothing to do with head shrinking.

Williams and Elsom play their roles as a older couple beautifully; she nags him, he bristles at her; frankly, it’s hard to fathom why he would resort to murder. Most couples with this sort of dynamic just go on that way forever, putting up with each other. His chin-quivering nervousness after he’s killed his wife is rather moving; this is a mild-mannered man emboldened to action by the promise of a new life in California.

Next week, we’ll return with four episodes from season two of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” but not before we look at the 1956 movie “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” Until then, good night.

The Golden Age of Alfred Hitchcock

10 11 2010

I’ve been working on a list of the ten best Hitchcock films to run on my Hitchblog in the future. So far, most of this work has taken place in my head; since I’m only up to “Dial M for Murder,” and I have not yet seen anything beyond “Psycho,” I don’t want to feel like I might be prejudiced against Hitch’s later films – the ones with the less than stellar reputations, like “Torn Curtain” or “Topaz.”

Still, it’s hard to imagine that any of Hitchcock’s many decades as a filmmaker could place more pictures on my list than the 1950s, which leads me to dub this era the Golden Age of Alfred Hitchcock.

I realize I’m not going very far out on a limb with this, but let’s look at it based on more than just the overall superior quality of Hitch’s 1950s film output, shall we?

In the 1950s:

  • Alfred Hitchcock made three consecutive films with Grace Kelly, arguably his greatest female star, as well as two movies with Cary Grant and three with James Stewart.

  • He made one movie each with the stars Marlene Dietrich, Montgomery Clift and Henry Fonda, as well as giving Shirley MacLaine her first role in a film.

  • The 1956 movie “The Man Who Knew Too Much” featured the debut of the hit song “Que Sera Sera,” which won an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
  • He promoted himself from his usual cameo appearances to do a serious introduction to the 1956 film “The Wrong Man.”

  • In 1955, he debuted the TV series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” which ran seven seasons and led to three seasons of “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.” He directed 16 episodes of “Presents” and one of “Hour.”
  • He filmed introductions to every episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” catapulting him from a fairly recognizable director to one of the most distinctive and captivating host personalities in the world. His drawling “Good evening,” his brilliant self-caricature and his morbid sense of humor are still recognizable today.

  • Music from the TV series was released on the popular 1958 album “Alfred Hitchcock Presents Music to Be Murdered By,” with Hitch on the cover. It’s still available on CD, along with the follow-up album, “Circus of Horrors” – and you can order it from Amazon here.

  • “Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine” launched in 1956, and is still running today, putting Hitch’s face on newsstands every month through much of its run. Although Hitchcock was not personally involved with the magazine, it featured original fiction and adaptations of TV episodes. It’s still running today, and you can subscribe to it here.

Now, as to the Silver Age…

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