(photo courtesy of Maddy Loves Her Classic Films)
By the time the 1950s rolled in, Alfred Hitchcock had a well-established career in both his native England as well as the United States, earning that storied reputation as the Master of Suspense, when he took on a project that was yet another testament to his truly enormous talent, drive, and ingenuity.
Hitchcock came to television.
Along with “The Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits”, these shows completed the trifecta of popular anthologies of the ‘50s and ’60s that were fraught with drama, mystery, suspense, the occult, and horror.
Hosted and produced by Hitchcock, “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” premiered on CBS in October 1955 and any lover of his body of work cannot say that these shows pale in comparison to his films. These works were (and are) special in their own right.
Who could forget one set of his opening credits: Charles Gounod’s “Funeral March of a Marionette” playing as Hitch’s silhouette walks into the famous drawing of his profile, and then he utters the best known line throughout the whole series, “Good evening.” He would often give a monologue before the episode began, another at the midpoint, and a closer, usually throwing quips in his dry, yet macabre sense of humor.
At that point, you know what to expect, or do you?
The films may have allowed more creative freedom and more creative control, but having to compact the story to fit tight time constraints and having to adhere to the respective television network’s standards and practices gave the writers, directors, and producers quite a challenge. They had to speed up the exposition and action, while still keeping the audience on the edge of their seats for the duration. They were also tasked to leave them in just as much shock and awe with what would transpire as they did with the films. Everything that embodied his style, every single element or touch that made his films so enjoyable, everything that normally took place in two hours had to be crammed into half an hour (or an hour, as you will learn later).
As sources mention, “Presents” was shown on two different networks: CBS from 1955-1960 and NBC from 1960-1962. In the fall of 1962, the show was expanded to a one hour format, re-titled as “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour” and returned to air on CBS, where it would remain until the show’s finale in 1965. Hitchcock himself directed several episodes, but the format was known for showcasing the talents of many auteurs, which I suspect had to pass a rigorous test to get his stamp of approval. The cast was a revolving door of players that would go on to phenomenal careers. There are too many of them to mention, but Hitch had his mainstays.
According to Wikipedia, apparently there was a revival of the show back in 1985, “The New Alfred Hitchcock Presents”, which lasted for four years (one on NBC, three on USA). Even over twenty years after the initial run, and around five years after his death in 1980, Hitchcock’s television legacy was just a great as his cinematic one.
After watching an episode back in high school (learn which one below), my love of Hitchcock’s oeuvre began, which evolved into a lifelong appreciation and adoration for not only his work, but the entire classic film genre.
The twisted, warped recesses of the Hitchcockian mind embroiled, entranced, and engulfed me from that first view and I have been all the better from it.
The reruns are currently shown here in the States on COZI TV and MeTV. Familiarize yourself with those stories you could consider demented, sick, and possibly stark raving mad.
Without further ado, a few of my most beloved episodes!
THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD!
YE BE WARNED!
“Alfred Hitchcock Presents” (1955-1962)
“The Right Kind of House” (broadcast in March 1958): A fairly recent viewing, this episode stars Jeanette Nolan as a woman determined to sell her dilapidated home for the inflated price of $50,000. As the story gets going, we learn about Sadie’s son, who had returned home after an extended absence. He comes back with a mysterious satchel and we learn he was involved in a bank robbery and made off with the cash. An unknown figure tracks him down and kills him in his own home, but the money was never found (it was hidden away). That’s when Sadie decides to put the house on the market and will not budge on the price, but one smooth talking gent, Mr. Waterbury (Robert Emhardt), comes calling. He’s willing to pay that exorbitant amount of money for the house. Once Sadie starts talking with him about her son and the money, the plot slowly unravels: only the person who knew about the missing dough could have murdered her son, and that same person would be willing to pay five times more than the value of the house to try to get their hands on it. Sadie, however, got her sweet revenge: by poisoning Waterbury’s lemonade.
Just what length would a mother go to to find her son’s murderer? This elaborate ruse showed Sadie’s stubbornness and unrelenting mission to bring that person to justice. Once she got him where she wanted him, she stared at him directly in the eye, as a lioness that couldn’t protect her cub when she should have. Only Waterbury didn’t pay his debt to society with a slap on the wrist and a stint in the pokey. He paid the real piper.
“Lamb to the Slaughter” (broadcast in April 1958): The ultimate episode of all of Hitchcock’s television shows and the one that catapulted my obsession with Hitchcock. Based on a story by Roald Dahl, frequent Hitchcock player Barbara Bel Geddes (known for having an unrequited love for Jimmy Stewart in “Vertigo”, later known to us ‘80s kids as Ewing matriarch Miss Ellie on “Dallas”) plays Mary, an average housewife, who is told by her policeman husband that he is in love with someone else and will leave her. Enraged, she bludgeons him with a frozen leg of lamb and he dies. As his policemen friends begin their investigation, Mary naturally tries to thwart it, playing the innocent. While they continue searching how their colleague met his demise, his wife insists that they must have a hot meal because they are just working so diligently. As they continue their chitchat about what could have been used to murder him, little do they know, they have been eating the evidence. We close out on one slick final moment of her sitting in a chair and snickering.
The coda states that she doesn’t get away with it (Production Code, remember?), which is standard for most of the episodes that deal with some kind of crime or treachery. This episode was directed by Hitchcock himself and received an Emmy nomination. The fact that this story (and the way it was portrayed) could even suggest such a diabolical method of disposing of evidence is freaking ingenious. Sick, twisted, and brilliant. No wonder it’s my absolute favorite of all the shows I’ve seen!
“The Alfred Hitchcock Hour” (1962-1965)
“Good-Bye, George” (broadcast in December 1963) Blackmail is on the menu! Famous actress Lana Layne (Patricia Barry) is at the top of her career and is involved with Harry Lawrence (Robert Culp). Over the course of the action, a sleazy ex-con named George Cassidy (Stubby Kaye) comes rolling in and we find out his connection to such a popular, refined thespian. In her previous life, Lana used to be Rosemary Cassidy, with that cad for a husband, who still is her husband. George claims that he will take her to the cleaners if there’s a divorce. She can’t possibly let her well-kept secret of her former life get out! She’s got an image to protect! As you would expect, Lana resorts to killing him to keep that under wraps. When Harry and Lana become engaged, the real work starts. Together they need to figure out where to dump George’s body, so they decide to travel to a cabin. They think they’ve devised a foolproof plan, but they get the surprise of a lifetime when entering the cabin: the lights pop on. Lana and Harry have just walked into a surprise party being thrown for them, complete with plenty of Hollywood media, particularly photographers, who get a great shot of them dragging in George’s corpse.
Lana’s craving for adoration and the desire to maintain a charmed existence got the best of her. George knew who she was and what she was. That disdain for her husband, that sheer rage over her carefully crafted image being blown to bits took over her mind. This episode could serve as Hitchcock’s cautionary tale for Hollywood. Despite that old adage, all publicity is definitely not good publicity, especially when you’re caught red-handed dragging a body into a dark house.
“Beyond the Sea of Death” (broadcast in January 1964): Wealthy and orphaned Grace Renford (Diana Hyland) has had fairly bad luck in the love department, and continues to search for the one man who isn’t just with her for the money. When she places an advertisement in an occult spirituality magazine, she starts communicating with Keith (Jeremy Slate), an engineer. Once they are slated to meet, Grace hides how rich she is in order to figure out his intentions. Grace’s longtime friend, Minnie (Mildred Dunnock) is naturally looking out for her and has her guard up for a bit. Grace and Keith’s relationship progresses and they intend to marry. Keith dies in an accident in Bolivia, and Grace finds solace with a psychic. The lingering notion that Keith’s love continues for her from the afterlife (the episode’s title comes from a Christina Rossetti poem that serves as a common interest for the couple) gives Grace that peace of mind she needs. Grace has such faith in not only Keith’s everlasting love, but of the psychic’s ability to keep him “alive” that she is ready to give him her entire fortune to create a spiritual temple. Minnie, finding the whole thing entirely too suspicious, does some digging. Sure enough, not only is “Keith” alive and well, but he and the fortune teller are running an elaborate con game, where they’ve preyed on the gullibility of the young women that fell in love with “Keith”, or rather, one of his countless aliases. When confronted by both law enforcement and Minnie with the truth, something in her snaps. She absolutely refuses to accept the information, and has an explosive reaction toward the one person who only wanted to protect her.
Grace’s neediness and desperation for love, and the shock of having lost that, clouded in her mind any kind of rational thought or judgment. Even when she gets the proof right in front of her face that she was an innocent victim of an elaborate con, that still wasn’t enough. She couldn’t, wouldn’t, or just didn’t want to shake the ghost. That fragile ego and psyche simply caused her to suffer a psychotic break.
***Credits, broadcast dates, research, and other pertinent information according to the entire sites and individual pages of The Alfred Hitchcock Wiki (https://the.hitchcock.zone/wiki/Main_Page), The Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com), and Wikipedia(www.wikipedia.org).
Find all of the wonderful entries in the Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon here!
Have you seen these episodes? Have you noticed any kind of running theme throughout his shows? What are some of your favorites? Leave a comment!