Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Series 1, Episodes 23


   Alfred Hitchcock
   Francis M. Cockrell (teleplay); John Collier (story)
   John Williams, Isobel Elsom
   04 March 1956
   24:06 (total) • 21:53 (film) • 0:56 (Hitchcock)
   8/10


Back For Christmas
Herbert Carpenter (John Williams) is digging a large hole in his cellar so that he can bury his wine collection whilst he and his wife Hermione (Isobel Elsom) take an extended trip to America. He consults her passport to determine her exact height at 5'4" and then looks at the hole, giving the viewer an idea of his sinister intentions. The couple have dinner and talk over the last of their preparations before inviting some guests around to say goodbye. When the guests leave Hermione sets about covering the last of the furniture with dust sheets as they intend to be away for a long time. Herbert once again calls Hermione down into the cellar and once again she gets him doing more odd jobs around the house, slowly adding to his incredible frustrations. The tension is building quite significantly at this point. also has one last thing to take care of down in the cellar: he lures his wife down there and (off camera) murders her with a blow to the head with a lead pipe. He doesn't waste time in burrying her either!
Herbert leaves for America where he checks into the Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills. He sits at his typewriter and composes a letter as though it was written by his wife, informing their maid back home that the couple intend to stay a bit longer in the States. An executive for the firm looking to employ Herbert delivers him some mail that has arrived for him, which he opens and reads. It's a letter from a building company who have written to his wife confirming the excavation of their cellar as a surprise Christmas present for him. Oh dear.


TRIVIA
•This was John Williams' second appearance in the series.
•John Williams plays a husband who kills his wife, played by Isobel Elsom. The two are reunited in a later episode, "The Three Dreams Of Mr. Findlater" where once again Williams tries to kill her!
•There is a genius shot from the director early on as we see John Williams slowly look up from the hole in the cellar floor, analyzing the hole with the size of his wife. Classic Hitch.
•According to his passport, Herbert is a metallurgist by profession. He was born in London on May 1st, 1902. He is 6'0½" tall with grey eyes and brown hair. In reality, John Williams was born in Buckinghamshire, England on April 15th, 1903 and was 6'1" tall. The passport lists his wife as being born in Chelmsford on December 8th, 1903; 5'4" tall with blue eyes and blonde hair. In reality Isobel Elsom was born in Cambridgeshire, England and was ten years older - born on March 16th, 1893. She really was 5'4" tall.
•Another wonderful example of Hitchcock's mastery is the scene where Herbert goes down into the cellar and calls his wife, but she asks him to come back up to help her fix a covering on a light instead. The way he trudges up the stairs like a sulking child is brilliant. Followed by the whole light-covering debacle which adds some humour to the otherwise sinister plot is just pure gold. Just watch John Williams' expressions when his wife is up the ladder and he is getting more and more agitated! And after the murder when Herbert has to trundle back down into the cellar to turn the water back on. Just brilliant.
•The excavation work in the cellar costs £78, according to the invoice.
•The last line of the episode is John Williams: "Back for Christmas. She said I'd be back for Christmas".
•Four cast members from this episode also appeared in a later episode, "The Three Dreams Of Mr. Findlater" - John Williams, Isobel Elsom, Arthur Gould-Porter and Molly Glessing.
HITCH'S PROLOGUE (36 secs):
[Hitch is standing by a desk examining a shrunken head] "Oh good evening ladies and gemntlemen. Especially the ladies. Now you see what might happen if you fall asleep under the dryer. Shrunken heads are a hobby of mine. Collecting them of course, not making them. Take too long to make one. First of all you must wait until the original owner of the head dies. I haven't the patience for that. As you have no doubt already guessed tonight's story has nothing whatsoever to do with shrunken heads. It is called, 'Back For Christmas'."

HITCH'S EPILOGUE (20 secs):
"That concludes our sideshow. We shall be back next week to... [Hitch examines the wooden stick which is attached to the shrunken head] Made in Texas? By Texans? With New Yorkers! I think I'd better be trotting off. I've just decided to have my hair sanforized. Good night."



SPOILERS
The director sets up a tantalising finale right from the get-go by giving the audience the notion that Herbert is going to kill his wife and then spends fifteen minutes leading us there.
It was Herbert - in the cellar - with the lead piping!



IN MY HUMBLE OPINION...
Hitchcock, who directed the episode, introduces the show whilst fiddling with a shrunken head and then tells us, "tonight's show has absolutely nothing to do with shrunken heads". When Herbert tries to call his wife down in the cellar she actually starts to irritate the viewer by evading him; first by complaining about an inadequate dust sheet over a light in the hallway and then making sure the windows are locked. After he does in fact bury her I have to say he did an immaculate job or putting all the earth back in such a spotless manner - except to say that if the hole in which the earth came from is now occupied by a mass (the body), surely there would be an excess amount left over after he filled the hole back up again?
Herbert describes California: "Oh, large, casual and very disorganised!"
GEOFF THINKS...
Hitch directed this one, and you can certainly see why they called him the Master of Suspense. Herbert's wife is so annoying that we almost WANT him to finish her off, and she keeps delaying the inevitable with piddly little errands for him. John Williams underacts beautifully, really understated, this mild man with murder in his heart. At one point he even does a camera-look, so we share his frustration. Dull 1950s middle-England is evoked nicely in the early scenes, and this provides a stark contrast with the sunny gaudiness of Los Angeles when Herbert gets there. An excellent episode. This is some of the best telly I've seen in years. We just don't realise how far the standards have dropped.

THE CAST
(click any image to enlarge)



Herbert Carpenter... JOHN WILLIAMS
Hermione Carpenter... ISOBEL ELSOM
Major Sinclair... ARTHUR GOULD-PORTER
Mrs. Sinclair... LILLIAN KEMBLE-COOPER
Mr. Wallingford... GAVIN MUIR
Mrs. Freda Wallingford... KATHERINE WARREN
Mr. Hewitt... GERALD HAMER
Mrs. Hewitt... IRENE TEDROW
Mr. Hall... ROSS FORD
Servant... THERESA HARRIS
Elsie, the maid... MOLLY GLESSING


GALLERY
(click any image to enlarge)

Acknowledgements:
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0508128/ [IMDb]

This page was last updated on: 17 September 2020