The Alfred Hitchcock Hour
Series 2, Episode 18

   William Witney
   John Resko (teleplay); Thomas H. Cannan Jr., Randall Hood (story)
   Stephen McNally, Robert Keith, Edd Byrnes
   21 February 1964
   48:08 (total) • 45:38 (film) • 1:19 (Hitchcock)

Final Escape
Paul Perry (Edd Byrnes), a young man serving ten years in jail for robbing banks is caught in a pond trying to escape and is returned immediately by the captain (Stephen McNally). When they arrive back at the jail the captain finds Doc, an elderly, harmless (and drunken) inmate-trustee attending to putting a marker on a fresh grave in the compound. The captain takes a swig of Doc's liquor bottle and helps Doc secure the marker. The captain tells Doc that he has looked in on Doc's granddaughter Elissa who is poorly and in need of hospital treatment and assures him that she will be alright.
Paul is taken back to jail where he is shackled and given an extra year on his sentence for his attempted escape. The captain puts Paul to work, assisting Doc building coffins for inmates. Paul and Doc hit it off immediately, becoming friends. One day during visiting hours, Paul is visited by his lawyer who brings him bad news. With no prospects of ever getting out of jail, and desperate for escape Paul and Doc devise an agreement between them. Paul will give Doc $5000 to help his sick granddaughter in exchange for an escape from jail. As each coffin is big enough to hold two people Doc suggests that when the next convict passes away and is put inside a casket, Paul should climb in with the deceased and wait to be buried. After which Doc will return, dig up the coffin and release Paul to his freedom.
The captain gets wind of Doc's granddaughter suddenly being transferred to a private hospital and correctly figures that Doc got the money from Paul. As a punishment the captain takes away the alcohol privilege he had previously afforded Doc. Out in the yard one of the prisoners suffers an accident when a heavy log lands on him and crushes his lungs and he is confined to a makeshift hospital bed where he is placed under Doc's supervision. Paul has to find an excuse to join him so he decides to get his leg damaged in a deliberate accident. As a result of which Paul has his leg irons removed and is placed in the hospital next to his co-worker. All is going to plan but Paul gets impatient waiting for the other guy to die and threatens to put him out of his misery. Doc refuses to help Paul if Paul resorts to murder but as luck would have it the co-worker dies from his injuries. So the stage is set...
The co-worker is taken to the morgue as the drunken Doc goes over the plan with Paul: he is to make his way to the morgue, climb into the coffin with the corpse, conceal his face with a shroud and await for Doc to dig him up the next day. He gives Paul some tobacco, some matches and some chocolate to keep him company. Paul does as he is instructed and the coffin is buried the next day. Paul waits for Doc to come along and dig him up....

•It's such a shame that the final close-up shot of Doc clearly shows him "alive". You can see his closed eyes moving. This slightly spoils the ending in my opinion.
HITCH'S PROLOGUE (54 secs + 8 secs):
[Hitch is standing in a large container with several boxes of grapes next to him. He stamps on them in order to make wine] "How do you do. I find myself here as a result of a misunderstanding. I thought I was going to bathe in champagne but find myself stomping grapes instead. I did have a partner working with me but a short time ago he sank without trace. There is one consolation to drowning in wine: he had a smile on his face as he went under. However, I'm not complaining. I've always wanted to have my tennis shoes died though I didn't plan on having burgundy colored feet as well. But life must go on. Tonight's story is about a man called Perry and begins after a minute called tedious."

[Hitch is holding a bunch of grapes] "Our story will continue after this friendly interruption from your local station."

[Hitch's voice can be heard coming from inside the wine cask] "That concludes this evening's story. Next week I hope to bring you another one. Previews of which follow the next commercial, which I hope..." [bubbles from the wine cask]

Paul is buried in the coffin as planned but when Doc doesn't come to dig him up Paul starts to panic. When he lights a match he discovers to his horror that the corpse next to him is Doc, who had died the night before presumably from a heart attack.

Apparently this is one of those rare episodes which everybody remembers? Okay so let's get that ending out of the way first: some may say it was predictable, others may think it was genius. Certainly one of the most memorable of plot twists in the series and one that may keep you up at night giving you nightmares. I must confess after I first watched it I had trouble sleeping that night! It starts off slow and the opening five-ten minutes felt longer as it was setting up the important characters who would play the bulk of the story out. But as the story progresses it becomes more and more tighter and compelling to watch. The nail-biting climax will have your nerves shot by the end of it. Powerful, memorable, dark, claustrophobic and suspenseful all rolled into one package. Once you have seen this you will never forget it.
This time the extra length is justifiable as it establishes the back story of the main character, a relentless Houdini of the 1930s American penal system. Quite appropriately he's played by Edd Byrnes who had recently escaped from a long stretch in "77 Sunset Strip". Now sadly recently deceased, he was a huge star at the time and we can see why. Equally impressive is the world's craggiest actor, the splendidly desiccated Robert Keith. Thanks to the crisp, clear photography, he makes Russell Collins look healthy. This episode mostly takes place outdoors but even in these wide open spaces there's a sense of claustrophobia, feeling trapped, impending disaster. Something will go badly wrong here but we don't know what, although young Mr. Byrnes is allowing himself to be buried alive and entrusting his rescue to an ancient drunk with a heart condition. That gives us a clue. The ending must be one of the most shocking and horrific in the entire series. One nine-year-old boy watching this on British television never forgot it, and I'm sure there must be many similar accounts. Hundreds of hours of telly pass in front of us as we grow up, but very little of it stays vividly in the memory. This did. I never want to see it again but I have to acknowledge that it's a classic. Everything is done well : fine script and direction, a great set of actors, and of course, that ending, which is the grimmest thing ever, but somehow inevitable. An excellent episode, but memorable for the wrong reasons. Premature burial ? No thanks. I'll have a mobile phone in my pocket !

(click any image to enlarge)

Captain Tolman... STEPHEN McNALLY
Paul Perry... EDD BYRNES
First guard... JOHN KELLOGG
Blacksmith convict... RAY KELLOG
Second convict... BERNIE HAMILTON
Second guard... HINTON POPE
Elissa... BETSY HALE
Third guard... JOHN ALDERSON

(click any image to enlarge)

The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion by Martin Grams Jr & Patrik Wikstrom (book) [IMDb]

This page was last updated on: 26 November 2020