SEASON 1: EPISODE 1 - "REVENGE"
This is a stunner - and so is Vera Miles. It's quite startling to see how she changes into a dowdy, mousy little thing after being attacked. What intrigued me is that after we get that lingering shot of her lovely legs, the old bat in the trailer next door looks her up and down and PURSES HER LIPS. Whatever it is she's thinking, she certainly couldn't say it on 1955 American telly ! Apart from Vera's legs, the photography is exceptional, great shots of sunny California. Clearly Hitch took charge of this first episode himself to give it a good sendoff. It has the same high quality as his features - but oh, it's bleak.
SEASON 1: EPISODE 2 - "PREMONITION"
I've watched several of these episodes now, and this time I thought I'd watch the show BEFORE I checked out the review, to see if I could guess the outcome. Nope. Nowhere near. It says a lot for Mr. Forsythe's acting - or my naive outlook - that I thought his relatives were covering up some dirty deed. Hitch wasn't able to turn his good-looking leading men - Cary Grant, Ivor Novello - into baddies because he knew the filmgoing public wouldn't take it ; but this is different. This is a telly episode, designed to be enjoyed for 25 minutes and forgotten. (They couldn't predict DVD box sets!) Hitchcock's closing remarks cracked me up. He's sending up those boring MGM shorts, the Fitzpatrick TravelTalks ("and as the sun sinks slowly in the west, we bid farewell to beautiful Hawaii....."). Peter Sellers also did a lovely parody of these, and you may have heard of it: "Balham, Gateway to the South"!
SEASON 1: EPISODE 3 - "TRIGGERS IN LEASH"
Hitch's sad-faced remark at the end is supposed to refer to the outcome of the episode, but I think it reflects his genuine attitude towards it : "That was disappointing, wasn't it?" Yessirree, Hitch, it shore wuz. Dagnabbit, Maggie, them new-fangled tee-vee folks done shoved in every goldarned, dad-blasted Western clee-shay they could possibly think up, and then some. I wuz plum tuckered out watchin' them two hom-brays squarin' up tuh each other fo' nigh on twenty minutes. This epeee-sode wuz so putrid, ah'm a-gonna have tuh fumigate mah front room. Phew ! *uses spittoon, waits for clang. Nothing happens*. CLANG ! Boy, this heah room's deeper than ah thought!
Seriously, this one stank, and I think Hitchcock knew it, and "that was disappointing, wasn't it ?" was his sly way of sharing his feelings with the audience, without criticising it outright. No wonder he never made a Western. It's always a bad sign when you couldn't care less about any of the characters. It's an even worse sign - as in this case - when you want them all to be dead, and as soon as possible.
SEASON 1: EPISODE 4 - "DON'T COME BACK ALIVE"
This one is indeed excellent, and I didn't predict the outcome (but that's not saying much). Sidney Blackmer is one of those veteran performers - not quite a star, but a top character actor - who's always reliable. It's nice to see him get above-the-title billing. Hitch's comment at the end about these episodes being on film reminds us that they are in effect dramatic two-reelers, complete and compact little movies. Are all American insurance reps as relentless as Robert Emhardt ? There's a man who's good at his job. I noticed that the sponsor, Bristol-Myers, got an on-screen credit in this episode, so maybe the US print is the only one available. Great picture quality as always.
SEASON 1: EPISODE 5 - "INTO THIN AIR"
The only reason I saw this ending coming is because I remember another treatment of the story, a glossy 1950 Rank picture called So Long At the Fair, with Jean Simmons and Dirk Bogarde. In that movie the missing person was Jean Simmons' brother, played by David Tomlinson. This episode is a nice tight summation of this frequently-told urban legend. I liked the way Hitch admitted he'd made his own version - and of course his charming tribute at the end to his daughter's performance. Yes, Hitch, the little leading lady was rather good.
SEASON 1: EPISODE 6 - "SALVAGE"
It's an improvement on Gene Barry's previous appearance in the series - that corny Western - but this still plays like a runty version of a 1951 RKO programmer, one of those dreary B-movies where Robert Mitchum grunts his way through some thick-ear role (boy, did he have a thick earhole) and mistreats an unmemorable contract actress. Mr. Barry was a good, dependable actor - I remember him in Burke's Law - but he comes across here like Sid Caesar in a comedy sketch pretending to be a gangster : "make it look like a accident !" Nancy Gates must be some sort of magician. Watch carefully from about 7:30. Where did that cigarette come from so quickly ? She doesn't have a bag, it wasn't on the desk.......if I'm watching the props, it doesn't say much for the show. Not great. Next ! But Hitch's opening and closing bits are GREAT.
SEASON 1: EPISODE 7 - "BREAKDOWN"
Undoubtedly one of the best episodes I've seen so far (I've seen five ! ;-) ) But it's also really disturbing, playing on our fear of premature burial. Occasionally this sort of thing happens in real life. I'd intended to have an afternoon nap, but I'm not so sure if that's a good idea....
SEASON 1: EPISODE 8 - "OUR COOK'S A TREASURE"
Yes, sadly we all knew it would be the wife. She's young, beautiful and has a virile, vibrant dancing partner to whom she often refers lovingly, while her husband is prematurely decrepit through overwork and the sheer dreariness of being a '55 model American executive. In The Lodger, the real killer is caught offscreen, and a similar tactic is employed here. We don't need to know anything about the real murderous housekeeper ; it turns out she's incidental. It's a lesser episode but it does have that startling final close-up of the wife with the cup of poisoned cocoa. Hitch's opening and closing comments are, as always, excellent and funny - and essential to lighten the mood after such a grim tale.
SEASON 1: EPISODE 9 - "THE LONG SHOT"
To be honest, I could never really see the point of Peter Lawford. A bland Englishman, well in with the Rat Pack and the Kennedys, why was he so famous ? He always seemed stiff and awkward and out-of-place in those MGM movies of the late '40s. Yet here he redeems himself. This is a genuine star turn, in one of the best episodes I've seen so far, even though it kicks off by giving him some incongruously Runyonesque lines to establish his character as "a tinhorn horse-player named Charlie Raymond". Mr. Lawford needed to raise his game here : he's sharing screen time with that most cunning of actors, John Williams, as the ex-pat who yaps on about dear old London. That wouldn't bore me : I'd happily spend a long journey chatting with Mr. Williams about the finest city in the world. However........Yes, this one's a classic. One more thing though : did Mr. Lawford insist on - or request - a separate title card with his name on, before the episode title card ? This privilege is given to nobody else so far. Just a thought.
SEASON 1: EPISODE 10 - "THE CASE OF MR. PELHAM"
Not exceptional. It dragged a bit and you somehow knew what was coming. However, these episodes always look remarkably classy when you consider the turnaround time : a day for rehearsal and a two-day shoot. The only evidence of haste is the occasional fluffed line that gets left in. Ewell's part is virtually a monologue : right in the middle of a long diatribe, there's a fluff, and there it remains. Not a problem, as his character should be way too jittery to be that articulate. And who says "moreover" when explaining to a doctor that you're being spooked by a double?
SEASON 1: EPISODE 11 - "GUILTY WITNESS"
There are no stars in this one, just reliable character players - and this helps with the ordinariness of the surroundings, the neighbourhood grocery store and the tatty apartment building. This is another episode taking place during a heatwave, with everybody mopping their brows ; it adds to the sense of tension. To be honest, I didn't work it out, although I should have. The title is a dead giveaway. Who's the guilty witness ? The idea of the body being in the pram is a lift from The 39 Steps, in which Robert Donat is able to leave the building disguised as a milkman, because nobody notices a milkman ; and in one of the Father Brown stories, it's a postman. Here it's the pram. They're looking all over for the corpse, and it's in the hallway all the time - although what must it have smelled like in that heatwave ? They needed a REAL building inspector ! I thought this was an excellent episode.
SEASON 1: EPISODE 12 - "SANTA CLAUS AND THE TENTH AVENUE KID"
My personal feeling about Christmas is that it's something to be endured, so I watched this episode to get it out of the way. With that awful title, I'd braced myself for something appallingly sentimental, a pocket ripoff of "Miracle on 34th Street", but this episode was quite tangy. Barry Fitzgerald doesn't help, a cornball one-note Oirish actor with about as much twinkle in his eyes as a shark. He's resistable, but not quite as gruesome as those mid-50s American child actors, particularly the tough "Tenth Avenue Kid". What Fitzgerald should have done was plant the toy aircraft on the little sod and then grass him up to the manager, thus getting him locked up and stopping his one-brat crime wave in its tracks. What he actually did was steal it himself and give it to the kid, who was probably too hard and cynical (certainly way too old) to believe in Santa anyway - and he got away with it. And the kid probably carried on being a shoplifter. So what's the Christmas message ? Crime does pay ? Having said all that, it was well-made - just unnecessary. No murders !
SEASON 1: EPISODE 13 - "THE CHENEY VASE"
Fooled me too ! I certainly wasn't expecting that outcome - and Patricia Collinge's smile right at the end was worth staying in for. What will she do next ? This is one of those episodes where you genuinely wonder what happens to the people in it after the action has stopped, Miss Collinge is a lovely actress. Even though Hitch didn't direct this one, he was apparently fond of her. She plays Teresa Wright's mother in Shadow of a Doubt, and persuaded Hitch to add an extra scene - which she wrote herself - to suggest a budding romance between Miss Wright and Macdonald Carey's character, the detective. Darren McGavin again - and considerably more animated than his previous appearance in that ridiculous Western, Triggers in Leash. There's a nice in-joke : he's playing a character called Lyle, and his real middle name was Lyle. Unlike Charles Bronson in There Was an Old Woman, Mr. McGavin's no thug ; he's a smoothie who could charm the birds out of the trees. Carolyn Jones was creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky even in 1955 and with blonde hair. Yes, this is a fine episode, but not as fine as the vase I'm about to buy online. Only $45,000 : I'll just go and give them my bank details...... and how do we pronounce "vase"? Hitch rhymes it with "raise"; everyone else rhymes it with "cars".
SEASON 1: EPISODE 14 - "A BULLET FOR BALDWIN"
Once again, a character actor gets a star part and runs with it. Many of us will have seen John Qualen in old movies, a succession of meek, haunted, wide-eyed, desperate little men. He was outstanding as the Oklahoma farmer whose farm is bulldozed in The Grapes of Wrath, and his role in this episode is not unlike the confused, sad murderer he plays in His Girl Friday. As is often the case with this series, we're left wondering how things turned out after the action finishes. It's almost like Groundhog Day, or the cyclical finish to Dead of Night ; will Mr. Stepp continue to shoot a succession of bosses every Saturday night in the belief that he's just hallucinating it all ? No : they'll come and take him away, and quite rightly so. It's all very unlikely, and the explanation turned up a little too early and undermined the suspense, but the ending, with Stepp thinking he's trapped in a recurring hallucination, was a brilliant touch. The 1909 setting makes a pleasant change from the usual mid-50s look of these shows. We know the series was made on a tight budget - rehearsed and shot in three days - but this one really looks impressive.
SEASON 1: EPISODE 15 - "THE BIG SWITCH"
This one's a little gem, with the look and feel of an early-'30s Warners gangster picture, all helped by authentic gangsterish dialogue ("take it on the lam !") and the always-welcome presence of little George E. Stone as club owner Barney. Everything's just right here : attitudes, clothes, background music....and what can we say about Miss Beverly Michaels, except Wow ! George Mathews is the real deal, a murderous hood along the lines of Robert Armstrong in The Racketeer, but with a soft spot - he loves his cat and budgie - that ultimately sinks him. The ending's superb too, with that fadeout on the Charleston drumbeats. Along the way there are nice touches : there's a gag reference to Gus Mager's comic strip Hawkshaw the Detective ; and another put-down from Georgie gives us an Ollie-like camera look from the cop, which brings us right into the room with the characters. The cherry on the cake is Hitch, at the very top of his form as a presenter, laconic and cynical but still with his friendly humour bubbling away underneath. Encore !
Hawkshaw the Detective was a long-running strip in the American funny papers, evolving from Sherlocko the Monk, which is immortal for giving us the character Groucho.
An extra point I missed earlier : the title itself is significant. There are so many corny movies called "The Big" this and "The Big " that, but the gangster and the cop spend some time early in the episode discussing the "Big Switch" - the one that operates the electric chair - and at the end, BECAUSE of a Big Switch, in the plot, that's exactly where he's heading. Nice touch.
SEASON 1: EPISODE 16 - "YOU GOT TO HAVE LUCK"
This one's hardly "ideal family viewing". Mr. Cassavetes is a compelling actor, but his character's aura of menace and sheer nastiness make this episode difficult to enjoy. Maybe the authors saw "The Desperate Hours" in which Bogart gives Fredric March a hard time for over an hour under similar circumstances. Twenty minutes was more than enough for me. No, I didn't spot the clues, and I don't think I'll be sitting through it again to find 'em. However, like all the episodes in this series, the production values and overall quality are astonishing when you consider they were knocked out in three days. There's a jump cut near the end of the closing credits, and a drop in image quality, but no cut on the soundtrack. I suggest that the last few seconds of film had been damaged and replaced with video from another episode. If you notice things like THAT, it doesn't say a lot for the show. And poor old Hitch looks really tired. Miss Pavan is lovely, and apparently still around.
SEASON 1: EPISODE 17 - "THE OLDER SISTER"
This one wasn't great, but what startled me was how strongly the two sisters resembled characters in "Rebecca". The apparently meek Emma was much like the terrified Joan Fontaine, and then halfway through, POW ! - at the top of the stairs, Carmen Mathews as Lizzie, almost a twin to Judith Anderson's evil housekeeper. Obviously there was a twist. The journalist character was so pushy and unlikeable that I half-expected her to be the next victim. Sadly, she survived. (Did I just write those words ?) Hitch's daughter Pat has a lot less to do here than in "Into Thin Air" and it's just as well, with that atrocious accent. What is it supposed to be ? Irish ? Scots ? Her voice coach must have been Dick Van Dyke.
SEASON 1: EPISODE 18 - "SHOPPING FOR DEATH"
After the grim "premature burial" horrors of "Breakdown" I decided to go for something more soothing. This isn't it. What a star turn : I'd hire Jo's Van Fleet any time. Her character is quite the face-biter : she should run for President ! Ray Bradbury's excellent script makes some good points about taking better care of ourselves so we don't end up....well, dead. The two elderly insurance men reminded me of Smith and Dale, yet they were unwitting angels of death (an effect heightened by their disappearance into the mist at the end), somehow always nearby when a fatality occurs that should have been avoided. There's some ancient stock footage at the start - that speeding car is from the early 30s - but this episode's a beaut, tight, claustrophobic and HOT..
SEASON 1: EPISODE 19 - "THE DERELICTS"
Robert Newton was a serious drinker and he's playing a drunk. Maybe this was all he could do this late in his career : the poor guy died shortly afterwards, aged 50.He must have had some self-awareness of his condition. He plays his character almost as a parody of the music-hall "educated tramp" so this episode is a rare example of the blackmailer being more lovable than the victim. Mr. Newton is always worth watching : there was a lot more to him than the eye-rolling pirates he ended up playing. You has me affy-davy on that, Jim laaaad !
SEASON 1: EPISODE 20 - "AND SO DIED RIABOUCHINSKA"
I'd rate this one higher than a 5 because of its atmospheric vaudeville setting, and the variation on the "vent possessed by his creepy doll" story. The most wooden thing in it was Bronson as the cop. Otherwise the supporting cast was excellent. Loved Charlie Cantor as the agent : JUST right, with more than a touch of Allen Jenkins. Claude Rains is one of those actors I'd watch in anything : a star character actor. And that doll was so spooky that Archie and I hid behind the sofa, didn't we, Archie ?
SEASON 1: EPISODE 21 - "SAFE CONDUCT"
It's always a pleasure to see Charlie Hall in ANYTHING, but this one's a bit of a clunker. When you care more about a bit player in the intro than the main characters, the episode's in trouble.
SEASON 1: EPISODE 22 - "PLACE OF SHADOWS"
The opening shot, the big old steam locomotive coming into the station, is a stunner, although it's been borrowed from a more expensive production and bears no relation to the wintry conditions hinted at throughout the episode. Whenever anyone opens a door, a stagehand throws in some prop snowflakes, giving it the look of a cheap melodrama, the sort of thing parodied by Bill Fields ("It ain't a fit night out for man nor beast !" he yells each time, just before the snow hits him - apart from the last time, when he flinches but there's no snow). This isn't a bad episode but there are no thrills. Again the title is quite apt : when we discover Rocco has been dead all along, the monastery truly has become a "Place of Shadows". I just checked out Everett Sloane ; now THERE'S a character actor. He was born in 1909, yet I always imagined he was much older. A master of wizened make-up, in this episode his ageing monk's pious, stoic dignity reminded me of Buster Keaton. Thankfully he resisted the urge to fall down the stairs.
SEASON 1: EPISODE 23 - "BACK FOR CHRISTMAS"
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.
SEASON 1: EPISODE 24 - "THE PERFECT MURDER"
Not much suspense in this one, it's true. It's blindingly obvious that the old bat would survive and that Paul would chomp on the ground glass SOMEHOW. Some of these telly episodes are grim and bleak, but thankfully they're interspersed with more light-hearted ones. This is a stylish black comedy, and you could easily imagine it being expanded to feature-length with Paul repeatedly trying - and failing - to despatch the old buzzard. Hurd Hatfield is superb in this. His second movie role was The Picture of Dorian Gray, a dazzling turn which unfortunately typecast him as a grinning, murderous smoothie. His movie career went down the pan very quickly but he continued to work, and this episode is very much a pocket-sized "Dorian Gray" with its turn-of-the-century Parisian setting. Hatfield's rapport with Mildred Natwick is a joy to watch. He's all smiles and pleasantries and she responds accordingly, but SHE KNOWS he wants her most dead, and soon. It ends with a flourish of music, just like a proper movie, which - in miniature - it is. There's a hint of Hitch's involvement in this : Mildred Natwick had just finished her role in The Trouble With Harry, and Hitch must have realised that she'd be just right for The Coot That Will Not Die. Hitch's movie actors often turn up in these episodes ; it's a pity they've been overlooked for so long.
SEASON 1: EPISODE 25 - "THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN"
Estelle Winwood : now there WAS an old woman ! This veteran actress had been on stage since Victorian times. She was 84 when she played Hold Me Touch Me in The Producers, and she lived to be 101. One of her four husbands was Arthur Chesney, the old landlord in The Lodger. One of the joys of Hitch's television series is that it occasionally hands out a tasty star turn to a character actor or actress who wouldn't get such a chance in movies. Miss Winwood grabs this with both hands. Lots of influences here : there's an obvious nod to The Ladykillers, which had just been released, with its indestructable old lady unaware of the fact that her visitors are would-be killers. There's Miss Havisham, of course, the eager young girl sent dotty by the death of her fiance, leaving the entire house in a cobwebby time-warp. And, less well-known, there's Dinner For One, Lauri Wylie's comedy sketch which is shown on German television every New Year's Eve. Butler Freddie Frinton (remember him ?) has to serve drinks to May Warden's imaginary dinner guests, guzzles it all himself and becomes gloriously sloshed. So, not many marks for suspense in this episode, but that's not an issue. I was just absorbing the sheer joy of Miss Winwood's performance. Bless her. Charles Bronson does his usual brutish, humourless thing. At least he's more convincing here as a thug than he was as a police inspector in an earlier episode. Loved it !
SEASON 1: EPISODE 26 - "WHODUNIT"
This is a fascinating episode, and it's always a joy to see John Williams. Although he excels in stuffy, humourless British types - rather like Arthur Lowe or Cecil Parker - there's always a hint of brisk fun under the surface. Hitch liked him : after bringing him from the stage play to the movie version of Dial M For Murder, he appears in several telly episodes. Hitch's own movies - apart from Murder ! and to a lesser but more comedic extent The Trouble With Harry, are rarely whodunits, as he was more concerned that the audience should worry about the problems facing the stars instead of working out the identity of a killer. This, however, is "only" a telly segment and although his name is on it, it's not one he directed - and it's more of a "who WILL do it ?" which is an unusual twist. This is way more light-hearted than some I've seen : the deliberate nativity-play cheapness of the "heavenly" set and costumes is hilarious. It works well. The only slack note is Bill Slack as the lethargic nephew. Never was an actor better named : he's so slack as to be nearly comatose. What became of him ? He's probably still sleepily wandering around in the background of cheap zombie movies.
SEASON 1: EPISODE 27 - "HELP WANTED"
Two Canadians get the star roles in this one : cowboy star Lorne Greene (annoyingly misspelled as Green in the opening title card) and that master of meekness John Qualen. Hitch must have been fond of Mr. Q, as this is his third appearance in the first season of AHP, and he's at his best in his usual role of the timid, decent man forced into an impossible situation. Lorne Greene, far from his standard Western setting, has quite the air of menace as his humourless, mysterious employer, choosing to come across as a less sparkling version of Orson Welles. For once, Hitch critiques his own show : A brilliant play. Sneaky - but brilliant." - and he's right. Yes, the ending is a bit obvious, but it's all parcelled up neatly, the only jarring note being that an innocent man has to die in order to provide a measure of justice for the other characters. Hitch's intro, in which he's checking the want ads and finds he's been replaced as the host of his own show, is a pip.
SEASON 1: EPISODE 28 - "PORTRAIT OF JOCELYN"
This episode seems to be trying hard to be "Rebecca", even providing a waves-pounding-the-cliffs shot, but what ultimately lets it down is that none of the characters are remotely appealing. With the exception of dear old Raymond Bailey - who later knocked out over 200 episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies as the tight-fisted banker Mr. Drysdale - the actors are nondescript 'fifties American telly types, efficient but unmemorable. Philip Abbott? Nancy Gates? Yes, we've seen her before in "Salvage", but even so, no star turns here. It passed the time.
SEASON 1: EPISODE 29 - "THE ORDERLY WORLD OF MR. APPLEBY"
While watching this I was constantly distracted by the thought of how Peter Lorre would portray Mr. Appleby, instead of Robert H. Harris. Mr. Lorre would lose it altogether, no question, and by the end he'd be tearing the toilet roll off the wall - as he does in "Secret Agent" - whereas Mr. Harris maintains an air of quiet, controlled panic. Was ever a collector as obsessive as this, or so foolhardy as to own an antique shop in which he's unwilling to part with any of the stock ? He's even prepared to marry and murder a rich spinster in order to buy MORE stock that he won't ever sell. It's all most unlikely, but Mr. Harris is such a compelling actor that you're almost willing the evil creep to get away with it. I've said this before : one of the joys of '50s American telly is that star parts are given to some splendid character actors. Mr. Harris turns up all over the place - I saw him being delightful the other day in a 1961 episode of "Target - The Corruptors" - and he's in nine Hitchcock episodes. Apart from Mr. Harris, this is mundane stuff, although I didn't guess the ending. The REAL mystery is what happened to the two cast members who are billed on the credits - but never appear. Probably Mr. Harris bumped them off before the episode started. That's SO like him.