Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Series 2, Episode 3

   Robert Stevens
   Francis Cockrell (teleplay); John Collier (story)
   Robert Emhardt, Cara Williams, Henry Jones
   14 October 1956
   24:23 (total) • 20:59 (film) • 2:04 (Hitchcock)

De Mortuis
A sweaty Professor Rankin carries a bag of mortar into his cellar where he starts mixing it into concrete to fill a large hole he has made in the ground. Upstairs two men enter his house calling for him but when there is no answer they make themselves comfortable in the house with some coffee whilst discussing Rankin's wife who apparently has been having an affair. The first man, Bud, recalls through a flashback sequence how Rankin's wife Irene met a truck driver at a local cafe before she promptly left with him after he makes some small talk with her. The second man, Wally, then recounts an experience where Irene made a pass at him one night but he didn't do anything about it.
The two men are about to leave when they hear a loud crash coming from the cellar and go to investigate. There they discover Rankin who had tipped over a wheelbarrow whilst attending to the work he is doing down there. One of the men notices the large cemented area on the floor and inquires about it and Rankin explains that he has filled in a hole where some water had been leaking. They invite Rankin to come fishing with them but he refuses as he has other things to do.... like finding out if there is a link between nutrition and disposition with some rats he is keeping in a cage down there.
As the professor begins telling the men how the rats have developed an urge to want to kill one another Bud takes another look at the recently re-cemented floor and starts to draw some conclusions, especially as the professor said that his wife had left just before they arrived.
The phone rings and the professor goes upstairs to answer the call whilst the two men in the cellar discuss what they should do about the apparent murder/burial of the professor's wife. The bank manager informs Rankin that his account is overdrawn due to his wife cashing some cheques. Just then his two friends put him on the spot and accuse him of murdering his wife and worry about being accessories because they know about it. They also point out, believing the wife to be dead, that she was notorious for a string of affairs across town. Neither man wants to turn the professor in so they leave without too much of a fuss.
Shortly afterwards Irene returns home.... and the professor invites her down into the cellar!
HITCH'S PROLOGUE (1 min 01 secs):
"Good evening students of the macabre. This evening's lecture has as its text a short story 'De Mortuis', translated from the Latin. This means 'about the dead'. At the risk of being facetious I would like to point out that Latin is a dead language. Thank you. It is rewarding to know that there are still a few students interested in achieving high marks. If you can't hear me in the back of the room please raise your hand and adjust the volume control. Regrettably the author wrote only his title in Latin and did the story in English. Writers are always compromising to obtain commercial success. I shall leave it to your judgement as to whether or not it would have sounded better in Latin."

HITCH'S EPILOGUE (1 min 03 secs):
"And so, just like many a Hollywood movie star, Irene Rankin was immortalised in concrete. But Professor Rankin was not so fortunate. He remarried. His crime was later discovered and he paid the supreme penalty. I have asked one of the actors to come out after the show for I want to congratulate him on a splendid performance and I'm sure you do too. [Hitch walks over to a table with the rat in a cage sitting on it] He played the most ferocious of the rats. A characterization which was quite a departure for him. Off stage he's entirely different as you can see. He's a family man; never seen in the nightclubs. He's just like the fellow who lives next door to you. [the rat squeaks] Thank you. We have another story, [Hitch fumbles in his jacket pocket] oh here it is but I'm afraid there isn't time enough to present it. We'll have to do it next time. Until then, good night."

Whatever was buried in the cement we will never know, but one thing was for sure.... we know what was ABOUT to be buried in it!

It becomes quite obvious early on that the large body-sized hole the professor has dug out in his cellar and filled in with cement is for his cheating wife. The only thing we don't realise is that she isn't actually in it...... yet.
I have to say it was a decent potboiler which had me hanging on with great anticipation for the famous twist ending we have come to expect from these episodes. Except, this was a rather unsatisfying conclusion after all the waiting.
Trivia: During the episode Robert Emhardt says he is 51 years old. A quick check on this proved to be the case in real life.
After the major disappointment of "Fog Closing In", it's a pleasure to see that the second season got right back on form with this one. No movie stars involved, just a group of talented character actors doing their thing, and all at the top of their game. It's mostly all dialogue again, but because it has such a sharp script, so well delivered by the cast, it's compelling. The photography is outstanding too, crisp and gleaming, each shot designed to give the maximum impact. There's a really chilling close-up of the Professor at the entrance to the cellar, near the end of the episode, when we can see the idea occurring to him. We knew. of course, right from the outset, that his floozie of a wife wasn't really buried in the cellar - that would be way too obvious - so it was a treat watching this and trying to work out how it would resolve itself. This is Hitch's television show at its best. He knows the episode's a good one, too : he's back to his playful self with the opening and closing remarks. In fact if anyone asked me to pick an episode to represent the series - and of course I've only watched the first forty - I'd choose this one. Excellent 50s telly !

(click any image to enlarge)

Professor Rankin... ROBERT EMHARDT
Irene Rankin... CARA WILLIAMS
Wally Long... HENRY JONES
Truck driver... HAIM WINANT
Benny, cafe owner... WILLIAM McLEAN

(click any image to enlarge)

Acknowledgements: [IMDb]

This page was last updated on: 04 April 2020