Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Series 1, Episode 5

   Don Medford
   Marian Cockrell
   Patricia Hitchcock, Geoffrey Toone, Alan Napier
   30 October 1955
   24:54 (total) • 22:00 (film) • 1:51 (Hitchcock)

Into Thin Air
Diana Winthrop (Pat Hitchcock) arrives in Paris from a trip in India with her mother, who looks pretty knackered. After checking into the Hotel Madeleine (room 342), an on-site doctor visits the sick mother in her bed and gives her an examination. He tells the daughter that her mother has a fever but we know this is not true, especially judging by the way the doctor expresses his concerns. The doctor tells Diana that the medicine required can not be obtained from any chemist so late at night but that his wife is licensed by law to dispense such a medicine and therefore he sends Diana with a message to the doctor's wife to collect the medicine and then bring it back to the hotel.
The doctor's wife prepares the necessary medicine but deliberately takes her time doing it. When Diana returns to the hotel a little after midnight the clerk does not remember her and suggests she is in the wrong hotel. Diana insists that she is in the correct hotel but upon examining the register she finds a Mr. Duchesne (from Le Havre) in the room she claims to have checked into. The bellhop and the maid who allegedly assisted her into the room also claim not to have remembered her. Confused and frustrated, Diana takes up the offer of a different room and retires for the evening.
The next morning and suspecting a conspiracy, she seeks help from the embassy and one of the representatives, Basil Farnham (Geoffrey Toone) takes charge of the matter. Together they examine the bottle of medicine that the doctor's wife gave to Diana and find that it is in fact just water. Later, Diana describes to Farnham exactly what room 342 looks like from inside and they, along with the clerk return to view it only to find it is completely different. It's starting to look as though the woman is having some sort of breakdown until she discovers a big clue which reveals her sanity is indeed intact.

•Yes, that is Hitch's daughter Patricia in the leading role. He makes a subtle reference to her in his closing remarks.
•The story is very closely related to "The Lady Vanishes", a movie Hitchcock made in Britain in 1938.
HITCH'S PROLOGUE (1 min 01 secs):
[Hitch is sitting on a table] "Tonight we are going to tell the story of a woman who disappears into thin air. By the way, have you noticed that thin air seems to be the type of air most conducive to disappearances? There sir, is a fact well worth knowing! Now - in case you seem to recognise parts of the story don't be alarmed. It is familiar because it is a classic of its kind. Many, many people have borrowed this legend; quite profitably too. Two novels have been written about it and it has been made into a motion picture called 'The Lady Vanishes'. Once by no less a person than Alfred Hitchcock. It was also related by Alexander Woollcott in his book, 'While Rome Burns'. Here, following our sponsors' all too brief message is our version of that famous old tale. [Hitch gets down from the table] Now I had better get out of the way in enable you to see better. [Hitch turns to the side and talks to an unseen person off camera] May I have a bit of thin air please?"

[Hitch has his back to the camera before turning around] "Oh I'm glad to see so many of you are still with us. There was a disturbing suggestion at the very close of our story which I wish to clear up at once. You will be relieved to hear that Diana and Basil's story ended happily: they did NOT get married. And now for that part of the programme you have all been waiting for, after which I'll be back. [fade to black; followed by a fade in - this would have been where the sponsors' advert would have been] And that completes our offering for tonight. However, I am not giving up. Next week I plan to stage a comeback and shall present another in our series of situation tragedies. Good night. [Hitch walks off camera, pauses and then returns in close-up for one final remark] Oh, er incidentally, I thought the little leading lady was rather good, didn't you?"

Diana is certain of a conspiracy and sets out to prove her sanity is intact by describing the wallpaper in room 342 when she and her mother were in it. However, when she returns to look at the room the wallpaper is completely different. She peels strip of paper from the wall exposing the old one underneath exactly how she described it. It is revealed at the end that the mother was more sick than previously thought (having the Bubonic plague is somewhat of a valid excuse!) and had already died when the doctor had her transferred secretly whilst the hotel staff covered it up due to orders from the French government.

It's a good story, believable to a point with a decent level of suspense and intrigue maintained nicely throughout. Pat Hitchcock's performance is barely acceptable (she wasn't an experienced actress by any means) but she carries herself reasonably well until the end. For this reason alone I couldn't rate the episode any higher than a 7, but to be fair this was the only fault I could find with the entire show. Of course, and as Hitchcock mentions in his opening remarks, this owes more than its share of credit to 'The Lady Vanishes' - the 1938 British film made by Hitch just before his departure to the States. Hitch ends the show by commenting on "the leading lady being rather good" - a subtle reference to the fact that she was in fact his real-life daughter.
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.

(click any image to enlarge)

Basil Farnham... GEOFFREY TOONE
Sir Everett... ALAN NAPIER
Mrs. Herbert Winthrop... MARY FORBES
Doctor's wife... ANN CODEE
Bellhop... ALBERT D'ARNO
Detective... JACK CHEFE [unseen]

(click any image to enlarge)

Acknowledgements: [IMDb]

This page was last updated on: 25 May 2020