Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Series 3, Episode 2

   James Neilson
   Robert C. Dennis (teleplay); Antony Ferry (story)
   E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman
   13 October 1957
   24:28 (total) • 21:54 (film) • 1:11 (Hitchcock)

Mail Order Prophet
New York office employee Ronald Grimes (E.G. Marshall) is fed up with feeling like he is just a cog in the machine that works for his company when his boss brings him a letter which is addressed to him from a J. Christiani. Grimes asks fellow employee George Benedict (Jack Klugman) to read the letter which claims the writer has a supernatural ability to look into the future and forecast events to come. For personal reasons Christiani selects Grimes to be the sole beneficiary of this power. Grimes calls the sender a crackpot but Benedict continues reading the letter, telling him not to be skeptical. Benedict reads further that the writer promises to make Grimes rich beyond his wildest imagination and also predicts that the mayor will be defeated in the election next week. Grimes passes it off as a practical joke, and tears up the letter.
Later, Grimes meets up with Benedict in a small restaurant and says he has received another letter from Christiani and starts to take the whole thing seriously, especially after the shock election result which saw the mayor ousted - just as the letter predicted. The letter goes on to predict that there will also be a huge upset in an up and coming boxing match at the weekend with the underdog winning the title. Benedict suggests that the election win was nothing more than luck but warns Grimes not to bet on the fight as he is certain to lose all his money. Saturday night comes and Grimes walks into a bar to watch the fight. The underdog Matthews wins - just as Christiani's letter predicted.
Back at work Benedict tries to convince Grimes that this is all just a phenomenal run of good luck and that the law of averages is bound to catch up soon and that he ought to quit while he is ahead. They later return to the restaurant after another letter is received. Grimes tells Benedict that after six correct predictions from the mysterious prophet, and with Grimes $1,000 up on account, he feels he ought to send Christiani $200 after he offers to send him a stock market prediction that will return an investment ten fold. Benedict susses that Grimes intends to borrow company funds in order to gamble on the easy-money maker and wants no part of it.
Grimes orders 100,000 shares on margin at 30 cents a share on Aphabesca Mines, using negotiable bonds which he has 'borrowed' from his company. On the off chance that things don't go to plan Grimes pens a suicide letter confessing that he lost. Back at work Grimes takes a bottle of poison tablets into the toilet and contemplates suicide but learns that his shares are now worth $1.40 a share - which will make him a profit of $125,000, enough for him to quit his job for.
Benedict, who up until now is convinced it has all been part of a racket pays a visit to the postmaster to enquire about the mysterious PO Box 64 and discovers that Christiani is in fact serving time in jail. It all gets explained, and all the while Grimes is living the life of luxury on his boat!

•The two leads, E.G. Marshall and Jack Klugman were two of the jurors in Sidney Lumet's "12 Angry Men", one of the greatest movies ever made, which was shot around the same time as this episode.
•Grimes complains that after seventeen years he ought to be trusted to open his own mail.
•The letter Grimes receives is from J. Christiana, PO Box 64 and is addressed to his place of work at 124 Revie Street, New York City, New York. It is dated 16 September and has a frank mark of San Francisco, California on the envelope.
•The term "mail order prophet" is mentioned in a conversation by Benedict in the restuarant to Grimes.
•The cheque Grimes sends to Christiana is for $200 and is dated February 25, 1957.
[Hitch has his back to camera and looking out of a multi-storey window] "Oh hello fellow speculators. I just made a killing in the stock market. Nothing to it. I simply told my partner we'd been wiped out. He's a very excitable fellow. Naturally I was joking. We haven't been wiped out. Actually we've made a tidy profit. [Hitch keeps looking out of the window down to the street below] I wish he hadn't done it. We have a very sensitive elevator man. He doesn't like it when he brings people up and they don't ride again; it confuses him. As for out story it is called the 'Mail Order Prophet' and it too is set in a background of stocks and bonds."

[Hitch is sitting in a chair in the office] "This concludes our entertainment. So until next time when we shall bring you another story. [He gets up and walks across the room and takes his hat and umbrella off a hook before throwing them out of the window] Good bye."

A brilliant episode with an extremely clever conclusion and explanation as to how Christiani's predictions kept coming true! Very clever indeed. He simply sent out 4,000 random letters, half of them predicting one man would win the mayoral election and the other half predicting he would lose. When the correct result came in it meant that half of his predictions were correct. He then uses the same formula on another prediction, for example the outcome of the boxing match and so on. Until there are only a handful of people left. Grimes was among the few people left who was convinced because we do not hear about all those who lost. Christiani ends up in jail for fraud after receiving all the donations from those who sent him money based on his schemes. That must have cost Christiani a lot of money in stamps, envelopes and time writing those letters! As for Grimes, good for him, he actually benefits greatly from it all.

A fantastic episode. It's hard to feel sorry for compulsive gamblers but I just have to make an exception for E.G. Marshall because I just love him as an actor. If that makes sense? The strong ending delivered marvellously and it was just a complete joy to watch.
By sheer coincidence, while I was watching this one, I had a scammy phone call, one of those pre-recorded American voices warning me in stern tones that my internet was on the verge of being disconnected, and in order to prevent this I had to "press 1 now !" These leeches have been at work for decades, but in the 50s it was mostly done by mail, which is the subject of this episode and a useful warning to the ones who are born every minute. Naturally the "mail order prophet" - that's a very tasty pun there - can't predict the future, and the scam is nicely explained by the postmaster to Mr. Klugman, who by that point is so spooked by his naive friend's "luck" (or whatever it is) that he nearly gets sucked in as well. E.G. Marshall, looking like a serious Bob Hope, is great in this, playing an earnest, unworldly dullard, bored out of his mind by his job, trapped like one of those characters in a cartoon who have a tempting little pitchforky devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other, warning him against temptation. Jack Klugman is Mr. Marshall's angel, his cynical friend, the voice of reason, yet even he has doubts as Mr. Marshall's success rate goes up and up. Mr. Klugman is one of the most relaxed - and relaxing - of actors. We know we're safe with him. He never lets us down. The ending was a pleasant surprise. I predicted disaster and ruination for Mr. Marshall, but as with all gambling, winning is a possibility, albeit a remote one. Appropriately, in the last shot of Mr. Marshall enjoying his wealth, he appears to be transparent, as if all his sudden wealth brought him only fleeting happiness. Did he ever realise it was all a con? Will he learn from this? Will we? I hope so.

(click any image to enlarge)

Ronald J. Grimes... E.G. MARSHALL
George Benedict... JACK KLUGMAN
Postmaster... JUDSON PRATT
Barroom customer... LINDA WATKINS
Tony, waiter... VICTOR ROMITO
Bar patron... DON AMES
Office worker... RALPH BROOKS
Restaurant patron... RUDY GERMAN

(click any image to enlarge)

Acknowledgements: [IMDb]

This page was last updated on: 10 July 2020