Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Series 1, Episode 18

   Robert Stevens
   Ray Bradbury (story & teleplay)
   Jo Van Fleet, Robert H. Harris, John Qualen
   29 January 1956
   24:29 (total) • 21:05 (film) • 1:39 (Hitchcock)

Shopping For Death
A car crash; a man who falls twelve storeys to his death; and a warehouse fire leads two retired insurance salesmen (ROBERT H. HARRIS and JOHN QUALEN) to a neighborhood on a boiling hot morning with one purpose on their mind. After observing the loud, abusive, angry and intolerant Mrs. Shrike (JO VAN FLEET), who barges her way past everybody she meets, they follow her to the local butchers where she loudly demands some V.I.P. treatment from the clerk (MICHAEL ANSARA). He barely contains his frustrations with the woman when he picks up a large knife and casually points it in her direction.
After the woman leaves the store, the salesmen discuss how her behaviour could ultimately lead to her being murdered and how they need to help her. Clarence and Elmer make their way to Shrike's apartment where they make the observation of how more murders are committed at 92 degrees than at any other temperature. The two men make themselves cozy in Shrike's living room where they propose their pitch to her. They offer to save her from certain death based on the statistics they learned from when they were working as insurance people. She is definitely a candidate for a sure murder any time soon based on her behaviour and making practically an enemy of just about everybody she crosses paths with.
Clarence demonstrates some examples by first showing her an electric light with frayed wires dangling over her bathtub which she could potentially grab ahold of when she is wet, followed by some meat which ought to be stored correctly in order to avoid food poisoning. Initially she isn't interested but Clarence sits her down and tries to talk some sense in to her and recalls some of the people he tried to help, but to no avail. Eventually Mrs. Shrike flies into a rage and starts throwing things around. Clarence attempts to retaliate but Elmer stops him and drags him out of the apartment before he can do her in. As the two men lick their wounds outside, an angry, drunken Mr. Shrike returns home, armed with a longshoreman's hook. Just as the temperature hits 92 degrees....

•Ray Bradbury wrote the story "Shopping For Death", originally published in the June 1, 1954 issue of MacLean's. Subsequently collected under a new title, "Touched With Fire", in The October Country (Ballantine, 1955) and in The Stories Of Ray Bradbury (Knopf, 1980). He also wrote the screenplay for this episode. Bradbury also gets a mention by Hitchcock in his opening remarks.
•Hitchcock doesn't say his first line of dialogue until 25 seconds into his opening scene. During his speech he mocks the need for the advert in such a way that it is extremely detrimental to its inclusion. It's amazing how he got away with that one! Unfortunately this footage is missing from the DVD print.
•John Qualen makes his second appearance of the series as one of the insurance salesman (remember, he killed his boss in "A Bullet For Baldwin").
•When Jo Van Fleet exits her building for the first time one of her neighbours contemplates throwing a plant pot at her. Yes. A plant pot. Damn, that woman is impatient!
•The Shrike's live in apartment 321. The hotel murder in the first episode, "Revenge", also took place in room 321.
•When Clarence learns the woman's name is Shrike he comments on how fitting it is that she shares her name with "the butcher bird".
•There is a humorous moment when Clarence tells Elmer that he doesn't need to look for the woman's apartment number on the doors because they ought to be able to find her just by following that loud shrill of hers!
•Mrs. Shrike tells Clarence that she is 45 years old. In reality she was actually only 40 years old at the time of filming.
HITCH'S PROLOGUE (1 minute 6 secs):
[Hitch is fixing a creaking door] "There, that's better. Much better. The least we can do is to provide the proper atmosphere. This is truly an extraordinary item. [Hitch holds up a small oil can] Loud-squeaking fluid. It is also excellent at making old shutters bang. And on dark nights one can spray it in the air in case the wind isn't whistling loud enough. It's very practical too. It can make old shoes squeak like new again. Now that we have established our mood, I should like to tell you that tonight's story is by Ray Bradbury and is known by the provocative title of 'Shopping For Death'.
[This is where the section of the episode ends on the DVD. However, the original broadcast continues with...]
It will follow the commercial. I repeat you will first see the commercial, then our story. I make this clear because many of our listeners have been confusing the two. It's immaterial to me except that after seeing the commercial they very often concentrate too much on that, rather than on the story. Ladies and gentlemen, the story."

"You needn't sit there staring. We're not going to show you anymore. In fact, I'm not even going to tell you what happened. Television audiences are becoming entirely too dependent. You expect us to do everything for you. This oil is terribly difficult to get rid of."
[the following was originally broadcast but is absent from the DVD]
"Look, while I'm working on this, please listen closely to the following and do exactly what they tell you." [commercial break]
[the DVD resumes with...]
"Next week at the same time, I hope to see you again. Good night".

Apparently most murders occur when the temperature reaches 92°F. After the two men fail to convince the woman of her impending death, her furious husband returns home.... with a longshoreman's hook, oh, and just as the temperature hits 92 as well.

Jo Van Fleet puts in a fantastic performance as the noisy, slightly disturbed housewife with lots to say. Edgy, claustrophobic and tantalizing in its delicacy, the whole story balances finely on a knife-edge throughout. The ending doesn't really come as much surprise, but the development of the episode and the sweaty characters just make this a deliberately uncomfortable 21 minutes to sit through for the viewer. It's relentlessly stimulating.
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..

(click any image to enlarge)

Mrs. Shrike... JO VAN FLEET
Mr. Clarence Foxe... ROBERT H. HARRIS
Mr. Elmer Shaw... JOHN QUALEN
Mr. Albert Shrike... MIKE ROSS
Cut Rate Meats clerk... MICHAEL ANSARA
Male neighbor... ALFRED LINDER
Female neighbor... CHARLOTTE KNIGHT
Boy at the firehydrant... LEE ERICKSON
Man in the street... JACK TESLER
Woman with accent... LAIOLA WENDORFF
Man in the street... RALPH MONTGOMERY
Other man... BOB MORGAN

(click any image to enlarge)

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

This page was last updated on: 16 February 2021