Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Series 3, Episode 5

   Paul Henreid
   Robert C. Dennis (teleplay); Jerome Barry (story)
   Don Taylor, Dolores Hart, Patricia Hitchcock
   03 November 1957
   24:32 (total) • 21:48 (film) • 1:30 (Hitchcock)

Silent Witness
Professor Don Mason (DON TAYLOR) is reciting Shakespeare's "Richard III" for his class when the bell goes to end the lesson. Pretty student Claudia Powell (DOLORES HART) speaks with Mason after the lesson and it is established that she is having an affair with him despite him already being married. When Claudia demands to see him later, Mason tells her he cannot and doesn't want to see her again. That evening the professor asks his wife (PATRICIA HITCHCOCK) to go out with him to see a movie but she insists she must attend her regular gym class as she needs to control her figure "if she is to compete with all the jailbait in his classes". Ouch.
The telephone rings and it's Claudia, who tells Mason she has taken a babysitting job right across the street from where he lives and she intends to see him that night one way or the other. A few minutes later the professor comes over to the house and the pair waste little time in getting down to business. After which, Mason explains to Claudia the risks in what they are doing but she has already made up her mind that they are going to get married. Naturally Mason freaks out and we start to see what a loony this woman is, especially as she doesn't take no for an answer. And then she hits him with the obvious.... the threat of blackmail. Mason doesn't take the threat too kindly and strangles Claudia right there and then, waking up the baby.
The next day Mason is paid a visit at the college by a detective who asks him questions about Claudia, suspecting she was maybe killed by a student from the school. When Mason gets home his wife tells him she was also visited by a detective asking questions. She puts the idea into Mason's head about how babies can learn to talk from such a young age, which begins to make Mason paranoid.
Mrs. Davidson, the baby's mother, sees Mason in his yard and the two strike up a conversation where she informs him that her baby has been acting strange. A few weeks later Mason comes home late and is told by his wife that Mrs. Davidson's baby isn't sleeping well on account of her teething. Mason sees an opportunity to accost the baby when the mother leaves her outside in the porch; but as he approaches, the baby begins crying. Mason quickly tries to flee but bangs the porch door, causing Mrs. Davidson to rescue her child and report the incident.
The detective turns up at Mason's home to investigate the report of a prowler but Mason claims to have been asleep and not heard the ruckus from next door. The detective points out to Mason that the prowler's footsteps can be seen outside the window leading from the neighbour's house to his own, but stops short of accusing Mason of being the culprit.
The next day Mason sees a uniformed police woman sitting with the baby in the yard and goes over for a chat with her. When the officer excuses herself to make a telephone call Mason is left alone with the child but nothing happens. At the school, a blonde student approaches Mason at the end of a lesson to ask for help with her work and Mason is immediately reminded of Claudia and refuses to assist her. That night as Mason walks home in a daze, consumed by guilt and the fear of the baby giving him away any day soon he walks into a police station and confesses to the murder of Claudia Powell. If only he had waited a little longer....

•Hitchcock begins speaking his opening dialogue whilst the music is still playing for the opening credits.
•Dolores Hart was 19 years old at the time of filming.
•The title is obviously referring to Linda, the baby who was in the room when the killing took place.
•Hitchcock calls the Professor DON but Patricia Hitchcock calls her husband BOB. Incidentally, the actor in question, Don Taylor, would later go on to direct some episodes in the series.
[Hitch is behind bars and dressed in a convict's uniform] "Good evening fellow inmates. I suppose you're wondering why I'm here? I was picked up by an agent from the Federal Bureau... the Bureau of Standards, that is. He claims I was lying about my weight. The vertical stripes were my tailor's idea. They not only give me that slim look, they also make it impossible for the guards to tell where the bars leave off and I begin. I have a different uniform for each day. And on each one the stripes are closer together. In ten days I expect to disappear completely. As for tonight's story, it is a somber little jape entitled 'Silent Witness'. It will occupy the space in just a moment."

"Well you can't win them all. I understand that Don Mason was condemned to a cell very much like this one. [camera pulls back to reveal Hitch in a cage surrounded by large square blocks with letters on them and a big ball] And now daddies and mummies, I think the times has come to lam out of here. Suppose you take this opportunity to escape. Until next time, of course." [Hitch climbs up on the blocks and fires a water pistol at the screen]

The only witness to the murder was the baby, who obviously couldn't talk and reveal the killer's identity. However, Mason (the murderer) realises that the baby screams every time he goes near her. He gets the idea into his head that the baby will soon be talking and will be able to communicate more easily. This makes him paranoid to the point where, consumed with guilt, he hands himself over to the police. However, a short time later, the baby's father comes home from the army and is greeted with her screams. Mrs. Davidson assures him that everything is okay, the baby cries every time she sees a man.

As soon as the professor tells the beautiful Claudia (whom he really ought not to be dating, considering their 18 years age difference - not to mention the fact he is committing adultery as well!) he cannot see her anymore you just know there is going to be some blackmail coming up in the story line. This became the only obvious direction in which the story could realistically go. We sense that the baby will play a big part in the plot, and the title "Silent Witness" is a big clue to this, but we never know how. In the end its all in Mason's head as his paranoia finally gets the better of him and in a rather unexpected but honest way he reveals his crime to the police. Well that was rather decent of him, wasn't it?! Not a bad episode. It keeps the interest going and delivers with an unusually honest ending.
This is a familiar theme, recently explored in "The Rewrite" : the college professor who takes his obsession with one of his students a step too far. We are not told the age of the girls in his class, although worryingly we hear the term "jail bait" at one point. Don Taylor, the director of several episodes, is here the star, and he's a standard-issue square-shouldered leading man type, albeit one with the range to portray a charming but ruthless killer. A good performance from Don, but it's a little odd that a man intelligent enough to be a professor would fall victim to such ridiculous and irrational fears. If we can ignore this, it's a fascinating study in growing paranoia as he heads towards a psychological breakdown. For a few minutes there's even the alarming prospect that he might kill the baby as he lurks outside the house opposite, leaving a trail of footprints that the ever-present detective mysteriously doesn't seem to link to him. But they can't cover everything in 25 minutes. Also missing is the undoubtedly devastating effect his guilt and confession would have on his sweet-natured wife, nicely played by Hitch's daughter Pat. But overall this is a good one, holding attention all the way through. Hitch himself is back on form, obviously enjoying himself with a brilliantly-scripted opening sequence. We can be sure that he had his black suit on underneath the convict uniform.

(click any image to enlarge)

Professor Bob Mason... DON TAYLOR
Claudia Powell... DOLORES HART
Sergeant Flagner... HARRY BELLAVER
Mr. Davidson... WILLIAM BOYETT
Blonde student... THEODORA DAVITT
Old babysitter... KATHERINE WARREN

(click any image to enlarge)

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

This page was last updated on: 13 February 2021