Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Series 1, Episode 15

   Don Weiss
   Dick Carr (teleplay); Cornell Woolrich (story)
   George Mathews, Beverly Michaels
   08 January 1956
   24:52 (total) • --:-- (film) • -:-- (Hitchcock)

The Big Switch
It's Chicago, 1920 and ex-con Sam Dunleavy (George Mathews) returns home from Florida to get even with Goldie (Beverly Michaels), the dame who left him for another man. With a suspicious lieutenant (Joe Downing) tailing him, Sam visits an old ally Barney (George E. Stone) at his club in the hope he can fix him with an alibi for murdering Goldie. The price is $2,500 and the two men formulate the plan so that Sam can kill his girl without being seen. That night Barney sets up a fake poker game with Sam in the back of his joint and instructs Sam to slip out the back because the cop is still stalking him in the bar. In Sam's absence, Barney tells him he will give the impression they are playing poker and maintaining a loud argument throughout so they are not disturbed or that any suspicion is made. Sam goes to Goldie's apartment and threatens to kill her but changes his mind when she tells him about "baby" (a very cleverly encrypted message that her life is in danger and an instruction on the phone for her husband to get rid of Sam). But when Sam returns to Barney's place, Barney has a fatal accident.

"This is a mouse trap, as any fool can plainly see. That is, if he isn't a mouse. It's amazingly effective, too. I've been fiddling with it only a few minutes and I have already caught three. Cornell Woolrich, the author of tonight's story, does not make mouse traps. Mr. Woolrich goies in for bigger game, he makes people traps and very good ones, too. This story concerns a perfect alibi. Actually one never knows when he will need an alibi. Recently I read of an innocent man who found himself in serious difficulty because although he claimed he had been watching a movie while the crime in question was being committed, his vagueness about details of the picture caused police to be suspicious. Please do not allow this to happen to you. Watch and listen closely to the following commercial which is furnished for your benefit. It will provide you with an airtight alibi as to your whereabouts during the next sixty seconds."

"Well, as they say in San Quentin, that's the way the little pellet drops. Now if only Donleavy had killed Goldie, he could have accounted for his actions at the time of Barney's accidental death. But suppose the police started asking questions about Goldie. And now for some of those delightful words from our sponsor, after which I'll be back. [commercial break] I'm afraid that's all the commercials we have time for this evening. But we shall be back next week with some more, and uh, oh incidentally, if there's time we also plan to tell you another story."

It appears that Sam's biggest mistake is allowing Goldie to make one last phone call. The finale is set-up for us to believe that but the twist comes as Sam makes it back to Barney's room. Barney, who had been seen polishing his gun earlier accidentally shoots himself dead with it - with Sam present. The cop rushes in and concludes that Sam is guilty.

Well the clues are there if you know what to look for. Hitchcock's closing remarks are priceless, referring to the length of the commercials seen in the program (which of course are not included in the DVD). Clever ending.
This one's a little gem, with the look and feel of an early-'30s Warners gangster picture, all helped by authentic gangsterish dialogue ("take it on the lam !") and the always-welcome presence of little George E. Stone as club owner Barney. Everything's just right here : attitudes, clothes, background music....and what can we say about Miss Beverly Michaels, except Wow ! George Mathews is the real deal, a murderous hood along the lines of Robert Armstrong in The Racketeer, but with a soft spot - he loves his cat and budgie - that ultimately sinks him. The ending's superb too, with that fadeout on the Charleston drumbeats. Along the way there are nice touches : there's a gag reference to Gus Mager's comic strip Hawkshaw the Detective ; and another put-down from Georgie gives us an Ollie-like camera look from the cop, which brings us right into the room with the characters. The cherry on the cake is Hitch, at the very top of his form as a presenter, laconic and cynical but still with his friendly humour bubbling away underneath. Encore !
Hawkshaw the Detective was a long-running strip in the American funny papers, evolving from Sherlocko the Monk, which is immortal for giving us the character Groucho. An extra point I missed earlier : the title itself is significant. There are so many corny movies called "The Big" this and "The Big " that, but the gangster and the cop spend some time early in the episode discussing the "Big Switch" - the one that operates the electric chair - and at the end, BECAUSE of a Big Switch, in the plot, that's exactly where he's heading. Nice touch.

(click any image to enlarge)

Sam Donleavy... GEORGE MATHEWS
Lt. Al Hawkshaw... JOSEPH DOWNING
Ed, bartender... JAMES EDWARDS
Morgan... MARK DANA
Tony, butler... NAPOLEON WHITING

(click any image to enlarge)

Acknowledgements: [IMDb]

This page was last updated on: 21 February 2021