Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Series 3, Episode 10

   Paul Henreid
   Robert C. Dennis (teleplay); Alec Coppel (story)
   Peter Lorre, George Peppard, Mary Scott
   08 December 1957
   25:07 (total) • 22:14 (film) • 1:34 (Hitchcock)

The Diplomatic Corpse
Evan (GEORGE PEPPARD) and Janet Wallace (MARY SCOTT) are a young couple driving to California with Janet's aunt (ISOBEL ELSOM) in the back seat. The aunt makes several comparison remarks about how she much prefers England to America. When they stop the car for a break the aunt asks if they can continue on to Tijuana but Evan tells her that if she crosses the border into Mexico then her visitor's card will be invalidated. Still, auntie talks Evan into driving down there. It's the last we hear from her because just as they cross the border auntie is discovered dead in the back seat of the car when they stop.
Evan and Janet casually cover the aunt with a coat before popping into a local cantina for some tequila where they discuss the merits of the auntie's death, including her wealth and their potential inheritance. When they go to leave they find to their horror that the car - with auntie in the back set - has been stolen, which of course poses an inconvenient problem for them both.
The couple seek out the assistance of a dodgy Private Detective Salgado (PETER LORRE) to help finding their car but conveniently forget to mention anything about any corpse that may be in the back of it. They pay him his $20 asking fee and leave the office before heading off to a hotel for the duration. Later, the Chief of Police turns up after being tipped off by the detective and informs the couple that the stolen car has been located and a formal identification of the vehicle is required. Evan nervously accompanies the officer and inspects the car for damage - and confirms that nothing is missing whilst being obviously baffled by the lack of one aunt who was last seen in the back seat. The officer informs Evan and Janet that the car was stolen by a juvenile for a joy ride but later recovered. No mention of any old people being found inside it.
Janet wants to leave immediately but without the body they cannot claim any money from auntie's estate. The couple confront Salgado in the cantina where Evan confides that the aunt was dead in the car when it was stolen. Salgado says he can resolve the mystery without involving the police but it will cost a hefty 300 pesos, which Evan agrees to pay. After waiting anxiously, the dodgy detective tells the couple that the body has been found. Only problem is that the boy who stole the car is now in jail and Evan is forced to pay another $10 to get him out and to stop him talking.
The boy is freed from jail but speaks no English. A great help. Salgado talks and talks about theories and deductions using his wisdom and comes up with...... nothing. Until later when he finally cracks the case after visiting Evan and Janet in their hotel and tells them the body has been found outside a funeral home. The dodgy detective says it is going to cost Evan all the money he has left - all $22 of it - to get the situation fixed. Evan pays. And Salgado delivers on his promise. Evan and Janet now stand to inherit £30,000 now that a death certificate has been obtained. But there's just one problem....

•This was the third appearance in the series for Isobel Elsom (Back For Christmas; The Three Dreams Of Mr. Findlater).
•It was also the third outing for Mary Scott (Mr. Blanchard's Secret; Crackpot).
•When the trio cross the Mexican border and Evan realises Auntie is dead you can clearly see her breathing. It's my educated guess that Isobel Elsom wasn't really dead.... she was just acting.
•As Janet comes out of the bar you can clearly see her nipples poking through her white blouse. I notice these things. In fact if you look closely (and I did) they are on show practically throughout the entire episode! Okay I will stop now.
•Top-billed Peter Lorre doesn't show up until after 7 minutes into the episode.
•Evan and Janet stay at the Bella Vista Hotel, room 9.
•Evan tells Delgado that the aunt died of a heart attack. So he's a doctor now is he? How would he know the exact cause of death?
[Two men, both wearing sombreros and with their heads down are sitting either side of a large prop book named 'Diplomatic Corpse'. The man on the right is Hitchcock] "Good evening señors and señiores and members of out little 'Book of the Week' club. Originally I was to play a different role but I proved to be a rather bulky bookmark. Tonight's little volume takes us to exotic nearby Mexico. Home of the tortilla, the bullfight and the forty-hour coffee break. It is called 'The Diplomatic Corpse'. Allow me. [Hitch walks to the large book and opens the front page]"

[Hitch is now sitting on the left hand side of the book, with another person on the right hand side] "Oh well, what can you expect from people who go out in the noon day sun? This of course was not the end of our travelogue. The Wallace's eventually recovered Mrs. Tate's body but this only led to another dilemma. Mrs. Tate had always scorned the beauties of burial in southern California and altered their course to ship her back to England. So they did the next best thing and had her buried at sea. [Hitch puts on his sombrero] By the way, you probably think I'm Alfred Hitchcock. [He points to the man sitting opposite] He's Alfred. I am Omega. Good night."

Delgado is a crook (really, couldn't see that coming?) and after taking all of Evan's money, he seizes on a lucky occasion whereby he pretends that a body found outside a funeral home is that of the aunt. It isn't. And when Evan and Janet return to the States to see the body for themselves they discover that the person in the coffin is actually a complete stranger. They've been swindled. Not only will they not receive any inheritance from the death of the aunt, but they have also lost all their money on a crook as well.

Whereas I appreciate that sometimes it is nice to mix up the established drama/suspense formula in these episodes to offer a fresh perspective in entertainment, it is clear to me that occasionally this can result in a misfire of epic proportions. Comedy touches are obvious here, which add a lighthearted approach to the sensitive subject of death but it doesn't quite gel as credible or even enjoyable. Mary Scott really has one of those haircuts I cannot go without commenting on! But just this once I shall give her a break. The story has a really interesting idea - a dead person traveling in a car across from the USA border into Mexico and then being stolen has the potential to make a brilliant suspense, but the actors left in charge to pull off the episode do not live up to expectations. It's a wasted opportunity and delivered too casually. The nearest we came to a story like this was "Into Thin Air" where a dead person goes missing without explanation. Only, that one was much better. I would be lying if I was to say that this episode was any better than "okay". It does drag on a bit longer than it needs to and the ending was pretty shit. It's lucky I was in a good mood when I reviewed it otherwise it probably would not have got the 5/10 I settled on!
The splendid Hungarian-born Peter Lorre was completely convincing and very funny as the curly-permed Hairless Mexican in Hitch's "Secret Agent", and here he almost repeats his characterisation, this time as the most slippery and opportunistic of detectives, apparently sleepy and inept but astonishingly successful at collecting his fee in advance as each new problem comes along. This episode almost plays like a vaudeville routine, a canny wise guy gradually extracting more and more money from a gullible patsy in an atmosphere of increasing panic. Such a scenario would require strong comedy performances from all concerned. No problem for Mr. Lorre, but a standard-issue leading-man type - Biff McGuire or Robert Horton - might struggle under these circumstances. Thankfully we have George Peppard, and it's a pleasure to see him almost turn into Jack Lemmon as his discomfort builds. All Hitch's best elements are here: macabre humour, a bit of suspense - there's a lovely overhead shot in the hotel room when the policeman shows up - a fine cast (let's not ignore the return of Mary Scott), a troublesome corpse which can't be found (unlike the one in The Trouble With Harry, which won't go away) and a tasty twist at the end. This greedy young couple get what they deserve, and so does the wily Mr. Lorre. Absolutely perfect, and a welcome relief after the previous week's strenuous drama. Hitch's intro seems to have been spliced in from a different print in somewhat degraded condition, but it's authentic. The huge book he's supporting - as a would-be Mexican book-end - has the episode's title and a 1957 Shamley Productions copyright. That's attention to detail!

(click any image to enlarge)

Detective Tomas Salgado... PETER LORRE
Evan Wallace... GEORGE PEPPARD
Janet Wallace... MARY SCOTT
Janet's aunt... ISOBEL ELSOM
Manual Hera, Chief of Police... JOHN VERROS
Dr. Elliott... SID CASSEL

(click any image to enlarge)

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

This page was last updated on: 05 May 2021