Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Series 3, Episode 3

   Alfred Hitchcock
   Stirling Silliphant (teleplay); Ben Ray Redman (story)
   Vincent Price, James Gregory
   20 October 1957
   23:35 (total) • 19:21 (film) • 2:03 (Hitchcock)

The Perfect Crime
Charles Courtney (VINCENT PRICE) is a criminologist who collects 'trophies' from the crimes committed by some of his previous clients. He is paid a visit late one night by a fellow lawyer, John Gregory who has just got back from a trip. Charles has a whole display cabinet full of items but keeps one space clear for what he calls the perfect crime. Charles starts describing what constitutes a perfect crime as a murder of the purist form. Gregory brings up the case of Harrington, a criminal who has recently been put to death in the electric chair. As the two men sip their brandies Charles recalls through a flashback story of how he tracked down Harrington.
An elderly gentlemen, Mr. West living in a small lodge is found dead by his devoted housekeeper one morning when she goes there to fix his breakfast. He is slumped in an armchair having been shot through the heart. Charles is brought in by homicide to investigate the death and finds one small clue: some threads from a tweed suit. He also finds two sets of footprints in the wet grass outside the home. A man's and a woman's. Charles deduces that a man named Harrington was behind the killing and goes on (and on and on) to give a detailed explanation of how he came to that conclusion. Gregory contradicts Charles by suggesting that Harrington was not the killer and describes the gun that Charles claims was the murder weapon. He goes one better by offering to prove it.
Gregory tells Charles exactly how the gun got damaged and that it belonged to Mrs. West - the wife of the deceased. She was having an affair with Harrington. Now Gregory recalls in his flashback sequence of how he and Mrs. West were in Monte Carlo when he asked about her husband's murder and whether or not she intended to marry Harrington? She shows Gregory a nasty letter she had received from her husband and how she wished he was dead before he tells her that he had in fact been murdered.
Back in the study Gregory tells Charles what really happened the night West was killed and accused Charles of having made a mistake; a claim which Charles aggressively denies. After a heated exchange between the two men Charles offers Gregory a nightcap but then strangles him to death instead. Two years later Charles is visited by some newspaper reporters who ask if he intends to retire. He tells them no, and then proudly shows off the newest trophy in his display case: a clay vase.

•Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Vincent Price said in an interview of how excited he was at the prospect of working with Hitch.
HITCH'S PROLOGUE (1 minute 8 secs):
[Hitch is sitting in an armchair wearing a cap and smoking a pipe which emits bubbles every time he blows on it]" Good evening ladies and gentlemen. And Doctor Watson wherever you are. Tonight's case is, er... tonight's case is called 'The Perfect Crime'. I'm not sure who it was who said 'a perfect crime is exactly the same as a perfect marriage.' [Hitch starts swiping at the bubbles] Their being perfect depends on you not being caught. Tonight we plan... this is exactly why I never take my pipe to bed. If you fall asleep you can be bubbled to death. And now join me, if you will, while we contemplate the perfect crime."

[Hitch walks into Charles's study which now has coverings on all the furniture] "I regret to inform you that Courtney did not retain his last trophy very long. He was caught. A char woman knocked over the precious vase, breaking it into pieces. A few of them identifiable as, um, bits of Mr. Gregory. You see the gold fillings in his teeth had resisted the heat of the kiln. But all the good doctors and all the good police couldn't put Mr. Gregory together again. As for the char woman she became the pride of the press. Here is where the real historical significance of the case lies. Ever since, cleaning women of the world over have been knocking over vases trying to emulate her success. That's all until next time when we shall be back with another, though imperfect crime. Good night."

Harrington is wrongly put to death for the murder of Mr. West. It was Mrs. West who shot him because he wouldn't grant her a divorce. Charles then kills Gregory by strangling him as part of his 'perfect crime' and then places some pottery on the shelf to represent the whole thing after he supposedly dumped Gregory's body into a kiln.

Weak. So much talking! So much explaining! The first half of the story is completely saturated with Vincent Price's dialogue explaining how one man was killed and who did the deed and why. I grew tired just listening to him rambling on and on. The regular audio inserts of horses hooves trotting past the window throughout is also an annoyance and completely unnecessary and unlikely, given that the story takes place at 1 o'clock in the morning. This had the potential to be a great episode, especially with Hitchcock at the helm, but it turned out to be nothing more than a waterlogged story bogged down by long scenes and too much constant talking. The story takes place in one room for the most part with the only exception being the flashback sequences. By the end of it all I was hoping for at least a decent ending, and even that was disappointing. After two very strong episodes in a row in this third series, this was a massive let down.
Another myth has been busted : that after 1930 and "Murder", Hitch never directed another whodunit. Well, that's what this one is, and he directed it - and almost as if to show us his pride in it, he has a pleasant little stroll around the set afterwards, as he later did in the trailer for "Psycho". Unfortunately Hitch is hindered by an incredibly wordy script, all talk and very little action. It's a Stirling Silliphant two-hander, and ten years earlier it would have made a gripping radio drama, but it's not that exciting as a television episode. Vincent Price was at the start of his glorious twenty years as a horror star at this point, so it's unusual to see him on the side of the law, instead of planning to stab someone in the eyeballs. However, he's perfectly cast as a supremely self-satisfied detective, an ultra-smug American Holmes. This one did have the advantage of several possible resolutions, so the twist at the end was a genuine surprise. Perfect crime ? Almost. Perfect episode ? A bit less than that. It was efficient but it didn't hold the interest, so even twenty minutes seemed a bit too long. This is Alfred Hitchcock ; we want more murders !

(click any image to enlarge)

Charles Courtney... VINCENT PRICE
John Gregory... JAMES GREGORY
Ernest West... GAVIN GORDON
Harrington... MARK DANA
Newspaper photographer... JOHN ZAREMBA
Housekeeper... THERESE LYON

(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 December 2020