Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS SEASON ONE


ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS Season One. CBS Television program. 1955 - 1962.

Alfred Hitchcock was the host of this successful half hour mystery-suspense anthology series for seven years, then followed it with The Alfred Hitchcock Hour for three more years. While occasionally Hitch's introductions and closing can be lengthy and a little tiresome, more often they are quite amusing, benefiting from the host's comically droll delivery and timing. Hitchcock probably could have had a successful career as an actor a la Robert Morley.

The very first episode, "Revenge," with Vera Miles sending her husband after the man who supposedly assaulted her, has become famous but is just a trifle flat. Among the more notable first season episodes are: "Into Thin Air," with Pat Hitchcock [Hitch's daughter] searching for her vanished mother; "Breakdown," in which Joseph Cotton gives an excellent performance as a man who struggles to communicate to people, who think he's dead, that he's still alive [his character is an SOB, however]; "Our Cook's a Treasure," with Beulah Bondi suspected of poisoning Everett Sloane; "A Bullet for Baldwin," in which John Qualen kills his nasty boss with surprising results; "The Orderly World of Mr. Appleby" with Meg Mundy; "The Baby Sitter" with Thelma Ritter and Mary Wickes; "Mink," a comedy of errors involving a fur piece starring Ruth Hussey; and "Momentum," an ironic tragedy with Joanne Woodward.

As good as those episodes were, they were surpassed by the following: "Don't Come Back Alive," an insurance scam story with Virginia Gregg and Sidney Blackmer; "The Long Shot" with John Williams [who frequently appeared on the program], Peter Lawford and Gertrude Hoffman; "Help Wanted," with John Qualen as a man caught up in a sinister scheme; and "Legacy," about a woman who comes alive when she thinks a prince has killed himself for love of her. "Santa Claus and the Tenth Avenue Kid" was a touching and nicely sentimental change of pace with Barry Fitzgerald and Virginia Gregg [who frequently appeared on the show] and "The Older Sister" suggested that it was older sister Emma Borden who murdered her parents and not Lizzie, a theory that is now pretty much accepted by those who have researched the famous murder case.

The very best episodes of the first season include the following: "Triggers in Leash," a suspenseful piece about gunslingers with Ellen Corby, Gene Barry, and Darren McGavin, all in top form; "The Case of Mr. Pelham," with Tom Ewell bedeviled by a perfect double; the very sad "Guilty Witness," with Judith Evelyn and Joseph Mantell in an unexpected tale of homicide; and the absolute best episode of the entire first season [and possibly the best episode of the entire series?] "The Creeper." In this unforgettable story Constance Ford offers a memorably sympathetic and tragic portrait of a woman who is frazzled by reports of a maniac murdering women in the neighborhood. The story is not just frightening, but ultimately heart-breaking. Reta Shaw, and everyone's favorite Percy Helton, are also in the cast, along with Steve Brodie and Harry Townes. "The Creeper" was very well-directed by Herschel Daugherty. Robert Stevens also directed many episodes, and Hitch himself stepped in to helm such stories as the aforementioned "Mr. Pelham."

Not very episode was memorable, but virtually all of them were entertaining. Some fine actors were given wonderful opportunities to show off their range and versatility. Alfred Hitchcock Presents was one of the best television programs of the fifties and sixties, and remains quite watchable today.

Verdict: You can't beat Hitch. ***1/2.

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