Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode “Don’t Come Back Alive” reviewed here

A middle-aged couple with money worries decides their best bet is to fake one’s death and play a long con to collect insurance money in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents, episode “Don’t Come Back Alive,” reviewed here.

Season 1 Episode 4—aired 10/23/55

“Don’t Come Back Alive” **

Teleplay by Robert Dennis
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Sidney Blackmer as Frank Partridge
Virginia Gregg as Mildred Partridge
Robert Emhardt as Mr. Kettle
Irene Tedrow as Lucy
Edna Holland as Librarian

In his mid-fifties, Frank Partridge hopes for some financial security for himself and his wife, Mildred. It’s been difficult holding down a job long-term and the good news he brings home of a new job offer as a salesman is tempered by the fact that the pay is commission-based and it doesn’t begin for a month. Meanwhile, rent is due in a week.

Over dinner, Frank and Mildred at first jokingly hit upon the idea of collecting life insurance as a solution to their financial woes and after an all-too-brief conversion, commit themselves to the following plan: Mildred will “go missing” for seven years until she can be declared legally dead and Frank can collect on a $25,000 life insurance policy. She will move into an apartment under an assumed name, alter her appearance a bit, get a job, they will meet secretly for “dates” from time to time and then presumably after the seven years are up, she will come out of the shadows. The whole thing seems an unlikely, preposterous scenario yet within minutes they both fully embrace it.

Their cover story for her disappearance is that Mildred will be taking a bus to visit her sister Lucy when what will really happen at that time is Frank driving her to her new apartment but the plan is nearly foiled when they find out that Lucy is coming to their house to pick Mildred up instead. Frank has to rush home to meet Lucy and he is late arriving and Lucy is already at the door. Frank parks his car down the street and in his haste to rush around the back, trips and falls onto the lawn.

When he finally opens the door, he is perspiring and a bit dirty which is at odds with the explanation he gives Lucy for why it took him five minutes to answer the door (that he was napping).

A man with the life insurance company, Mr. Kettle, comes to ask Frank some questions following Mildred’s “disappearance” or presumed death. He suspects that Frank has murdered her and actually starts to dig up his back yard in search of a body. He says he will continue to dog Frank for the next seven years if necessary to prevent him from collecting the insurance money.

When they have been separated for some time and Mildred has moved further away until the heat dies down, Frank is planning to fly off to see her for Christmas. As he leaves his house with a perfume bottle as a Christmas gift, Kettle is there in his driveway suggesting that Frank is really off to visit a girlfriend as he has killed his wife. Frank says it is actually for Lucy and Kettle insists on accompanying him to Lucy’s, so Mildred gets stood up in a restaurant at Christmas because Frank is prevented from visiting her by Kettle.

Time passes and at the six-year point, Kettle pays Frank another visit and says “you really fooled me.” But he says he thinks Frank will crack before the next year is up and will therefore never see the $25,000. He goads him some and Frank displays a bit of temper…

Frank gets a letter from Mildred apologizing for not replying sooner to his last letter and mentioning that she recently took a week’s vacation in Lake Tahoe…

Then one day Mildred shows up at Frank’s house and tells him she wants a divorce. He is stunned by this then she explains that she has found someone else (no doubt the person she was in Tahoe with). She says she has saved $1,500 and he can have that, she will surface, claim amnesia and get a divorce.

Frank becomes enraged and says “you’ve been dead too long to come back now” and hits her with a heavy statue, killing her. He then buries her in the back yard.

As he is leaving home to go to court to collect his insurance money, who should be there again waiting for him at his house, but Kettle, natch. Ostensibly, he is there to congratulate Frank. Says to show there are no hard feelings, he’ll “spade up” the part of the back yard that Frank says he was just tending to while Frank is in court. As they go to the back yard and Kettle begins to dig in the very spot where Frank buried his late wife, we zoom in on Frank’s face as it gradually falls as he realizes what will happen to him…

Too much ground is covered too quickly in this episode to make it very engaging, from how quickly Frank and Mildred decide to carry out their plan to Mildred’s arrival toward the end to tell Frank she’s moved on. A couple interesting notes on the lead actors for their future roles in horror. Frank is played by Sidney Blackmer, best known for his role thirteen years later as super creepy neighbor of Mia Farrow, Roman Castevet, in Rosemary’s Baby. Virginia Gregg, who played Mildred, would supply the voice of Norman Bates’ late mother in Psycho (and Psycho 2 and 3).

Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode “Triggers in Leash” reviewed here

Two cowboys aim to fill each other full of lead following a dispute over a card game and woman who runs a restaurant for hungry cowboys aims to dissuade them in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode “Triggers in Leash,” reviewed here.

Season 1 Episode 3—aired 10/16/55

“Triggers in Leash” **½

Teleplay by Dick Carr • Story by Allen Vaughn Elston
Directed by Don Medford
Gene Barry as Dell Delaney
Darren McGavin as Red Hillman
Ellen Corby as Maggie
Casey MacGregor as Ben

Engaging performances salvage what seems to be a sort of formal exercise in this episode. The challenge: how to keep viewers interested in a story that takes place entirely in one room and during which very little actually happens.

Somewhere out West in the mid-to-late 19th century, Maggie (Ellen Corby, Grandma Walton some years earlier) serves up tasty vittles to cowboys and whatnot who pass through. Currently an older fellow named Ben has just finished up a plate of pancakes and Maggie promises him a steak and pie for lunch after he does some chores for her around the place.

After Ben leaves, cowboy Dell Delaney (Gene Barry, a pretty big name at the time, having just starred in The Atomic City and The War of the Worlds in the previous 2-3 years) enters. Maggie knows him and wonders what’s on his mind as she can see he is preoccupied and won’t remove his gun belt when he is about to eat.

Soon, another cowboy bursts into the room, Red Hillman (Darren McGavin, twenty years before Kolchak: The Night Stalker, another series I really should review).

Seems he and Dell had an argument over a card game the night before and now they aim to settle that dispute permanently (and fatally).

What follows is a lot of bluster and braggadocio between the two men and Maggie’s attempts to play peacemaker. Maggie seems to take their threats to shoot one another dead seriously but there is an element of childish boasting and insults with Dell and Red that suggests that both would prefer a face-saving way out of a violent confrontation. She insists that no one will win in the end—that whoever shoots first may kill the other but that she will testify against the “winner” and he will end up hanging for his crime.

Finally, Maggie makes a proposal that both men agree to: it’s just moments before noon and the only way to have a fair shootout is for each man to promise to draw together at the moment that the cuckoo clock sitting on a nearby shelf chimes.

She removes a large, heavy crucifix statue from the shelf, saying that she wishes to spare it from damage due to stray bullets.

With less than a minute to go, the clock stops, in Maggie’s view by the hand of God, and that therefore the cowboys must call off their duel or they will be dishonoring both themselves and God. They agree to leave together, peacefully.

Moments later, Ben returns and sees that Maggie has taken the crucifix off the shelf. “I told you last time the clock wouldn’t run right on the shelf unless it was set on the level,” he admonishes her as a bemused smile may or may not come to the viewers face.

As I said in the beginning, very little happens in this episode and it is fairly repetitive. It’s not a total success by any means but neither is it a complete failure. Ellen Corby projects honesty, morality, caring and believability in her role, Gene Barry’s character comes off as having the upper hand but is still nervous and Darren McGavin is quite funny as the more over-the-top of the two, getting on Dell’s nerves.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode “Premonition” reviewed here

John Forsythe as a man who returns unexpectedly to his family home in an episode with a great twist ending, a hallmark of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. “Premonition” is reviewed here.

Season 1 Episode 2—aired 10/9/55

“Premonition” ***½

Teleplay by Harold Swanton
Directed by Robert Stevens
John Forsythe as Kim Stanger
Cloris Leachman as Susan Stanger
Warren Stevens as Perry Stanger
George MacReady as Douglas Irwin
Percy Helton as Gerald Eaton
Harry Tyler as Isaiah Dobbs
Paul Brinegar as Mason

An engrossing episode from start to finish with an ending that I didn’t see coming at all, this is the first of 44 series episodes directed by Robert Stevens, who handles his first outing with the economical, workmanlike touch he would display throughout the series.

Kim Stanger (John Forsythe) flies back to his familial hometown after a period of four years away studying advanced composition at the Sorbonne in Paris. Shortly after exiting a cab in the town center, he encounters a familiar face, Doug Irwin (George MacReady), who is surprised to see Kim but is obviously holding something back as he tries to deter Kim from going straight to his father’s house and redirect him to his law office where Kim can phone ahead to prepare the family for his arrival. A good scene that sets the episode’s tone, piquing our curiosity as to what’s going on.

Kim won’t have it and heads home where no one is there. In voiceover from Forsythe, we hear that Kim isn’t sure why he returned home, only that he had a premonition that something wasn’t right.

Kim’s father’s portrait hangs over the fireplace, an older man in nautical attire. The narration additionally fills us in that dad (who Kim refers to by his given name, Greg) was a physical sort, a tennis player, fisherman, polo player, hunter. This was a source of conflict between father and son whose interests leaned more toward artistic pursuits.

Susan Stanger (Cloris Leachman, here it is over 60 years later and she is still going strong) arrives. She’s Doug Irwin’s daughter, the husband of Kim’s brother Perry and Kim’s ex-girlfriend. Talk about family ties. She’s also surprised to see Kim and gives him a bit of runaround regarding his father. Perry then comes home and cuts to the chase, telling Kim that their father died four years ago of a heart attack on a tennis court. Stunned, Kim wonders why he wasn’t told sooner. Perry explains that because Kim and their father feuded, it was decided best not to tell Kim, lest he feel responsible. Seems less than convincing.

Later, Kim discovers a hunting license taken out by his father on the day after his brother said he died on the tennis court. Kim rushes over to Doug Irwin’s law office that night to grill the man. Doug comes up with some explanations that could be plausible but then again, maybe not. Finally, Kim blurts out to Doug, “who killed him?”

Kim takes his investigation to the Memorial Park where his father is buried and grills the Funeral Director there about the funeral circumstances. He finds out it was a closed casket affair, then becomes violent, choking the Funeral Director until he admits there is no body in Greg Stanger’s grave.

Evidence begins to suggest that Kim’s brother Perry may have been involved in foul play in their father’s death and wouldn’t you know—Perry arrives on the scene. While I thought a violent confrontation was in the offing at this point, none was and Perry lets Kim leave to go visit the coroner in the town where their father and Doug Irwin had hunting trip four years ago.

Becoming increasing obsessed and unstable, Kim threatens the coroner (who is not the same coroner from four years ago) to tell him what he knows. All he has heard is that “three went in and only two came out.”

Kim goes to search for the answer at the cabin in the woods that his father owned. He finds an inscription in the cement just outside the fireplace—Gregory Stanger 1884-1950. Susan arrives and tells Kim to stop his search.

Then she drops some bombshells: Kim has never been to Paris—he’s been in a hospital in Arizona. He escaped from the hospital to come to their hometown. She and Perry bribed the undertaker, her father helped with the death certificate and no one else knows the truth. What truth? Then the real bombshell: Kim killed his father. Accidentally with a loaded hunting rifle after an argument.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents premiere episode, “Revenge,” reviewed here

Season 1 Episode 1—aired 10/2/55

“Revenge” ***½

Teleplay by Francis Cockrell • Story by Samuel Blas
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Ralph Meeker as Carl Spann
Vera Miles as Elsa Spann
Frances Bavier as Mrs. Fergusen
Ray Montgomery as Man in Grey Suit
John Gallaudet as Doctor
Ray Teal as Police Lieutenant
Norman Wills as Cop
John Day as Cop
Lillian O’Malley as Hotel Maid
Herbert Lyton as Police Lieutenant

A terrific opening episode to Alfred Hitchcock Presents, directed by the Master of Suspense himself, this story is set in an oceanside trailer park where young married couple Carl and Elsa Span (Ralph Meeker and Vera Miles) have just moved in the hope of making a fresh start in the aftermath of Elsa’s apparent nervous breakdown when she was a ballerina.

Carl’s an engineer and was able to transfer his job. On his first day of work, he makes breakfast and wakes his sleeping wife with a kiss and in the first of several overtly sexual moments for 1955 television, she kisses him back passionately with intentions of doing more. He has to cut things off by saying “look, baby, I need to go to work.”

As they have breakfast, he expresses his concern about leaving her in the trailer alone all day. She gives him what he feels is a naïve, Pollyannaish view of the people around there an about people in general.

As he begins to drive off to work, he encounters friendly/busybody neighbor Mrs. Fergusen (Frances Bavier, Aunt Bee in the Andy Griffith Show a beginning a few years after this). She offers to look in on Elsa while he’s gone.

When she does drop by to visit Elsa, we get another sexy scene as Elsa is wearing a man’s shirt (presumably Carl’s), showing a great amount of leg.

Following her nervous breakdown, her doctor prescribed sea and sun and sea. To that end, Elsa steps out of the trailer and removes the shirt, revealing she is wearing a bathing suit underneath and sits in a low chair to begin to sunbathe. We then get a curious point of view shot of Mrs. Fergusen checking out Elsa’s body, lingering on her legs. Her face betrays a mixture of possible desire and concern over Elsa perhaps showing too much skin publicly.

Carl returns late afternoon with groceries, waves to Mrs. Fergusen. When he opens the trailer door the cake is burning. He finds Elsa in the bedroom, unconscious, holding a carnation blossom in her hand. Then she comes back into semi consciousness saying “he killed me” to Carl. “I came in to see the cake, then I turned around and he was standing there. He said he was a salesman, then when he asked me for money I refused him then he grabbed me then I screamed then he choked me, then he killed me. He killed me.”

Later, the police and a doctor arrive on the scene. The doctor says she’s been through a very emotional shock and recommends that Carl remove Elsa from the trailer park, to take her to a hotel. It’s not clear what happened, although sexual assault is certainly something that comes to mind.

The only lead the police have is from one trailer park resident who saw a man come into the park from the beach, six feet tall, grey suit and dark hair.

Understandably frustrated that the police don’t have enough to go on to pinch the guy, Carl is later smoking at Elsa’s bedside, contemplative. “If I ever find him, I’ll kill him,” he says. Elsa replies “yes.” He asks if she thinks she would know the guy if she saw him again, she says “yes, oh yes.” Miles is really good here and in the remainder of the episode– the empty, vacant look in her eyes, the monotone voice, the drooping mouth. Hitchcock clearly was fond of her in this; he would cast her the next year co-starring alongside Henry Fonda in The Wrong Man the a few years later as the sister of Janet Leigh’s character in Psycho.

They decide to drive around before going to the hotel. Here is where Hitchcock’s expertise as a director truly pays dividends and the episode really shifts into overdrive.  There is great pacing between close ups, two shots, and travel shots along the street. Elsa sees a man from behind in a grey suit walking on the sidewalk and she says “that’s him.” Carl pulls over, grabs a wrench from under the seat he left there for just this eventuality. He follows the man into a hotel, then into an elevator and gets off on the same floor. The man goes into his room. Carl walks past him, doubles back to the man’s room, opens the door and goes in.

In a brilliantly shot single take, we see Carl, filmed from behind, from his back down, enter the man’s room. We see his face as he crosses the room in a mirror’s reflection, then we see his shadow as he violently whacks the unseen man several times then backs out, all in one shot. Absolutely great stuff. If you want to see a tremendous example of how to direct such a scene, watch this one.

Carl walks out of the hotel and gets back in the car. They drive off and Elsa still has a vacant look to her. As they drive through another town, she looks over at some pedestrians and says “there he is, that’s him.” She’s totally out of it. We cut to Carl. We begin to hear sirens and his face begins to fall as he realizes that his world is about to come to an end.

An auspicious series debut, Hitchcock did well to take the directorial reins himself for the first time out. My only quibbles are nagging questions over what exactly did happen, if anything, to Elsa, given her emotionally unstable mindset and whether or not suspicion cast upon Mrs. Ferguson was warranted or simply a red herring.

Night Gallery Halloween Top 10

With Halloween upon us, here are ten suggestions for Night Gallery stories that fit the holiday for being either scary, creepy, gross or otherwise disturbing. Read the reviews here then find them to watch somewhere, such as hulu. In chronological order:

  1. The Cemetery
  2. The Doll
  3. Since Aunt Ada Came to Stay
  4. A Fear of Spiders
  5. A Question of Fear
  6. Deliveries in Rear
  7. Sins of the Father
  8. The Caterpillar
  9. The Other Way Out
  10. Fright Night

Directed by Jeannot Szwarc

Tuned in to Castle on ABC tonight and who should be the director of the episode (“Kill Switch”)? None other than Jeannot Szwarc, Night Gallery’s best and most prolific director. He directed that show toward the beginning of his career, in his early 30s, and he is still active today at age 75. Jeannot Szwarc–you rock, dude (mon ami)!

Night Gallery review project wrap-up, acknowledgments, coda, etc. here

Well, my nine-month project of reviewing every Night Gallery story is complete and now I wish to thank a few people.

To my readers on WordPress as these reviews were appearing, I thank you. In particular, Elaine Tyson, Janice Juhl (my mother) and Kathy Juhl (my wife). Yes, it’s been a small circle of regular readers but it’s never too late for anyone else to dive right in now that the gallery is complete.

Speaking of my wife, I want to thank her and my daughters, Maddie and Sophie, for putting up with me and all the time I have spent watching the episodes and writing the reviews. Your support has meant a lot as I have worked on, and now completed, this project.

To Scott Skelton and Jim Benson, co-authors of the definitive tome on the subject of Night Gallery — Rod Serling’s Night Gallery An After-Hours Tour. Gentlemen, your book has been an invaluable source of reference and inspiration for me. These reviews only touch the surface of the complete story you told in that book and anyone who reads my reviews and wants more information should consult your book.

To all who actually worked on Night Gallery to make it a reality for us lucky viewers. Too many people to mention, so I will cut it down to these three essential people: Jeannot Szwarc, for directing countless outstanding episodes. As my viewing of the series went on and I recognized Mr. Szwarc’s name as it kept appearing, I would hope that he would be directing the next segment I would see because it usually meant something wonderful was going to happen.

To series producer, the late Jack Laird: from what I have read in Mr. Skelton and Benson’s book, you devoted all your energy to this show to see it to fruition and without you, it would not have existed. You have my most sincere thanks.

And finally, to the late, great Rod Serling. You are the reason I first became interested in watching Night Gallery. I loved the Twilight Zone and when I discovered this show you did after, I knew I had to watch it. Your hosting bits were iconic and you wrote so many beautiful scripts for this series. I’m sorry to learn that in your final days you seemed to disavow much of it. I hope that in your final rest you are able to accept and appreciate what a wonderful gift you gave to the world with Night Gallery.

It’s been some hard work but mostly a blast watching and writing this. And that, friends, is all.