Season 1 Episode 1—aired 10/2/55
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.