Saturday, August 8, 2020

Television: Alfred Hitchcock Presents

The Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon is an event dedicated to the life and career of the legendary filmmaker, hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films. For a complete list of participating bloggers, visit the link at the host site.

Good evening.

Perhaps more than any other director of the Golden Age, Alfred Hitchcock was a personality, someone known by movie audiences as well as any movie star, and never was that more apparent than when he made the leap to television in 1955 with Alfred Hitchcock Presents, AKA The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

A weekly anthology of suspense and horror stories, it’s notable not just for the quality of the stories but for how it shaped the Hitchcock persona. His droll sense of deadpan humor was often on display in his movies, sometimes as part of the cameo appearances he’d make in them. For TV, it was like he became an eccentric uncle with whom you were never sure if he was pulling your leg or not.

His introductions to each episode painted him as macabre yet self-depreciating, with a dry wit and a strong sense of the absurd, much like The Addams Family years later. The creepy theme song and the stylized cartoon silhouette of him also helped sell him as an iconic persona that one looked forward to seeing as much as the stories themselves. Here’s a collection of some of his more memorable intros and outros and here are some fun facts about the show.

So nothing fancy here; just my take on a few episodes picked at random. I didn’t realize when I began planning for this post AHP (a half hour) was a little different from AHH (an hour), though it’s all basically the same show.


Brandon DeWilde and Diana Dors
in “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” 
“Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (AHP, S7E39). Shane child star Brandon deWilde, grown up, plays a drifter a few cards short of a full deck who wanders into a carnival and gets taken in by the show’s stage magician and his wife, his on-stage assistant. She’s secretly having an affair, though, and she cons DeWilde into knocking off her husband by playing on his innocence, but her plan works a little too well.

I instinctively expected a Twilight Zone-kind of ending when I saw in which direction this was going and didn’t really think it would go there, but this is not TZ, so it did indeed go there. Though we don’t actually see what happens in detail, it was still a pretty shocking (for the early 60s) ending. If it didn’t have Hitch’s imprimatur, I wonder if anyone else could’ve gotten away with it. The episode was written by Psycho author Robert Bloch.

John Forsythe in “I Saw the Whole Thing”
“I Saw the Whole Thing” (AHH, S1E4). Hitch himself directed this one: John Forsythe, long before he became Blake Carrington on Dynasty, is accused of involuntary manslaughter in a hit-and-run crash. Five people are ready to testify he did it, but he insists he’s innocent—and will act as his own lawyer in court to prove his innocence!

This one had me until the very end, when Forsythe reveals why he knows he’s innocent. It struck me as a reason that couldn’t have been so easily concealed, like no one knew this fact only so it could be revealed at the end and be all dramatic. Like Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men, he tries to establish reasonable doubt, and if the story had kept going in that angle, that would’ve been better than what they ended up doing for the sake of a twist ending.

Darren McGavin and Pat Crowley in
“A Matter of Murder”
“A Matter of Murder” (AHH, S2E23). It’s Kolchak versus Kojak! Darren McGavin kills his wife and stuffs her in the trunk of the car and was about to dispose of the body, but his car gets hijacked by goons working for Telly Savalas, a notorious car thief. When Kolchak fingers Kojak for the kidnapping Kolchak actually did himself, the police don’t believe it because it’s not Kojak’s MO—and thus begins a chess game between both sides, with the police in the middle, to see who can frame the other first.

This was a really clever and funny episode. I can’t recall ever seeing a set-up like this before, and certainly not played for humor. Pat Crowley as McGavin’s lover, who countermoves for every move Savalas makes, is good. She’s one step ahead of McGavin, who’s all too willing to be led around by her. Savalas is Savalas.

Paddy has a post about another great episode from the original series. The blog Shadow and Substance compares AHP to The Twilight Zone. And Gill is writing about the 1985 version of the show. There was talk of another revival of the series back in 2016, but it looks like that’s gone by the boards, at least for now.

———————
Films by Alfred Hitchcock:
Shadow of a Doubt
The 39 Steps
Rebecca

11 comments:

  1. Really enjoyed reading this, Rich. I love Alfred Hitchcock Presents but have only seen a couple of episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.Enjoyed I Saw The Whole Thing.

    Apart from Rod Serling's intros to The Twilight Zone, the Alfred Hitchcock series is the only other series I can think of where the creator becomes such an integral part of the series themselves. It's hard to imagine the series without those inventive intros and outros Hitch does.

    Love the surprise endings and the creepy reveals as the episodes unfold. Always a treat to see all those famous guest stars make an appearance.

    You know what? I just might have to get my Alfred Hitchcock Presents boxset out and watch a few episodes now. Thanks for joining me to celebrate Hitch and his work.

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  2. Rod Serling was a personality too, but in a different way. With him, it wasn’t like he went out of his way to appeal to the audience; he sort of became a personality by accident. Hitch made a more deliberate effort to entertain.

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  3. I enjoyed this stroll through classic television very much. The episode with Brandon de Wilde is the one of the selections that I recall the best.

    When I was a kid, staying up to watch Hitchcock was a big deal. The theme song automatically gives me chills, only today it is mixed with the pleasure of being in on Hitch's little jokes and appreciating the creativity of the great anthology programs.

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  4. Been trying to think of a modern director who would do as well as Hitch at hosting a TV anthology. Tarantino for sure. John Waters? Maybe.

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    1. As long as Tarantino had someone to yell "cut", he'd be okay. I think Joe Dante would be fun. I saw him introduce Fields' It's a Gift at TIFF years ago. Well, I guess he's too old by now. Sigh.

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  5. Can't believe I haven't seen any of these episodes (!), but as soon as I finish this comment, I'm checking out YouTube to see which ones might be posted there. Thanks!

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  6. P.S. There are lots of episodes on YouTube. Whee!

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  7. When I saw how many there were on YouTube, I knew I had to write about the show for the blogathon. I never got into AHP the way I did into TWILIGHT ZONE when I was younger, so perhaps I’ll catch up on what I missed.

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  8. Nicely done, Rich! I'm a big fan of AHP, and you've summed up its appeal quite well here. There are so many good episodes of the show that you can almost pick three at random and wind up with a good post.

    It's a testament to Hitchcock's appeal that, despite having a slew of grade-A acting talent in front of the camera, it was the portly director himself who was clearly the star of the show. It's been fun to rewatch it in recent years and become reacquainted with the series that I enjoyed when I was a kid.

    For this blogathon, I did my own post about AHP, comparing it to The Twilight Zone: https://thenightgallery.wordpress.com/2020/08/09/alfred-hitchcock-presents-vs-the-twilight-zone/ (I run a Serling blog.) Hope you enjoy it. Thanks again for a fun post!

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  9. You’re welcome. Drop in anytime.

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