Wednesday, January 9, 2013

TV Review: Alfred Hitchcock Presents S1Ep01: Revenge (1955)

Alfred Hitchcock Presents 
ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS Episode 101: Revenge
Episode 101: Revenge
Original air date: 10.02.55

Written by Francis M. Cockrell
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Based on a story by Samuel Blas

Carl Spann...Ralph Meeker
Elsa Spann...Vera Miles
Mrs. Fergusen...Frances Bavier

The first episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents opens up in the same manner that all of them will: Ol' Hitch himself comes out like a portly, dignified version of EC Comics' Cryptkeeper to make a few snide remarks and wink knowingly at the camera. This debut tale, he assures us, is "really a sweet little story." And much as we would like to believe him, it's slightly difficult to do so.

Carl and his wife Elsa are new in town. They live in a small but suitable trailer, and while he begins his new engineering job, she's going to stay home and relax. Not because this is before the whole Women's Lib movement, but because relaxation is just what the doctor ordered...quite literally. It seems that sometime in the not-so-distant past, Elsa suffered from some sort of a nervous breakdown that left her all a-jangle. Carl, worried about his young bride, asks a kindly older neighbor to keep an eye on her. Which she does, but apparently not close enough.

When Carl gets home, he finds Elsa badly beaten and abused, victimized by a door-to-door salesman. Carl vows revenge, but it's pretty hopeless really. I mean, what are the chances that he'll even find the guy? It's not like they're just going to be driving down the street someday, and she'll see him entering a building, right?

Oh, wait. Scratch that. That's exactly what happens!

It's not quite as simple as that, of course. The twist ending, even if you happen to see it coming, still packs a pretty good punch. It's brutal, bitter and feels fairly realistic, just like life! It's pretty amazing how much story--even one as deceptively simple as this--can be packed into a half hour segment. Modern viewers may be reminded of the film Memento.

Worth watching if only to witness Aunt Bee of Andy Griffith fame leering suggestively at the shapely, scantily clad figure of a sunbathing beauty. I always knew she was a swinger!

Ralph Meeker may be best known for his portrayal of Mike Hammer in 1955's Kiss Me Deadly, but he also appeared as FBI agent Bernie Jenks in The Night Stalker. This was the first of four appearances Meeker would make in Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He has geek-cred-by-proxy, as he was married to actress Salome Jens from 1964-1966, who appeared in Terror From The Year 5000 (once featured on MST3K), Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space 9, the TV series Superboy (as Martha Kent), and 2011's Green Lantern.

Vera Miles had been Miss Kansas in 1948, third runner-up to Miss America, which explains why she looks so good in a bathing suit. She was a chorus girl in the 1951 musical Two Tickets To Broadway, which starred Janet Leigh, and Leigh, Miles and Hitchcock would all work together in 1960's seminal Psycho. In fact, it appears as if Miles was all prepped to be Hitch's 'next big thing' between these roles and her part in The Wrong Man. Vertigo was even designed to be a showcase for her, but when she became pregnant, the role went instead to Kim Novak. This was her only appearance in Alfred Hitchcock Presents, but she would appear twice on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. In 1983, more than 20 years after the original film, Miles returned to play Lila in the Hitchcock-free Psycho 2. She was portrayed by Jessica Biel in the 2012 film Hitchcock.

Frances Bavier, as already mentioned, was best known for her portrayal of Aunt Bee on the Andy Griffith Show and it's various spinoffs, but she also appeared in The Day the Earth Stood Still and, interestingly, 1953's Man in the Attic, which was based on the same short story by Marie Belloc Lowndes as Hitchcock's own 1927 film The Lodger.

Screenwriter Francis M. Cockrell was married to novelist Marian B. Cockrell, and they occasionally worked on projects together, including four episodes of Batman, and the stories that the movies Professor Beware (1938) and Dark Waters (1944) were based on.  This was the first of 18 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that he would write.

The source material was a short story of the same name by Samuel Blas, that was originally published by Colliers magazine in January 1947. I've been unable to find much information about the author, or anything else he may have written. If this isn't his only published story, it is at least his most highly-regarded one, and has been collected in numerous short story anthologies--some bearing the Alfred Hitchcock banner. It is a very short, but effective, little chiller and this episode follows it faithfully.

Even before ol' Alfred got ahold of it, though, It had previously been adapted at least three different times in various horror comic books.

It was first, rather loosely, adapted in EC Comics' Crime SuspenStories #1 in 1950 as "Murder May Boomerang", although it featured a father and son as opposed to a husband and wife. Harvey's Witch's Tales #21 from October 1953. Unlike the television adaptation, this version explicitly stated that the female lead had been raped--although it used terms like "molested" and the woefully inaccurate "made love". And finally, Sterling Comics' The Tormented #2 from September 1954 adapted it again as "Honeymoon Horror"

This episode was remade for the 1985 update of the series, starring David Clennon and Linda Purl.

--J/Metro

2 comments:

  1. I think this is one of the best Hitchcock twist endings. It's good and creepy. Some of the later ones are downright retarded.

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  2. Kelly,

    I remember watching reruns of Alfred Hitchcock Presents as a child, and I was always creeped out from the get go. I think it was the excellent themesong that got me. Anyway, I've decided to go back and revisit them from the beginning, so we'll see how long it takes before things go South. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you'll stick around for the other upcoming reviews!

    --J/Metro

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