Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Episode 105: Into Thin Air
Original Air Date: 10.30.55
Written by Marian B. Cockrell
Directed by Don Medford
Diana Winthrop...Patricia Hitchcock
Basil Farnham...Geoffrey Toone
Sir Everett...Alan Napier
Diana Winthrop and her mother are staying at the Hotel Madeleine in France for the World's Fair, but the travels have taken their toll on the Winthrop matriarch. She collapses into bed, exhausted, immediately upon entering the room and the hotel doctor sends Diana out for medicine.
When Diana returns, her mother has vanished into thin air (hence the title), and the entire hotel staff claims no memory of either woman. Desperate, Diana seeks assistance from Basil Farnham of the British Embassy.
Is Diana crazy? Or is a conspiracy afoot?
This is a great episode with good, albeit occasionally melodramatic, performances. The explanation is a bit unsatisfactory, but the ride to get there was a lot of fun.
Patricia Hitchcock is, of course, Alfred Hitchcock's daughter with wife Alma Reville. She had previously had minor roles in her father's films Stage Fright and Strangers On A Train, and would later appear in Psycho. This was the first of 10 episodes that she would appear in.
Geoffrey Toone was a distinguished stage actor who had worked alongside the likes of Laurence Olivier. He had been acting in films and television for nearly 20 years before Hitch cast him here, but he is most well known for his appearances on Dr. Who. This was his one and only appearance on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
Alan Napier was a cousin to former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, and his dignified upbringing and uppercrust education shines through in his elegant diction. He typically portrayed aristocratic gentlemen, but he was no stranger to the genre, having already appeared in The Invisible Man Returns, The House of the Seven Gables, Cat People, Dark Waters (coincidentally based on a story by the writer of this episode and her husband), and House of Horrors among others. This was the first of six episodes that he would appear in, followed by two more of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. In 1966, he would take on the role that he is most recognized for today--that of Alfred the butler on TV's Batman.
Marian Cockrell was an author who occasionally wrote scripts as well. This was the first of 11 episodes of the series that she would script. Her husband, Francis Cockrell, was also a screenwriter who scripted the pilot episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Their daughter, Amanda Cockrell, is a novelist still active today.
Don Medford had previously directed the third episode of the series, "Triggers in Leash". Please see that episode for more information.
The story here isn't entirely original, something that Hitch fully admits in his opening statements. In 1936, Ethel Lina White's novel The Wheel Spins was published, in which a woman disappears from a train and none of the other passengers claim to remember her. This novel was the basis for Hitchcock's own The Lady Vanishes from 1938, which also takes place on a train. The Lady Vanishes was remade, by the way, in 1979.
In 1947, Anthony Thorne's novel So Long at the Fair was published, taking the theme of a disappearing woman that nobody can remember and dropping it in the midst of the World's Fair. Although similar to The Wheel Spins, this is the novel often cited as the source material for this episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. So Long at the Fair was adapted into a film of the same name in 1950.
Even this supposed source material, though, was based on something else: an Urban Legend that began around the time of the World's Fair in Paris. It was most famously related in the book While Rome Burns by journalist Alexander Woollcott, who presented it as truth, citing a Detroit newspaper article that nobody else seems able to locate.
This legend was also featured in 1913's The End of Her Honeymoon by Belloc Lowndes, 1920's She Who Was Helena Cass by Lawrence Rising, 1925's The Vanishing of Mrs. Fraser by Basil Thompson, and 1926's The Torrent of Spring by Ernest Hemingway, not to mention the films The Midnight Warning from 1932 and Verwehte Spuren from 1938. It was also used as the basis for several episodes of radio drama, including two separate episodes of the famous show Suspense.
Further variations on the theme can be found in 1957's Bunny Lake Is Missing, 2005's Flightplan, and the cult TV series Nowhere Man.