Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Episode 107: Breakdown
Original air date: 11.13.55
Written by Francis M. Cockrell & Louis Pollock
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
William Callew...Joseph Cotten
Ed Johnson...Raymond Bailey
William Callew, a cold and callous business tycoon is involved in a horrible accident that leaves him in a paralytic state that mimics death. Our immobilized protagonist comes into contact with a surprising number of people, but will any of them realize that he's still alive?
This is a simple, but chillingly effective episode--definitely the most suspenseful yet. It takes the fear of being buried alive, which is highly unlikely, and turns it on its ear, making it utterly believable.
Surely you wouldn't be buried alive. The embalming process would kill you first.
Seeing as how our leading man is paralyzed, he doesn't take part in a ton of action. The action on screen is all happening to him or around him, if at all. In the lonely and silent moments, the camera shifts from one awkward angle to another to keep it as visually interesting as possible while Callew voices his inner monologue.
This is basically Joseph Cotten's show, with only very brief and very minor roles by other actors. Cotten did good enough, meaning he stayed pretty damn still, while narrating his interior thoughts. He didn't have a very active role. How could he? This is sort of the antithesis of Weekend at Bernie's.
Cotten was lucky enough to be a favorite of two amazing directors. He started out in theater, where he worked closely with Orson Welles on numerous productions, becoming a member of his famed Mercury Theater Company. He appeared in Welles' Citizen Kane in 1941, co-scripted (and starred in) the thriller Journey Into Fear with him, and appeared alongside him in The Third Man.
He had previously starred in two of Hitchcock's films, Shadow of a Doubt from 1943, and Under Capricorn from 1949. This was his first of three appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
Other notable genre appearances include Gaslight (1944), The Man with a Cloak (1951, portraying Edgar Allan Poe), Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), Lady Frankenstein (1971), Baron Blood (1972), The Devil's Daughter (1973), and Soylent Green (1973).
From 1960 until his death in 1994, Cotten was married to the beautiful and exotic actress Patricia Medina, who would later appear in an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
Francis Cockrell previously wrote the pilot episode of the series, "Revenge", so please see that entry for more information about him. This was his second of 19 scripts contributed to Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
Cockrell's writing partner here, Louis Pollock, never wracked up a lot of film credits. He is said to have contributed, uncredited, to The Jackie Robinson Story and Disney's Lady and the Tramp, and he wrote the war documentary Suicide Attack from 1951, as well as two episodes of the anthology series Suspense. He was also an author, and this episode--as well as one of his two episodes of Suspense--was based on his own short story of the same name.
On a side note, Pollock found himself blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1954 after a case of mistaken identity. A store owner by name of Louis Pollack was called upon to testify and he refused, and a clerical error of some sort caused significant damage to Pollock's career, probably explaining his rather lean résumé.
The short story first appeared in the June 7, 1947 issue of Colliers magazine, and was later collected in the anthology Alfred Hitchcock Presents A Baker's Dozen of Suspense Stories.
This story served as the inspiration for Stephen King's "Autopsy Room 4", in which a man who has been bitten by a rare snake finds himself in the very same predicament. That character even explicitly states that he has seen the television version of "Breakdown". "Autopsy Room 4" first appeared in the anthology Robert Bloch's Psychos, and later in King's short story collection Everything's Eventual. It was adapted for television as an episode of Nightmares and Dreamscapes. Be sure to check them out if you dug this episode as much as I did.