DATELINE: Hitchcock’s Breakdown
Trapped in his car!
“Breakdown” brought Joseph Cotten back together with his old friend Alfred Hitchcock for a half-hour television episode that would send chills down the spine of anyone thinking of driving down to Florida alone. It was supposed to be the first episode of the new TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents…but was held back.
Once again, Hitchcock played with his words. His breakdown could be a fancy sports car in disrepair, or a man in mental exhaustion. In the case of the show, it could be a word for all seasons.
A ruthless business tycoon (Cotten) fires people over the telephone without remorse and is shocked when one accountant begins to cry piteously. Contempt is his best reaction, finding such weakness to be beneath his attention.
Yet, when a bulldozer working with a chain gang hits his car, he is left paralyzed behind the wheel, looking to the world like a dead man. The steering wheel has crushed his chest, or so concludes every witness.
Not one takes his pulse, so convinced are they of his demise. Thus begins his voice-over thoughts as he is robbed, stripped, has his identity taken, but is able to tap his finger to alert the world of his living carcass.
It is to no avail as the shroud is put over him, and he is left in a morgue. Hitchcock pulled out all the stops of fear on this one—from dying, from being buried alive, to fear of loneliness in its ultimate form.
Augurs and omens dominate the first few moments, perhaps giving a clue or two about the fate and character of Cotton’s heartless protagonist.
Cotten must act without benefit of any movement, tic, or facial acknowledgement. He is up to the task, a monumental endeavor for an actor to act dead for a half-hour TV show.