And Leave the Driving to Hitch….

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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Strange Case of Mr. Hitchcock

 DATELINE: Body Doubles

 Impostor Taken Away!

We thought we had seen all of Hitch’s TV directorial efforts, but we were wrong. Hitchcock introduces this episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents from the first season, but discovers someone has put bubblegum in his suitcoat pocket.

In December of 1955, the series aired an episode called “The Case of Mr. Pelham,” with Tom Ewell in a surprisingly dramatic turn. He is an intense lawyer with pedestrian habits and style.

As a well-to-do attorney, likely making millions, living a sedate life in Manhattan luxury, with Petersen his manservant, Pelham finds himself cracking up. Something strange is happening in his life. In a prediction of a futuristic issue, Pelham is faced with identity theft.

He starts to discover there is a double taking over his life, using his bank accounts, appearing here and there, doing his job better than he, and showing up at the university club.

Pelham consults another member who is a psychiatrist. In flashback form he narrates the various occasions that he come to realize that identity theft is taking a physical form. He even wonders if there is another supernatural agency at work.

Advised to break his routine, he buys a one-of-a-kind tasteless necktie. Upon returning home, he encounters his fastidious double. The servant states that Mr. Pelham would never wear such a tie—and the man is taken away, clearly insane, trying to impersonate Pelham, despite their resemblances.

As the show ends, Hitch (in a bizarre necktie) is taken away by men in white coats—and a sober Hitchcock says the real Hitch would never be caught dead with bubblegum in his pocket. Off-camera there is a gunshot.

Good grief.

Hitchcock’s Little Bang!

 DATELINE:  Short Suspense Subject by the Master!

Mumy boy

What a treat to find ourselves looking at the last half-hour episode of his TV series actually directed by Mr. Hitchcock himself.

Sandwiched between Psycho and The Birds, he gave us a gift of a timeless tale about dangerous weapons in the hands of children. “Bang! You’re Dead” is a minor gem.

Once again, he used a child star who would soon climb to more legendary fame. Back in 1954, he came up with Jerry Mathers as the little boy who discovers the dead Harry in Trouble with Harry. Mathers later went on to more trouble with Leave It To Beaver Cleaver.

In 1961, he picked out Billy Mumy, half-a-dozen years before he made a star burst on Lost in Space. Mumy was an extraordinary child actor, and his brilliant performance makes the episode all the more chilling. In one scene, while adults around him talk, he keeps an unblinking eye on his uncle, just returned from Africa and promising a special gift to the boy.

In an age when all the boys were pretending to be cowboys and had hats and guns, Mumy finds a gun and bullets in his uncle’s suitcase and presumes this is his gift. He puts one round in the chamber and switches his toy gun for the real one.

Spinning the chamber as if playing Russian Roulette, he begins a journey around the neighborhood, figuring to plug those people who give him a hard time: and there are plenty of candidates from the mailman to an annoying father and daughter at the supermarket.

Hitch zeroes in on the little fingers stuffing more bullets into the chamber and spinning away, making each shot more likely to hit a mark.

The excruciating suspense is nasty as each incident makes the growing menace more frightening. At the least, the episode ends with seven years of bad luck.

Extraordinary short film is from the seventh season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.