Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Season One (1955-56)
It seems odd for someone like me who loves classic TV anthology shows (The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, etc.) to have seen so few episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-1962) or The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1962-65), but such is the case. Stranger still that I’ve been a Hitchcock fan since I saw my first Hitchcock feature film (Spellbound) when I was a kid. But there’s a reason I resisted this show until now.
I remember people talking about Alfred Hitchcock Presents when I was a kid, but in those days access to older TV shows was next to impossible if they weren’t in syndication. Plenty of people older than I was could remember the “leg of lamb” episode and others, but in the days before streaming, the internet, DVDs or even VHS, you just couldn’t see those shows.
Welcome to Nickelodeon, or more specifically Nick at Nite, which aired reruns of the show in the early 1990s. Initially I was very excited about watching these shows and I saw probably two or three dozen of them and enjoyed them. For awhile.
The reason I stopped watching had nothing to do with the shows or their content. The stories were generally strong, the acting good, and the Hitchcock intros and epilogues excellent. (A couple of the episodes really stuck with me: one with John Cassavetes as an escaped convict who breaks into a farmhouse, and the other starring John Williams concerning a fake haunting.) I stopped watching because something about the show – which again, had nothing to do with the show itself – nagged at me.
When these shows aired on Nick at Nite, I was single, in my late 20s/early 30s, living and teaching in a small town with few prospects for social interaction of any kind. I’d go out, but those ventures were often disappointing, so I often found it easier to stay put and watch TV. At times I thought, “Here I am, pushing (or beyond) 30, sitting at home watching reruns of a TV show that’s older than I am.” I felt like I was wasting my time on something that was just a step or two short of TV archeology. I figured the only other people watching these shows were retirees. I know now that was an extremely unfair assessment, but at the time, that’s how I felt. (And look what I generally blog about now: even older movies! Aw, well…)
I soon got to the point that I simply could not watch those shows, regardless of how much I enjoyed them. Other issues were certainly at work, but I sincerely believe this was the beginning of a depression that stayed with me for several years. Thankfully I sought counseling which was literally a blessing from God. I certainly don’t blame Alfred Hitchcock Presents (or any other classic TV shows or movies) for my depression, but at the time it seemed a constant reminder of it.
Years later when the AHP (abbreviated from here on out; I also combine Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour as AHP) shows came out on DVD, I initially wanted to purchase and watch them, but I just couldn’t. Several years after that, they appeared streaming. I watched one, then two, then realized that (1) I was really enjoying them and (2) they no longer led to thoughts of depression. I can’t tell you how liberating this was, to be able to really delight in something that once caused me pain. I bought and recently finished watching the first season and would like to share some of my thoughts on the show (free from depression!):
I suppose I never realized that AHP both predated and outlasted The Twilight Zone (1959-64), which meant that I have a lot of episodes (361) to catch up on. The entire AHP output comes out to roughly 189 hours. If you watched the entire series continuously with no breaks, you’ll be up for about eight days. I think I’ll stretch that out to a season or two a year.
Season 1 consisted of 39 episodes with stories adapted from many different writers such as Dorothy Sayers, Cornell Woolrich, Ray Bradbury, Cohn Collier, Stanley Ellin and many more. The show’s directors weren’t as numerous; most of the episodes were directed by Robert Stevens (who worked mostly in television for over 40 years) and Robert Stevenson (an Englishman who directed mostly feature films starting in the 1930s and also directed many Disney pictures in the 1960s and 70s). Hitchcock himself directed four episodes from the first season, the series opener “Revenge” as well as “Breakdown,” “The Case of Mr. Pelham” and “Back for Christmas.”
The show also boasted an incredible array of actors: Vera Miles, Darren McGavin (twice), Joseph Cotten, Everett Sloane (twice), John Qualen (twice), John Cassavetes, Robert Newton, Claude Rains, Claire Trevor, Hurd Hatfield, John Williams (three times), Thelma Ritter, Joanne Woodward and many, many more.
Of course one of the real treats of the series comes from seeing Hitchcock himself in the show’s introductions and epilogues. I sometimes wish I could’ve seen these episodes when they originally aired. What a kick it must’ve been to see and hear a famous director you’d only seen previously in cameos in his movies. Hitchcock’s short appearances before and after each episode displayed his dry humor, his charm, and his disdain for network sponsors, sometimes all at once. The only extra on the Season One DVD consists of reminiscences with Hitchcock’s daughter Pat, assistant director Hilton Green, and Normal Lloyd, all of whom comment on how these short scenes came about.
Yet it’s the episodes themselves that draw us in and the first season contained several good ones. My favorites:
“Revenge” concerns a woman (Vera Miles) who is attacked and left traumatized. Her husband (Ralph Meeker) – with his wife’s help – seeks to track down the attacker. You can probably see the twist coming, but “Revenge” is still a nail-biter of an episode, made even more suspenseful by Hitchcock himself directing it.
Another Hitchcock-directed episode, “Breakdown” stars Joseph Cotten as a man paralyzed in a car accident, believed to be dead, but isn’t.
I mentioned this episode earlier as one of my most memorable experiences from the show and other fans seem to agree. “You Got to Have Luck” stars John Cassavetes as an escaped convict holding a deaf mute housewife hostage.
“Never Again” stars Phyllis Thaxter as a recovering alcoholic who attends a party with her husband. Everything’s fine until she begins to think her husband is having an affair with the party’s host. And there’s all this champagne around…
“Back for Christmas,” another episode directed by Hitchcock stars John Williams (who appeared in the series many times) as a man seeking to do away with his wife before sailing away on a long cruise.
“The Creeper” finds a serial killer on the loose in New York City. People are urged to lock their doors and stay inside but one woman (Constance Ford) is having an anxiety attack waiting for the locksmith to arrive while her husband is working late.
“And So Died Riabouchinska” would not be nearly so interesting without its cast: Claude Rains as a ventriloquist suspected of murdering a juggler in a theater act. Charles Bronson (who has more lines here than he does in any three of his movies) plays the detective investigating the murder.
John Qualen plays a man who’s hired by Lorne Greene for a very unusual job in “Help Wanted.” This is also an episode that’s pretty easy to figure out, but that never takes away from the superb suspense.
If you’ve seen Season One, please share some of your favorite episodes.
Photos: Decider, Bare-Bones e-zine, Mubi, Secrets of Story, This Was TV, Genre Snaps, Recap Retro