I’ve chosen theses particular episodes for various reasons. I’m very fond of the actors portraying these very nuanced roles. The stories directed by some of the best, themselves are quite compelling, and the musical compositions by Lyn Murray just left a poignant hole in my heart afterwards. I hope you get to see at least a few of them. Very special, very fraught with edge of your seat thrills, and some outstanding performances by some of your favorites who deserve to be showcased here! Without any further adieu —Good Evening…!
Final Vow (25 Oct. 1962)
William Downey-“Have all your prayers been answered sister?”
Sister Pamela- “Prayers aren’t business deals Mr. Downey, they can’t be judged by successes or failures.”
Norman Lloyd directs this Henry Slesar story starring the lovely Carol Lynley who plays Sister Pamela Wiley, a gentle soul who has come to the crossroads of her faith. It is a simplistically beautiful tale about faith and finding ones place on earth.
The Reverend Mother portrayed by the wonderful Isobel Elsom believes that Sister Pamela’s crisis will go away in time. Sister Pamela is sent on a very special mission to meet the once young hooligan named William Downey from parochial school she’d tried to change for the bette. He has invited sister Lydia to his mansion after thirty years of silence to give her a very special statue of St Francis. It’s a gesture of thank you and a very sacred piece of art. On the way back to the convent the statue is stolen at the train station.
The bronze statue falls into the wrong hands by petty thief (Clu Gulager as schemer Jimmy Bresson) and so Sister Pamela puts herself in harms way in order to set things right!
With Sara Taft as Sister Lydia and Charity Grace as Sister Gem (Jennifer Morrison from Andy Griffith’s Alcohol & Old Lace), Clu Gulager is perfect as the ruthless Jimmy K Bresson and R.G. Armstrong as the imposing William Downey.
Bonfire (13 Dec. 1962)
Laura- “Would you mind opening a window, this house smells of…” Robbie breaks in-“Death!” Laura-“No, the past, which is even worse!”
The wonderful Partricia Collinge plays an old fashioned lady Naomi Freshwater, who has been befriended by a fire & brimstone preacher spouting scripture in an obsessive way. The enigmatic Peter Falk is the cab driving preacher Robbie Evans who comes from the coal mines of Pennsylvania, had a vision during a cave in and changed his life. Did he possibly kill his first wife… well you’ll have to wait and see.
Now as a seemingly kind companion to sweet old Naomi, he spends time with her reading bible verses and hoping to gain her trust so he can build his grand temple on the money she’ll leave him in her will. The dear and sheltered Naomi has a bad heart and suffers a fatal heart attack one night when Robbie forces her to dance too rigorously. She collapses on the settee begging for her little pills as Robbie coldly watches her die. The scene is absolutely brutal in it’s heartlessness. Quite a powerful scene for just a one hour anthology show. I myself was left speechless and stunned by it’s ruthlessness. Adding to the grisly atmosphere was the non stop record spinning a bedazzling swing melody while the tortured old women clutches at her chest. I don’t know if it was the lighting or just Falk’s cold-blooded unwavering expression that left me chilled to the bone.
Falk plays the perfect sociopath, with only one nearly over the top performance during a bible thumping sermon under the tent. When the classy worldly niece Laura (Dina Merrill) shows up, Robbie tries to woo her into marriage hoping to hang onto the old Victorian mansion that he feels is owed to him. Laura hires Robbie to clean out the attic and create a big old bonfire to burn the remnants of her life there.
At first Laura believes his ‘Man of God’ act as Naomi did, but Laura is a wild roaming sort who doesn’t wish to be tied down. This brings out the psychopath in Robbie, as he relates in detail how his first wife tried to hold him back, she was a sinner and he had the calling.
I won’t give away the ending, of course, but it’s a real tent stomper of a mystery, with psycho-sexual misogyny, delusional religious fanaticism and menacing mayhem afoot lead by an all star cast of actors. Directed by one of my favorites Joseph Pevney based on a story by V.S. Pritchett as published in The New Yorker.
The Lonely Hours (8 Mar. 1963)
Directed by Jack Smight, this is perhaps one of the most disturbing yet poignant performances for Nancy Kelly (The Bad Seed 1956) as Mrs. J. A. Williams/Vera Brandon and Gene Rowlands as housewife Louise Henderson who struggle with the conflict of motherhood, delusion and despair.
Joyce Van Patten plays Louise’s next door neighbor Grace, and it’s always fun to see her do anything. Juanita Moore has a bit part as Mrs McFarland. And character actress Jesslyn Fax plays landlady Miss McGuiness.
Based on a novel by Celia Fremlin called The House Before Dawn with a screenplay by William Gordon, more extraordinary soundtrack music by Lyn Murray.
The Lonely Hours is perhaps one of the most tensely performed teleplays in which Gena Rowlands who has two quite precocious little girls of her own and a new born named Lonnie. The Hendersons were thinking of renting out a room upstairs to a student for extra money. Her husband is in the military and we never get to see him except for his invoked presence during the various telephone calls.
When Vera Brandon arrives to look at the room, so she can work quietly on her thesis she first sees the young Lonnie in his high chair. Lonnie with his dark curls looks more like Vera than he does Louise, all blonde and upper middle class. Vera takes the room. Shortly after, Louise becomes very suspicious and anxious about her new roomer, in particular the amount of time she fixates on young Lonnie. As Louise becomes more suspicious and does some investigating on her own she finds that Vera Brandon has given three different reasons for trying to get close to each of the three families with a boy 7 months of age.
I won’t go any further as I should let the plot unfold for you in it’s tragically poignant way. I hope you’ll be as moved as I was by both actresses performances, as Vera, while deranged, does possess a very powerfully sympathetic magnetism. Nancy Kelly is a magnificent actress…
What Really Happened (11 Jan. 1963)
Addy-“My dearest Eve, I did it for all of us. Please believe me I just wanted us to be happy you and me and Gilly. To be together always…”
Once again directed by Jack Smight with beautiful underscoring by Lyn Murray who creates a pathos within the narrative. Teleplay by Henry Slesar based on the novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes. Co-starring the great Tim O’Connor as the prosecuting attorney.
Anne Francis plays Eve Raydon a woman accused of poisoning her husband (Stephen Dunne) with K-9 liniment in his cocoa. She stands trial for her wealthy abusive husband’s murder. Her vindictive mother-in-law Mrs. Raydon (Gladys Cooper) would like nothing more than to see her daughter in law go to the gas chamber convinced that she did it.
Only long time companion & servant Adelaide ‘Addie’ Strain (Ruth Roman) knows what truly happened that night. Eve has helped protect and care for Addy’s young boy Gilly through the years, but her disagreeable husband wants Addy and the child out of the house for good!
There is a strong undercurrent of a lesbian affection at least on the side of Addy, in much the way it was in Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour. It’s very subtle and quite heart wrenching… Outstanding performances by the entire cast, in particular by Ruth Roman.
The Paragon (8 Feb. 1963)
“Sweetheart I love you do you believe that?”-John Pemberton (Gary Merrill)
“Of Course”. – Alice Pemberton (Joan Fontaine)
“And you love me don’t you?” – John
“You know I do.” -Alice
These Alfred Hitchcock’s teleplays are usually morality driven, with a healthy heaping spoonful of irony and poetic justice served up on a cold platter… if even only off screen as delivered by our jovial & quite cheeky host. Somehow The Paragon manages to hurt my heart because while I recognize the vexing behavior of the leading lady, I just can’t negotiate the end justifying the means. While it’s a story about Alice’s childlike destructive narcissism and poisonous tongue that betrays her well meaning intentions, it’s her disparaging soul that is pathologically compelled to help/hurt manage/destroy the ones she loves… it’s also a testament to Joan Fontaine’s acting!
The Paragon stars the enchanting Joan Fontaine as Alice Pemberton, and the very likable Gary Merrill as her husband John Pemberton. Alice is an annoyance. She is the acme of perfection and the bane of all family and friends as she cannot keep her opinions to herself. She meddles in everyone’s business in a child like manner as if she innocently means the best for them. But her altruism has sharp teeth and grows to pathological proportions as she alienates everyone around her, even her husband who loves her dearly. He compares her to a fairy in a story.
“Alice have you ever read any fairy tales?…there’s one about a princess (Alice rolls her eyes and leans back in the car with a look of disdain) She was very beautiful, she lived in a beautiful castle. Had a beautiful garden. But her fairy godmother warned her not to do one thing. There was a particular flower in that garden she wasn’t to pick. If she did… she’d lose everything. Her beauty, castle… everything.”
Alice says– “I don’t get the point”
John begs- “Alice… princess, don’t touch that flower please.”
Alice – “Oh don’t be silly. They only write those stories to keep children out of mischief.”
John is a man who adores his wife and sees her as a willful child who just can’t seem to behave. He’s torn between his affection and devotion to the beautifully generous woman he fell in love with and his sense of duty to the others around them whom she’s hurting with her barbs veiled in helpful suggestions, and intrusions and judgmental interferences. Throughout the narrative the stalwart John tries to guide Alice away from doing the things that continue to alienate her from the family and others, until it just seems as if there’s nothing else can be done….
Either Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang or Jean Renoir could have directed this bit of psycho-intense thriller with it’s quite disturbing surreal opening sequence that melds so well with Lyn Murray and Robert Drasnin’s magnificently haunting melodies. It’s a heart wrenching episode with a powerful performance by Joan Fontaine who slips in and out of a surreal manic revelation way too late…
Lyn Murray’s score works most powerfully in this episode as if it has it’s own lurking conscience , the shadow that hovers behind Alice. The story itself plays out like a fairytale as the ending is quite severe, and although Alice deserves a swift kick in the arse for interfering and being hurtful. Does she deserve the possible ending to the story. By now in these films isn’t it obvious not to drink the cocoa… I hope I haven’t give it away…
Final Performance (18 Jan. 1965)
Rudolph-“I was thinking maybe you’d do me a favor… well you write for television and all that. I thought maybe you could write something for me and Rosie, a new pattern to work into the new routine…you know.” (Franchot Tone)
Cliff-“I’m not really a comedy writer” (Roger Perry)
Rudolph- “Well I”m not really a comedy performer but you gotta be versatile.” (He chuckles)
Cliff-“Why don’t you do your specialty?”
Rudolph-“Oh I will, I will and I’ll show it to you like I promised…”
Roger Perry plays Cliff Allen a nice guy who is driving through country roads on his way to L.A. when he picks up a young girl named Rosie (Sharon Farrell) who begs hims for a ride. He tells her that he’s a writer on his way to Hollywood. Suddenly they are stopped by the county sheriff who not only arrests Cliff, but he cannot get his car restarted. It has to be towed to the local repair shop. There’s only one diner and hotel in town so he is forced to take a room at the creepy run down place. The diner/hotel is run by Franchot Tone (Rudolph Bitzner) famous vaudeville showman who is looking to revise his old act. The diner is filled with old familiar stars of stage. The desperate and delicate little Rosie is the only assistant Rudolph has. Not only that but once she turns of age, he plans on making her his bride. Rosie is a virtual prisoner of this possessive madman who lives in a different period of time.
There is a definite relationship between Bloch’s Psycho and his “Final Performance.” The desolate highway that leads to a decrepit old motel run by an eccentric old star of vaudeville. Franchot Tone is absolutely chilling as The Great Rudolph who possesses poor Rosie as if she’s his Trilby.
From the moment Cliff walks into the ramshackle diner marked EATS, he knows something is definitely not right with this picture. Soon after he sees how claustrophobic and controlled the situation is for Rosie. Cliff agrees to get her away from Rudolph and take her with him to Hollywood. Cliff keeps insisting on seeing the old act, but Rudolph keeps putting him off…
Another problem is Rudolph was married to Rosie’s mother and once Rosie turns eighteen she can be legally wed to him, in his mind, making her his property. Once Cliff’s car is ready he plans to meet up with Rosie and get out of town, but he finds Rudolph rehearsing the old act on stage…
I won’t give that away either as you have to see this episode filled with dread, isolation and entrapment. Of madness and old things that belong in the past.
Where the Woodbine Twineth (11 Jan. 1965)
Where the Woodbine Twineth refers to the far off nether regions in between life and death… a sort of limbo landscape of the unknown mystical realms. As Eva says- “It’s so far away you never come back.”
“Is is dark where daddy is?”– Eva
” I hope not… I don’t know.”– Aunt Nell
“Numa knows… Mingo says it’s brighter than day!… they have bumble bees there too.”-Eva
“Who’s Mingo honey?”-Nell
“My best friend!”-Eva
This is perhaps one of the few Alfred Hitchcock series that mirrored it’s competitors Boris Karloff’s Thriller Anthology series with a tale of the uncanny & the supernatural. The gruesome childlike rhyme that haunts the story of a little girl with one foot in the netherworld.
Directed by Alf Kjellin James Bridges & Manly Wade Wellman wrote the teleplay and the story is based on David Grubb (Night of the Hunter 1955) short story. He also wrote a few stories for Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. With captivating music by Bernard Herrmann
In Mississippi, Eileen Baral plays little Eva Snyder who has become an orphan and goes to live with her old maid aunt Nell Snyder who doesn’t approve of Eva’s imaginary playmates. Nell is played by the wonderful Margaret Leighton and Eva’s Grandfather who is the aging Captain King Snyder is played by Carl Benton Reid. The house is of course seen to by the dark skinned local folk, Suse played by the marvelous Juanita Moore who believes more in Eva’s imaginary world than her bitter, repressed aunt, and her husband Jesse played by Joel Fluellen. Numa is played by Lila Perry. Nell stays in the old house and decides to look after Eva out of a sense of duty.
Eva lives in an imaginary world inhabited by characters named Mingo, Sam and Mr. Peppercorn. She constantly talks to these fey people whom Eva believes are real. They live under the davenport. So one must be very careful as not to vacuum under there and frighten them away. She asks Suse if Nell is an Old Maid and if that means she’s tired. And if love makes you not tired? She loves her little friends so there must be some truth in what people say.
When Captain King comes home he gives little Eva a little black doll that she calls Numa. She has been expecting her new friend Numa. Nell becomes more incensed and threatened by Eva’s disregard for authority and blames it on her indulgence with her imaginary play mates. Suse (Juanita Moore) seems to understand the child more and is more of a mother figure than dreary aunt Nell.
Nell does claim to hear two voices coming from Eva’s room but suspects that it must be one of the local girls. Eva hates her aunt and she and Nell develop a power of the wills. Hovering over the house is a forceful conflict over control and it warns Nell that if she makes Numa go away, Eva will have to go to “Where the Woodbine Twineth.”
I will not give away the ending, but the story is eerie, mysterious, enthralling as it broaches on the macabre dealing with childhood imagination and yes the sentiment of racism within the narrative as it attaches some of the mystique to the southern superstition of black folk lore. Eva lives amidst fey creatures who befriend her as she is a unique and solitary child –“Mr Peppercorn came back on a butterfly just for one minute to tell me something.”
Aunt Nell hears two little girls singing out in the woods…
“life is hard-but–Where the woodbine twineth it’s summertime all the time…it’s apples
and peaches and you can play anything you want to play anytime you want
to play it. The jax are the stars and the ball is the sun and the moon.
There’s candy canes and everybody has a doll.”
The climax is a very jarring moment that belongs straight out of Boris Karloff’s Thriller anthology as the little girls dancing in circles holding hands singing “Where the woodbine twineth, where the woodbine twineth, where the woodbine twineth,where the woodbine twineth….” but that’s all I’m gonna say….