*The Lonely Hours -Gena Rowlands & Nancy Kelly- s1e23 – aired May 8, 1963
Gena Rowlands Bio:
The alchemy of Gena Rowland’s acting style is how she integrates her craft with an indescribable beauty and presence that is reminiscent of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
Before the emotionally distilled and complex actress emerged as an icon, Gena Rowlands set out with her husband John Cassavetes to create a new naturalistic landscape of independent American movies in the 1970s, that inspired generations of filmmakers. She began showing the attractive pull of her strength in dramatic teleplays for early television programming.
Shows like Robert Montgomery Presents, Ponds Theater Armstrong Circle Theatre Studio One The United States Steel Hour Goodyear Playhouse General Electric Theater, and of course Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. She had a regular stint on the television police procedural series, 87th Precinct playing cop Robert Lansing’s deaf wife. In 1975 she starred alongside Peter Falk (One of Cassavete’s inner sanctum of actors along with Ben Gazzara) in Columbo’s season 4 episode Playback.
In feature films, she was cast as Jerry Bondi in Lonely Are the Brave in 1962, in Cassavetes’ A Child is Waiting in 1963, and in Gordon Douglas’ Tony Rome 1967 starring friend Frank Sinatra and Richard Conte.
Working since the mid-1950s Rowlands began to give shades of the forceful performances to come in the three episodes of Hitchcock’s series, in particular, The Lonely Hours playing off veteran stage actress Nancy Kelly.
Gena Rowlands was nominated for two Academy Awards for her performances in director/actor husband John Cassavetes’ films. In 1974 for A Woman Under the Influence and in 1980 for her gutsy portrait of one tough broad in Gloria 1980.
She was also nominated for eight Golden Globes having won two, and eight Emmys winning three. On November 14th, Gena Rowlands was finally given an Honorary Oscar at the Governors Awards ceremony.
“With her bold bone structure and the curtain of her wheat-gold Jackie O coif, Gena Rowlands is the classic Hollywood icon that got away…. Had she been born into the Studio ear of the 1930s or 1940s, one suspects that she would have sured up a career running across the grand roles, from the tough boots molls through to the stoic others and peppery femme fatales. She has the angular hardness which typifies the best of them in that period- one can imagine her, as easily as Crawford, Davis, Stanwyck or Bacall.” -bfi.org.uk
“I’d never seen anyone that beautiful with a certain gravitas. It was particularly unique in that time, when many women were trying to be girlish, affecting a superficial, ‘I’m a pretty girl’ attitude. It seemed to be the best way to succeed, but Gena did none of that. There was a directness—not that she wasn’t fun and didn’t smolder—but it came from a place that was both genuine and deep.” – Mia Farrow
Director Sidney Lumet in an interview with critic James Grissom, said: “The highest compliment I can pay to her—to anyone—is that the talent frightens me, making me aware of the lack of it in so many and the power that accrues to those who have it and use it well. And the talent educates and illuminates. She is admirable, which can be said of only a few of us.”
In Faces 1968, nominated for 3 Oscars, Rowlands plays prostitute Jeannie with director Cassavetes with something like steel and fearlessness behind her eyes asserting a challenge to try and reach her after being crushed by men. Rowland manifests a performance ‘aching with wordless solitude’ (Ebert)
In the visual poem about loneliness and the feeling of isolation, Minnie & Moskowitz 1971 stars Rowland as the edgy blonde Minnie who perceptively flickers with co-star Seymour Cassel and displays her captivating sensuality under Cyclopean sunglasses.
Minnie works in a museum and has never forgiven the movies for selling her a bill of goods. “The movies lead you on,” she tells her friend Florence. “They make you believe in romance and love . . . and, Florence, there just aren’t any Clark Gables, not in the real world. Still, Minnie dreams, and keeps a romantic secret locked in her heart: She’s glad the movies sold her that bill of goods. (Roger Ebert)
Rowlands garnered her first Oscar nomination for her unforgettable performance as Mabel Longhetti in A Woman Under the Influence 1974 co-starring Peter Falk who is in the grips of Mabel’s mental illness.
“It left me exhausted and depressed-feeling. Some of the time, when you’re walking out there where the air is thin, you just hope you can walk back again.” -Gena Rowlands
From an interview with Matt Zoler Seitz – talking about A Woman Under the Influence-
“That was my favorite movie. I loved doing that movie. I loved it because I loved working with Peter Falk, I loved the mix of comedy in it, that was sort of real comedy.
The film was about a woman who was obsessed with the love of her husband, for her husband. And he was a regular guy, worked for the city, had to do his work at night, or in daytime when there was a call for it. She plans so heavily for a romantic night, gets her mother to take her children over to her house, gets house in tiptop shape—she was a woman who was really obsessed. Then he got a call that the water line had broken and had to call her and say that he couldn’t come home later, and then he came back the next morning with all of his friends, and she was very happy to see him to offer them all breakfast, but mostly because she wanted to please him always, and she offers to make them spaghetti. Do you remember that scene?
Yes, I remember the spaghetti scene. Everybody remembers that scene, it was a great scene.
”It’s so wonderful to do a scene like that, where it feels so true. You can tell a lot about her in that scene. You see that everything she did was to please him…
I also liked the fact that in that film, I was a little wacko, but my husband understood that and he loved me, and it didn’t bother him that I was as strange as I could be. When I have this terrible breakdown and have to go away for a while, leave him and my children, oh—that’s a hard scene. We’re showing a hard moment in a person’s life, a terribly hard moment. Then she comes back and they try to make it easy for her as possible. It’s just so good, all the scenes.”
As Myrtle Gordon, Rowlands gives another masterful performance in Cassavetes’ Opening Night portraying a successful stage actress’s ‘final agony of bottoming out’ (Ebert), rehearsing a production of The Second Woman in New Haven, whose life is turned upside down after she witnesses a 17-year-old fan’s death outside the theater.
Gena Rowlands in Opening Night 1977.
Rowlands plays the role “At perfect pitch: She is able to suggest, even in the midst of seemingly ordinary moments, the controlled panic of a person who needs a drink, right here, right now.” (Roger Ebert)
She captures the restless energy that imbues the behind-the-scenes world of the theater and the ‘dreary perspective of Myrtle’s uninspiring production she stars in.’ (Chris Wiegand- The Guardian).
“All while descending into a prolonged crack-up involving binge drinking, consultations with mediums, and a repeat hallucination of a young girl… Early on, when Myrtle is first confronted with the hallucination/girl, there’s a closeup of Rowlands’ face that is an example of her unique genius. Even very talented actors feel the need to show an audience “what a moment is about.” Not Rowlands. In that closeup, Myrtle stares at the girl, wondering if she has finally lost her mind, and then she puts an almost welcoming expression on her face, before mouthing the word, “Hello!” It’s hair-raising.” Ebert)
Nipping at booze, Myrtle trips between reality on and off stage, drenched in an alcoholic delirium – “Rowlands’ drunkenness in “Opening Night” is in the pantheon of Great Drunks onscreen.” (Roger Ebert).
Myrtle drifts in and out of character conjuring visions of two women who do not exist. Virginia the role for which she is wary of, struggles to portray an older woman for the first time, a character who is aesthetically defined by her age. And embracing the phantom of Nancy, the young girl who died, whose youthful receptiveness is what she seeks to direct, all within an oppressive environment driven by the men she works with, director (Ben Gazzara) and ex-lover co-star (Cassavetes).
How can you bring a character alive if you don’t believe in them – Myrtle asks playwright Sarah Goode played by Joan Blondell. Myrtle needs to reclaim her identity on stage and for herself.
“The scenes in which Myrtle in Opening Night consults first one and then another spiritualist are typical of Cassavetes’ genius in filming madness. He gives us characters who are clearly breaking apart inside, and then sends them hurtling around crazily in search of quick fixes and Band-Aids. (In “Love Streams,” the hard-drinking Cassavetes surrounds himself with hookers, while Sarah (Rowlands), as his sister, fills a taxicab with animals she has “rescued” from a pet store; in “A Woman Under the Influence,” a crowd of basket cases sit down to eat a big dinner that has been whipped together under the delusion that life is normal and everybody is having a great time.” Roger Ebert
Gena Rowland in Gordon Douglas’ Tony Rome 1967.
In Gloria 1980 directed by John Cassavetes, a film Rowlands considers a ‘gangster comedy’ gets to play the hard-edged gun moll she would have perfected in the best film noirs of the 1940s. The film takes an unexpected approach to motherhood- as Gloria Swenson becomes the reluctant guardian of a little boy whose family is murdered by the mob. The two go on the run in the gritty streets of New York City in possession of a book that the mob wants. Rowland is never fake while she roars and swears at the thugs chasing her on the subway, moving like the wind down the sidewalks of New York in her silk suits, handling her gun like an uncompromising pro. ‘‘I don’t want to be a victim! Victim, that’s passe, I’ve played a victim. I don’t want to be a victimized, you know, a victimized person again…This is a victimized person isn’t it?’ he assures her -‘’ No, it’s not a victimized person. A very strong person. You’re not a victim, you’re an ‘anti-victim.” ”Good, don’t get it in your mind that I’m a victim!’” (Rowlands from a conversation with husband John Cassavetes).
Cassel and Rowlands in Minnie and Moskowitz in 1971.
Gloria for Gena Rowlands is where she gives flight her roles rooted in vulnerability and deep psychological storms. In the film, she attains ascendency and puts a gun to the head of the personal victimization, and defies some of her older collaborative roles with Cassavetes interpreted by instability and downward spirals. She wouldn’t allow herself to be trapped by stereotypes of ‘eccentric, middle-aged women.’ which was a role that established her on-screen persona in the 1970s.
“Love is a stream. It is continuous. It doesn’t stop.”
In 1984’s Love Streams, directed by John Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands portrays Sarah Lawson, a character whose life has been unexpectedly upended when she finds herself in the midst of a divorce from her husband Jack, portrayed by Seymour Cassel.
Adding to her pain, her young daughter Debbie (Risa Martha Blewitt) chooses to live with her father instead. At a time when she questions whether she is worthy of love, experiencing an emotional breakdown she reaches out to her brother Robert (Cassavetes).
Rowlands objected to Cassavete’s script finding herself once again playing a ‘victimized person’, but he assured her that Sarah was truly strong.
Sarah’s divergence from the past ‘madwoman archetype’ is in her resilience from her earlier roles in the 70s – as Mabel in A Woman Under the Influence whereas her therapist in Love Streams has a similar commentary that her love is “too strong for her family,’’
And unlike Minnie who is stripped down by Cassel in Minnie and Moskowitz in 1971, and Myrtle Gordon whose mind becomes fractured during the New York premiere of her play in Opening Night, Sarah comes to a reckoning about how love flows and can be reached. And no one but Rowlands could compel heartache to emerge out of a smile.
Source Andrew Key
Source Chris Wiegand The Guardian
Nancy Kelly Bio:
Actress of radio, stage, film, and television, Nancy Kelly with her whisky voice became a Hollywood child actress who performed alongside Gloria Swanson she was talented enough to appear on Broadway in a revival of Macbeth Macbeth in 1926 and was Tyrone Power’s leading lady in John Ford’s western Jesse James 1939. And cast in the lead role in the low-budget horror movie about a woman who claims the is the reincarnation of a witch burned at the stake 300 years ago in Woman Who Came Back 1945. Having worked on the radio on The March of Time between 1932-37 and appearing on stage drawing great reviews for her performances as Blossom in Susan of God and for Clifford Odets’s The Big Knife, and Season in the Sun 1950, her most unforgettable role was as Christine Penmark, Rhoda’s (Patty McCormack gave a delirious performance as the sociopathic Rhoda) mother in director Mervyn LeRoy’s psychological drama The Bad Seed 1956.
Nancy Kelly in John Ford’s Jesse James 1939.
Kelly’s performance is a riveting at times cringeworthy examination of a mother cornered by maternal conflict when she discovers that her seemingly innocent little blonde angel is in fact a cold-blooded psychopathic murderer.
“virtually everyone in the film becomes so fantastically abnormal that it grows ridiculous and grotesque. Little Patty McCormack, who plays the murderer, not only acts with incredible sang-froid but she also postures with such calculation that it is hard to see how anyone could mistake her show of innocence for a fraud.” – Bosley Crowther
Nancy Kelly wore the role of Rhoda’s mother in both the theatrical Broadway, 1954-55 stage production and the adaption to the big screen.
Walter Kerr of the New York Herald Tribune wrote of her Tony Award-winning stage performance:
“Though Miss Kelly has done attractive work on Broadway before, she has never really prepared us for the brilliance of the present portrait” (Walter Kerr-New York Times, January 14, 1995).
In contrast to Kerr’s take on Kelly’s performance, the often unforgiving Bosley Crowther wrote this scathing assessment of her work in the film:
“Nancy Kelly makes the mother of this child so saturnine and so foolishly fatalistic that her outbursts of frenzy toward the end when little darling coolly compounds her murders, deprive her of the sympathy she should have. This reviewer had the inhuman feeling that this poor woman oddly got what she deserved.”
In 1956, she was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actress for her performance in The Bad Seed but lost to Ingrid Bergman in Anastasia.
Kelly dove effectively into television starting in the 1950s by appearing in episodes of Studio One, Playhouse 90, Climax!, Suspicion, Alcoa Theatre, and a particularly tense performance as Janet Willson who is daunted by an unseen manic during one dark rainy night in
The Boris Karloff’s Thriller episode The Storm. She also appeared in the Edmund O’Brien series Sam Benedict, Medical Center, and her next last appearance in Jack Palance’s underappreciated cop show Bronc. And lastly, the made-for-TV movie Murder at the World Series in 1977.
She died in 1995 of complications from diabetes at the age of 73.
NANCY KELLY DIALOGUE:
Vera-“Michael and I are leaving now Mrs Henderson, I’m taking him home with me. Oh, I am sorry for you because I think in your own way, you’ve grown really fond of my baby. But you see Michael is my child. I’ve known that from the very beginning….”
Amidst the chaos of family, confusion, and anxiety, Murray’s music is tragically beautiful and stretches you in deep places.
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 alongside Gena Rowland as housewife Louise Henderson. Louise finds herself in conflict with the cryptic Vera Brandon who lives under the cloud of delusion, and despair.
Joan Harrison had envisioned a narrative that is entirely woman-centered, and the story is framed within the world of women, a tribalization of motherhood, viewed through the eyes of women and by using an all-female cast.
The episode which is driven by a sense of extreme unease was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Program – Drama. It is considered to be one of the best episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
Joyce Van Patten is delightful, playing 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 the landlady, Miss McGuiness.
Based on a novel by Celia Fremlin called The House Before Dawn with a screenplay by William Gordon, and a most extraordinary soundtrack music by composer Lyn Murray.
The Lonely Hours features the work of two masterful actresses, Rowlands who is solid and intuitively manages to tap into the wavelength that something is just not right with Kelly’s character. Nancy Kelly, while a menacing figure who threatens Rowland’s breezy yet frenetic suburban world, manages to come across as a sympathetic, damaged woman who is haunted by loss.
It is perhaps one of the most intense teleplays, the story and its performances of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour series, aside from perhaps Teresa Wright’s performance in Lonely Place, interesting that both titles include loneliness as their theme.
The Hendersons had considered renting a room upstairs to a student to bring in extra money. Louise’s husband is out of the picture for the entire episode except when Louise invokes his existence during their sparse one-sided phone calls.
When the curious Vera Brandon shows up looking for a quiet room to rent in order to finish her thesis, she spots Louise’s little boy Lonnie and the camera catches her fixating on him in his high chair. It strikes us as well, that little Lonnie has dark curly hair, looking more like he’d be the saturnine Vera Brandon’s child than the polished blonde Louise.
Once the dangerous, deranged Vera Brandon moves in the suspense begins.
The episode opens with Tchaikovsky blasting on the record player. Rowlands is on the phone trying to make arrangements and going over the minutia of life, taking care of the house and her two little girls who are a distraction running around. Nancy Kelly walks in on the din of the crazy life of an upper-middle-class housewife.
Though obviously a tireless mother and housewife, Louise Henderson is purely flawless, dashing around the kitchen serving breakfast, feeding her 7-month-old little boy named Lonnie, and keeping tabs on her girls, she still manages to look like the cover of Good Housekeeping with her chic sleeveless dress and fetchingly coifed golden hair. The telephone rings and it’s her husband calling long distance, he is away on a business trip and will be gone for another week.
The harried Louise is trying to wrangle the precocious and imaginative girls, one of them is Joyce Van Patten who comes over most days to play. All three keep her busy while her husband is away on business. We never meet him, he is a phantom on the phone to us.
Miss Vera Brandon (Kelly) enters comely, polite, tailored, and a bit more old-fashioned, she is a bit of a contrast next to Louise who is more bourgeois and chic. The girls let her in while their mom Louise is still talking on the phone. Vera Brandon already transforms the space as she begins to take control in tiny ways. She immediately turns off the record player, then she concentrates on Lonnie.
As Vera inquires about the room to let, and when Louise remarks that she and her husband had only been thinking about renting a room, Vera explains that someone at the university must have mentioned it. She explains to Louise (Rowlands) that she needs a quiet place to work on her thesis.
After seeing the room, which is a bit small and cluttered at first, Vera decides to rent the room for $30 a month.
Shortly after Vera Brandon moves in, Louise becomes very suspicious about the woman in her house and why she seems so engrossed in Lonnie.
In the next scene, Vera pulls up in front of a different house carrying a bassinet bundled up in blankets that she watchfully holds close to herself while she goes into this other secret apartment that she is renting under the name of Mrs. J.A. Williams.
Her landlady Miss McGuiness (character actress Jesslyn Fax known for Rear Window (1954), Kiss Me Deadly 1955 and The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966) is renting it to the mysterious Miss Brandon for an extra month and has been told that it’s for her and her baby son Michael.
Something strikes us as off with the way she is holding the bassinet, we sense there is no baby. There is something tangible about Vera – she is deranged and may even be dangerous.
When Miss McGuinness knocks on Vera’s door she seems alarmed. She tells her that Michael is asleep and keeps her landlady at bay standing outside the door, but takes the toy from her that came in the mail that day. After she tells her that they’ll be staying longer and that she and the baby will be staying with a friend for a few days. Vera puts the toy next to the bassinet and the baby is revealed to be a doll.
Miss McGuiness seems curious about the baby peeking in the baby’s room just a little to try and catch sight of him. Miss Brandon takes out a brand new musical toy horse, winds it up, and places it by an almost lifelike baby doll covered in the blanket.
Later while having coffee together with Grace (Van Patton), Louise mentions that Miss Brandon knows her professor’s husband but she tells Louise that Vera Brandon’s name doesn’t mean a thing to her.
Although Miss Brandon said she knew Grace’s brilliant husband. Brandon also seemed to know both she and Mark are blondes. Vera Brandon is very dark like Lonnie who has very thick dark black hair.
Joyce Van Patten – “If this woman is going to arouse all your latent hostility why take her in?”
Rowlands “In the first place it wasn’t hostility It was idle curiosity and in the second place I need the extra money in the first place.”
Vera Brandon arrives with her suitcase, and Louise introduces her to her friend, Mrs. Grace Thorpe
in a telling moment, explains the topic of her doctoral dissertation to Grace, who looks on blankly and then turns and invites Louise to a fashion tea. Vera is portrayed as a slightly older, educated woman, who does not fit in among the vapid suburban housewives.
Grace (Joyce Van Patten)“Louise tells me that you’re writing your doctoral thesis.”
Vera “Hmm, I’m a few years behind my original schedule.”
Grace “In what field?”
Vera “Oh, I’m doing a comparative study of the effects of alien philosophy. I’m in history – Greek origins really.”
Perhaps allusions to the classical myth of Medea about the woman who murdered her children.
Grace looks completely struck dumb by Vera’s intellectual nitty gritty. She switches to a topic she’s more comfortable with and tells Louise that she really wants her to come to the fashion tea tomorrow and so Vera Brandon uses the opportunity to volunteer to watch Lonnie and Louise agrees to it.
Vera Brandon goes into Lonnie’s room while he’s fussing and she quiets him down, “I’m here now. I’m here with you and I’ll never leave you. I’ll never leave you – sshh Michael.” She holds Lonnie’s hand as he looks up smiling at her.
The next morning the girls joke that Miss Brandon is ‘a spy… a secret, atomic spy’ but Louise is used to the girls and their wild imaginations and the games they play with each other.
When Louise leaves for the fashion tea, Vera is left alone with Lonnie, and she is able to call him Michael. She drives him to her other home and now can freely show him off to her landlady, no longer a doll hidden in a blanket. Vera is thrilled when Miss McGuiness tells her that Michael is ‘just the image of you.’ Once inside, she takes Lonnie into the room she has turned into a nursery with a crib and toys. Vera’s neurotic motherly attachment to the baby only intensifies the tragic and disturbing nature of her actions.
We assume that Vera has finally taken off with Lonnie but at the end of the day she has returned to Louise’s home, Vera opens up Lonnie’s door. It is a surprise to us that she has brought him back to his mother. Louise finds Vera holding Lonnie very dearly.
The moment is a tense one and Louise seems disquieted by Vera’s attention on her son, then she sees the toy horse in the crib. “Where did this come from?” She asks the little horse. Vera Brandon tells her she bought it while she was out and that it has a music box and plays a lullaby. Louise seems visibly struck in a weird way. Her Intuition?
At night, Louise is reading in bed when she hears Lonnie crying. She goes to his room to find Vera holding him and walking back and forth, trying to comfort him. Louise gives Vera a quick lesson in parenting and Vera internalizes her antagonized by this.
Late at night, Louise hears Lonnie crying. When she goes in to check on him she finds Vera Brandon holding him.
“I was awake Mrs. Henderson. I thought I might reach him before he disturbed your sleep.”
Louise seems vexed and grabs Lonnie from her arms and admonishes her.
Louise “It’s wrong to pick up a baby every time he cries, Miss Brandon. I’m trying to coax him to sleep through the night.” But she replies, “I think the baby is hungry Mrs. Henderson.”
Louise “I’m sure he is, I’ll take care of it. “
Vera Brandon looks wounded. Louise calls upon her maternal privilege to put Vera in her place.
Louise is quickly developing a more heightened sense of distrust, and drawing on her instincts that something’s off with this woman in her home.
Her girls find a little book with a few men’s names in it, including their father’s name. Louise assures her daughter that Miss Brandon is not a spy. But even her little girl notices that there’s something strange about Vera. And senses that her mother doesn’t like her.
Vera overhears that Mark will be home in a couple of days.
When Louise and Grace go out for the day and Lonnie is left with Katie, a babysitter that Louise specifically hired to watch Lonnie instead of Vera.
But Vera takes Lonnie out of the house again, telling Katie that Louise said it would be okay for her to take him out with her shopping. Vera takes Lonnie back to her secret apartment again.
When Louise returns home and finds Lonnie gone, Katie tells her, “Miss Brandon hasn’t come back yet.”
Louise “Yes I noticed her car was gone.”
Katie (Willa Pearl Curtis) “But the baby’s with her.”
Katie ”Well Lonnie was fussy and she had some shopping to do, so she thought the fresh air might do him good.”
Louise yells “Katie!”
Katie “What, What’s wrong?”
Louise “Wrong! She has Lonnie”
Katie “Well she said it would be alright with you.” Shaking her head
Louise “Katie you had no right to do this.”
Katie “Do what?”
Louise “How could you let her take him out of your sight?”
Katie “Well she said it was alright with you.”
Louise “Katie I changed your day this week so you would be here with him YOU, not HER!”
Katie “But you never told me, Mrs. Henderson.”
Louise “Oh Katie.”
Grace “Louise Louise you’re falling apart.”
Louise “You haven’t seen anything yet!”
Grace “What are you going to do?”
Louise “I’m gonna call the police.”
Grace “Louise don’t you think you should find out what happened first before you make a fool of yourself?”
Vera Brandon walks in with Lonnie.
Louise “Where have you been?’’
Vera Brandon “Surely Katie told you we went for a little walk.”
Louise “How dare you take my baby out of this house without my permission!”
Louise grabs him away from Vera Brandon. Vera Brandon “It just never occurred to me that it would upset you. I was out shopping and I found your little bakery. Well, we’d a been home earlier but I stopped to buy you some of that coffee cake you like so much.”
Louise looks over at Grace. Feeling guilty and Grace looks back like she believes that her friend has overreacted to a very nice gesture. She has embarrassed herself momentarily but trusts that she’s right about the situation and her suspicions about Vera Brandon.
Louise is snooping through the drawers in Vera’s bedroom and finds the small black book with three names and addresses in it and tears out the page. Her husband, Mark Henderson is one of them.
As Louise does some investigating she finds out that Vera Brandon has given three different reasons including her renting the room from her, for trying to get close to each of the three families, each with a boy 7 months old.
Louise goes in search of the two other names in the book. Looking for some answers and hoping to find a connection between the three people and Vera Brandon.
Louise hunts down Sandra Mathews, (Jackie Russell who appeared on episodes of Thriller and The Night Stalker, as well as the episode with Diana Dors- Run for Doom of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour) a young mother who accomplishes looking upbeat and snapping gum in her mouth while filling Louise in about her encounter with Vera Brandon. Sandra recalls that Vera came to the house when her baby was three months old to offer him a modeling contract. Robbie is a little blonde boy.
She tells Louise –“Oh yeah did she come after you too? That one with that baby modeling pitch?”
Louise “Well she’s rather tall and dark.”
Sandra “Yeah that’s her. She came around when Robby was about 3 months old. I told her when Robbie’s six months I’ll sign, but I didn’t expect to see her again.”
Louise “Why not?”
Wife “Well I mean my little guy’s real handsome, I mean a real doll, but this Miss Brandon hardly even looked at him. Like nothing.”
Next Louise goes to the McFarland Motel. There she meets Juanita Moore. Her son Joel is 7 months too, like Robbie and Lonnie.
Louise “I’m looking for some people name McFarland.”
Mrs. McFarland (Juanita Moore) “I’m Mrs. McFarland.”
Louise “Oh how do you do I’m Mrs. Henderson. Your name was given to me by Vera Brandon.”
Mrs. McFarland ‘‘Oh yes, I remember her.”
Louise “Was she working with a modeling agency?”
Mrs. McFarland “No, she didn’t mention that. She read my husband’s advertisement and telephoned for part-time secretarial work We’re in insurance and real estate, we run this Motel.”
Louise “But she never worked for you?”
Mrs. McFarland “She came by to see us but then she lost interest right away.”
Louise “Oh well thank you I won’t take any more of your time. Bye-bye Joel. He sure is a healthy looking one.”
Mrs. McFarland “He really is. I had him with me from the very first. I think it makes a difference.”
Louise “So did I. That’s why I love St. Dominics.”
Mrs. McFarland “St Dominic Hospital? That’s where I had Joel.”
Suddenly Gena has a flash, “St Dominics?”
She goes to the hospital and asks about the other two mothers she finds from the book and
questions the sister if she remembers a Vera Brandon. The sister tells her, there was a Vera but, “it wasn’t Brandon, it was Williams.” She goes to look at the records. Louise finds out that Vera lost her baby named Michael.
The sister, “Oh yes I remember her now. She was one of our sad ones. Her husband had deserted her and her baby died.”
Later on the phone with her invisible husband “Oh no Marc I’m not afraid, it’s just that I don’t want her here any longer.” Louise plans on gonna asking her to find another place to live.
Vera Brandon comes into the room once Louise hangs up with her husband, and informs Louise that she’s leaving. “Actually Mrs. Henderson I’d like to talk to you about the room. I do hope you won’t be offended, but I spend almost the entire afternoon looking for another place to live.”
Louise, “Well no, we said we’d try it, and if it didn’t work out.”
Vera Brandon “Well if it weren’t for my work I’d be pleased to stay, but I did see a place this afternoon that I think will be a little better for me.”
It seems that Vera is planning something with Lonnie and it’s about to happen.
Louise seems relieved, a light comes over her she doesn’t have to deal with this problem anymore –
Louise “When would you be leaving?”
Cinematographer John F. Warren always seems to frame the two women’s faces using low-key lighting to emphasize their eyes.
Gena Rowlands sparkles and Nancy Kelly is deep and sadly hollow. The dramatic exchange between these two marvelous actors throughout the episode is remarkable as it is disquieting.
Vera Brandon “Oh tomorrow, the weekend is a good time to get settled.”
She asks for a cup of coffee, then she laces it with sleeping pills to knock Louise out so she can grab Lonnie/Michael.
In Louise’s stupor -half sleep-half woozy from the drugs she hears Vera Brandon speak to her
“Michael and I are leaving now Mrs. Henderson. I’m taking him home with me. Oh, I am sorry, I really do feel sorry for you. I think in your own way you’ve grown really fond of my baby. But you see Michael is my child. I’ve known that from the very beginning. From that first day 7 months ago. See they brought me your baby and they told me it was mine. Oh, that poor pale weak little thing. But I knew they were lying.”
Louise figures out where Vera Brandon has taken Lonnie after the girls tell her that ‘the spy lady’ left her coat behind with a piece of paper with her address on the rent receipt in the pocket. She calls the police and tells them that Vera has kidnapped Lonnie, and Grace comes over for support.
Louise confronts Vera.
Louise “If you’ve harmed that baby.”
Vera “Harmed, you think I’d harm my own son.”
Louise “That baby’s not yours.”
Vera Mrs. Henderson everybody in this neighborhood knows my son. We’ve lived here for over a month. They know him at the candy store, they know him at the drug store, at the toy store, and even my own landlady knows him. “Would you like to talk to her?”
Louise Mrs. Williams, Miss Brandon, You’re Michael is dead.”
Vera “Your Lonnie is dead. Oh, I know how hard it is for you to face it. I know but you have a beautiful home and a lovely family.”
Louise “Hospitals don’t make mistakes.”
Vera “It was deliberate they meant to do it.”
Louise “No you’re wrong.”
Vera “No I was conscious every minute when Lonnie was delivered I saw him before he took his first breath I know. Mrs. Henderson, I don’t think there’s any point in continuing this. Now I want you to go away and I want you to stop annoying us and if you still persist in coming here I’m gonna have to take steps to see that you stop.”
Finally, a policewoman arrives pretending to come help clear everything up and to take Vera to the hospital to get the birth certificate for Michael so she can prove he is hers. She convinces Vera to come with her to St. Dominics.
The turmoil wakes up Lonnie but when Vera picks him up, she cannot quiet him, becoming frustrated she begins to shake him violently. Hysterical, Vera yells at him “What’s wrong with you!”
Vera speaks not to the two women, but to herself, “That’s another terrible thing that they’ve done, they’ve let him stay with them for all these months he doesn’t even know me.”
Louise comes out of the nursery holding the doll swathed in the blanket and offers him to Vera, “He’s quiet now.’ The pain of watching Vera Brandon quietly disassemble is unbearable to watch. His pain is palpable. She is lost in a state of agonizing delusion. Nancy Kelly’s performance is absolutely heart-wrenching.
The policewoman takes Lonnie and hands him to Louise, then there is a shot of the creepy lifelike doll sitting in a playpen.
Vera walks toward the door of her apartment, accompanied by the policewoman, and Louise returns to the nursery and holds Lonnie tightly in her arms.
Starting in 1960, Gordon added writing for TV to his repertoire in addition to his acting career. He went on to pen scripts for a range of shows, such as Thriller, The Fugitive, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, among others, until 1981. During this time, he also took on roles as story editor or consultant for various series, including The Fugitive, and directed a couple of TV shows. Moreover, Gordon produced a total of 32 episodes of The Fugitive. Among his notable writing credits are six teleplays for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, the first being “Bonfire,” co-written with Alfred Hayes. He followed up with “The Lonely Hours,” adapted from the novel The Hours Before Dawn.
In 1958, Celia Fremlin Gollar published her debut novel, The Hours Before Dawn, which she wrote during sleepless nights spent pushing her baby around London. Inspired by her own experience with parental sleeplessness, she crafted a story exploring this theme, which became her first published work.
The Hours Before Dawn was adapted for television for the first time as a live broadcast on the U.S. Steel Hour on September 23, 1959. The cast included Colleen Dewhurst as Vera, Mark Richman as Mark, Teresa Wright as Louise, and Jack Carter as another character, with Philip Lewis credited as the teleplay writer. Unfortunately, this live broadcast is now lost.
The second TV adaptation of Fremlin’s novel, titled “The Lonely Hours,” aired on CBS as part of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour on Friday, March 8, 1963. The teleplay was written by William D. Gordon.
Joyce van Patten plays Louise’s friend, Grace; she was a busy actress in film and television from 1946 to 2018 – Her TV roles included parts on The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and The Odd Couple.
Alice Backes plays the policewoman at the end of the episode. She is a familiar face on television having worked in radio and then in film from 1948 to 1978. Her busy television career lasted from 1952 to 1997 and included roles in Boris Karloff’s Thriller, The Night Stalker, and six episodes of the Hitchcock series, including one of the most eerie, The Jar.
Willa Pearl Curtis plays the babysitter, Katie, this was the only episode of the Hitchcock show in which she appeared. She had a part in The Wages of Sin 1948 as the Bordello maid. She appeared in Second Chorus 1940 with Fred Astaire and Paulette Goddard, as Mrs. Wertheim’s Assistant in The Lost Weekend with Ray Milland 1945, also a maid in The Pirate 1948, and as Hannah Thomas in Native Son 1951.
Juanita Moore (1914-2014) as Mrs. McFarland, is featured in 3 of this series starring in Where the Woodbine Twineth. She plays the second woman whom Louise visits after seeing her husband’s name and number in Vera’s little black book; she had a six-decade career on screen from 1939 to 2001 and is best remembered for co-starring in Douglas Sirk’s remake of Imitation of Life (1959). She was also in four episodes of the Hitchcock series, including Where the Woodbine Twineth.
Playing the role of Miss McGuinness, Vera’s landlady, was Jesslyn Fax (1893-1975) who appeared on screen from 1950 to 1969. She had minor roles in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) and North By Northwest (1959), as well as on five episodes of Hitchcock’s TV show, including “Coming. Mama”. Fax also made an appearance on the TV show Batman.
Alice Backes plays the policewoman at the end. She had a busy career in television, including roles on Thriller, The Night Stalker, and six episodes of the Hitchcock series in particular the odd installment entitled The Jar.