1 9 5 5 – 1 9 6 5 (USA)
268 x 25 minute episodes
Although only 20 of the 300+ episodes of this anthology of murder mysteries were directed by the Master of Suspense, he presented every episode – usually from some macabre setting, such as an electric chair or impaled on a pole like a scarecrow – signing off with a sardonic, deadpan explanation of the small but fatal slip that had proved to be the criminal’s undoing.
One of the first anthologies to have a personality of its own, Alfred Hitchcock Presents (aka The Alfred Hitchcock Hour) raided the shelves of the suspense classics for its narratives, those translated for the screen by such renowned ink-slingers as Ray Bradbury, Nicholas Monsarrat and Sterling Silliphant.
The stories were cleverly crafted, centring on crimes such as murder and blackmail, but each had a surprising twist in the tail.
Among the outstanding presentations were ‘Arthur’ with Laurance Harvey as Arthur Williams, the owner of a chicken farm, who is embittered after his fiancée, Helen (Hazel Court) jilts him to marry another.
A year later, she leaves her husband and returns to Arthur. He kills her and although the police – under Sgt Farrell (Patrick Macnee) are suspicious, they are unable to find a body, prove a murder, or connect Arthur in any way.
In the closing narrative, Hitchcock states that Arthur, who made his own chicken feed through the use of a large grinding machine, prepared a special mixture and added one extra ingredient – Helen. This was one of the very few episodes in which the criminal goes undiscovered and unpunished.
‘Man From the South’ was situated at the Golden Nugget Gambling Palace in Las Vegas and centred on a bet over the ability of a 99 cent cigarette lighter to light ten straight times. If it does, the challenger (Peter Lorre) will lose his car – if it does not, the owner of the lighter (Steve McQueen) will forfeit the pinky on his left hand.
Tension mounts as the hand is tied to a table, the challenger holds an axe, and the lighter is lit seven times. The bet is cancelled when the challenger’s wife enters and announces that her husband has nothing to bet with as she has managed to win it all.
As she picks up the car keys from the table we see the evidence of her having beaten him
– two fingers only remaining on one hand – the thumb and the pinky.
In ‘Voodoo’, set in an oil mining camp in the Amazon, A wife (Cara Williams), who is in love with her husband’s partner, pretends to be stricken with fever. Unaware of the deceit and believing his wife’s sanity is threatened, the husband (Nehemiah Persoff) arranges for a native servant to take her downriver to a psychiatrist.
Uncomprehending, the servant takes her to his people, “the best head shrinkers in the world.”
“I do what you tell,” he says, upon his return, and hands her shrunken head to his master.
Other standout episodes included ‘Revenge’ with Ralph Meeker and Vera Miles; ‘The Jar’ with Pat Buttram; `Escape to Sonoita’ with Burt Reynolds, and ‘Mrs Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat’ with Audrey Meadows.
The series originally consisted of 30-minute dramas, but over 900 stories were made in a 60-minute format and went out as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
One feature of Hitchcock’s dramas on television was their shattering of the industry code that forbade evil to triumph: he routinely announced in his closing remarks that the bad guys received justice, thereby circumventing the censors. However, he also ridiculed his sponsors and teased his viewers, so very few took such disclaimers seriously.
The show was produced by Norman Lloyd, later to appear in front of the camera as Dr Daniel Auschlander in St Elsewhere.
In 1957 and 1958, many of the shows were directed by Robert Altman, who later became famous as the original director of the film M*A*S*H, which became a hit TV series.
The memorable theme music to the show was Gounod’s Funeral March of A Marionette.