Alfred Hitchcock Presents was one of the finest anthology/mystery programs in television history. Few programs of its kind have ever carried the weight-and royalty-as Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The show brings back pleasant memories of being huddled around the living room TV set; mom and dad on the couch; us boys lying on the floor on our stomachs listening to the opening march of the mysterious theme song which led us into a thirty-minute maelstrom of mystery, deceit, murder, and intrigue.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents was probably one of the greatest mystery anthology programs ever. In the 60's, we caught it in both prime time and syndication. This wasn't a horror anthology program; it was pure mystery whose specialty was surprise-twist endings. The program was a very entertaining half hour though sometimes there were a few duds. When I was a kid, I used to love to read Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine for its rather bizarre tales. It seemed like it was the size of a paperback novel, but very thin. The magazine came out in 1956, but there was no real connection to it, and, the TV show, although some episodes were adapted from stories that appeared in the publication.
The Theme Song
The opening music was that of Charles Gounod's "Funeral March for a Marionette", but, as of today, probably should be re-named as the Alfred Hitchock Overture. I was at the ripe old age of 2 1/2 months when my parents began watching the show. And as it should be, the opening theme song has since been permanently embedded in my brain. Once the program changed to an hour long show, the glorious theme song changed it's orchestration to a slower, and more cautiously paced rendering of the classic.
Listen to the theme song!
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour
"Alfred Hitchcock Presents" debuted in October of 1955. Hitchcock himself directed 17 of the 268 episodes with his unmistakeable flair.In 1962, the show expanded to an hour long slot appropriately titled: "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour" I truly loved the hour long episodes as they fleshed out the stories more. My favorite hour-long episode of all time was "The Jar". I remember sitting up very, very late one summer evening with the next door neighbors, watching this in syndication. There were so many great episodes in this 60-minute series. One of the creepiest was "To Catch a Butterfly" about a young boy who just wasn't right. There are so many of these great hour-long episodes that it's hard to pick an absolute favorite.
Strange people, murder plots, paranoia, memory loss and great plans gone awry are all perfect ingredients in the Alfred Hitchcock recipe. The longer time slot permitted stories to be fleshed out with more concentration on characters. One of my favorites in this genre is "Forecast: Low Clouds and Coastal Fog." Good tension-building episode in the hour-long set is "Last Seen Wearing Blue Jeans" and "Bonfire" featuring Peter Falk as the preacher-gone-wrong. "I'll Be the Judge, I'll Be the Jury" features an excellent pairing of Peter Graves and Albert Salmi in a tale of revenge.
I have to say that for myself, the most regrettable thing about Alfred Hitchcock Presents are the "comic" episodes. They dominate the AHP catalog (though some are merely tongue-in-cheek), and were not nearly as good as the stronger thrillers. However, there were a few that I liked tremendously. One of these would have to be "Post Mortem", an episode about a man's attempt to murder his wife for her winning lottery ticket. As for my favorite episodes, there are far too many that I love to list here, so I'll just have to cover a few. One of them is "The Long Shot". It's one of the better "surprise ending" episodes consisting of a pair of Englishmen on a long American road trip together. "Crack of Doom" is an edgy thriller about the perils of gambling, and just how far one man will go to get a winning hand. "The Creeper" is a tense thriller about a young housewife alone on a hot summer evening while a serial killer is on the loose.
"The Dangerous People" is a cat-and-mouse thriller with a fine duet of actors playing off of each other. A deranged lunatic has escaped a local asylum, and the only two men at a train station suspect each other of being the escapee. "Keep Me Company" stars Anne Francis as a lonely wife who befriends a police detective with surprising results. "The Motive" is an interesting piece about one man's flow chart of murder vs. motive, and how his projections are taken a bit too far. "Hooked" takes place in an idyllic fishing resort where lust, temptation and murder are the only catch of the day.
"And the Desert Shall Blossom" Two old codgers turn their ramshackle desert hut into a blooming paradise courtesy of a special fertilizer. "Banquo's Chair" There's occult and entrapment in this great episode. "Crooked Road" Gives us Walter Matthau at his best as a hick cop in a corrupt small town. "Incident in a Small Jail" has one of the best twist endings ever! "The Hatbox" Two students believe that their teacher has murdered his wife. Hmmm, wonder where the head could be? "Bad Actor" A temperamental actor just can't see someone else in the role he should have had. "De Mortius" A professor's pals are convinced that the new floor in his basement has his wife buried underneath.
Sometimes the shows took on strange themes, and had even stranger endings. Most of these were famous for keeping the viewer guessing as to just where the episode was going. One of AHP's most enduring classics would have to be "The Case of Mr. Pelham". One of the strangest episodes, that also has a surprise twist is "The Glass Eye". This one, I'm sure, terrified young children when it aired. The very first episode of the very first season of AHP is an entry titled "Revenge". It starts off as a decent story, then turns into a strange odyssey. It's a great episode that begs to be seen. "The Hidden Thing" offers yet another cerebral story of mystery and intrigue.
The episode "A Little Sleep" is one of my favorites in the "strange" category, and not only features a very weird ending, but actor Vic Morrow as a very calm distraction. A mysterious and intriguing model, a strange father and son relationship, and some unearthly mushrooms add to the "strange" category with: "Portrait of Jocelyn", "Jonathan", and "Special Delivery" . "The Little Man Who was There" Is an interesting episode that takes place in the old west. It feels like an odd dream until its conclusion. "Crackpot" is a weird tale that reinforces the old adage of "beware of strangers".
RevengeThe ultimate motive for a great mystery has always been centered around "getting even with someone." Alfred Hitchcock Presents featured some of the finest episodes that dealt with this genre. Patiently awaited and drawn out revenge and murder were brilliant ingredients for some of the best AHP episodes ever. Some of my favorites included: "The Right Kind of House". A story about an old woman who lists her house for sale at a ridiculously high price. She knows that only one person in the world will pay her price... in more ways than one. "Road Hog" is a little lesson about how one should and should not behave on the road. "Bottle of Wine" teaches: thou shalt not covet another man's wife. "Forty Detectives Later", seeks out a woman killer, and puts to us the question: should a good man become a paid executioner? "The Equalizer" gives us the old "big guy picking on the little guy" routine, and "The Jokester" shows us how one person's sense of humor isn't all that funny. These are all among the more superior episodes in the revenge genre. "Playing the last joke on someone" was a way of getting even, as was the case in the episodes "The Jokester" and "The Night the World Ended".
Justice For All
This is where it gets good. There's never been a more satisfying approach to mystery, than someone getting their "just desserts". Justice was meted out with splendid measure on this show, and the most vile, ruthless, evil, and corrupt individuals ever created by the shows writers, get theirs in the end with these wonderful episodes. "The Greatest Monster of Them All" is the story of an aging horror film star's great return to the big screen. But when his work is horribly tampered with by the studio execs, it's time for a little payback--monster style. One of my favorites is "The Crooked Road". Back country roads, a corrupt tow truck driver, small town police, and a crooked judge are all deliciously humbled. "Help Wanted" gives us a more than dedicated employee who breathes new life into the term "job security". "Man with a Problem" proves that some guys are meant to be taken seriously. "Coyote Moon" shows us how a family of desert swindlers get theirs in the end, and "Escape to Sonoita" provides us not only with a very young Burt Reynolds, but again, justice in the relentess heat of the desert.
The Alfie Honor Roll
Anybody who was anybody showed up in at least one episode of Alfred Hitchcock. Some were just starting out in their careers, and others, who didn't become cinema superstars, became the greatest character actors of the sixties era with immediately recognizable faces.
Among those are:
Peter Lorre, James Franciscus, Suzanne Pleshette, Joseph Cotten, Robert Duvall, Charles Bronson, Robert Redford, Claude Raines, William Shatner, Henry Jones, Brian Keith, Jo Van Fleet, Walter Matthau, Vera Miles, Bette Davis, Harry Dean Stanton, Burt Reynolds, Phyllis Thaxter, Dennis Weaver, Vic Morrow, Percy Helton, Russell Collins, Steve McQueen, Dick York, Albert Salmi, Alan Napier, Robert Horton, Robert Emhardt, Peter Lawford and the stereotypical "Englishman" John Williams. Classy gals like Joan Hackett, Elizabeth Montgomery, Barbara Baxley, Joanna Moore, and Anne Francis had returning roles, as well as delightful male character actors like Percy Helton and the great Henry Jones.