Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Season Three

Since my charmer and I are often looking for something to counteract the current monotony in television, we turned to a classic: Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

I've always been a fan of Hitchcock, and who isn't? Psycho, Rear Window, Frenzy, Strangers on a Train, Vertigo, The Birds, and my favorite, North by Northwest – these films are a cornerstone of our cinema culture. He made movies from the 1920s to the late 1970s. No other director or actor, maybe with the exception of John Wayne, has had such an impressive run.

From 1955 to 1961, Alfred Hitchcock Presents ran as 30 minute episodes. In 1962, the show was extended to a full hour and renamed The Alfred Hitchcock Hour until its end in 1965. Hitchcock directed only one or two episodes per season, but a who’s who of renowned names like Robert Altman, Arthur Hiller, and Robert Stevens seamlessly filled in.

Each episode followed a memorable format. Beginning with the music of Charles Gounod's distinctive, "Funeral March of the Marionette", and the camera centered on a simple line-drawing caricature of a plump profile being gradually eclipsed by the shadowy figure of Hitchcock. Opening and closing vignettes featured Hitchcock parodying some aspect of the program and poking fun at the sponsors. Can you imagine anyone today having such clout?

The anthology contained a mixture of melodramas and mysteries dealing with terror, horror, dark humor and twist endings where morality and justice prevail. A revolving door of veteran performers, like Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, and Vincent Price mixed with newcomers like Jack Klugman and William Shatner, portrayed characters who typically possessed some dark secret that became a part of their own undoing by the end of the episode.

“The Glass Eye” in this collection is indicative of the quality of the series. The episode stars Jessica Tandy who plays a lonely woman named Julia who has fallen in love with a famous ventriloquist named Max Collodi. She attends all of his performances and sends letters requesting to meet him and one day, he finally agrees. She arrives at his hotel room and finds him sitting in the shadows with his small dummy. Julia is overwhelmed in Max’s presence and tries to touch him. She screams when his body falls over and one of his glass eyes rolls across the floor. The dummy, furious, stands up and demands that she leave. Max had been the dummy all along.

Ok, I didn’t give you a spoiler warning but there are thirty-eight others just as good.

So, if you've had enough of House and CSI's tired and predictable approaches, check out the master of suspense and a truly unique show that Hitchcock described in “Night of the Execution” as "dark alleyways of human nature."

Parts of this blog were originally posted on the Axiom Report on 6/18/2008.

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