The Alfred Hitchcock Hour
Hitchcock plays a feint in the prologue, appearing with goat, jug and rifle to tell the canceled story of his hillbillies, who strike oil and move away down the road where it’s less slippery.
“Terror at Northfield” as filmed is a Mad parody of The Andy Griffith Show in style and tenor (Northfield is not very far from Ventura), in substance a satire of rusticity as age-old enemy of civilization. Book-learning sends a boy down the road, his father seeks the Lord for a sign. Lo, the boy is found dead, struck with a car some time since.
The sorrowing father traces the car, kills the original owner, a land speculator named Frenchy who leaves behind a confession discovered later, then (unsure which one did the deed) the next buyer, the town’s lady librarian, and finally aims for the present and last owner of the car, the librarian’s assistant and girlfriend of the town sheriff.
Hart’s direction, particularly in the opening scenes, is made of brilliant images (the sheriff and his girl amid the tines of a harvester) and a hint of his later facility with the camera.
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour
A peach farmer hires a tramp to pick his crop, paying half-wages because “he’s a big enough fool to take it.” The hired hand kills the wife’s pet squirrel for attacking him, as he says, but later owns as how he doesn’t like animals at all. Women feel much the same about him, he tells the wife, who is as afraid as the others were of his idiot laugh and open knife.
The farmer has a crop to get in, that’s all. She packs a bag to leave one night, the hand catches her while the husband dozes by the radio, waiting for the weather report. She screams, the hand hopes to draw the farmer out. The knife falls to her, he drives away in the farmer’s truck laden with peaches. A damaging thunderstorm has broken, with hail to follow according to the forecast. The farmer heard it all, lying doggo by calculation. She stabs him to death.
Pat Buttram and Teresa Wright are the very picture of hardworking fruit growers. Bruce Dern plays the tramp to perfection, and the little squirrel bravely takes a kick of dirt over it unfazed.
The kitchen set with its wood-burning stove opens onto an arbor, with peach orchards just beyond. Hart pans back and forth on Wright making breakfast for Dern, who stands near the camera goading her with remarks she tries head-down to ignore.
The score by Lyn Murray is one of his finest.
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour
In the Far East, a fraudulent medical missionary leaves his wife for a girl at the clinic, whose husband kills them both. That’s the simplicity of it, the second couple are also from home, sent by the Society on an inspection tour of sorts.
It’s “the triumph of good over evil” when a “tribal” sense of “victory and vengeance” transforms the “selflessness” of the visiting brother into “an instrument of God’s law”. After all, he tells the servant Ramna, when a “sacred animal” is killed he has seen “mobs tear a man to pieces”.
It begins with a joke, the missionary’s wife wears a heavy veil so that her face can’t be seen, and sounds like Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen. She’s the brains of the outfit, a nurse with surgical skills.
Hart gets some atmospheric play with mosquito-netting and the like. His main image is the x’s and o’s of the bedsprings left behind when the second couple’s mattress is burned after her sudden death by cholera during his absence in the neighboring villages. The missionary’s jealous wife has taken a scalpel to her in the night, the body is buried in the jungle.
The missionary is a cultural Šsthete full of wisdom such as comes from observation in the East. The emperor of Japan requires service for a lifetime with no hope of repaying the subject’s indebtedness at birth, he tells the saintly brother’s wife to assuage her feelings of inadequacy. Not her nobility of spirit but her beauty would be his theme, were they wed, “a woman’s beauty is her salvation.”
The structure is curiously like a variant of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Ed Begley and Jeanette Nolan visited by Tom Simcox and Maggie Pierce). The clinic is their only creation as husband and wife, the missionary is told by his spouse, who fears exposure and ruin of his great reputation.
“We enslave each other with our dispassionate loves,” he tells his mistress. Onto the bedsprings goes her photograph as the griefstricken husband is bowed with pain.
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour
A sendup of Sunset Boulevard serves as a riposte to Method acting and a defense of silent films. Monvere is the home of Monica Parrish and Gavin Revere, star and director in retirement. Their daughter cultivates a car mechanic, once an aspiring actor, he proposes but is rejected by the father unless he takes out a large insurance policy naming her as the beneficiary. The mechanic plans to kill Revere, but father and daughter push him into a nearly dry swimming pool. The director plans to resume his career, his daughter undoes her makeup to reveal his wife.
Death Scene is the title of their greatest film, which is screened for the mechanic and his roommate, another mechanic still aspiring. The two young men laugh at the villain’s pantomime and are sent out.
Two things are immediately striking about silent films, the clear, lustrous photography in a good print, and the proficient acting. Pantomime is one small part of this, John Barrymore, Norman Kerry, John Gilbert, Mary Pickford and a host of others achieved acting that has not been surpassed and only equaled. Barrymore used pantomime well, Stroheim’s actors have it, you find it at the end of Hitchcock’s Juno and the Paycock, where it comes from the Abbey Theatre, perhaps.
Power of Attorney
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour
A bilked matron’s paid companion gives the culprit her employer’s suicide weapon, locks him in the room where the body lies, and calls the police, who kill him as he shoots his way out.
Poetic justice is compared by Hitchcock with a harp that shoots arrows “like a machine gun” and plays a tune at the same time, as well as slicing bread “before baking”.
The superb direction has a lot of close work on the principals, Richard Johnson, Fay Bainter and Geraldine Fitzgerald, in their demanding roles. Johnson must seduce archly suspicious Fitzgerald to persuade merry Bainter, who is delighted at the new romance and doesn’t know her old attorney has been smothered in his bed by her new.
Hart gives an early account of his camera technique in a scene edited by movement. The matron, a widow, calls her great-niece to tactfully report her stocks have fallen, no help for the girl’s trip to Germany. Behind her is the table set for lunch. She crosses to the next room to put some piano music on the phonograph, which takes some little time, and crosses back as the phone rings (the niece, an intelligent girl), but she leaves it unanswered on the kitchen counter and closes the double doors of the dining-room hatch to end the scene.
Night of the Dancing
The Wild Wild West
A crane shot and a POV show the director’s hand steadily at the helm in a complex bariolage of events that formulate a very sharp, complete appreciation.
The Albanian Embassy is operated by Prince Gio as a front for his gang of thieves. The King sends an emissary to him with orders to stop his larceny, they are disobeyed and the emissary is imprisoned in the embassy cellar, she is the Prince’s sister.
Gio trains his men in the martial arts, he is a practitioner whose sport is to fight in single combat upstairs, the loser falls through a circular opening in the floor onto the ballroom floor beneath, a precipitous drop.
The Grand Elector of Saxony is impersonated by Gordon to create a diversion for West at an embassy ball by lambasting the Pomeranian ambassador for his country’s prosecution of an unjust war.
In the final scene, the Princess’s beautiful secretary is vainly wooed by Gordon and West, she has to learn how to type now that the Prince has been floored.
The mystery of charm, it comes from a “Venus drug” that is illicit and useless as Yogurt’s ring in Spaceballs, there is more to men and women than meets the eye.
Hart’s direction goes still further (after Penn’s “The Enemy Within”) toward conveying the forward motion of drama as a kind of ballet among the actors in pictures.
The title is a remote allusion to Renoir’s Le Carrosse d’or in the allotted purpose for the golden coach.
Hart’s film has a spectacular form, intercutting the end of a genteel call-girl’s smack-ridden life and the police investigation of her death, quite independently, not as a flashback.
The structure is a very long joke building to a quick punchline. Neither the avid client nor the homosexual roommate dropped her (Karen Black) out of an apartment tower onto the pavement below, but well-heeled devil-worshippers after she’d swallowed the Host for a black mass on her person, rather than see it desecrated.
The setting is Montreal, Mont Royal figures as the name of a skyscraper and a ship, French is spoken there.
The New York Times reviewer wanted to know more about the detective (Christopher Plummer).
By Dawn’s Early
The principal basis is evidently Frankenheimer’s Seven Days in May, and the essence of the structure is revealed in the name of the man from Ballistics, Sgt. Kennedy.
Haynes Military Academy is suffering low enrollment. Mr. Haynes wants to convert it into a co-ed junior college, but the commandant cannot agree and kills him instead. The main suspect is nonetheless a cadet much reprimanded for leaving campus to visit his sweetheart at Valley Stream Girls School. This is enough, but the incomparable Berk throws in Beckett’s “Jigging Self” in a secondary theme about illicit cider in the dorms, and then there is the remarkably downplayed playing by Patrick McGoohan of the commandant’s inversion, matched by Peter Falk’s recognition of it, soaringly downplayed as well.
Strictly speaking, the civilian chairman of the board at a military academy (The Citadel, in South Carolina) is murdered by replacing a blank charge with gelignite in the ceremonial cannon on Founder’s Day. Whilst replacing the charge, the commandant spies a bottle of illicit cider fermenting in a dorm window. Consequently, the hunt is on for the cider at the same time Lt. Columbo ferrets out the murderer.
The lieutenant’s 3 A.M. call is a sympathetic appreciation of Welles’ The Stranger, the “door” that’s a wall echoes Wilcox’s Elizabeth of Ladymead.
Hart on location exercises a military, not to say mechanical, rigor of exactitude in long takes and minute camera movements amidst the red-and-white checkerboard of a military academy that became famous some years later on grounds similar though not at all identical to this story, which also announced a theme as well as a title for Aldrich’s Twilight’s Last Gleaming. Many misunderstandings surrounding the work have led to a notably literal interpretation.
The rigor of “By Dawn’s Early Light” nevertheless supports a broader reading, anticipating Becker’s Taps on revolutionary lines, with a side note on the Whiskey Rebellion.
A Deadly State of Mind
A nice set of bifurcations runs throughout. Dr. Collier’s two mistresses, the twin brothers at the end, the two purported burglars. Overall, this reflects a two-step crime stated by RenÚ Char, “It is unlawful to hypnotize a man in order to perforate him.”
The exploratory or descriptive tilt-and-pan at the opening calibrates the camera. In a lab at the College of Behavioral Science, Hart flexibly pans across cages full of lab rats and rabbits to pick up Dr. Collier (George Hamilton) and follow him to Dr. Borden (Karen Machon) at her desk.
The murder is filmed in such a way as to strongly suggest Fritz Lang, and especially Scarlet Street. A great deal depends on matches vs. a lighter. In the College, where Lt. Columbo views a rodent in a maze, you navigate through the corridors by following colored lines on the floor. Dr. Borden, D.V.M., Ph.D., explains what the College does: “measurement and manipulation of human behavior, at all levels.”
At a collegial gathering in Dr. Collier’s home, the question of his flint arises, and here he commits murder (by post-hypnotic suggestion triggered over the telephone) face-to-face with Lt. Columbo. This ultimately is an allusion perhaps to Nabokov's Look at the Harlequins!, or else Transparent Things.
His victim (Lesley Ann Warren) is also drugged, which suggests brainwashing. Different levels of the behavioral maze are suggested (in a shot remarkably like one in Tony Richardson’s Laughter in the Dark) by Dr. Collier walking along the marina with Lt. Columbo on the docks below and a fence between them, ending at a ramp by which Columbo ascends to him.
The camerawork throughout is floating, nimble, beautiful and subtle. Static close-ups are remarkable for catching the slightest nuances of the actors, with almost unnoticeable editing.
It’s characteristic of this subtle and virtuosic episode that its title reflects Dishonored Lady at an odd refractive angle, in much the same way John Payne as Ned Diamond has a tinge of Fred Astaire about him, or Maurice Evans as Raymond the butler in Citizen Kane mysteriously echoes Erich von Stroheim in Sunset Boulevard furthermore.
Grace Wheeler (Ned’s former dancing partner, thus Wheeler & Diamond) wants to return to stardom in a stage production financed by her husband, a retired M.D. (Sam Jaffe), who would rather not spend the $500,000 (“I’m not a producer”) but instead wants to go around the world with Grace, like U.S. Grant out of office. He puts his foot down.
Grace’s poor mind snaps. She drugs the old man, makes it look as if he were poring over his own medical file, puts a pistol in his hand, puts his hand to his head and squeezes his trigger finger while looking away.
So that’s done. Back to watching her old Wheeler & Diamond movie, Walking My Baby Back Home, which actually stars Donald O’Connor and Janet Leigh, who plays Grace. She finds the film has broken in her absence, so she splices it back together, and sits down to burn the 30 frames she had to cut out.
Lt. Columbo arrives just out of bed at 1:30 AM. He’s forgotten his coat and his watch but not his raincoat. “I’m lucky I didn’t show up in my pajamas... don’t function too well at night.”
Hart has a fine shot of the crime scene converge on Lt. Columbo’s interview with the butler off to one side, then at length pan back over on the lieutenant as he crosses to the body. A man from the Coroner’s Office explains things. “Cadaveric spasm,” says Lt. Columbo. “That’s very good, Anderson.”
A very magnificent crane shot up and down and back and forth is taken from The Magnificent Ambersons and utilized in the foyer. This is four years into the series. Two years earlier, Richard Quine was still stretching the unit’s capabilities in “Requiem for a Falling Star”, but here his work has paid off. The English butler and Irish maid are as significant as Johnny Carson’s jokes in the monologue they watch on television.
The subtlety of Grace’s madness is reflected in Ned’s simple line, “Are you all right?”, which is searchingly delivered by Payne. The lieutenant wants to know what you do when you’re a bad dancer. “Become a critic,” says Ned Diamond.
The doctor had been reading The Transformation of Mrs. McTwig, about “an Irish scrubwoman who wins the sweepstakes,” a book reliably stated by a bookshop clerk to be by “the next P.G. Wodehouse.” Hardly a suicide’s last read.
Hart gives you Schoenberg’s view of Southern California in his exteriors, all Riviera. His most spectacular achievement is in his best style, making use of the delicate long slow pan he might have derived from Frankenheimer, that glides through the scene recording what it sees, and making its own montage by a sequence of images. Lt. Columbo and the butler are talking outside the house, then they walk and talk around to the other side. Hart places his camera inside the house and pans right to left on them as they pass the windows, things pass before the camera as it moves (Grace’s portrait between two windows, recalling Laura), the pair are just lost sight of as the camera rests on Wheeler & Diamond at the dining-room table being served breakfast by the maid, a perfect genre picture.
Jeff Alexander’s score is among the most involved and inspired in the series.
The conclusion is a stunning bit of work. Lt. Columbo has noticed a fifteen minute lapse in the film’s running time on the fateful night. His lengthy discussion of this is merely a blind for the Warhol reference. Grace is dying, with a progressive memory disease that deprives her of recent memories, but not those farther back. She may not even remember that she’s killed her husband.
Ned confesses, to spare her. Lt. Columbo takes him in, rather bemused, as Grace sits down to watch Walking My Baby Back Home with a face full of radiance.
And so, on top of everything else, there’s a kind of War of the Worlds anticlimax. And still, perhaps, as fascinating as the structure is, the detail work is even more so. A secondary theme has the lieutenant, under pressure from Internal Affairs for not keeping up on the firing range, give a colleague five dollars to take his marksmanship test for him. “Are you bribing me, Lieutenant?” “Ya gotta gimme a break, I can’t hit the target.”
Now You See Him
A very elaborate masquerade utilizing a gag from Billion Dollar Brain to put on The Adolf Hitler Story and give Lt. Columbo a New Order raincoat for the duration, or nearly. The absolutely perfect direction by Hart is placed entirely in the service of the illusion, and makes a flawless syntax.
The daring of the script (with its “syndicated tie-ins” providing a false trail) founds the whole thing on Houdini, from the water tank to the handcuffs, under the supervision of Mark J. Wilson. The murderer was once “the gaff in a head act,” who uses his technical knowledge so that “only his voice was in the basement,” because “the mark don’t know” his mind is being read onstage by means of a trick. Columbo reverses the procedure, in a fine allusion to the moral dilemma at the end of Rope.
The illusion of a complex structure (centered around the water tank on The Cabaret of Magic’s stage, with action above and below in basement and second story) is related at a remove to The Frozen Dead (and thus, theoretically, to Muriel). Robert Loggia is significantly cast in an insignificant role as the manager for a structural purpose. It’s a very busy kitchen, they’re always hiring temporary help, he tells Lt. Columbo to take off his coat, “put this on and join World War III.”