Universal // 1958 // 930 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // December 14th, 2009
Alfred Hitchcock directed only a handful of episodes of his classic '50s TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, but he was on hand every week to offer a witty introduction and take a few jabs at his sponsors. Hitchcock was already such a brand, that even though he had less creative input on the series than people might have imagined, people still tuned in for the Hitchcockian experience that the series promised. They were not disappointed. The show deftly blended drama, comedy, suspense, occasional bits of the supernatural, and a healthy helping of murder, serving it with style, wit, and a satisfying twist at the end.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents ran seven seasons, turning out 270 half-hour episodes. After that, it expanded to 60 minutes and ran another three seasons as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. All 36 half-hour episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Season Four are included in this set.
* "Poison" -- Hitchcock himself directed this taut tale of a man who finds a poisonous snake sleeping on his belly.
* "Don't Interrupt" -- An escaped mental patient is loose, and a family on a train stopped in a blizzard is concerned. With Cloris Leachman and Chill Wills.
* "The Jokester" -- A reporter plays one too many practical jokes.
* "The Crooked Road" -- A couple finds themselves at the mercy of small-town corruption when they have car trouble. With Walter Matthau, Richard Kiley, and Patricia Breslin
* "The $2,000,000 Defense" -- A man (Leslie Nielsen) offers his lawyer and good friend (Barry Sullivan) a whopping-high fee if the lawyer can get him off a murder rap.
* "Design for Loving" -- Despite a great cast, including Barbara Baxley, Norman Lloyd, and Marian Seldes, this silly episode about Androids just proves that AHP should have left science fiction to The Twilight Zone.
* "Man with a Problem" -- Gary Merrill as a man perched on a ledge, distraught over the demise of his marriage to Elizabeth Montgomery.
* "Safety for the Witness" -- Art Carney in a Prohibition-era story of a man who witnesses a gangland hit.
* "Murder Me Twice" -- Phyllis Thaxter as a woman who commits a crime while under hypnosis -- or was she?
* "Tea Time" -- Margaret Leighton as a woman who confronts her husband's mistress, with surprising results.
* "And the Desert Shall Blossom" -- A couple of prospectors get a visit from a criminal on the run.
* "Mrs. Herman and Mrs. Fenimore" -- Two women in a boarding house scheme to do away with the wealthy uncle of one of them. With Mary Astor.
* "Six People, No Music" -- The owner of a funeral parlor is shaken when a corpse sits up and starts dictating orders. With John McGiver and Peggy Cass.
* "The Morning After" -- Jeanette Nolan, Fay Wray, Robert Alda, and Dorothy Provine in a story of a woman desperate to break up her daughter's relationship with a married man.
* "A Personal Matter" -- A new man at a mining site causes tension with the foreman.
* "Out There -- Darkness" -- Bette Davis as an unmarried eccentric who accuses a hotel employee of assaulting her.
* "Total Loss" -- Nancy Olson as the owner of a failing dress shop looking for a way out.
* "The Last Dark Step" -- Lurid tale of a man trying to rid himself of a sexy woman so he can marry a respectable one. With Joyce Meadows, Robert Horton, and Fay Spain.
* "The Morning of the Bride" -- Barbara Bel Geddes as a woman who is nervous about meeting her new mother-in-law.
* "The Diamon Necklace" -- Claude Rains as a long-time jewelry store employee who is duped out of an expense necklace.
* "Relative Value" -- A man decides to speed up his wealthy cousin's demise, with surprisingly fatal results. Denholm Elliott and Torin Thatcher.
* "The Right Price" -- An unhappily married man haggles with a hitman over the cost to get rid of his wife.
* "I'll Take Care of You" -- A used car lot owner and his elderly, faithful employee find themselves bound even closer when something happens to the younger man's wife.
* "The Avon Emeralds" -- Roger Moore as government employee trying to stop a wealthy widow from smuggling her family's jewels out of England without paying taxes.
* "The Kind Waitress" -- Goaded by her ne'er do-well boyfriend, a waitress (Olive Deering) begins slowly poisoning an elderly customer who's provided for her in her will.
* "Cheap Is Cheap" -- A skinflint (Dennis Day) searches for an inexpensive way to divest himself of an increasingly expensive wife.
* "The Waxworks" -- To win a bet, a nervous writer agrees to be locked in the Murderer's Hall of a wax museum over night.
* "The Impossible Dream" -- Mary Astor and Franchot Tone square off as a washed-up actor and a woman who has information that could destroy his reputation.
* "Banquo's Chair" -- Hitchcock's second and final directorial effort this season, the story of a unique plan for getting a man to confess to murder.
* "A Night with the Boys" -- A man loses his paycheck in a poker game and tells his wife he was mugged; imagine his surprise when the police find the mugger.
* "Your Witness" -- An arrogant, unfaithful lawyer (Brian Keith) drives his wife to desperate measures.
* "The Human Interest Story" -- Steve McQueen as a reporter investigating a man who claims to be a Martian.
* "The Dusty Drawer" -- A professor (Dick York) makes his housemate, a banker, miserable over a $200 discrepancy.
* "A True Account" -- A nurse who married her patient's widower tells her a lawyer that she thinks he killed his first wife.
* "Touché" -- A man believes he can legally eliminate his wife's lover by challenging him to a duel. With Paul Douglas, Hugh Marlowe, and Robert Morse.
* "Invitation to an Accident" -- A newlywed (Joanna Moore) acts recklessly around her earthy husband (Gary Merrill).
Let's get this out of the way up front: this is a great series, and these episodes are terrifically entertaining. Even the weakest ones are nothing less than great fun.
The production values are simple but strong, with some very good camerawork. A few of these episodes were shot by John L. Russell, who was responsible for Psycho. Music is generally stock but well used, except of course for the series' recognizable theme, "Funeral March of a Marionette."
The acting and directing are just wonderful. "Big" names like Bette Davis, Claude Rains, Mary Astor, Roger Moore, Franchot Tone, and Steve McQueen do great work here, as do lesser names like John McGiver, Phyllis Thaxter, Ralph Meeker, and Robert Horton. The great Barbara Bel Geddes gives a remarkable turn as a frightened newlywed in "The Morning of the Bride," a program that must have been shocking when it first ran, though is less so for audiences familiar with some of Hitchcock's later work. Gary Merrill, at the time unhappily married to Davis, appears twice this season (though not with her), offering two very different but still sinister stand-out performances.
The real star is the writing. Clever and literate, these are perfectly transferred short stories. There is very little excess or padding, and no unnecessarily "jazzy" touches. Each episode has its twist, but unlike some shows, the twists here are organic; they never feel tacked on or convoluted. The endings serve all that has gone before, instead of the other way around. There's no sense of slogging through a 25-minute set-up just to get to a lame punchline.
What's surprising is how well the comedy episodes play. Usually, dramatic anthologies fall flat when they try to veer into comical territory -- witness the decidedly unamusing results when The Twilight Zone gave us "Mr. Bevis," "Cavender Is Coming," or "Showdown with Rance McGrew," which suffered from heavy-handed slapstick and gags that fell flat. On AHP, the humor -- present in most episodes -- is generally more sophisticated, heavily infused with irony. We also get the occasional in-joke: In "Cheap Is Cheap," a man looking to have is wife killed is appalled at the price of a professional hit. He's advised by the hitman to do it himself and then mentions a TV show he saw in which "a real cute dame clobbered her old man over the head with a leg of lamb," a reference to the AHP classic, "Lamb to the Slaughter."
Among the better episodes here are the uncomfortably tense, Hitchcock-directed "Poison;" "The Crooked Road," which features top-notch work from a young Walter Matthau; "Tea Time," which gives us an outstanding turn by Margaret Leighton and a truly clever twist; "The Diamond Necklace," which is Claude Rains' show from start to finish; "The Waxwork," a genuinely creepy haunted wax museum thriller; "The Impossible Dream," which finds acting fireworks in the performances of Astor and Tone; and "The Human Interest Story," with a young Steve McQueen already showing off star power in a tricky but well executed script. Davis' turn in "Out There -- Darkness" is exceptional, the kind of larger-than-life performance usually reserved for the screen, full of nuances and small moments; she's so compelling that you barely notice that the story doesn't really hold up.
The shows are actually in pretty good shape. There's a bit of print damage here and there, and some episodes look a bit rough, but for 50-year-old television programs that haven't been "gloriously remastered," these are pretty clean. Audio is a standard mono track, and there are English subtitles. The lone extra, "Fasten Your Seatbelt: The Thrilling Art of Alfred Hitchcock," is a six-minute-plus look at the Master of Suspense through the eyes of some contemporary directors, including John Carpenter, Martin Scorsese, and Eli Roth. This seems to have been put together from the interviews shot for the special editions of Psycho, Vertigo, and Rear Window released in 2008.
What a treat to have these episodes on DVD. Suspenseful, funny, and compelling, Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Season Four is another great example of the "Golden Age" of television.
Review content copyright © 2009 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 930 Minutes
Release Year: 1958
MPAA Rating: Not Rated