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Thursday, February 9, 2012
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour - The Skinny
"The Alfred Hitchcock Hour" was an anthology television series in the mid-sixties, like "The Twilight Zone" and "The Outer Limits". Unlike those shows, however, "Hitchcock" didn't dwell on alien invaders, monsters and mysterious time-warps or magical alternative dimensions. The "Hitchock" episodes were dedicated to more human melodrama - greed, jealousy, paranoia and murder were the film de-jour and Hitchcock served them up with a delicious side of irony and justice.
There were generally two types of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" episodes: The Rural Tale and The Urban Tale. Both were rife with backstabbing villainary and dastardly misdeeds. A typical Urban Tale was set either in a luxury high-rise apartment like the one from "Family Affair" that only the affluent like Uncle Bill could afford, or a mansion with chandelier, elegant staircase and the inevitable library, where one poured Scotch from a decanter and pulled cigarettes from a silver case on the sideboard.
What I have learned about the rich from "The Alfred Hitchock Hour":
-The rich wear ascots, chain-smoke (sometimes from a fancy cigarette holder)and drink all the time - even at their huge offices, which are so opulent, they sometimes have floor-to-ceiling wall-safes, just like the bank.
-The rich are ruthless and will have extra-marital affairs and plot to destroy their husbands, wives, friends and lovers for financial gain.
-The rich, though good with money, are generally poor planners when it comes to murder and even worse judges of character.
The Rural Tales were more often than not set in a shabby cabin of sorts, or a home that looked like it was lifted directly from Tom Joad's dustbowl Oklahoma. Sparsely furnished, sometimes with running water, sometimes not, the protagonists of these stories seemed much more doomed and isolated from the outset than those of the Urban tales. They drove beat-up jalopies from the 1920's and lived lives of eternal struggle, just trying to make ends meet.
Things I learned about the rural poor from "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour":
-The rural poor have no ascots - they are called scarves and are used to keep the cold wind from blowing down your overalls, they don't smoke as much and when they do they usually roll their own, or stuff it in a corncob pipe. If they drink, it's from a jug.
-The rural are ruthless and will have extra-marital affairs and plot to destroy their husbands, wives, friends and lovers for financial gain. The upside to the rural poor, is that they will also kill over magic amulets or the love of an inbred cousin. I suppose the rich would, too, now that I think about it - just not as readily.
-The rural poor, though stout of heart, are generally weak of mind and easily corruptible, especially when it comes to murder. Also poor judges of character.
The list of stars that I have seen pass through the black and white gates of the Hitchcock hour is stunning and the now-legendary cast of character actors and supporting characters is a veritable who's-who for much of the 60'ws, 70's and 80's film and television. There is also the stars and character actors from the 30's and 40's who have stepped on the inevitable downhill slope. It makes me giddy. There is a visceral thrill to spotting Leif Erickson, Walter Matthau, John Cassavetes, Jack Cassidy, Lillian Gish, Ray Milland, Jayne Mansfield,Angie Dickenson, Bette Davis and my all-time favorite character actor/creepy-villain of all-time, Bruce Dern weaving in and out of the episodes like shiny gray threads in a delightful kinescopic tapestry.
Hitchcock himself didn't direct these episodes much, if at all, but lent his name and was on-hand to film the introductions, halftime intermissions and outros for each show, much of the time during which he spent knocking his sponsors and the need for commercial breaks. Brilliant. The outro usually came with an update that the villain of the piece, who might have appeared to get away with whatever dastardly crime he or she had committed, had indeed been caught and was now facing justice. Or living with Jesus.
If you have a chance, settle in for an hour of 1960's fashion, automobiles, backlots and smoking. Lots of smoking. In hospitals, even. It'll warm your heart.