Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Alfred Hitchcock (and Suspense) Presents

Good evening.

At the same time I began to discover the works of Alfred Hitchcock - first through Nick at Nite reruns of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, then his films - I was becoming interested in old-time radio; perhaps my favourite program was Suspense.

There is an interesting connection between Hitchcock and Suspense. You see, the original 1940 pilot for the series was produced by Hitchcock, starred repeated Hitchcock performer Herbert Marshall and adapted The Lodger, which had been earlier adapted by Hitchcock to film.

When the radio series materialized in 1942, Hitchcock was no longer attached. The series aired until 1962 and did frequently utilize actors who appeared in Hitchcock films - most notably Herbert Marshall, who appeared more often than any other lead performer, as well as film/TV Hitchcock performers Joseph Cotten, Peter Lorre and Claude Rains plus film stars Anne Baxter, William Bendix, Raymond Burr, Madeleine Carroll, Robert Cummings, Henry Fonda, Joan Fontaine, Cary Grant, Edmund Gwenn, Charles Laughton, Ray Milland, Robert Montgomery, Gregory Peck and James Stewart.

Hitchcock prepared a second radio pilot in 1948, this time titled Once Upon a Midnight and adapting the tale "Malice Aforethought." Notably, both this and his earlier "The Lodger" failed to completely adapt their source material within a half hour, leaving the stories incomplete; Hitchcock and his staff had yet to learn how to tell a satisfying tale in a half-hour.

Hitchcock was not exactly absent from radio - virtually all of his 1940s Hollywood films had radio adaptations (notably not on Suspense - when Suspense adapted The Thirty-Nine Steps they used the original John Buchan novel, not Hitchcock's film version). But finally, from 1955-1965 (mostly running concurrently with Suspense and its television counterpart) Hitchcock found the right format for his type of mystery anthology series: television. Alfred Hitchcock Presents had arrived and wrote the rulebook on what a half-hour dramatic anthology would be like.

But, as evidence that even without Hitchcock, Suspense ran on very similar lines, there are many instances of Hitchcock adapting stories to his program which had earlier been heard on Suspense! Initially, many of these stories appeared under different titles for television, perhaps to disguise them from overly-familiar viewers. Let's take a look at all those stories, shall we?

Alfred Hitchcock Presents debuted with the story "Revenge" which had appeared as "Nightmare" on Suspense in 1949. However, I think we can all agree on the television version's superiority. Both tales concern a man seeking revenge on the person who assaulted his wife, but the radio version inserts an "it was all a dream" cop-out ending, the sort of trifle Hitchcock would avoid (and mock) on his program.

The Hitchcock episode "The Older Sister" is actually reworked from a Suspense episode which aired the previous year: "Goodbye, Miss Lizzie Borden." Both concern the legend of Lizzie Borden and a suggested solution for the murders of Lizzie's parents.

Another early Hitchcock episode "Our Cook's a Treasure" comes from Dorothy L. Sayers' "Suspicion," which appeared twice on Suspense, featuring the tale of a man who thinks his new cook might be a notorious poisoner.

Alexander Woollcott's legend of "The Vanishing Lady" appeared on Hitchcock as "Into Thin Air." It had earlier appeared under its original title on the sibling programs Escape and Suspense, telling the tale of a young woman whose mother disappears and everyone involved claiming to have never seen her mother before.

"Alibi Me" is a rather restrained crime tale about a murderer who's desperate to find an alibi after he murders his worst enemy. Suspense performed the play twice.

Ray Bradbury's "And So Died Riabouchinska" debuted as an episode of Suspense before it ever saw print on its own. Claude Rains did a masterful job in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents adaptation. You may recall I blogged about this story last October.

Alfred Hitchcock loved John Collier's twisted little tales, such as "Back for Christmas," which told of a professor who murdered his wife and buried her in his cellar. Suspense performed the story twice (Peter Lorre in the 1943 version) with their sibling Escape producing it once.

Ambrose Bierce's weird tale of the Civil War notably appeared on both Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone, but earlier than that was likewise heard on Suspense and Escape. The Escape version is the best, to my thinking.

"The Black Curtain" was a crime novel by Cornell Woolrich dealing with a man suffering from memory lapses (a, shall we say, common situation in Woolrich stories). Suspense made a great adaptation with Cary Grant in 1943 & 1944, but each adaptation has taken significant liberties with the source material, mostly keeping nothing but the gimmick of a man discovering he's lost a year of his life.

Hitchcock and Suspense both clearly liked Woolrich because they likewise each adapted another of Woolrich's tales, "Momentum."

John Collier's "Wet Saturday" is just the kind of cold-blooded and frightfully British tale Hitchcock swooned for. Suspense adapted it themselves several times, once in an hour-long program with "August Heat."

Another of Collier's tales, "De Mortuis" was heard on Suspense but you'll find this drama (starring Charles Laughton) is considerably more complicated than the Hitchcock version; both tell of a man discovering his wife is unfaithful after his friends wrongly assume him to be a murderer.

Hitchcock rather loved Thomas Burke's "The Hands of Mr. Ottermole" (he directed the television adaptation) and it was heard on Suspense with Claude Rains as the detective investigating a series of murders and a journalist who always seems to be about.

The Alfred Hitchcock Presents version of Cornell Woolrich's "Post Mortem" is all right but I truly do not care for the Suspense version, which has a strangely light-hearted tone and a grating performance by Agnes Moorehead.

A.M. Burrage's "The Waxwork" is a masterpiece among the genre of "horror in a wax museum" fiction and I think both Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Suspense did right by the tale, though the 1956 radio version is perhaps a bit more unnerving than Hitchcock's.

"Banquo's Chair" was frequently adapted on Suspense and tells a simple-enough tale of a detective trying to frighten a man into confessing a murder. Hitchcock's television version was fine as well.

And while that's all for Suspense, why don't we keep going? There's only a few other Alfred Hitchcock Presents tales which have radio counterparts. First up: Escape and "Poison." Hitchcock loved Roald Dahl's fiction but he didn't quite do right by the tale on television, tacking on a climax which changed the purpose of Dahl's tale in a very unfortunate way; stick with Escape version, it's quite faithful and William Conrad gives the performance of a lifetime.

On the other hand, Hitchcock adapted Ray Bradbury's "Marionettes, Inc." rather faithfully into "Design for Loving," while the X Minus One radio adaptation added a very different conclusion. I also blogged about this Bradbury tale back in October.

Finally, "The Creeper" is a classic tale of a maniac on the loose while a woman is at home alone, not certain whom to trust. In addition to television, you can hear it adapted on the Molle Mystery Theater

Thank you for indulging this digression into one man's fascination with Alfred Hitchcock and old-time radio. I'll be back to blog with you another evening; good night.

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