AHP Marathon: “Lamb to the Slaughter”

lamb to the slaughter

Welcome back to my “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” marathon! As stated in yesterday’s entry, today’s episode marks the final one I’ll be looking at. There are tons of Hitchcock episodes out there, and from what I’ve seen, this story ranks as one of the best (if not the best) from the show. It’s also another story by Roald Dahl, so let’s see if it deserves to be considered one of the best. This is “Lamb to the Slaughter.”

Mary Maloney is the wife of Patrick Maloney, the chief of police. One night, while fighting over the possibility of a divorce, Mary ends up killing Patrick. When his body is found, his colleague, Lieutenant Jack Noonan, goes to question Mary and conduct a search for the murder weapon. However, it seems to have gone missing and can’t be located whatsoever. Will Jack find the weapon and put Mary away forever, or will Mary be clever enough to able to escape a prison sentence?

Of all the Dahl-penned episodes I’ve seen, this one is easily my favorite. I can also see why it’s considered one of the better episodes, at least in terms of a simple murder cover-up plot. In this case, the story actually puts you on Mary’s side and I couldn’t help wanting to see her get away.with her crime.

We don’t get to spend too much time with Patrick before his death, but you quickly learn that he’s a cheater. This coupled with the look of shock on Mary’s face (who’s also pregnant, by the way) immediately made me glad to see him go. Mary herself is shown as a sweet, doting wife initially, but once she snaps, she does everything she can to make sure she’s not fingered as the culprit. This includes making it look like a fight took place and using a murder weapon that can be easily disposed of (no, not spoiling it here).

Since the murder takes place near the beginning, the first half of the episode focuses on Mary covering it up, much like in the first episode I covered, “One More Mile to Go.” I did feel it was paced a little better here, as she at first doesn’t know what to do before establishing an alibi for herself. The second half focuses on her interactions with the police and the tension as they try to piece together what happened. Every single time they’d come close to figuring things out, I was sure they’d finger Mary as the killer.

Overall, “Lamb to the Slaughter” was a really good episode and easily my personal favorite from Roald Dahl. The pacing was decent, the setup and execution of the cover-up was well done, and despite resorting to murder, I liked Mary enough to root for her. Definitely give this episode a watch, even if it’s your first foray into the show.

And that’s it for this month! I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at Hitchcock and hopefully I’ll have something new and spooky planned by next year. Happy Halloween!

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AHP Marathon: “The Greatest Monster Of Them All”

greatest monster

Welcome back to my “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” marathon! We’ve reached the second-last episode I’ll be looking at, as tomorrow will mark the final one. Why not stretch this marathon to Halloween like last time? Well, I’ll be going away during that time for a small mother-daughter trip. So, you’ll be getting back-to-back blogs as a result.

When an actor’s popularity declines, they often become less marketable to movie makers. This sometimes leads actors to take any role given to them in the hopes of making a comeback. Today’s episode focuses on that period of time when cheap B-horror movies ran rampant and aging or bad actors were easy to come by. This is “The Greatest Monster Of Them All.”

Hal is a producer of cheap horror movies hoping to cast someone in his upcoming vampire flick. He hires a washed-up actor named Ernst von Croft for the role. von Croft was once considered a great actor and “The Greatest Monster Of Them All” (think in the vein of the Universal Monsters stars). Will his dream of making a comeback be realized with the role, or is von Croft really past his prime?

I was expecting this episode to take place mainly over the making of the film. However, it’s paced out to cover the idea of it, the making of it, the release of it and the aftermath as well. There’s also the usual Hitchcock spin at the end. The pacing was jarring at first and felt off, but overall the episode was a good look at the movie-making process.

Besides von Croft, who I’ll get to momentarily, the main cast consists of Hal, Morty the director and Fred the writer. I also thought Hal would be the main protagonist of the crew, but it turned out to be between Fred and Morty. Hal was a bit of a sleazy producer and a definite cheapskate, which is brought up a few times through the episode. We don’t get much time with him so I was pretty neutral about him, as I also was with Morty. Morty has a bigger role to play in the plot, though the major part of this is revealed during the movie’s premiere. I would easily say Fred was the best character of the three, as we learn a little about him near the beginning (his job literally drives him to drink) and he’s the most caring one of the bunch toward making films.

However, even he is dwarfed by Ernst von Croft who, while not having a lot of screentime, was my favorite character. He reminded me a bit of the classic guys like Bela Lugosi, who tried to keep up his career despite his age and waning popularity later in life. von Croft was a take on that, and he’s also the most passionate about making movies. It made a good contrast between him and Hal/Morty, showing that they cared only for making a quick buck and being cheap with sets than putting love into what they’re making. von Croft was a bit tragic and his actions near the end were understandable.

The acting did feel a bit rough at times, mostly due to how hammy it could get. I’m not sure if it was intentional considering the subject matter, but thankfully it didn’t grate on me too much. Also, there’s an event that happens during the premiere that I won’t spoil, but needless to say I was surprised to hear the voice talents of Bugs Bunny aka Mel Blanc in this. It was weird and kinda jarring, but also pretty neat.

Overall, “The Greatest Monster Of Them All” felt like a pretty good take on the B-horror movies of the past. While it’s definitely dated and can be hammy at times, I found this episode enjoyable. Definitely not the best Hitchcock has to offer, but if you like those classic schlocky movies, this episode should keep your attention.

AHP Marathon: “Victim Four”

victim

Welcome back to my “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” marathon! Serial killers are a popular staple in mysteries and thrillers. Some have a method to who they choose to kill, while others can kill at random. Today’s episode plays on the fear of having a loved one in risk of being caught up in a person’s killing spree. This is “Victim Four.”

Joe Drake and his wife Madeline have had a hard time ever since an accidental fall shattered his leg and gave her a concussion, causing brain damage. One night, while waiting for Madeline to come home from work, he gets worried when she doesn’t arrive on time. He’s forced to set out to find her, as a serial killer known as The Butcher has been killing people around town and could attack her. Will Joe find Madeline before The Butcher does, or is there more to this killer than meets the eye?

This was another story where I felt the ending was the best part, mostly due to the twist it presents. The episode starts off slow and the actual search for Madeline doesn’t start until over 10 minutes in. The search also takes up most of the rest, though I found it wasn’t as tense as I expected it to be.

I found the characters of Joe and Madeline to be decent, though a lot of their troubles and interesting traits come from the accident. We do get a flashback to their honeymoon to show it and how carefree they are before Joe is forced to get leg surgery. There’s also a character named Ralph Morrow who’s introduced from the start and basically kicks off a few things in the plot. He’s an ex-boyfriend of Madeline’s and a complete tool, as it’s implied their break-up was messy and that he wasn’t a great boyfriend despite being well off financially. He visits Joe to try to get back into Madeline’s good graces (aka pants) and that sparks the flashback to the honeymoon and accident. Ralph also offers his help in finding Madeline, but there are hints implied (possibly not on purpose) that he could be The Butcher. It’s mentioned early that he picked up weapons during a European trip and he comes off suspicious at times in the episode.

But on that note, the same can be said for a few supporting characters they encounter during their search. Again, I wasn’t sure if it was intentional, but a couple people felt like red herrings and seem to act overly suspicious. There were even some who were just plain jerks. They only served to force the search to continue by not knowing where Madeline is and that’s all. The idea of a serial killer being loose doesn’t seem to affect many of them either. The ending, as I said, was the best part for me as it was both unexpected and had good reasoning behind.

Overall, “Victim Four” was okay if a bit disappointing. I think I really was expecting more tension, but that was dampened by many of the minor characters not being concerned about the killer. I would recommend it just for the ending, but if you want a stronger narrative to precede it, you could probably skip this one entirely.

AHP Marathon: “Never Again”

never again

Welcome back to my “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” marathon! Many people who drink have experienced at least one hangover in their life where they can’t recall what happened the night before. This is usually played for laughs (see: “The Hangover”), but it can also become a serious problem. Today’s episode tackles this issue and just how frightening it can be, especially for a recovering alcoholic. This is “Never Again.”

Despite promising her boyfriend, Jeff, that she would never drink again, Karen Stewart wakes up one more harboring a terrible hangover and hardly no memory of the previous night. She also finds herself in an unfamiliar bed and discovers her hand was somehow injured as well. While Karen recalls going to a party with Jeff, she only remembers feeling uncomfortable there and drinking as a result. What happened to Karen that night, and how will she deal with the aftermath of her drunken stupor?

This story had a poignant moral to it, much like “Bang! You’re Dead.” However, this one hit even closer to home in terms of the message. There will always be alcoholics and it will always be a struggle for those trying to get sober to stay that way. This episode highlights the danger of an alcoholic relapsing, and it’s easily the saddest episode I’ve seen to date.

But because of that, it’s also a good one. Karen and Jeff are well-realized as characters, with Jeff trying to be the supportive boyfriend and Karen, no doubt because of her attempted sobriety, trying to ward off feelings of jealousy and insecurity around him and his peers. Karen in particular is tragic even from the start, as we hear her inner monologue during her hangover recovery. She sadly tries to remember what happened and hopes Jeff won’t be upset with her, and the actress did a great job conveying both those emotions and the actions and attitude of someone trying and failing to stay sober.

The episode was paced out pretty well, with the majority of it taking place in flashbacks of the night before. It does cut back to Karen during the present as she tries remembering more, but the flashbacks are the main focus and follow her fall from grace pretty fluidly. But for me, what nailed the episode was the gut-punching ending. You build up expectations about where she is, and the episode waits until the very end to subvert them. Even her hand being injured plays a part in it. And Karen’s reaction is just heart-breaking as a result.

Overall, as an episode with a strong moral, “Never Again” easily tops “Bang! You’re Dead” for me. It’s not at all scary (unless you’ve been through this situation or are close to someone that has), but it’s tragic throughout and has a poignant ending. Even if it doesn’t have the typical Hitchcock-like scares, I highly recommend checking it out.

AHP Marathon: “The Perfect Crime”

perfect crime

Welcome back to my “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” marathon! The idea of a perfect crime is almost like a myth in fiction and even non-fiction. We’ve seen the idea of a motiveless crime explored earlier this month, but today’s episode touches on how much of a mastermind someone would have to be to get away with a crime. This is “The Perfect Crime.”

Charles Courtney is a detective/prosecutor who prides himself on always getting a guilty verdict for those who deserve it. He collects mementos from his cases as a symbol of that and has one space open for what he consider “the perfect crime.” A fellow lawyer, John Gregory, tells Charles he’s made a mistake and sent an innocent man to jail. Will Charles have to face that his perfect record will be tainted forever, or will he take matters into his own hand?

Going into this episode, I was excited for the main reason I chose it for this marathon: Vincent Price. He plays the very vain and very smug Charles Courtney, and, unlike the “protagonist” in “None Are So Blind,” didn’t feel nearly as insufferable to me. He’s technically the protagonist in this story and no matter how smug he got, I couldn’t help wanting to see what’d happen by the end. It was probably mostly due to Price’s performance, which felt solid overall.

The character of John Gregory was also pretty good, and it’s established near the beginning that as a defense lawyer, he suffers plenty of losses with defending guilty clients. It makes a great counter to Charles being so apparently flawless and a “winner” to the public. You don’t get a huge sense of bitterness from John, but you can tell he takes some pleasure in knocking Charles down a peg with claiming that he sent an innocent man to be executed.

The story is told mostly in Charles’ home, though a few flashbacks occur at random intervals. These are to retell the story of the man in question who Charles apparently convicted by mistake. They follow Charles doing his investigation before switching over to John’s claims of the events happening differently and involving the man’s lover. I found these helpful in painting a picture of what happened (or could have happened) and breaking up the scenes between the two men.

The ending built up to a point where I saw the outcome coming, but I was still caught off-guard by the final conclusion and the payoff to the whole “perfect crime” idea. This was one of those stories where you could predict what might happen, but still not know everything. That’s one of the best things about this show to me. This was one of those episodes that took a simplistic idea, setting and characters and was made intriguing by the performances and outcome.

Overall, “The Perfect Crime” may not be one of my absolute favorites, but it ranks up there as one of the best I’ve seen from this show. Again, for me, a lot of that was thanks to the performances, especially from Vincent Price. He was just engaging to watch and I was a bit satisfied with the ending of the episode. I would highly recommend this one if only for him, especially where it’s the Halloween season.

AHP Marathon: “Man from the South”

man from south

Welcome back to my “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” marathon! When a bet is made in a movie or TV show, they often go one of two ways. Either the hero succeeds and wins the prize, or he fails miserably and has to deal with the fallout. This is especially true when gamblers are involved, as today’s story shows. This is “Man from the South.”

In Las Vegas, an unnamed gambler meets and tries to impress a beautiful woman. A gentlemen named Carlos butts into their conversation and makes a bet with him. If he can light his lighter 10 times in succession, he’ll win Carlos’ new car. But if he fails, he’ll lose his pinky finger. Will the gambler succeed and in turn get the girl, or will he lose more than that if he doesn’t?

This episode was a double whammy of talent, featuring Steve McQueen as the gambler and Peter Lorre as Carlos. Their performances felt solid to me, with McQueen coming off as a likable young man and Lorre injecting a bit of creepiness in his role. The woman McQueen tries to impress and another gentlemen who oversee their bet were mostly in the background, though I did enjoy the woman’s role as she had some snarky lines toward Carlos.

The episode was decently paced, as it kicks off with the gambler meeting the woman and quickly introduces Carlos and his bet not long after. Most of the time is spent with him trying to convince/manipulate the gambler into taking the bet, and then setting up the “game” to see which one comes out on top. I did like that the gambler wasn’t immediately up for taking the bet despite his lack of money, because it would’ve been too easy to make him the addicted type who would. The last third involves the “game” and the introduction of a new character who I won’t spoil. Needless to say, the bet being played out was my favorite part, as it had a bit of tension and kept me on the edge of my seat over how it’d end.

Unfortunately, the new character plays a part in the episode’s ending, and while there were a couple things I liked about that, it made everything leading up to it feel superfluous. Maybe that was the point the writers were trying to make about dumb bets in general, but it sucked a lot of the tension out of the entire episode for me. Although, I can applaud them a little for choosing an unpredictable conclusion to the whole thing. I definitely didn’t see it coming.

Overall, I don’t have a whole lot else to say about “Man from the South.” This is in fact another episode by Roald Dahl, and I can say that while it felt simple like “Poison,” I enjoyed it a bit better, even with my mixed feelings toward the ending. I would still recommend it for the performances, as they were definitely strengthened by the talent behind them.

AHP Marathon: “The Doubtful Doctor”

doubtful doctor

Welcome back to my “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” marathon! Time travel isn’t a new concept, even for the 50’s/60’s when AHP was produced. Back then, shows like the Twilight Zone and Doctor Who played with the concept, with Doctor Who fully embracing it. Today’s episode presents a form of time travel that might not actually BE real time travel. This is “The Doubtful Doctor.”

While visiting his doctor, Ralph Jones recounts having an argument with his wife after a stressful day. He later somehow finds himself over two years in the past. The doctor brushes off the story, assuring him that he may have imagined the whole thing due to stress or a blackout. But Ralph swears it really happened. Is Ralph imagining things, or did he actually experience time travel?

This episode starred veteran actor Dick York, most famous for his role as the first Darrin on “Bewitched.” He played the part of Ralph well, showing the right amount of irritation and stress without getting too mean at first and then confusion when the time travel aspect comes in. The only thing that didn’t mesh with me was his quick acceptance that he was in the past, though he quickly becomes less accepting of it as the episode progresses.

The episode itself was like a weird mix between your standard time travel plot with a dash of “It’s a Wonderful Life” thrown in. Near the beginning, Ralph’s stress escalates to the point of him grumbling about being married and having a child, both things he eventually misses during his time travel experience. He lives a bit of a double life, able to remember his future but experiencing a past where nothing is going the way it’s supposed to. This is especially true with regards to his wife, Lucille, who seems like an entirely different person and has no recollection of their eventual life together.

Lucille was a pretty good character in her own right, but this was definitely Ralph’s story. The story recollection narrative is back, but unlike in “None Are So Blind,” I find it less intrusive since Ralph was at least likable. The only time I found myself wanting to punch him was his insistence to Lucille that they had to be together, though eventually it became tolerable as he (and I) realized this timeline was not the same as his. Just like with “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Ralph snaps back to reality and learns to appreciate what he has no matter how bad his days may get.

If I have one major complaint about this story, it’s with the ending. For one thing, we don’t get much out of the doctor himself, making the title seem a bit superfluous. For another, the ending lacked punch to me and left off on a kinda cliched and ambiguous note. Of course, ambiguity isn’t a bad thing in stories, but here it felt like the story just kinda ended abruptly. It left me feeling a little unsatisfied, though I did enjoy everything leading up to it.

Overall, “The Doubtful Doctor” was a decent episode. Dick York was a great actor back in the day, and this role seemed to fit him like a glove. If you’re a fan of the man or like seeing time travel plots explored, give this one a shot.