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New York Herald Tribune (16/Nov/1955) - Macabre Merriment



Macabre Merriment

The best thing about "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" is Alfred Hitchcock presenting. Mr. Hitchcock, as I suppose every one now knows, is a man of redoubtable circumference. In fact, he might be described as one of those Englishmen on whom the sun never sets. And he has a face like a slightly malevolent kewpie doll.

On his program, the physiognomy and body are first outlined gently in pencil, then inked in. Finally, the man himself floats in, still in darkness. Then they turn the lights on and there he is. CBS, I guess, feels that it would be too great a shock to present the man, cold, without advance preparation, and maybe they're right.

Mr. Hitchcock then purports to give us some advance warning about the story we're about to hear. Actually, he does no such thing, his introductions being magnificently irrelevant. On his last program, for instance, he held up a book: "I've been reading a mystery story. These paperback books will never replace hard covers. They're just good for reading. This one is full of the sort of advice mother used to give: Walk softly and carry a big stick. Strike first!"

This had nothing at all to do with the story that followed. It was a wonderfully macabre little tale about a business tycoon, played by Joseph Cotten, whose car is smashed by a bulldozer, operated by a road gang of convicts. The smashup totally paralyzes Cotten, and he has to lie there in the wreckage while the convicts steal his tires and his clothes. Finally, rescuers arrive, but they think he's dead, too, and bundle him off to the morgue.

Meanwhile, Cotten's mind is fully active, and his thoughts, expressed in narration, are hardly pleasant. Grim, isn't it? Of course, one thing about Hitchcock's handling of the macabre is a sort of sunny matter-of-fact quality which robs it of a lot of its sting. He just assumes that bodies lying around don't bother people especially, and presently they don't. As a matter of fact, inert bodies hold great fascination, for Hitchcock at the moment. His last picture, The Trouble with Harry, was about another inert body. This one was quite dead, but it had to be played by a live actor (Philip Truex). It must be restful for the actors — just lying there. Years ago, when the deadpan school of acting first gripped Hollywood, I had a terrible premonition that acting would some day come to this, and it has.

After the story is over, the Hitchcock visage appears again, to sign off, as it were, and these little messages are also worth listening to. One sign-off went like this: "And as the cold New England sun sinks behind the coroner's office, we take our leave of New Hampshire and prepare ourselves for the chant of the sponsor's message. Then I'll float back." After the chant of the sponsor's message, he floated back to say: "You may now leave your seats, chat with friends, have a smoke — but remember to come back after the intermission." The intermission, he added casually, would be one week long.

This one, starring John Forsythe, was about a man returning to his home town to track down his father's murderer, only to discover that he's the guy who did it, a tricky ending I have no intention of explaining. I throw it in only as a clue to the sort of fare Hitchcock dishes out week after week. I find them quite entertaining, very well acted and produced.

When he went into television, Hitchcock issued a communique which ran in part as follows: "Several people, addicted to sadistic reflection, have quite pointedly asked me how, having been accustomed to working months in filming a motion picture, I expected to commit a coherent story to film in a mere matter of two days. The very idea of Alfred Hitchcock, the calm, complacent Hitchcock, beset by the frantic frenzy commonly associated with television seems to have provided many hilarious moments of contemplative amusement to those who have less important things with which to concern their thoughts. It annoys me, this notion that I cannot move around rapidly when the occasion demands." So far he's managed to move that large frame around rapidly enough.