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TIME (26/Dec/1955) - The Fat Silhouette

(c) Time (1940)

The Fat Silhouette

Director Alfred Hitchcock, 56, has made some fine movies (The Lady Vanishes, Rear Window) and has managed to appear—fat and fleetingly—in at least one scene of nearly all of them. It remained for television to show that he is almost as good an actor as he is a director. On Alfred Hitchcock Presents (Sun. 9:30 p.m.. CBS), he is first seen in rumpled silhouette and then in full face as he gives a brief, usually acid outline of the night's mystery.

But what most viewers wait for is Hitchcock's deadpan, devastating comments on the show's Bristol-Myers commercials. He ordinarily treats them with a disdain that is the equivalent of a fastidious man brushing a particularly repellent caterpillar off his lapel. After one drama, Hitchcock said gloomily: "As you know, someone must always pay the piper. Fortunately, we already have such a person. This philanthropic gentleman wishes to remain anonymous, but perhaps the more discerning of our audience will be able to find a clue to his identity in the following commercial." When the sales message has ended, Hitchcock is apt to say: "Over so soon? My, time certainly passes quickly when you're being entertained ..." Another time, he observes doubtfully: "You know, I believe commercials are improving every day. Next week we hope to have another one-equally fascinating. And, if time permits, we shall bring you another story." He has also, on occasion, improved that dependable old gambit, "And now let us hear a word from our sponsor ..." When the commercial is over, the camera comes back to Hitchcock, finds him still determinedly counting: "five hundred and eleven, five hundred and twelve, five hundred and thirteen! Thank you, sir."

Except for his fine character acting, Hitchcock is too busy making Hollywood movies to bother much about his TV chores. His astringent lines are written for him by Playwright James Allardice (At War with the Army), who last year was one of George Gobel's team of gagmen. The TV shows are filmed by a staff of four directors and, of the 39 made this season, Hitchcock will have had a personal hand in only six. But, largely for the prestige of his name, he is rumored to have made "one of the most fabulous deals in TV." After all the 39 films have been shown once (and 13 of the best shown twice), they all become his personal property.

To date, the Hitchcock shows have been adequately entertaining if not outstanding. But his grand manner and refreshing potshots at the sponsor have gained the program an impressive 29.5 Nielsen rating, a comfortable four points ahead of its NBC rival, the Goodyear-Alcoa program. For a rating that high, Sponsor Bristol-Myers is more than happy to put up with quips about its commercials.