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Tactic (1959)

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Broadcast as a six-part series by NBC in 1959, Tactic was a joint collaboration between the American Cancer Society and the Education Television and Research Center. One of the purpose of the series was to help break down taboos around the subject of cancer amongst the American public.

The first episode broadcast on May 2nd was themed around the topic of "fear" surrounding cancer and included two dramatic sections, the second of which featured dancers choreographed by Hanya Holm.[1]

The first section of the programme, which lasted about 12 minutes, featured Alfred Hitchcock talking about the subject of fear and supervising a short improvised scene with a doctor (played by William Shatner) and a patient (played by Diana Van der Vlis). The patient is a model who has been diagnosed with breast cancer but is initially scared of undergoing a mastectomy.[2]

Portions of Hitchcock's dialogue are reproduced in Hitchcock Lost and Found (2015):

First let me clear up one important point. In my opinion it is not fear that stops people doing what they should about cancer, it's the avoidance of fear. Fear is a perfectly normal response to a real threat. The best combat soldiers are those who know they are afraid and can handle their own emotions. I think that dread and horror and terror are all based on our attempt to avoid the experience of fear.

In Rope, for example, we have a rather charming scene in which a cocktail party is being held by two young men who have just strangled their companion. Drinks are being served from an antique chest, his temporary coffin. By all odds, these two murderers ought to be in a state of panic. The reality is that they are in danger of being placed inside another kind of furniture, that quaint piece of Chippendale with wiring by Thomas Edison, known as The Chair. But are they reacting with fear? Hardly. They're cold as custard. What might be normal fear now gives way to a feeling of horror. Now if I were to play the same scene with both young men in a crying sweat, there would be very little picture. In fact, both murderers would have realized their plight and boarded the nearest train for Outer Mongolia before the first reel was shot. And Rope would have been another travelogue.

At first I thought I might make a film about someone who suspects he has cancer and proceeds to torture himself in an attempt to avoid his own fear. Then I thought, I have to help put across an important idea. I have a limited time to develop the idea, and a limited time to demonstrate it. So instead of making a film I decided to stage an impromptu drama... Several weeks ago, I told the NBC property department that I would need one door, one desk, two chairs, a paper-knife — and a partridge in a pear tree. I also requested a young woman and a young man.

The positive review in Variety noted that, "As a man who's made his living through fear, Hitchcock was an admirable choice to direct a dramatic scene illustrating the folly of neglecting an early warning."[3]

See Also...


Notes & References

  1. Wikipedia: Hanya Holm.
  2. Hitchcock Lost and Found: The Forgotten Films (2015) by Alain Kerzoncuf & Charles Barr, pages 194-200
  3. Variety (06/May/1959) - Radio-Television: Tactic