"Heart of Gold," "The Right Kind of House," and "Not the Running Type," characters have secrets about money that was hidden long ago. "Insomnia" and "Party Line" concern characters who committed cowardly or selfish acts in the past and caused harm to others. In "The Man With Two Faces," a mother discovers that her son has a hidden criminal past. In "A Crime for Mothers," a happily married couple must deal with the sudden reappearance of the real mother of their adopted child.
|Jo Van Fleet as Molly|
|The cocktail party|
|Joan Hackett as Sylvia|
|Mrs. Standish flees the scene of the crime|
|A surprise guest emerges from the bathroom|
Bringing "Servant Problem" to life is a cast of veterans under the direction of Alan Crosland, Jr. The most exciting and well-staged scene in the show is the murder and its aftermath. It begins with a two-shot of Drake and Molly, as she screams and he grabs her, his hands finding her throat. The camera then swings to the left so that we see the action reflected in a large mirror, as Drake violently pushes Molly to the floor. There is then a cut to him on top of her on the floor, followed by another cut to a shot of him from below. We see his face straining with the effort of strangling his wife, and we see only her hands and forearms reaching up in a vain effort to stop him. Both actors are very convincing in the scene, and as a result it comes across as a rather brutal murder.
|One view of Kerwin's modern apartment|
|Another view of the apartment|
"Servant Problem" is the third of four stories collected in Slesar's book, A Crime for Mothers and Others, that was not published before the TV episode aired. As with the last two, the credit onscreen says that the teleplay is based on Slesar's story, so it is not possible to know whether an actual story existed before he wrote the teleplay or whether he turned the teleplay into a short story to fill out the book. The printed story differs from the TV show in a few significant ways but the plot is the same. Drake is still a writer, like Henry Slesar, and the author uses the character to poke fun at his own profession. He is not engaged to be married to Sylvia, though her mother blatantly encourages his interest. Most notable in the story is the cruel way that Slesar describes Angela (Molly in the teleplay). She has "a gaping, near-toothless smile," and "terrible, misshapen lips." He describes "the great bulk of her body," contrasting her appearance with Kerwin's fine, expensive clothes and careful grooming. In the story, Angela ran out on Kerwin twenty-five years before, not the other way around. When she appears on the stairs, she looks so vile that Sylvia whispers "What is it?" She is said to have a "terrible gargoyle face and freakish body." She does not walk, she waddles. Slesar's brutal depiction of Angela's obesity is something that would not be acceptable today. It is reminiscent in a way of the casual racism that is found in novels and comic books of the 1940s (especially in regard to African-Americans) or in TV shows of the 1970s (for example, regarding Asian-Americans). Slesar's attack on Molly's weight is anything but subtle and it mars the story.
Alan Crosland, Jr. (1918-2001), who directed "Servant Problem," worked on episodic TV from the mid-'50s to the mid-'70s, directing nineteen episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "The Gloating Place" (which also featured a strangling scene), "The Money" (also by Slesar), and "The Big Kick."
Jo Van Fleet (1914-1996) played Molly. She was only 46 years old at the time, though in her career she often played characters who were older than she was. She won a Tony Award in 1954 for "The Trip to Bountiful" and an Oscar in 1956 for East of Eden. She was a member of the Actors Studio, appeared in many TV episodes and movies, including Cool Hand Luke (1967), and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She appeared in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Shopping for Death."
|John Emery as Kerwin|
Alice Frost (1905-1998) played Mrs. Standish, who makes the unfortunate discovery at the end of "Servant Problem." She was a busy actress on radio in the 1940s but she is most recognizable today for her role as Aunt Amy in the Twilight Zone episode, "It's a Good Life."
|Alice Frost as Mrs. Standish|
Viewers who made it all the way through "Servant Problem," which aired on Tuesday, June 6, 1961, on NBC, were in store for a treat if they stayed in their easy chairs and did not get up to change the channel. Right after this episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller presented the classic horror episode, "Pigeons From Hell."
"Servant Problem" is available on DVD here or may be viewed for free online here.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.