Saturday, December 10, 2011

Robert Bloch on TV Part Four- Alfred Hitchcock Presents: “The Changing Heart"

by Jack Seabrook

Have you ever had the experience of reading a story that really excited you and then being disappointed at the filmed adaptation? Such was my reaction to “The Changing Heart,” adapted by Robert Bloch from his short story, “Change of Heart.”

After having a hand in three episodes of season five of Alfred Hitchcock Presents¸ Robert Bloch’s first episode for the sixth season was “The Changing Heart,” broadcast on January 3, 1961. During the first five seasons, the series had been shown on CBS on Sunday nights. For season six, it moved to Tuesday nights on NBC. “The Changing Heart” was the first time Bloch adapted one of his own stories for the Hitchcock program.

“Change of Heart” was first published in the winter 1948 issue of the short-lived magazine, The Arkham Sampler. It is set in New York City and narrated by a young man who inherited an old watch from his uncle. After learning that the jeweler at an expensive shop does not think it worth fixing, the young man happens on the small Greenwich Village shop of watchmaker Ulrich Klemm. Clocks are everywhere in his basement shop.

Bloch’s writing in this story is lyrical. The clocks are described as if they were living things: the narrator tells us that “the face of the grandfather’s clock leaned forward.” Klemm agrees to repair the watch and his beautiful granddaughter Lisa emerges from the back of the shop. The narrator compares her voice to those of the chiming clocks, and she is described as having “golden hair and silver flesh,” two metals used in watches.

The narrator also feels like a timepiece, writing that “something leapt in rhythm deep in my chest.” This is Bloch’s way of foreshadowing the story’s shocking dénouement. The narrator accepts a dinner invitation and listens as Klemm talks of clocks and his beloved home country of Switzerland. Lisa cuts her finger and the narrator bandages it, demonstrating by her flowing blood that she is a human being, something we will wonder about at the end of the story.


Abraham Sofaer as Ulrich Klemm
 The narrator goes home and dreams of Lisa, then returns to the shop often, listening to Klemm’s stories for hours on end and learning that the old man’s father had wanted him to be a surgeon but that he preferred repairing clocks. The narrator begins to take Lisa out, soon falling in love and proposing marriage. She says that she cannot leave her grandfather because he depends on her; Bloch writes that she shook her head no, “like an automaton.” When the narrator tells the old man that he wants to take Lisa away, the clocks say no and so do Klemm and Lisa. She was “the old man’s masterpiece. He had spent years perfecting her pattern of obedient reaction.”

The narrator leaves and accepts a job in Detroit. Months later he returns to New York and hears that Lisa is dead. A friend had seen Klemm, who told him that his granddaughter had had a heart attack and was dying. The friend later saw a wreath on the door of Klemm’s shop.

Nicholas Pryor as Dane Ross
The narrator goes to the shop, knocks on the door, and is let in and welcomed by Lisa, yet all of the clocks are strangely silent. Lisa tells him that Klemm saved her but that the stress of doing so caused his own death. She has not eaten or slept since the old man died. The narrator turns on a light and sees that the girl is “white and waxen, her eyes blank and empty, her body wasted.” He takes her in his arms and puts his head to her chest, only to run screaming from “that shop of shadows and silence.” From her chest he had heard “not a heartbeat, but a faint, unmistakable ticking.”

“Change of Heart” is a beautifully written story of love and horror, one of the best pieces of writing I’ve read by Robert Bloch since I began this project. I was excited to watch Bloch’s own adaptation for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which begins (coincidentally?) with Hitchcock emerging from a grandfather clock that cuckoos! Recall that Bloch’s last episode of the series, the prior spring, had been “The Cuckoo Clock.”

In adapting his story for television, Bloch did a very good job of expanding it and opening it up, setting scenes outside the little clockmaker’s shop and contrasting the claustrophobic interior with more open exteriors. The most disappointing aspect of the filmed episode is the casting. As Dane Ross, the narrator of the story, the producers cast Nicholas Pryor, who was 25 years old at the time. Seeing him today I cannot help but think of his roles in Risky Business (as Tom Cruise’s father) and, especially, Airplane!, as a sick airline passenger. He tries to be earnest but he just doesn’t look like someone who would sweep the lonely granddaughter of an old clockmaker off her feet.

Also problematic is the casting of Abraham Sofaer as Ulrich Klemm. Sofaer was born in 1896 in Burma and was of Burmese and Jewish ancestry. Despite his efforts at a German accent, his olive complexion, protruding eyes and unkempt hair do not fit my mental picture of an old Swiss clockmaker.

Bloch’s script for the show is outstanding. The plot generally follows that of the story with some minor changes: Klemm, not the young man, bandages Lisa’s finger, and the friend only referred to in the story appears in the filmed version and goes to a Bavarian-themed restaurant with the young lovers. Bloch uses foreshadowing again, and clock phrases and imagery are pervasive—when Lisa cuts her finger, she says she cut her “minute hand.” The young man is transferred to Seattle, rather than Detroit (there is no explanation for this change—perhaps Detroit was thought to be too close to New York in the world of 1960, where air travel was more affordable and common than it had been in 1948, when the story was published).

Anne Helm as Lisa
 Dane (the young man is named Dane Ross in the television adaptation) asks Lisa if her grandfather “can carry her around on the end of a chain, like this watch” and says that “he’s turned you into a piece of clockwork that he can wind up.” Most different from the story is the way Klemm seems to exert a hypnotic influence over Lisa. When he speaks to her, the background music sounds like a clock striking, and she obeys as if in a trance. Dane remarks: “you’ve turned her into an automaton.” Earlier in the show, Klemm had mentioned leaving his automatons behind when he left Europe.

Near the end of the story, the teleplay dramatizes Dane’s friend’s visit to Klemm’s shop, where Klemm tells him “I will not let her die!” as he refuses to consider calling a doctor. At the end, when Dane visits the shop for the last time, he has to break a window in the locked door to let himself in. Lisa does not welcome him and speak to him; instead, he first finds Klemm dead at his workbench, then goes behind a curtain into a back room where he finds Lisa, sitting immobile in a wheelchair, a doll-like smile on her face. She neither speaks nor moves, and we hear a loud ticking. Dane puts his ear to her chest and looks up in shock; the camera then pulls back to reveal Klemm’s masterpiece.

Robert Sampson
This final scene of “The Changing Heart” must have been pretty shocking when it first aired in early January 1961. The horror of the beautiful young woman with a clockwork heart is reminiscent of similar horrors that were airing on NBC's Thriller, which had debuted the prior fall and to which Robert Bloch also contributed many episodes. In fact, Thriller followed Alfred Hitchcock Presents on Tuesday evenings. The prior week, Thriller had aired "The Cheaters," based on a story by Bloch, and on January 3, 1961, Thriller aired "The Hungry Glass," which guaranteed a terrifying evening for viewers lucky enough to tune in to both programs.

"The Changing Heart", was directed by Robert Florey, born in Paris in 1900 and working in films from the early 1920s. Some of his efforts in the thriller genre included Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), The Beast with Five Fingers (1946), and “The Incredible Dr. Markesan” on Thriller. "The Changing Heart" was the first episode of the Hitchcock series that he directed; he also directed three episodes of The Twilight Zone, including “Perchance to Dream” and “The Fever.” His work with shadows often created an uneasy world that seemed like a bad dream.

Baruch Lumet
Also in the cast were the lovely Anne Helm, born in 1938 and 22 when this was filmed. She is perfectly cast as the young and innocent Lisa, though her innocence may have been long gone by the time she appeared with Elvis Presley in Follow That Dream (1962) and briefly moved into his house right after filming ended.

Robert Sampson played Dane’s friend; he appeared in many episodes of various TV series and was seen on TV as recently as 2008. Finally, Baruch Lumet (1989-1992) makes a brief, non-speaking appearance playing the concertina in the Bavarian restaurant; he was well known in Yiddish theater but is probably best known as the father of director Sidney Lumet.
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“Change of Heart” was reprinted in the 1962 paperback collection of Bloch stories, Atoms and Evil, as well as in the fall 1984 issue of Weird Tales.

Sources:
Bloch, Robert. "Change of Heart." Atoms and Evil. Greenwich: Fawcett, 1962. 129-34. Print.

"The Changing Heart." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. NBC. 3 Jan. 1961. Television.

Galactic Central. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <http://philsp.com/>.

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.

The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <http://www.imdb.com/>.

Internet Speculative Fiction DataBase. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <http://isfdb.org/>.

Wikipedia. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <http://www.wikipedia.org/>.

7 comments:

Peter Enfantino said...

Reminded me a lot of "The Weird Tailor" segment of Thriller. Another great installment, Jack. A few more of these under your belt and you'll be able to turn in a follow-up to your essential book on Fredric Brown. One of these days, I'll get up off the couch, turn off the TV set, and get back to that "Robert Bloch in Weird Tales" piece I started a year ago.

Jack Seabrook said...

I would like to read that!

Matthew Bradley said...

Nice job, as always, Jack. As I recall, that was a case where I didn't have access to the story when analyzing the episode, so it's nice to know how they compared. I'll always remember Sampson as the father in Richard Matheson's TWILIGHT ZONE episode "Little Girl Lost."

Todd Mason said...

More Bloch studies always welcome, particularly when they don't come with the condescension of a Joshi.

Peter Enfantino said...

I didn't know that Joshi was not a fan of Bloch. I find most of Joshi's "critical analysis" unreadable. Not because the guy doesn't know what he's talking about but because he's so stuffy.

Matthew Bradley said...

Two dots I forgot to connect (better late than never): Helm co-starred in Bloch's film THE COUCH that same year.

Matthew Bradley said...

Two dots I forgot to connect (better late than never): Helm co-starred in Bloch's film THE COUCH that same year.