"The Dangerous People" was first published as "No Sanctuary" in the March 1945 issue of Dime Mystery Magazine.
As the story opens, Mr. Bellefontaine waits on the platform of a little railroad station somewhere in the Midwest and hears a distant siren, "the wail of a tortured fiend," that alerts everyone to the fact that someone has escaped from the Asylum for the Criminally Insane only five miles away.
Mr. Bellefontaine is a lawyer with a secret; in his briefcase he carries a revolver, which he is transporting for a client. Inside the station is one other passenger, a shabbily dressed man who sits by a potbellied coal stove. The two men talk, and we learn that the other is Mr. Jones, a bookkeeper for the Saxe Paint Company.
"No Sanctuary" is a wonderful little tale of suspense, using interior monologues and changing points of view to let the reader in on what each man is thinking without allowing the characters to reveal their thoughts to each other.
Some quick internet research reveals no town called Waynesville in Wisconsin, but there is one in central Illinois, about a four-hour drive from Milwaukee. Waynesville today is a tiny town that is dying out. It is near the old train stop at Wapella on the Illinois Central line, so one may imagine that the events of this story took place at the Wapella station back in the mid-1940s.
There is a good deal of information on old insane asylums on the web as well, and my favorite in Illinois was in Bartonville, a building now said to be haunted.
The script even contains a pun that would have made Fredric Brown proud; as Jones stands in the station, suffering from a terrible hangover, he thinks that he should walk uptown to get a drink but he can't because he suffers from inertia. He thinks: "I would go uptown and get myself a drink but I haven't got the ertia."
The climax is changed slightly to add a bit of action; in the story, the two men attack the lunatic and the next thing we know he is tied up. In the television program, Bellefontaine pulls his gun on the man and Jones tries to run out of the station; the lunatic chases him and they wrestle for a moment until asylum orderlies appear and overpower the man. The program ends with Bellefontaine and Jones chatting amiably, admitting that each had suspected the other.
"The Dangerous People" was directed by Robert Stevens, who directed more episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (44) than anyone else.
He won an Emmy in 1958 for directing "The Glass Eye," another classic Hitchcock episode whose cast included a young William Shatner. Stevens does a wonderful job of creating suspense, using close-ups, sound, and music to establish a claustrophobic atmosphere. The set of the station is perfect, with a chewing gum machine on the wall, a penny scale next to it, and several benches. The director of photography was the talented Lionel Lindon, about whom much has been written (and spoken) in the commentaries on the recent Thriller DVD set and last year's A Thriller a Day blog.
Sound was by Richard Tyler, and the haunting siren has stayed with me for decades since I first saw this show at 2:30 in the morning on New York's channel 9. The music is also perfect, provided by music supervisor Stanley Wilson, who also worked on Thriller and Night Gallery.
But the most credit should go to Albert Salmi (as Jones) and Robert H. Harris (as Bellefontaine). Salmi was a method actor who was very good at exuding a sense of menace; he died tragically in 1990 when he shot and killed his wife before turning a gun on himself.
Harris also did many TV episodes, including eight on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and he specialized in portraying little men who were unlikeable and dangerous in a pathetic sort of way.
"The Dangerous People" is contained in the season two box set of Alfred Hitchcock Presents released by Universal in 2006 and can also be seen on Hulu.
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