|Ray Milland as Dr. Howard Fenwick|
The story, which is very short, is set in England and concerns Natalie Rivers, a young woman who has traveled by train from London to Hightower Station in the West Country to see her uncle, Dr. Bracegirdle. When no one meets her at the station, she telephones her uncle, who sends Miss Plummer to pick her up in a station wagon. Natalie hails from Canberra, Australia; her parents were killed in a car crash two months before. She has never left Canberra before and she has never met her uncle.
Natalie arrives at her uncle's house only to find that a party is going on. Her uncle, who is a psychiatrist, welcomes her, bringing her into the parlor to meet the other guests. They are having a farewell celebration with plenty of alcohol. Natalie sees her uncle's consulting room across the hall through a partially open door. She enters the room and notices that the telephone cord has been cut. She realizes that the man claiming to be her uncle was really a party guest and she sees the corpse of her real uncle lying on the floor.
Natalie appeals to the other guests, telling them that her uncle's death was "the work of a madman" who "belongs in the asylum." Miss Plummer informs Natalie that "this is the asylum," locking the door to the consulting room as the other guests move toward her.
"A Home Away From Home" is a chilling story of very short duration. Bloch was soon approached by the producers of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour to expand it to fill an hour-long episode and he wrote that doing so was "no easy task . . . it wasn't easy for me to enlarge and maintain the same level of suspense, but I think the dramatization worked."
In order to expand the story, Bloch added scenes and characters, fleshing out the tale and changing its focus. Almost the entire first act is composed of new material. The story begins as Sarah Sanders, an aging actress of British stage and screen who now spends most of her time in bed, proudly displays her scrapbook to Dr. Fenwick. Clues to what is going on are liberally sprinkled among the lines of dialogue, as Sarah tells the doctor "I'm as sane as you are."
|Claire Griswold as Natalie Rivers|
In act two, Natalie begins to meet and interact with various people in the Sanatorium. The Major (a stuffy old British officer) and Nurse Gibson tell Sarah Sanders, the old actress, that Dr. Norton has taken a short vacation, leaving Dr. Fenwick in charge. In the kitchen, the cook Martha tells orderly Nicky that he has to carry meals upstairs by hand because the dumb waiter is out of order. Natalie speaks with Dr. Fenwick in his study, thinking he is her uncle. He shows her a book by Howard Fenwick, M.D., titled Permissive Therapy; the script is particularly witty here, as Fenwick calls his own work "brilliant" and explains that it recommends setting lunatics free and giving them a role to play--exactly what he has done, unbeknownst to Natalie.
|Ben Wright as Dr. Norton|
Act three begins with Dr. Fenwick telling Natalie that Andrew and several others are kept locked up on the third floor because they are violently disturbed. Natalie meets Donald, a shy young man who is also a kleptomaniac. The script continues to blur the line between the criminally insane and the merely nutty, as Natalie, some of the patients, and even the viewers grow increasingly unable to tell who is a patient and, more importantly, which of them represent a danger.
Again meeting Sarah, who claims to need bed rest because she is pregnant and has been about to give birth for five years, Natalie goes to the dumb waiter and pulls it up, only to find Dr. Norton's body lying crumpled inside. The final act brings Inspector Roberts onto the scene. He looks the part of a classical detective in his trench coat, and when Natalie shows him the dumb waiter the body has disappeared. She goes looking for her uncle in his office and finds the body in a roll top desk. Inspector Roberts identifies it as that of Dr. Norton, and Natalie realizes that Dr. Fenwick as been impersonating her uncle.
Fenwick explains to Natalie that Roberts is not really an inspector, but rather a patient playing a part, just like all the others she has met. "I am trying to live the role!" cries Roberts. Fenwick informs Natalie that she is now a prisoner and that he will decide what he is going to do with her later that night. She asks the Major about Dr. Fenwick and learns that he, too, is a patient, committed to the asylum due to "some nonsense about killing his wife." The visitor we saw early in the show was his sister, but he pretends she's his wife.
In the tense final scene, Natalie tries to escape from her room and then gets a set of keys to let Andrew out of his cell on the upper floor. Sarah betrays her and sends Dr. Fenwick up after her. He begins to strangle her but she is rescued at the last minute by real police who burst on the scene unexpectedly. It turns out that Inspector Roberts played his role a little too well, calling the real police to report the murder of Dr. Norton.
Robert Bloch's expansion of the short story into the hour-long teleplay is a model of how to fill out a story by using characterization, adding plot elements, and infusing humor. While much of the program is suspenseful, the final twist is humorous and would fit very well as the ironic ending of an episode of the half-hour Hitchcock series. The show is directed by Herschel Daugherty, who directed twenty-four episodes of the half-hour series and three of the hour series. His use of shadows and high contrast lighting is especially effective in this episode, and he moves his camera fluidly on several occasions. The scene where Dr. Norton is killed is particularly clever, since it is shot from Norton's point of view after his thick glasses have been crushed, and the murderer's face is blurry and almost indistinct.
One of the most striking aspects of this program is the score, composed by Bernard Herrmann. Herrmann was one of the foremost movie music composers of his time, having scored a number of Hitchcock's greatest films in the 1950s and early 1960s. His music for "A Home Away From Home" sets the mood in the opening shots with a combination of violins and a harp; the music recurs throughout the episode and is essential in creating suspense, especially in scenes where there is no dialogue and little sound. The score is somewhat reminiscent of that from Psycho (also by Herrmann), though without the shrieking violins.
The cast of "A Home Away From Home" is top notch. Starring as Dr. Fenwick is Ray Milland, making his only appearance on the Hitchcock series. Milland (1905-1986) was one of the great actors from Hollywood's Golden Age, appearing in films from 1929. He won the Best Actor Oscar for The Lost Weekend (1945) and appeared in such classics as The Uninvited (1944), Fritz Lang's Ministry of Fear (also 1944), The Big Clock (1948), Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder (1954), and Roger Corman's The Premature Burial (1962) and X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes (1963). He starred in two TV series: Meet Mr. McNutley/The Ray Milland Show (1953-1955) and Markham (1959-1960). He also appeared in a Night Gallery episode. His autobiography, Wide-Eyed in Babylon, was published in 1974. His performance as Fenwick is menacing, yet there is always a subtle gleam in his eye that lets the viewer know he is having fun.
|Richard Peel as the first inspector|
Among the other cast members was busy character actress Virginia Gregg as Nurse Gibson; Gregg lived from 1916-1986 and had her most memorable moment behind the scenes as the voice of Norman Bates's mother in Psycho.
The role of Dr. Norton, who is murdered early in the show, was played by Ben Wright (1915-1989), who would go on to his most famous role a few years later as Herr Zeller, the Nazi captain in The Sound of Music. He is the one who stops the von Trapps on the road as they are trying to escape with their car right before the climactic festival.
The first inspector, one of the two real policemen who comes on the scene at the end of the episode, is played by Richard Peel (1920-1988), who was turning up regularly as a policeman on the Thriller series right around this time.
|Beatrice Kay as Sarah Sanders|
"A Home Away From Home" aired on Friday, September 27, 1963, as the premiere of the second season of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. The series had been on Thursdays at 10 pm the season before; now it moved to Fridays, where it followed right after The Twilight Zone. That night, at 9:30 pm, season five of The Twilight Zone premiered with the episode "In Praise of Pip," starring Jack Klugman.
The TV show can be viewed here. The story was reprinted in the Bloch collection. Tales in a Jugular Vein, which is easily available from online booksellers.
Bloch, Robert. "A Home Away From Home." Tales in a Jugular Vein. New York: Pyramid, 1965. 83-90.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001.
IMDb. IMDb.com. Web. 01 Apr. 2012. <http://www.imdb.com/>.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 01 Apr. 2012. <http://www.wikipedia.org/>.