The title of the short story, “Mother, May I Go Out to Swim?” is based on a nursery rhyme, but the story concerns themes that are decidedly adult. Told in the third person by an omniscient narrator, the tale follows John Tuthill Crane, a 36-year-old mama’s boy who is on vacation at a resort hotel in Maine, missing his mother. As he practices the piano in the resort’s large recreation hall, a young woman approaches and asks him why he plays “like an old woman.” She sits down and plays the same piece with virility. Crane, it seems, was stricken with polio at age 18, and his imperfect form is contrasted with that of the young woman, whose beauty “seemed too close, as if a figure in a canvas was leaning out of its frame.” She is an Austrian emigrant who works in the resort’s gift shop.
The young woman, whose name is Lotte Rank, represents the possibility of a life beyond his mother and wants to take him to see a waterfall up a nearby mountain. Afraid to miss his mother’s nightly call at 8:30, he agrees to go later. Together, John and Lotte climb to the waterfall. Crane views everything that happens to him with the perspective of the cultured education that his mother has directed—his looks are almost Byronic, he plays Prokofieff and Debussy, he mentally compares Lotte to a painting by Trepolo or Delacroix, and when he is with her he thinks of her as La Belle Dame Sans Merci, after the poem of the same name by John Keats.
Torn between the safety of his mother and the risk of Lotte, John thinks “how Claire would like this”; he refers to his mother by her first name, demonstrating an uncomfortable level of familiarity. When he tells Lotte about Claire, however, the young woman calls her a “cannibal mother” who eats her young. Lotte leads John into the water, nude, quoting the nursery rhyme of the story's title when she tells him to “hang your clothes on a hickory limb,” but this time, unlike the mother of the rhyme who tells her child to stay away from the water, Lotte draws John into the life-restoring pool.
|William Shatner and Gia Scala|
Claire telegraphs that she is coming to visit and Lotte suggests a trip to the waterfall, where they can push Claire over the precipice and it will look like an accident. Claire arrives the next day and, after dinner, the trio hike up to the waterfall. “For the first time in several days, [John] was reminded of his lameness” as his mother’s presence begins to sap his masculine will. At the waterfall, he pushes one of the women to her death. We only learn which one at the end of the story, as he relaxes in his room after an inquest has concluded that the death was accidental. Unfortunately for John, he killed Lotte and chose to stay with Claire, ensuring that he will never escape his mother’s domination.
|Shatner and Jessie Royce Landis|
The program begins with a framing scene that it will return to at the conclusion, as John Crane sits at the inquest following the death of an unknown person. Unlike the story, the show is narrated in the first person by Crane, and we hear his thoughts as the action unfolds onscreen. He tells the viewer, “I am a murderer,” and the suspense begins as we are left to wonder who he killed and why.
The scene then flashes back to one in Crane’s apartment, which is actually a private section of his mother’s house, where Claire helps John pack for his first trip without her and they share a farewell drink. He and his mother banter and he kisses her cheek with an affection that seems overly loving for a son toward his mother. This scene shows the uncomfortably close relationship between the two but it also portrays John as much more of a vibrant bachelor than in the story, where he is an effete cripple when he first encounters Lotte.
Lotte and John share a dance in the empty dining room at the hotel; he proposes marriage at the waterfall and returns to his room, only to find his mother there waiting for him. There is no angry telephone call, as in the story—in the show, she appears as if by magic. She tells John that she looks forward to meeting his friend Lotte but hides her stricken look behind his back. John returns immediately to the intimate relationship he had shared with Claire before he left on his trip. They share breakfast and he lights two cigarettes, giving one to her. The scene is presented as if they are lovers who have spent the night together.
|By the waterfall|
The problem comes to a head as Lotte tells John she intends to go away unless he tells Claire about their decision to marry. She suggests taking Claire to the waterfall to tell her the news; John thinks (in voiceover narration) that Lotte wants Claire killed there, but she does not express this directly. Back at the waterfall, the women lean over the edge to admire the view and John rushes forward to shove one of them to her death. We see a female body fall to its death in a long shot that is surprisingly graphic.
|Jessie Royce Landis|
Writer James P. Cavanagh (1922-1971) wrote 15 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and also adapted the first episode of Thriller, “The Twisted Image.” “Mother, May I Go Out To Swim?” was directed by Alfred Hitchcock Presents regular Herschel Daugherty, who directed 24 episodes of the half-hour series (including “The Cream of the Jest” and “The Cure”) and three episodes of the hour series (including “A Home Away From Home”).
Hugh C. Wheeler (1912-1987) and Richard W. Webb (1901-1966), who wrote the story on which the show was based, used the pseudonyms Q. Patrick, Patrick Quentin, and Jonathan Stagge. They wrote many novels together and won an Edgar Award for The Ordeal of Mrs. Snow (1961), a collection of stories in which this one was included. Although the story had been published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine under the name of Q. Patrick, the collection was published under the name of Patrick Quentin. Wheeler also wrote the books for Broadway shows, winning Tony Awards for A Little Night Music (1973), Candide (1974), and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1979). “The Ordeal of Mrs. Snow,” the story that lent its title to the authors’ collection, was adapted for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and was broadcast on April 14, 1964.
The cast of “Mother, May I Go Out To Swim?” included William Shatner, who was born in March 1931 and was likely 28 years old when this show was filmed (the character of John Crane was 36 in the story). A look at Shatner’s hair (or lack thereof) in this episode can be found here, were the author posits that this is one of the first shows where Shatner wore a toupee. In Shatner’s autobiography, he mentions this episode, commenting that “On Alfred Hitchcock Presents I pushed my wife off a cliff instead of my mother-in-law,” a summary that is not entirely accurate. Shatner's performance in this episode does not fit the character very well; he is too much of the bon vivant/young bachelor and not enough of the sheltered young man. Lotte should bring him out of his shell, but his personality does not evolve in the course of the episode. His final thrust toward the women at the waterfall features the sort of overacting that would later become his trademark.
The lovely Gia Scala (1934-1972) appeared twice on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and once on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, in “The Sign of Satan.” She was in movies and on TV from 1955-1969 and she died tragically at a young age. Read more about Gia Scala here.
Finally, Jessie Royce Landis (1896-1972) plays Claire, John Crane’s mother. Landis was a delightful actress who is best remembered for her roles in Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief (1955) and North by Northwest (1959). She was in movies from 1930, on TV from 1951, and on stage for much of her career. In “Mother, May I Go Out To Swim?” she plays a role that is very similar to the one she played as the mother of Cary Grant’s character in North By Northwest, which had been released to great acclaim the year before. She did not appear in any other episodes of the Hitchcock TV series.
“Mother, May I Go Out To Swim?” is available on DVD or can be viewed online.
Shatner Meets Hitchcock Mini Episode Guide:
Episode title-“The Glass Eye”
Series-Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Broadcast date- 6 October 1957
Teleplay by- Stirling Silliphant
Based on-“The Glass Eye” by John Keir Cross
First print appearance-The Other Passenger: Eighteen Strange Stories (1944)
Available on DVD?-Yes
Episode title-“Mother, May I Go Out To Swim?”
Series-Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Broadcast date- 10 April 1960
Teleplay by- James P. Cavanagh
Based on-“ Mother, May I Go Out To Swim” by Q. Patrick
First print appearance-Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (July 1948)
Available on DVD?-Yes
COMING IN TWO WEEKS: An eight-part series on Ray Bradbury’s contributions to Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour!
"The FictionMags Index." The FictionMags Index. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 July 2012. <http://www.philsp.com/homeville/FMI/0start.htm>.
"Galactic Central." Galactic Central. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 July 2012. <http://philsp.com/>.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 23 July 2012. <http://www.imdb.com/>.
Keats, John. "La Belle Dame Sans Merci." The Oxford Book of English Verse. Ed. Christopher Ricks. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. 400-01. Print.
"'Mother, May I Go Out To Swim?'" Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 10 Apr. 1960. Television.
Quentin, Patrick. "Mother, May I Go Out To Swim?" Twentieth Century Detective Stories. New York: Popular Library, 1964. 112-26. Print.
Shatner, William, and David Fisher. Up till Now: The Autobiography. New York: St. Martin's, 2008. Print.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 23 July 2012. <http://www.wikipedia.org/>.