by Jack Seabrook
The second episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to be based on a Ray Bradbury story was “And So Died Riabouchinska,” which was broadcast on CBS on February 12, 1956. Bradbury wrote the original story, titled “Riabouchinska,” in the 1940s and it was first sold to Suspense, the CBS radio series, where it was adapted by Mel Dinelli and broadcast over the air on November 13, 1947. Bradbury and his agent, Don Congdon, subsequently sold serial rights and it was first published under the title “And So Died Riabouchinska” in the second issue of The Saint Detective Magazine (June/July 1953). The story sold a couple of years later to the producers of the Hitchcock TV series, and Mel Dinelli was hired to adapt it once again, this time for television.
The published version of the story begins as a group of people are gathered in a basement room to view a corpse. They hear a voice begging to be let out of a small coffin; the voice belongs to Riabouchinska, the female dummy controlled by ventriloquist John Fabian. Detective Lieutenant Krovitch questions Fabian, his wife, and his agent, all of whom claim not to have known Ockham, the dead man, before the prior night. When the box is opened and the dummy removed, Fabian calls it “my lovely lady” and his wife appears envious. Fabian and Riabouchinska behave as if they are separate people—he admits he is “helpless” while she wants to tell the truth.
|Claude Rains and Charles Bronson|
“And So Died Riabouchinska” is not one of Ray Bradbury’s strongest stories, but it does have an interesting germ of an idea and some flashes of the lyrical writing that would later mark his best work. When Mel Dinelli adapted it for television, he made changes to extend the length of the story and to increase the dramatic tension (adding dialogue and beefing up the character of Krovitch) but he did not make major alterations to the plot.
The TV version opens with a scene where a couple of aging vaudevillians, Maisie and Dan, banter backstage as Fabian arrives with his dummy in a suitcase. His character is quickly established, as is the fact that he is protective of his dummy. Maisie flips a coin as part of a bet and the coin rolls down the stairs to the basement, where it comes to rest on the body of the dead man, Ockham. Looking for the coin, the two vaudevillians discover the body.
In between scenes of the investigation, we see a shot of the end of Fabian’s stage act, taken from the rafters as Krovitch learns another piece of information from a stagehand. The rest of the show follows the story closely. Rains’s soliloquies are the highlight—he clearly adores the dummy, and there is a well-acted sequence where he relates how the dummy came alive to him. He makes Riabouchinska do each thing he describes: he says that her hand moved, and the wooden hand moves slightly; he says that her eyes opened and they follow suit. This is an excellent example of Rains’s skill at both vocal and physical acting.
|The photo of Ilyana Riamonova|
that Krovitch shows to Fabian
Claude Rains (1889-1967) was one of the great Hollywood actors of the Golden Age of cinema, appearing in important roles in many classic films. He turned 66 years old in 1955, when this episode was most likely filmed, and he appeared in four other episodes of the Hitchcock series, including “The Cream of the Jest.” Charles Bronson (1921-2003) was born Charles Buchinsky, and appeared in two other Hitchcock TV episodes, as well as an episode of The Twilight Zone. He co-starred in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) but his career really took off in the 1970s, when he became one of the world’s biggest box office draws due to films such as Death Wish (1974). Finally, Virginia Gregg (1916-1986) provided the voice for Riabouchinska, just as she had supplied the voice of Mrs. Bates in Psycho (1960). She also appeared in “A Home Away From Home” on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, as well as five other episodes during the show’s ten-year run.
The real Tatiana Riabouchinska
“And So Died Riabouchinska” was collected in Bradbury’s The Machineries of Joy (1964) and again in The Stories of Ray Bradbury (1980). The Suspense radio play can be heard online, and the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode can be viewed online. Bradbury himself adapted the story in 1988 for an episode of The Ray Bradbury Theater; it is not available for online viewing but can be purchased as a DVD.
Ray Bradbury provides the final word on Alfred Hitchcock Presents "And So Died Riabouchinska": "It was not a great half hour, but it was such a pleasure to see Claude Rains in something I had done."
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