Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ray Bradbury on TV Part Three: Alfred Hitchcock Presents “Design for Loving”

by Jack Seabrook

After the first two Bradbury episodes appeared in quick succession during season one of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the third did not appear until season four, when “Design for Loving” was broadcast on CBS on November 9, 1958. Bradbury wrote the teleplay and adapted it from his own story, “Marionettes, Inc.,” which had been published in the March 1949 issue of Startling Stories.


The original story is set in 1989, a date 40 years in the future at the time of the story’s publication, when one could buy a “ticket for Rio on the Thursday rocket!” Smith and Braling are two men in their thirties, both unhappy in their marriages for different reasons. Braling and his wife do not get along, while Smith's wife is overly affectionate. Braling reveals to Smith that he has solved his problem by purchasing a robot duplicate of himself, one with a ticking sound in its chest instead of a beating heart.

The robot was purchased from a company called Marionettes, Inc., where one may “duplicate self or friends” for prices ranging up to $15,000 for the deluxe model. Braling keeps his duplicate in a box in the basement and takes it out when he wants a respite from the unhappy company of his wife. Smith likes the idea and intends to follow suit until he discovers that his wife has beat him to the punch—the woman lying in their bed has a ticking sound where a heartbeat should be.


At the Braling home, Braling is about to put his duplicate back in its box when the robot rebels, telling Braling that he is in love with his wife and does not want to spend his time in a container. Braling attempts to escape but his duplicate prevents it and tells him goodbye. Ten minutes later, Mrs. Braling awakens to a kiss on her cheek and responds, “you haven’t done that in years.” “’We’ll see what we can do about that,’ someone said.” Not her husband, but someone—leaving open the question of who exactly has replaced Mr. Braling and what his role will be.

Bradbury’s use of the word “someone” in the last sentence adds a sense of menace to the story’s conclusion, which would otherwise end on a note of hope. Recalling the revelation Smith experienced regarding his wife, one is left with the feeling that the future in which these marionettes replace their human counterparts is an uncertain, possibly dangerous one; the robot is said to have “a metal-firm grip” and tells Braling “There’s a lot they don’t know about us.”

The Hitchcock television show, “Design for Loving,” follows the plot of “Marionettes, Inc.” closely, but Bradbury expands the story to fill the half-hour time slot and changes its focus slightly. The show begins with Charles Braling and his wife Lydia (never given a name in the story) sharing an uncomfortable silence in their suburban living room. She works at solving a jangly metal puzzle consisting of three interlocking rings. The puzzle symbolizes their marriage: they are joined together and she cannot figure out how to get them apart or whether she should even try. A contrast is set up immediately with the Smiths when Charles telephones Tom to ask him to meet. Tom and Ann Smith sit together in their living room, Ann paying affectionate attention to Tom, who looks slightly uncomfortable with his situation.

At the Braling house, Charles wants to engage Lydia in conversation and plan travel with her. The lighting on him is ominous, though, suggesting that his intent is selfish. Lydia asks Charles to kiss her hand, telling him she will go anywhere with him if he performs this simple, loving gesture. Yet he refuses, unable to display a token of physical affection that she seems to need. She regrets their lack of children, while he desires a more intellectual relationship. The actors playing Charles and Lydia—Norman Lloyd and Marian Seldes—were 14 years apart in age, suggesting that Lydia married a much older man and now regrets it.



Marian Seldes as Lydia Braling
After Charles calls Tom again and they arrange to meet, the first signs that the events of the show are taking place in the future begin to appear. Doors open by themselves and lights turn on automatically when a character enters a room. In the basement, Charles opens a mysterious box, but we are kept in suspense about its contents until after the following scene, where Charles and Tom emerge after hours spent drinking in a bar. Both are drunk, and there is a nice bit of comic business between Norman Lloyd and Elliott Reid (as Smith) when Tom slips Charles’s plane ticket to Rio into his inside jacket pocket and Charles removes it just as deftly without even looking at it. The men are close friends, very comfortable with each other’s company. The performances by Lloyd and Reid are outstanding, with Lloyd the more calculating and devious man and Reid the comic, clueless businessman.

Back at the Braling house, Charles blows a small whistle and his duplicate emerges. The shots where Norman Lloyd appears in both parts are flawless, even when viewed today on a large screen with DVD clarity. Bradbury’s dialogue in this episode is realistic yet eloquent and the actors are completely natural in their delivery. Lloyd’s double in the scenes where we see his back turned to the camera is not as effective as in the trick shots, since he looks slightly taller than Lloyd and his hair does not match well. This was probably not noticeable during the initial broadcast but it may be seen with today’s tools that provide for close scrutiny.

Lloyd demonstrates superb facial and vocal acting skills in this episode. He is portrayed as the villain of the piece, often through ominous lighting choices by director Robert Stevens and director of photography John L. Russell, who often worked with Hitchcock. The televised version is set in a future that looks similar to 1958 America, just with more conveniences, such as the coffee and orange juice spigots that jut out of the wall in Smith’s home. The revelation of Smith’s wife Ann as a robot is not surprising; Barbara Baxley, who plays Ann, is cast in this minor role as the sort of sex kitten she often played on episodes of this series. 



Elliott Reid as Tom Smith
The final scenes of the show are expanded from the story. Back at the Bralings’, the replacement Charles plays chess with Lydia and they have drinks—she begins to show signs of caring about her appearance around him until he is suddenly summoned by his master’s whistle. In the basement, more flawless trick shots show Lloyd talking to himself in the dual roles. The scene where he verbally spars with his double is an excellent piece of vocal acting, ending when the robot forces the original into the box and slams the lid down on him, locking him in and presumably leaving him there to die. The robot goes back upstairs and encounters Smith, frantic, who tells him that Ann as left a marionette in her place. The robot tells him, “Tom, these are strange times, in which strange machines—with even stranger functions—are moving into our lives and taking over.”

The robot goes back inside, where Lydia is again playing with her metal ring puzzle, unsure of the status of her relationship with her husband. As he did earlier, Braling grabs the toy away from her, but this time he takes her hand and kisses it, and they drink a toast to their new, loving relationship. Oddly, the conclusion of the television show seems less ominous and more hopeful than that of the published story, as here the robot seems likely to bring the unhappy Mrs. Braling more happiness than her unpleasant husband would have. 



Norman Lloyd as Charles Braling:
ominous lighting suggests evil intent.
“Design for Loving” stars Norman Lloyd (1914- ), who was a member of Orson Welles’s Mercury Theatre and who had a key role as the spy in Hitchcock’s Saboteur (1942). He appeared in five episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents as an actor and also served as associate producer, producer, or executive producer for the series beginning in 1957. He appeared on One Step Beyond and Night Gallery and he was the subject of a 2007 film entitled Who Is Norman Lloyd? 

The role of Tom Smith was played by Elliott Reid (1920- ), who appeared in one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and many films, including Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and Inherit the Wind (1960). He was also in an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour

Marian Seldes (1928- ) played Lydia Braling; Seldes has enjoyed a long career on stage and also appeared in films, on television, and on the radio, winning a Tony Award in 1967. This was her only episode of the Hitchcock series. 



Barbara Baxley as Nettie Smith
Finally, Barbara Baxley (1923-1990) is the only one of the four actors in this show not still living. She appeared in six episodes of the Hitchcock series in all, as well as on The Twilight Zone and One Step Beyond. She was often cast in the small screen versions of the kind of roles Gloria Grahame played on the big screen. 

Robert Stevens, who did a fine job directing this episode, was at the helm of 44 episodes of the half hour series and another five of the hour series. He won the series’ only Emmy Award (for “The Glass Eye”) and viewing his work as part of the research for this series of articles is providing an education in what a strong director he was for episodic television.

Finally, John L. Russell (1906- ), the director of photography, had that role for 75 episodes of the half hour series, including many of the ones directed by Hitchcock himself. He and Stevens must have been responsible for the careful lighting and superb trick shots in this episode.

The title, “Design for Loving,” is a play on the title of the 1932 Noel Coward play, Design for Living, which was made into a film in 1933 by director Ernest Lubitsch. The play concerns the relationship between two men and a woman; in a sense, that is what “Design for Loving” is about as well, only one of the men is not human. 



Note the orange juice and coffee spigots.
The Bradbury story had been adapted twice for radio before it was adapted for television. George Lefferts wrote the radio play, which was performed on August 30, 1951, as part of the Dimension X series, and again on December 21, 1955, as part of the X Minus 1 series. On television, Bradbury again adapted it for The Ray Bradbury Theater, and it was broadcast on May 21, 1985, under the title of “Marionettes, Inc.” 




The radio plays may be heard online here and here; the Hitchcock show is available on DVD and may be viewed online here, and the Ray Bradbury Theatre version is available on DVD and may be viewed online here

Sources:

Aggelis, Steven Louis, "Conversations with Ray Bradbury" (2003). Electronic Theses, Treatises and Dissertations. Paper 1. http://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/etd/1. xxvi.

Bradbury, Ray. "Marionettes, Inc." 1949. Ed. Ray Bradbury. The Stories of Ray Bradbury. New York: Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1980. 159-65. Print.

"Design for Loving." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 9 Nov. 1958. Television.

"Galactic Central." Galactic Central. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Sept. 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. 03 Sept. 2012. <http://www.imdb.com/>.

Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 03 Sept. 2012. <http://www.wikipedia.org/>.




















7 comments:

Peter Enfantino said...

I never liked my Hitchcock spiced with science fiction just as, I'm sure, I wouldn't have liked a murder mystery on Twilight Zone. I'll have to check this one out again though.

Harvey Chartrand said...

This episode is leaden-paced and rather lame, despite all the talent on display. So far, Ray Bradbury's unique voice isn't translating very well to ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. Also, DESIGN FOR LOVING isn't one of Bradbury's best short stories. It's a rather obvious plotline and the humor is a bit strained. I enjoyed lightweight comic actor Elliott Reid in a supporting role. I retain many happy memories of Elliott Reid (the William Atherton of his day) as the flustered professor in the Flubber movies and in his guest appearance as a hapless PR flack in GOOD-BYE, GEORGE (1963), THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR episode in which he co-starred with Robert Culp and the stunning Patricia Barry.

Jack Seabrook said...

Reid is one of those actors whose face is so familiar yet his credits don't ring any big bells for me. Mention Patricia Barry, on the other hand, and my mind immediately goes to "The Chaser."

Harvey Chartrand said...

In 1953, Elliott Reid was trotted out as potential leading man material in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES. Jane Russell is attracted to "tall, dark stranger" Reid (!), who went on to specialize in comic foils and fussy, supercilious types. The public didn't accept Reid as a leading man, and by 1955, he was playing third banana to Everett Sloane in the ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS episode OUR COOK'S A TREASURE.

Matthew Bradley said...

This should interest you, Jack: Reid not only guest-starred on THE ODD COUPLE as writing teacher Gerard Ferguson in an episode we were just quoting, but also (according to Wikipedia) played Felix opposite Dan Dailey in a late-'60s road production of the play.

Wonder if William Atherton was discovered when some casting agent barked, "Get me an Elliott Reid type"?

On an entirely different note, I've begun reading your book on Fredric Brown and am enjoying it very much.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Prof. Matthew! All I can say about Gerald Ferguson is: "meet me by the swings."

Harvey Chartrand said...

Elliot Reid's unforgettable portrayal of Nancy Olson's stingy, mean-spirited pursuer in THE ABSENTMINDED PROFESSOR (as described in IMDb) was the template for William Atherton's portrayal of the Environmental Protection Agency douchebag in GHOSTBUSTERS (a presumption on my part, granted). Reid's talent is deserving of greater recognition. (So is Atherton's.)