Thursday, March 7, 2013

John Collier on TV Part Eight-The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: "The Magic Shop"

by Jack Seabrook

"The Magic Shop" was the last episode of the Hitchcock series to be written by John Collier, and it was the only one that was an hour long. The story upon which it is based was written by H. G. Wells and was first published in the June 1903 issue of The Strand magazine, the popular British periodical where Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories appeared.

The story is narrated by an unnamed London man who states that he "had seen the Magic Shop from afar several times" but had never gone in until his son Gip pulled him toward it and they had to enter. Its location was never clear: "nearer the Circus, or round the corner in Oxford Street, or even in Holburn." The boy, Gip, is well-behaved, having inherited "his mother's breeding, and he did not propose to enter the shop or worry in any way." Enter it they do, however, and they meet the shopman, "a curious, sallow, dark man, with one ear larger than the other" and with "long, magic fingers." The establishment is called the "Genuine Magic Shop" and the shopman remarks that Gip is the "Right Sort of Boy," in contrast to another, badly-behaved boy to whom the shop's door is locked.

David Opatoshu as Dulong
The story is very British in tone (distortions in magic mirrors are described as "looking very rum"). Young Gip is entranced and his father is amused by the tricks done by the shopman, who eventually takes the place of the father as Gip begins to hold his finger the way he had previously held his father's. In essence, "The Magic Shop" is a story of the seduction of a child by a dark force that slowly pulls him away from the safe haven of his father. The father begins to notice the "rumness" of the shop and thinks of its contents that he has "a queer feeling that whenever I wasn't looking at them straight they went askew." Gip disappears, leading his father to leap after the shopman and suddenly find himself in Regent Street, having collided with another pedestrian. Gip is at his side and carries four parcels under his arm, but the magic shop is nowhere to be seen. Gip opens his parcels and finds a living white kitten.

Six months later, the father "is beginning to believe it is all right." He asks Gip about the toy soldiers he got from the magic shop and is surprised to hear Gip say that they come alive and "march about by themselves" with but a word from Gip. The father tries to witness this for himself but never succeeds; he tries to find the magic shop to pay for the items but can never find it. He concludes that "these people, whoever they may be," will "send in their bill in their own time."

John Megna as Tony
"The Magic Shop" is a subtle tale that leaves the reader wondering if it is about real magic or if it is an allegory about a child's first steps toward independence, steps that may feel frightening and strange. The story may be read online here.

Sixty years after its publication, "The Magic Shop" was adapted for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and was first broadcast on CBS on Friday, January 10, 1964, midway through the second season of the hour-long series. According to the credits, John Collier wrote the teleplay from a script by James Parish that was based on the short story by H. G. Wells. The TV adaptation removes any subtlety from the story and expands it to fit the time slot, removing much of the magic and replacing it with an attempt at terror.

Like the short story, the TV show is narrated by the father, now named Steven Grainger. He begins on an ominous note, referring to the "day that changed our lives"--his son Tony's birthday, the day they visited the magic shop. Prior to the visit to the shop, a scene at the Grainger house is added, where Tony's parents shower him with gifts, one of which is a black leather jacket. The location has been moved to the U.S.A., and Tony, rather than being a well-mannered and perhaps shy boy as he is in the story, is very outspoken and somewhat obnoxious. The change in his personality most likely was a decision of the writers that was meant to hint at the evil that would develop later in the show.

Peggy McKay and Leslie Nielsen as Tony's parents
On the way to the magic shop, Tony is chastised by a policeman for jaywalking. Inside the shop, the shopkeeper shows Tony a policeman doll and encourages him to stick a pin in its abdomen. After Steven finds himself back on the street, he is placed in an ambulance alongside the same policeman, who now suffers from acute abdominal pain. This is the sort of obvious development that plagues this show.

The magic shop set is nicely done, with spooky masks, mirrors, and an intriguing shopman played by David Opatoshu. The music score, by Lyn Murray, is notable, especially in the magic shop scene, because it sounds like early electronic music of the sort that would be utilized by John Carpenter in his films of the late 1970s. The chief problem with "The Magic Shop" is the unappealing child actor John Megna, who plays Tony. Undoubtedly, the character was written to be somewhat unlikeable from the start, but his performance does not help matters. It would have been interesting to see the role played by Billy Mumy or Ronny Howard, two child actors who had significant skill even at a young age and were just two years younger than Megna. Mumy played a similar role on The Twilight Zone in the classic episode, "It's a Good Life," which the conclusion of "The Magic Shop" recalls.

Paul Hartman as Mr. Adams
The camerawork, by Hitchcock TV regular Robert Stevens, is impressive, especially inside the magic shop. There is one particularly good shot from behind an aquarium that allows the viewer to realize that the snakes inside it are real, while Steven and Tony believe they are made of rubber. When Tony disappears, his father hears his ghostly laughter as he searches frantically for the boy, even seeing his son's reflection in a fun house mirror. Steven grabs the shopkeeper's head between his hands and it shatters; the revelation that it was a dummy is shocking and effective.

The show progresses quite differently from the story after the scene in the magic shop. When Steven finds himself suddenly outside again, Tony has disappeared. Steven and his wife go to the police station for an interview and Tony suddenly returns a day later, mysteriously reticent about telling them where he has been but insisting that he has been gone for days or weeks. Tony makes a magic pass with his hand over a vase of flowers and they instantly wither. He sees a child psychologist, who tells his parents that the magic shop is on the same street where an apothecary was indicted in 1692 by Cotton Mather and where a magic shop in 1901 was destroyed by "some unknown force." The name of the shopkeeper, the apothecary, and the prior shop are all Dulong; this is also the name that Tony gives to a dog that Steven buys for him in an effort to provide a normal life experience.


Tony's odd behavior continues. He tells his parents that he will do everything the dog tells him to do. He waves his hand and makes balloons pop as the neighborhood children play with them. After his dog attacks the shy neighbor, Mr. Adams, Adams kills the dog, which rots away to pieces instantly. Tony tells his parents that the dog "taught me everything" and says "it's too late." That night, Tony waves his hand by his widow and sets Adams's house on fire, killing the man. Steven realizes that Tony was to blame, and discovers a cut on the side of his own face as Tony carves a photograph of his father with a knife.

The final scene is set a few years later, as the family sits at the dinner table. Steven narrates in voiceover, explaining that he and his wife are their son's prisoners and that they see no way out. Tony sits at the table, looking malevolent in a black suit, much like a magician.

Unlike the story, the television adaptation is unabashedly supernatural, as the subtle uneasiness of the early scene in the magic shop develops into the terror that marks the show's conclusion. One suspects that there were problems with the adaptation, since it is unusual to see a credit where one writer wrote a script and another adapted it into a teleplay. The scriptwriter, James Parish (1904-1974), wrote for television for about ten years, from the mid-50s to the mid-60s. This was his only contribution to the Hitchcock series. He was better known as a British playwright, and it is possible that he was asked to adapt this story for TV but that the producers found his script unfilmable.

Tony casts a fiery spell
H. G. Wells (1866-1946), who wrote the original story, was one of the fathers of the science fiction genre, who wrote stories, novels, and non-fiction books and who was one of the most famous British writers of his time. Robert Stevens (1920-1989) directed the show with his usual skill; it was one of the five he directed for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Lyn Murray (1909-1989), who composed the music for this episode, was born Lionel Breeze and wrote scores for 35 Hitchcock hours. He also wrote the music for The Twilight Zone episode "A Passage for Trumpet" and for the Hitchcock film, To Catch a Thief (1955).

Appearing as Steven Grainger was Leslie Nielsen (1926-2010), who was featured in over 100 films and over 1500 TV shows in his long career. Nielsen starred in Forbidden Planet (1956), as well as episodes of Thriller, Night Gallery, and twice on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He became most famous for his late-career switch to comedies such as Airplane! (1980). His wife was played by Peggy McKay (1927- ), who also appeared twice on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and who as been a regular on Days of Our Lives for the past thirty years.

John Megna (1952-1995), the unappealing child actor who plays Tony, started his acting career on Broadway at age six and had an important role in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). He was 11 years old when he starred in "The Magic Shop," and he would later play a role on Star Trek ("Miri") before retiring and eventually dying of AIDS at the age of 42.

The final scene
The shopman, Dulong, was played by David Opatoshu (1918-1996). He appeared twice on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and also was seen on The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Star Trek, and in the Hitchcock feature, Torn Curtain (1966). Paul Hartman (1904-1973) played Adams, the neighbor who kills Tony's dog. He was in moves from 1935 and on TV from 1948 and he shows up in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, two of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, as well as Thriller and The Twilight Zone.

"The Magic Shop" was also adapted for the stage by Richard France (the date appears to be 1972, according to copyright records), and a 23-minute film of the story was made in 1982 by Ian Eames. A clip from this film may be seen here; it looks interesting! The Alfred Hitchcock Hour version may be viewed here.

Sources:


"Doollee.com - the Playwrights Database of Modern Plays." Doollee.com - the Playwrights Database of Modern Plays. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2013. <http://www.doollee.com/>.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2013. <http://www.imdb.com/>.
"The Magic Shop." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. CBS. 10 Jan. 1964. Television.
Wells, H. G. "The Magic Shop." Twelve Stories and a Dream. N.p.: n.p., 1903. N. pag. Project Gutenberg. Web. 2 Mar. 2013. <http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1743/1743-h/1743-h.htm#link2H_4_0002>.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2013. <http://www.wikipedia.org/>.










9 comments:

Harvey Chartrand said...

Another rotten episode courtesy of writer John Collier. Ham-fisted "horror". Character king David Opatoshu the only actor to emerge from THE MAGIC SHOP with his dignity intact. John Megna is a repulsive child, but not in the least bit frightening. Did H.G. Wells crawl into a time machine, fast-forward into the future, read Jerome Bixby's IT'S A GOOD LIFE, and zip back into the past to churn out THE MAGIC SHOP? Wells' story is much better than this vapid half-baked Americanized teleplay. I remember thinking throughout the episode: "Oh, I'm supposed to be scared now." I was indifferent to the parents' plight when they are taken prisoner by their evil son. In this instance, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour ventured into Twilight Zone/Thriller territory and stumbled badly. Bring on Henry Slesar, who was more in sync with the Hitchcock universe than John Collier.

Walker Martin said...

I have to admit to liking this episode. True the kid was annoying but I've reached the age where I find just about ALL kids annoying. I liked the supernatural element and I'm glad there was no logical ending, etc. I like John Collier and H.G. Wells, so thats an unbeatable combination. Plus I just like magic shops.

Grant said...

Oddly enough, a father seeing his son in a mirror sounds like a scene from ANOTHER Billy Mumy Twilight Zone, IN PRAISE OF PIP.

There's one thing I wonder every time I see it in print - how is the name Opatoshu pronounced?

Peter Enfantino said...

I remember John Megna best from the intro to Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte. Never mind Bette Davis. This kid gave me nightmares for weeks. Something about his chompers, I think.

By the way, I remember The Magic Shop having a profound impact on my young life. Scared the heck out of me. Haven't seen it in years but I'm about to dust it off and give it a re-watch.

Great job as always, Jack.

Jack Seabrook said...

Harvey--I hope you are happier when we get to Slesar!

Walker--so glad to hear from you! I've missed your comments!

Peter--I don't think this show holds up quite as well as other super-scary eps of that era, like "The Cheaters."

Grant--I have no clue how to pronounce it! It sounds like a sneeze.

Anonymous said...

I believe that many of the hostile reactions to this production stem from understandable preconceived notions about the H. G. Wells story itself, and the Hitchcock Hour. Being unfamiliar with the original story, I only had to get over the latter, but my initial reaction was some irritation; I don't recall every seeing another Hitchcock Presents/Hour episode with a truly supernatural theme. The usual expectation with Hitchcock episodes is that anything that appears to be supernatural is the result of a trick or, occasionally, a psychological delusion. The suspension of disbelief with which one approaches shows like TTW, OL and Night Gallery was thus missing and it was a bit of an adjustment to turn it on for this one episode. Luckily, If I had been familiar with the original story, that would have carried its own expectations and anything different, even if not inferior, might have been a disappointment. Absent all this baggage, I see a lot to recommend here. The kid was perfect for a role like this; he's the kind of kid that's annoying, but you tend to try to overlook the flaws knowing that such a child is a little "special". I just hope, for the actor's sake, that those buck teeth weren't real. As the story builds and the annoyances start to turn evil, he insidiously turns ever uglier. The sheer repulsiveness in the way the dog died and the effortlessness with which the kid incinerates his neighbor blew past any initial reservations I might have had about Hitchcock venturing into this territory. Had this been a TTZ, OL or NG episode, it would have rated amongst the creepiest of them.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks for your very insightful and detailed comment! "The Sign of Satan" springs to mind as another episode with supernatural elements. I'm sure there are more.

Grant said...

I know it's been a long while since this review, but there's one very small question I have about John Megna that maybe someone could answer. Is he the teenager in that one scene of the Outer Limits episode THE INHERITORS, the one who answers a few of Robert Duvall's questions?
(I can't find any reference to the character, even on WE ARE CONTROLLING TRANSMISSION, but it's such a small part that isn't surprising.)

Jack Seabrook said...

James Frawley looks a little like John Megna but he's too old. What scene are you referring to? Part 1 or part 2, and how far in?