Henry Slesar (1927-2002) was one of the most prolific contributors to the Hitchcock TV series. His first story to be aired, "Heart of Gold," was broadcast near the start of season three of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, on October 27, 1957, and was adapted by James P. Cavanagh from Slesar's short story "M Is For the Many," which had been published in the March 1957 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.
"M Is For the Many" begins as Jackie Smith, twenty years old but seeming older, rings the bell for the Collins apartment at a brownstone. He is invited up by Ralph Collins, brother of Allie, whom Jackie met in prison. Ralph knows that Jackie has just been paroled after three years spent in jail for being the driver of the getaway car in an armed robbery. Jackie meets Ma Collins, "a short, stout woman with curly white hair," who welcomes him, admitting that Allie had written to her from prison about him. Jackie is looking for a place to live and is surprised when Ma offers to let him stay in Allie's room.
|Mildred Dunnock as Ma Collins|
Jackie denies knowledge of the location of the stolen loot and Ralph begins to beat him. In the struggle that follows, Jackie accidentally kills Ralph after having threatened to kill the old woman. Jackie later tells his parole officer that he's looking forward to seeing his friends in jail--"one in particular."
"M Is For the Many" is a tough little crime story with a twist, though it's left vague whether Ma's kindness to Jackie was sincere. When Ralph is killed and she weeps, "my boy, my boy," Jackie wonders who she meant: Ralph or Jackie. The story's title is from the old song, "Mother," the first line of which is "M is for the many things she gave me." Ma Collins appears to be a saintly maternal figure, but the behavior of her sons makes the reader question her motives.
|Nehemiah Persoff as Ralph Collins|
The show begins in shadow, as Jackie searches for the Collins buzzer in a dark foyer. He ascends the staircase amidst noir camera setups and lighting, as the banister casts ominous shadows on the wall. Ma wears a cheap bathrobe and the kitchen of her apartment is sparse and run down; everything in it looks old, cheap, or second-hand. There is no air conditioning in the building and Jackie and Ralph's faces are bathed in sweat, even after darkness has fallen outside.
|The shadowy stairs serve as Jackie's|
introduction to the Collins home.
There is then a nicely filmed sequence in the garage at night, as the camera slowly tracks toward Jackie, who sits alone in the office, talking on the phone. We think this is just an evocative shot until the point of view changes and we see that the moving camera represented the viewpoint of two thugs who confront Jackie about the hidden cash. After one of the thugs hits Jackie, we get another nicely lit shot on the staircase, as Jackie crawls up the stairs, bathed in shadows. Even as Ma tends to his wounds, he lies to her and we see his eyes shift to one side; he hides the fact that people are looking for the hidden money, suggesting that he actually does know where it is.
|Ralph's foot on the chair shows who is in control|
The show's conclusion is much more effective than that of the story. Jackie grabs a kitchen knife to defend himself against Ralph and ends up stabbing the bully. Ma comes home and happens upon the scene; she looks at Jackie in horror, yet he still insists on addressing her as Ma, pleading: "I'll take his place!" Ma is stricken and blurts out the truth to the young man: "All we wanted was the money! That's why I was nice to you!" This straightforward ending is more satisfying than the story's vague conclusion, mainly because the show had built up Ma as a saintly woman and Jackie as a shifty young man. To see the tables turned is a real surprise. The show alternates between shadowy noir lighting and drab scenes of poverty in the Collins apartment; Stevens and Lindon's work serves to increase the setting's darkness and despair. "Heart of Gold" is unusual among the episodes we've studied so far in that the script, direction, and acting deepen and improve upon the short story on which it is based.
|Cheryl Callaway as the little girl|
who finds Jackie crawling up the stairs
Mildred Dunnock (1901-1991), who plays Ma, was a veteran of stage, movies and TV. She was on Alfred Hitchcock Presents three times and on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour once. She also appeared in the episode, "None Are So Blind."
Nehemiah Persoff (1919- ), who plays Ralph, was also a veteran of movies and TV, appearing in Hitchcock's The Wrong Man (1956) and Wilder's Some Like It Hot (1959). His only other appearance on the Hitchcock series was in "The Cure." He also has a website.
|Edward Binns as the parole officer|
Appearing very briefly as the thug who beats up Jackie is Len Lesser (1922-2011), whose face is quite familiar because of his recurring role on Seinfeld as Uncle Leo.
James P. Cavanagh (1922-1971), who adapted "M Is For the Many" for TV, wrote fifteen episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "None Are So Blind" and "Mother, May I Go Out to Swim?"
|Len Lesser as the thug|
Lionel Lindon (1905-1971), the director of photography, was known as the fastest cinematographer in Hollywood. He worked on 42 episodes of the Hitchcock series and won an Academy Award for Around the World in 80 Days (1956).
"Heart of Gold" is available on DVD and can be viewed online.
In two weeks: "Night of the Execution."