Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Hitchcock Project: Henry Slesar Part Three-"On the Nose" [3.20]

by Jack Seabrook

"On the Nose" was the third tale by Henry Slesar to be adapted for broadcast on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The story on which it is based bears the title "Something Short of Murder!" This title has nothing to do with the plot and sounds like it was tacked on by the editor of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, where it appeared in the November 1957 issue under the pen name of O.H. Leslie.

The story begins as Fran Holland calls her bookie, Phil Cooney, to place a bet on a horse. He refuses to accept, insisting that she first pay him the twenty five dollars she owes. Cooney tells Fran that he will pay her a visit. She looks in the mirror and sees "a young face still, with all the marks of the years concentrated around her eyes. Her hair was jutting in too many directions . . ."

Cooney arrives and wants his money today, threatening to return at six o'clock to ask her husband for it. Fran fears that such a visit would result in her husband's being disappointed in her; she is addicted to gambling and wonders "how could she face that scene again?" Fran has even pawned her engagement ring to support her habit. She scours her apartment but can only find a few dollars in change. Struck with an idea, she walks to the bus stop and pretends to be out of money for bus fare. Fifteen cents at a time, she convinces strangers to give her coins. By three o'clock she has almost fifteen dollars.

Before she can collect any more money, however, a man accosts her and, thinking he is with the police, she goes with him in his car. She soon discovers that he has other intentions and is not a policeman She manages to escape from the car and he crashes; she takes ten dollars from his wallet while he is unconscious. Beating the six o'clock deadline, she pays Cooney what she owes. On returning home, her friend Lila tells her that her husband called: he had to fly to Chicago at the last minute and will not be home tonight. Having learned no lesson from her ordeal, Fran calls Cooney to put five dollars on a horse named Chicago Flyer!

"Something Short of Murder!" is an entertaining story that (like "The Day of the Execution") was snapped up by the producers of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, filmed, and broadcast on February 16, 1958. Irving Elman wrote the teleplay, which is a faithful adaptation of the Slesar's story. The TV show opens with a scene at the breakfast table, as Fran's husband Ed notices that her watch is missing and tells her that he will leave her if she starts gambling again. Ed never appears in the short story, but this added scene takes something that was told on the page and dramatizes it onscreen. In scene two, we see Fran's friend Lila; this scene is also new to the story, again dramatizing something that was only referred to on the page. Here, Lila arrives at Fran's apartment and boasts about having won the daily double the day before--"two hundred and sixty eight bucks!"

Carl Betz
Fran then calls Cooney and the TV show follows the story closely for awhile, until Fran is unable to raise the necessary funds from her stint as a bus stop con artist. She walks into a store and steals a silver compact case; on exiting the store, she is immediately accosted by a man who inexplicably knows what she has stolen. He takes her in his car, as in the story, and when she realizes that he is not a policeman and has other intentions (he offers to give her twenty dollars if she will be "agreeable") she hits him with her purse, causing the car to crash. She walks away from the accident in a daze. Later, policemen come to her door at home and return her purse. They tell her that they found a twenty dollar bill and the silver compact case next to the purse and assumed they were hers. She returns the case ("It's not mine!") but keeps the twenty. She pays off Cooney before the deadline and gets a call from Ed, who tells her that he is flying to Washington (not Chicago, as in the story). Though she had sworn to Cooney that she was through with gambling, it does not take long for her to call him to place a bet on a horse named Washington Flyer.

David Opatoshu
"On the Nose" was written by Irving Elman (1915-2011), who later said that he first met Joan Harrison, producer of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, when she was producing Janet Dean, Registered Nurse, a series that ran from 1954 to 1955. She later hired him to write for the Hitchcock series and he penned three episodes in all.

Jan Sterling (1921-2004) is perfectly cast as Fran; she is a little hard-edged and past her prime, pretty but no longer young. She was 36 years old when "On the Nose" was filmed and her prior film roles included Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole (1951) and The High and the Mighty (1954), for which she received an Academy Award nomination. She appeared in one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and another of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. One subtle touch that enhances "On the Nose" is Fran's hairdo, which recalls the hot roller style popular in the 1940s. The fact that Fran still wears it in 1958 suggests that she is behind the times and clinging to a past where she was young and pretty.

Linda Watkins
Co-starring as Fran's husband Ed is Karl Swenson (1908-1978), who seems a little old for the part (Swenson was 13 years Sterling's senior). His one scene is marred by some sloppy shot matching, especially in two shots where he moves his arm from side to front before and after a cut. This sort of problem crops up from time to time in this series, which was never meant to be scrutinized in high definition on a large screen over fifty years after it was produced. Swenson appeared in three episodes of the Hitchcock series, can be seen as the prophet of doom in the diner in Hitchcock's The Birds (1963), and played Lars Hanson from 1974 to 1978 on Little House on the Prairie.

Another character actor who makes the most of her brief time onscreen is Linda Watkins (1908-1976), who plays Fran's friend Lila. She appeared twice on the Hitchcock series, three times on Thriller, and also was seen in the memorable made for TV movie, Bad Ronald (1974).

Karl Swenson
David Opatoshu (1918-1996), recently seen here as the proprietor of "The Magic Shop," appeared in a total of three Hitchcock episodes. His performance as Cooney, the bookie, is smooth, he is smiling on the surface but hard underneath.

The score in "On the Nose" is notable in the scene where Fran realizes she has a deadline to raise the money to pay Cooney. There is a phrase that sounds like a chiming clock, followed by ominous music that reflects Fran's mood. These episodes were scored with stock music from the studio vault and this episode does not even have a credit for a music supervisor.

Carl Betz (1921-1978), who would soon become famous as Donna Reed's husband on The Donna Reed Show (1958-1966), makes an early appearance as the man who is not a policeman. His handsome, rugged features make him a natural as someone pretending to be a policeman; the revelation that he is actually a con man and a masher is all the more surprising due to his winning smile.

Jan Sterling
"On the Nose" and "Something Short of Murder!" are both light, clever treatments of the disease of gambling addiction. All of Fran's actions stem from her inability to stop gambling and her need to keep it a secret from her husband in order to save her marriage. Director James Neilson (1909-1979) keeps things moving at a rapid pace. He had directed 33 episodes of Janet Dean, Registered Nurse, where he would have known Joan Harrison well and perhaps worked on a script by Irving Elman. He directed twelve episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

"On the Nose" is available on DVD here or may be viewed online here.


Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb., n.d. Web. 13 May 2013.
"On the Nose." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 16 Feb. 1958. Television.
Slesar, Henry. "Something Short of Murder!" 1957. Clean Crimes and Neat Murders. New York: Avon, 1960. 72-84. Print.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 13 May 2013.


Walker Martin said...

Though I have managed to avoid the gambling addiction, I have fallen victim to that most insidious vice, collecting books and pulps. But at least with book collecting I have something to read after blowing my money.

I mean think of it, collecting is the only addiction that does not harm your health or drive you crazy. All the other vices will ruin you such as gambling, booze, dope, women, etc.

The woman in this episode should take up reading...

Mike Doran said...

The uncredited music supervisor for Alfred Hitchcock Presents in its early years was Dave Kahn, who performed that function for nearly all MCA shows at this time.
Norman Lloyd gave an interview in which he stated that Kahn would put together a library of musical cues signaling various moods, which would then be "tracked" onto the episodes as needed. Most of these cues were exclusive to the Hitchcock show; occasionally, something else more generic from the MCA library would go in, but not often.
Dave Kahn was at MCA for most of the '50s, where he provided the tracking for just about all of their TV properties; he composed much (if not all) of it, including the themes for Mike Hammer and Leave It To Beaver (honest).

Hey, you brought it up ...

Jack Seabrook said...

Walker, from what I have heard, I think you have her beat in the addiction department!

Mike: Thanks for that great bit of information! What are your sources?

Mike Doran said...

I get my stuff from many books I have at home.
For this one, my source is a book called TV's Greatest Hits by Jon Burlingame.
I only steal from the best.

Jack Seabrook said...

Which Normal Lloyd interview do you refer to?

Harvey Chartrand said...

"On the Nose" – great write-up, Mr. Seabrook. Where do you find those ancient Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine covers? Tarnished beauty Jan Sterling did a good job as the distressed gambling addict, especially in her scenes with Carl Betz and David Opatoshu. At least teleplay writer Irving Elman didn't knock the viewer over the head with the anti-gambling message, as Rod Serling did in the 1960 TWILIGHT ZONE episode "The Fever" with Everett Sloane. Jan Sterling's husband Paul Douglas later starred in a 1959 episode of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS: "Touché", filmed shortly before Douglas' untimely death. I look forward to your next review of a Hitchcock episode based on a story by the prolific Henry Slesar – THE RIGHT KIND OF HOUSE, with character king Robert Emhardt at his unctuous best. Keep up the good work. At this pace, you should have all the Hitchcock episodes reviewed by 2028!

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Harvey! I get most of the covers from the Galactic Central website. If you haven't seen it, it's worth a look. Phil Sephenson-Payne has posted most of the covers from old pulps, digests, etc.

Todd Mason said...

From the beginning, I pick up something useful...I remember the "Leslie" byline w/o ever knowing that was Slesar...will read the rest more carefully when time allows...

Mike Doran said...

Oh Nertz!

Do I have to provide bibliographies with these?

Over the years I've read or watched any number of interviews with Norman Lloyd.
Having to try and nail down which one he said what in ...
... I'm a civilian fan, not a scholar, for God's sake!

He said it, OK?
Maybe he said it in the TV Academy interview.
That's what I saw most recently, and it's where he spoke at length about Henry Slesar's contributions to Hitchcock.
Or maybe it was in one of the books that were written about the show.
Or maybe it was Tom Weaver's interview.
Or an old TV Guide piece.
Or whatever.
Give a geek a break! :-)

Jack Seabrook said...

Mike, from now on all comments will require detailed footnotes. ;-)