Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Hitchcock Project: Henry Slesar Part Eight-"A Night With the Boys" [4.30]

by Jack Seabrook

Henry Slesar's contributions to season four of Alfred Hitchcock Presents came to an end in May 1959 with "A Night With the Boys," based on his short story "A Fist Full of Money." Slesar's short stories had been adapted four times in season three and four times in season four; he had not yet begun writing teleplays, something that would change with season five.

"A Fist Full of Money" by Henry Slesar and Jay Folb first appeared in the February 1959 issue of Playboy. The story concerns Irv Randall, a young married man who plays poker with his colleagues from work and loses his entire week's pay to Smalley, whose "easy smile" begins to irritate him. Walking home and wondering how to break the news to his wife, Frances, he tears his clothes and smears dirt on his face to make it look like he was mugged.

He arrives home and his wife is concerned about his welfare, but he is surprised when she insists that they call the police. He makes the call and is again surprised when the police ask him to come to the station house right away. At Precinct 23, Irv is shown a young man, a suspect in the mugging. Irv reports that he lost ninety-six dollars and they give him ninety-two dollars that the boy was carrying. Irv's unspoken guilt about framing an innocent man is assuaged when the detective asks him not to press charges.

Next morning, at the office, Irv worries about having taken the young man's money. He is about to call the police and come clean when he discovers that Smalley had been mugged the night before and had not bothered to report the crime!

The story was adapted for television by Bernard C. Schoenfeld and broadcast under the title "A Night With the Boys" late in season four of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, on Sunday, May 10, 1959. As was often the case with Slesar's stories, the print source was quite camera-ready, and the televised version is not significantly different.

John Smith
The opening scene features the poker game, and it is expanded to make Smalley more unlikeable. Director John Brahm uses minimal camera movement, usually in order to reframe the scene when characters move. At the end of the game, as Irv prepares to leave, Smalley asks him to come to his home the next morning, setting up the show's final scene, which is set at Smalley's house rather than at the office.

The second scene is what makes this episode memorable: Irv walks home along a wonderfully shadowy Universal Studios city street, accompanied by ominous music on the soundtrack. He stops in front of a pawn shop and looks at his own ring and watch; a beat cop accosts him and warns him about the danger posed by hoodlums in the neighborhood. This provides the spark of the idea to fake his own mugging, and he hides in a vacant lot to tear his clothes, spread dirt on himself, and even cut his cheek with a sharp object he picks up.

Joyce Meadows
Brahm makes great use of high contrast lighting in this scene to heighten the noir effect. At home with Frances, Irv conveys his interior guilt over his lie, and the couple's need for money is heightened by the addition of the detail that Frances is pregnant. This section of the story is expanded as well; there is a call to the police, some discussion between Irv and Frances, and a return call from the police. At the police station, Whitey--the young man who is blamed for the theft--gets some lines, and he and Irv exchange meaningful looks, both understanding that they are caught up in a web of lies from which they cannot escape.

While Irv's self-doubt and lack of confidence continue after he returns home, he does not go so far as to nearly telephone the police to confess in the morning. Instead, he goes to Smalley's house and discovers the man beaten from an unreported mugging the night before.

Sam Buffington
"A Night With the Boys" is a competent adaptation of "A Fist Full of Money." The changes to the script are not significant, but the show rises above other, recent adaptations of Slesar's work due to strong performances by the leads and due to the shadowy scenes devised by John Brahm.

This was the first episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to be directed by Brahm; he also directed five episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, twelve episodes of The Twilight Zone, twelve episodes of Thriller, and two episodes of The Outer Limits. Brahm (1893-1982) is arguably the director responsible for the most atmospheric episodes of classic, black and white TV shows; other episodes in this series directed by him and previously discussed include "Final Performance," "Madame Mystery," and "The Cuckoo Clock," all three with either stories or teleplays by Robert Bloch.

Joe De Santis
Slesar wrote "A Fist Full of Money" with Jay Folb (1922-1997). Folb also co-wrote "Pen Pal" with Slesar (an episode adapted for season five) and is credited with having authored a handful of short stories in 1958-1959. He then resurfaced in the 1970s and 1980s as a scriptwriter for various episodic TV series.

Bernard C. Schoenfeld (1907-1980) wrote the script for "A Night With the Boys"; he also adapted Slesar's "The Right Price" for television.

Portraying Irv Randall is classically handsome John Smith (1931-1995), who was born Robert Errol Van Orden but changed his name to John Smith at the suggestion of his agent, joking that he would be the only one in the business with the otherwise common name. He was in movies from 1944 to 1972 and on TV from 1953 to 1978. He was a regular on Cimarron City (1958-1959) and Laramie (1959-1963). This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock series.

Buzz Martin
Joyce Meadows (no relation to Audrey or Jayne) was born in 1933 as Joyce Burger and is still performing today. She started in movies and on TV in 1956 and appeared four times on the Hitchcock series. She maintains her own website.

As the unlikeable Smalley, Sam Buffington (1931-1960) is reminiscent of the character actor Roger C. Carmel. Buffington had a brief career in movies and on TV starting in 1957. He appeared in Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957) and appeared on Alfred Hitchcock Presents three times before taking his own life at age 28.

Finally, Joe DeSantis (1909-1989) is a recognizable character actor who plays the police lieutenant, and Buzz Martin (1939- ) plays Whitey, the young hood who may or may not be a mugger.

"A Night With the Boys" is available on DVD and may be viewed online here.

Sources:


"Galactic Central." Galactic Central. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 July 2013.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 22 July 2013.
"A Night With the Boys." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 10 May 1959. Television.
Slesar, Henry. "A Fist Full of Money." Clean Crimes and Neat Murders: Alfred Hitchcock's Hand Picked Selection of Stories by Henry Slesar. New York: Avon, 1960. 15-21. Print.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 22 July 2013.

3 comments:

Mike Doran said...

Jay Folb was one of Henry Slesar's partners in the advertising business. The started writing fiction at roughly the same time, separately and together, collaborating as the mood struck them.
During Slesar's long engagement as head writer of The Edge Of Night, Jay Folb served as associate writer for several years, off and on.
Others who held this post included former actor Jim Lipton (yes, that James Lipton), Grace Garment (wife of Nixon adviser Leonard Garment), and Lois Kibbee (who also acted on EON for years as matriarch Geraldine Whitney Saxon).

Also:
Sam Buffington's suicide occurred during the production cycle of Audie Murphy's only TV series, Whispering Smith; Buffington played Murphy's boss.
Because of production problems and network/studio politics, Smith didn't get on the air until summer of 1961, long after Buffington's death. By this time, Audie Murphy had long since soured on performing generally; he did very little acting afterwards.

Harvey Chartrand said...

Recently saw Sam Buffington in episodes of PETER GUNN and MR. LUCKY and thought he was a damn fine actor. I wondered if Buffington might have changed his name to Sorrell Booke, because he looked like a young Boss Hogg. Initials SB are the same too. So I checked Buffington's listing on IMDb and made the shocking discovery that he had taken his own life in 1960. Such a tragic waste!

Jack Seabrook said...

Mike: I wondered about that association when I saw that Folb worked at Young and Rubicam. Too bad about Buffington.

Harvey: I agree, and I think he also resembled Roger C. Carmel!