Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Hitchcock Project: Henry Slesar Part Nine-"Not the Running Type" [5.19]

by Jack Seabrook

Norman Lloyd was quoted as saying that "Not the Running Type" was "one of the most popular shows we ever did." What was it about this, the first Slesar story to be adapted for season five of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, that made it a favorite of viewers in 1960?

The source story, also called "Not the Running Type," was first published in the January 1959 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.  It begins as Police Captain Fisher tells Lieutenant Hogan the story of Milt Potter, who embezzled money from Metro Investment twelve years before and was released from prison two days ago. When he was jailed, he was 34 years old, single, "short and kind of owlish-looking." He stole about $200,000 from his employer and disappeared, then suddenly turned himself in and confessed. He said he did not want to live a life on the run, pled guilty, and was sent to prison, never telling the police where he put the money stolen loot.

Captain Fisher visits Potter at a boarding house and tells him he cannot keep the money. Potter agrees with him and turns the money in. Later, he buys tickets on a round-the-world cruise, having invested the money and kept the $84,000 in interest that it had earned while he was in jail.

The story was adapted for television by Jerry Sohl and the episode was directed by Arthur Hiller. Once again, a very short story is expanded to half-hour length by using tried and true techniques. The show opens with stock footage of modern police work, with voice over narration explaining scientific methods. This is filler that sets up what is essentially a half-hour of light comedy satirizing a police procedural. A large part of the show is an extended flashback that follows Fisher's investigation twelve years before and Potter's unexpected confession.

Potter is shown working at his desk before he suddenly disappears from the scene by means of trick photography. Newton, who appears to be a middle manager, meekly reports to Halverson, the blustering bank president, that Potter's books don't add up and that he has embezzled a large sum of money. The background music reinforces the sense that we are watching a comedy. Fisher investigates and questions Newton and Halverson; Newton has a voice like Wally Cox and is contrasted with Halverson, who speaks loudly and with confidence even when contradicting his own statements.

O.Z. Whitehead as Newton
Potter turns himself in and is questioned by Fisher and Ellison, whose role is expanded in the show. One of the episode's best scenes is a direct spoof of the typical scene where the cops try to force a confession out of a suspect. A neon sign blinks outside the window and crumpled paper cups are strewn on the detective's desk as the men yell at Potter and threaten him with jail time, getting close to his face and trying to sweat the location of the money out of him. Their efforts are a complete failure, however, since Potter is unfailingly polite, stubborn and unflappable.

Another stock shot with voice over narration bridges the gap as the scene shifts back to the present. Fisher visits Potter at a shabby boarding house room and Paul Hartman, as Potter, is especially convincing here as he returns the money, much to the surprise of Fisher. The final scene is memorable--Potter relaxes in a deck chair on an ocean liner as two leggy women play shuffleboard in front of him. He drinks champagne with another man and explains that he is traveling around the world, having retired on the interest he made from investments--$154,862.25 in all. When asked how he accumulated enough money to invest, he wryly replies that he borrowed it!

Wendell Holmes as John B. Halverson
Why did this episode prove so popular? The script by Sohl is straightforward, keeping a light touch without trying too hard for humor and failing, like "The Right Price." Director Arthur Hiller, who also directed "The Right Price," does nothing special with the camerawork or setups but does manage to keep a steady hand on the action and the story is told clearly and cleanly. The acting is very good, with Paul Hartman quite believable as the unexpectedly clever embezzler. Robert Bray is straight as an arrow as Fisher and Bert Freed is tough as nails as Captain Ellison, giving an air of authenticity to the interrogation scenes, light as they are.

Robert Bray
Yet these elements are not substantially different than those found in most any mid-level episode of the series. I suspect that the twist ending, which seems very familiar when seen today, must have seemed fresh at the time. Perhaps viewers in 1960 had not considered the possibility that one could steal a sum of money and later give it back, keeping the interest. It is the sort of idea that resonates with the average viewer, who might imagine himself doing the same.

Jerry Sohl (1913-2002), who wrote the teleplay, was a successful author of science fiction novels who is remembered best for his TV scripts for series such as The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Star Trek. Several of his scripts were credited to Charles Beaumont, who was ailing at the time; Sohl ghost-wrote them to assist his sick friend. Matthew Bradley's overview of Sohl's career may be read here.

Paul Hartman
Arthur Hiller (1923- ), the episode's director, began making movies and TV shows in the mid-1950s, and directed seventeen episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including the disappointing Slesar adaptation, "The Right Price."

Starring as Milt Potter is Paul Hartman (1904-1973), who began his career as a dancer in vaudeville and moved to Broadway before starting in the movies in 1935 and branching out to TV in 1948. He was on the Hitchcock series three times, including playing the unfortunate Mr. Adams in John Collier's adaptation of H.G. Wells's "The Magic Shop."

Robert Bray (1917-1983) plays Captain Fisher, who refuses to forget about Potter even during the latter's 12 years in jail. He began his movie career in 1946 and his TV career in 1952; his most familiar role was as the bus driver in Bus Stop (1956). He appeared five times on the Hitchcock series and later found fame as one of the stars of the Lassie TV series from 1964-1968.

Bert Freed
Playing Captain Ellison in the extended flashback sequence is Bert Freed (1919-1994), whose grey, brush-cut hair and scowling facial expressions make him perfect for the role of detective. He was on Alfred Hitchcock Presents twice and can be seen in episodes of The Outer Limits and Kolchak, The Night Stalker. He also appeared in Otto Preminger's noir classic, Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950).

Finally, Wendell Holmes (1914-1962) plays bank president Halverson and O.Z. Whitehead (1911-1998) plays Newton; Whitehead was a member of John Ford's stock company and appeared in such films as The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).

If you want to see "Not the Running Type" to figure out why Norman Lloyd said it was so popular, either purchase the DVD here or watch it online for free here.


Sources:


"Galactic Central." Galactic Central. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 August 2013.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 4 August 2013.
"Not the Running Type." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 7 February 1960. Television.
Slesar, Henry. "Not the Running Type." Clean Crimes and Neat Murders: Alfred Hitchcock's Hand Picked Selection of Stories by Henry Slesar. New York: Avon, 1960. 9-14. Print.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 4 August 2013.

2 comments:

Harvey Chartrand said...

Excellent critique of another so-so episode of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. Wendell Holmes (not "Holes") was another familiar character actor from my childhood. He specialized in pompous, easily manipulated authority figures, as I recall. I remember Holmes from THE ABSENT-MINDED PROFESSOR. Saw him recently in episodes of PETER GUNN and MR. LUCKY. Holmes looked older than his years and died tragically young (only 47). Cause of death is not mentioned on Internet Movie Database, only that he died in Paris.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Harvey! Holmes looked so familiar to me but when I looked at his credits I didn't see much that I recalled. I guess he's just one of those faces we remember.