"One Grave Too Many" is a rarity for Alfred Hitchcock Presents--no one is killed and the protagonist is done in by his own sense of right and wrong. Based on Henry Slesar's story of the same name, which was first published as the lead story in the November 1958 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, this episode was adapted for television by Eli Jerome and directed by Arthur Hiller. I wonder if the story title was changed by the magazine's editor, because it has no relation to what happens in the story.
Slesar's story concerns Joe Helmer, who thinks himself too good for most jobs and spends his afternoons at the movies. His wife, Irene, stews alone at home as the bills pile up. One morning, Joe sees a man collapse on the sidewalk in front of him when no one else is around. Finding the man dead, Joe takes his wallet, which is filled with cash. Joe runs home and tells Irene that he met an old Army buddy who paid him back for a long-forgotten loan.
Looking through the wallet, Joe discovers a card that reads "I AM NOT DEAD" and that asks anyone who finds the man in a cataleptic state to notify his doctor at once. Horrified at the thought of the man being buried alive, Joe returns to the spot where he had taken the wallet, only to learn from a policeman that the man had already been taken away. That night, Joe can't sleep and thinks of himself as a murderer. Joe sneaks out and goes to a drug store, where he telephones the police. He warns them not to bury the man, but they insist that he come to the station. He tries to call the doctor listed on the card but gets his answering service.
Joe Helmer is a layabout, a thief and a liar, but he has a moral line that he will not cross and confesses to theft in order to save a man from being buried alive. One measure of a good story is that it is easy to imagine that the characters existed before the events of the story and that they will continue to exist after the story's end. In "One Grave Too Many," Henry Slesar portrays a married couple with financial problems that are easy to understand. What will become of them after Joe goes upstairs with Lt. Bates? I suspect that Joe will get a slap on the wrist, since he can easily return the money, which had been stolen in the first place. One hopes that Joe's decision to admit his crime to try to prevent a greater wrong from being done will work in his favor with the police.
Jerome's script sticks closely to Slesar's story. A scene is added early on where Joe goes to the Friendship Loan Company to borrow $100 but cannot get a loan. The loan officer, Mr. Pickett, is played by Howard McNear, who is instantly recognizable as Floyd the Barber from The Andy Griffith Show. The scenes that follow are marked by evocative lighting. Joe sees the man collapse on a dark street at night, and when he goes home, his apartment is filled with shadows cast by candlelight, since the electricity has been shut off by the power company for non-payment of bills.
Biff Elliot, playing Lt. Bates, has little screen time but makes the most of it, playing the detective as a sweating, exasperated professional who is frustrated by Joe's story but does his job anyway. A good example of his manner of speaking comes when he telephones the morgue and tells the attendant, referring to the corpse, to "Showcase him-we'll be right down."
Credited first, Neile Adams (1932- ) was married to Steve McQueen from 1956 to 1972 and began a career in movies and TV in the 1950s. She was in three episodes of the Hitchcock series, most notably "Man From the South," in which she appeared with her husband. She maintains a website today.
Biff Elliot (1923-2012) was born Leon Shalek and was in TV and movies from the early 1950s until his death. He appeared five times on the
Hitchcock series and starred as Mike Hammer in the 1953 film, I, the Jury. A website devoted to Biff Elliot is here, though it has not been updated recently.
Howard McNear (1905-1969) played on the radio series Gunsmoke from 1952 to 1961, then was seen on 80 episodes of The Andy Griffith Show from 1961 to 1967. He was on Alfred Hitchcock Presents twice and also appeared on The Twilight Zone and Thriller.
Finally, Tyler McVey (1912-2003), who plays the cop at the front desk, made eight appearances on the Hitchcock series, always in small roles. He can be seen in "Human Interest Story" and "The Gloating Place."
"One Grave Too Many" is on the season five DVD set of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and it can also be viewed online for free here. It was rerun in 1981 as part of PBS's 26-part series, The Best of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
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