Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Hitchcock Project-Henry Slesar Part Sixteen: "The Man With Two Faces" [6.11]

by Jack Seabrook

Henry Slesar adapted his own story, "The Man With Two Faces," for the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode first broadcast on December 13, 1960. The story begins as Mrs. Wagner prepares herself for a visit to the police station, having been the victim of a mugger who got away with her purse and nine dollars. Her daughter Mabel and her daughter's husband Leo share her apartment after having moved back to New York City from California the year before. Mrs. Wagner meets Lieutenant Meade at the station and looks through volumes of mug shots; she is noticeably shaken by a photograph of Will Draves, alias Willie the Weeper, born in San Francisco.

Mrs. Wagner tells Lt. Meade that she did not see the mugger's face in any of the books. Back at home, she hesitantly questions Mabel about Leo's background, telling her daughter that "'You're everything in my life now.'" Mabel telephones Lt. Meade and tells him that she is coming back to the station to talk to him again. At the station, she tells Meade about Will Draves, claiming that he resembles an old boyfriend of her daughter's and showing Meade a snapshot to compare to the mug shot. Meade says that he doubts it is the same man and coaxes Mrs. Wagner into admitting that the man in the snapshot is Leo.

Mabel returns to her apartment, happy and relieved. As Mabel and Leo get ready to go out for the evening, Lt. Meade suddenly arrives at the door to arrest Leo, who is really Will Draves. He also arrests Mabel, a/k/a Mrs. Draves, to the horror of Mrs. Wagner. Somewhere, on a deserted street, a mugger discards a purse, having netted only nine dollars.

"The Man With Two Faces" is the earliest published story by Slesar to have been adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents to date. It first appeared in Manhunt in August 1956. The story shares themes with many other Slesar stories that have been adapted for television, such as a mother's love for her daughter, hidden identity, and betrayal. The New York setting is familiar, as is the plot device of a person having to interact with police for the first time.

Slesar did not make many changes when he adapted the story for television. An opening scene is added in which Mrs. Wagner and a friend leave a movie theater and she walks home alone through a neighborhood that her friend suggests is unsafe. The questionable nature of the neighborhood is confirmed when we see a man and a woman embracing against an alley wall together before they disappear down the alley. As Mrs. Wagner walks, the silence of the street is broken only by her footsteps, then there is a musical sting as the mugger attacks.

Spring Byington
In the apartment scenes, Leo calls Mrs. Wagner "Mom" or "Alice," giving her a first name that the print story lacks. Spring Byington, who plays Mrs. Wagner, appears too old for the role as the mother of Mabel, who is played by Bethel Leslie. Byington was 74 years old at the time and Leslie was 31, an age difference of 43 years. The biggest problem with this episode is Bethel Leslie's performance, since her reactions often do not seem to fit the situation. She plays Mabel as a tough woman and her negative attitude toward her mother lessens the surprise at the end when it is revealed that she is part of a husband and wife criminal team.

Steve Dunne
Steve Dunne, as Lt. Meade, is very good. Dunne has a face that was made for black and white TV. He is a natural performer, having been seen before in the episode "Special Delivery." The scenes at the police station between him and Spring Byington are the highlights of the episode. The scene in the record room, when Mrs. Wagner spends a long time looking through mug shot books, is especially well handled, with ominous music and a palpable sense of heat and fatigue.

The direction by Stuart Rosenberg is competent, with occasional use of a mobile camera and a few interesting shots, such as one in a mirror near the beginning and a low angle shot in the records room. The last scene in the story, where the thief discards the purse, is eliminated in the TV show. It seems that Slesar chose to focus his teleplay more on the relationship between mother and daughter and to downplay the irony that is present in the story, in which a minor theft sets in motion a chain of events that destroys Mrs. Wagner's makeshift family.

Bethel Leslie
Mothers and daughters, mothers and sons--these themes appear over and over in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes adapted from stories by Henry Slesar; recall the false mother in "Heart of Gold" and the mother in "Pen Pal" who secretly takes her daughter's identity when writing to a convict.

Spring Byington (1886-1971) was in movies from 1930 to 1954 and on TV from 1951 to 1968. Films in which she appeared include Werewolf of London (1935) and Meet John Doe (1941); she also starred in the TV series December Bride from 1954 to 1959 and in Laramie from 1961 to 1963. She was on Batman twice but this was her only appearance on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Harp McGuire
Steve Dunne (1918-1977), born Francis Dunne, was in movies from 1945 to 1973 and on TV from 1951 to 1973. He starred on radio in The Adventures of Sam Spade from 1950 to 1951 and on TV in The Brothers Brannagan from 1960 to 1961. He was on the Hitchcock series five times and on Batman twice.

Bethel Leslie (1929-1999) was on TV from 1949 to 1998 and made the occasional movie. She also appeared often on Broadway and even wrote for TV. This was her only appearance on the Hitchcock show.  Finally, Harp McGuire (1921-1966) played Leo; he was also in "Madame Mystery."

Stuart Rosenberg (1927-2007) directed "The Man With Two Faces." He spent nine years (from 1957 to 1966) working in TV and then made his name in movies, directing until 1991. He directed five episodes of the Hitchcock series, three episodes of The Twilight Zone, and the Paul Newman classic, Cool Hand Luke in 1967.

"The Man With Two Faces" is not yet available on DVD but may be viewed online for free here. It originally ran on NBC at 8:30 on Tuesday, December 13, 1960, and was followed at 9 by the adaptation of Fredric Brown's novel, Knock Three-One-Two on Thriller.

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb., n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2013.
"The Man With Two Faces." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. NBC. 13 Dec. 1960. Television.
Slesar, Henry. "The Man With Two Faces" Clean Crimes and Neat Murders: Alfred Hitchcock's Hand Picked Selection of Stories by Henry Slesar. New York: Avon, 1960. 114-125. Print.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2013.


Harvey Chartrand said...

Spring Byington always looked old, even in WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935). Bethel Leslie often played stern types... authority figures.

Jack Seabrook said...

My wife watched this one with me and she thought Leslie ruined it.

Harvey Chartrand said...

THE MAN WITH TWO FACES wasn't Henry Slesar's finest half-hour. Harp McGuire was pretty good as Leo, the two-faced man.

john kenrick said...

Good one, Jack. I just watched the Man With Two Faces for the second time and it drew me in completely, and, lucky for me, I didn't even guess the ending till the second half. When they started with the mug shot books I began to remember, and even then it took me a while to guess about the husband. This is sort of "ideal viewing" for an old episode of a classic TV show, enabling the viewer the experience it as one did the first time around.

Spring Byington did strike me as way too grandmotherly in appearance and mannerisms to be Bethel Leslie's mother. Still, I liked her performance, and her amiable personality gave the episode an emotional-moral focus it might not otherwise have had. Steve Dunne was the best I've seen him, even as admittedly that's not saying much. I had totally forgotten about Bethel Leslie's being in league with her husband, as this was inconsistent with the handbag snatch set-up.

A good, fun, well above average, unambitious Hitchcock entry. Enjoyable, not quite fun but engaging. It was borderline "lightweight" but was saved and felt better than that due to the absence of comedy or the cutesy "dancing elves" music that was often used for shows like this to tip off the viewer that something really offbeat was going to happen. Hitchcock & Company really got it right with this one, not because the writing was so brilliant, even as it was more than serviceable, but in the way it was staged, which is to say directed, acted and photographed. I really like this one.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks for your detailed and thoughtful comment, John. When I see Steve Dunne, I always think of him as the father in "Special Delivery." Yum!