At the beginning of Henry Slesar's short story, "You Can't Blame Me," Harry Beggs thinks that:
"First twenty-year old I see, I'll go up to him and say, kid, I'm one guy you never laid eyes on before. I'm one guy you can't blame for anything, because I've been sitting out your lifetime."
By the end of the story, Beggs will discover just how wrong he is. Released from prison after twenty years, the fifty-year old man takes a bus to Purdy's Landing and a taxi to Edge Road. He walks to a secluded, wooded area and digs up a suitcase that still contains the money he had stolen decades before. He makes his way to his old neighborhood, noting the things that have changed and those that have not among the tenements.
|Jeanette Nolan as Edith|
Beggs finds his old building and walks up three flights to his apartment, where his wife opens the door. Edith is surprised to see him and he is shy about reconnecting with his wife--the warden had commented that she "'wasn't much for visiting.'" Harry agrees to stay and Edith agrees to let him. He hugs her and she tells him that they have a daughter whom he has never seen. She calls Angela out of the bedroom, and the young woman who emerges turns out to be none other than the B-girl who had stolen his suitcase.
|Crahan Denton, Susan Silo, Kreg Martin|
"You Can't Blame Me" is a very effective short tale with a good twist ending. Harry is 50 years old and has white hair; much is made about how old he and Edith are. Angela wears "cheap, dead-white pearls" around her neck, and this is the detail that Slesar uses to tell us that she is the same girl who fleeced Harry in the bar. The setting is one of poverty and hopelessness: Edith wears a "soiled housecoat," sunset on the tenement roof is "like make-up on a trollop," Harry has "an old pair of eyes." This neighborhood is tough and unforgiving. In the bar, he hears "hard, feminine laughter," and the B-girl's "slim throat" is "severed by a low black neckline." Even the characters' names have meaning: Harry Beggs is a man who begs for understanding but receives little.
Slesar's story was first published in the May 1961 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. The author quickly adapted it for television and it was filmed as the last of eleven episodes he would contribute to season six. First broadcast on Tuesday, June 13, 1961, on NBC at 8:30 on the East Coast, it was followed at 9 by "The Grim Reaper" on Thriller.
Retitled "Coming Home" for television, the show follows the same basic story as its source but has significant changes. When Beggs meets with the warden prior to his release, we learn that he was a diligent worker during his time in prison and that he will be presented with a check for $1636 as he leaves, representing the money he saved over the last eight years. He tells the warden that he plans to give the money to someone who said he'd never have a nickel--"'to show them.'" That someone turns out to be his wife, Edith.
As Beggs walks out of prison he is accompanied by a younger man, who is met at the gates by a pretty young woman in a car. She runs up to the man and embraces him; in contrast, Harry walks alone to the bus stop. His first destination is the bank, where he cashes the check. The teller warns him that it's "'an awful lot of money to be carrying around,'" and subsequent events prove her right. Small moments show his discomfort at returning to life outside the prison walls: a rude bus driver barks at him, another pedestrian glares at him after an accidental bump on the sidewalk. Harry is uncomfortable returning to his former environment.
|Crahan Denton as Harry|
A major change to the teleplay occurs when Harry goes home to Edith. When he comes in, she makes an effort to straighten her hair and her room, suggesting that she usually doesn't care how either appear. She tells him that when he shot a cop in a holdup she decided that she never wanted to see him again. This remark makes the changes from story to teleplay a bit confusing, since Slesar at first makes Harry seem more upstanding by having him save his prison earnings rather than dig up a hidden suitcase of loot. Edith's comment gives her a motive for not visiting Harry but makes one wonder what happened to the money he stole.
|Susan Silo as Angela|
The show ends as did the story, though this time Angela walks in the front door rather than out of the bedroom. As Harry's eyes meet Angela's and their expressions register shock and horror, Edith, not knowing what has happened, introduces them with delight in her voice: "'Your father's come home!'"
"Coming Home" is directed by Alf Kjellin (1920-1988), who allows the story to tell itself and who gives the actors room to play out their parts. He began his movie career in Sweden and moved to the U.S. during World War Two. He was both an actor and a director; he appeared as an actor in Jack Finney's Assault on a Queen (1966) and also in an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. He also directed twelve episodes of the Hitchcock series, though this was his only half-hour.
|Robert Carson as the warden|
Playing Edith is Jeanette Nolan (1911-1998). Nolan often played characters who were much older than she was and it's refreshing to see her with long, brown hair, playing a character her own age. She was on the Hitchcock show five times and she also appeared in Slesar's "The Right Kind of House" and "The Morning After."
Susan Silo (1942- ) plays Angela, the B-girl who turns out to be Harry's daughter. Only 18 years old at the time of filming, she appears a few years older and is convincing as a sultry, seductive young woman. She started her career just a year before this but she had a long run of appearances on episodic TV, including one on Batman. More recently, she has been busy as a voiceover actress; her website contains many interesting biographical details and photographs.
Ms. Silo recently shared the following memories when asked if she recalled filming "Coming Home":
"I do remember the wonderful Swedish director Alf Kjellin . . . he was such a joy to work with! The subject matter was VERY daring for TV at that time and he handled the delicate balance of the bar girl/daughter role with great skill in directing me. I was told that the dress I wore was originally worn by Marilyn Monroe and cut down to to fit my smaller frame . . . that was fun to know! Also, Jeannette Nolan who played my mother was the wife of actor John McIntire whom I appeared with on "Wagon Train" . . . they were a lovely acting couple and treated me like a daughter!"
|Kreg Martin as Lucky|
Finally, Kreg Martin plays Lucky, the bartender. He appeared in seven Hitchcock episodes, including "Maria."
"Coming Home" was reprinted in A Crime for Mothers and Others under a third title, "Welcome Home," and is available on DVD here. It may be seen online for free here.
"Coming Home." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. NBC. 13 June 1961. Television.
Silo, Susan. Message to the author. 17 Mar. 2014. E-mail.