The producers of Alfred Hitchcock Presents reached back into Henry Slesar's catalogue for "Cop For a Day," which had been published in the January 1957 issue of Manhunt. More hardboiled than most of the Slesar stories that had been adapted for the series, this tale begins with Phil Pennick and Davy Wyatt holed up in a "one-room flat that had been their prison for two days." The duo had robbed and shot a bank messenger and got away with $18,000. Despite Davy's worries that he will be seen and arrested, Phil goes out for sandwiches. He buys a newspaper and learns that a woman who witnessed the shooting can identify the criminals. Back at the flat, Phil tells Davy that he has a plan to solve the problem created by Davy's "'jerky trigger finger.'"
Phil goes out again and visits his friend Marty Hirsch, who works in the garment district on Manhattan's Seventh Avenue. Borrowing a policeman's uniform, Phil puts it on in the bathroom at Angie's restaurant and then goes to the apartment house where the witness lives. He talks his way past the policemen guarding her residence, knocks on the door of Apartment 4-E, and tells the woman that he has a photo for her to identify. Once inside the apartment, Phil takes the woman into the bedroom and shoots her, then calmly walks out and takes a taxi back to the tenement where he and Davy are hiding out.
As he opens the door to the flat, Davy shoots him in the stomach and forehead, mistaking him for a real police officer.
"Cop For a Day" has a sudden twist ending that is presented so matter of factly that it falls flat. The most notable feature of Slesar's story is the underworld slang he uses. Women are "dames," the witness is "a honey blonde, with a figure out of 52nd Street," and Phil wonders if she is "cooling her high heels in a police station." Other than these entertaining turns of phrase, the story is not among Slesar's best. Fortunately, by 1961, when he adapted the story for television, Slesar's skill had grown and the teleplay is much stronger than its source. The episode premiered on NBC on Tuesday, October 31, 1961, a fitting day to present an episode that features a character putting on a costume!
|Glenn Cannon as Davy|
Henreid's creative shot selections and camera movement also continue from the first scene to the last. In the deli, as Phil reads the paper, the camera zooms in on the word "Dies" in the headline about the bank messenger's fate--this trick shot recalls a similar one used by Hitchcock in "Back for Christmas." After the death is known, the scenes in the apartment turn darker and more shadowy. Even a simple shot-reverse shot sequence is spiced up by using angles looking up or down, depending on the character's placement in the frame. When Phil enters the woman's apartment building, Henreid places the camera at the top of a staircase so we can watch from above as Phil comes through the door and climbs the stairs. There is similar camera placement when Phil and Marty go into Marty's stock room: the camera is placed at the far end of the room and we look down past a row of coats to see the two men. Henreid's mobile camera, creative shot selection and camera placement make the episode move quickly.
|Bernard Fein as Marty|
In addition to the new opening scene, Slesar's teleplay makes several changes to the story. When Phil first comes back from his trip to the deli, there is an impressive scene where Davy waits in the basement apartment, listening to the unknown man come down the stairs. We hear Phil's footsteps on the stairs and outside the door and it is as if we can see him coming closer. This scene foreshadows the conclusion, where Davy shoots Phil as he comes through the door. It has been established that Davy is tense and quick on the trigger, and being left alone in the apartment makes him jumpy and ready for disaster every time the door opens. Slesar's teleplay also simplifies Phil's costume change. In the story, he takes the costume to a restaurant and changes in the bathroom. In the TV show, he picks out the policeman's uniform, which is displayed on a mannequin in Marty's stockroom. He then has Marty help him put it on, adding badges on his shirt and hat as a finishing touch.
The show ends with a more extended scene than that in the story; Davy shoots Phil and then approaches the body, turning it over to reveal the face of his partner in crime. While Davy had muttered "You cop, you dirty cop" only moments before, when he sees what he has done he screams "No!" and the episode ends. This slight extension of the scene cures the suddenness with which the story ends and makes the conclusion more satisfying.
"Cop For a Day" is a fine example of how to take a run of the mill story and use a strong teleplay, good acting, creative direction and appropriate music to create a memorable half-hour of TV.
Paul Henreid (1908-1992) directed 29 episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "The Landlady." The last Slesar episode he directed prior to "Cop For a Day" was "The Last Escape," with Keenan Wynn.
|The camera at the top of the stairs|
|The camera at the far end of the stockroom|
The woman who is murdered by Phil was played by Carol Grace (1924-2003), who was married to Walter Matthau from 1959 to 2000. She had been married previously to playwright William Saroyan and there is speculation that she was the illegitimate daughter of British actor Leslie Howard. More information about her and her more famous husband may be found on the Matthau family website here.
|Matthau and Robert Reiner|
One of the policemen who haplessly guards the woman's apartment is played by an actor named Robert Reiner; he is not the Rob Reiner who co-starred on All in the Family.
"Cop For a Day" is not yet available on DVD and I have not been able to find a source to view it online.
"Cop For a Day." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. NBC. 31 Oct. 1961. Television.