Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Hitchcock Project-Henry Slesar Part Twenty-Seven: "Keep Me Company" [7.5]

by Jack Seabrook

By the fall of 1961, Henry Slesar had seen over two dozen of his short stories adapted for television as episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Certain themes were repeated, such as love and betrayal among parents and children, and stories were often set in and around New York City. The twist endings that were such a part of the TV series were always a key ingredient in his short stories, which is probably one reason that he became such a prolific contributor to the show. It was inevitable that, after this many episodes, a surprise turn of events would come as no surprise to regular viewers.

Anne Francis as Julia
"Keep Me Company" was one of the four stories among those collected in A Crime for Mothers and Others that had not been published previously in a periodical. In discussing the three other episodes based on these tales, I questioned whether Slesar wrote the teleplay or the story first. However, Slesar seems to have settled the matter: "There were times when I wouldn't wait for a magazine publication, but sent the story directly to Hitchcock if I thought they would like it. On several occasions, they did."

The title card on this episode states that Slesar's teleplay was based on his story, so it is safe to assume that he wrote the story first and that it was not published in print form until his paperback collection came out the following year.

Edmund Hashim as Marco
In the story, Julia Reddy is a 30-year-old woman recently married to Marco. She moved from Cincinnati to New York and is lonely, knowing no one but her husband, who has taken to staying out late at night, engaged in a business enterprise with his two brothers.

One night, as the clock ticks past midnight and she sits in her apartment, angry and bored, Julia hears a noise on the fire escape outside the bedroom window. Thinking that even the company of a prowler would be preferable to solitude, she calls out an invitation but gets no reply. She telephones the police and speaks to Detective Parks, who tells her that it's a busy night and he can't spare a man to investigate her complaint.

Jack Ging as Detective Parks
At 1:30 AM she calls again, insisting that she heard someone and convincing the detective to pay her a visit. When he arrives, she sees that he is "depressingly plain."

Parks is disappointed when she mentions that she has a husband. They sit and have coffee together while Julia waits for Marco to come home, hoping he will find her with the detective and be jealous. At 2:15 AM Marco finally returns. He and Parks study each other and Marco turns to run, but the policeman catches him. Parks tells Julia that Marco's picture is "all over the department these days. We've been looking for him and his two pals for the last five weeks." Julia realizes with anguish that her lonely nights have just begun.

The twist ending is very similar to that of Slesar's story, "The Man With Two Faces," where a mother unwittingly leads the police to arrest her daughter and son-in-law in the apartment they share. That story had been published in the August 1956 issue of Manhunt and the TV adaptation was shown on December 13, 1960, less than a year before "Keep Me Company" aired on Tuesday, November 7, 1961, on NBC.

To adapt his brief, six-page story for a half-hour television show. Slesar had to make numerous changes and additions. The first scene is entirely new, as Marco and his brothers enjoy the dinner that Julia serves them. She is harried and frustrated, especially when he tells her that he and his brothers are going out after dinner. Marco says that he will be home by 11. In this and the next scene, Slesar dramatizes what was only mentioned as background in the story.

On reflection, she's bored!
Another added scene follows, set the next morning, where Julia prepares breakfast and is frosty with Marco, who did not get home until after 2 AM. Though he says that he has to go out again tonight, he promises to be home by 8:30 PM. The show then picks up where the story's action begins, with Julia alone at home in a negligee, killing time as it gets later and later. Much of the episode is a solo performance by Anne Francis as Julia, and the mood is heightened by background music that is either jaunty, with strings and woodwinds falling into an almost clock-like rhythm, or suspenseful, when Julia thinks she hears a prowler on the fire escape. Director Alan Crosland, Jr., uses two interesting camera setups several times in the course of the show to keep things interesting. The first is a shot of Julia reflected in a large mirror, as she sits on the couch playing solitaire. The second is a shot looking through some ironwork out on the fire escape and into the window of Julia's bedroom. This is the only time the camera leaves the apartment, and it always remains focused on what is going on inside. A almost noir-like feeling takes over in the bedroom at night, where a neon light outside blinks on and off, illuminating Julia's lonely, poor state.

Neon lights blink on and off
Unlike the story, Julia's first call to the police results in the arrival of two uniformed officers, who investigate the fire escape, find nothing of concern, and depart, refusing her desperate offer of coffee. After they leave, Julia complains: "I wish I did have a prowler." As the night drags on, the viewer begins to wonder if Julia will get her wish and be visited by a prowler. Instead, she calls the police again and Detective Parks arrives, finds nothing, and then discovers that Julia does not want him to leave. There is a subtle sexual tension in their scenes together, as Parks sneaks looks at Julia's negligee and wonders what the beautiful, lonely woman really wants from him. The viewer begins to question her motives as well: she first offers him wine, then puts a record on the turntable and insists that he dance with her. He comments, "This isn't exactly in the line of duty, now don't you think?" She replies, "Well, a detective has to relax now and then, doesn't he?"

Looking in from the fire escape
Director Crosland and actors Anne Francis and Jack Ging (as Parks) handle this topic carefully, aware of the censors in 1961. Julia's true intention suddenly becomes clear when there is a knock at the door and her face lights up with delight at the thought that Marco will walk in and find her with another man. Detective Parks reacts with understandable surprise, saying "I didn't know you had a husband!"

The final capture of Marco is made more dramatic when Parks pulls a gun and handcuffs Julia's husband, telling the lonely housewife that Marco is really Harry Milan, wanted for warehouse robbery. Parks takes Marco away and Julia stares at the closed door as the shot fades out. While this conclusion is similar to that of "The Man With Two Faces," one key difference is apparent: the mother in the earlier show grieves for the loss of her daughter, exposed as a criminal, but the wife in the current show grieves mostly for herself and her lonely future.

Another lonely night
"Keep Me Company" is another example of the creative team of cast and crew working together to bring life to a story that is much less entertaining on the printed page. This is one of nineteen episodes Alan Crosland, Jr. (1918-2001), would direct; his last was the season seven premiere, "The Hatbox."

Anne Francis (1930-2011) was born Ann Marvak in upstate New York. She began modeling at age five and was on Broadway by age eleven. Her first movie came out in 1947 and she was on the scene at the dawn of television in 1949. She worked both in movies and TV until 1969; after that, most of her roles were on episodic TV. She is best known for Forbidden Planet (1956), as the star of the Honey West series (1965-1966), and for a couple of roles on The Twilight Zone. She appeared on the Hitchcock show five times.

This was the only Hitchcock appearance for Jack Ging (1931- ), who is featured as Detective Parks. He worked mostly on TV from the late '50s to the early '90s. Julia's husband Marco was played by Edmund Hashim (1932-1974), who was on TV from 1955 to 1970 and who was seen on the Hitchcock show three times; he played El Magnifico in "Maria."

"Keep Me Company" is not yet available on DVD and I was unable to find an online source for viewing.

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb., n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2014.
"Keep Me Company." A Crime for Mothers and Others. New York: Avon, 1962. 74-79. Print.
"Keep Me Company." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. NBC. 7 Nov. 1961. Television.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2014.


john kenrick said...

Once again: thanks for the write-up, Jack. I just watched this one again for the second time and enjoyed it more than the first. The pace, acting and writing were just right. Anne Francis was maybe too young and good looking to be wholly credible as a bored housewife type,--and with no children--and a husband still "hustling" for a living. Ten years later Sally Struthers would have been perfect in the part, but Anne was a sympathetic presence, and that helped.

As her husband, Edward Hashim was outstanding in the short time he had on screen. This is the second night in a row I've seen him in a Hitchcock show, and in totally different roles. He was a very good, somewhat exotic looking actor, and I've come to like him a lot, having seen him in a number of vintage TV shows lately, many from Hitchcock. With better luck and, needless to say, health, I can see a potential for a career as a character star. He had a take charge-big guy charisma along the lines of Telly Savalas. I was sorry to read that he died fairly young.

Jack Ging, as the police detective who becomes a late in the episode hero, was capable, though it was a thankless role in many ways. I've always liked him as an actor, and he seems at his best somewhat under stress, as a young under-achiever who needs a break. His part could likely have been played as well by any number of other actors (William Reynolds, Richard Long).

Overall, well as I thought of Keep Me Company I had all but forgotten the Big Reveal of the last act at the end! I remembered that something was up with the husband, not quite the extent of it. If I were a professional critic I'd rate this a first rate journeyman episode, and a good study of its two main characters in a marriage far worse than it looks in the early scenes.

Jack Seabrook said...

I really wish Universal would put out DVDs of the 7th season. There are some very good shows here that are not as well known as they should be. Thanks for reading and for your detailed comment. I have been impressed with Alan Crosland, Jr.'s AHP work and I did not expect to be.

john kenrick said...

Crosland did some very fine TV work. I've become familiar with his name. He worked on Hitchcock's hour long show as well. You probably know that the reason he used the "junior" was because his father was a prominent silent movie director.