Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Hitchcock Project-Henry Slesar Part Twenty-Eight: "The Right Kind of Medicine" [7.11]

by Jack Seabrook

"The Right Kind of Medicine" is an exciting episode that is based on Henry Slesar's oddly-titled short story, "Never Cool A Cop." The story, which was first published in the November 1958 issue of Off Beat Detective Stories, opens as Charlie disobeys advice from his late older brother Turk, who had cautioned him to "never kill a cop." While being chased by an officer of the law after a robbery, Charlie is shot in the leg and shoots the policeman in the face. He makes it to the office of Doc Sanchez, who fixes Charlie's leg and gives him a prescription for pain medication. Charlies takes a cab to an all-night drugstore, which has "ten thousand dusty bottles on the shelves." As he waits for the old druggist to fill the prescription, Charlie worries that the man will hear a radio report about the robbery. The old pharmacist seems "bewildered by the profusion of powders and pills available to him."

Charlie hurriedly pays the clerk and struggles painfully back to his rooming house. On the radio, he hears that the cop he shot is dead. He packs a bag with his $2000 in stolen loot and leaves "the seedy room"; on the staircase, he sees the drugstore clerk ascending toward him and assumes that the man identified him from the radio broadcast and is coming after him. Charlie shoots and kills the clerk, then runs down the stairs and out into the street, pocketing the medicine bottle.

Later, the police bring old man Fletcher, the pharmacist, to identify Vernon, the dead clerk. Fletcher blames himself for sending Vernon, admitting that he made a mistake and gave Charlie a bottle of "terrible poison. If he takes the capsule, he'll die." The cops exchange looks and act as if they haven't heard a word, telling Fletcher "Don't worry about it."

The story ends with a good, ironic twist, as the police close ranks and quietly agree among themselves not to pursue Charlie but rather to let him ingest the poison and die on his own. None of this is said, it is simply implied.

Robert Redford as Charlie
Henry Slesar adapted his own story for television three years later under the title, "The Right Kind of Medicine." The new title has more than one meaning, since the medicine is not right for Charlie but is right for the cops--it serves both as literal and symbolic punishment for Charlie's crimes.

This episode aired on NBC on Tuesday, December 19, 1961, and starred Robert Redford, who gives an outstanding performance as Charlie. Director Alan Crosland, Jr., takes Slesar's script and turns it into an exciting, suspenseful half-hour of television. As the show opens, a crowd gathers on the sidewalk around the dead body of a policeman, who has been shot through the heart. A witness to the shooting comes forth, played by Bernard Kates, a Jeff Goldblum lookalike. The police agree that they want to find the man who killed one of their brethren.

Gage Clarke as Doc Vogel
In the second scene, a tracking shot follows Charlie down the sidewalk and up some steps to the office of Dr. Vogel. Subtle clues quickly establish that this is a poor neighborhood--Dr. Vogel is finishing up treating a young Spanish boy and tells his mother to leave a dollar on the desk as payment. The doctor appears to be a kind man who will treat anyone, charging what they can afford. He also treats Charlie, knowing full well that he has been shot after having committed a robbery. Redford effectively conveys his pain in this scene, and Crosland's camera focuses in on his hand gripping the side of the bed as the doctor treats the gunshot wound in his leg. The interplay between Redford and Gage Clarke, as the doctor, is very good; both play on each other's weakness. Charlie insults the Doc and the Doc squeezes Charlie's wound, causing him to wince in pain. The Doc asks with excitement what Charlie did and gets even more excited when he sees Charlie's briefcase full of money. Charlie pays the Doc $40 and tells him that the cash "can buy an awful lot of wine."

Oh, for a zoom in on those paperbacks!
There is then a long scene at the drugstore. Vernon, the clerk, is chatty and friendly with his customers, although Charlie is brusque and standoffish, in pain, in a hurry, and bathed in sweat. Charlie passes the time while waiting for his prescription to be filled by looking at a spinner rack of beat-up paperbacks (I was wishing for a close-up of the covers!). The druggist and his clerk hear a radio news report but do not pay attention to a very accurate description of Charlie in a story about the robbery and the shooting of the policeman. Crosland uses tight camera setups to demonstrate Charlie's feeling of being trapped in the drugstore, especially when a policeman comes in to make a purchase. Finally, Charlie gets his bottle of pills and leaves, going home to his sad little apartment, which is yet another dark room lit intermittently by a neon sign blinking on and off.

Bernard Kates as the witness
A brief scene at the police station follows, as the witness identifies Charlie from a book of mug shots and the police dispatch a car to his rooming house. Back at Charlie's room, he delays taking the pill for his pain--"Not yet! Gotta stay alert!"--and calls the bus station from a payphone out in the hall. Crosland sets up another interesting shot here, as the camera remains inside Charlie's apartment and looks out into the hall, observing Charlie make the call. The show ends as does the story. Charlie shoots Vernon and runs out after grabbing the bottle of pills. This time, Vernon is not dead ("still breathing," says a cop), and Crosland stages the final twist very well in closeups of the faces of the druggist and the two policemen on the scene. The effect of the closeup shots is to underline the thoughts of the cops, which are different than what they say to the old man.

Looking out of Charlie's room into the hall
"Never Cool A Cop" is a good story but "The Right Kind of Medicine" is an excellent TV show. It is one of nineteen episodes directed by Alan Crosland, Jr. (1918-2001); his prior Slesar show was "Keep Me Company." Robert Redford (1936- ) carries the show with an outstanding performance. Redford is so well known that his career hardly requires a summary. He was on episodic TV from 1960-1964 before leaving the small screen to make his fortune on the big screen. He appeared in three episodes of the Hitchcock series. His next TV show, airing 17 days later, was the Twilight Zone episode "Nothing in the Dark" (January 5, 1962), in which he plays a wounded policeman who turns out to be Death.

Russell Collins as Fletcher, the druggist
The smaller roles in "The Right Kind of Medicine" are played by a good group of character actors. Russell Collins (1897-1965) plays the old druggist. He appeared in no less than nine episodes of the Hitchcock series, often playing old drunks, as he did in "The Night the World Ended" and "Night of the Execution." Here, he is not drunk, but he might as well be! Joby Baker (1934- ) plays Vernon, the drugstore clerk who is shot by Charlie at the end. Baker was on the Hitchcock show four times and stopped acting in 1984. He has since made a name for himself as a painter, as his website shows.

Gage Clarke (1900-1964) plays Doc Vogel, in one of his four appearances on the series, and Bert Remsen (1900-1964), a very familiar face, plays a cop, as he did in "Annabel" and "The Throwback."

Bert Remsen as a cop
"The Right Kind of Medicine" is not yet available on DVD or online. It was remade as an episode of the 1980s color series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and broadcast on January 12, 1986. The remake may be viewed for free online here. The remake features a teleplay by Michael Braverman and is directed by Jerrold Freedman. The episode is more graphic than the 1961 version and the characters are meaner. An initial scene depicting the robbery is added, and the scene with Doc Vogel is longer, ending with Joe Pugh (what Charlie has been renamed) shooting and killing the doctor to prevent him from calling the police. The best thing about the 1986 version is the occasional voiceover by Joe.

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb., n.d. Web. 10 May. 2014.
"The Right Kind of Medicine." A Crime for Mothers and Others. New York: Avon, 1962. 113-118. Print.
"The Right Kind of Medicine." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. NBC. 19 Dec. 1961. Television.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 10 May. 2014.

Vernon, just before he is shot by Charlie

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