Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Hitchcock Project-Henry Slesar Part Thirty-Three: "The Kerry Blue" [7.28]

by Jack Seabrook

Among the many teleplays that Henry Slesar wrote for Alfred Hitchcock Presents up to 1962, some were based on stories that had been published a few years before. Some were based on stories that were published almost contemporaneously with the filming of the show. Several were based on stories that had not yet been published but that would be published soon. With "The Kerry Blue," we see the first example of a teleplay based on a story that would not be published for years after the show aired. The onscreen credit confirms that Slesar wrote the teleplay "from his story."

This seems to be another occasion where, as Slesar said, "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." While the TV show aired on NBC on Tuesday, April 17, 1962, the story on which it was based was not published until the November 1968 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, under the title "Death of the Kerry Blue."

Illustrations from the original
magazine publication
Ned Malley and his wife have been married for 18 years and, with no children, their interactions alternate between arguments and silence. They pay most attention to Doc, their Kerry Blue Terrier, which Thelma had given to Ned on their fifth wedding anniversary. When Ned is sent on a business trip to Cleveland he worries about Doc's health, and when he returns home Thelma informs him that, in his absence, Doc got sick and died. Ned becomes angry that his wife buried the dog in the woods without first calling the vet. He slaps Thelma and crawls into the empty doghouse.

The next day, he visits a doctor and fills a prescription for sleeping pills. That night, after accusing Thelma of having buried Doc alive, Ned turns kind and fixes his wife a cup of hot chocolate before bedtime. She drinks it and grows very tired; after he helps her to bed, Ned tells his wife that he spiked her drink with an entire bottle of sleeping pills. He suggests that she may end up being buried alive, just like their dog. Ned goes downstairs and hears a dog's whimper. Convinced that Doc has returned, he rushes out to the doghouse, where his excitement at seeing the dog causes a sudden, fatal heart attack.

Thelma is saved by the next door neighbor, who calls the police, but she laments that it is too late for Ned, who never knew that Thelma had bought a new dog to surprise him.

"Death of the Kerry Blue" is a sad portrait of  a marriage gone wrong, where a dog takes the place of a child and a husband's affection turns into murderous obsession. Slesar's trademark irony is evident in the climax, when Ned's devotion to his dog causes his death just as he has tried to kill his wife.

Slesar's teleplay follows the story closely but makes Ned's obsessive interest in his dog--rechristened Annie--a source of jealousy on Thelma's part. When Ned suggests to Thelma that he should take Annie to the park more often to improve her health, Thelma responds, "Why don't you take her to dinner and a show?" Gene Evans gives a good performance as Ned and Carmen Mathews is even better as Thelma. Paul Henreid directs the show and not only keeps the story moving along at a brisk pace but also uses several interesting camera setups to deepen the story. He follows the well-known practice made famous by Orson Welles in Citizen Kane of shooting on a slight upward angle in some shots, allowing the viewer to see the ceiling in one of the Malleys' rooms.

Gene Evans
Another shot features a lamp in the foreground and the lighting achieves an ominous, noirish quality. Finally, when Ned gives Thelma the spiked cup of hot chocolate, Henreid cuts away a few times to a God's eye view from above; the effect passes quickly on first watching the show, but it demonstrates the care he used to craft this episode when one realizes that other shots showed a ceiling while the overhead shots had to be taken from high up on an open sound stage. Even the small details are carefully worked out: on the fireplace mantle are four framed photographs--all of Annie, the Kerry Blue!

Carmen Mathews
Both Gene Evans and Carmen Mathews succeed in showing anger and hurt, and the scene where Mathews narrates the events surrounding the dog's death shows real emotion and understanding in her face and voice. Evans has a matter of fact way of demonstrating his character's descent into insanity as he becomes convinced that his wife buried his beloved dog alive. Mathews is convincing in her portrayal of an unhappy wife who is trying to deal with an untenable situation. 

The most powerful scene in the show comes when Ned has helped Thelma into bed and calmly tells her that he has poisoned her. He stands by the bed, speaking in a seemingly rational tone of voice, as Thelma struggles to break through the drug-induced fog that is quickly enveloping her mind. There is a quiet sense of horror as he remarks that she could end up buried alive, "just like you buried Annie out there, alive!" There is no background music and the fact that this scene is somewhat hard to watch is a testament to the skill of the two actors and their director.

The final scenes include a small change from the story. Ned is washing out the cups at the kitchen sink as his wife lays dying upstairs when he hears a dog bark. Is it his imagination? We see that it is not, since he sees a very much alive Kerry Blue Terrier standing at the entrance of Annie's doghouse. Yet instead of suffering a fatal heart attack, Ned trips over the construction materials that he had left strewn about when he built the doghouse and falls, striking his head on the concrete walk, a blow that kills him on the spot. Slesar's irony is again at play, since the tools he used to build a home for his beloved dog are the same tools that lead to his sudden and unexpected death--his obsession is his undoing.

The God's eye view angle
"The Kerry Blue" is well acted and well directed and the TV show is more interesting than the story that finally saw publication six years later. Paul Henreid (1908-1992), the director, was born in Trieste, started acting onstage in Vienna, moved into German film in the 1930s and then to Hollywood by the 1940s, starring in classics such as Now, Voyager (1942) and Casablanca (also 1942). He later turned his hand to directing and, in addition to two episodes of Thriller, he directed 29 episodes of the Hitchcock series. The last one I reviewed was "Cop For a Day."

Gene Evans (1922-1998), who seems like a bit of a tough guy in this episode, was also a tough guy in real life. He won a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star in WWII, which is when he also started his acting career, performing for the troops. He was in movies from 1947 to 1989 and on TV from 1954 to 1988, including a year as a regular on My Friend Flicka (1956-57). He appeared once on the half-hour Hitchcock show and once on the hour show. He was a favorite of director Sam Fuller and played Boden, the atomic scientist in Shock Corridor who was driven to insanity by the prospect of nuclear war.

John Zaremba and Carmen Mathews

Carmen Mathews (1911-1985) got her start in theater and later worked almost exclusively on episodic television in a career that spanned the years from 1950 to 1992. She was on The Twilight Zone's elegiac episode, "Static" and she appeared on Alfred Hitchcock Presents six times.

John Zaremba (1908-1986) played Dr. Chaff, the vet who Thelma brings to the house to try to reason with Ned. He started out as a journalist at the Chicago Tribune before becoming an actor. He was in movies from 1950 and on TV from 1954, including regular roles on I Led Three Lives (1953-1956) and The Time Tunnel (1966-1967). He appeared on The Twilight Zone, Batman, and he was on the Hitchcock show eleven times, including "The Kind Waitress."

Looking up from below, the ceiling is visible
Like most (all?) episodes from season seven of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "The Kerry Blue" is not yet available on DVD or online, but it may turn up one of these days on Antenna TV!

"Galactic Central." Galactic Central. Web. 19 July 2014.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb. Web. 19 July 2014.
"The Kerry Blue." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. NBC. 17 Apr. 1962. Television.
Slesar, Henry. "Death of the Kerry Blue." Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine (Nov. 1968): 66-77. Web.

Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 19 July 2014.


Brian Durant said...

I don't recall this episode but I look forward to seeing it if it's ever released. Carmen Matthews is a favorite. She always seems to have such a presence on the screen. Maybe it's the eyes. Great review, Mr. Seabrook.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks for reading, Brian! I hope Universal puts season 7 out eventually, though the online reviews of the burn on demand season 6 set have not been kind.

john kenrick said...

Good review, Jack. I liked the episode, which I watched last night. It was difficult to see what was going on between the husband and wife in it, as there was, so far as I could tell, zero mojo between the middle aged couple; or maybe that was the idea. The dog love seemed as much a substitute for sex as for a child. As played (very well) by Gene Evans and Carmen Mathews the couple could just as easily been brother and sister, or just plain housemates, as man and wife.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, John! More impressive directing work from Paul Henreid.

ipsofacto said...

Just viewed on MeTV (this season not on Hulu yet). Excellent all around acting and directing. Story - a classic!

Jack Seabrook said...

I agree--it's a strong episode! Thanks for your comment.