Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Hitchcock Project-Henry Slesar Part Thirty-Four: "The Matched Pearl" [7.29]

by Jack Seabrook

The first nine episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to be adapted from stories by Henry Slesar were filmed from teleplays written by other authors. With the tenth episode, Slesar began adapting his own stories for television. Those stories usually had been published before the episode aired; sometimes, they were not published until later. With "The Matched Pearl," the thirty-fourth Slesar episode, we see the first teleplay written by Slesar that is not based on a story. In fact, "The Matched Pearl" has never been published and the title card on the episode reads "Teleplay by Henry Slesar," with no mention of a story at all. My extensive research has failed to turn up any published story with this title (or anything close to it) so, despite prior sources claiming that it was based on a published story, I think it is safe to assume that it was an original teleplay.

Emile Genest as DuBois
"The Matched Pearl" begins as Hubert Wilkens, a well dressed older man, wanders into a jewelry store and tells Laurent DuBois, the owner, that he wants to see something for a very special occasion--his wedding anniversary. Insisting that price is not a concern, he settles on a rare black pearl and writes out a check for $5000. He asks that the pearl be delivered to his hotel suite that night. DuBois tells his assistant, Conroy, to take the check to McCabe, a sailor who lives on a boat, to get his signature on the bill of sale for $4000, minus a one-third commission. DuBois tells Conroy that the falsified price is his first lesson in the jewelry business.

John Ireland as McCabe
Conroy visits McCabe's boat, which is docked at Pier 16. McCabe appears unshaven and hung over, none too happy to be disturbed. Reluctantly, he agrees to the deal. That evening, at Wilkens's hotel suite, DuBois meets Wilkens's wife Lolly, who is is much younger than her husband. Though Wilkens fawns over her and calls her pet names like "Sugar Cup," she does not want the pearl and acts like a spoiled brat, demanding a pair of matched pearls in order to make earrings. Wilkens insists that DuBois find a second pearl, whatever the cost. DuBois visits McCabe's boat and offers to pay double for a matched pearl to make a set. McCabe produces the sought item from a small pouch but refuses DuBois's offer to pay $7000, throwing the jeweler off of his boat.

Michael King as Conroy
Back at the jewelry store, DuBois tells Conroy that he cannot find a matched pearl. Conroy suggests buying the pearl for $10,000 and selling it for $20,000, a 100% profit. Whisky bottle in hand, DuBois returns to McCabe's boat, offering to pay $10,000 for the pearl, but McCabe sets his check on fire! The bidding goes as high as $15,000 before McCabe relents and agrees to the price. They go to the bank, where McCabe takes the pearl from a safety deposit box and exchanges it for a check. DuBois rushes off to deliver the pearl and McCabe cashes the check.

"They can't do that to me!"
DuBois arrives at Wilkens's hotel suite, only to find the couple gone; a cleaning woman tells him that the guests have left. DuBois, crestfallen, whimpers: "They can't do that to me!" Sometime later, on an expensive yacht that is sailing on the ocean, Lolly lounges on a bench as McCabe rests his head on her lap and they kiss. Her father, Wilkens, drives the boat. They agree that it was a successful job, profiting them $12,600. McCabe, now called Randolph, remarks that DuBois would be surprised to learn that he purchased the same pearl twice! They head south, eager to find "bigger and better suckers on the horizon."

Airing on NBC on Tuesday, April 24, 1962, "The Matched Pearl" is a very entertaining episode with a satisfying conclusion, a miniature jewel of a TV show that would please fans of movies like The Sting. Slesar's script is well thought out and clever, with small touches sprinkled throughout that increase the viewer's enjoyment, especially on repeat viewings.

Ernest Truex as Wilkens
Slesar's trademark irony is evident in the just desserts that are served to DuBois, the jeweler who is happy to cheat his customer out of his share of $1000 but who does not realize that he is the one being cheated by three master con artists. Though DuBois does not know it at the time, McCabe toys with him when they are on the boat together and DuBois is counseling him by saying that he should keep such valuable jewels in a bank; McCabe replies that he would "hate to lose a beauty like this to any kind of thief." Of course, McCabe already knows that DuBois had cheated him on the sale price of the original pearl because McCabe is in league with Wilkens.

Poopsie and Sugar Cup
All three con artists play their roles to perfection. Wilkens at first seems like an elderly man of great wealth who cannot be bothered with trivial details like the price of a gift. The scene in the hotel room is particularly good, since DuBois is asked to accept that this 73 year old man is married to a beautiful 21 year old girl and that their relationship is one where they call each other by pet names. Wilkens almost treats Lolly like a pet herself, running his hands over her hair and speaking to her in a childish voice. Greedy DuBois is only too happy to play along with this ridiculous situation to make more money--all successful con games are based on exploiting the greed of the mark.

DuBois is most foolish when he thinks himself most clever. He takes a bottle of whisky along on his second visit to McCabe, having observed the sailor's fondness for drink the first time they met and assuming that he can use alcohol to help take advantage of the man of the sea. Yet the besuited, smooth jeweler is easy prey for the seemingly besotted con artist, whose careful planning is evident in retrospect. McCabe must have placed the pearl on consignment with DuBois some weeks or months before Wilkens ever entered the shop to purchase it. McCabe also seems to have made note of the location of DuBois's bank when he accepted the first check, because he has placed the pearl in a safe deposit box at the same bank by the end, ensuring a quick cashing of the final check in order to make a rapid escape before DuBois discovers that he has been the victim of an elaborate plot.

Slesar's characters are a study in contrasts. DuBois seems slicker than Wilkens, who appears to be a foolish old man. DuBois is also more down to earth than his prissy assistant Conroy. DuBois seems positively polished when set against the slovenly sailor, McCabe, and DuBois seems to be the height of reason when put in the hotel room with the silly couple, Hubert and Lolly Wilkens. Yet the contrasts go even further, as is revealed in the final scene, where it turns out that none of the three con artists were at all like the parts they were playing.

Sharon Farrell as Lolly
The teleplay is beautifully structured, consisting of nine scenes and three locations, plus a brief trip to the bank. The story moves from store to boat to hotel, then from boat to store to boat, then to bank, hotel, and finally to a very different kind of boat. Essentially a four character play, the action is tightly controlled and is a study in solid plotting. Even the stock sound cues are used to good advantage: silly, schmaltzy music underscores the absurdity of the May-December romance between Hubert and Lolly, while the sounds of a dock and the sea make the visit to McCabe's boat believable.

Director Bernard Girard does not make use of any special camera angles or unusual shot setups, but his ability to translate the script into pictures is outstanding. The show moves at a rapid clip to a most delectable conclusion. Especially well done are the scenes on McCabe's boat, which have a cramped and claustrophobic feeling to them. The final scene is doubly surprising because, though Randolph and Lolly are clearly on intimate terms, it is never stated that they are actually married. In addition, the suggestion that a father pretends to be married to his daughter was scandalous for network television in 1962! The situation where a father flirts with his daughter came up in another episode penned by Slesar, "Coming Home," though in that instance neither character was aware of the identity of the other when the flirting occurred. The final scene in "The Matched Pearl" also recalls the final scene in Slesar's "Not the Running Type," when a luxurious ocean voyage is seen to be the reward for some financial trickery.

Director Bernard Girard (1918-1997) was born Bernard Goldstein and worked as both a writer and director of movies and TV from the late 1940s to the mid 1970s. He directed a Twilight Zone as well as four half-hour Hitchcock episodes and eight hour-length Hitchcock episodes, including the Robert Bloch classic, "Water's Edge."

John Ireland (1914-1992) played McCabe, the sailor. He was in many movies and TV episodes from 1945 to 1992. His first film was A Walk in the Sun (1945), followed by My Darling Clementine (1946), Red River (1948), Spartacus (1960), I Saw What You Did (1965), and many others. He starred in a TV series called The Cheaters (1960-1962) and appeared in a single episode of Thriller. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show. Viewers at the time may have recalled a minor scandal from a few years earlier when the 45-year-old Ireland dated the 16-year-old Tuesday Weld. Was producer Joan Harrison thinking of that when she cast him as the lover of 21 year old Sharon Farrell in this episode?

Ernest Truex (1889-1973) was a wonderful actor who began his career on stage at age three. He was in movies from 1913 to 1965 and his many film roles included one in His Girl Friday (1940). He was seen on TV from its earliest days, in 1948, and his TV career ran until 1966. He was a regular on a series called Jamie from 1953-1954, appeared in two very memorable episodes of The Twilight Zone ("Kick the Can" and "What You Need"), and was on Alfred Hitchcock Presents twice.

Emile Genest (1921-2003) played DuBois. He was French Canadian, from Quebec, and he appeared in movies and on TV from the early 1950s until 2000. This was his only episode of the Hitchcock show. In the onscreen closing credits, his character is misidentified as Lawrence Kirkwood. In the dialogue during the show, it is clearly Laurent DuBois.

Finally, Sharon Farrell (1940- ) played Lolly, in what was only her third onscreen credit. Born Sharon Forsmoe, she started in the movies in 1959 and on TV in 1961. She still appears on TV as of this writing. She was on an episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, in the movie It's Alive (1974), and in three episodes of the Hitchcock series, including another Robert Bloch classic, "Final Performance," where she most memorably became a puppet of Franchot Tone's. She published an autobiography last year and maintains a website here.

Look for ""The Matched Pearl" in syndication reruns--it's worth watching!

Sources:
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb. IMDb.com. Web. 30 July 2014.
"The Matched Pearl." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. NBC. 24 Apr. 1962. Television.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 30 July 2014.


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