Henry Slesar's first teleplay for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour was "I Saw the Whole Thing" which, according to the title card, was based on a story by Henry Cecil. Henry Cecil was the pen name of Henry Cecil Leon (1902-1976), a wonderful English writer who became a lawyer in 1923 and a judge in 1949. His first book, Full Circle, was published in 1948 and is a collection of short stories, many with legal themes, linked by a framework involving a law professor who falls and hits his head at the beginning and who then finds himself compelled to tell stories in place of his usual classroom lectures.
Cecil went on the write 24 novels, two more short story collections, and seven books of non-fiction, including an autobiography, Just Within the Law (1975). One of his novels was No Bail for the Judge (1952), which Alfred Hitchcock was preparing to film in early 1959. The movie was to star Audrey Hepburn, Laurence Harvey and John Williams, but Hepburn read the script and backed out, allegedly due to a scene where her character almost gets raped. This scene was not in the novel but was added by Hitchcock and his screenwriter.
Cecil's novel, Independent Witness, is a delightfully comic tale of courtroom drama that demonstrates how many people can all tell the same story but it can still be wrong. The novel's opening line is important: "The car stopped at the 'halt' sign and the driver looked right, left and right again. There was nothing in sight . . ." As readers, we gloss over this line, yet it is the event upon which the entire novel is based. The car pulls out into the intersection and is hit by a speeding motorcycle, whose rider flies over the car and is injured. The car speeds off. Soon, over 20 witnesses turn up at the police station, claiming to have "seen the whole thing."
A journalist named Andrew Mortlake visits his friend Michael Barnes, a Member of Parliament whose wife is in the hospital, soon to have a baby. Barnes tells Mortlake that he was the driver of the car and that he wants to keep the news from his wife Sheila, to avoid upsetting her and endangering her health. Barnes goes to the police station and gives a voluntary statement confessing to having been the driver of the car. He is charged with three offenses and hires Olliphant, a brilliant lawyer who has had good success with cases of this type. Olliphant outlines his plan to question the witnesses and show that they can't be sure of their stories. Fortunately, the motorcyclist is recovering well.
|John Zaremba and Philip Ober|
After a final witness fails to survive Olliphant's clever cross-examination, Barnes tells Olliphant that he refuses to testify on his own behalf. The lawyers make their closing speeches and Olliphant claims that he did not need to put on a case because the case against his client was so weak. The judge agrees with Olliphant in his summation to the jury and Barnes is found not guilty. Later, in a taxi, Andrew confronts Barnes and tells the man that he has deduced that Barnes was not in the car at all--his wife Sheila had been the driver. Michael confesses the truth as the novel comes to a close.
We then see four more people as they witness the accident: a man spraying flowers in his garden turns at the sound and freezes; a wino outside Harry's Tavern turns at the sound and freezes; a driver approaches in his car and freezes; a woman at a bus stop freezes. The end of the accident is then shown, as a man falls to the pavement and a sports car speeds off, leaving the man lying in the street near a motorcycle.
|Aftermath of the accident|
Back at home, Barnes is visited by Jerry O'Hara, who represents Andrew Mortlake in the novel. Barnes tells Jerry that five witnesses will say that he did not stop at the stop sign but that it is not true. Barnes also announces that he will act as his own attorney. Slesar thus cuts through much of the legal red tape in the novel by eliminating the character of Olliphant and by having Barnes defend himself in court. The more than 20 witnesses mentioned in the book are pared down to five and we see next to nothing of their lives outside the courtroom, with the important exception of Penny, who is the focus of key scenes at the beginning and at the end of the show.
The trial begins with the prosecutor's opening statement, which is interrupted by news of the death of the motorcyclist. Again, Slesar has changed the story; presumably, by having the accident victim die, the stakes of the trial are increased. In the novel, Michael Barnes is a public figure whose trial is front-page news; on TV, he is a writer whose future is jeopardized by the death of the accident victim.
Witness number two is Colonel John Hoey, who walks with a limp and uses a cane because he lost a leg at Corregidor. He was the man spraying flowers at the time of the accident and his manner is brusque, officious, and temperamental. He is prejudiced against sports cars and finally admits that his three-year-old son was killed by such a vehicle. His character is a synthesis of the argumentative Colonel Brain from the novel and the wistful Commander Parkhurst, who lost both a leg and a child.
Malcolm Stuart is the third witness, very sure of his story and unflappable. He was the driver of the car who saw the accident at the start of the show and he matches Mr. Berryman in the novel. The fourth witness is Mr. Peterson, a humorous character who appears to be inebriated in court. He corresponds to Mr. Piper in the novel. Finally, the fifth and last witness is Joanne Dowling, who matches Joan Anderson in the book. Both women state that the car did stop at the stop sign and then talk about their change of heart regarding giving up a baby for adoption.
The next thing we see is the jury returning a verdict of not guilty. In the show's final scene, Barnes and Jerry walk through a hospital corridor to see his new baby. Jerry mentions that George Peabody's statement saved the day for Barnes and Barnes tells Jerry that he could not answer the prosecutor's question because he did not want to commit perjury. His wife was the driver and he was not even in the car.
Henry Cecil's novel, Independent Witness, is an entertaining story of British courtroom drama laced with humor, where there is never any real doubt that Barnes will be acquitted. Henry Slesar's teleplay, "I Saw the Whole Thing," injects some suspense into the narrative, streamlining the story while maintaining its humor. The two versions of the same tale are entertaining in different ways.
|William Newell as Sam Peterson, the inebriated witness|
"I Saw the Whole Thing" was filed from July 23 to July 27, 1962, and it was first broadcast on CBS on October 11, 1962. Hitchcock later told Peter Bogdanovich that it was "the toughest to do of all the TV films" because of the limited set and the five-day shooting schedule.
Starring as Michael Barnes was John Forsythe (1918-2010), who had also starred in "Premonition," the second episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to air, almost exactly seven years before, on October 9, 1955. "I Saw the Whole Thing" was his second and last appearance on the Hitchcock series. He was born Jacob Lincoln Freund and starred in Hitchcock's 1955 film, The Trouble With Harry. Forsythe's film career began in 1943 but he was best known for his many TV roles, starting in 1948 and including series such as Bachelor Father (1957-1962), Charlie's Angels (1976-1981) and Dynasty (1981-1989).
Evans Evans (1936- ) played Penny, the girl who was waiting on the corner for George Peabody. Her TV career ran from 1958-1994 and she was on two episodes of the Hitchcock series and one of The Twilight Zone. She made a few movies and her best-known film role was in Bonnie and Clyde (1967). The year after "I Saw the Whole Thing" aired she married director John Frankenheimer and they remained married until his death in 2002.
Philip Ober (1902-1982) played Col. Hoey. This was his second and last appearance on the Hitchcock show; his other one was also written by Slesar: "Burglar Proof."
John Zaremba (1908-1986) played Richard Anderson, the prosecutor. He was in ten episodes of the Hitchcock series, including three by Slesar: "The Kind Waitress," "The Kerry Blue" and "Most Likely to Succeed." His large role in "I Saw the Whole Thing" was rather unusual for him, since he often played smaller parts.
Rusty Lane (1899-1986) plays the first of two judges seen in this episode; he can be seen in nine episodes of the Hitchcock series, always in small parts.
Finally, the role of Joanne Dowling, the last witness to take the stand, is played by Claire Griswold (1936-2011). Her brief TV career ran from 1958 to 1967, though her last three appearances are on "I Saw the Whole Thing" in 1962, "A Home Away From Home" (The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, 1963), and an episode of Bonanza in 1967. She was on The Twilight Zone once as well. She was married to director Sydney Pollack from 1958 until his death in 2008 but, for Hitchcock fans, she is best known as one of the great director's female protegees. In 1962, he signed her to a seven-year contract, but she got pregnant in 1963 and the contract was terminated. She was more interested in raising a family than acting.
If anyone is interested in reading the radio play that Henry Cecil wrote in 1958, it is kept at McMaster University among Cecil's papers. They will scan it for about $30.
"I Saw the Whole Thing" is not yet available on DVD or online.
BBC Handbook-1959. Web. 22 Sept. 2014. <http://americanradiohistory.com/Archive-BBC-Annual/BBC-Year-Book-1959.pdf>.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 22 Sept. 2014. <http://www.wikipedia.org/>.
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