What happens when an innocent young woman who has lived a sheltered life suddenly comes face to face with evil in the form of a violent criminal? This is the problem that Henry Slesar addressed in "Final Vow," which aired on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour on CBS on Thursday, October 25, 1962.
"Final Vow" is a tale that involves a young nun and her search for guidance. The show opens during a quiet meal at a convent, as Sister Pamela drops a pitcher of milk and it shatters on the floor. The broken vessel foreshadows her own innocence, which will soon be smashed to pieces when she attempts to join the world outside. Unlike the milk, however, her own purity will be maintained. After the accident with the pitcher, much older Sister Jem consoles Sister Pamela, who has been considering leaving the Order. At the request of the Reverend Mother, Sister Pamela visits Sister Lydia in the infirmary. Sister Lydia recalls having been a novice once herself, with doubts similar to those Sister Pamela is now feeling. She tells Sister Pamela of a young student she had named William Michael Downey who grew up to become a criminal. Sister Lydia kept writing to him for thirty years and now he finally has responded with a letter asking her to pay him a visit. She is too ill to make the trip so she asks Sister Pamela to go in her place, to "see what faith and prayer will do."
|Carol Lynley as Sister Pamela|
|Jimmy offers to help|
|Carmen Phillips as Bess|
|Don Hanmer as Wormer|
|Don Hanmer and R.G. Armstrong, as Mike the Broker|
|Charity Grace as Sister Jem, waking up to see St. Francis|
|R.G. Armstrong as Downey|
|Jimmy inspects Pamela's hand for rings|
|Pamela arrives at the pawn shop|
|Our first look at Wormer|
It is no coincidence that the statue Downey gives to the convent is a representation of St. Francis. St. Francis was a medieval man who lived a secular life until a vision led him to turn his back on worldly things and found orders devoted to poverty and faith. Sister Pamela spends her time in the world as well and eventually decides to follow the example of the man whose little statue sets the story in motion.
Although the title card for "Final Vow" reads: "Teleplay by Henry Slesar from his own story," the story must have stayed in a drawer for years. The next time this tale would surface was on August 15, 1974, when it was broadcast as an episode of the CBS Radio Mystery Theater under the title "The Final Vow." Perhaps Slesar or his producers had short memories, since E.G. Marshall, the host of the show, says that it was "written especially for the mystery theater by Henry Slesar." This is obviously untrue, because the radio play follows the 12-year-old teleplay closely.
Slesar's story would surface again in March 1976, when it was published as "Hiding Out" in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. This was the first time that the story was published in print and it is an unusually long story for Slesar, running 34 pages in its reprint in the collection, Death on Television. The story follows the televised version closely and has no significant changes. The title was changed back to "Final Vow" when it was reprinted in book form.
"Final Vow" was directed by Norman Lloyd (1914- ), who acted in five episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and directed 19 half-hour episodes and three hour-long episodes. Lloyd's direction here is solid, with a nice overhead shot in the train station when the sisters realize their treasure is gone and a jarring introduction to Wormer when Pamela first wanders into the pawnshop.
|Carol Lynley in street clothes|
Portraying Jimmy Bresson is Clu Gulager (1928- ). This episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour is notable because its director and co-stars are still alive at the time of this writing! Gulager was born William Martin Gulager and started his TV career in 1956, branching out into movies in 1964. He appeared three times on the Hitchcock series, including "Pen Pal." His performance in "Final Vow" is mannered and strange; he mumbles his lines in several scenes and seems to be trying to engage in method acting. Gulager maintains a website here.
The pawnbroker, Wormer, is played by Don Hanmer (1919-2003), who appeared in four episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "The Faith of Aaron Menefee," where he plays injured gangster Vern Byers.
|Isobel Elsom as the Reverend Mother|
The small role of the Reverend Mother is played by Isobel Elsom (1893-1981), who started in silent film way back in 1915 and appeared in Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux and Hitchcock's The Paradine Case, both in 1947. She also was seen in five episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "Back for Christmas," where she played the shrewish wife of John Williams.
Kindly Sister Jem is played by Charity Grace (1884-1965), an actress aptly named for portraying a nun! She was in five episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "Party Line."
|John Zaremba interviewing Pamela|
Finally, R.G. Armstrong (1917-2012) is seen as William Michael Downey, the criminal and former pupil of Sister Lydia. Armstrong was on four Hitchcock shows and had a long career, spanning the years from 1954-2001. He was in many westerns. Online sources report that he grew up in a family of fundamentalists and that his mother wanted him to be a pastor, but he became an actor instead and his onscreen roles sometimes played off the tension between his upbringing and his profession. His character in "Final Vow" faces a similar question between his youth in a religious setting and his criminal career.
Finally, the musical score for "Final Vow" is worth a mention. It was composed by Lynn Murray (1909-1989), who was born Lionel Breeze and who composed music for film and TV from the '40s to the '80s, including the scores for Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief (1955) and The Twilight Zone episode, "A Passage for Trumpet." He scored 35 episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
"Final Vow" may be viewed online for free here. The radio adaptation may be heard online for free here.
"Final Vow." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. CBS. 25 Oct. 1962. Television.
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