Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Hitchcock Project-Henry Slesar Part Forty-Two: "Blood Bargain" [9.5]

by Jack Seabrook

Henry Slesar's fifth script for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour is "Blood Bargain," based on his own story of the same title. This is easily the best hour-long episode Slesar penned so far!

"Blood Bargain" first appeared in the September 1961 issue of Web Detective Stories. The story begins as William Derry, professional hit man, gets off a train and is met by Earl, who takes him to see his boss, Harney, in a warehouse office. Harney hires Derry to kill Eddie Breech, who used to work for him but who began stealing from him. Earl takes Derry to the apartment house where Breech lives with his wife, Connie, a beautiful blond who is confined to a wheelchair. Derry learns that Breech had hit his wife, causing her to fall down a flight of stairs and injure her back.

Derry spends the night in a cheap hotel and the next day asks about Breech and his wife in a neighborhood bar. Soon, Derry waits outside for Breech and gets in his car with him, gun in hand. Breech offers to double Harney's offer and admits to having cheated the man but says that he did it to get money to help his wife. Instead of killing Breech, Derry accompanies him to his apartment and meets Connie. Derry tells Breech and his wife to get ready to leave the country and plans to fake Breech's murder. He visits Joe Figaro at the funeral parlor and arranges to get a dead body.

Richard Kiley as Derry
Derry then visits the Breeches and tells them to take a plane to Mexico City that night. He gets the corpse from Figaro, drives it out of town in Breech's car, and sets fire to the car, leaving the corpse inside to burn beyond recognition. After collecting his fee from Harney, Derry is promptly arrested and taken to police headquarters, where he learns that Earl has spilled his guts to the police. Derry tells the truth to Lt. Geer, who informs the hit man that Breech had been cheating on his wife and she knew it. To Derry's surprise, Breech has been found in his apartment, shot to death with Derry's gun, and Connie has told the police that Derry killed her husband. Geer tells Derry that he should have killed Connie as well, adding: "You shouldn't have been so soft-hearted."

Anne Francis as Connie
"Blood Bargain" is a compact crime story that features a nice twist at the end. It represents the first time that Slesar would adapt one of his own previously-published stories for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. The episode, also titled "Blood Bargain," was broadcast on CBS on Friday, October 25, 1963, making it Slesar's first script for the second season of the hour-long show. The show is ably directed by Bernard Girard and features an excellent cast, all of whom give strong performances, especially Anne Francis as Connie.

Slesar's teleplay does not make any significant changes to the story. The character of Earl, Harney's young assistant, is expanded and he becomes an ambitious young man who is too cocky for his own good. Right from the start, he tells Derry that he thinks hiring a hit man for the job was unnecessary, and later in the show he waits for Derry at the door to his hotel room. Earl pulls a gun on the older man, who quickly disarms him and tosses him to the ground, telling him to go home.

Barney Martin as Harney
Harney, the bookie who hires Derry, is a study in contrasts, a businessman for whom contracting a murder is just another day at the office. In his first scene, he interrupts his conversation with Derry twice: first, to switch on the TV to see a horse race, and second, to take a telephone call from his daughter, who is calling to remind him to come and see her at school that night. Harney can switch back and forth from ruthless criminal to doting father in an instant.

The scene in the story where Derry goes to a bar alone to ask about the Breeches is altered in the TV version, where he observes the Breeches in the bar and even speaks to Mrs. Breech, gallantly picking up a coin she has dropped on the floor and inserting it into a jukebox for her. The implication is that Derry is attracted to the beautiful blond, a suggestion that is played out even more in the scenes in the Breeches' apartment. Connie seems to grasp Derry's attraction to her right away and uses it to her advantage.

Derry sees the hearse reflected in a window
Slesar expands the story by drawing out the middle section. Instead of brief scenes at the apartment and the funeral parlor, as in the story, Derry goes to the apartment and leaves to think about how to avoid killing Breech. A nice shot of Derry reflected in a shop window outside provides the spark for his plan when a hearse is seen driving by behind him. He then visits the apartment for a second time to explain his idea; this time, Connie encourages her husband to follow Derry's advice and even closes the door to prevent her husband from leaving.

Derry goes out again and calls the mortuary to ask about a corpse. Figaro calls back to say he has a body that Derry may pick up that night. This sets up Derry's third visit to the apartment. This time, Connie is alone; she has been drinking and wallows in self-pity, telling Derry that pity is the reason he is helping her and her husband. Derry tells her no and seems like he is about to tell her something else when she begins to talk about his line of work and he shuts down just as Eddie comes home.

Derry is stunned and forgets his coffee
All of this stretching of scenes and events allows Slesar to develop his characters more fully than he did on the printed page, and the actors do a fine job of inhabiting their roles. After Derry leaves the apartment for the third time he has his run in with Earl before going to the mortuary to get the body. There is a nice shot where he slips Breech's wedding ring and wristwatch onto the arm of the corpse. This is followed by a night scene where he torches the car in a remote spot outside of town. The show's final scene is very well done, with an especially animated performance by Ross Elliott as Lt. Geer. He plays a reel to reel tape recording of Earl's confession that pins the murder of Breech on Derry, but the topper occurs in an incident not in the story that heightens the dramatic effect. Instead of Geer telling Derry that Connie fingered him, he brings Connie into the room with Derry, and she tells him and Geer that she witnessed her husband's murder. Richard Kiley, as Derry, stands there in shock as he listens to the lie; the coffee cup he is holding slowly tips forward and coffee begins to spill onto the floor as he hears his own death sentence.

Connie smiles to herself
The show ends with a shot of Connie wheeling herself down the corridor of the police station, a satisfied smile playing over her lips.

"Blood Bargain" is a good, hard boiled story that Slesar expanded into a strong, noir hour of television, made better by a very good cast.

Richard Kiley (1922-1999) plays Derry as a no-nonsense hit man who almost seems surprised by his own decision to help the man he was hired to kill. Kiley won two Tony awards and three Emmy awards; he was an accomplished actor on stage, screen and television. He appeared in one half-hour episode of the Hitchcock show as well as "Blood Bargain," and his other notable roles included the live television play "Patterns" by Rod Serling (1955) and two episodes of Night Gallery.


Richard Long as Breech
Richard Long (1927-1974), playing Eddie Breech,  returns to the Hitchcock show for the second and last time; his other appearance was in "The Opportunity," co-written by Slesar.

Anne Francis (1930-2011) plays Connie; she was also in the prior Slesar episode, "What Really Happened," as well as Slesar's "Keep Me Company" and three other episodes.

Turning in a strong performance as Harney, who hires Derry, is Barney Martin (1923-2005). Martin started out as a stand in for Jackie Gleason on The Honeymooners (1955-1956) and went on to a long career in movies and on TV. He was in The Producers (1967), on The Odd Couple, and a semi-regular on Seinfeld as Jerry's father. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show.

Ross Elliott as Lt. Geer
As Lt. Geer, Ross Elliott (1917-1999) is very animated and entertaining, cannily portraying a seasoned policeman who enjoys his job and likes toying with a suspect. Elliott was in the famous 1939 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds, and he made countless appearances in movies and on TV. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock series; he was also seen on The Twilight Zone and Thriller.

Anthony Call plays Earl, the ambitious young hoodlum. He was born Anthony Biberman, the son of director Abner Biberman. He was on the Hitchcock show only once, appeared on The Twilight Zone and Star Trek, and has been acting on TV in one form or another since 1952. He is still working today.

Peter Brocco as Figaro
Peter Brocco (1903-1992) is a familiar face as Figaro, the funeral parlor owner. He was seen in numerous films starting in 1932 and in many TV shows starting in 1951. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show, but he made four appearances on Thriller and was on just about every genre TV show at one time or another.

Finally, Bernard Girard (1918-1997) directed "Blood Bargain." He worked in movies and on TV from the early 1950s through the mid-1970s. He directed four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including Slesar's "The Matched Pearl," as well as eight episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, including Robert Bloch's "Water's Edge."

As usual, "Blood Bargain" has yet to be released in the U.S. on DVD and I was not able to find it on YouTube.

Sources:
"Blood Bargain." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. CBS. 25 Oct. 1963. Television.
The FictionMags Index. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2014.
"Galactic Central." Galactic Central. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2014.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2014.
Slesar, Henry. "Blood Bargain." 1961. Death on Television: The Best of Henry Slesar's Alfred Hitchcock Stories. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1989. 180-93. Print.

Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2014.

Anthony Call as Earl

Derry gets the drop on Breech

Getting ready to torch the car

Derry runs from the burning car

*MeTV is showing The Alfred Hitchcock Hour every Saturday night/Sunday morning at 3 a.m. Eastern Time.

*Antenna TV is showing back to back episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents every night from 3 a.m. to 4 a.m. Eastern time.

*In two weeks: "Starring the Defense," with Richard Basehart and Russell Collins!


6 comments:

Grant said...

This might be the only episode of the HOUR show I've never seen (at least, it doesn't ring a bell).

It's kind of gratifying to know character actors well enough that you can think the name "Peter Brocco" just by seeing the photo instead of the caption, which is what happened to me just now.

Jack Seabrook said...

It's funny what sticks in your head. When I think "Peter Brocco," I picture a shot from an episode of Thriller where he is the captain of a ship steering a big wheel, and I think of an Odd Couple episode where he and another old man (played by John Qualen) had a giant ball of silver foil! Thanks for reading, and especially for your comments. Many people read these posts but few comment, so I am always excited to see a comment!

Peter Enfantino said...

This was a winner in my book. Much better than the last couple you've covered, Jack. Mostly owing to Long, who was one of my favorite character actors of the 60s. The last series of shots we see, of Connie Breech getting away with murder and Jim Derry realizing he's been had, are gems.

Jack Seabrook said...

I agree with you, Peter. This is Slesar's best hour to date, in large part due to the quality of the acting.

john kenrick said...

The episode was decent, and I've always liked Richard Long and Anne Francis, but it was Richard Kiley,--not the most charming of actors, but a first rate one--who sold this one for me. I felt for him, for his character, for what he was going through, for the entirety of the episode. Kiley communicated so much, while doing actually very little; on the surface, I mean. To my way of thinking he lifted Blood Bargain to a whole new level. Richard Kiley took a not very likable, indeed, given his line of work, contemptible character, and made him feel like a living, feeling human being, just like the rest of us.

Jack Seabrook said...

You're right--Kiley is very good in this. It's a strong episode overall.