"The Test," Henry Slesar explored the bond between father and son and showed how a father's belief in his son's innocence can stand in the way of learning the truth about a crime. In "Starring the Defense," he returns to that theme and examines it from a different angle, this time in a compelling story that merges the worlds of acting and law with family relations. This is the third of six teleplays so far that Slesar has written for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour to revolve around a jury trial, and this one is by far the most successful to date.
The story on which the teleplay is based was published in the April 1963 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and is reprinted in the 1989 collection, Death on Television. Miles Crawford, "deep in a dream of the past," is at home one evening when his old friend and law partner Sam Brody pays him a visit. Miles is an aging lawyer and former movie star. His son Tod comes home early; in his early 20s, Tod is a sullen young man who barely speaks to his father as he heads upstairs to his bedroom. Sam notices that Tod left drops of blood on the floor and Miles goes upstairs to find Tod treating a bad wound on his arm.
Tod admits to having been in a fight and the police arrive to take him away: it seems he had been in a fight with another young man named Jules Herman, who is now dead. After the police take Tod away, Miles tells Sam that he blames his own poor parenting skills for the way Tod turned out and decides that he should defend his son in court, even though he is not a criminal lawyer. He thinks that his background as lawyer, movie star and father will give him a special perspective on the case, allowing him to appeal to the jury in a way no one else could.
|Richard Basehart as Miles Crawford|
|Teno Pollick as Tod Crawford|
|Russell Collins as Sam Brody|
|Miles addresses the jury in Tod's defense|
|Rockne Tarkington as the police officer|
The teleplay provides more background on Miles's past and Tod's childhood. Miles tells Sam that his movie career dried up in 1943, that he and Tod's mother were divorced the year Tod was born, and that Miles quit acting when Tod was two years old. Miles studied law and began his career as an attorney when Tod was a child, and Miles's sister raised Tod from birth until age ten, when Miles took him in. This is all said in order to provide a basis for Tod's delinquency and to support Miles's claim that his bad parenting is a source of his son's problems. The theme of Tod's unfortunate childhood and Miles's guilt about it is essentially forgotten in the source story once the trial gets underway, but in the teleplay it receives more focus and underlines Miles's claim that his motive for acting as his son's lawyer is selfless rather than selfish; he wants to save his son's life, not return to the Silver Screen.
Diane Mountford as Ruthie,
Ed Rutherford's daughter/secretary
|S. John Launer as Ed Rutherford|
The trial in the teleplay proceeds in basically the same way as it does in the story, though in the teleplay Tod's testimony is not split into two parts. In one of Slesar's prior episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, "I Saw the Whole Thing," the actors John Zaremba and Barney Phillips played the prosecuting attorney and a police lieutenant. In "Starring the Defense," they are back, but this time Phillips plays the prosecutor and Zaremba has been promoted to the role of judge!
|Jean Hale as Barbara Riordan|
The highlight of "Starring the Defense" is, of course, Miles's passionate closing statement to the jury. Richard Basehart gives an outstanding performance as Miles and really nails this scene as he subtly recalls Jesus' exhortation to the crowd around the woman caught in adultery--"Let the man among you who has no sin be the first to cast a stone at her." The show's director, Joseph Pevney, breaks from the usual practice of showing the jurors as a group in medium shots by focusing on a few of them in individual close ups. Perhaps most impressive is the subtle difference in the performances of Richard Basehart in the present-day oration and in the one captured on film in his old movie, retitled We the Guilty for the TV version. In addition to the obvious change from the older Miles (Basehart wears old age makeup throughout the show) to the younger, the acting style is also slightly different, as Basehart's 1930s-era performance in the film is slightly more flamboyant than his speech in 1963.
|John Zaremba as the judge|
|Barney Phillips as the prosecutor|
Joseph Pevney (1911-2008), the director of "Starring the Defense," began his career as an actor before becoming a director in 1950. He directed movies in the fifties, including the Lon Chaney biopic Man of a Thousand Faces (1957), then moved into TV in 1959. He directed five episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and 14 episodes of Star Trek.
|Richard Basehart as Miles Crawford|
addressing the jury in We the Guilty
Miles's friend and law partner Sam Brody is played by Russell Collins (1897-1965), a familiar character actor who was in ten episodes of the Hitchcock series, most recently Slesar's "The Right Kind of Medicine."
S. John Launer (1919-2006) plays Ed Rutherford, the criminal lawyer; he was on TV and in the movies from the mid-fifties till the late eighties. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show, but he may be seen in four episodes of The Twilight Zone, 33 episodes of Perry Mason, the film I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957) and Hitchcock's Marnie (1964).
Teno Pollick (1929-1991) plays Tod Crawford. Pollick made 13 appearances on TV from 1961 to 1976 and did not appear in any other episodes of the Hitchcock series. Pollick was in the original Off-Broadway cast of Steambath (1970).
The brief role of Barbara Riordan, the girl over whom Tod and Jules were fighting, is played by Jean Hale (1938- ). She was 24 years old at the time and had been on TV since 1960. She appeared in one other episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour along with two episodes of Batman and Roger Corman's 1967 film, The St. Valentine's Day Massacre.
John Zaremba (1908-1986), this time playing the judge, was in 11 episodes of the Hitchcock series, including six written by Henry Slesar. He was most recently seen in "Final Vow."
|Selmer Jackson as the chaplain in We the Guilty|
Selmer Jackson (1888-1971) makes a short appearance as the chaplain in the film shown to the judge at the end of the show. He was a busy character actor who started in film in 1921 and moved to TV in 1951. He was in five episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "A True Account"; "Starring the Defense" was his last credit.
Finally, Barney Phillips (1913-1982) plays the prosecutor. He was in movies from 1937 and on TV from 1950, and he was last seen in "I Saw the Whole Thing."
"Starring the Defense" is not available on DVD but may be viewed on YouTube here.
"Galactic Central." Galactic Central. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2014.