Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Hitchcock Project-Roald Dahl Part Two: "Dip in the Pool" [3.35]

by Jack Seabrook

The second story by Roald Dahl to be adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents was "Dip in the Pool," written in the fall of 1951 and first published in the January 19, 1952 issue of The New Yorker. William Botibol, an American on a British ship cruising across the Atlantic, dines with the ship's purser and asks him when the captain usually estimates the distance the ship will cover in the twenty-four hours that began that noon. After a calm start to the day, the sea had grown unexpectedly rough around dinner time, and Botibol imagines that the distance traveled will be less than the captain's estimate. Each evening, the ship's passengers bid at auction on numbers estimating how far the ship will travel in a day, and Botibol thinks that he can win a large sum of money if he secures the "low field' estimate. He uses all the money in his savings to win the low field but awakens the next morning to find that the sea has calmed and the ship is moving fast to make up lost time.

"Dip in the Pool" was first
published in this issue
Botibol decides to leap off the side of the ship and into the ocean, figuring that his rescue will slow the vessel's progress and he will win the money. He finds a solitary woman on deck to witness his plight and call for help, but when he leaps into the water the woman is silent. Unfortunately for Mr. Botibol, the woman's nurse does not believe her story of a man who dived overboard, and he is left to drown as the ship continues on its voyage.

Dahl's story is a witty piece of understated English irony, where the pool of the title represents both the betting pool and the enormous pool of the Atlantic Ocean. Botibol takes a dip in both pools; dip is also slang for a pickpocket, and he tries to pick the pockets of his fellow passengers by attempting to ensure his own victory. Botibol is also a bit of a dip himself, or a loser. The ending is clever, for as the ship moves away from Botibol, a "bobbing black speck," Dahl ignores his plight and focuses instead on the nameless "woman with the fat ankles" who tells her attendant, "Such a nice man . . . he waved to me." The wave, of course, was a desperate signal for help, but to the poor woman it was a sign of friendship.

Once again, Dahl mixes horror and humor in a compact tale. Does Botibol deserve his fate? Of course not, but it does represent an amusing comeuppance for a know it all.

Keenan Wynn as Botibol
The story has been adapted for television three times. The first was for the CBS series Danger; Albert Hubbell wrote the teleplay and Harry Townes starred in a program broadcast on March 21, 1954. Robert C. Dennis next adapted it for Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1958; the episode was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starred Keenan Wynn as William Botibol. It was rehearsed and filmed on April 15 and 16, 1958, and it aired on CBS on Sunday, June 1, 1958. During filming, Hitchcock's wife Alma was undergoing experimental treatment for cervical cancer and, though the director was an emotional wreck off set, he maintained a calm demeanor during production.

From the introduction to the show
The television show is a triumph of light entertainment, where Dennis's script expands the story and the cast performs to perfection. In the framing sequence, Hitchcock lounges on a deck chair on the S.S. Hitchcock, reading a copy of what close inspection reveals to be the February 1958 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine! During the episode, a character named Renshaw sits at a table in the ship's lounge, reading the very same issue of Hitchcock's magazine. Some writers have called this an example of Hitchcock making a cameo appearance in the episode, much like his famous cameo in Lifeboat in a newspaper ad for weight loss, but I think it is more in the nature of a not so subtle plug for the periodical, which had begun publication with an issue dated December 1956.

Close up
While Botibol travels alone in the story, the show opens with a scene in the cabin shared by him and his wife, Ethel. She reads excitedly from a travel guide about sites to see in Florence while he preens before a mirror; his idea of fun involves gambling casinos, bistros and dancing girls. Ethel remarks that her aunt left the money to her, yet Botibol is brash and boorish, over tipping a steward who brings a cocktail and a bottle of seasickness pills. He wears a loud, plaid dinner jacket that displays his lack of refined taste.

What Alfred is reading
On his way to the lounge, Botibol runs into Emily, a middle-aged woman who finds him charming and tells her companion so; she is the same woman who will fail to raise the alarm in the episode's final scene. Botibol arrives in the lounge and joins Renshaw, another character new to the story; he is a refined Englishman, wealthy and somewhat older than Botibol, who finds the American to be amusing company. Botibol continues to demonstrate his lack of class, over tipping again and pretending to be a seasoned European traveler. Renshaw invites Botibol to the pool after dinner, explaining what it is and how it works for both his companion and the viewer. Renshaw unfavorably compares betting in the pool to investing in the stock market, which represents an investment based on careful research--or, as Botibol understands it, "inside information."

This failure to grasp the difference between a wager and an investment based on detailed research turns out to be Botibol's undoing. He sits with the purser at dinner and grills him about the captain's estimate, in a scene that mirrors the first scene in the short story, then asks a crew member on deck about the ship's speed before turning up at the auction and asking Renshaw for his opinion. Botibol thinks he has done the research needed to make a wise investment, yet--like his over tipping and loud dinner jacket--his actions betray his lack of knowledge. The auction is held and the details are spelled out much more explicitly than in the story. Next morning, Botibol and Ethel greet the calm day in their twin beds (1950s TV at its most censored); he admits to her that he lost money gambling but conceals the real amount, almost $1000 of their $1500 travel budget.

Renshaw is reading it too!
Later that morning, Botibol sees Mr. and Mrs. Renshaw relaxing in deck chairs; Mrs. Renshaw finds him unbearable and quickly excuses herself, allowing the gambler to replace her in the chair next to Renshaw. After Renshaw offers a few less than helpful suggestions of ways that Botibol might still win his bet, he leaves, and Botibol plans his final, desperate leap, his thoughts conveyed in voice over. The voice over continues in his cabin as he dresses and formulates his plan; on deck, he finds Emily, the woman whom he had met earlier, and converses with her. Once again, he is making a feeble attempt to do research and gather information. His brief chat with the woman leads him to conclude: "Hearing good. Eyesight adequate. You're it, lady." As he did the evening before, he thinks that he has gathered enough intelligence to turn a bet into an investment; he believes that his leap into the ocean will result in predictable behavior on the woman's part. However, his shallow investigation failed to reveal that she was not of sound mind, and the lack of that key piece of information means that he loses his bet and his life.

Close up
A vacant-eyed Emily speaks the final lines, as she did in the story, with the camera close up on her face. Donald Spoto noted that, like "Lamb to the Slaughter," "Dip in the Pool" ends with "the stare of madness." Robert C. Dennis's adaptation of Dahl's short story is brilliant; by adding new characters and focusing on Botibol's attempts to turn a bet into an investment, he deepens the meaning of the story without changing its central plot points.

Robert C. Dennis (1915-1983) wrote for radio before moving into TV in 1950. He penned many episodes for TV series over the next 35 years, including 30 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and four episodes of The Outer Limits. Hitchcock teleplays include adapting Henry Slesar's "The Right Kind of House" and co-writing "A True Account" with Fredric Brown.

Keenan Wynn and Louise Platt
Keenan Wynn (1916-1986) stars as Botibol and gives an outstanding, comic performance. The son of vaudeville comic Ed Wynn, he was born Francis Xavier Aloysius James Jeremiah Keenan Wynn! A great character actor on radio, he appeared in movies from the early 1940s to the 1980s and on TV from the mid 1950s till his death. Notable roles included parts in Rod Serling's TV drama Requiem for a Heavyweight (1956), Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove (1964), an episode of The Twilight Zone, two episodes of Night Gallery, and two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including Henry Slesar's "The Last Escape."

Philip Bourneuf and Fay Wray
The role of Renshaw is played by Philip Bourneuf (1908-1979), a founding member of the Actors Studio who appeared in movies and on TV from the 1940s through the 1970s. He was on the Hitchcock show three times, appeared on Thriller once, and had a role in Fritz Lang's Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956).

Mrs. Renshaw is played by Fay Wray (1907-2004), who starred in King Kong (1933) and many other classic films. This was one of her two appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents; the other was in Henry Slesar's "The Morning After." An impressive website dedicated to Ms. Wray may be found here.

"He waved to me!"
Ethel Botibol, William's long-suffering wife, is played by Louise Platt (1915-2003), who is best known for a part in John Ford's Stagecoach (1939). She had a handful of parts in movies and on TV, including two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, but was mostly a stage actress.

Emily, the woman who watches Botibol dive off the side of the ship, is played by Doreen Lang (1915-1999); while this was her only appearance on the Hitchcock TV show, she did have small parts in three Hitchcock films: The Wrong Man (1956), North By Northwest (1959) and The Birds (1963).

That speck in the water is Botibol
I was not able to find a source to watch the 1954 adaptation (titled "A Dip in the Pool") on the TV series Danger, but the 1979 adaptation for Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected is available for free online viewing here. The teleplay is by Ronald Harwood and Jack Weston stars as Botibol. In his introduction to the show, Dahl admits to being a "mad gambler" and says that he enjoys writing stories about gamblers because he is interested in how people behave when they make a big wager. This version retains the Renshaw character but leaves out Botibol's wife. It is much more faithful to the original story than was the Alfred Hitchcock Presents version and the half-hour is quite entertaining, mainly due to Weston's performance; he has a much different interpretation of Botibol than does Keenan Wynn. This version aired on May 12, 1979.

Dahls' original story may be read for free here. The Hitchcock version is available on DVD but is not currently available for online viewing.

Sources:

Dahl, Roald. "Dip in the Pool." 1952. Roald Dahl Collected Stories. Ed. Jeremy Treglown. New York: Everyman's Library, 2006. 284-94. Print.

"Dip in the Pool." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 1 June 1958. Television.

"A Dip in the Pool." Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected. 12 May 1979. Television.

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.

IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.

McGilligan, Patrick. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light. New York: Regan, 2003. Print.

Spoto, Donald. The Life of Alfred Hitchcock: The Dark Side of Genius. London: Collins, 1983. Print.

Treglown, Jeremy. "Appendix." Roald Dahl Collected Stories. New York: Everyman's Library, 2006. 850. Print.

Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.

William and Ethel in their cabin

William meets Emily in the corridor
Renshaw is so dapper
The auction
Renshaw has traded in his
magazine for a book
Checking out Emily
Over the side he goes!
She doesn't believe a word of it.

2 comments:

Grant said...

I've always liked Philip Borneuf as Victor's father in the Dan Curtis TV version of FRANKENSTEIN. He's such a dignified character that he's a real flipside of the semi-comical version of the character in the Universal FRANKENSTEIN.

Jack Seabrook said...

I vaguely remember that from the '70s but Borneuf is just one of those actors whose face is familiar but I can't really remember any particular roles. Thanks for reading and thanks for your comment!