|Woolrich's story was|
first published here
As the story begins, Richard Paine waits outside the window of Mr. Burroughs, recalling that he had been a faithful employee of Burroughs's company who was owed $250 in back pay when Burroughs declared bankruptcy to avoid paying his debts. Paine and his wife have suffered from lack of money and are about to be turned out of their apartment for unpaid rent. He sees Burroughs talking to another person and watches as the old man opens his safe, takes out a stack of bills, and gives money to the unseen person, who leaves. Paine hides from view and cannot see who is leaving.
Once the visitor is gone and Burroughs has retired upstairs, Paine summons his courage and breaks into the house through a window. He opens the safe, having memorized the combination minutes before, and is suddenly bathed in light as Burroughs appears, alerted by a silent alarm. Burroughs holds a gun on Paine and tries to pull off the handkerchief covering his face. Paine wrestles with Burroughs, deflecting the gun and knocking the old man to the floor. Burroughs grabs the handkerchief and identifies Paine, who shoots and kills the old man with his own gun. Taking only the $250 he was owed, Paine escapes unseen but fears that "Murder, like a snowball rolling down a slope, gathers momentum as it goes."
|Skip Homeier as Dick|
|Joanne Woodward as Pauline|
Dick tells Pauline to pack so they can leave in a hurry. He thinks he sees someone outside waiting for him and tells Pauline to go to the train terminal, buy two tickets to Montreal, and wait for him on the train. After she leaves, he crouches by the window, running outside when he thinks the man is after Pauline. Of course, the man is waiting for someone else, but Dick immediately sees another man loitering on the sidewalk and scurries back into his apartment. The man comes to the door and Dick shoots him as he enters, only to learn he was just a loan shark. Dick races out but the gunshot attracted attention and he exchanges gunfire with a policeman, killing the cop but being wounded himself in the process.
|Watching through the window|
"Murder Always Gathers Momentum" has as its backdrop the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the financial difficulty faced by Richard and Pauline Paine would have been familiar to readers of the detective pulp magazine in which it appeared. When the story was adapted for television about fifteen years later, times had changed. World War Two had come and gone, as had the Korean War, and by 1955 the nation was at peace and the economy was in much better shape than it had been in 1940. The title of the story was shortened to "Momentum" and, despite a teleplay by Francis Cockrell and direction by Robert Stevens, the episode is less than the sum of its parts. It bears a copyright date of 1955 but was not broadcast till the end of June 1956, suggesting that the producers realized it was a weak episode and held it till the end of the season, when viewership declined.
|Homeier superimposed over stock |
footage of New York City; note
"The Phenix City Story" on
the marquee, dating the shot
around summer 1955
A scene of Dick and Beth (not Pauline) at home follows, where we learn of their money troubles and the tension that this brings into their marriage. Dick stops in a bar and tries unsuccessfully to borrow money from the bartender; he drinks some Dutch courage before heading to Burroughs's house, where we pick up with the start of the original story. Knowing the surprise ending, it's hard to believe Paine cannot see his own wife through the window, though her identity is shielded from the viewer's eyes by a well-placed curtain. The day for night filming in this scene is not very effective, leading to some confusion as to the time of day. The scene is so well-lit that it's hard to believe Paine does not see his wife walking away from the house.
|High-contrast noir lighting is used in|
this shot, where Ken Christy as
Burroughs points a gun at Paine
After Paine leaves Burroughs's house, the visit to the bar is omitted from the TV show, so Paine does not commit a second murder. Perhaps this was a conscious decision by Cockrell to make Paine more sympathetic. The sense of paranoia that Paine feels when he is back in his apartment is also much less; rather than thinking that the janitor has it in for him, the janitor just barges into the apartment and shows it to a prospective tenant. Again, it is hard to accept that Beth would not tell her husband about her visit to Burroughs, but the twist ending depends on her keeping silent. Cornell Woolrich had the ability to pile one coincidence on top of another and to make the reader forget about lapses in logic due to the propulsive nature of his writing. The TV version of "Momentum" does not succeed in this way, leaving the viewer to wonder why people fail to say and do the things that one would expect them to do.
It is strange that Dick tells Beth to buy two bus tickets to Mexico, then changes it to San Diego. Why alter this detail from the story, in which they live in New York City and he tells her to buy train tickets to Montreal? The change from train to bus lessens the suspense, as the final scene does not have Paine struggling his way through crowded train cars. In fact, he never boards the bus, but rather happens on Beth sitting on a bench outside the station.
|Harry Tyler is on the right in one of his|
11 appearances on the series
The biggest problem with "Momentum" is that it lacks the title attribute and never really builds suspense. Paine dies in Beth's arms at the end and his last words circle back to the comment he made at the beginning of the show: "It's a rat race--you run all day." Unfortunately, despite a talented writer, a skilled director, a competent cast, and various noir touches, "Momentum" is a letdown and does not live up to the promise of Woolrich's original story. Francis M. Nevins sums it up this way: "this all-too-straight-forward little picture left out most of the Depression Era desperation and anguish . . . that permeate Woolrich's story."
Francis Cockrell (1906-1987), who wrote the teleplay, started his career in movies in 1932 and moved to TV in 1950. He placed many short stories in pulps and slicks in the '30s and '40s and wrote a serial called "Dark Waters" with his wife Marian Cockrell that was serialized in The Saturday Evening Post, published as a novel, and adapted as a film. In addition to writing four episodes of Batman, he wrote 18 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Back for Christmas," "De Mortuis," and "The Dangerous People."
|Mike Ragan as the cabbie|
Playing the lead role of Dick Paine is Skip Homeier (1930- ), who began his acting career as a child on radio and successfully navigated his way through growing up on camera into a long career as an adult. He appeared in films from 1944 to 1982 and on TV from 1950 to 1982; he was on The Outer Limits, two episodes of Star Trek, and two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
Among the familiar faces filling out the cast of "Momentum" are Ken Christy (1894-1962) as Burroughs, Mike Ragan (1918-1995) as the cabbie, and Harry Tyler (1888-1961) as the old man looking at the Paines' apartment. Tyler was one of the most prolific of character actors on the Hitchcock series, appearing in a total of 11 episodes.
|Was this insert shot added later to|
match the air date in late June 1956?
The TV version of "Momentum" is available on DVD here or may be viewed for free online here.