The story by Sayers takes place in England. As it begins, Mr. Mummery is riding the train to work when his stomach begins to hurt. His wife, Ethel, is recovering from a nervous breakdown and their cook, Mrs. Sutton, served Mummery a fine breakfast that day. Among the news items he reads in his paper is a report that "the police were still looking for the woman who was supposed to have poisoned a family in Lincoln."
At the office, Mummery chats amiably with Brookes, who recalls that Ethel and her co-star, young Welbeck, "positively brought the house down" in a Drama Society play the year before. Brookes brings up the poisoner, Mrs. Andrews, referring to her as an "arsenic maniac." At home that evening, Mummery finds Ethel resting and Mrs. Sutton preparing dinner. A couple of pain-free days go by and Mummery has another spell of illness on Thursday night, prompting Ethel to call in the doctor. By Saturday, he's feeling well enough to complain about Mrs. Sutton reading his morning paper and not folding it neatly when she's done.
|Everett Sloane as Ralph|
|Beulah Bondi as Mrs. Sutton|
The next day, he takes the suspicious liquid to a chemist's to be tested and finds out that it does contain arsenic. He rushes home, worried about Ethel, but discovers that she's fine, having spent the afternoon entertaining young Welbeck and making arrangements for the Drama Society. Mrs. Sutton announces that Mrs. Andrews has been caught and Mummery realizes that she must not have been the one to put arsenic in his cocoa. "Who, then--? He glanced around at his wife, and in her eyes he saw something that he had never seen before . . ."
"Suspicion" is a classic story of suspense that Lee and Dannay liked well enough to include in the landmark 1941 Modern Library collection, 101 Years' Entertainment: The Great Detective Stories 1841-1941. The story is lighthearted and builds to a subtle conclusion, as Mummery realizes that his wife, rather than his cook, has been trying to kill him.
|Janet Ward as Ethel|
The TV shows begins as Ralph Montgomery (Mummery in the Sayers story) banters with Mrs. Sutton, the cook, over breakfast, complaining about how she folds his newspaper but praising her cooking. His much younger wife, Ethel, joins him and he comments that she is playing the lead in Summer and Smoke against Don Welbeck. Already, in the first scene, it is evident that scriptwriter Dennis is very familiar with the story and has taken bits and pieces of the narrative and woven them into his teleplay in a different order. This scene is followed by an extended tracking shot outside as Ralph and his friend Earl Kramer walk away from the house and discuss Mrs. Andrews, the poisoner.
|Illuminated by the glow from the TV set|
|The card game is reflected in a mirror|
Ralph has the cocoa tested and returns home after telephoning and reaching Mrs. Sutton, who tells him that his wife went out and that she doesn't know where she went. A low angle shot of Mrs. Sutton adds to her menace. At this point, the script diverges from the story by having Ralph fire Mrs. Sutton, who tells him that his wife can't be trusted. The scene is well-written and well-played; the viewer knows what Ralph is talking about but it starts to become clear that Mrs. Sutton does not and that she is talking about something else entirely. One question arises in my mind here: if Ralph has proof that his cocoa was poisoned and thinks that Mrs. Sutton is the culprit, why does he fire her rather than call the police? This does not come up in the story by Sayers, since he learns that Mrs. Andrews has been captured and never fires Mrs. Sutton.
|Stevens draws our attention to the pot|
by putting it in the foreground of this shot
And now the motive is clear--a younger wife has fallen for another man and works to murder her older husband, using a method similar to that used by a famous murderer who is still at large. The final shot is memorable: Ethel emerges from the kitchen with a cup of cocoa for Ralph. She walks straight toward the camera, talking directly to it as it takes Ralph's point of view, and offers him the poisoned cup, which fills the screen in the show's last image.
|The cup fills the screen in the final shot|
Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957) was a poet, playwright, essayist and novelist, best known for her series of books featuring upper class English detective Lord Peter Wimsey. She was a founding member, with Agatha Christie and others, of The Detective Club in 1930. For more about Sayers, visit this website.
|Elliott Reid as Kramer|
Playing Mrs. Sutton is the familiar character actress Beulah Bondi (1889-1981), who began making films in 1931 and is best remembered today for her role as Jimmy Stewart's mother in It's a Wonderful Life. She only appeared once on the Hitchcock show, but she kept working on TV well into her 80s.
Janet Ward (1925-1995) plays Ethel, the scheming wife. She had a 40-year career in TV and movies but her roles were somewhat limited and this was her only appearance on the Hitchcock show. She was 16 years younger than co-star Everett Sloane.
"Design for Loving" on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and also appeared once on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, but I will always think of him as Felix Unger's writing teacher on The Odd Couple. Olan Soule (1909-1994) appears briefly as the chemist who tests the cocoa for Ralph; he was on the Hitchcock series eight times and played many character roles in his long career; he later had many credits as a voice actor in animated cartoons.
"Our Cook's a Treasure" is available on DVD here or may be viewed for free online here.
Prior radio and TV versions were as follows (titled "Suspicion" unless otherwise noted):
Suspense, 12 August 1942 (30 minutes, lost)
Suspense, 10 February 1944 (30 minutes, same script as 1942 version, listen here)
Suspense, 3 April 1948 (60 minutes, listen here)
Suspense, 15 March 1949 (also directed by Robert Stevens, watch here)
The Actor's Studio, 17 February 1950 (as "Mr. Mummery's Suspicion", unavailable)
Studio One, 3 September 1951 (as "Mr. Mummery's Suspicion," watch here)
In two weeks: "Guilty Witness," with Joe Mantell and Kathleen Maguire!