|"Guilty Witness" was first published|
here as "Innocent Bystander"
Hershman's introduction to the story states that his father had been a pharmacist and so he decided to write a story involving a pharmacy. In the tale, Stanley Krane is a married man who runs the Express Pharmacy and whose customers include Mrs. Amelia Verber, who lives in apartment 3A of the building where Krane and his wife live on the ground floor. Mrs. Verber is described as "a sickly-looking woman with tea-colored hair" and she is married to a man who beats her and leaves visible bruises. "Her shrieks had caused my wife and me dozens of sleepless nights," says Krane, the narrator. Mrs. Verber asks him for a large carton to store some books.
Krane's wife "can't stand" Mrs. Verber and remarks that "If I were married to [her] I'd beat her up day and night." Mrs. Krane's attitude strikes me as strange and it is not until the end of the story that it makes sense. One night, the Kranes hear screaming from the Verber apartment, screaming that is suddenly cut short. The next day, Mrs. Verber comes into the drugstore and drops her money when Krane asks her how her husband is. No one sees Mr. Verber for the next couple of weeks. Mrs. Krane makes a series of observations about Mrs. Verber's behavior that lead her to suspect that she may have murdered her husband.
|Joe Mantell as Stanley|
Mrs. Verber joins the trio in the basement and confesses to murder in a monologue that ends with her attacking Krane's wife, with whom Verber had been having an affair. Author Hershman sets up the twist ending by withholding Mrs. Krane's first name throughout the story. When Mrs. Verber states that her husband was going to leave her for a woman named Dorothy, we do not know that she means the wife of the narrator until the final paragraph:
|Judith Evelyn as Mrs. Verber|
It's a rare story that can succeed in postponing a twist ending until the final words, but "Guilty Witness" accomplishes this feat. The ending is such a surprise that the reader is forced to go back over the story to see if Dorothy's name was ever mentioned before (it wasn't) and if there were any other clues to her true role as a not so "Innocent Bystander" (the story's original title) or a "Guilty Witness." Her strange defense of Verber the wife beater and her dislike of his pathetic wife make more sense when one realizes that she was the man's lover and the woman's rival.
"Guilty Witness" is a fairly good story with a great twist ending. It was one of the first stories written by Morris Hershman (1926- ) to be published. Hershman is a very prolific author who is not well known. In a career that spans over 60 years, he has written over 100 published short stories and over 70 novels, using a slew of pen names such as Sam Victor, Jess Wilcox, Evelyn Bond, Arnold English, Norman Hunt, Lionel Webb and Janet Templeton. He has written books in many genres of fiction, but his very first novel, published as a paperback original in 1964, was none other than Guilty Witness which, from descriptions found online, appears likely to be a reworking and expansion of the same story that served as the basis for the first-season Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode of the same title. This would be the only episode of the Hitchcock series to be based on a story by Hershman; his only other credit on IMDb is for a 1960 Canadian TV series called The Unforeseen.
Robert C. Dennis adapted "Guilty Witness" for television and it was broadcast three weeks after Dennis's "Our Cook's a Treasure" on CBS on Sunday, December 11, 1955. Both episodes were directed by Robert Stevens. In adapting the story, Dennis faced a challenge: how to hide the identity of the main character's wife as the motivating force for murder while telling the story in pictures rather than in words. I think that the episode fails to pack the same punch that the short story does for a variety of reasons, though Dennis's teleplay does correct one glaring error.
|The baby carriage in the foreground|
|Mrs. Verber pulls the carton inside|
|A quiet evening at home in 1955|
The error in Hershman's story that is corrected in Dennis's script is one of odor: in the story, the body has been missing for more than two weeks before it is found, while in the TV show it's only a matter of days. The characters in the TV show sweat and fan themselves, making it clear that the story takes place in the summer in New York City, and if Verber had really been murdered and his body stored in the basement it would not have taken long for the smell of decay and decomposition to make the location of the corpse obvious. Hershman allows the body to be missing for too long and does not account for the stench; Dennis does not make this mistake.
|No body, just toys|
|Legs descending a staircase|
"Guilty Witness" is an unremarkable episode with some directorial flourishes by Robert Stevens; the cast is comprised of four main characters whose performances verge on bland. Judith Evelyn (1913-1967) receives top billing and plays Mrs. Verber as a tired and beaten woman whose murder of her husband and hiding of his body are not consistent with her defeated personality. Born Evelyn Morris, the actress was in movies and on TV from 1946 to 1962, appearing twice on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and once on Thriller. Her film roles included William Castle's The Tingler (1959) and a memorable performance as Miss Lonelyhearts in Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954).
|Kathleen Maguire as Mrs. Krane|
Playing Stanley is Joe Mantell (1915-2010), in one of his two appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He was on screen from 1947 to 1990, appeared twice on The Twilight Zone and had a role in Hitchcock's The Birds (1963). Film fans will best remember him for delivering the final line in Chinatown (1974): "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown."
|Robert Simon as Det. Harrison|
"Guilty Witness" was anthologized a second time in Kill or Cure: Suspense Stories About the World of Medicine, edited by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini and published in 1985. The TV version is available on DVD here or may be viewed online for free here.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville: MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.