When Lizzie Borden's parents were brutally murdered in their home at Fall River, Massachusetts, on August 4, 1892, the case became one of the most celebrated in American history. Borden was tried and acquitted but her name is still associated with violence. She died in 1927 and many books have been written that studied the murders and proposed solutions to the crime.
One of those to tackle this subject was American mystery writer Lillian de la Torre (1902-1993). Born in Manhattan as Lillian McCue, de la Torre wrote many historical mystery stories, some featuring Dr. Sam Johnson, as well as a four-play series of crime thrillers with the omnibus title, Women Don't Hang. One of those four plays was Good-Bye, Miss Lizzie Borden, written in 1947 and performed onstage in 1948 in de la Torre's hometown of Colorado Springs, CO. The one-act play was published that year in the Baker's Plays series and it is similar to Marie Belloc Lowndes's What Really Happened, which was adapted for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and broadcast in 1963, in that both take true crimes and posit solutions in the guise of fiction. Ms. de la Torre's play takes place one year after the murders, on August 4, 1893, at the Borden home as Emma Borden, Lizzie's older sister, readies herself to leave home and encounters Maggie, an Irish maid, who is also taking her leave. They both want to escape Lizzie.
|Joan Lorring as Emma Borden|
|Carmen Mathews as Lizzie Borden|
Good-Bye, Miss Lizzie Borden was first adapted for television as part of the Actors Studio series. It was broadcast live on Sunday November 21, 1948, on ABC. This version featured Mary Wickes and, if it survives, I have not found it online.
|Polly Rowles as Nell|
The final adaptation to date of de la Torre's play was written by Robert C. Dennis and was broadcast during the first season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents under the title, "The Older Sister." Broadcast on January 22, 1956, less than four months after the radio version, it was directed by Robert Stevens and starred Joan Lorring as Emma, Carmen Mathews as Lizzie and Polly Rowles as Nell.
Dennis's script follows the outline of the play closely, but he has rewritten the dialogue and moved events around within the scenes. The show opens with a little girl walking down the sidewalk chanting the famous rhyme; her clothes tell us that we're back in the nineteenth century and Stevens uses a smooth tracking shot to follow her progress. A woman chides her and tells her to "stop annoying Miss Lizzie," at which point the scene shifts to the inside of the Borden house, where virtually the entire show takes place, betraying its origin as a stage play.
|A low angle shot of Lizzie|
|The final shot shows Lizzie's isolation|
|A rare moment outside|
|Emma menaces Lizzie|
Stevens (1920-1989) directed 49 episodes of the Hitchcock series; the last examined here was "Guilty Witness," with a teleplay by Robert C. Dennis.
Playing Lizzie is Carmen Mathews (1911-1995), who was born in Philadelphia and appeared on TV from 1950 to 1992. She also made films, starting in 1960, appeared once on The Twilight Zone and was seen six times on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including Henry Slesar's "The Kerry Blue."
The brassy reporter is played by Polly Rowles (1914-2001), who was in movies from 1936 to 1982 and on TV from 1951 to 1982. She was also in many Broadway shows from 1937 to 1983. This was her only appearance on the Hitchcock series; her most famous role came in the 1980s, when she played Inspector 12 on a series of TV commercials for Hanes underwear.
Finally, Patricia Hitchcock (1928- ) plays Margaret, the Irish maid. She appeared in three of her father's films and ten episodes of his TV series, including "The Glass Eye" and "The Cuckoo Clock."
"The Older Sister" is available on DVD here or may be watched for free online here.