When a man's soul is at stake, is it permissible to mislead him in order to help him to make the right decision? A weighty question indeed, and not what one would expect from the lead tale in a 15-cent pulp called Crack Detective Stories. Yet that's exactly the issue that Robert C. Dennis wrestles with in "Place of Shadows," first published in the January 1947 issue of that long-forgotten magazine and adapted by Dennis nine years later into a first-season episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, broadcast on CBS on Sunday, February 26, 1956.
Dennis's short story begins as a young man waits alone on a platform outside a lonely train station at night. Brother Gerard, a monk, arrives by car to take him to the nearby monastery, addressing the young man as Mr. Anser. The young man has a gun in his pocket and learns from the monk that another man named Mr. Rocco has been brought to the monastery to receive medical care after having been injured in a car accident.
Arriving at the monastery, the young man is unnerved by the darkness and shadows around him. He is taken to see Father Vincente and asks to see Mr. Rocco. Father Vincente tells the young man that he knows he is not Anser but rather James Clements, since Rocco provided detailed physical descriptions of them both. Clements announces his intention to kill Rocco, whose swindling forced him to embezzle money, leading to the loss of his job and his fiance: "My life was wrecked by Dave Rocco," Clements tells the priest.
|Everett Sloane as Father Vincente|
Overwhelmed at having killed a man, Clements walks back to the monastery, determined to confess to Father Vincente. He passes out and later wakes up in the infirmary, where he tells the priest that he has changed his mind about killing Rocco. Father Vincente replies: "That's in the hands of the Lord, Mr. Clements . . . Mr. Rocco died the day before yesterday."
|Mark Damon as Ray Clements|
|Sean McClory as Brother Gerard|
In adapting his own story for television, Dennis makes some interesting choices. The first scene, at the railroad station, includes more dialogue between Clements and the station agent, who refers to an unnamed place "up there," and asks Clements if he is going "up there for good." When Clements says no, the old man admits that the young man does not look like one of them. The first scene creates suspense by making the viewer wonder, what is this place and who are these people? A close up of Clements checking his gun tells us that he is a dangerous man on a deadly mission. Brother Gerard then enters the station, dressed in monk's robe and hood, and we realize what "up there" is and why Clements is not going there for good--it is a monastery and his gun suggests ill intent.
|In the chapel|
Ray enters the gallery and looks down to see the monks at prayer. He loosens his tie, crosses himself and kneels out of habit, surprised at his own actions. He begins to cry, overcome by the solemn sights and sounds, before raising his eyes to Heaven in silent prayer. Suddenly, he rushes out of the gallery and down a hallway, where he observes a monk taking a tray of food into a room. Ray looks into the room and sees Rocco asleep in bed; he takes out his gun, perhaps intending to kill his enemy, when Father Vincente stops him and asks, "Would you commit murder here?"
|Joseph Downing as Unser|
In another scene new to the teleplay, we see two policemen knock at the door of the monastery. Brother Gerard takes them in to see Father Vincente and they search the premises, looking for Clements. Soon, Ray collapses outside and is brought to the infirmary by Brother Gerard; when he calls out to Father Vincente, the police discover him, but the priest invokes the rule of sanctuary and tells the officers that they may listen to his conversation with Clements from outside the door. Ray tells the priest that he killed in self-defense and, in an unintentionally funny moment, the lead policeman states that "As far as I'm concerned, Unser got what was coming to him." The police leave and the final exchange occurs between Clements and Father Vincente, who reveals that "Mr. Rocco died just before you arrived."
The overall effect of the changes that Dennis made from story to teleplay is to increase the focus on Ray's repentance. The scene in the gallery above the chapel is a powerful one, as is his reaction after he kills Unser. Whereas the story builds inexorably toward its satisfying payoff, the teleplay is more concerned with salvation. The scenes with the policemen add nothing and should have been omitted. Unlike the story, Ray actually sees Rocco, though he is unaware that the man who appears to be sleeping is in fact dead.
|Driving in the snow|
|Inside the railroad station|
The monks and the monastery setting also look forward to another classic episode of The Twilight Zone, "The Howling Man." In fact, there is a shot that tracks Brother Gerard and Ray Clements as they walk down a hall in the monastery that is very similar to the famous shot in that later show where the prisoner who has been released gradually is revealed as the Devil as he passes behind each pillar along his route. In "Place of Darkness," the camera follows the two men as they walk past pillars down a hall, but the only change that may be occurring here is hidden in the heart of Ray Clements.
Another well done scene is the shootout in the railway station. Unser is first glimpsed as only an arm and hand holding a gun; the man himself crouches behind a steamer trunk as he speaks to Clements.
"Place of Shadows" is not perfect, though. Mark Damon tries a bit too hard as Clements and Everett Sloane seems an odd choice to play a wise old monk, yet both succeed in conveying the necessary emotions of their characters and Damon, especially, appears sincere in his reaction to the monks' chanting in the chapel.
|Claude Akins as a policeman|
Father Vincente is played by Everett Sloane (1909-1965), who was onscreen from 1941 until the year of his death and who was last seen in this series in the Dennis/Stevens episode, "Our Cook's a Treasure."
Portraying Brother Gerard is Sean McClory (1924-2003), whose background as a stage actor in Dublin preceded his time onscreen in America. He receives billing above Mark Damon (1933- ), who was born in Chicago as Alan Harris and who was onscreen from the '50s to the '70s before starting a career as a successful movie producer. McClory was seen in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, while this was the only one for Damon; Damon is remembered today for his role in Roger Corman's House of Usher (1960) and is the subject of a book called From Cowboy to Mogul to Monster: The Neverending Story of Film Pioneer Mark Damon.
|Harry Tyler as the station agent|
Joseph Downing (1903-1975) was onscreen from 1935 until 1963 and plays Unser; he was in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and was seen on the other side of the law as a police detective in the Cornell Woolrich episode, "The Big Switch."
Finally, Harry Tyler (1888-1961) plays the station agent; he was in eleven episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and his screen career began way back in 1929. Coincidentally, he also portrays the station agent in "The Dangerous People."
"Place of Shadows" is such an obscure story that I have scanned and reproduced it below. I assume that it is no longer under copyright, but I will promptly remove it if I am notified that this is not the case.
Watch the TV version here.