"Crack of Doom" is based on a short story by Don Marquis called "The Crack of Doom" that was first published in the September 6, 1930 issue of Collier's and later reprinted in the February 1956 issue of Playboy, which is probably where Joan Harrison saw it and decided to buy the television rights.
Marquis (1878-1937) was a popular newspaper columnist in the 1920s who also wrote short stories. Best known for his series of stories featuring Archy and Mehitabel, a cockroach and a cat, there are over two dozen books that collect his work. A couple of movies were made based on a play he wrote and he spent a brief spell in Hollywood in the early 1930s writing dialogue for films; only four TV shows have been made based on his writings. Read more about Marquis at this excellent website.
"The Crack of Doom" begins in the card room at a men's club when several men tire of bridge and decide to play poker. Tom Ackley asks his old friend Mason Bridges to join them, but Bridges surprises him with a strenuous refusal. A week later, Ackley asks Bridges why and Bridges tells the story of the time he stopped being an honest man and, for a few hours, became a crook.
Ten years before, Bridges had been a partner in a firm in a suburb of New York City where, among other things, money was kept in a safe to help local merchants make change after banking hours were over. The partners in the firm felt free to borrow from the safe and leave I.O.U.s. Bridges, a poker fiend in college who now played twice a week in a small game among friends, was unhappy that Sam Clinker, a local politician with a large bank account, had begun to "bull the game," bluffing frequently and making large bets. Bridges did not like Clinker, thinking that the man had turned a friendly game of cards into a high stakes proposition, and was determined to get the best of him.
|From the original publication|
One night, Bridges realized that losses over the course of his last two games had left him in debt to the firm over $4000. He and his wife Jessie had $9000 in the bank, so he knew that he could pay back the money, but he wanted to win the money back by beating Sam, who had left $10,000 in the firm's safe that day. Borrowing $2000 of Sam's money from the safe, Bridges joined the game and, before he knew it, he had written a check for $2500 and was down a total of $8500. Thankful for the $9000 he had in the bank, he went home and woke Jessie to tell her, but she broke down and told him that she had lost money at bridge and then lost the rest of the $9000 trying to recoup her losses by playing the stock market.
Hope, despair and alcohol drove Bridges to play Clinker's game and to bet big himself: as the night wore on, he won, lost, and won again, his vision blurred, his insides burning. The last hours passed in a haze, but he never forgot the last hand of poker he would ever play. Clinker had three tens and a king showing while Bridges had three queens and a king showing. The pot got bigger and bigger; Bridges raised $4000 and Clinker countered by raising $10,500; Bridges wrote a worthless check for $20,000 and threw it on the pile of money and checks, goading Clinker into calling him. Suddenly, Bridges looked at his hole card and saw that it was a jack--in his drunken, emotional state he had thought it was a queen.
"I waited for the shattering blast of the last trump," he told Ackley, but it never came. Clinker decided to fold rather than to put more money in the pot, and Bridges had won. He knew that he would not have had the nerve to bluff had he known the real card in his hand and decided that he would never again put himself at the mercy of a playing card. Bridges tells Ackley that that night was the reason he will never again play cards for money.
|Robert Horton as the older Mason bridges|
Don Marquis writes a suspenseful tale that contains an interesting ethical question: when is a man a thief? Bridges takes money from his office safe and leaves an I.O.U. As his borrowing mounts, he believes himself to be an honest man because he knows he can repay the money from his savings. Yet when his wife reveals that the savings are gone, he realizes that he cannot repay the debt and is now a thief. Later that night, he wins back all of the money and can repay the debt, so he is no longer a thief. The question is an interesting one that could be debated at length but, happily for Bridges, Clinker does not call his bluff.
|Robert Middleton as Sam Clinker|
Though the story by Don Marquis begins in a men's club, Dennis moves the setting to a train racing through the night. Inside a bar car on the train, Bridges tells his story to Ackley. As Bridges, Robert Horton is made up to look like he is in his mid-40s to early 50s, with graying hair at the temples and a small mustache, and his colleagues appear to be of similar age. The story of the poker game is presented in flashbacks, with Horton looking much younger. Using a train setting for the frame sequence puts the men together in a confined space with time to kill; the darkness outside, lit occasionally by passing lights, and the sound of the moving train add a great deal of atmosphere and urgency to the tale.
|This shot recalls 1940s private eye films|
Horton is wonderful as Bridges; handsome and heroic, he contrasts well with Robert Middleton as Clinker, who is overweight, more than a decade older than Horton, and menacing. Voice over narration by Bridges is used sparingly to convey his thoughts as he borrows more money from the office safe. By switching from the card game to scenes with Bridges alone to scenes in the present, Dennis keeps the story moving. High-contrast lighting is used in the late night office scene, as Bridges takes the last of Clinker's money from the safe. The voice over narration gives this portion of the episode a feeling like a 1940s detective film.
|Dayton Lummis as Tom Ackley|
|Gail Kobe as Jessie Bridges|
"Crack of Doom" is a very entertaining adaptation of a classic story of suspense, where the writer, the director, and the actors all work together to bring to life the words on the page.
Director James Neilson was at the helm for twelve episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents; the last reviewed here was "The Orderly World of Mr. Appleby."
Robert Horton (1924- ) was onscreen from the mid-1940s until the late 1980s and is still alive at age 91. He also had a career on the Broadway stage. He was on Alfred Hitchcock Presents seven times and starred in the series Wagon Train from 1957 to 1962. He maintains a website here.
|Horton as the younger Bridges|
In small roles are Gail Kobe (1932-2013), as Jessie Bridges, and Dayton Lummis (1903-1988) as Tom Ackley. Kobe was also seen in the hour-long episode, "The Black Curtain," and Lummis was in Hitchcock's The Wrong Man (1956).
"Crack of Doom" is available on DVD here or may be watched for free online here.
"Crack of Doom." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 25 Nov. 1956.
"Don Marquis: Tall Tales and Light Verse." donmarquis.com. 15 Nov. 2015.
"The FictionMags Index." The FictionMags Index. 15 Nov. 2015.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001.
IMDb. IMDb.com. 15 Nov. 2015.
Marquis, Don. "The Crack of Doom." Collier's: 6 Sept. 1930, 7-9, 40, 43. UNZ.org. 13 Nov. 2015.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 15 Nov. 2015.