"Nightmare in 4-D," which aired on CBS on Sunday, January 13, 1957, is less than the sum of its parts. Imagine a noir mystery involving a middle-aged man who likes to read lurid pulp paperbacks before bedtime and who gets involved in a murder with the beautiful blond downstairs! Add Henry Jones, Barbara Baxley, Norman Lloyd, Virginia Gregg and Percy Helton to the mix, and you should have the ingredients for a classic episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Unfortunately, this one is a disappointment.
The story begins one evening as Harry Parker comes home to his apartment building and helps pretty Lainie Elliott with her packages as she waits for the elevator. She tells him with excitement that she just got cast in her first role in a Broadway show and they flirt with each other. Along with her bags of groceries, she carries a bottle of champagne and she tells Harry that a friend is coming over to help her celebrate the good news. Harry leaves her at her apartment door and goes upstairs to his apartment, where his wife Norma teases him about helping the pretty neighbor and offers him some cooking sherry in place of champagne.
|Barbara Baxley as Lainie|
Harry tells Lainie: "I can't get involved in murder, I'm a married man!" Yet she convinces him to carry the body down to the basement, afraid that its discovery in her apartment might endanger her acting career. Lugging the body to the basement, Harry dumps it behind a trunk before Lainie empties Bill's wallet to make it look like he was robbed. They take the elevator back upstairs and the door closes just as she is telling him how grateful she is. We do not see what happens next; instead, we see Harry staggering back into his apartment some time later. This time, he hungrily gulps down the cooking sherry.
|Virginia Gregg as Norma|
Harry goes back to his own apartment and tells Norma what happened. Orsatti arrives and discloses that Norma had been seeing Neilson while Harry was away at work. She claims that she was lonely and that she had nothing to do with the murder. Orsatti has deduced that the killer had to climb down the fire escape from their window, since the retractable ladder at street level had not been lowered and the only neighbor above them is elderly. Arresting Harry for the crime, Orsatti explains that Harry was jealous and killed Neilson while Norma was on the telephone with a neighbor who was complaining that the volume on their TV set was turned up too loud.
|Norman Lloyd as Lt. Orsatti|
The mystery itself is straightforward and clues are fairly provided, though the speed with which Lt. Orsatti investigates and solves the murder boggles the mind. As for the direction, there are a couple of nice tracking shots as characters walk down the hallway to and from the elevator early in the show, and the lighting as Harry watches TV late at night is ominous. Best of all is the cast, which is made up of actors and actresses who are favorites of those who savor classic television. Henry Jones is wonderful as Harry; when Lainie asks him to help her remove the corpse from her apartment his eyes wander down to her cleavage and then back up to her face before he agrees to assist. Neither he nor the woman, played to perfection by Barbara Baxley, seem to care a bit about the dead man!
|Harry watches the late show|
In The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion, Grams and Wikstrom write that "Occasionally, writers . . . would write short, one, two or three-page drafts based on original ideas they had, and they would be added to the pile of proposals." I submit that this is what Stuart Jerome (1918-1983) did in this, his only credit on the Hitchcock series. Jerome had been an errand boy at the Warner Brothers studio in the late 1930s and wrote about his experiences in a 1983 book called Those Crazy Wonderful Years When We Ran Warner Bros. He was drafted and served in WWII; later, he began to write scripts for radio and quickly moved into TV, with script and story credits stretching from 1952 to 1965 that also include an episode of Thriller. He also is said to have been a script doctor for TV and film.
|Jones and Percy Helton|
The great actor Henry Jones (1912-1999) was only 44 years old at the time this episode was filmed. He was onscreen for over 50 years, from his 1943 film debut until his last TV role in 1995. He was in just about every series one could name and appeared six times on the Hitchcock show, including John Collier's "De Mortuis." He also appeared on The Twilight Zone, Thriller, Night Gallery, and The Night Stalker, as well as playing a role in Hitchcock's 1958 classic, Vertigo.
|The book Harry|
Slinky Barbara Baxley (1923-1990) was only 33 when she flirted with Jones in this episode. She was an Actor's Studio graduate who started out on stage and also had a long career on screen from 1950 to 1990. She was on The Twilight Zone and can be seen in six episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including Ray Bradbury's "Design for Loving" (with Norman Lloyd), John Collier's "Anniversary Gift" and Henry Slesar's "The Case of M.J.H."
Hitchcock regular Norman Lloyd (1914- ) is still alive at age 101 and has had a long career on stage and screen. This was the first of his five acting appearances on the Hitchcock series; later episodes to feature him included "Design for Loving" and John Collier's "Maria." He directed 22 episodes of the series and produced many more.
|The book that|
causes a nightmare
Finally, Percy Helton (1894-1971) began his career in vaudeville and worked on stage and screen for over 60 years, from 1915 until 1978. Among his seven appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents was Henry Slesar's "The Horse Player."
The 4-D in the episode's title refers to the number of Parker's apartment. Lainie lives downstairs in 3-D and the unfortunate Mr. Nielson lived another floor down in 2-A. The cover art from Night of Horror, the fake paperback that Harry reads in bed, was reused for the cover of a fake paperback called The Bashful Killer in the 1960 episode, "Insomia,"
"Nightmare in 4-D" is available on DVD here or may be viewed for free online here.
IMDb. IMDb.com. 7 Dec. 2015.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001.
"Nightmare in 4-D." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 13 Jan. 1957.
In two weeks: "One for the Road," starring John Baragrey, Georgann Johnson and Louise Platt!
|An uncredited actor as the corpse|