Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Hitchcock Project-Robert C. Dennis Part Fourteen: "Martha Mason, Movie Star" [2.34]

by Jack Seabrook

"Martha Mason, Movie Star," which aired in CBS on Sunday, May 19, 1957, was based on a short story called "Martha Myers, Movie Star" by Raymond Mason that was first published as the lead story in the second issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, dated January 1957.

Though Mabel is mousy and in her mid-thirties, she thinks she resembles a movie star named Martha Myers. Her husband Henry annoys her and she wishes he spent more than one night a week at the lodge. One evening, Henry calls her down to the basement to see his garden and she takes the opportunity to brain him with a hammer and bury him in the large hole he had dug. She disguises the area by burying potted plants and then types out a note from Henry in which he apologizes to her for running away with another woman.

The next day, she calls Henry's boss and reads him the letter. For the next week, she entertains a string of sympathetic neighbors; Mabel enjoys the attention until she receives a visit from Officer Merkin, who invites her down to the station to fill out a missing persons report. At the station, Merkin receives a phone call and then tells Mabel that they found Henry's body. It seems a "cheap blonde" had gone to the police to inform them that Henry could not have run away with another woman because she is the other woman, with whom he spent every Thursday night when Mabel thought he was at the lodge.

Henry tells Mabel the truth!

Mason's story is very funny and the ironic twist ending is of almost secondary importance to the portrait of a delusional woman for whom murder becomes a means to gain attention. It features much more narrative than dialogue, which must have made it challenging to adapt for television. The FictionMags Index lists three short stories by Raymond Mason, all appearing in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine in 1957 or 1958. I also located five paperback originals by this author in the same time period:

And Two Shall Meet (1954)

Forever is Today (1955)

Love After Five (1956)

Bedeviled (1960)

Someone and Felicia Warwick (1962)

The back cover copy for Forever is Today states that Mason was "this generation's spokesman for the young and the damned," but what that means is anyone's guess. All of the novels but Bedeviled were in the Gold Medal series. I queried Bill Crider about whether Raymond Mason might have been a pseudonym, but he was not aware of it being anything but the author's real name. This was the only time a story by Mason was adapted for television or film, according to IMDb.

Robert C. Dennis adapted "Martha Myers, Movie Star" for Alfred Hitchcock Presents  and the title was changed to "Martha Mason, Movie Star," but the show falls flat. It begins as Mabel wakes up and Henry brings her coffee. Their conversation establishes their unhapy relationship and her homely night headwear stands in stark contrast with the lovely movie star whom she emulates.

In the next scene, we see Mabel come out of a movie theater where a movie called Forgotten Woman is playing; she mimics a pose of Martha Mason's in front of a poster outside the theater. Mabel later arrives home to find Henry working in his garden. In the show, his garden is in the yard, unlike the story, where it is in the basement, an odd place to try to grow things! She suggests divorce and he ridicules the idea, then she picks up a hammer and kills him. The scene tries to be comedic, or so it seems from the jaunty, inappropriate music that accompanies the violent murder--I call it violent even though her weak swing with the tool appears unlikely to harm anyone, much less result in the death of her large husband.

Robert Emhardt as Henry
As she shovels dirt on top of the corpse, Mabel speaks her thoughts in voice over in florid terms like those Martha Mason might use in a movie role. The next day, she wakes to the alarm and the phone rings; Henry's boss, Mr. Abernathy calls and she lies to him, telling him that Henry left a note. Unlike the story, where she has already forged the note and reads it to Abernathy over the phone, in the TV show she holds a blank sheet of paper and he tells her he'll be right out. She rushes to the typewriter and completes the fake note just as the boss arrives. A mild feeling of suspense is ruined by more inappropriate musical cues.

Abernathy comes in, reads the note out loud, and consoles her. He tells her to go shopping and cheer up. She returns at some later time to find Abernathy admiring Henry's garden. They go inside and he tells her that word is all over town about Henry. These two scenes with Abernathy visiting the house replace the scenes in the story where she receives visits from all of the neighbors--perhaps Dennis thought it was easier to limit the number of characters, or perhaps the budget was low for this episode.


Judith Evelyn as Mabel
When Abernathy suggests that Mabel's behavior might have contributed to Henry's decision to leave, she impetuously calls the police and demands that Henry be arrested for deserting her. The detective then comes to interview her, making his visit the result of her phone call rather than being unexpected, as it is in the story. She arrives at the police station and the show concludes as does the story; here, she swoons and is caught by a policeman, her pose mirroring that of the poster she had imitated outside the movie theater.

"Martha Mason, Movie Star" is dragged down by an average script and unimaginative direction. Judith Evelyn is not likable as Mabel and Robert Emhardt is not on screen long enough as Henry. The story by Raymond Mason is entertaining but the TV adaptation is much less so.

Not very threatening!
Director Justus Addiss (1917-1979) was at the helm of ten episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents; the last one examined in this series was another disappointing half-hour: "Nightmare in 4-D." He directed episodic TV from 1953 to 1968.

Judith Evelyn (1909-1967) was born Evelyn Morris and was on screen from 1946 to 1962. She appeared in Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954) and William Castle's The Tingler (1959) and she was in one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents: "Guilty Witness," where she also played a woman scorned who murders her husband.

Robert Emhardt (1913-1994) was a wonderful actor who appeared on stage and screen from the late 1940s to the early 1980s. He was seen on the Hitchcock show seven times, including "Don't Come Back Alive," "DeMortuis," and "The Right Kind of House." It is always a treat to watch Emhardt at work.

Vinton Hayworth
Playing Mr. Abernathy is Vinton Hayworth (1906-1970), who started on radio in the 1920s, moved into movies in the 1930s and then began a long TV career in the 1940s. He was the president of AFTRA from 1951 to 1954 and the uncle of both Rita Hayworth and Ginger Rogers. He was a regular on I Dream of Jeannie from 1968 to 1970 and may be seen in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Night of the Execution."

Finally, Rusty Lane (1899-1986) plays the detective. Lane got his start in movies in 1945 and was often on TV beginning in 1950; his nine appearances on the Hitchcock show include "None Are So Blind," "The Test," and "I Saw the Whole Thing."

Rusty Lane
"Martha Mason, Movie Star" is available on DVD here or may be viewed online for free here.

Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the original story!

Sources:

"The FictionMags Index." The FictionMags Index. 7 Jan. 2016.

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001.

IMDb. IMDb.com. 7 Jan. 2015.

"Martha Mason, Movie Star." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 19 May 1957.

Mason, Raymond. "Martha Myers, Movie Star." Alfred Hitchcock's A Mystery By the Tale. Ed. Cathleen Jordan. NY: Davis Pub., 1986. 123-131.

Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 8 Jan. 2015.


In two weeks: "A Little Sleep," featuring Vic Morrow and Barbara Cook!


2 comments:

SteveHL said...

Of course you can grow things in the basement. Remember the Hitchcock Presents episode "Special Delivery"?

Jack Seabrook said...

My God, you're right! If there were alien mushrooms growing in the basement of this episode it would have been more interesting.