Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Hitchcock Project-Robert C. Dennis Part Twenty: "Together" [3.15]

by Jack Seabrook

"Together" is the second episode with a script by Robert C. Dennis that is based on a story by Alec Coppel, according to the screen credits. Like "The Diplomatic Corpse," there is no evidence that Coppel's story was ever published, so it is not known whether it was an actual story or just an idea or treatment. The show was broadcast on CBS on Sunday, January 12, 1958.

This episode was one of two to be directed by Robert Altman (1925-2006), whose career had begun after WWII when he started out by directing industrial films. He moved into directing episodic TV, mainly between 1953 and 1965, before embarking on a successful film career with such movies as M*A*S*H (1970), The Long Goodbye (1973), and Nashville (1975). He was given an honorary Oscar in 2006, not long before he died.

Alfred Hitchcock was said to have liked Altman's work, so he was hired to direct episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He directed only two; he was supposed to direct a third but claimed that he was fired after he criticized the screenplay. This may have been a bit of self-mythologizing on Altman's part because, after the story got around, Joan Harrison was asked about it and recalled no such incident.

Christine White as Shelley
Altman's direction of "Together" is quite good; the episode stars Joseph Cotten as Tony Gould, Christine White as Shelley, and Sam Buffington as Charlie. The show opens with a close up of an old-fashioned Christmas card with a line drawing of two drunks clinging to a lamp post and the message, "Merry Christmas Wasn't It?" The card is humorous on first view but, as the rest of "Together" will demonstrate, the Christmastime experience of the two men in this episode will be far from merry.

A glass of alcohol sits on the table next to the card; as the camera pulls back, pans over slightly to the left, and continues to pull back (an impressive opening shot), an office party in full swing is revealed: men and women are drinking, talking loudly and milling about. The camera comes to rest on a young woman who is trying to conduct a telephone call amidst the din. One man kisses her cheek, another grabs the phone from her, and it is clear that we are in 1958, when a young, pretty woman at an office has a certain, well-defined role.

She gives up on the call and we see a man in an office next to the party looking out of an inside window that gives him a view of the goings on; the window has bars over it, giving the impression that he is a prisoner. The woman enters the man's office and we see that he is John Courtney, presumably the boss. Her name is Shelley and she asks to use his phone; he is kind to her, wishing her a nice Christmas before leaving.

Gordon Wynn as John Courtney
Shelley telephones Charlie, looking for her boyfriend, Tony Gould, who is at Charlie's apartment, drinking. Tony is clearly older than Shelley (Joseph Cotten was 52 to Christine White's 31) and Charlie refers to him as "Good old, fun-loving Tony Gould." Shelley asks Tony if he has told his wife Gloria about their affair and Tony says yes; Shelley insists that she will call Tony's wife and break the news if Tony has not already done so. Tony promises to come to the office to pick her up. After Tony hangs up the phone, Charlie suggests that he make a clean break with Shelley, pointing out that divorcing Gloria would mean saying goodbye to her money. "You seem to be caught in a classic dilemma for which no remedy has yet been discovered," says Charlie.

Sam Buffington as Charlie
By the time Tony gets to the office, the party is over and everyone is gone, except Shelley and an unseen cleaning woman. Shelley greets Tony with loving enthusiasm but he closes the door to the inner office, turns out the lights and pulls the curtains over the barred window. Not wanting the cleaning woman to find them together, Tony has Shelley lock the door to the office. He explains that his wife will make divorce a long and difficult process. Shelley picks up the telephone and calls Gloria to tell her about Tony's infidelity. He slams the phone down but, when Shelley picks it up and dials again, Tony grabs a letter opener from the desk and stabs her, killing her instantly. She falls to the floor, dead, and he again hangs up the phone, hearing his wife's voice on the other end of the line. Tony dons his hat and tries to leave but finds the door locked. He rummages through Shelley's purse and removes a photo of himself and the key, but when he turns it the key breaks off in the lock.

The murder
Tony opens the curtain over the interior window and smashes the glass, but he is unable to move the bars over the window. On another wall of the office, a window opens to the outside, but the sidewalk is several stories below. A third window overlooks an alley and looks into a window in a building on the other side of the alley. Tony drags Shelley's body into the office's private bathroom (quite an executive office!) and puts her corpse in the shower, closing the glass door. His own desire for privacy has left him trapped, alone in an office on Christmas Eve with the dead body of his girlfriend!

He telephones Charlie and asks him to come and help. As Tony sits behind the desk talking on the phone, we see over his shoulder through the window across the alley as a light goes on and a woman appears.Tony does not see her. Charlies promises to come and rescue Tony, who merely says that he and Shelley are locked in the office but neglects to mention the young woman's condition. After he hangs up, Tony slides a sheet of paper under the office door and pushes the fragment of key out of the other side of the lock, but it slides off of the paper when he tries to pull it back through.

Charlie calls Tony back but is extremely drunk. (This is a Christmas episode of a very dark sort!) Tony's friend accepts an invitation from an attractive woman to go to another apartment for a drink, forgetting Tony altogether and leaving the phone off the hook.

Tony wakes up in the morning, having slept on the couch. He checks the door and finds it is still locked; he checks the bathroom and finds that Shelley's corpse is still on the shower floor; we see it in silhouette through the glass shower door. His nightmare is real in the cold light of Christmas morning. Tony sees across the alley, where the woman stands, brushing her hair in front of a mirror. She pulls the shade when he calls to her, so he throws a heavy object from the desk through her window and asks her to call a locksmith. She makes a telephone call--of course, the entire interaction between Tony and the woman in the window recalls the setting of Hitchcock's own classic, Rear Window.

Tony assumes that the woman called a locksmith and gathers his things to leave, tidying up the desk. Soon, however, the police arrive at her apartment and she shows them the broken window. As they head down and over to the office building, Tony has to do some quick thinking. On a side table, he sees a photo of John Courtney, the rightful occupant of the office, and realizes that he and Courtney resemble each other. Donning a pair of glasses he finds in the desk drawer, Tony prepares to impersonate Courtney.

Tony calls out across the alley
When the police arrive, he gets them to break open the door. They believe his story and he says that the phone in the office is out of order, or he would have called a friend for help the night before. All seems to be going according to plan for Tony until Charlie blunders in, looking for Shelley. Tony can only stand by in horror as Charlie and one of the policemen find her corpse. Tony removes Courtney's glasses, ready to give up his masquerade and resigned to his fate.

"Together" is an outstanding short film, where a strong, tight script, clever direction and fine acting combine to present a story of suspense. Joseph Cotten (1905-1994) stars as Tony and gives an excellent performance. Cotten met Orson Welles in 1934 and later because an inaugural member of the Mercury Theatre, appearing on stage and on radio in Welles's productions. He began his film career in 1937 but his first great role was in Citizen Kane (1941). Many other great roles followed, including Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and The Third Man (1949). He began appearing on TV in 1954 and his career onscreen continued until 1981. This is one of three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents in which he appeared.

Charlie finds Shelley's corpse
Tony's girlfriend Shelley is played by Christine White (1926-2013), whose career on screen consisted mostly of appearances on episodic TV from 1952 to 1963. Her most memorable role was as William Shatner's wife and seat-mate on the classic Twilight Zone episode, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet." This was her only appearance on the Hitchcock series.

Sam Buffington (1931-1960) plays Charlie, Tony's drunken friend. Buffington made many TV appearances between 1957 and 1960 before his career was cut short by his suicide at age 28. He was on Alfred Hitchcock Presents three times, including "A Night With the Boys" and, as usual, he looks older than his real age.

Finally, Gordon Wynn (1914-1966) plays John Courtney, in whose office Tony is trapped. Wynn was on screen from the early forties to the mid-sixties and appeared in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

"Together" is available on DVD here or may be viewed for free online here. Read the GenreSnaps take on this episode here.

"Alec Coppel." Alec Coppel. Austlit. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.
McGilligan, Patrick. Robert Altman: Jumping off the Cliff. New York: St. Martin's, 1989. 131-32. Print.
"Together." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 12 Jan. 1958. Television.
Vagg, Stephen. "Alec Coppel: Australian Playwright and Survivor." Australasian Drama Studies 56.April (2010): 219-32. ProQuest Literature Online. ProQuest LLC. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

In two weeks: "The Equalizer," starring Leif Erickson and Martin Balsam!


Grant said...

I guess Joseph Cotten was typecast a little as far as this show goes. There's a good episode whose name I can't think of, where he's a married man with his girlfriend at Lovers' Lane, and he nearly gets mugged, then he gets the upper hand and locks the mugger in his trunk to take to the police. Then he realizes that HE can get in trouble if the whole story gets out. So he's in a SOMEWHAT similar fix to the one in this story.
(I also remember that Julie Adams played the girlfriend and Don Gordon played the mugger, which was a clever idea - it seems like Don Gordon would almost always play "hard luck" characters of some kind or other.)

SteveHL said...

Grant has a good point about those two episodes. In both of them, Cotten plays a businessman who may never have committed a crime in his life and then commits murder to cover up an adulterous affair. However, in Cotten's not very similar third episode, he is again a businessman, who starts out as the least sympathetic of his three parts but does nothing criminal. (I don't think I needed to put a spoiler warning due to the nature of your posts.)

And speaking of your posts - another fine one, as always.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks for reading, Grant & Steve! I have always liked Joseph Cotten but I guess he does tend to play similar characters. Grant, you're thinking of "Dead Weight," and Steve, you're talking about "Breakdown" which, if I remember right, was the first episode filmed for the whole series.

Don said...

Thanks for the shout-outs. I'm really enjoying your more in-depth coverage and background on the performers and production. Guess I need to start writing again to say ahead!

Jack Seabrook said...

Don, I'm guessing you're the person behind Genre Snaps? If so, I get a big kick out of your posts.