Robert C. Dennis adapted "Fatal Figures" for the small screen, then followed that teleplay with his adaptation of Cornell Woolrich's story, "Post Mortem," which I discussed here in my series on Woolrich.
Next up for Dennis was to adapt a story by Roy Vickers titled "The Crocodile Case," which was first published in the March 1949 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. Vickers (1889-1965) was born William Edward Vickers in England. He studied at Oxford but did not earn a degree; he worked as a salesman, a newspaper crime reporter and a ghostwriter before settling into a long career as a writer. In his lifetime he wrote over 70 books, the first in 1914, but he is best remembered today for his mystery short stories, especially the series known as the Department of Dead Ends, which concerned a "fictional department of Scotland Yard where evidence from unsolved crimes is kept." Many of his stories in this series were published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and they have been called "the best detective stories of the 1940s."
One of the stories in this series is "The Crocodile Case," which has been reprinted several times as "The Crocodile Dressing-Case." The story begins by referring to the famous "Thomson-Bywaters case" of 1922. Though Vickers does not go into detail, the case involved a British couple named Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters, both of whom were executed in 1923 for the murder of Edith's husband Percy. To summarize the facts briefly, Edith married Percy and later had an affair with Frederick. One night, when Edith and Percy were returning home from a show in London, Frederick jumped out from behind some bushes and stabbed Percy to death. Frederick was soon caught and arrested, and Edith was arrested as well under the British legal theory of Common Purpose, which said that anyone involved in participating in a criminal enterprise is guilty of the crime even if they did not carry it out.
|Frederick Bywaters, Edith Thompson and Percy Thompson|
Vickers mentions this case briefly at the beginning of his tale and uses it as an inspiration for his fictional murder mystery, which he refers to as the Chaundry-Lambert case of 1936. In the story, Phyllis Chaundry is 24 years old and married to Arthur Chaundry, a much-older 47 years old. After only two years of marriage she begins to lament her husband's "infirmities of age" and to say that his death would be a "mercy-murder." A 26 year old car agent named James Lambert begins to think that her suggestion is a good one and "his passion for Phyllis overwhelmed him." Lambert ambushes and murders Chaundry on a lonely stretch of road as the husband drives to pick up his wife at the Palais, where she and her sister had been dancing.
|"The Crocodile Case" was|
first published here
The police suspect Jim of the murder but have no proof. Jim tells Phyllis that they can't be seen together, they can't be married for at least six months, and they should not write to each other. When they do marry in October, Jim realizes that "the sense of triumph, of at last possessing the object of his desire, was altogether lacking." Phyllis continues to complain about the lost dressing-case, so Jim buys her a replacement but she is disappointed when it is not as nice as the one she lost. Soon, Phyllis leaves Jim for another suitor named Wilfy. Seventeen months after the murder, Chief Inspector Karslake of Scotland Yard tracks down the dressing-case, which had been stolen by a passing tramp. The case has the initials "P.C." (for Phyllis Chaundry) carved into its side.
|Superintendent Karslake with the crocodile case|
Comparing the story by Vickers to the details of the famous murder case reveals that, while Vickers may have used the real crime as the inspiration for his short story, he did not use many of the actual details. In fact, the main thing the two tales have in common is this: a woman's lover murders her husband and, when caught, tells the police that the woman had nothing to do with the crime.
|A.E. Gould-Porter as Arthur Chaundry|
The scene at the Palais follows, and Phyllis Chaundry's sister Aileen gets more exposure than she does in the story, perhaps because she is played by Patricia Hitchcock. Phyllis arrives home and, after she confirms that her husband is not home, she turns with a devilish smile on her face and embraces Jack. This is the first time we realize that they are lovers.The performances by Hazel Court as Phyllis and Denholm Elliott as Jack are outstanding.
|Denholm Elliott as Jack Lyons|
Later, when Jack and Phyllis are trying to stay apart to avoid causing suspicion to fall upon them, Phyllis and her sister "accidentally" run into Jack in a restaurant and Robert C. Dennis works in another reference to the Thompson-Bywaters case when Jack tells Phyllis that they'll be sunk if they write to each other and the police find even one letter--this recalls the real case, where love letters exchanged between Edith and Frederick were used as evidence to convict her.
|Hazel Court as Phyllis Chaundry sports a devilish|
grin when she realizes that her husband is not home.
"The Crocodile Case" is another example of a very good mystery story that was adapted by Robert C. Dennis into a highly entertaining half-hour of television, helped immeasurably by strong performances by the two lead actors.
Denholm Elliott (1922-1992) gets top billing and plays Jack Lyons (James Lambert in the story). Born in London, Elliott served in the Royal Air Force during WWII; he was shot down and spent the rest of the war as a POW. His movie career began in 1947 and TV work followed soon after in 1949. He worked until his death from AIDS-related pneumonia. He was on Alfred Hitchcock Presents twice and made many other TV and movie appearances. His most famous roles were in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Trading Places (1983).
|John Alderson as Karslake|
The role of Superintendent Karslake, the investigating policeman, is played by John Alderson (1916-2006), who was onscreen from 1951 to 1990. He appeared in many TV episodes and movies, including Fritz Lang's Moonfleet (1955) and Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief (1955). He was on the Hitchcock show three times and on Night Gallery once.
|Pat Hitchcock and Hazel Court--sisters?|
Don Taylor (1920-1988), the episode's director, was at the helm for seven episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents; the previous one was "Fatal Figures," which also featured a teleplay by Robert C, Dennis.
"The Crocodile Case" is available on DVD here or may be viewed online for free here. Read the GenreSnaps take on this episode here.