The last two scripts that Robert C. Dennis wrote for Alfred Hitchcock Presents were "A True Account," where the teleplay is credited to Dennis and Fredric Brown, and "Invitation to an Accident," which aired on CBS on Sunday, June 21, 1959, as the final new episode of the fourth season of the series.
This episode was based on a story of the same title by Wade Miller that ran in the July 1955 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. The tale begins as Albert Magnum, a bachelor in his forties, visits his old friend Virgilia Pond, who lives in an exclusive neighborhood in San Diego. He meets her second husband, Joseph Pond, and looks down on the man's recently-acquired fortune in comparison with the inherited fortune of her first husband, Cam Bedsole. Albert and the Ponds share drinks, small talk, and dinner, and after the meal Virgilia leads Albert outside to the rear garden, where she confesses that she is having an affair with her ex-husband. As she heads back to the house, scaffolding from an upper floor suddenly is dislodged and crashes to the ground, nearly killing her.
Albert soon comes to believe that Pond staged the accident in order to murder his unfaithful wife. He visits Virgilia again and she tells him that Joseph has a "touch of ptomaine." Albert sneaks into her garden shed and finds a box arsenic missing that had been there the week before. He concludes that Pond took poison to immunize himself before feeding a fatal dose to his wife. Albert decides to invite Joseph on a fishing trip to Mexico, planning to confront the man about Virgilia. They travel together to an empty beach and make camp, spend the day fishing, and then sit around the campfire after dark.
Albert brings up the subject of murder in a roundabout way, trying to suggest to Pond that he knows what the man is planning to do to his wife. Pond finally catches on but admits that he thinks that Virgilia's lover is Albert! The scaffolding had been meant to kill him but, when it failed, the arsenic in the coffee he just drank should do the trick.
Miller's story is very well written. Magnum underestimates Pond at every turn, thinking himself smarter and more refined that Virgilia's rough-hewn husband. Magnum believes that he was invited to be a witness to the accident that nearly killed Virgilia; in reality, though, the real accident occurs when Pond mistakes him for his wife's lover and murders him!
|Gary Merrill as Joseph Pond|
Robert C. Dennis's script for this episode displays traits recognizable from his other work on this series: adding opening scenes to set up the story, a heightened focus on key objects, and a tendency to hammer the point home at the conclusion.
|Alan Hewitt as Albert Magnum|
This is followed by a short scene of Virgilia driving Pond home, where he suggests inviting a friend over for dinner and she responds by saying that she will invite a "very old admirer." It is clear that Pond seeks to identify her lover and thinks that the man she invites will be the guilty party.
The following scenes follow the story closely. When Virgilia and Albert go into Joseph's garden shed workshop, Albert picks up a can labeled "Arsenic" and looks at it; the can is shown in closeup and Dennis thus foreshadows the show's climax. Later, when Albert goes back to the Pond house and checks the workshop, it is made very clear that the can of arsenic has disappeared--Albert even traces his finger over the missing spot to underline the point for the viewer. Albert visits Mrs. Bedsole and outlines his suspicions about Joseph's plans; she tells him that he must protect Virgilia. He visits the Ponds, but this time, unlike in Miller's short story, it is Pond who invites Albert on a fishing trip, not the other way around.
|Highlighting the arsenic|
|Later, it's missing|
The shot dissolves to the two men on the beach at night, sitting by the campfire. The conversation goes as it does in the story and Albert begins to sweat profusely. At the end, however, there is an additional bit of dialogue. The story ends as Pond tells Albert that he poisoned him: "Albert Magnum was no longer listening. He had rolled face downward on the sand with the first clawing agony in his belly." The TV show goes further. After Pond tells Albert what he has done, Albert tells him: "But it isn't me--it's Cam!" Pond replies: "Cam!" Albert begins to sob in pain, and Pond again exclaims, "Cam!" as the screen fades to black. In the show, unlike in the story, Pond learns right away that he has made a fatal mistake.
|Albert and Joseph on the beach|
"Invitation to an Accident" is an entertaining episode with effective direction by Don Taylor (1920-1988), the actor-turned-director who starred in one episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and directed seven. The last episode he directed that I covered in this series was "Fatal Figures."
Gary Merrill (1915-1990) receives top billing as Joseph Pond. After serving in the U.S. Air Force in WWII, Merrill portrayed Batman on the Superman radio show and appeared in movies from 1943 to 1977. He was one of the stars of All About Eve (1950) and was married to his co-star, Bette Davis, from 1950 to 1960. He was on TV from 1953 to 1980 and appeared on the Hitchcock show seven times, as well as making appearances on The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.
|Joanna Moore as Virgilia Pond|
Alan Hewitt (1915-1986) plays the third member of the trio, Albert Magnum, with a light touch that stands in contrast to the performance of Gary Merrill as the gruff and blunt Pond. Hewitt had an unremarkable screen career from 1956 to 1978 and was seen on the Hitchcock show three times. He also played Detective Bill Brennan on 28 episodes of My Favorite Martian.
"Invitation to an Accident" is available on DVD here or may be viewed for free online here. Thanks to Peter Enfantino for a copy of the story.
Next week: An episode guide of all of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Alfred Hitchcock Hour episodes reviewed to date as part of The Hitchcock Project with links to all posts.
In two weeks: Our series on Bryce Walton begins with "Touché," starring Paul Douglas and Hugh Marlowe!
|Gary Merrill and Joanna Moore|
OVERVIEW: ROBERT C. DENNIS AND ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS
EPISODE GUIDE-ROBERT C. DENNIS ON ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS
Episode title-“Don't Come Back Alive” [1.4]
|"Place of Shadows"|
|"The Orderly World of Mr. Appleby"|
|"One for the Road"|
|"A Little Sleep"|
|"The Diplomatic Corpse"|
|"Guest for Breakfast"|
|"Dip in the Pool"|