Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Hitchcock Project-Bryce Walton Part Three: The Woman Who Wanted to Live [7.18]

by Jack Seabrook

The third episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to be based on a story by Bryce Walton was "The Greatest Monster of Them All," which I discussed here in my series on Robert Bloch, who wrote the teleplay.

Bryce Walton's first teleplay for the series was "The Woman Who Wanted to Live," a fine adaptation of his own short story that had been published in the May 1961 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. The story begins as Ray Bardon walks into a filling station at closing time and pulls a gun on the attendant. He robs the station and shoots the attendant just as a car pulls up. Rushing outside, he sees a woman who has just arrived in a convertible; he hides the attendant's body in the bay, retrieves his sack of money and goes back outside, where the woman waits calmly. She tells Bardon that she has heard about him on the radio and that she wants to live.

Tired and suffering from a gunshot wound in his arm that was sustained when he escaped from prison, he allows her to talk him into letting her accompany him and drive the car. The woman tells him that her name is Lisa and they talk as they drive through the night; she seems excited by the adventure while he is exhausted and weak, struggling to remain awake and not trusting his driver. Bardon tells Lisa about his time in prison, his childhood, and how he fell into a life of crime. He falls asleep and the car is stopped by a policeman, yet Lisa does not turn Ray in. He begins to trust her and they keep driving, finally stopping for the night at a motel.

Charles Bronson as Ray
Ray falls into bed, exhausted, and Lisa tells him about her own background and her love for a man named Fred, who was the filling station attendant that Bardon shot and killed earlier that night. He asks her why she did not turn him in to the police and she responds, "You think I wanted them to do it?" before shooting him with his own gun.

The surprise at the end of "The Woman Who Wanted to Live" is so effective that it makes the reader go back over the story to look for clues, and this one has plenty, though the author never tips his hand. Lisa seems calm at first and her behavior while on the run with Ray suggests that she is immature and hungry for action, yet when the truth is revealed it is clear that she is tougher than he. Coming to pick up her boyfriend after work, she happens upon a scene of carnage, the man she loves shot by an escaped convict. She does not scream or try to run away; instead, she quickly assesses the situation and formulates a plan that she then proceeds to carry out with cool precision. Ray never has a chance. He and Lisa are similar in that they both faced challenges in their youth and, in the end, became cold-blooded killers.

Perhaps after having had three of his stories adapted by others, Walton or his agent suggested to the producers of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that he should try adapting the story himself, or perhaps this was such a strong tale that he had some additional bargaining power when the rights were sold to television. Whatever the case, Walton did a great job of altering his story for the small screen and his subsequent contributions to the series were adaptations of stories by other writers.

Lola Albright as Lisa
"The Woman Who Wanted to Live" aired on NBC on Tuesday, February 6, 1962, halfway through the last season of the half-hour Hitchcock show. It was directed by Alan Crosland, Jr., whose contributions to the final season include other above-average episodes such as "Keep Me Company" and "The Right Kind of Medicine." Not surprisingly, Walton's teleplay sticks closely to his story, even down to many lines of dialogue. Some incidents are re-ordered, such as the conversation between Lisa and Ray where she talks him into letting her drive--in the story, it occurs at the filling station, while in the show, he orders her to drive him and she does, but soon he has her stop and she has to convince him to let her stay with him.

The sexual undertones of the story are also present in the show, suggesting that censorship was loosening by 1962. The most noticeable changes to the story occur in two scenes: one is suspenseful, the other comic. In the first new scene, Lisa's car gets a flat tire and she has to pull over to the side of the road. She shows her mettle by getting out to change the tire herself while Ray remains in the car. Lola Albright, as Lisa, displays a smoky sensuality throughout the show and she is impressive as she squats on her high heels in a belted raincoat to begin to loosen the lug nuts. Suddenly, a hot rod with three juvenile delinquents speeds by and stops, backing up to a spot near Lisa's car. The young men get out and we see that they are members of a gang by their leather jackets with "The Dragons" emblazoned on the back.

The Dragons
The Dragons harass Lisa, thinking that she is alone, since Ray is hiding from sight in the front seat of her car. She hits one in the arm with her tire iron and he removes his belt, threatening to disfigure her face with the buckle. The three young men grab Lisa and begin to pull her toward their car. At this point, Ray emerges, and we get a glimpse of the sort of situation that will soon make actor Charles Bronson a star. "Let her go, fatso," he says to one of the Dragons, in a scene that foreshadows his later film, Death Wish. The Dragon boasts that he does not use a knife or a gun, "just my belt . . . and sometimes my boots." Crosland provides a quick insert of a closeup of the young man's boots clicking together. He begins to swing the belt in circles above his head, menacing Ray, but Ray decks him with one punch. The other two young men approach Ray, one with a switchblade and the other with Lisa's tire iron. At this point, Ray pulls his gun and the young men beat a hasty retreat in their hot rod.

This is a fascinating scene where Walton and Crosland achieve a Hitchcockian transference in the mind of the viewer. Ray is a killer who murdered the filling station attendant, yet here he becomes the only hope for Lisa and we root for him to prevail over the punks. His quiet determination is more appealing than their brash rudeness, and gun trumps knife in the battle for a woman. After the incident, Ray asks Lisa why she did not take the chance to escape by running off into the bushes. She responds that she and Ray have something in common, since neither wants to go back to where they came from.

Jesslyn Fax as the motel manager
The second scene that is new in the teleplay is Hitchcockian in a more humorous way. In the story, Lisa tells Ray that she'll sign in at the motel for them both and the scene then jumps to their motel room. In the show, there is a short scene where Lisa goes in to the office of the motel manager to rent a room for the night. The woman behind the desk is an eccentric, who likes chatting with Lisa and who provides some comedy relief in this suspenseful half hour. Lisa says that her husband is outside in the car and they have no luggage; the manager clearly believes that Lisa is lying but has no problem with the arrangement, something she sees all the time. As Lisa tells Ray once they are in the motel room: "They don't ask questions in a place like this."

Lisa gets the drop on Ray
"The Woman Who Wanted to Live" is a very strong episode, with a taut teleplay by Bryce Walton, fast-paced direction by Alan Crosland, Jr., and standout performances by Charles Bronson as Ray and Lola Albright as Lisa. As we have seen in other episodes, Crosland often saves his best camera setups for the payoff, and this time we get a nice shot from behind the gun as Lisa points it at Ray. Her chilling final line is delivered with a smile, but after she shoots her companion she breaks down in tears and the show is over.

Charles Bronson (1921-2003) was born Charles Buchinsky and worked in a Pennsylvania coal mine as a boy. He flew with the Air Force in WWII and was awarded a Purple Heart. His onscreen career lasted from 1949 to 1999 and he appeared in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents as well as on The Twilight Zone. His fame soared soon after this episode aired and his great movie roles included those in Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) and Death Wish (1974).

Lola Albright (1924- ) was onscreen from 1947 to 1984 and appeared in three episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "The Black Curtain."

Ray Montgomery as Fred
The other actors in this episode all had small parts and were not well known. Ray Montgomery (1922-1998) plays Fred, the filling station attendant who is shot in the opening scene; he had a long career onscreen as a character actor, appearing in movies and on TV from 1941 to 1990.

Jesslyn Fax (1893-1975) plays the chatty motel manager; she appeared in many small roles in the 1950s and 1960s; she had a small part in Rear Window (1954) and also appeared in "Four O' Clock," Hitchcock's TV adaptation of a Cornell Woolrich story in 1957 for Suspicion.

The three members of the Dragons are played by Craig Curtis ("Rook"), Ben Bryant ("Fat Boy") and Robert Rudelson ("Cuke"). None had much of a career, though Rudelson did write a couple of movies directed by Russ Meyer.

The story was
first published here
After the Alfred Hitchcock Presents adaptation, Bryce Walton was not done with "The Woman Who Wanted to Live." Twenty years later, he adapted it again for broadcast, this time as an hour-long radio play for the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. The episode was broadcast on June 14, 1982, and starred Larry Haines, Roberta Maxwell and Russell Horton. You can listen to it for free here. For radio, Walton increased the amount of dialogue and restored some of the discussions about Ray's background that were in his original story. The radio play includes the flat tire scene that had been new to the TV show, but this time the assailants are not a trio of juvenile delinquents but rather a couple of country hicks. Like the story and the TV show, the radio play is suspenseful and entertaining.

The seventh season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents has not been released on DVD in the United States to date. I was not able to find a legitimate online source for the show, either, though it might be available on one of the torrent sites. The story was reprinted in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine's Annual #17, To Be Read Before Midnight, in 1962 but does not seem to have seen the light of day in over 50 years. Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the story!

"CBS Radio Mystery Theater | Episode 1338 | The Woman Who Wanted to Live." CBS Radio Mystery Theater | Episode 1338 | The Woman Who Wanted to Live. Web. 05 Aug. 2016.
"Galactic Central." Galactic Central. Web. 06 Aug. 2016.
IMDb. Web. 29 July 2016.
Walton, Bryce. "The Woman Who Wanted to Live." Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine May 1961: 121-32. Print.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 29 July 2016.
"The Woman Who Wanted to Live." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. NBC. 6 Feb. 1962. Television.

Next: Our series on Bryce Walton concludes with "The Big Score," starring Rafael Campos and Evans Evans!

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