Act One begins an hour later, by which time Inspector Davidson and Detective Raines, both of Scotland Yard, have arrived at Oxley Court to investigate the murder. They speak to Martin, the manager of the apartment building, and question Polly, the maid. Davidson reads a letter from Lord Sorrington and telephones the man to ask him to come for an interview. Louise Rogers, a young woman tenant, tells the investigators that she was asleep all night and never met the count. Renee La Lune, an American showgirl, claims that she came home late and went straight to sleep. Samuel Diamond, an American businessman, reveals that he had to take the stairs when he came home at two a.m. because the elevator was not working, but when he got to the fourth floor he saw that the elevator was there, open and unattended.
|John Williams as Davidson|
|Roxanne Arlen as La Lune|
Act two picks up right where act one ended, as Froy denies having known Mattoni. Johnson, the elevator operator, identifies him as one of the count’s visitors, so Froy must change his story. When confronted with Mattoni’s typed note, Froy explains that the count had been blackmailing him over a gambling debt. He admits visiting Mattoni the night before, seeking a cache of letters. A struggle ensued and he shot and killed the count. Davidson is shocked when Mullet says that Froy is not Rupert. Even more vexing is the fact that important details of Froy’s story do not fit with the evidence found at the scene of the crime.
|Alan Napier as Lord Sorrington|
Act two features three confessions to murder, each of which is acted out in flashback onstage. This adds to the excitement of the play by having the actors demonstrate the action rather than describe it. One begins to wonder if Coppel’s play is heading in the direction of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, in which multiple people participate in a murder to prevent discovery of a single culprit.
|Charles Davis as Raines|
Louise Rogers is the fourth person to confess to the murder. She reveals that she is Count Mattoni’s widow and Lord Sorrington’s disgraced daughter. She explains how she confronted her husband and, after a struggle, she shot and killed the count. Yet her story also does not fit the physical evidence. Davidson does not know that the actions of the three men to confuse the crime scene served to make Louise’s true story seem impossible. Raines points out a quirk of English law, that “Two or more persons cannot be charged as principals with a crime known to have been committed by only one person.” They realize that they can’t solve the crime and the play ends on a comic note as Diamond rushes in to tell Davidson that he thinks he has killed his business associate.
|Louise Rogers, Mullet, Froy, Lord Sorrington|
Why did Joan Harrison decide to adapt Coppel’s play for Alfred Hitchcock Presents as a three-part episode? According to Patrick McGilligan, Coppel was a member of Hitchcock’s social circle. In late 1956 and early 1957, he was working on a treatment for Vertigo and, during this period, he also wrote the original stories for two other episodes, “The Diplomatic Corpse” and “Together.” I suspect that Hitchcock and Harrison were happy to purchase the rights to Coppel’s first and biggest hit, a play that was a success in London in 1937-38, the last quiet days before storm clouds of war would gather over the city.
|The establishing shot of the Thames at daybreak|
“I Killed the Count” aired on CBS on three successive Sundays in March 1957, on the 17th, 24th and 31st. In addition to Cockrell’s clever reworking of the story, director Robert Stevens uses his considerable talent to open up the action so that the show does not feel like a filmed stage play. The first episode begins with an establishing shot showing Big Ben and the sun rising over the Thames; this immediately tells the viewer that it is early morning in London. The camera dissolves to the prologue, with Hitchcock’s daughter Pat playing Polly, the maid. The next dissolve is to Davidson’s arrival and, in a perfect piece of casting, John Williams plays the senior inspector. The story unfolds in a compressed fashion, with a nice shot early on as high contrast lighting shows Davidson’s face in close-up with Raines behind him in the middle distance. Davidson is bigger and in the upper part of the frame, with Raines smaller and in the lower part, suggesting their relationship as chief and subordinate.
|Charles Cooper as Froy|
Stevens continues to set up shots to demonstrate the balance of power between characters: the camera looks up at Davidson in close-up as he looms over the seated Froy, then the camera looks down at Froy, who confesses to murder at the first commercial break. This is quite a departure from the play, in which no confession occurs until the second act. There is no flashback yet to Froy’s version of the killing; this will occur in the second episode. Lord Sorrington arrives and Mullet identifies him as Rupert. Sorrington rapidly confesses to having killed Mattoni and the first episode ends with a close-up of Davidson’s confused face after Sorrington says, “I killed the count.” In short, Cockrell takes the first two confessions and moves them to the first act, using them as cliffhangers at the commercial break and the end of the episode.
|If you think this close up is tight . . .|
|. . . take a look at this one!|
|Rosemary Harris as Louise|
|Melville Cooper as Mullet|
|The three conspirators|
|A brief moment of enthusiasm|
|Note the composition and lighting of this shot|
The play was also performed on radio in Australia, Coppel’s native country, in 1941, and it was performed on BBC radio in England in 1945 and again in 1948. It was performed on Britain’s ITV in 1956, before the Hitchcock version was shown in the U.S., and again on Belgian TV in 1959. But it is the Alfred Hitchcock Presents version that has run in syndication for nearly 60 years and which was released on DVD, so that is the version that is most familiar today. The film version is not available and I have not been able to locate any recording of the radio performances or the other TV plays. The novel was never reprinted but can be found on the used book market. The play is still in print and can be purchased from Samuel French, the famous play publishing company; it is possible that some theater group somewhere in the world could even now be considering a revival of Coppel’s play.
Francis Cockrell (1906-1987) wrote 18 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents; the last one I reviewed was “Whodunit,” also starring John Williams.
Director Robert Stevens (1920-1989) put his distinctive stamp on 49 episodes of the Hitchcock series, including “The Glass Eye” and “Place of Shadows.”
Joining John Williams in the cast is Alan Napier (1903-1988), who was eight episodes of the Hitchcock series. The last one reviewed here was “Whodunit.”
The actor who seems so out of place in the first episode as Froy, the American, is Charles Cooper (1926-2013), whose career on screen stretched from 1950 until his death. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock series but he did play a role in The Wrong Man (1956).
|Patricia Hitchcock as Polly|
Another enjoyable performance is given by Charles Davis (1925-2009) as Raines, the junior inspector who serves as a foil for Davidson. Born in Dublin, Ireland, Davis was a busy stage actor who began appearing on screen in 1951. He appeared in four other episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and also on Night Gallery.
|Anthony Dawson as Count Mattoni|
Poor Anthony Dawson (1916-1992) does a lot of rolling around on the floor (when not replaced by stunt doubles) as Count Mattoni and finds himself shot three times in flashbacks. He was born in Edinburgh and was on screen from 1940 to 1991. He had an important role in Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954) but this was his only appearance on Hitchcock’s TV show. Other roles included appearances in three James Bond films, twice as Blofeld: Dr. No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963) and Thunderball (1965).
|Raines is ever so helpful|
(1927- ) and Roxanne Arlen (1931-1989). Harris began on stage in 1948 and moved to film and TV in the early 1950s; she was also in “The Glass Eye,” which was directed by Robert Stevens. Her most memorable role in recent years was as Peter Parker’s Aunt May in the three Spider-Man films starring Tobey Maguire. Arlen was born in Detroit and later was crowned “Miss Detroit”; she was on screen for about ten years from the mid-1950s until the mid-1960s. There is a very entertaining overview of her life and career here.
“I Killed the Count” is on DVD here and you can read the GenreSnaps take on these episodes here.
In two weeks: “The Three Dreams of Mr. Findlater,” starring John Williams and Barbara Baxley!