Ernest Findlater, a 48 year old bank manager, has a vivid life of daydreams. He fantasizes about spending his time, naked, with a beautiful native girl named Lalage on a Pacific island. He also dreams of arriving home one day to find that his overbearing wife Minnie has suffered a sudden and fatal stroke. A third daydream begins to penetrate his consciousness one day when he finds himself accidentally locked in the lavatory at his club. Findlater notices that there is a window from which he could reach the ground unseen, 30 feet below, and he realizes that the club's porter would never know that he had left and come back.
Weeks later, he gets lost in the country while visiting a client. Coming upon an empty car, he looks in the glove box for a map and finds a gun, which he impulsively decides to keep. Findlater realizes he has means, motive and opportunity to commit the perfect crime and murder his wife. A patient man, he sets his plan in motion and gives himself a year to carry it out. He convinces his wife to make a will and leave nothing to him, eliminating money as a motive for murder. The details of his plan are worked out in imaginary conversations with Lalage. He begins spending Wednesday afternoons at the club and works out a disguise. A week before the day on which he intends to murder his wife, Findlater dons his disguise for a successful dry run, but as the day approaches he begins to doubt his resolve. The day before he is to carry out his plan, he returns home to find that Minnie has suffered a stroke, exactly as he had dreamed it.
|"The Three Dreams of Mr. Findlater"|
was first published here
The short story is almost all narrative and description with little dialogue, save the imaginary conversations between Findlater and Lalage. A meek man who fancies himself bold, Ernest plays Patience (solitaire), likes crossword puzzles, and has a "childish taste for stories of adventure." Even his discovery of the weapon is fantastic: "he found himself fingering what his detective stories called a gun." Like the detective-story loving man in "Nightmare in 4-D," Findlater is tempted by a sensual woman (both times played by Barbara Baxley), but this time his plan is foiled by a natural event--would he have gone through with the murder? He has read enough detective stories to know what trips up the average murderer and his disguise is a success when he tries it out and fools his own wife and her friend. His dream of his wife's death comes true almost exactly as he imagines it--but what then? What does the future hold for Ernest Findlater at the end of this story? One suspects he will never reach that South Seas island to romp naked with Lalage.
|Barbara Baxley as Lalage|
Rudley's teleplay makes Lalage seem less innocent than she does in Milne's story; she suggests what Ernest's life "might have been like if it weren't for Minnie." Barbara Baxley does not seem like a native girl from the South Seas, except for her sarong; rather, she seems like a noir heroine from Brooklyn who is gently nudging her boyfriend to do away with his nagging wife. In the scene where Findlater relates his second dream to Lalage, Williams does the voices of the maid and the doctor telling him that his wife has had a stroke. When he is left alone in the house, he smiles with delight at the knowledge that he is free. Back on the island, Lalage says "it's a lovely dream" but their reverie is interrupted by knocking and the scene cuts back to Ernest alone in his bedroom. Minnie opens the door and is shot from a low angle, making her seem large and threatening.
|Isobel Elsom as Minnie|
The second act begins with a scene paralleling the one that opens the show: Ernest plays Patience again as he and Minnie discuss her making a will; this time, however, he is confident and in control of the situation, bolstered by thoughts of his plan to murder his wife. There is a dissolve to the island, where Ernest is more relaxed than before as he plans the murder with Lalage. At home, he tries on an absurd beard and sunglasses with Lalage looking on--he chooses a huge mustache that is barely less ridiculous than the beard. He visits the club and again Lalage appears, yet the other members are asleep in their chairs and Ernest is sure that they will not see her, though we know she's a figment of his imagination. There is another dissolve to his bedroom, where he does push ups to prepare to climb 30 feet of rope to the club's bathroom window; this is a shortcut to show the conditioning that Milne accomplishes in the short story by having Ernest throw himself into gardening.
|A.E. Gould-Porter as the doctor|
The TV show takes its time building up the situation but then resolves it too quickly at the end. The disguise goes too far toward humor and becomes unbelievable, reducing the effect of Milne's clever twist. The casting is perfect and the script does a fine job of dramatizing the story, though Lalage becomes much less of an innocent participant and much more of a catalyst in the murder plot. The direction, by Jules Bricken, uses numerous techniques to move back and forth between fantasy and reality, often blending the two in a manner both humorous and unsettling. Only the ending fails to satisfy, resolving the show too quickly and puncturing the illusion by having the disguise fail to fool anyone.
|John Williams as Ernest Findlater|
Less information is available about Sarett Rudley, one of a small group of women writing for TV in the 1950s. She wrote a play and has a handful of TV credits, the most well-known of which are the nine teleplays she wrote for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including an adaptation of Fredric Brown's "The Cream of the Jest."
|Mollie Glessing as the maid|
Barbara Baxley (1923-1990), who plays Lalage, was a product of the Actors Studio whose first film was East of Eden (1955). She had a long career on stage and was on screen from 1950 to 1990, appearing in six episodes of the Hitchcock half-hour series. The last one reviewed here was "Nightmare in 4-D."
Oddly enough, four of the actors in "The Three Dreams of Mr. Findlater" had appeared together in a prior episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents called "Back for Christmas." John Williams plays a henpecked husband both times, Isobel Elsom plays his wife, and Mollie Glessing plays their maid. A. E. Gould-Porter also appears in both episodes.
Isobel Elsom (1893-1981) was born Isobel Reed in England and had a 50-year career on stage and on screen. She was in Chaplain's Monsieur Verdoux (1947) and in Hitchcock's The Paradine Case that same year; she was in five episodes of the Hitchcock series in all and also appeared on Thriller.
A.E. Gould-Porter (1905-1987) plays the doctor; he was in no less than ten episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the last of which was "I Killed the Count."
|Walter Kingsford as the porter|
Finally, Walter Kingsford plays the porter; he was in five episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "John Brown's Body."
One could say that "The Three Dreams of Mr. Findlater" was a collection of Hitchcock TV regulars, playing variations on roles that they would play over and over.
"The Three Dreams of Mr. Findlater" is available for viewing online for a fee through Hulu here and the DVD is available here.
Read the GenreSnaps take on this episode here.
"BRICKEN, STOLOFF." Sfgenealogy.com . Marin County Obit Board . N.p., 9 May 2008. Web. 29 Oct. 2016.
"Women in Television." Detroit Free Press [Detroit, MI] 20 Nov. 1960: 125. Print.
In two weeks: Our series on John Williams wraps up with "Banquo's Chair," directed by Alfred Hitchcock!