|Robert Redford as David|
James Bridges began his career as a screenwriter with his work for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and, with 16 episodes to his credit, wrote more teleplays for the hour-long series than anyone else. Born in Arkansas in 1936, he acted in a handful of TV episodes and movies in the 1950s (including Invasion of the Saucer Men). He was also a playwright and, when Norman Lloyd saw one of his plays in Los Angeles, he hired Bridges to write for the Hitchcock TV series. Among the episodes written by Bridges were "The Jar," which was nominated for an Emmy in 1964 (Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama [Adaptation]) and "An Unlocked Window," which won an Edgar in 1966 (Best Episode in a TV Series).
The first episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour written by James Bridges was "A Tangled Web," based on the 1956 novel of the same name. An introductory note by Nicholas Blake says that the story follows "in broad outline a criminal cause celebre of the early years of the century," but I have not been able to figure out what true crime story he means.
The novel takes place in London, where a beautiful 17-year-old girl named Daisy Bland has a chance meeting with Hugo Chesterman, a 28-year-old man who admits that he is a "bad hat" but whom she finds charming. She moves in with him and gradually learns that he is a minor criminal, a cat burglar with a violent temper. Turning 18, she meets Hugo's friend John Jacques, known as Jacko, an older doctor and impotent abortionist who tips Hugo off to burglary opportunities. Daisy is innocent and maintains her faith in Hugo, even when she suspects that he has given her a piece of stolen jewelry.
|Zohra Lampert as Marie (Daisy)|
The police began to search for the killer. Daisy stays with Jacko, convinced of Hugo's innocence, but Jacko goes to the police and informs on Hugo, leading to his arrest. Jacko lies to a distraught Daisy about how her lover was apprehended. Though no one can identify Hugo in a police lineup, he is charged with the murder anyway, and Jacko tells Daisy that she cannot visit him in jail and that she must tell the police the truth. When questioned, she provides no alibi for Hugo on the night of the murder and, at a preliminary hearing, her testimony is the strongest evidence against Hugo.
|Barry Morse as Karl (Jacko)|
A Tangled Web is an interesting novel that focuses on the relationship between three main characters. Daisy Bland is a young flower whose innocence leads her to fall in love with a criminal and to remain blind to his flaws, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Hugo is a bad seed who is redeemed only by his love for Daisy; despite a violent streak that causes him to murder a policeman, he confesses his guilt to Daisy at the end of the book and demonstrates that, in loving her, he has finally found a way to put the needs of another person ahead of his own. The villain of the story is Jacko, who betrays his friend Hugo in part because he desires Daisy and in part because he hates their happiness. Jacko is described as an older, degenerate man--he is a doctor who performs abortions, which were illegal in 1956 England. His decision to inform on Hugo to the police leads to Hugo being captured; his testimony at trial leads to his conviction. Worst of all, he manipulates Daisy so that she gives evidence to ensure Hugo's conviction.
|Karl removes his own wig|
The TV episode, "A Tangled Web," works on many levels and demonstrates that Norman Lloyd made a wise choice when he hired James Bridges to work as a writer for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Premiering on CBS on Friday, January 25, 1963, the show was directed by Alf Kjellin and stars Robert Redford as David Chesterman, Zohra Lampert as Marie Petit, and Barry Morse as Karl Gault--these three characters correspond to Hugo, Daisy and Jacko in the novel. The script by Bridges is not so much an adaptation of Blake's novel as a re-imagining; he preserves the relationships between the characters and the basic outline of the plot while turning the story into something rather different and successful.
|Gertrude Flynn as David's mother|
The third key character in the show is introduced next, when David and Marie visit Karl Gault, who owns a wig shop and lives in the rooms behind it. The wigs symbolize his false nature and he wears hairpieces on and off throughout the show. Like Marie, he speaks with a heavy accent that is probably meant to be French; the name Gault is of Norman origin, suggesting his descent from earlier invaders of Britain. Gault is a complex character: on the surface, he appears to be in love with Marie, but there is a strong indication that he may be a coded gay character whose real interest is in David. When Karl first meets Daisy, he tells David, in a way that seems to be joking, "I declare my love for her here and now. I'm going to steal her from you." His actions later prove the truth of this statement. Karl is a tortured soul, who admits that he once believed in happiness but now thinks that "love does not exist." David views him as a father figure, telling him that "we can't get married . . . unless you say yes," but in this case the father lusts after the daughter in law and perhaps after the son as well.
|Karl's darts target David|
In another instance of foreshadowing, Marie compares her own hair to the hair in one of Karl's wigs; she will later sell her hair to raise money to help David. Returning to his mother's house, David uses his burglar tools to break in, then leaves Marie there alone to go to meet someone on business. Not wanting to be by herself, the young woman goes to see Karl, whom she finds putting makeup on the disembodied head of a mannequin. When Marie remarks on how dark his rooms are, he tells her that "We are creatures of the dark, my dear." Karl reveals to Marie that David is "an accomplished, professional thief" and she returns to David's mother's home to find him wounded, shot in the arm during a burglary. She tells him that she will leave him but he argues that he is only stealing because he now has a wife to support.
|Karl's knife slices through David's name|
A television news report follows and explains that the caretaker at the funeral home was murdered and a scarf with the initials "D.C." was found beside the body. This scene parallels the earlier scene where David was caught in the act of burglary and then listened to a radio news report about his own crime. David admits the robbery to Marie but denies the murder and flees. In the next scene, Karl is working with a woman who is having trouble selecting a wig. She admires Marie's hair and Marie agrees to sell it to her for $200. Karl cuts her hair off and then styles it; as he works on her body in this intimate fashion he asks her what love feels like and admits that "I know what the opposite of love feels like. What the real core of love is like I don't know."
|Joan Houseman as the woman|
who buys Marie's hair
|Marie's hand grabs the dart to stab Karl--|
notice how many holes are in David's face now
|Marie threatens to jump|
"A Tangled Web" is an excellent short film that shows how a creative approach to adaptation can bring a novel alive on the small screen. In addition to the fine script by James Bridges, the show benefits from strong acting by the three leads and from clever direction by Alf Kjellin, whose shot choices are unobtrusive but succeed in telling the story quickly and effectively. When he does use an unusual shot, such as the tight closeups on Karl on the witness stand, it works very well. The gay subtext is not buried very deep and adds an interesting element to the show, since Bridges himself was a gay man writing in Hollywood at a time when the topic was still taboo. The title, "A Tangled Web," comes from the epic poem, Marmion (1808) by Sir Walter Scott: "Oh, what a tangled web we weave/When first we practice to deceive!" Each of the three main characters weaves a web of lies that leads to destruction. David Chesterman withholds the truth of his profession from Marie and then lies about the murder; Marie lies to herself about David's profession and accepts his lie about the murder; and Karl lies to Marie about his actions that send David to death. Does he also deceive David and himself about where his attractions really lie?
|Karl's testimony begins with a closeup|
|Then the camera gets closer|
|Until it focuses on his lying lips|
|That curl into a smile after he has sealed his friend's fate|
Alf Kjellin (1920-1988), who directed "A Tangled Web," was a Swedish actor/director who directed 12 episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "The Thirty-First of February."
As David Chesterman, Robert Redford (1936- ) is both charming and dangerous. This was one of three appearances he made on the Hitchcock show, including "The Right Kind of Medicine."
Zohra Lampert (1937- ) gives a likable performance as Marie. Born in New York City, she appeared on stage and her career on screen began in 1954 and continues today. She is currently married to New York radio DJ Jonathan Schwartz.
|The broken taboo that leads to David's downfall|
"A Tangled Web" is dominated by Redford, Lampert and Morse, but two other actresses make an impression in short scenes. Gertrude Flynn (1909-1996) plays David's mother, who tosses a handful of coins on the floor and tells him to "buy a toaster" as her wedding present. Flynn had a long career on stage and was on screen from 1952 to 1987. She appeared in five episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "Party Line" and "The Second Wife."
The small role of the woman who ends up buying Marie's hair to make a wig for herself is played by Joan Houseman (1916-2001), the wife of actor/director John Houseman. She only has three credits on IMDb, including "A Tangled Web." According to Jack Larson, James Bridges was a protege of John Houseman, so it is possible that their connection led to Mrs. Houseman being hired for this episode. Years later, Bridges asked Houseman to act in The Paper Chase, a role that made him famous and led to many other acting roles in the latter years of his career.
"A Tangled Web" is not currently available online or on a DVD released in the U.S.
In two weeks: "The Star Juror," starring Dean Jagger and Betty Field!