One of the pleasures of reading the source for every episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour is the chance to be exposed to great works of crime fiction that I had never read before, both short stories and novels. Death and the Joyful Woman, the 1961 novel by Ellis Peters, was a delight to read. Awarded the Edgar for Best Novel in 1963, the book is the second in a series of thirteen mysteries concerning British Detective-Sergeant George Felse and his family. As the story opens, Felse's fourteen-year-old son Dominic is on his way home from a music lesson when he sees Kitty Norris at the Boat Club, dancing barefoot, and he falls in love at first sight. Fifteen months later, when he is sixteen, they meet again by chance at a blood drive. She gives him a ride home in her fancy car and he learns that she is not only beautiful but also the wealthy heiress to a beer fortune.
Not long after that, beer baron Alfred Armiger celebrates the opening of his latest "super-pub," The Jolly Barmaid, and DS Felse is in attendance. Later that night, he is awakened by a telephone call with the news that Armiger has been murdered, brutally bludgeoned with a bottle of champagne. Felse begins an investigation and discovers that Armiger's will leaves everything to Kitty Norris. Interviewing Kitty, Felse learns of a rift between Armiger and his son Leslie that developed when Leslie married a poor girl named Jean instead of Kitty, as his father wanted him to do. Dominic begins to worry that suspicion of murder will fall on Kitty, the object of his crush.
|Gilbert Roland as Luis Aguilar (Alfred Armiger)|
Angry at himself for inadvertently giving Kitty information that supported her confession, Dominic is determined to help clear her name. On his bicycle, he tracks her movements on the night of the murder and deduces that she must have been given a ride by the real murderer but she refuses to confirm this. Felse doubts that Leslie is guilty and Dominic tells his father his theory of what really happened, concluding that finding a pair of bloodstained gloves is the key to solving the murder. The police fail to find the gloves and Dominic is determined to do something. He visits Leslie and Jean and tells them his theory, which leads Jean to explain something to him that is withheld from the reader. Dominic visits Armiger's office and speaks to his secretary, Miss Hamilton, revealing that he has found the bloodstained gloves that will clinch the case. He says the gloves belonged to Kitty and he wants to talk to her lawyer to get advice about what to do with them. Miss Hamilton offers to give him a ride that evening when he will give her the gloves to discard.
|Laraine Day as Ruth Hamilton|
Dominic recovers and explains how he figured out that Miss Hamilton was the killer. Kitty visits him in the hospital and says she is going away to start a new life. Nine months later, he receives a postcard from her, reporting that she is getting married. He has gotten over his crush and is now "a man with a future and a past."
|Tom Lowell as Dominic Felse|
Watching the adaptation of this novel for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour is an unsettling experience. James Bridges wrote the script, and the show, also titled "Death and the Joyful Woman," premiered on CBS on Friday, April 12, 1963. In my series of essays on the many episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that were adapted by Robert C. Dennis, I observed that he had a tendency to take scenes that were flashbacks in the original stories and dramatize them on screen, moving them to the beginning of the show so that the events depicted unfold in chronological order. In his teleplay for "Death and the Joyful Woman," James Bridges takes a similar approach, though this time he essentially deconstructs the novel and rebuilds it into a story that is similar but also much different.
|Laura Devon as Kitty|
Dominic delivers a bottle of Aguilar's wine, the Joyful Woman, to the man in his room, where he sits alone in the dark. After Dominic leaves, Aguilar removes a gun from a drawer and places it on a table. Later, he goes downstairs to join the party and takes his son Al to his new tasting room. Dominic goes with them, bringing two bottles of the Joyful Woman. Aguilar tells his son that he is no longer his son and challenges him to drink him under the table for $5000, something Luis had done with his own father at the same age. Dominic witnesses the game, which Al loses miserably. Already, the TV version of the story is very different from the novel, as we witness the events occurring in chronological order. The addition of the drinking challenge adds novelty and suspense to the story.
|Frank Overton as George Felse|
The show has now gone far afield from the novel, with the addition of the wine vat peril, which is something straight out of an old movie serial. For the rest of the show, shots of Dominic lying unconscious as the water rises around him are inter cut with scenes of people looking for him. Felse finally arrives in the scene and the search for his missing son is on. He questions Ruth and, after he leaves, she swallows a bottle of sleeping pills. Felse revives Ruth and she reveals Dominic's location. Felse, Kitty, and another policemen find and rescue the young man, and the show is over.
|Don Galloway as Al Aguilar (Leslie Armiger)|
The red herring of the pub sign has been removed entirely, as have all aspects of the investigation into the murder. We see the murder on screen and Dominic walks in right after it occurs, so solving the crime takes a back seat to the matter of Dominic in danger. The show is entertaining for the first three acts and it is only in the final act that too much happens too fast and the plot falls apart. Up until then, it works mainly due to strong acting by the lead players.
Ellis Peters, who wrote the novel, was a pseudonym of Edith Pargeter (1913-1995), a British novelist who worked as a pharmacist's assistant from 1933 to 1940 and then served in the Women's Royal Naval Service from 1940 to 1945. She began publishing books in 1936 and had a long career as a writer. Death and the Joyful Woman was the second of thirteen mysteries involving DS Felse and his family, published between 1951 and 1978. More famous were her 21 mystery novels featuring twelfth century monk Brother Cadfael, which were published between 1977 and 1992. The Brother Cadfael stories were adapted for television and shown on PBS's Mystery series from 1994 to 1997, starring Derek Jacobi. Very few of her other works were adapted for film or television, though Death and the Joyful Woman was adapted a second time, in 1980, for Czech TV. The CWA recognized her significance by naming the annual award for the best historical mystery after her. This was the only time one of her works was adapted for the Hitchcock series.
Gilbert Roland (1905-1994) plays Luis Aguilar, a nasty father if there ever was one. Born Luis Antonio Damaso de Alonso in Mexico, his career on screen lasted from 1923 until 1982, but this was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show. He began as a Latin lover and made the transition to character parts; he played the Cisco Kid in six films in 1946 and 1947.
Second billing in this episode goes to Laraine Day (1920-2007), who plays the murderer, Ruth Hamilton. Day was born in Utah to a Mormon family and she was on screen from 1937 to 1986. A regular in seven Dr. Kildare movies from 1939 to 1941, she also was featured in Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent (1940). Her second husband, from 1948 to 1960, was Los Angeles Dodgers manager Leo Durocher. This was her only appearance on the Hitchcock series.
Dominic Felse is played by Tom Lowell (1941- ), who was born in Philadelphia as Lowell Thomas. His first TV role was on The Twilight Zone episode, "The Changing of the Guard," and his career from 1962 to 1979 included a semi-regular role on Combat! from 1962 to 1964. Like all of the other lead players in this episode, this was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show.
|Dominic is about to be knocked out and shoved into the vat|
Laura Devon (1931-2007) plays beautiful Kitty Norris. Born Mary Briley in Chicago, she did some stage work in the 1950s before becoming a familiar sight on TV and in the movies from 1960 to 1967, when she married composer Maurice Jarre and retired from acting.
Finally, Frank Overton (1918-1967) plays George Felse, father of Dominic. He was in movies from 1948 and on TV from 1952 and this was one of his last roles before his untimely death at age 49.
"Death and the Joyful Woman" is not yet available on DVD or online, but the novel by Ellis Peters is easy to find and worth reading.
"Death and the Joyful Woman." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. CBS. 12 Apr. 1963. Television.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 22 Jan. 2017.
In two weeks: "Dear Uncle George," starring Gene Barry!