Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Hitchcock Project-James Bridges Part Six: The Cadaver [9.8]

by Jack Seabrook

The title card for "The Cadaver" states that James Bridges wrote the teleplay based on a story by Robert Arthur. The TV show was scheduled to air on CBS on Friday, November 22, 1963, as the first episode written by Bridges to be broadcast in the second season of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, but the assassination of President Kennedy earlier that day meant that all scheduled programs were pre-empted and the episode did not air until January 17, 1964.

The short story on which it is based is "The Morning After" by Andrew West, first published in the February 1964 issue of Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. According to the Catalog of Copyright Entries, Andrew West was a pseudonym for Robert Arthur, who registered the copyright with a publication date of December 1, 1963. It seems likely that Arthur wrote the story and sold it both to the producers of the TV show and the magazine editor at the same time, since the magazine came out right after the TV show was supposed to air.

"The Morning After" begins as Paul Baxter, a student at a Midwestern law school, awakens one June morning in his two-room apartment, having gotten drunk the night before while celebrating graduation. Engaged to beautiful Susan Davenport and set to go to work at her father's Chicago law firm, he worries that his fall off the wagon will hurt his prospects, since he has been sober for an entire year. His friends Bert and Steve tried to stop him, but to no avail, and he recalls little of the night before; he slept till noon and has a lunch date with Susan and her father at 12:30. Getting up from the couch where he spent the night, he observes the figure of a blond woman lying in his bed, but when he tries to wake her he discovers that she is dead and that the marks on her throat show that she was strangled.

Paul assumes he brought her home while he was drunk and killed her in a rage; he thinks of how this will ruin his plans to marry well and become a successful lawyer. Bert and Steve knock at his door but he does not respond, so they leave to catch a plane to the Coast. Deciding that he has no choice but to find a way to dispose of the body, Paul realizes that this will prove difficult, since the campus is crowded with students and their families visiting for graduation. Old Annie, the maid, comes in to clean his rooms but he convinces her to give him more time by telling her that a friend is asleep in his bedroom. Frantic for a way to get rid of the corpse, he spies the dumbwaiter that leads to the basement garage where his car is parked.

Michael Parks as Baxter
After buying himself some time when Susan telephones, Paul stuffs the body into the dumbwaiter and leaves his room, running into his neighbor Ruppert but ignoring the young man who wants to tell him something. Paul rushes to the basement and manages to distract Charlie, the janitor, from bringing down the dumbwaiter by telling him that there is half a bottle of booze waiting for him upstairs. Alone in the basement, Paul removes the body and crosses the room to a door that leads to a series of maintenance tunnels running beneath the campus. He carries the body uneasily through the dimly-lit, cramped tunnels, finally emerging in the basement of the medical school building, where he intends to dispose of it among others in a large vat of preservative, but he is caught by Jensen, another janitor, who tells him that the body is Number 87, a strangling victim just brought in from the County Morgue. Jensen tells him that it's "One of the oldest jokes in medical school--to plant a cadaver on someone!" and Paul collapses to the floor in laughter.

Ten years later, it is 1964 and Paul meets up with Bert and Steve at a school reunion. They admit having planted the corpse in order to try to scare him out of ever taking another drink. Shocked to learn that his best friends were behind the prank, Paul attacks them, "screaming with laughter," before men from an ambulance come and take him back to the asylum--a nurse explains that he has been confined there for ten years and slipped away while on an outing.

Joby Baker as Doc Carroll
"The Morning After" is an effective story of a practical joke gone wrong. Paul is a problem drinker who has turned his life around, but when his carefully constructed new world is threatened, he makes the wrong choice and tries to cover up what he thinks is his own crime. He is caught and his mind snaps when he learns that it was a prank. His efforts to dispose of the body are suspenseful and the ending is a real surprise.

In adapting Robert Arthur's story for television, James Bridges took bits and pieces of the source and used them to craft an outstanding script that changes the focus of the original and expands it, completely reworking the ending and hitting on themes that had been touched upon in prior episodes of the Hitchcock TV series.

The show opens in an anatomy class at a college, where the lecture is disrupted when a cadaver covered by a sheet suddenly sits up and is revealed to be practical joking student Doc Carroll, who corresponds to Bert and Steve in the short story. In the Bridges version, the students are in college rather than law school, and much is made of the fact that Doc, the prankster, is a brilliant student with a love for playing jokes that threatens to endanger his academic career.

In a residence hall late that night, Doc's studying is interrupted by the arrival of Skip Baxter, his roommate (who corresponds to the story's Paul Baxter, who lived alone); Baxter is drunk once again and determined to throw his girlfriend Barbara in the shower. Skip is a chronic drunkard, unlike Paul in the story, who has been on the wagon for a year, and Skip is comfortable with violent acts toward women and men--he holds Barbara under the shower and attacks Doc when he pulls Skip off of her. Right from the start, Skip is shown to be out of control.

Martin Blaine as the professor
The next morning, Doc is up early grading papers and we see that he tied Skip to the bed the night before. Skip, hung over, jokingly asks: "I didn't kill anybody, did I?" The next scene is at the annual Halloween Carnival, where Skip tries to break the record for drinking the most beers in a single sitting. He has barely escaped being expelled from school but the experience did not change his self-destructive behavior. The carnival is held at a tavern, where there is a waitress named Ruby with platinum blond hair. Doc sees a fellow male student in drag wearing a platinum blond wig and has an idea: if Skip is made to think that he killed someone during an alcoholic blackout, the shock might be enough to make him quit drinking. Skip comments that he has a date with Ruby, the waitress, after she gets off from work. Late that night, Doc visits the morgue.

The next morning, Skip awakens with another hangover and sees a woman in his bed; actually, all he sees is the platinum blond hair covering the back of her head. Doc tells him that it is Ruby the waitress and she is dead. As usual, Skip recalls nothing and Doc tells his roommate that he found her that way in Skip's bed that morning, strangled. This marks a significant departure from Robert Arthur's story, where Skip lived alone and discovered the body himself. His friends tried to tell him it was a joke but the message was never delivered. In the TV version, Doc purposely lies to Skip, whose reaction is understandable.

Skip leaves his room with the body in the rug
Doc goes to class, promising to return in a half hour and telling Skip not to look at the corpse; again, Doc goes beyond a simple prank by encouraging Skip to believe that he committed murder. Outside Skip's room, in the hallway, Doc and another student share quiet laughter, demonstrating Doc's cruelty. The TV show begins to follow the story as Skip is left to wait alone in his room with the corpse when Doc is delayed in getting back from class. There are a couple of close calls: first, two students come to do a room check (replacing the Irish maid in the short story) and Skip puts them off; next, a student athlete named Ed Blair enters Skip's room to tell him that his place on the school football team is in jeopardy due to his having missed so many classes due to his drinking. Skip has hidden the body in a closet and we see it reflected in a mirror on the back of the closet door when Ed opens it. Throughout this scene, there is cutting back and forth between the events in and around Skip's room and the class where Doc is helping out; suspense builds as it becomes clear that Doc cannot return in time to help his roommate.

After the class is done, the professor discovers that a corpse is missing from the morgue, and Doc admits having removed the body. This is a departure from the short story, where no such thing occurs. The professor, taking the place of the medical school janitor in the story, tells Doc that this is an old prank and orders him to have the body back in its drawer by the next morning. Meanwhile, Skip has wrapped the body in a rug and carries it out in full view of other students, explaining that he is taking the rug to be cleaned. Gone is the entire episode with the dumbwaiter and gone is the fear Paul feels in the short story about how he will get the corpse out of his room. Skip does not go to the basement and carry the cadaver through the maze of underground tunnels in order to return it to the morgue. Instead, Bridges takes the show in a completely new direction.

Ruth McDeVitt as Mrs. Fister
Doc returns to the residence hall and finds Skip gone. That evening, we see Skip driving through town in his convertible, the rug sticking out of the car's back seat. An old woman wheels her garbage can down her driveway to the curb and loses control of it; it rolls into the street, where Skips car bumps into it. Skip meets Mrs. Fister, a chatty woman who is happy to carry the conversation for both of them, since Skip is nearly silent. She mentions that a new law requires that all garbage be wrapped and Skip is initially agitated by her chatter, but when she offers him a drink he agrees to follow her into her house. "I'm 67 years old," she tells him, "my intentions are honorable." Mrs. Fister is a charming character, which makes what happens later all the more horrible. One should note that Doc's attempt to cure Skip's alcoholism by making him think that he committed murder is a failure, as Skip jumps at the first chance he gets to resume drinking.

Skip pulls his car into Mrs. Fister's garage and we see her late husband's work bench, where she demonstrates a circular saw that he used to use in the evenings to do wood work. She mentions how they used to be able to burn garbage and we can see Skip's mind working on a way to dispose of the body. He barely speaks while she chatters on and on. Mrs. Fister calls her neighbor to remind her to wrap and put out her trash and she remarks that it will all be thrown into a truck and ground to a pulp, meaning that it will disappear before anyone is awake the next morning. The camera zooms in on Skip's face as he continues to formulate his plan. In a nice piece of editing, he begins to turn his head and there is a cut to the tavern, where Ruby's head completes the turn. We are reminded that, while Skip thinks she is dead, she is very much alive. There is more cutting back and forth between the tavern, where Doc has gone to look for Skip, and Mrs. Fister's house, where Skip is drinking his host under the table. Before she passes out, she again mentions her husband's saw and the importance of wrapping the garbage.

Skip prepares to cut up the body
Once Mrs. Fister is asleep, Skip goes out to her garage, where he lifts the rug onto the work bench. There is a cut back to Mrs. Fister, who wakes up, goes over to the couch and lies down to sleep. Back in the garage, Skip selects a large circular saw blade and lays down some newspaper. Back on the couch, Mrs. Fister hears the saw start to whine and smiles, recalling her late husband. The screen goes dark and we are left to imagine what happens next in the garage. Early the next morning, Skip stands by the window watching as the garbage truck collects the evidence of his supposed crime. The job done, he shuts his eyes in relief. Later, Mrs. Fister has fixed them both a big breakfast, but Skip refuses to eat and leaves for class, prompting anger from Mrs. Fister, who comments that "You men are all alike--inconsiderate, vicious, cutting . . ." (a great pun). She says that they "trample on other people's feelings . . . crush the beautiful"; this is great writing, as her verbal attack on men unknowingly reveals the truth about what Skip has done in her garage.

Back at school, Skip is in the locker room, where he watches each piece of his football equipment being cataloged and tossed in a bucket. Very quickly, we realize that this parallels his own acts of the night before, where he took the pieces of the body and tossed them in the garbage can. The last piece of equipment is the helmet, and when it falls on the floor Skip jumps, recalling the cadaver's severed head. Skip refuses to pick up the helmet, even though Ed tells him "It won't bite." What superb work by James Bridges to come up with these scenes, which are completely new to the story!

Doc has taken the place of the cadaver
The conclusion of the show occurs when Skip returns to the tavern and is shocked to see Ruby alive. The ordeal he has been through was for naught and, when Doc comes in and admits the prank, Skip tells him that he never looked at the woman's face, "not even in the garage." He promises to take Doc to see the body and leads him out of the tavern by the hand. The show's final scene is a classic: the anatomy class is in the morgue and, when the drawer is opened where the woman's cadaver should be, it has been replaced by the dead body of Doc, whom Skip has killed. Unlike the story, where Paul returns ten years later and is shown to be insane before he can do any harm, Bridges has Skip kill Doc in revenge for the prank. The professor asks "Why?" and there is a cut to a skeleton hanging on the other side of the room. We hear Skip laughing and see him standing behind a pillar, clearly insane.

"The Cadaver" features an outstanding script that benefits from the usual careful attention to structure by James Bridges. Alf Kjellin's direction is quite good and the performances are entertaining, especially that of Ruth McDeVitt as Mrs. Fister. The theme of cutting up a body recalls other episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents such as "Bad Actor," "The Hatbox," and "The Sorcerer's Apprentice."

Jennifer West as Ruby
Robert Arthur (1909-1969), who wrote the short story, was born in the Philippines, where his father was stationed in the Army. He earned an M.A. in Journalism from the University of Michigan before moving to New York City in the early 1930s and becoming a prolific writer of short stories. He later was an editor at Dell and Fawcett, but is best known as the ghost editor of many of the Alfred Hitchcock anthologies. He also wrote a beloved series of books about Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators for young adult readers. In 1959, he moved to Hollywood to write for television and edit screenplays. Before that, he won two Edgar Awards as a writer for radio. Many of his stories were adapted for TV; three episodes of the Hitchcock series were based on his stories and he wrote one additional teleplay himself. There is a website devoted to him here.

Alf Kjellin (1920-1988), the director of "The Cadaver," directed twelve episodes of the Hitchcock series; the last one discussed here was "A Tangled Web."

Starring as Skip Baxter is Michael Parks (1940- ), whose career onscreen began in 1960 and continues today. He starred in the TV series Then Came Bronson (1969-1970) and also had a singing career. He played Jean Renault on Twin Peaks (1990-1991) and later was in both parts of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill (2003-2004). There is a website devoted to his career here.

Don Marshall
Ruth McDeVitt (1895-1976) is wonderful as Mrs. Fister. Born Ruth Shoecraft in Michigan, she was on Broadway and radio before her screen career began in 1949. She was active until 1974, with a role in Hitchcock's The Birds (1963), two appearances on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and a regular role on Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-1975). I have never seen her in a role where she was less than delightful.

Playing the doomed prankster, Doc Carroll, is Joby Baker (1934- ), who was born in Montreal and had a career on TV and in film from 1952 to 1978. He was on the Hitchcock show four times, including "The Right Kind of Medicine" and "Madame Mystery," and later had a career as a painter, as shown by his website here.

The working class sexpot waitress Ruby is played by Jennifer West
(1939- ), who played a similar role (with short shorts) in "The Star Juror." She was on screen from 1958 to 1970 and later wrote a memoir called Thora Ann. She now travels and performs with her husband, as is shown here.

The professor is played by Martin Blaine (1913-1989), who had a career on screen from 1958 to 1973 but not many credits. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show.

Rafer Johnson
"The Cadaver" also features two African-American actors of note. Don Marshall (1936-2016) plays Tom Jackson, who comes to check Skip's room. Marshall had a long career on screen, from 1962 to 1992, and was seen in three episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, including "Isabel." He was also on Star Trek but is best known for his role on Land of the Giants (1968-1970) as one of the marooned crew.

Finally, Rafer Johnson (1935- ) plays Ed Blair, the team manager on Skip's football team. An athlete turned actor, he won an Olympic Gold Medal in 1960 and was one of three men who tackled Sirhan Sirhan after he shot Robert Kennedy in 1968. Johnson was only on the Hitchcock show once but had a career on screen from 1960 to 1989.

"The Cadaver" is not yet available on DVD or online.

Thanks to Peter Enfantino for helping to find this elusive story and for providing a copy to read.

ADDENDUM: After this article posted, a comment from someone identified as "Blakeney" revealed that the short story was based on a radio play from 1949. Robert Arthur and David Kogan were the directors and producers of Murder By Experts, a radio series that premiered June 13, 1949. The first episode, "Summer Heat," is almost identical to the short story titled "The Morning After." The story is credited to Andrew Evans and the radio play is credited to Arthur and Kogan. I think it very likely that Andrew Evans is another pseudonym for Arthur, who later copyrighted the story under his own name.

The radio story differs from the published short story in a few ways. It begins at the ten-year reunion, then mostly occurs in flashback before returning to the reunion at the end. Rather than finding a dead woman in his bed, Paul finds a dead man in his bed, and in the man's chest is Paul's hunting knife. Instead of carrying the body through tunnels, he puts it in the back seat of his car and covers it with a blanket. He has a couple of close calls with a policeman and a gas station attendant before returning and meeting the janitor at the morgue. I have not been able to find any evidence of publication prior to 1949, so it seems likely that Arthur took his old radio play and dusted it off for TV in 1963. The title refers to the heat that Baxter must endure as he drives around with the corpse. Coincidentally, Alfred Hitchcock became the host of Murder By Experts toward the end of its run in 1951.

Many thanks to "Blakeney" for this tip. If you would like to be credited by name, please let me know. Listen to the radio show here.

Sources:
Arthur, Elizabeth. "Robert Arthur, Jr. Bio." Robert Arthur, Jr. Bio. Web. 05 Mar. 2017.
"The Cadaver." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. CBS. 17 Jan. 1964. Television.
Catalogue of Copyright Entries. Third Series: 1965: July-December. Vol. 19. Washington, DC: Copyright Office, Library of Congress, 1968. Print.
"The FictionMags Index." The FictionMags Index. Web. 05 Mar. 2017.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb. IMDb.com. Web. 05 Mar. 2017.
West, Andrew. "The Morning After." Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine February (1964): 31-50. Print.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 05 Mar. 2017.

In two weeks: "Murder Case," starring John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands!

9 comments:

Jordan Prejean said...

Great article! A very thorough look at this ghoulish episode. Arthur played with the cadaver and practical joke story with "The Jokester" from the fourth season of Hitchcock Presents, though from a different angle. And it wasn't until reading your write-up that I realized how similar "The Jokester" and "The Cadaver" are to E.C. Comics horror stories. E.C. did at least a couple stories like this. "Practical Choke" comes to mind. And "Dead Right," the one that was adapted as "Abra Cadaver" for the Crypt TV series. "The Morning After" reminds me a bit of "The Gentleman from America" by Michael Arlen as well, which was adapted for the first season of Hitchcock Presents. I think the original of that type of story is Ambrose Bierce's "A Watcher by the Dead" from 1889, which also concerns a dead body, a practical joke, and a character losing their mind and escaping a mental hospital.

Robert Arthur was a publishing machine and it's a shame he isn't generally remembered these days. Some of his Mysterious Traveler shows are classics. He edited The Mysterious Traveler Mystery Magazine for a few issues in the early 50's and Arthur wrote about 80% of the contents under a variety of pseudonyms. One of my favorite Arthur stories, "The Hint," was first published there. It was later memorably adapted as "The Man Who Hated Scenes" for the Vincent Price radio series The Price of Fear and starred Price and Peter Cushing. And he was virtually the publishing manager of the Hitchcock brand from the late '50's to the mid '60's before his untimely death. Arthur had real talent as an editor and his ghost-edited Random House Hitchcock anthologies are full of gems.

Thanks for the great work, Jack!

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Jordan! I really appreciate your support. I loved the Hitchcock anthologies as a teenager without ever knowing Robert Arthur was behind them.

Grant said...

This is a great episode, and of course Ruth McDevitt's Mrs. Fister is one of the show's best comic relief characters, if not THE best. (McDevitt does a very convincing drunk act too.)

One Michael Parks role I've always liked is in a very strange comedy that gets almost no attention (even the negative kind), THE HAPPENING from 1967.

Oddly enough, one of Joby Baker's roles was in each of the GIDGET movies (even though most of the other actors in them came and went), which is about as far from this Hitchcock episode as you can get.

Jack Seabrook said...

I saw something online that said Quentin Tarantino thinks Michael Parks is the greatest living actor or something like that. I can't be critical because I think the same of William Shatner. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment!

Blakeney said...

The original story sounded familiar to me. A radio program called Murder by Experts aired a show called "Summer Heat" on June 13, 1949 which is basically the same. Andrew Evans is given as the name of the writer. The show can be heard on youtube here: https://youtu.be/CkGdUfIv_58
Wondering if Andrew Evans was another name for Andrew West aka Robert Arthur?

Jack Seabrook said...

I will look into that. Thanks for your comment!

Jack Seabrook said...

Fantastic! I just listened to the radio show and it's the same story. I'll update the post. Thanks for tipping me off to that!

Grant said...

I don't know the other one as well, but THE CADAVER also resembles an Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode called "BETA DELTA GAMMA."

Jack Seabrook said...

I just read the summary and it sounds like you're right. I'll get to that one eventually!