Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Hitchcock Project-Francis and Marian Cockrell Part Six: You Got to Have Luck [1.16]

by Jack Seabrook

When does a physical disability become beneficial? When it helps one to avoid harm at the hands of an escaped convict, that's when! This unexpected situation plays out beautifully in "You Got To Have Luck," a short story by S.R. Ross that was first published in the October 1952 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

The five-page tale begins as escaped murderer Sam Cobbett enters a farmhouse and menaces a young woman named Mary and her baby. Though she tells him that her husband will be back soon, Sam knows that she is lying and insists that she prepare food for him. He hears the prison siren sound, alerting the community of his escape, and he has Mary turn on the radio; he is gratified to hear that the police do not know which way he went. After about an hour, Sam demands to be given some of Mary's husband's clothes and is about to get them when the telephone rings. Sam makes Mary answer it and tells her what to say to her mother, who is on the other end of the line. After the phone call ends, Sam goes to don some of Mary's husband's clothes. Half an hour later, he returns to the kitchen to find the sheriff waiting for him with a gun. When Sam asks the sheriff how he knew where he was, the sheriff tells him that Mary is deaf but can read lips; the fact that she answered the ringing telephone and carried on a conversation alerted her mother to danger.

Sam menaces Mary as she speaks to her
neighbor through the screen door
"You Got to Have Luck" is a well-written little crime drama with an unforgettable twist ending. Once you know it, you can go back through the story and find numerous clues to Mary's deafness. She does not hear the screen door bang shut when Sam first enters the house. She does not react to her baby's scream. She only realizes that Sam is present when she sees his reflection in the glass door of a kitchen cupboard. When Mary does speak, her voice is too loud and has a hollow ring. When she turns on the radio the volume is too high, and she fails to answer the telephone when it rings. Her voice is "high pitched and clear" when she speaks on the telephone and when Sam speaks to her from behind, she does not respond. These clues are subtle and one does not notice them individually or in the aggregate while reading the story, but in retrospect they clearly portray a woman who is deaf.

Sam repeats to himself the title phrase, "you got to have luck," at a few points during the story, thinking he has been fortunate in his successful escape yet, ironically, he chooses the wrong hiding place. Sam is described as smiling only with his mouth, while his eyes remain "gray pebbles." He is said to have a "rat face" and a "rat mouth." Like a rodent, he scurries into Mary's home and threatens her; he does not realize that his own attempt at cleverness--having her take the telephone call--seals his doom. He thinks of Mary as "mousy," in contrast to his own description as rat-like, and when he is caught he whines.

John Cassavetes as Sam right after
he first enters Mary's home
"You Got to Have Luck" appears in the Department of First Stories in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and the introduction states that the author, S.R. Ross, is a woman in her early twenties and that this is her first story. It appears to have been her last story as well, since I have been unable to find any biographical information about Ms. Ross or any evidence that she ever had another story published anywhere. It may be tempting to equate the S.R. Ross of this story with Stanley Ralph Ross, the prolific television writer, but there are problems: he was a man, he would have been sixteen years old when this story was written, and his first TV credit does not appear for over a decade.

What we do know for certain is that "You Got to Have Luck" was adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents by brothers Eustace Cockrell and Francis Cockrell and that it was the second and last of their collaborations for the series, the first having been the teleplay for "A Bullet for Baldwin." The teleplay is a fascinating re-imagining of the short story and demonstrates how a wisp of a tale can be broadened and expanded into a strong half hour of television.

Marisa Pavan as Mary
As so often happens on the Hitchcock show, the writers start by adding an opening sequence that dramatizes events that occurred before the beginning of the short story. Here, the show opens on a close up of a prison siren being cranked and emitting a loud squeal. There is a dissolve to the interior of the warden's office, where the warden and another man discuss Cobbet's escape and take a sarcastic question by telephone from a reporter for the local newspaper. They call a man in a helicopter and there is then an exterior shot of a helicopter flying over rocky ground. The scene cuts to the interior of the helicopter's cockpit, where the pilot and another man scan the ground below as the passenger speaks to the warden by radio and listens to an all points bulletin that gives the viewer details about the escaped convict: he is serving four consecutive 99-year terms for robbery, assault, and murder and he has the letters "MA" tattooed on the back of his right hand.

Following this opening sequence, there is a dissolve to the interior of the farmhouse, but the Cockrells' script is not yet ready to join up with the opening of S.R. Ross's story; Mary's husband David (he was Vic in the story) lets their dog outside and the dog barks at something before disappearing and emitting a pathetic whine. David and Mary do not hear it but we suspect that Cobbett is on the premises and has silenced the dog. The scene cuts to the interior of the farmhouse, where David and Mary share breakfast at the table before he finishes and leaves for the day. At this point, the teleplay picks up where the short story begins, but with a significant change: there is no baby and Mary is alone in the small house.

Sam after he dons David's clothes
Director Robert Stevens uses a medium closeup to show Mary cutting excess crust off of a pie with a sharp knife that she then lays down on the kitchen table. There is a close up of a hand with the word "MA" tattooed on its back and we know that Sam has arrived because we learned about the tattoo during the scene in the helicopter. The hand locks the kitchen door and takes the knife from the table. Mary turns and sees Sam standing by the table, admiring the knife, and John Cassavetes, as Sam, is a magnetic presence right from this first shot. Mary asks him what he wants and he implies that he would like to have sex with her but is in too much of a hurry. The threat of sexual violence looms over the entire episode but is completely absent from the source story.

Sam turns on the radio and the hall telephone rings, but it is a party line and the ring pattern reveals that the call is not for Mary. The Cockrells are fond of adding details like this to familiarize the viewer with an object that will be important in a later scene. Sam grabs Mary and tells her that he has "been in stir for three years," again raising the specter of rape as he struggles to kiss her, but he is distracted by the news of his escape over the radio and the imminent threat of sexual assault is broken.

Sam looms large and powerful in the foreground
of this mirror shot while Mary sits
small and powerless in the distance
Unlike the short story, there is little to suggest that Mary is deaf: she seems to converse with Sam easily and there are no obvious sounds that she ignores, like the slamming door, the baby screaming, or the radio blasting. There is bit of symbolism as Sam asks Mary if she understands that he can receive no greater punishment for hurting her than he is already facing; as he says this, she breaks an egg on the side of a bowl, symbolizing both her own fragility and what she thinks could happen to Sam.

Since a dramatic show cannot use narrative to explain Sam's method of escape, unless voice over is utilized, Sam explains his escape to Mary in dialogue. He begins to threaten her again and the sexual tension increases until she notices the tattoo on his hand and remarks, "You must like your mother very much." This mention of his absent parent once again breaks the spell and he looks at his hand and says, "Yeah, that's why I got it there, so I can look at her all the time." John Cassavetes is such a good actor that this line is filled with meaning, even though he mumbles it. Does he really love his mother and want to remember her fondly, or does the tattoo remind him of a woman he hates so much that he can't forget how she treated him? We will never know, but either explanation is plausible.

Bob Patten as Willis
The threat of sexual assault is like a dance between Sam and Mary, with her fortunate that he is distracted twice when he begins to approach her in this way. As Mary goes to get coffee for Sam, the scene dissolves to an exterior shot of the helicopter over land, still looking for the escaped convict; there is a cut to the interior of the cockpit and then a point of view shot of the land below. This break in the action reminds the viewer that the search for Sam continues in the outside world even as his tense standoff with Mary is occurring in the confined space of her home.

The scene dissolves back to the interior of Mary's house, where Sam demands a gun. Mary says that she and her husband are against killing and have no gun and Sam seems to feel the need to defend his past actions when he says that, "When a fat bank guard draws down on you, then its different. It's him or you." This fills in more of Sam's history through the use of dialogue, and Cassavetes once again shows his skill by making the cruel murderer seem like a complex human being who thinks he must rationalize his violent acts. Sam wants money but Mary has very little; he thinks that he is lucky but everything that happens to him shows otherwise--he fails in his efforts to have Mary provide sex, a gun, or cash.

Vivi Janiss as Mary's neighbor Maude,
seen through the screen door
The telephone rings again and this time, as in the story, Mary does not react, but Sam recognizes her ring pattern on the party line and knows that the call is for her. The phone call with her mother proceeds as it does in the story but is followed by another new scene that suggests that the outside world is closing in on Sam. Mary's neighbor and self-proclaimed "best friend" Maude pulls up in her car with her young daughter in the passenger seat. Mary is rude at Sam's prompting and won't let Maude into the house; there is a tense moment where Sam hides next to the door, menacing Mary and urging her to get rid of the visitor. After Maude drives off, Sam rushes out onto the porch to watch her go and Mary locks the screen door in a futile attempt to keep him out, but he takes the knife and slices violently downward through the screen in a symbolic gesture of rape and violation.

Mary tries to lock herself in the bedroom but he forces his way in and demands clothes. Director Robert Stevens sets the camera in the back of the closet looking out as Sam goes through the clothes on hangers, then there is a mirror shot as Sam changes into clean clothes. The mirror shot shows him, large and looming in the foreground and holding all of the power, and her, small and seated in the distance, seemingly helpless. There is then a dissolve to the interior of the warden's office, to once again remind the viewer that the search continues. The warden and his men still cannot find Sam and look vainly at a map of the area. The scene dissolves back to the mirror shot and Sam has finished dressing; another clue to her deafness is provided when she does not respond to Sam when he speaks to her while facing the other way. Not realizing how close he is to the truth, he asks her, "What's the matter? Are you deaf?" He means that she is not listening to him, but he does not understand that she is unable to do so.

Ray Teal as the warden
Sam hears a car go by and tells Mary that she is coming with him because no one will be looking for a couple. They exit onto the porch and he is immediately apprehended and handcuffed. The warden speaks to Mary like she is deaf, facing her, speaking slowly and loudly, and enunciating his words clearly. Sam asks how they knew he was there, the warden explains, and the episode ends with the revelation of the woman's unexpected disability.

"You Got to Have Luck" is an excellent half hour of television in which the Cockrells expand and deepen the meaning of a short story that was more straightforward and focused on a twist ending. Robert Stevens does a fine job of directing, creating and releasing tension and using a variety of shots and locations to show the parallel stories that are unfolding inside the house and outside in the larger world. John Cassavetes is outstanding as Sam and creates a fully realized character with a complex past who is not merely the violent animal he is made out to be. Marisa Pavan is good as the deaf Mary, though there are far fewer clues to her disability in the TV show than in the story. The only area of the show that is not a success is the use of stock music cues which, as sometimes happens in first-season episodes, do not entirely match the action on screen.

John Cassavetes (1929-1989) was born in New York City and had a three-decade career as an actor and as a director of independent films. He starred in Rosemary's Baby (1968) and in three episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "Water's Edge" and "Murder Case."

Lamont Johnson as
Mary's husband David
Marisa Pavan (1932- ) was born in Italy and emigrated to the U.S. in 1950 with her twin sister, actress Pier Angeli. Pavan took her acting surname from the name of a Jewish officer her family hid in their home during World War Two. She was on screen from 1952 to 1992 and this was her only appearance on the Hitchcock show. She has a website here.

In small roles:

*Lamont Johnson (1922-2010) plays David, Mary's husband, who appears briefly in an early scene. As an actor, Johnson was on screen from the early 1950s until 1980, but he made his mark as a director of episodic TV from the mid-1950s to 2000. He directed eight episodes of The Twilight Zone and later won two Emmy Awards.

*Ray Teal plays the warden. A busy character actor, first on film from 1937 and later on TV from 1953, he was on The Twilight Zone and Thriller and he had a recurring role on Bonanza from 1960 to 1972. He appeared on Alfred Hitchcock Presents eight times, including a role in "Revenge."

Hal K. Dawson
*Vivi Janiss (1911-1988) plays Maude, the visiting neighbor. Born Vivian Jacobsen, she was married first to Bob Cummings and later to John Larch. She was on TV from 1949 to 1979 and appeared in a few films; she was on The Twilight Zone twice, Alfred Hitchcock Presents twice, and she was the voice of Daisy Duck for Disney.

*Hal K. Dawson (1896-1987) appears in the scenes in the warden's office as the other man with the warden. He was also a busy character actor, appearing in film from 1930 to 1977 and on TV from 1950 to 1980. He was on The Twilight Zone and Batman, and he made two appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

*Bob Patten (1925-2001) plays Willis, who speaks on the radio to the warden from the helicopter. He was on screen from 1947 to 1993 and also appeared in "A Bullet for Baldwin."

Finally, Wendy Winkelman (1948- ) has a small part as Maude's daughter; she sits in the car and never speaks. She had a brief career on screen from 1955 to 1966 and appeared in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Older Sister" and "Santa Claus and the Tenth Avenue Kid."

The 1956 dramatization for Alfred Hitchcock Presents was not the first time S.R. Ross's story was adapted. In issue number 18 of the EC comic book Crime SuspenStories, with a cover date of August-September 1953, there is an uncredited adaptation drawn by Reed Crandall titled "From Here to Insanity" that is discussed here.

"You Got to Have Luck" was later remade for the 1980s' color version of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Retitled "Prisoners," it aired on December 8, 1985. It may be viewed here and here.

Watch "You Got to Have Luck" online here.

Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the original short story!

The FictionMags Index. 28 Oct. 2017. Web.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb. 28 Oct. 2017. Web.
Ross, S.R. "You Got to Have Luck." Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (1952): 91-95.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Oct. 2017. Web.
"You Got to Have Luck." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 15 Jan. 1956. Television.
In two weeks: "There Was an Old Woman," starring Estelle Winwood and Charles Bronson!

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