Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Hitchcock Project-Francis and Marian Cockrell Part Eleven: The West Warlock Time Capsule [2.35]

by Jack Seabrook

Business is good at the Tiffany Studio of Creative Taxidermy, where George Tiffany stuffs animal heads for hunters and enjoys the company of Charlie, a boy who hopes to be his apprentice when he grows up. George's latest project is to prepare a full-sized model of Napoleon, the beloved nag who gave local children rides in the park for 22 years. Modern taxidermy techniques do not require George to use Napoleon's actual skeleton, however--he uses the late horse's skull and skin and makes a wooden frame for the body. Inside this wooden frame he will place "The West Warlock Time Capsule," a large, metal cylinder that will contain examples of what life was like in the little town of West Warlock in 1957. Townsfolk will open it in 100 years and be amazed at what life was like so long ago.

George and his wife Louise live a comfortable life in an apartment upstairs from his taxidermy shop; they both look happy in cardigan sweaters as he relaxes in his Morris Chair while she sits knitting on the sofa. "Into each life some rain must fall," as Longfellow wrote, and a violent storm outside is a harbinger of the arrival of Louise's "little brother Waldren," whom she has not seen in 25 years and who arrives with no suitcase but with a bad cough and a healthy sense of entitlement. He takes over George's favorite chair and quickly makes life miserable for the taxidermist and his spouse with his demands for constant pampering.

Henry Jones as George
As work progresses on Napoleon, George's patience with Waldren wears thin; he suggests to Louise that it's time to tell Waldren to get a job, but she won't hear of it. One day, George arrives home to find Waldren resting comfortably in his chair and Louise passed out from exhaustion on the kitchen floor. The doctor tells George that he must "get rid of" Waldren to preserve Louise's health, but when George tries to talk to Waldren, his uninvited guest refuses to listen. George has an idea and asks Waldren "about how tall are you?" He types a letter to Louise from Waldren, writing that he has left for warmer climes in Mexico, then goes down to his shop and removes the time capsule from Napoleon's abdomen.

George waits in his shop until Waldren ventures downstairs, seeking food. George gives Waldren a large bottle of formaldehyde and a syringe to hold, then takes a large hammer and aims it the back of the man's head. The next thing we see is the unusually heavy stuffed horse being loaded onto the back of a truck. Musical cues (a few bars of Chopin's Funeral March) tell us that Waldren's body has replaced the time capsule inside Napoleon and this scene is followed by a town meeting, where the mayor thanks George for creating the "priceless memorial" and remarks that the town of West Warlock will be in "the national limelight" when the time capsule is opened in a century.

Mildred Dunnock as Louise
Marian Cockrell's teleplay for "The West Warlock Time Capsule" is a delightfully humorous treatment of family dysfunction and murder. As in "Conversation Over a Corpse," violent death occurs off screen but the bloody details are ignored in favor of clever wordplay and the killer succeeds in getting away with the crime. The show opens with a shot of the window of George's shop, with the words "The Tiffany Studio of Creative Taxidermy" stenciled on the glass. The events of this episode demonstrate just how creative George can be, since he manages to find a way to dispose of an unwanted guest without arousing suspicion. The name Tiffany is used ironically, since the image of the lavish, expensive New York City jewelry store contrasts with the reality of the homey, small-town taxidermist.

Equally ironic is the fact that the old nag who gave children rides in the town park for decades is named Napoleon, after the great French general. Cockrell educates the viewer very early in the show by having George explain that wooden frames are now used rather than the animal's skeleton; this also serves to provide support for the overweight corpse of Waldren. A subtle comparison is made between the horse, which is said to have given rides for about a quarter century, and Waldren, whom Louise has not seen for the same amount of time. The two characters are linked early on and will spend the next 100 years together in the park, unbeknownst to the people of West Warlock.

Sam Buffington as Waldren
Cockrell uses foreshadowing when Charlie, the boy who likes to hang around George's shop, comments that when he becomes the taxidermist's apprentice, he'll put "a surprise in every job." By placing Waldren's body inside Napoleon, George follows the boy's advice! In the same scene, Charlie sees Waldren walk by the shop and asks George if all his brother-in-law ever does is "sit in the park." In a sense, George will ensure that that is all Waldren will ever do. Later, after Louise collapses, the doctor tells George he'll have to "get rid of" Waldren, advice that George proceeds to take. Cockrell has all of the messy details of Waldren's murder occur off screen and they are never referred to. We see George reach for the hammer and then there is a dissolve to the horse being loaded on the truck. George must have bashed Waldren's skull in with the heavy tool, then cleaned up the blood. Presumably, he used the formaldehyde to preserve Waldren's body so that it would not smell and attract attention once the horse was placed in the park. Cockrell's work here is wonderfully subtle and delightfully horrible.

In the final scene, the dialogue is perfect, as the characters say one thing and we know that George means another. Louise says that Waldren is "better off though where he is"; she thinks he's in Mexico but George knows he's in the horse. The mayor's comment about the reaction in 100 years is also more accurate than he knows--surely the town will make the news when a corpse is found inside the nag instead of a time capsule! After all, while time capsules were often full of junk that did not really depict how people lived, the body of overweight, lazy Waldren may provide a far more accurate depiction of life in small-town America in 1957.

A strong script needs good actors to bring it to life on screen, and "The West Warlock Times Capsule" features three fine performers in the lead roles. Henry Jones (1912-1999) is perfect as George, his laconic drawl exhibiting just the right amount of frustration with his wife's no-good brother. Jones won a Tony Award for his 1958 role in "Sunrise at Campobello" and was a fixture in character roles in film and on TV from 1943 to 1995. He was on countless shows, including The Twilight Zone, Thriller, Night Gallery, and The Night Stalker, and he appeared on the Hitchcock show six times, including "De Mortuis." He was also in Hitchcock's classic, Vertigo (1958).

Mildred Dunnock (1901-1991) plays his wife, Louise; she was a founding member of the Actors Studio and originated the role of Linda Loman in Arthur Miller's classic play, Death of a Salesman, on Broadway in 1949. Dunnock played many roles on screen from 1944 to 1992 and appeared in Hitchcock's "The Trouble with Harry" (1955). She was on the Hitchcock show four times, including "Heart of Gold," and she was also seen on Thriller. She and Henry Jones again played the married couple of the title in "William and Mary," a 1961 episode of Way Out that was based on a Roald Dahl short story.

Bobby Clark as Charlie
The lazy, overweight brother-in-law named Waldren is played by Sam Buffington (1931-1960), an actor who made quite an impression on screen during a brief career that lasted from 1957 to 1960, when he killed himself at age 28. He was on Alfred Hitchcock Presents three times, including "A Night with the Boys."

Charlie, the boy who likes to hang out at the taxidermy shop, is played by child actor Bobby Clark (1944- ), who was on screen from 1949 to 1964 and who was also seen in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "Santa Claus and the Tenth Avenue Kid." He also had a part in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).

"The West Warlock Time Capsule" is directed by Justus Addiss (1917-1979), whose work is competent but rarely remarkable. He worked mostly in TV from 1953 to 1968 and directed ten episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Night the World Ended." He also directed three episodes of The Twilight Zone.

Finally, the credits for "The West Warlock Time Capsule" say that the teleplay is based on a story by J.P. Cahn (1918/19-2004), but I have not been able to find a published story by the author that could have served as the basis for this show, so he probably wrote a treatment or a teleplay that Marian Cockrell then revised, as she did with Norman Daniels's teleplay for "Conversation over a Corpse." I found one story by Cahn listed in the FictionMags Index ("The Magic Guy," in a 1943 issue of Liberty) and one other listed at unz.org ("Sovereign Republic of Rough and Ready," in a 1960 issue of Coronet), but that's all, and IMDb only has one credit for him--this episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. A detailed obituary from the San Francisco Chronicle tells us that Cahn was born and lived in California, served in the Navy in WWII, and wrote for the Chronicle until the mid-'50s, when he supposedly quit to freelance for magazines and television. His most memorable work seems to have a been a six-part series in the paper in 1954 called "The Great Flying Saucer Bunco," in which he exposed a flying saucer scam. He died in obscurity in 2004.

"The West Warlock Time Capsule" aired on CBS on Sunday, May 26, 1957, and is available on DVD here or may be viewed online here.

Sources:
The FictionMags Index, www.philsp.com/homeville/FMI/0start.htm.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
IMDb, IMDb.com, 6 Jan. 2018, www.imdb.com.
Taylor, Michael. “John P. Cahn--Ex-Chronicle Writer/He Later Freelanced for Magazines, TV's 'Hitchcock.'".” San Francisco Chronicle, 6 May 2004, www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/John-P-Cahn-ex-Chronicle-writer-He-later-2782497.php.
UNZ.org, unz.org.
“The West Warlock Time Capsule.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 2, episode 35, CBS, 26 May 1957.

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 6 Jan. 2018, www.wikipedia.org.

In two weeks: Miss Paisley's Cat, starring Dorothy Stickney and Raymond Bailey!

2 comments:

Grant said...

Henry Jones was always great.

Just two days ago I saw his COACH episode again, where he plays a funny "codger" type character, but not the really scatterbrained kind you usually expect.

Jack Seabrook said...

I love his drawl and was surprised to learn he was born in NJ!