Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Hitchcock Project-Francis and Marian Cockrell Part Twelve: Miss Paisley's Cat [3.12]

by Jack Seabrook

Many of Marian Cockrell's teleplays for Alfred Hitchcock Presents involved mature women who get involved with murder, and "Miss Paisley's Cat" is no exception. The script is based on a short story of the same name by Roy Vickers that was published in the May 1953 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

In the short story, Miss Paisley is a 54-year-old spinster who grew up wealthy but settled firmly into a clerical job and a small apartment when her parents died many years before. Into her lonely life comes a slightly beaten up cat and, though she at first resists attachment, she soon finds herself sharing her home with her new feline companion. One day, Jenkins, "the watchdog and rent-collector," reports that Miss Paisley's cat has stolen a bite of fish from the apartment of Mr. Rinditch, a successful if slightly shady bookmaker. When the cat returns to the man's rooms, Mr. Rinditch threatens to hang the animal if he catches it again.

Dorothy Stickney as Miss Paisley
One evening, Miss Paisley comes home from work and hears the unmistakable sounds of her cat being hanged by Mr. Rinditch. The next day, Jenkins shows her the cat's carcass in a trash can and, that night, she resolves to murder the bookie. Later, she finds that she cannot recall what happened for several hours that night. When Jenkins is taken away in handcuffs the next day and accused of homicide, Miss Paisley goes to the police station and confesses to the crime. Chief Inspector Green does not believe her and gently convinces her that she is innocent. Some time later, she finds evidence in her apartment that spurs her memory of the murder, but she disposes of the item, not wanting to accuse herself once again.

"Miss Paisley's Cat" is an excellent story, well written and well told, in which a lonely old woman finds unknown reserves of violence when her beloved pet is killed. In adapting it for the small screen, Marian Cockrell stays remarkably faithful to the original story. She removes the opening page and a half of background on Miss Paisley's life and moves the setting from London to an unspecified U.S. city. She brings in the cat right away and the TV version of Miss Paisley is more attached to the animal than is her counterpart in the story; she names it Stanley, though in Vickers's story she never gives it a name.

Raymond Bailey as Inspector Green
As in other adaptations, Cockrell turns narrative into dialogue, often spoken by Miss Paisley when she is alone or when she is addressing Stanley. She does not hear Mr. Rinditch hang the cat; instead, she goes looking for him, peeks in Rinditch's window and sees Stanley's collar in his wastepaper basket, and then approaches Jenkins, who shows her the cat's carcass in the garbage can outside. Fortunately, the viewer is spared this visual image. Not having heard the cat's death, she feels no guilt about failing to intervene, as she does in the story. After Rinditch is killed, the police interview Miss Paisley in her apartment, rather than at the police station, a move that eliminates the need for an additional set. The most important change comes right at the end, after Miss Paisley finds Stanley's collar under the cushion of her chair and recalls what happened on the night of the murder. In what is surely a bow to TV's censorship requirements, she heads out of her apartment intending to go to the police station and confess, something she did not do in the story. Cockrell adds a humorous line near the end as Miss Paisley remarks, "What a pity poor Jenkins has already been executed."

The show has a light tone but is not a comedy; the use of stock music cues in one of the later scenes underscores the point that the viewer is supposed to be amused rather than horrified by Miss Paisley's act of murdering the bookie in cold blood with a kitchen knife.

Harry Tyler as Jenkins
Roy Vickers (1889-1965), who wrote the story on which the show is based, was a British writer best known for his short stories, though he authored over 70 books. His real name was William Edward Vickers and he was active as a writer from 1916 to 1963. A series of related short stories dealing with the Department of Dead Ends led to a French TV series in 1970 and three films were adapted from his novels. "Miss Paisley's Cat" was one of three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to be adapted from his stories; another was "The Crocodile Case."

The show is directed by Justus Addiss (1917-1979), a director who worked mostly in episodic television and whose ten episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents tend to be straightforward and show little directorial flair. The last episode he directed that was reviewed here was "The West Warlock Time Capsule."

Miss Paisley is played by Dorothy Stickney (1896-1998), who does a fine job of portraying a lonely woman. This was her second and last appearance on the Hitchcock show, following "Conversation Over a Corpse," another episode penned by Marian Cockrell.

"Miss Paisley's Cat" first appeared here
Other than Miss Paisley and Stanley, the cat, the rest of the roles in this episode are minor. Harry Tyler (1888-1961) plays Jenkins in one of his eleven appearances on the Hitchcock show. He was a ubiquitous character actor seen on screen from 1929 until his death; among the other episodes in which he appeared was the Fredric Brown adaptation, "The Dangerous People."

Another character actor seen frequently on the Hitchcock show is Raymond Bailey (1904-1980), who was in eleven episodes and who also appeared in the Hitchcock-directed episode, "The Case of Mr. Pelham."

None of the other credited actors makes an impression. "Miss Paisley's Cat" is available on DVD here or may be viewed online here. Read the story online here. Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the original tale!

The FictionMags Index,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
“Miss Paisley's Cat.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 3, episode 12, CBS, 22 Dec. 1957.
“Roy Vickers.” Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2000.
Stephensen-Payne, Phil. “Galactic Central.” Galactic Central,
Vickers, Roy. “Miss Paisley's Cat.” Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May 1953, pp. 128–143.

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Jan. 2018,

In two weeks: Miss Bracegirdle Does Her Duty, starring Mildred Natwick!

And watch this space on February 18th for our entry in the Classic TV Villain Blogathon on The Cybernauts!!


john kenrick said...

I liked Miss Paisley's Cat, Jack. It didn't jump out at me but it was pleasing in a quiet sort of way. Dorothy Stickney was a superb actress and it was she who sold the story as much as the script and the direction. Nice balancing act, this one. Not a real suspenser but not one of those (often goofily scored, as in music) attempts at comedy episodes. A professional job all-round.

Jack Seabrook said...

I agree, John. She carried the show. I'm really finding it interesting to see the type of stories that were being assigned to Marian Cockrell. I think her contribution to the series is undervalued. Along with all of the great crime shows, I always think of these "dotty old woman" shows as quintessentially AHP.