Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Hitchcock Project-Francis and Marian Cockrell Part Sixteen: The Schartz-Metterklume Method [5.35]

by Jack Seabrook

The last episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to be written by Marian Cockrell is one of her best! Based on Saki's short story, "The Schartz-Metterklume Method," the TV show takes a classic tale and expands it, maintaining the qualities that make it a great reading experience and adding new ones that make it a delight to watch.

The original story begins as Lady Carlotta, having stepped off of a train for a moment, strides into a roadway to speak to a man whose horse is struggling with an excessive load. The train goes on without her and she is approached by Mrs. Quabarl, a well-dressed woman who assumes that Lady Carlotta is Miss Hope, the new governess for her children.

Hermione Gingold as Lady Charlotte
Lady Carlotta goes along with Mrs. Quabarl, assuming the role of Miss Hope and learning that she is to instruct the four Quabarl children, whose mother wants to be sure that their history lessons come alive. Lady Carlotta astonishes the parents at dinner that evening with her remarks and, the next day, Mrs. Quabarl is shocked to see that her children are re-enacting the founding of Rome, with the lodge-keeper's daughters unwillingly forced into the role of the Sabine Women. Mrs. Quabarl dismisses Lady Carlotta. When the real Miss Hope arrives, the family is both chagrined and relieved; Lady Carlotta reaches her destination by train and remarks that her unplanned overnight stay was far from tiresome.

Elspeth March as Mrs. Wellington
Saki's story is a delightful and very short comedy, with nary a murder nor a crime in sight! A careful reader will see right away that Lady Carlotta is not Miss Hope. She did not intend to make this stopover and leaves out important details about herself; when Mrs. Quabarl says, "You must be Miss Hope, the governess I've come to meet," she replies, "Very well, if I must I must." Lady Carlotta enjoys herself and easily pokes fun at the self-important Quabarls. When Mr. Quabarl says she came highly recommended by Canon Teep, she comments, "Drinks like a fish and beats his wife, otherwise a very lovable character." Best of all is the children's playful re-enactment of the story of the founding of Rome; they mis-hear "Sabine Women" and think they are kidnapping the "shabby women." Lady Carlotta gives the Quabarl parents exactly what they ask for, ascribing her techniques to the "Schartz-Metterklume method" of teaching, using a couple of invented names to give the exercise a pompous pedigree that the parents are too cowed to question. All in all, a delightful story, and a surprising choice to adapt for Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Not surprising is the choice of Marian Cockrell to write the screenplay, since she had already shown herself adept at telling stories of independent or eccentric women. "The Schartz-Metterklume Method" bears a copyright date of 1959 but was not broadcast on CBS until Sunday, June 12, 1960, making it one of the last new episodes of the show's five-year run on that network. Cockrell's teleplay is a model of structure, where incidents are introduced and then returned to later on to provide satisfying closure.

Noel Drayton as Ben Huggins
In the first scene, Saki's brief narrative of Lady Carlotta interfering with the man and his horse is turned into an entertaining dialogue, as her initial admonitions to the carter lead to her buying the horse from him for ten pounds and instructing him to keep it and care for it on her behalf. Unlike the short story, where Saki refers to the woman as Lady Carlotta, Cockrell's teleplay does not have anyone call her by name until the very last scene, leaving the viewer to infer that she is wealthy enough to make an impulse purchase costing ten pounds, which hardly seems within the financial means of a governess.

The time period during which the show is set begins to become apparent when Mrs. Wellington (Mrs. Quabarl has been renamed) arrives, driven by a chauffeur in an open car that suggests the turn of the twentieth century, a date that appears consistent with the women's clothing. Instead of responding "if I must I must" to Mrs. Wellington's assertion that she is Miss Hope, Lady Charlotte (as she will later be called in the TV show) merely reacts with facial expressions. After the women's ride to the Wellington mansion, the sight of the large, neo-Gothic structure provokes one of Cockrell's best lines. When the women arrive, Mrs. Wellington remarks that she is proud of her home, which was designed by Sir Cecil Pack in 1783. Lady Charlotte looks at the Rococo facade and comments, "His mother must have been frightened by a cathedral!" (The house is the same one used by Hitchcock in Psycho, released three months after this episode aired.)

Patricia Hitchcock as Rose
Inside the house, the Wellington children are introduced and the dirty-faced offspring of Simpson, the chauffeur, are sent home. Cockrell cleverly shows the viewer the other children, who will later be the subject of the pretend kidnapping during Lady Charlotte's history lesson. More humor comes when Lady Charlotte is led up a dark staircase to her room and the time period is again clarified by the fact that the house is lit by gas. The room is little more than a garret and Lady Charlotte insists that the pictures hung on the wall of the room be taken down at once. She mentions the Governess's Revolt to Mrs. Wellington, saying that it is to take place two weeks from tomorrow and then chiding herself for revealing this secret!

Throughout the episode, Cockrell's skill at turning a story's narration into witty dialogue is on display. This is especially true in the dinner scene, where she uses dialogue from Saki's story and supplements it with dialogue of her own. In order to lengthen the tale to the necessary duration for a half-hour TV show, Cockrell has Lady Charlotte stay for two days; the subject of her first day's instruction is announced at dinner to be biology. After dinner, she utters another great line: "Will someone give me a light, or am I supposed to feel my way up to this black hole?" Back in her garret, she uses one of the night-clothes given to her by a maid to cover a framed painting of a stag.

Harold Innocent as the vicar
The next morning, Mrs. Wellington is distressed by the children's absence. She and her husband have lunch with a visiting vicar and Lady Charlotte chooses this inopportune moment to return with her charges, all of them covered in dirt and carrying jars of tadpoles and frogs, which they proudly display to their parents and the vicar. Lady Charlotte tells the vicar that the children will learn about the reproductive system of the frog, which will lead "quite naturally to the higher forms of life." The viewer knows that Lady Charlotte is goading the Wellington parents by suggesting that she will give sex education to their children, something that was taboo during the Edwardian period when the story is set.

After Lady Charlotte takes her afternoon nap, things only get worse. She joins the Wellington family for tea and the children, their imaginations fired up by their morning of biological investigation, question their new governess about the topic. Lady Charlotte tells the children that some animals have babies but pay little heed to them; the implication being that she is obliquely criticizing the Wellington parents and their relationship with their own offspring. The parents grow increasingly uncomfortable as the children's questions get closer and closer to the topic of reproduction; Wilfred, the oldest boy, asks if cows lay eggs and Lady Charlotte is about to explain when Mrs. Wellington puts a stop to the conversation.

Tom Conway as Mr. Wellington
The next morning, Mr. Wellington sits tying flies when his wife approaches him to discuss the problem of the new governess. The children again are not underfoot and Mrs. Wellington ventures outside to look for them. She finds them re-enacting the story of Rome, as in Saki's original tale. The boys arrive with the Simpson children in tow and Lady Charlotte is dismissed. In the story, she tells Mrs. Quabarl to send along her luggage when it arrives and remarks that one of the items to expect is a  leopard cub that has "rather left off being a cub." In the show, the animal is a cheetah. Cockrell will display this animal in the show's final scene.

Mollie Glessing as Miss Hope
Lady Charlotte walks back to the train station and the show's first scene is recalled in a nice bit of closure as she again encounters the carter, who now treats his horse with kindness. The real Miss Hope gets off the train and Lady Charlotte advises her to "hire a conveyance of some sort and drive out to the house" since, as we know, Mrs. Wellington thinks she has dismissed Miss Hope from her employment and thus will not be at the station to meet her.

The show's final scene finds Lady Charlotte at a lawn party thrown by a wealthy woman. In Saki's story, Lady Carlotta's arrival at her original destination and her comment about the experience not being tiresome "for me" take but three lines; there is no lawn party and the reader learns nothing whatsoever about the main character or her circle of acquaintances. In the show, however, Marian Cockrell uses the visual medium to tell us in a short scene that Lady Charlotte is wealthy and that she is comfortable and welcome in upper class society. A game of croquet is in progress and, most surprisingly, the cheetah to which she referred when departing from Mrs. Wellington is a real pet, lounging on the manicured lawn. Lady Charlotte refers to the animal as "Rover" and the fact that it is not one of her flights of fancy puts a different cast on the entire episode: how much of what seemed to be coming from her imagination was real? Will the governesses revolt in two weeks? We shall never know.

Norma Varden as the hostess
With "The Schartz-Metterklume Method," Marian Cockrell takes a classic short story and turns it into a wonderfully comedic half hour of television. The show would not be such a success, however, without the work of its director, Richard Dunlap, or its star, Hermione Gingold.

Richard Dunlap (1923-2004) only directed this one episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He began his career as a child actor and later commanded a ship in the South Pacific during WWII. He began directing for television in 1952 and is said to have directed over 1000 TV shows episodes in his thirty-year career. He worked in live TV drama in the 1950s and later directed children's shows, variety shows, and soap operas. He also directed the annual Academy Awards telecast from 1963 to 1971.

Hermione Gingold (1897-1987) was born in London and began as a child actress, later working on stage and radio before starting her film career in 1931. Her first TV appearance was in 1958. This was her only role on the Hitchcock TV show but she makes the most of it and her performance is superb. Among her many films were Bell Book and Candle (1958) with Jimmy Stewart and The Music Man (1962).

Playing the rather clueless Mrs. Wellington is Elspeth March (1911-1999), who was born Jean Elspeth Mackenzie in London. She was on stage as well as film and TV, and her career onscreen spanned the years from 1939 to 1993. This was her only appearance on the Hitchcock TV show.

The credits for "The Schartz-Metterklume Method" may have been partially cut for the version of the show currently in circulation, since there is just one card listing the first five cast members and it omits much of the cast, including those with speaking roles. Among the excellent supporting players:
  • Doris Lloyd (1896-1968) as Nanny; born in Liverpool, she was on stage from 1916 and her screen career ran from 1920 to 1967. A busy character actress, she was seen on the Hitchcock show nine times.
Doris Lloyd
  • Patricia Hitchcock (1928- ) as Rose, a maid; she was in some of her father's films, appeared on screen from 1950 to 1978, and was seen in ten episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Cuckoo Clock." "The Schartz-Metterklume Method" marks her last appearance on the TV series.
  • Noel Drayton (1913-1981) as Ben Huggins, the carter who beats his horse; born in South Africa, he was on screen from 1950 to 1974 and also appeared in the hour-long episode, "Murder Case."
  • Angela Cartwright (1952- ) as Viola, the younger of the two Wellington daughters; born in England, her screen career began in 1956. While this was her only role on the Hitchcock TV show, she had an extensive television career, with a regular role on Make Room for Daddy (1957-1964) and another on Lost in Space (1966-1968), as Penny Robinson. She also played one of the von Trapp children in The Sound of Music (1965). Cartwright maintains a website here. There are stills from this episode on her site, as well as a photo of a copy of the script inscribed to her and her sister by the show's director.
Angela Cartwright
  • Veronica Cartwright (1949- ), Angela's older sister, as Irene, the older Wellington daughter; her screen career began in 1958 and she is still acting in films today. This was one of two Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes for her, and later film roles included Hitchcock's The Birds (1963), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), and Alien (1979).
Veronica Cartwright
  • Tom Conway (1904-1967) as John Wellington; he was born Thomas Charles Sanders in Russia and was the brother of screen actor George Sanders. His screen career lasted from 1940 to 1964 and he starred in a series of films as the Falcon and appeared in some of producer Val Lewton's atmospheric films. His three appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents also included "Relative Value."
  • Harold Innocent (1933-1993) as the vicar; he had a long career on TV in Britain and also appeared on The Avengers; this was his only role on the Hitchcock show.
  • Norma Varden (1898-1989) as the woman who hosts the lawn party at the end of the show; she was a British actress whose screen career lasted from 1922 to 1969. She had a role in Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train (1951) and appeared on Batman.
Finally, the author of the short story, Saki, was the pseudonym of H.H. Munro (1870-1916), a writer who was born in Burma, the son of a British Inspector General. Munro began writing in 1896 after a failed attempt to follow in his father's footsteps as a policeman in Burma. His first short story was published in 1899. He also worked as a foreign correspondent, witnessing the Russian Revolution in 1905. "The Schartz-Metterklume Method" was first published on October 14, 1911, in a newspaper called The Westminster Gazette, and it was later collected in Saki's book, Beasts and Super-Beasts (1914). Munro volunteered to serve in WWI and rose through the ranks but was killed by a German sniper's bullet in November 1916. His stories have been adapted for stage, film, and TV, but this is the only one that was adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

The story has also been adapted recently. On May 3, 2005, it was presented on BBC Radio as part of the series, Claw Marks on the Curtain. This version ran fifteen minutes. The story was then made into at least two short films that are available for viewing on YouTube.

Saki's original story is available to read for free online here. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents version may be viewed for free online here and is available on DVD here.

Sources:
Angela-Cartwright - Home, www.angela-cartwright.com/.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
IMDb, IMDb.com, www.imdb.com/.
Munro, H. H. “The Schartz-Metterklume Method.” Beasts and Super-Beasts, by Saki : The Schartz-Metterklume Method, ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/saki/beasts/chapter12.html.
“The Schartz-Metterklume Method.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 5, episode 35, CBS, 12 June 1960.
“The Schartz-Metterklume Method.” Literawiki, literature.wikia.com/wiki/The_Schartz-Metterklume_Method.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Mar. 2018, www.wikipedia.org/.

Next week: An overview of the contributions of Francis Cockrell and Marian Cockrell to Alfred Hitchcock Presents!

In two weeks: Our series on Stanley Ellin stories adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents begins with "The Festive Season," starring Carmen Mathews!

2 comments:

Mike Doran said...

Right after reading your post, I immediately went to the Old DVD Wall and pulled out the Season Five set of AHP, and viewed "The Schartz-Metterklume Method".

Celeste Holm is not in this episode.
The hostess at the lawn party is Norma Varden, just three years after her best-known feature film appearance, as the wealthy matron whose murder Tyrone Power is accused of in Witness For The Prosecution.
I don't know who that is who's playing the other maid (the one who isn't Pat Hitchcock).

In 1960, Celeste Holm was 43 years old, far younger than the lady in your picture is.
She was also far too important a guest star in movies and on TV to take a small unbilled role on any TV show (even a major one like AHP).
On the other hand, Norma Varden was 61, and had been playing similar matronly roles all over movies and TV, going back many years.
Anyway, just look at that picture again and you can tell that the lady is closer to 61 than to 43.

In my experience, IMDb is accurate perhaps 90% of the time, but they're not immune to errors.
This is one of the rare ones.

Looking forward to the Stanley Ellin shows (although you seem to have already done most of them already ...).

Jack Seabrook said...

Mike, you made my day! I'm so glad someone is reading these. I went back and forth on that one, believe me. But I think you're right and will revise my post. Can you believe two guys are discussing whether a character on a TV show from 68 years ago is Celeste Holm or not? I love it! By the way, don't I get credit for picking up Mollie Glessing? She's not credited ANYWHERE but that's definitely her.