Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Hitchcock Project-Clark Howard Part One: Enough Rope for Two [3.7]

by Jack Seabrook

Clark Howard (1932-2016) wrote two stories that were adapted for the Hitchcock TV show: "Enough Rope for Two," which aired in late 1957, and "Night Work," which aired in 1965 as "Night Fever." Howard grew up on the streets of Chicago, as he recounts in his autobiographical novel, Hard City (1990), enlisted in the Marines, and served in Korea. He wrote hundreds of short stories, many of which were published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine or Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, between 1957 and 2013. He also wrote novels and non-fiction crime books from 1967 to 1994 and he wrote a column for the boxing magazine, The Ring. Howard's short story, "The Horn Man," won the Edgar Award for Best Short Story in 1981, and the Short Fiction Mystery Society gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. He also won five Reader's Awards for his work in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

Though Howard never wrote for film or television, he did see a handful of his stories adapted for the big and small screens: one film, two TV movies, and four Hitchcock episodes. Oddly enough, the two stories adapted for the original Hitchcock TV series were both remade for the Hitchcock series revival in the 1980s.

"Enough Rope for Two"
was first published here
Howard wrote that David Goodis "had an enormous impact on my life as a writer" and Goodis would have recognized the desperate characters in "Enough Rope for Two," which was first published in Manhunt's February 1957 issue. The author later commented that this story was the eighteenth he ever wrote, the fifth he sold, and the first that was sold to television.

Released from a ten-year stretch in prison, Joe Kedzie visits the Main Line Hotel in a seedy part of Los Angeles and finds Madge Griffin living in Room 212. They are soon joined by Maxie, who had conspired with Madge to ensure that Joe took the fall for a payroll theft that netted $100,000. Joe agrees to take Maxie with him to New Mexico to recover the hidden loot. They drive through the desert, stopping for the night in Tucson before visiting a General Store in Lordsburg, New Mexico, where Joe buys sixty feet of strong rope and a flashlight. He also buys a gun when he thinks Maxie is not watching, though Maxie witnesses the purchase.

They drive to a remote spot where Joe had thrown the money down an abandoned well. Joe shoots Maxie, who falls down the well. Joe then secures the rope and begins to climb down into the darkness. Halfway down, the rope breaks and he falls, breaking his leg; it seems Maxie had cut the rope almost all the way through after seeing Joe buy the gun. Unable to climb out, Joe faces the prospect of dying at the bottom of the well with his money and the corpse of Maxie, who seems to be smiling.

Jean Hagen as Madge
"Enough Rope for Two" is a tough, fast-moving crime story with a gruesome twist ending. It is essentially a three-character play, though Madge disappears about halfway through. When it was sold to Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the role of Madge was expanded to feature the actress Jean Hagen, who received top billing. As a result, the TV show plays out somewhat differently than the story. The changes begin immediately, with a new opening scene in which Max visits Madge to tell her that Joe just got out of jail. They discuss having double-crossed him and how he hid the money that they have waited ten years for. In the story, we learn of their deceit a few pages in, through Joe's private thoughts in narration. In the show, the information is conveyed upfront, through dialogue, and this scene replaces the story's opening, where Joe arrives in Los Angeles by bus and finds his way to Madge's hotel.

After Max leaves, we see Madge preparing herself before a mirror for Joe's impending arrival and we hear her thoughts about him in voiceover narration; when he arrives, she embraces and kisses him, something she repeats once they are seated together on her couch. The Madge of the TV version is more affectionate toward Joe than she is in the short story, at least at first, and Jean Hagen's performance suggests that Madge's behavior stems from a mix of fear and love. Max arrives and Joe confesses that he hid the money in the Mojave Desert, not in Barstow, where they had planned for him to stash it. Changing the location of the hidden money allows for other changes in the story as well; Barstow and Mojave are within a couple of hours' drive from Los Angeles and thus there is no reason to stay overnight, a stop that is required in the story due to the long drive through Tucson to Lordsburg, New Mexico.

Steve Hill as Joe
Another big change in the TV version happens when Madge joins Max and Joe on the drive out to the desert! Seated between the two men in the front seat of a rented jeep, she wonders in voiceover if she and Joe will ever be able to take a trip together like this without being afraid. When they stop at the hardware store, Joe tells Max that he hid the money in an abandoned mine shaft (not a well) and when Max sees Joe buying the gun he goes back to the jeep and tells Madge that Joe knows that they double-crossed them; he hands her a knife that will figure in the show's climax.

After a quick drive into the desert, the trio reach the abandoned mine shaft and, with the addition of Madge to the scene, the story's concluding events play out rather differently. When Joe prepares to shoot Max, Max calls out to Madge, who rushes at Joe with the knife, apparently forgetting her tender feelings toward him. Max throws a shovel at Joe but misses and the shovel knocks down Madge. Maxie runs to the nearby jeep and Joe shoots him twice, also puncturing a canteen of water that sits in the back of the jeep. Joe pulls Madge to her feet before knocking her down again with a slap.

In the story, Max falls down the well and Joe is left alone to venture down after him. In the show, Max lies dead by the jeep and Madge is still with Joe. Adding her to the situation makes it overly complicated and leads Joe to act in a way that is out of character. He lowers himself into the mine shaft and gives Madge a ball of twine that she can lower down to him so he can tie it around the money and let her pull it up. This is a somewhat incomprehensible turn of events, especially in light of the fact that Madge just ran at Joe with a knife and he knocked her to the ground with a smack across the face. In the story, the rope breaks as Joe lowers himself down. In the show, he makes it to the bottom safely and sends the money up to Madge. She caresses the package of cash and thinks, in voiceover, that she can have it all to herself. As Joe is climbing back up, she cuts the rope, and he falls to the bottom, breaking his leg.

Steve Brodie as Max
The show's final twist is new and effective. Madge leaves Joe at the bottom of the shaft and climbs in the jeep to drive away, only to find that the key is missing, presumably in Joe's pocket. She offers to lower the twine again so he can send the key up, arguing that if she backs the jeep closer to the hole then the rope will be long enough for him to climb out. Joe sees that the rope was cut and tells her that he will die more easily in the cool, dark pit, while she will die in the hot sun, calling out for water. She walks off into the desert alone and the show ends.

The changes that were made to the TV adaptation of "Enough Rope for Two" do not improve the story and, in fact, having Madge present for the climax requires Joe to behave in a manner that is inconsistent with his character. The show is a gritty, 25-minute short noir crime film but the plot, which is so solid in Howard's short story, does not hold together as well with the changes. For the record, Clark Howard had no complaints about the TV adaptation of his story and wrote that it was "a thoroughly pleasant experience."

The teleplay is by Joel Murcott (1915-1978), who began writing for Old Time Radio in the late 1940s and who also worked as the radio editor for The Hollywood Reporter before starting a two-decade career as a writer for episodic TV, from 1955 to 1975. He wrote 12 episodes of the Hitchcock show, including the classic hour, "Behind the Locked Door."

A process shot
Directing this episode is Paul Henreid (1908-1992), who began his career as a film actor. He also worked as a director, starting in the early 1950s, and directed 29 episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "A Little Sleep" and "Annabel." In "Enough Rope for Two," he includes a few interesting shots. When Max looks through the window of the hardware store, he is able to see Joe loading bullets into the gun by means of a mirror that allows him to view an action that would otherwise be hidden. The drive out to the Mojave Desert is accomplished with what appears to be a mix of location shots (of the jeep) and process shots (of the actors). Best of all are the shots when Madge looks down into the mine shaft at Joe far below; the camera is at the bottom, looking up, and Madge's face is framed by the square opening at the top of the shaft.

As Madge, Jean Hagen (1923-1977) plays against type. Like Joel Murcott, her career began in radio in the 1940s before she moved to film in 1949 and then television in 1954. She is best remembered today for playing Lina Lamont in Singin' in the Rain (1952), but in 1957 she was best known as Danny Thomas's wife on the popular TV show, Make Room for Daddy, where she had co-starred from 1953 to 1956. This was her only appearance on the Hitchcock show but she kept making movies until the late 1970s.

Steven Hill (1922-2016, and billed here as Steve Hill) plays Joe. He was born Solomon Krakovsky or Solomon Berg and started out on Broadway in 1946; he was also a member of the Actors Studio. His screen career began in 1949 and he was the star of the TV series, Mission:Impossible, during its first season (1966-1967) before he left the show for what are still unclear reasons. He continued acting on screen and later had his biggest success starring on another TV series, Law and Order, from 1990 to 2000.

Don Hix as the
hardware store clerk
Max is played by Steve Brodie (1919-1992). He was born John Stevenson and took his screen name from the man who famously claimed to have jumped off of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1886 and lived. Brodie was a busy character actor on screen from 1944 to 1988, appearing in films such as Out of the Past (1947). He was also on Thriller. This was one of four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents in which he appeared.

Finally, the small part of the hardware store clerk was played by Don Hix (1891-1964), a bit player with a short TV career from 1954 to 1962 who was not on any other episodes of the Hitchcock show.

"Enough Rope for Two" aired on CBS on Sunday, November 17, 1957. It was remade in color for the Alfred Hitchcock Presents revival and aired on March 9, 1986, written and directed by David Chase. Chase reimagines the story and, while it is jarring to see the tale told in color and with '80s hair and music, by the end it works better than the 1957 version. This time, the Joe character is named Scott, and he is an innocent who is tricked by his girlfriend Zoe into taking her "cousin" Ray on a camping trip. On the way, Ray shoots and kills the man at the hardware store.

In the final scene, Scott runs at Ray with a small axe and Ray shoots and kills him before climbing down into the pit. The money is in a large suitcase that is too big for Ray to hold while climbing back up the rope, so he asks Zoe to lower a smaller rope to bring up the loot. This makes more sense than the 1957 version, where Joe should know better than to trust Madge with $100,000. In the remake, she gets the money and then cuts the climbing rope. The twist ending with the key is the same, though this time it seems that Ray took the key from Scott before going down into the pit. The key scene suggests that David Chase based his teleplay on the 1957 TV show rather than the short story, though only the story is noted in the opening credits.

Watch the original version of "Enough Rope for Two" here or buy the DVD here; read the GenreSnaps review here. Watch the remake here.

Amazon, Amazon,
“Clark Howard.” Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2006.
Ellett, Ryan. Radio Drama and Comedy Writers, 1928-1962. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2017.
“Enough Rope for Two.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 3, episode 7, CBS, 17 Nov. 1957.
FictionDB - Your Guide to Fiction Books,
“The FictionMags Index.”
Gorman, Ed. “Ed Gorman's Blog.” Hard City by Clark Howard, 1 Jan. 1970,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
Howard, Clark. “Enough Rope for Two.” Alfred Hitchcock's A Choice of Evils, The Dial Press, 1983, pp. 48–60.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 5 July 2018,

In two weeks: Our short series on Clark Howard concludes with "Night Fever," starring Colleen Dewhurst!


Mike Doran said...

My brother and I first saw this one as a rerun, years after it was made - and after Steven Hill achieved his late-career fame as the grouchy, slouchy DA on Law & Order.
Seeing the young(ish) Hill in early appearances like "Enough Rope …" made for a bit of a disconnect, to say the least.
What I recall - and loved when it happened - was once on L&O when Hill was talking over the latest plot twist with Sam Waterston, and delivered this classic line:

"The last time that happened, I had a full head of dark hair."

Hey, I thought it was funny …

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Mike. Sadly, I know how Hill felt. I never watched Law and Order but I remember him fondly from season one of Mission:Impossible. I just finished reading Clark Howard's fictional autobiography, Hard City, and can highly recommend it.

john kenrick said...

Hi Jack, and thanks for reviewing this episode. It's watchable and well acted, although the characters,--how they're presented--and the position they're in, with all that stolen loot, almost demands a crime show style resolution, if that's the right way to put it, and that's what we get with Enough Rope For Two. Add a detective hot on the trail of these folks and you've got a Richard Diamond or Meet McGraw entry from the same period. I like the players; and with Steve Brodie on hand you know there's a doublecross in the works somewhere along the line. This one might have played better with a somewhat older, more rugged actor in the Steve Hill role. Robert Ryan would have been perfect.

Jack Seabrook said...

Imagine Robert Ryan in a Hitchcock show! The mind boggles. I think rewriting the story to pump up the female character was harmful, though I like Jean Hagen quite a bit. I can't even think her name without hearing her voice from Singin' In the Rain: "And I cann stannit!"

Grant said...

To MST3K fans (including me) Steve Brodie has one particular claim. Even though I've never been fond of the phrase, he's the "has-been" actor who ended up in goofy movies like THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION and THE WILD WORLD OF BATWOMAN. (Though I think he managed to do okay in them.)

Jack Seabrook said...

I must admit I've never seen either of those!