Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Hitchcock Project-Bernard C. Schoenfeld Part One: Decoy [1.37]

by Jack Seabrook

Robert Horton as Gil Larkin
Bernard C. Schoenfeld (1907-1980) wrote the teleplays for 16 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents between 1956 and 1960. Born in Brooklyn, he majored in English Literature at Harvard and was graduated in 1928; he then attended the Yale School of Drama and was graduated in 1930. He was tutored by Conrad Aiken at Harvard and before he went to Yale he befriended James Agee. Schoenfeld sold two shows that were produced on Broadway: Shooting Star (1933; he was the co-writer) and Hitch Your Wagon  (1937), but neither had a long run. In 1936, he moved to Washington, D.C., and began working for the Federal Government as a radio writer for the Office of Education. In 1938, he became Chief Script Writer for the Radio Section of the Department of the Interior, and in 1940 he became Chief of the Radio Section of the Office of Emergency Management.

By 1942, Schoenfeld was an editor at the Radio Bureau of the Office of War Information. Nine of his radio scripts from that year are collected in This Is Our Enemy. In 1943, he moved to Hollywood and began a career as a screenwriter, adapting Phantom Lady (1944) from the Cornell Woolrich novel for future Alfred Hitchcock Presents producer Joan Harrison and co-writing The Dark Corner (1946). He received an Oscar nomination for co-writing the screenplay for Caged (1950) and he co-wrote Macao (1952), but by that year he began to focus his efforts more on writing for television than for film and he testified as a friendly witness before HUAC on August 19, 1952.

Cara Williams as Mona Cameron
Schoenfeld wrote mostly for television for the rest of his career, which ended in 1975. He spent his final years living in Mexico and died in 1980. The first episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents for which he wrote the teleplay was "Decoy," which was broadcast on CBS on Sunday, June 10, 1956, near the end of the show's first season. This episode was not adapted from a short story but rather from a radio play titled "A Murder of Necessity" that aired on Suspense on CBS on Monday, March 24, 1952, and may be heard online here.

Comparing the radio show to the TV adaptation is interesting because they have the same premise but unfold very differently. The radio play was written by Richard George Pedicini, a radio writer who was born in 1923 and who wrote, by my count, 16 episodes of Suspense. This was the only episode of the Hitchcock series to be adapted from one of his radio plays.

"A Murder of Necessity" is narrated by a man named Mark, who accidentally killed another man in a hunting accident and who is being blackmailed by a private detective named Herbie Sachs. Mark goes to visit Sachs at his office and kills him before realizing that Sachs was talking to someone on the telephone and the person on the other end must have heard the murder. Mark hears music on the other end of the line and finds three names on Sachs's message pad for that day. He visits the first person, a man named Collins who was also being blackmailed by Sachs, and he is satisfied that Collins was not the person on the other end of the phone. He then visits Janice, a waitress and former addict who was being blackmailed by Sachs because she had spent time in a sanitarium. Mark walks her home and is certain that she was not the person on the other end of the phone.

Philip Coolidge as Lt. Brandt
Finally, Mark visits Art Lafoon, who runs a novelty business. Mark thinks Lafoon is the person he seeks and he plans to return that night to kill him. However, when Mark gets home, he receives a phone call from Gretchen, the wife of Herbie Sachs, and she invites him to her house. He visits her there and she admits that she was on the other end of the phone and heard Mark kill her husband. He shoots her and she tells Mark that he has committed two murders for no reason, since she was planning to kill her husband when he returned home the night that Mark killed him. Mark calls the police to confess.

Robert Young plays Mark and gives an excellent performance in a story that is both entertaining and suspenseful. The radio play was adapted for the television version of Suspense as "Murder of Necessity" and broadcast live on June 3, 1952, less than three months after the radio version aired. The TV version starred John Forsythe but has been lost, so there is no telling how faithful it was to the source.

Jack Mullaney as
DJ Dave Packard
In 1956, the story was adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents by Bernard C. Schoenfeld, but he made significant changes to the plot. Mark is now Gil Larkin, a musician who works for Mona Cameron. In the first scene, they have just finished working on arrangements for her new show when Mark sees a bruise on her arm. Professing his love for her, he tells her he will confront her husband, talent agent Ben Cameron. Gil then goes to Cameron's office and finds him on the phone. Unlike the radio play, where Mark is being blackmailed by Herbie and goes to his office to kill him, in the TV version Gil has no relationship with Ben and no plan to do anything more than talk to him about Mona.

Gil approaches Ben's desk and suddenly Ben looks at someone behind Gil, a man he calls Ritchie, who hits Gil with a gun and knocks him out. Ritchie then shoots and kills Ben and Gil wakes up soon after that with a gun in his hand. In voice over narration, Gil explains what must have happened: "Whoever had killed Ben Cameron had wanted to pin the blame on me. I was a decoy!"--hence, the show's title. Like Mark in the radio play, Gil finds the names of people who were supposed to call Ben and visits each of them to try to find out who was on the other end of the phone when Ben was shot. Unlike Mark, who seeks to eliminate the witness to his own crime, Gil seeks to find a witness to exonerate him. He visits a Japanese dancer named Sasikawa in her dressing room, but her husband explains that they did not telephone Ben. He then visits a rock 'n' roll DJ named Packard, who likewise denies having called Ben.

Frank Gorshin as
the page
Gil returns to Mona's apartment only to find the police there; they were notified of Ben's murder and are investigating the case. Gil is taken to the police station, where he gives a statement, then he returns to Mona's apartment. When he starts playing the record on her record player, he hears the same song he heard on Ben's phone and realizes that Ben was speaking to his wife when he was shot. Mona set Gil up! She summons Ritchie from the next room but, before Gil can be eliminated by Ritchie, the police burst in and arrest him and Mona.

In adapting "A Murder of Necessity" from radio as the TV episode "Decoy," Bernard C. Schoenfeld turns Mark the murderer into Gil the victim of a frame-up and turns Herbie Sachs, the private eye/blackmailer, into Ben Cameron, the innocent theatrical agent. Instead of having a twist ending where Mark learns that he did not need to kill Herbie because Gretchen would have done it for him, Gil learns that Mona's lover Ritchie killed Ben and they tried to pin the crime on Gil. It's all rather confusing and the TV show does not work nearly as well as the radio play. The dialogue in several spots of the TV show is cliched (the DJ, in particular, is hard to watch--"I don't dig you, man!") and the script relies overly much on voice over narration by Gil to explain his thoughts and advance the plot.

Harry Tyler as
the doorman
The show is directed by Arnold Laven (1922-2009), who got his start making training films during a stint in the U.S. Army Air Force First Motion Picture Unit during World War Two before working as a script supervisor and then moving into directing films and TV in the early 1950s. One of his films, Down Three Dark Streets (1954), featured a screenplay co-written by Bernard C. Schoenfeld. His career for the next three decades was mostly spent directing episodic TV. In addition to "Decoy," he directed "Return of Verge Likens," a superb episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

Robert Horton (1924-2016) stars as Gil Larkin, in the first of his seven appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Horton had been active in film since 1945 but from 1952 to 1989 he was a busy TV actor, co-starring in Wagon Train from 1957 to 1962 and then starring on the short-lived series, A Man Called Shenandoah (1965-1966). A website devoted to his career is here.

David Orrick as
Ben Cameron
Playing the deceitful Mona is Cara Williams (1925- ), who was born Beatrice Kamiat in Brooklyn and who was married to John Drew Barrymore at the time this show was filmed. Her screen career lasted from 1941 to 1982 and she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for The Defiant Ones (1958). She starred in Pete and Gladys (1960-1962) and The Cara Williams Show (1964-1965) and there is an interview with her here. This was one of four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents in which she appeared; others include "De Mortuis" and "The Cure."

In supporting roles:
  • Jack Mullaney (1929-1982) chews the scenery mercilessly as the disc jockey whom Gil questions; he was on screen from 1954 to 1980 and appeared in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Belfry" and "A Little Sleep." He was a regular or semi-regular on the TV series Ensign O'Toole (1962-1963), My Living Doll (1964-1965), and It's About Time (1966-1967).
  • Philip Coolidge (1908-1967) plays Lt. Brandt, the homicide detective; a familiar face on film and TV from 1947 to 1967, he was in six episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Whodunit." He was also seen on The Twilight Zone and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and he had a small part in North By Northwest (1959).
  • David Orrick (1914-1979) plays the doomed agent Ben Cameron; he was an actor from 1949 to 1956 on TV and film before becoming a TV director from 1956 to 1967 using his full name of David Orrick McDearmon. He directed three episodes of The Twilight Zone and was married to Patricia Breslin.
  • Eileen Harley as
    the secretary
  • Eileen Harley (1926-2012) appears briefly as Ben Cameron's secretary; she was on screen from 1945 to 1984 but usually worked under her real name, Wallace Earl Laven--she was married to Arnold Laven, who directed this episode.
  • Harry Tyler (1888-1961) plays the doorman at the theater where Gil visits Sasikawa in her dressing room; he has hundreds of credits and always seems to have played bit parts; he started out in film in 1929 and worked steadily up to his death. He had minor roles in no less than 11 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
  • Frank Gorshin (1933-2005) plays the page who shows Gil to the disc jockey's booth at the radio station; this was his first acting credit. He was on screen for the next 50 years and also appeared in "The Second Verdict" on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Of course, Gorshin is beloved for his role as the Riddler on Batman and was a gifted impressionist.
"Decoy" is available on DVD here and may be viewed online here. Read the GenreSnaps take on this episode here.

Arnold Laven: Tales of the Dark Side.
“Decoy.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 1, episode 37, CBS, 10 June 1956.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
“Hearings.” Google Books,
Humphries, Reynold. Hollywood's Blacklists: a Political and Cultural History. Edinburgh University Press, 2011.
IBDB: Internet Broadway Database, 4. Aug. 2018,
IMDb, 4 Aug. 2018,
“A Murder of Necessity.” Suspense, CBS, 24 Mar. 1952.
Schoenfeld, Bernard C. “Aiken, Agee, and Sandburg: A Memoir.” VQR Online,
“Suspense.” Radio Gold Index,
Wikipedia, 4 Aug. 2018,
WorldCat, 4. Aug. 2018,

In two weeks: "Alibi Me," starring Lee Philips!


Grant said...

Philip Coolidge is also pretty unforgettable in THE TINGLER with Vincent Price.

Jack Seabrook said...

I haven't seen that one in years!!