Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Hitchcock Project-Bernard C. Schoenfeld Part Two: Alibi Me [2.7]

by Jack Seabrook

Bernard C. Schoenfeld's second teleplay for Alfred Hitchcock Presents was "Alibi Me," which was based on a story by Therd Jefre that had first been dramatized on the Suspense radio show on January 4, 1951.

As the radio play opens, a small-time crook named George ("Georgie") Lennox visits his competitor, Julius ("Julie") Moore, looking for a showdown. It seems Julie has taken over Georgie's punch board racket (punch boards were an early form of lottery) in the neighborhood candy stores and bars and Georgie is not happy about it. Julie tells Georgie that he sent him a present of the biggest lollipop he could find, since Georgie is the biggest sucker in town. The two men have hated each other since they were children and a police lieutenant named Larkin warned them long ago that if one of them is ever killed, the other will be the prime suspect. Julie has to report to Larkin for a parole check-in at 6 p.m. and dismisses Georgie, who loses his temper and bashes Julie over the head with a telephone receiver, killing him.

Lee Philips as Georgie
Realizing that he will be the first one suspected for Julie's murder, Georgie sees that it's 4:10 p.m. and understands that he has less than two hours to establish an alibi for the time of the killing. He first visits Leo the bartender, who refuses to provide a false alibi even though he owes Georgie a favor. With only 95 minutes left till Julie will be missed at his check-in for probation, Georgie visits an old girlfriend named Joanie, who falls for his flattery at first but soon understands that he just wants to use her for an alibi and rejects him. As the time ticks away, Georgie visits Timmy in the hospital; Timmy agrees to alibi Georgie but suddenly dies of a heart attack.

Only 45 minutes are left till Julie will be missed and Larkin will go looking for him and discover his corpse. Georgie goes home and convinces Mrs. Ettinger, his landlady, to give him an alibi by threatening to expose her 15-year-old daughter's attempted theft of a fur jacket from a department store. At 6:15 p.m., Larkin comes knocking on Georgie's door and Mrs. Ettinger provides a detailed alibi. Larkin grudgingly accepts it and is about to leave when a messenger boy shows up with Julie's gift: an oversized lollipop. Georgie refuses to tip the young man, who complains that he climbed the stairs to Georgie's room twice that morning and three times that afternoon to deliver the gift but Georgie was never in. Larkin understands that Georgie's alibi is blown and the messenger boy puts icing on the cake by delivering Julie's final message: "To the biggest sucker in town."

Chick Chandler as Lucky
"Alibi Me" has a great plot structure with a vicious twist ending and is propelled along at a rapid clip by the manic narration of Mickey Rooney, who plays Georgie. The story is a race against the clock where the listener finds himself identifying with Georgie, a small time crook and murderer, in his increasingly frantic efforts to find an alibi to cover his rash action. The spoken credit at the end of the show says that it was written by Therd Jefre and adapted for Suspense by Walter Newman. I have been unable to find any biographical information for Therd Jefre and the only other credit I found for him is a copyright register for a 1948 play titled Is This Me? Walter Newman (1916-1993), on the other hand, wrote for radio, TV, and film and is credited as one of the writers on such films as Ace in the Hole (1951), The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), Cat Ballou (1965), and Macao (1952), where he wrote uncredited dialogue for a screenplay by Bernard C. Schoenfeld. It is quite possible that Jefre wrote an unpublished story that served as the basis for Newman's radio script; Grams and Wikstrom write that Jefre suggested the idea to Newman.

Harvey Stephens as Larkin
"Alibi Me" was first adapted for television a year later and broadcast on April 22, 1952, as an episode of the Suspense TV series. The screen credit this time says that the show was written by Therd Jefre and adapted for television by Max Ehrlich, who made changes to the radio play. The show opens with three new scenes. First, Leo Whaley (a new name for Julie Moore) reports for parole at 6 p.m., as he does every night. This scene establishes his history of competition with Georgie and Larkin's warning to them both. Next, Georgie visits Rafferty's luncheonette (taking the place of Leo's bar), where he learns that Leo has taken over his business. Leo enters and there is a confrontation; Larkin enters and his warning is repeated. Finally, Georgie goes home to Joanie, who is his wife in this version. He loses his temper and walks out on her.

Alan Reed as Uncle Leo
The story then picks up where the radio play begins, as Georgie visits Leo at Leo's office and kills him, though this time he uses a knife, which is presumably more visually striking than a telephone receiver. Georgie goes to Rafferty's and is rebuffed. He telephones his old girlfriend but she is with another man and refuses to allow Georgie to come and see her. He visits the hospital and the scene plays out as it does on radio. He then returns home to his wife, who replaces the landlady of the radio play. He asks her to give him an alibi and, in a bit of added suspense, the viewer waits to see if she will comply when questioned by Larkin. Comply she does, and the end of the show follows the radio version.

The 1952 TV version of "Alibi Me" is a moderately entertaining example of early television, where the script writer makes several changes to the story that he adapted from the radio but where the gist of the plot and the twist ending remain the same. Worth noting are that Rod Steiger appears very early in his career as Leo and that the show is directed by Robert Stevens, who would later excel as a director of many episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The writer of the teleplay, Max Ehrlich (1909-1983), started out as a newspaperman and later wrote for radio, TV, and film. He was also a novelist and he wrote an episode of Star Trek in the mid-1960s.

Harry Tyler as Timmy
The third version of "Alibi Me" is the one broadcast on CBS on Sunday, November 11, 1956, early in the second season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The writing credit at the end says that Schoenfeld's teleplay is based on Jefre's story and it is apparent from watching the show that Schoenfeld did not see (or ignored) the 1952 TV version. The 1956 TV version follows the 1951 radio play very closely. In the first scene, as Georgie walks into Lucky's office (Julie's name is changed again), we hear piano music coming from another room. Lucky tells Georgie that "upstairs is a music professor." This detail is important because this time, instead of using a telephone receiver or a knife, Georgie pulls out a gun and shoots Julie. Fortunately for Georgie, the piano music from upstairs swells and muffles the sound of the gunshots. Paradoxically, a gun seems a less violent murder weapon than a telephone receiver or a knife, since it allows Georgie to stand several feet away from Lucky rather than having to attack him close up.

The biggest change Schoenfeld makes in telling the story is to eliminate Georgie's narration, which is such a big part of what makes the radio play a success. Without the narration to give us insight into Georgie's thoughts, the show becomes less a frantic race against time and more a series of sometimes unintentionally humorous failures on Georgie's part to establish an alibi. Leo the bartender becomes Uncle Leo and the bar becomes an Italian restaurant, with Uncle Leo speaking in a broad accent. When Leo refuses Georgie's request, the younger man rushes at the older man with a wine bottle but Leo quickly overpowers him, underscoring Georgie's general ineptitude. Joanie is renamed Goldie and she changes her mind about giving her old beau an alibi when she sees a photograph of a pretty girl fall out of his jacket pocket and realizes that his protestations of love are hollow.

Argentina Brunetti as Mrs. Salvatore
Timmy, the hospital patient, quickly agrees to alibi Georgie and refers to himself as a ward heeler, someone who works for a local political boss. Timmy suggests that he will do Georgie a favor now and Georgie will be expected to repay it in the future. The landlady's name changes from Mrs. Ettinger to Mrs. Salvatore but her scene is the same; since she, like Uncle Leo, is an Italian-American, her daughter's name is changed from Charlotte to Maria. "Alibi Me" follows the radio play closely, from scene to scene and even in much of the dialogue. The main difference is that the interior monologue has been eliminated in the switch from the aural to the visual medium. As a result, much of the excitement and the sense of a race against time are lost. The show is directed by Jules Bricken (1915-1987), who worked mostly in television as a director from 1952 to 1963 and who directed three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Three Dreams of Mr. Findlater" and "Conversation over a Corpse." He also directed three episodes of Thriller.


Shirley Smith as Joanie
Leading the cast as Georgie is Lee Philips (1927-1999). Born Leon Friedman, he started out on stage before moving to film and television, where he appeared from 1953 to 1975. He was seen on the Hitchcock series four times, including "The Deadly" and "The Black Curtain." He also acted on The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. Philips had a second career as a TV director from 1963 to 1995.

The rest of the parts in "Alibi Me" are supporting roles:
  • Chick Chandler (1905-1988) as Lucky; he started in vaudeville in the 1920s and had a long career in film and on TV from 1925 to 1971. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show.
  • Harvey Stephens (1901-1986) as Larkin; he was a busy character actor on screen from 1931 to 1965; he was on the Hitchcock show twice and has an uncredited role in North By Northwest (1959).
  • Alan Reed (1907-1977) as Uncle Leo; born Herbert Theodore Bergman, he started in vaudeville before embarking on an extensive career in radio, film, and television that lasted from 1930 until his death. He was an expert in voice characterization and had a part in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) but he will always be best known as the voice of Fred Flintstone. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show.
  • Harry Tyler (1889-1961) as Timmy; he had hundreds of screen credits from 1929 to his death and was on Alfred Hitchcock Presents 11 times, including "Decoy," Schoenfeld's previous episode.
  • Argentina Brunetti (1907-2005) as Mrs. Salvatore; she dubbed films into Italian for MGM starting in 1937 and during WWII she narrated Voice of America broadcasts in Italy. Her career in radio, film, and TV lasted from 1946 to 2002 and she played Mrs. Martini in It's A Wonderful Life (1946). This was the only time she was seen on the Hitchcock show.
  • Shirley Smith (1929-2013) as Goldie; this is one of only two credits for her; the other is a 1960 film.
  • Lee Errickson as the messenger boy; he was on screen from 1953 to 1962 and appeared in one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
Lee Errickson as the messenger boy
There are three more names on the cast list at the end of "Alibi Me": Charlie Cantor, Herb Vigran, and Eugenia Paul. Cantor and Vigran are nowhere to be seen, so their parts must have been cut, while Paul is the girl in the photo that falls from Georgie's coat pocket.

"Alibi Me" was produced a fourth and final time in the 1950s, as a Suspense radio broadcast on April 20, 1958. The script from the original 1951 radio broadcast was used, but this time comedian Stan Freberg replaced Mickey Rooney as Georgie.

The 1951 radio show may be heard here. The 1952 TV version may be viewed here. Watch the 1956 TV version here and listen to the 1958 radio version here. The Hitchcock TV version is available on DVD here.

Sources:
"Alibi Me." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 2, episode 7, CBS, 11 Nov. 1956.
"Alibi Me." Suspense, CBS, 4 Jan. 1951.
"Alibi Me." Suspense, CBS, 22 Apr. 1952.
"Alibi Me." Suspense, CBS, 20 Apr. 1958.
"Catalog of Copyright Entries." Google Books, books.google.com/books?id=cE0hAQAAIAAJ.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
IMDb, 16 Aug. 2018, www.imdb.com/.
"Radio Drama and Comedy Writers, 1928–1962." Google Books, books.google.com/books?id=PsE8DwAAQBAJ.
Wikipedia, 16 Aug. 2018, www.wikipedia.org/.

In two weeks: "Jonathan," starring Georgann Johnson and Corey Allen!

2 comments:

Grant said...

I can never think of its name, but I always remember Lee Phillips also being in one of the least dark Hitchcock episodes, playing a gigolo character. I think he tries to blackmail the women, but they outwit him instead of resorting to murder. Those non-violent ones always stand out for obvious reasons.

Jack Seabrook said...

That's "The Deadly," where he's the plumber. Thanks for reading!