Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Hitchcock Project-Bernard C. Schoenfeld Part Three: Jonathan [2.10]

by Jack Seabrook

Bernard C. Schoenfeld and Stirling Silliphant adapted "Jonathan" from a short story by Fred Levon called "Turmoil" that was published in the October 15, 1948 issue of Maclean's. The story begins as a young man named George pleads with the reader for help. His mother died when he was born, so he grew up very close to his father, Harry, a successful lawyer. George reached manhood and Harry could no longer keep up with him; when Harry fell in love with his young, beautiful secretary, Rosine, his son resented the woman. The son went off to college and the father was married. On his summer vacation, George left a bottle of Scotch as a present for Rosine, knowing his father never drank, and headed for Mexico. While there, he received a letter from Rosine telling him that his father had taken ill and died.

George went home for Jonathan's funeral but did not get along with Rosine. He questioned the doctor about the cause of his father's death and learned that his heart gave out at age 42. Resentful of his stepmother, George seethes at the thought that she got away with murder and is now a rich young widow. He finally confronts Rosine and she admits having given Harry a drink from the bottle of Scotch that his son had left as a gift. Of course, she saw that the wrapping was cracked and a pinpoint had pierced the cork. George's attempt to kill his stepmother had given her the perfect method to kill her husband!

"Turmoil" was first published here
A clever twist follows well-placed clues in this tale of familial homicide, where the author misdirects the reader and the narrator, who is correct in thinking that his stepmother murdered his father but who is shocked to discover that his own attempt to kill the woman provided her with the means and opportunity to kill the man he loved best.

Fred Levon was one of two pseudonyms used by Levon Fred Ayvazian (1919-2009), who was born in Turkey during the period of the Armenian genocide. His family emigrated to the United States and he grew up to be a physician who developed a blood test for the early detection of lung cancer. He wrote a handful of short stories and three novels; one of them, Much Ado About Murder (1955), was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel. He wrote another novel (Andrew [1959]) as Kenneth Flagg. "Jonathan" was the only one of his works to be adapted for the screen.

The credits for "Jonathan," which aired on CBS on Sunday, December 2, 1956, state that the teleplay is by Bernard C. Schoenfeld and Stirling Silliphant, suggesting that one of them wrote a script and the other revised it. However it was done, the end result is sharp.The show plays out in a series of scenes that alternate between the present and the past, shown in flashback. George's name has been changed to Gil and his father Harry's name has been changed to Jonathan; hence, the show's title refers to the person around whom everything revolves.

Art by Don Anderson
accompanied "Turmoil"
In the first scene, Gil arrives at his family's boathouse and his voice over narration sets the scene, explaining how he and his father had been together after his mother's death. Gil thinks "we were the perfect team," but his reverie is interrupted by Rosine and we learn that his father has already died and he does not hide his contempt for his stepmother. A flashback follows in the same boathouse setting and we witness Jonathan having chest pains after a boating trip with his son. This leads the father to encourage the son to make friends his own age and to reveal that he is soon to marry Rosine. Gil vows always to hate her and the scene returns to the present, where it is inferred that Gil was relating the flashback story to Rosine. In voice over, he wonders how she killed Jonathan, and this suspenseful question is left unanswered at the commercial break.

The second act begins with a closeup of Rosine pouring a glass of sherry for Gil; the viewer does not know it yet, but this act of serving an alcoholic beverage foreshadows the denouement. Jonathan's funeral has taken place off screen and the stepmother and son have returned to the family home, where Gil asks her directly how she killed his father. Another flashback follows, and the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place as we see Gil in the living room of the house after his return from Mexico, talking to his friend Don. Gil has brought an oversized bottle of brandy to leave for Rosine and he places it on the mantle, where it will not be overlooked. By using such a large bottle the creators of this episode make the bottle the focus of the viewer's attention.

Two short scenes follow as the story returns to the present and Gil finishes his conversation with Rosine. There is a brief scene where he chats with a maid and then a dissolve to the final scene, set in Rosine's bedroom. Gil enters, alone, and finds the large brandy bottle hidden in her closet and partly empty. She enters , tells him the truth of what happened, and he breaks down in tears and smashes the bottle into her mirror. The show ends with a shot of Gil's distraught face reflected in the shattered glass, which shows the fragmented reflection of a young man whose whole world has just been broken by the knowledge of his unwitting complicity in his father's murder.

Corey Allen as Gil
Gil is in turmoil for several reasons: his beloved father is dead, his stepmother got away with murder, he was the indirect cause of the man's death, and he can tell no one because to do so would reveal his own plan to murder his stepmother. "Jonathan" ends with Gil in a no-win situation, his stepmother triumphant, his world in fragments. By telling the story in a series of scenes that alternate between the present and the past, the writers create dramatic tension that is less present in Levon's short story, which is told in a linear narrative by George as he looks back on what went wrong.

Stirling Silliphant (1918-1996), who is credited as co-writer of the teleplay with Bernard C. Schoenfeld, got his start working for Disney as a publicity director and writer for The Mickey Mouse Club. He produced independent films, including 5 Against the House (1955) but is best known as a writer for both television and film from 1955 to 1995. Among his finest work are the TV shows Naked City and Route 66, as well as the film, In the Heat of the Night (1967), for which he won an Oscar. He wrote 11 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Glass Eye." A biography of him is called Stirling Silliphant: The Fingers of God.

Georgeann Johnson as Rosine
"Jonathan" is well directed by John Meredyth Lucas (1919-2002), who keeps the story moving and includes interesting shots along the way. He was a writer and director who worked mostly in television from the early 1950s to the early 1980s. He directed only three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and he also directed episodes of Star Trek and Night Gallery. He grew up in Hollywood and wrote a memoir called Eighty Years in Hollywood; of interest is the fact that his stepfather was film director Michael Curtiz.

Georgeann Johnson (1926-2018) receives top billing as Rosine. She had a long career, mostly on television, from 1952 to 2007 and was on Alfred Hitchcock Presents three times, including "Night of the Execution" and "One for the Road." She also had a role in the film, Midnight Cowboy (1969) and appeared on soap operas in the 1970s.

The real star of the show is Corey Allen (1934-2010), who shines as Gil, the tortured son. Born Alan Cohen, he acted in film and on TV mainly from 1954 to 1965, though he made a handful of appearances in the decades that followed. He also had a long career as a TV director from 1966 to 1994. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show, but he is best remembered as juvenile delinquent Buzz Gunderson, who loses badly to James Dean's character in a chickie run in Rebel Without a Cause (1955).

Douglas Kennedy as Jonathan
Douglas Kennedy (1915-1973) is effective in his short scene as Jonathan; he was a busy character actor in film and on TV from 1940 to 1973. He appeared with Bogart in Dark Passage (1947) and was seen in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "A Little Sleep."

Though Nancy Kulp is listed in the credits, she does not appear in the show, so perhaps her part was removed at the last minute. Walter Kingsford and Heidi Mullenger also suffered the same fate. The three are credited as a doctor and two nurses, suggesting that a scene in the story where George visits his father's doctor may have been filmed but did not make the final cut.

Read "Turmoil" online in the Maclean's archives here. Buy "Jonathan" on DVD here or watch it for free online here.

The FictionMags Index.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
“Fred Ayvazian.”
“Jonathan.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 2, episode 10, CBS, 2 Dec. 1956.
Levon, Fred. “Turmoil.” Maclean's | The Complete Archive,
Stop, You're Killing Me!,
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 Sept. 2018,

In two weeks: The Better Bargain, starring Robert Middleton and Henry Silva!


john kenrick said...

A very good episode, Jack. I've seen it a few times, and I'm always impressed. The strange father-son relationship is fascinating, especially as the father seems self-aware, while the son does not. This is something I've seen in real life, but in a different configuration, with uncle-nephew. Corey Allen's performance as Gil, more than the way the character is written, suggests a subtext of some kind, not in the script. He seems hostile to women, but maybe that's my take. Good work from Allen here.

Upon my last viewing of Jonathan on MeTV, the gigantic bottle wine looked almost comical. I don't think I've ever seen one that large, or one not designed for a laugh. For me, this detracts somewhat from the seriousness of the episode, which is otherwise well made and nicely acted. Douglas Kennedy, whom I saw on a Perry Mason last night, was highly effective as Jonathan. His performance was low key, warm and unambiguous.There was ambiguity in this in that he tended to play tough guys, and on the surface he even looked tough as Jonathan.

Grant said...

Even though I mainly know it as an MST3K episode (where you're meant to find it funny), I've always liked Douglas Kennedy in THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN, where he plays a human guinea pig who tries to cash in on being one.

Also as the general in the OUTER LIMITS episode "The Brain of Colonel Barham."

Even in those two SF stories, he plays convincing "tough guy" characters.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, guys! I also was surprised by that giant bottle and impressed with the performances all around. There definitely seemed to be something unspoken going on under the surface with the son, perhaps due to the death of his mother, lack of siblings, and close relationship with Dad.