Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Hitchcock Project-James P. Cavanagh Part Three: Fog Closing In [2.2]

by Jack Seabrook

In the ten years that Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour were on the air, they won only three Emmy Awards. Edward W. Williams won in 1956 for editing "Breakdown," Robert Stevens won in 1958 for directing "The Glass Eye," and James P. Cavanagh won in 1957 for writing "Fog Closing In." That same year, Rod Serling won the Emmy for writing "Requiem for a Heavyweight" (Serling's teleplay won in the category of shows that ran one hour or more, while Cavanagh's won in the half-hour category). What was it about this episode that led industry professionals to give it an award that otherwise eluded this well-written series?

"Fog Closing In" is based on a short story titled "The Fog Closing In" by Martin Brooke that was published in the April 1956 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. The story begins as Mary Turner and her husband argue over breakfast about an ongoing dispute. The summer before, they moved to Kansas City because he got a better territory for his job as a salesman. They bought a large house so Mary's parents could visit and they purchased a dog named Clancy to protect her while she is at home by herself. They even hired a woman named Mrs. Powell to stay with Mary at night when her husband is away. Why, then, is she fearful?

Phyllis Thaxter as Mary
Mary's husband leaves to go on a sales trip and she is alone in the house, with every sound she hears causing her to grow increasingly apprehensive. She waits until six o'clock, when the long-distance telephone rates go down, then tries to call her parents, but all of the circuits are busy. Mrs. Powell fails to appear at 6:30 and the sounds in the empty house cause Mary's fear to increase, until she hears someone enter through the cellar door and ascend the stairs. She takes a revolver from the desk drawer and remains quiet when her husband calls to her through the locked door of her bedroom. "Now, now at last she knew the name for all her fears." Her husband breaks down the door and Mary shoots and kills him. The telephone rings and her mother is on the line; Mary tells her: "'Everything is fine now. I'm coming home.'"

"The Fog Closing In" is a gripping portrait of a neurotic woman, unhappy in her marriage, who allows her fears and imagination to run wild when she is left alone. In the end, she settles on her husband as the cause of her problems and kills him, thinking she can return to the safety of her pre-adult life with her parents.

The introduction to the story provides some information about Martin Brooke, which is a pseudonym for a female author born in Virginia and approximately 40 years old. She had worked as an advertising copywriter and this was her first short story. The FictionMags Index lists one other story by Martin Brooke ("Flowers for the Living," Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, June 1957), but I have not been able to find anything else by or about this obscure writer.

Paul Langton as Arthur
Her story was purchased and James P. Cavanagh adapted it for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The episode aired on CBS on Sunday, October 7, 1956, and stars Phyllis Thaxter as Mary, who is given the last name of Summers. Following Chekhov's principle about the gun, Cavanagh shows the gun in the very first shot as Mary's husband Arthur removes the firearm from the drawer and shows it to his wife, reassuring her, "'Don't worry--it won't go off.'" Students of Anton Chekhov know full well that if you show the audience a gun in the first act, it had better go off in the second.

The first scene between Mary and Arthur dramatizes the narrative in the story and provides exposition through dialogue; here, we learn that Mary's parents lived with her and Arthur for five years. Mary and Arthur moved to a new house to get away from them and, while Mary wants them to move back in, Arthur does not. Mary is inexplicably afraid, whether she is alone or not, and seems to fear adulthood, even at age 35, since she has been unable to separate from her parents successfully. Arthur suggests that she see a psychiatrist but Mary at first refuses and then reluctantly agrees to consider his recommendation.

After Arthur leaves, Mary closes the blinds and we see that there are two framed photos on the fireplace mantle, one on either end, with photos of her husband and her father, representing the two male forces competing for her love. Time passes slowly as she waits until six p.m. to call her parents; unlike the story, where she has a dog, in the TV show she is completely alone in the house. She hears a crash and ventures into the dark hall downstairs, where she sees an open door, a broken vase on the floor, and a cat, its eyes shining in the blackness. What she does not see at first is a man hiding against the wall in the hallway. She closes the open door, turns, sees the man, and is frightened.

George Grizzard as Ted
The stranger speaks kindly to her and tells her, "'Don't be afraid, I'm not gonna hurt you.'" He appears to be as scared of her as she is of him and she quickly realizes that he has escaped from the state hospital. Mary is kind to the man, whose name is Ted, and invites him into the living room, confessing that "'I know what it's like to be afraid of a place.'" She identifies with Ted and sees herself in him, telling him that she thinks she is worse off because she cannot identify the source of her fear. She talks about recalling a time when she was safe and she walks to stand by the photo of her father on the mantle; the memory she shares is of her father protecting her.

Mary realizes that she is afraid without her parents and that her husband does not understand. She confides in Ted that she never wanted to get married and only did so because her parents lost their money and she thought her husband could take care of them. She then relates a recurring dream of being in her bedroom ("'I'm afraid of my bedroom'") alone when she hears footsteps approaching the door. She always wakes up screaming as the door opens. The dream seems to be a clear reference to a fear of sex and this extended scene, which Cavanagh added to the story, suggests that her interaction with Ted allows Mary to express, in a subtle way, that her real fear is of sex with her husband. One wonders whether she is frigid and whether she and Arthur have consummated the marriage; in the story, he makes reference to an unfulfilled desire to have a family.

Billy Nelson
as the cab driver
At this point, once Mary has had her breakthrough, the character of Ted is no longer necessary to the drama and can be disposed of. Two men arrive from the state hospital and ask to search the house, looking for Ted; Mary allows them to do so as Ted escapes out the back door. She never tells them that Ted had been there and, their search concluded, they leave.

Mary then goes upstairs and the teleplay picks up where the short story left off. She tries to telephone her parents but the circuits are busy. Mary is alone in her bedroom and it seems as if her dream is being reenacted: she hears someone enter the house and she hears footsteps approaching the bedroom. Mary takes the gun from the desk drawer and, when Arthur enters, he tells her that he came back because he heard about the man who escaped from the hospital and he was worried about her. Mary seems to be in a trance and shoots Arthur. He falls to the floor and the telephone rings. Mary answers it and tells her father: "'I'm alright now. Now I can come home.'"

"Fog Closing In" is a psychological study of a woman who never wanted to get married and who fears sex and adulthood, finally killing her husband so she can return to her father and her place in his family as a child. Cavanagh adds the character of Ted, who serves as her counterpart and who allows her to see what she is afraid of and act on it, even though the act is not rational and will have consequences.

Norman Willis as the orderly
Is the teleplay worth an Emmy? Watching the episode is a tedious experience with too much dialogue and not enough action. Studying it for subtext is more interesting than sitting though it. This is not the fault of Phyllis Thaxter (1919-2012), who plays Mary; she was a fine actress who deserves more attention than she has received. Born in Maine, Thaxter started out on Broadway in 1939 and made her first film in 1944, with her first TV appearance coming in 1953. Among her nine appearances on the Hitchcock show are "The Five-Forty Eight," in which she also plays a mentally unstable woman, and "The Long Silence," where she lies in bed, unable to speak and in great danger. She also appeared on The Twilight Zone and Thriller and she played Ma Kent in Superman (1978).

Arthur is played by Paul Langton (1913-1980), who played many character roles in a screen career that lasted from 1943 to 1972. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show, but he was on The Twilight Zone twice and he was a regular on Peyton Place from 1964 to 1968.

George Grizzard (1928-2007) adds another disturbed character to his repertoire with that of Ted. Grizzard was on screen from 1955 to 2006, working more on television than on film. He had a Broadway career that spanned the same years and he was in the original cast of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Grizzard was seen in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, as well as episodes of The Twilight Zone and Thriller and the famous Bus Stop episode, "I Kiss Your Shadow."

In smaller roles:
  • Billy Nelson (1903-1973) plays the cab driver who comes to the front door to pick up Arthur; he started out in vaudeville and was on screen from 1935 to 1961. He played mostly bit parts and this was his only appearance on the Hitchcock series. There is a tribute to him here.
  • Norman Willis (1903-1988) plays the lead orderly from the state hospital who asks to search the house; he was on screen from 1934 to 1965, usually in small parts. He was in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Revenge."
  • Paul Frees (1920-1986) is uncredited on screen but provides the voice of Mary's father on the telephone at the end of the show; he had a long career as a voice actor and was the voice of Boris Badenov in The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, among countless others. He had five voice-only roles on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, all uncredited.
The cat's eyes shine in the darkness of the hallway.
Carol Veazie (1895-1984) also receives a screen credit, and print sources report that she plays Mrs. Connolly, but she is nowhere to be seen in the show.

Herschel Daugherty (1910-1993) directs the show with little verve; his prior directorial effort on the series was the much-better episode, "The Creeper," also written by Cavanagh. Daugherty directed 27 episodes in the Hitchcock series.

Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the short story.

Watch "Fog Closing In" for free online here or buy the DVD here. The next episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to be written by James P. Cavanagh was "None Are So Blind," which is reviewed here, in the series on John Collier.

Brooke, Martin. “The Fog Closing In.” Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Apr. 1956, pp. 106–111.
The FictionMags Index,
“Fog Closing In.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 2, episode 2, CBS, 7 Oct. 1956.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Nov. 2018,

In two weeks: The End of Indian Summer with Steve Forrest and Gladys Cooper.


Todd Mason said...

One wonders if she was Brooke Martin.

Jack Seabrook said...

Maybe her husband was Martin. Who knows?

john kenrick said...

This one showed promise early, Jack, but it soon ran out of gas, even with the arrival of George Grizzard, a fine actor, but he couldn't raise the level of the material he was in.

Just last night a Hitchcock episode was aired that featured a similar ending, complete with gunshot, but this time it was from the gun George Nader was holding on Audrey Totter.

In this case the character's (Nader's, I mean) wasn't set up as quite so neurotic as Phyllis Thaxter's in Fog Closing In, though Nader's performance was so intense that it was easy to read between the lines (as it were).

I think that Hitchcock Presents would have been wiser to have passed on doing stories featuring two crazy (or unstable) characters. One is enough, whether perp or victim.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, John. I really like Phyllis Thaxter. I think she's underrated.