Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Hitchcock Project-Arthur A. Ross Part Seven: Wally the Beard [10.19] and Wrapup

by Jack Seabrook

Walter Mills is a 25-year old London bookkeeper who is frustrated by his routine, unexciting life. One day, he surprises himself by buying a stylish suit and hat, then adding a fake beard from a costume shop to the ensemble. Having always though of his weak chin as a defect that kept him friendless, Mills finds a new sense of self-confidence in disguise and visits a neighborhood pub, where he pretends to be a Navy man and attracts attention from the other patrons. Pretty Noreen Harper is particularly taken with him, though her companion, a rough character named Curly, is less impressed.

"The Chinless Wonder"
was first published here
Calling himself Phillip Marshall, Stanley fools his landlady, Mrs. Jones, and quits his job, living off money he has embezzled from his employer bit by bit, enjoying keeping company with wealthy Noreen, and moving to a new neighborhood. He buys a small boat to impress his new girlfriend, though he cuts his arm while working on the pleasure craft and some blood is spilled, staining both the boat and his bag. Noreen takes him home to bandage his wound and the two spend a romantic afternoon together. Returning to his new boat, Walter is confronted by Curly, who recognizes him as Wally Mills, "'the chinless wonder of Corson Street,'" and threatens to expose him. To buy Curly's silence, Walter agrees to help hide a sack of stolen goods by dropping it into the Thames River right where his new boat is moored.

The next morning, Walter's troubles multiply when his former landlady attempts to collect back rent that he owed to her when he moved out suddenly. She visits the new room that Walter has rented as Phillip Marshall and she and his new landlady inspect it, finding Walter's possessions and a bag with bloodstains on it. When Walter returns later that day, the police are waiting for him. Noreen sent a message by Curly that she has gone to visit a sick aunt in Brighton, and Inspector Marples asks Walter about the bloodstained bag. Walter takes the police to his boat and explains how he cut himself, mentioning the moorings in passing.

Larry Blyden as Walter Mills
The next morning, the police confront Marshall with the news that the bloodstains match the Army records of Walter Mills, and they are about to arrest Phillip for murder when he peels off his beard and reveals his true identity. Inspector Marples is angry but, just as Walter is about to leave, another policeman arrives to announce that a dead body has been found. The police retrieved Curly's sack from the river and inside it they found the body of Noreen's husband. Walter realizes that she and Curly have played him for a fool.

"The Chinless Wonder" is a light, entertaining story with an unexpected ending. The author, Stanley Abbott (1906-1976), wrote a handful of short stories in the 1950s and early 1960s (The FictionMags Index lists a total of eight), and three were adapted for television: one on General Electric Theater in 1958 and two on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in 1965. "The Chinless Wonder" was renamed "Wally the Beard" after a nickname Curly calls Walter Mills at one point in the story, and the television version improves on the short story.

Kathie Browne as Noreen
Bernard Herrmann wrote the score for this episode, and a theme for woodwinds and strings plays over the opening credits. The setting has been moved from London to an unspecified location in the United States and the show begins in Walter's office, where his fiance of six weeks, a young woman named Lucy, breaks off their engagement, calling him "'a very ordinary man'" and adding that he is "'dullsville'" and "'ordinaryville.'" Balding and bespectacled, Walter looks older than the 25-year-old character of the short story; in fact, Larry Blyden, who plays the part, was 39 at the time of filming and the character later refers to himself as a "'mature man.'" Walter visits a wig shop and an enthusiastic and engaging salesman convinces him to purchase a toupee and false goatee.

We next see Walter in a bar, with his new look in place, where he meets Noreen and Curly. In these early scenes it quickly becomes apparent that Arthur A. Ross has taken the narrative passages of the short story and converted them into sparkling dialogue that is delivered flawlessly by the actors, from Larry Blyden and Kathie Browne (as Noreen) down to the bit players, such as Dave Willock, who plays the wig salesman. The telefilm is also aided immeasurably by Bernard Herrmann's score, which provides unobtrusive music that fits each scene perfectly.

Katherine Squire as Mrs. Adams
Walter, as Phillip, returns home to the rooming house where he resides and is confronted by his landlady, renamed Mrs. Adams. The scene is cleverly staged to demonstrate a shift in the balance of power brought on by Walter's new self-confidence: the camera is positioned to look up at him, now that he is in charge of the relationship, and it looks down at Mrs. Adams, who is now in a subordinate position. She refers to Walter as a "'weasel,'" but Phillip defends his alter-ego in a stirring testimonial. Alone in his room, Walter leans out the window and laughs with delight, exclaiming "'I'm new! I'm free! I'm a new, free man!'" However, his reverie is interrupted when he sees Curly looking up at him from the street below.

The next day, Walter is again himself, sans hairpieces, when Mrs. Adams bursts in, looking for Phillip Marshall and carrying a note for the man from Curly. As Phillip, Walter visits a new rooming house, where the landlady, Mrs. Jones, is quite taken by his appearance and treats him like a man of distinction. As in many other episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, unmarried people live together in rooming houses, living spaces that were soon to become scarce as the postwar housing boom took hold.

George Mitchell as Keefer
Walter/Phillip calls Noreen and arranges to see her, then visits a marina and purchases a boat from a man named Keefer. There is a nice bit of business between Phillip and Keefer where Phillip admits he knows little about sailing and enlists Keefer's aid in convincing Noreen otherwise. Bernard Herrmann's score hits playful, nautical notes here, supporting the light, seafaring tone of the scene. Phillip cuts his thumb trying to set up the boat and the scene dissolves to Noreen's apartment as she bandages his wound. In this scene, especially, Kathie Browne (as Noreen) is photographed with glamorous, classic Hollywood lighting as the musical score takes a romantic turn. She confesses to having a husband, "'almost an ex-husband,'" and praises Phillip's "'interesting'" beard, calling him a "'mystery.'" The score supports the dramatic tone of the scene and the music swells as Phillip and Noreen kiss.

Berkeley Harris as Curly
Phillip leaves Noreen's apartment on another emotional high, only to be brought low again by a confrontation with Curly, who wants his help in hiding stolen loot. To protect his secret, Walter agrees to the deal and he and Curly take the boat out and sink the bag. Meanwhile, the new landlady, Mrs. Jones, answers an ad from the old landlady, Mrs. Adams, and the two gossip about their tenants and inspect Phillip's room. Phillip comes home to find the landladies and Lieutenant Johnson in his room, and the scene that follows mixes humor and suspense; Phillip is suspected of foul play while his answers to the policeman's questions grow increasingly awkward and Mrs. Adams is shown in reaction shots.

Lee Bergere as Lt. Johnson
When pressed to prove his innocence, Phillip peels off his hairpieces to reveal the truth; once again, Herrmann's score lends gravity to the scene as well as pathos: one feels sorry for Walter, whose ruse has led to suspicion of criminal activity. Up to this point, the teleplay has followed the events of the story closely, but here Ross inserts a new scene, in which Walter visits Noreen and confesses the truth to her. Noreen accepts him as he is and, when he tells her about having hidden Curly's loot, she tells him to cut it loose so it cannot be traced to him.

In the show's final scene, Walter heads out on his boat at night to cut the bag loose from the moorings, only to have a police boat arrive. Back at the marina, the bag of loot is opened to reveal the corpse of Noreen's husband, and Walter realizes he has been had. The small changes Ross makes to the end of the show make the conclusion more exciting and suspenseful, a fitting finish to a strong episode.

Dave Willock as the wig salesman
"Wally the Beard" improves on "The Chinless Wonder," with a good script, crackling dialogue, fast-paced direction, evocative music, and top-notch acting. The theme of doubling is important. Walter's life changes when he takes on the role of Phillip, but the choices he makes along the way to preserve the ruse end up with him getting in trouble with the law. Noreen is playing a double role as well, but it is so subtle as to be nearly invisible. She must know Walter is putting her on right from the start, yet she is utterly convincing in her love for him, right up to the end. By putting on a toupee and false beard, Walter assumes the part of a Man of Distinction, that vague essence of male cool that permeated the 1950s and 1960s and was immortalized in the song, "Big Spender" from Sweet Charity (1966). The Man of Distinction is irresistible to women, drives a fast car or boat, and dresses and grooms himself with care. For Walter Mills, this seems easy at first, but what he fails to realize is that he is not really fooling anyone; instead, con artists and criminals target him as their patsy and his landladies end up calling the police when they suspect him of murder.

Elizabeth Harrower as Mrs. Jones
"Wally the Beard" is the only episode of the Hitchcock series to be directed by James H. Brown (1930-2011), who worked for years as an assistant director or production manager, including on 18 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents from 1958 to 1961 and two more of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. He also worked as Hitchcock's assistant director on The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964) and directed for television from 1961 to 1974. In an interview, Brown later remarked that most of his directorial jobs arose when someone else dropped out. He went on to work as an associate producer, production manager (including nine episodes in the first season of The Odd Couple), and director of TV commercials. He admitted that he preferred the steady work of an assistant to the insecurity of a director.

Leslie Perkins as Lucy, Walter's fiance
Larry Blyden (1925-1975) carries the show as Walter Mills. Born Ivan Lawrence Blieden, he served in the Marines in WWII and began his acting career on Broadway in 1948. He acted mostly on TV from 1950 until his death, only appearing in three films in that period. He was on Thriller and two classic episodes of The Twilight Zone, though this was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show. He won a Tony Award in 1972 for his role in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and died in 1975 in a car accident.

The duplicitous Noreen is played by Kathie Browne (1930-2003), who was born Jacqueline Katherine Browne and who was married to Darren McGavin from 1969 until her death. She appeared on screen from 1955 to 1980, mostly on TV, and was seen on an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents ("Bed of Roses"), Star Trek, and The Night Stalker.

John Indrisano as the bartender
Mrs. Adams, Walter's first landlady, is played perfectly by Katherine Squire (1903-1995), who was on Broadway from 1927 to 1959 and on screen from 1949 to 1989. She was in five episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "Man from the South," where she plays the scolding wife of Peter Lorre's character, and she was seen on Thriller and The Twilight Zone. Later in her career, she was a regular on the soap opera, The Doctors (1970-1975).

Squire's husband, George Mitchell (1905-1972), often appeared with her, and in "Wally the Beard" he plays Keefer, the experienced sailor at the marina who is exasperated by the antics of Walter Mills. Mitchell was on Broadway from 1942 to 1970 and on screen from 1935 to 1971. He was on the Hitchcock show four times, including "Forty Detectives Later," and he was also seen on Thriller and The Twilight Zone.

In smaller roles:
  • Berkeley Harris (1933-1984) as Curly; he was on screen from 1952 to 1981, mainly on TV, and this was one of his two appearances on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
  • Lee Bergere (1918-2007) as Lieutenant Johnson; he was on Broadway from 1936 to 1972 and on screen from 1954 to 1989. He makes the most of his role as the policeman and his scenes manage the difficult balance of humor and suspense.
  • Dave Willock (1909-1990) as the wig salesman; he started out in vaudeville in 1931 and played many small parts on screen from 1937 to 1975. He acted on radio in the '30s and '40s and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was in one other episode of the Hitchcock show and he was also on The Twilight Zone. He, too, makes the most of a small role, enlivening his single scene and interacting well with Larry Blyden.
  • Elizabeth Harrower (1918-2003) as the second landlady, Mrs. Jones; she started on radio in the '30s and was on screen from 1949 to 1974. This was one of two Hitchcock episodes in which  she appeared. She was also on The Twilight Zone and Batman. After she stopped acting, she became a prolific writer for soap operas in the '70s and '80s.
  • Leslie Perkins plays Walter's fiance in the show's first scene; she had a brief screen career from 1963 to 1970 and was also seen on Batman. This was her only appearance on the Hitchcock show.
  • Blink and you'll miss John Indrisano (1905-1968), who plays the bartender in the scene where Walter meets Noreen. He was a professional boxer from 1924 to 1934, then a boxing referee from 1934 to 1949. He trained many film actors for boxing scenes and played bit parts on film and television from 1933 to 1968. He was on Batman three times and he was also on the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "The Throwback," where he utilizes his boxing skills.
Watch "Wally the Beard" for free online here. Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the short story!

Sources:
Abbott, Stanley. “The Chinless Wonder.” Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Jan. 1965, pp. 61–71.
The FictionMags Index, www.philsp.com/homeville/FMI/0start.htm.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
IMDb, IMDb.com, www.imdb.com/.
“Obituary: James H. Brown (1930-2011).” The Classic TV History Blog, 20 Sept. 2011, classictvhistory.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/obituary-james-h-brown-1930-2011/.
Stephensen-Payne, Phil. Galactic Central, philsp.com/.
“Wally the Beard.” The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, season 10, episode 19, NBC, 1 Mar. 1965.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, www.wikipedia.org/.


Arthur A. Ross on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: An Overview and Episode Guide

Arthur A. Ross wrote the teleplays for eight episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, all of which were broadcast between January 1964 and March 1965. One of the episodes, "The Evil of Adelaide Winters," was based on a radio play by Ross; the rest were based on stories written by others.

Ross's five scripts for season nine demonstrate a skill at mixing comedy and suspense and often explore the relationships between men and women, especially in the context of marriage. "Three Wives Too Many" is a brilliant expansion of a short story in which Ross expands the role of the murderous wife. "The Evil of Adelaide Winters" is faithful to the radio play of the same title and makes good use of the visual medium. "Anyone for Murder?" veers off into new territory from the short story on which it is based, mixing murder with black humor in an examination of marriage that is more interesting and amusing than its source. "Ten Minutes from Now" removes the elements of humor that were found in the short story and suffers as a result, while "Who Needs an Enemy?" is another black comedy that explores the relationships between men and women.

The three scripts by Ross that were produced for season ten include "Triumph," a rare episode that lacks humor but benefits from lyrical writing and a superb reworking of the short story's narrative structure. This hauntingly beautiful episode once again explores the relationships among married couples. "Thanatos Palace Hotel" is Ross's second failure, a script that expands Western elements from the source to its detriment and loses the element of surprise. Ross's final script, for "Wally the Beard," is perhaps his most humorous of all and succeeds in adhering to the short story's plot structure while improving on its narrative.

In all, the eight shows scripted by Arthur A. Ross constitute a fine addition to The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, often displaying the black humor for which the show's host was so well known.


EPISODE GUIDE-ARTHUR A. ROSS ON THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR

Episode title-"Three Wives Too Many" [9.12]
Broadcast date-3 January 1964
Teleplay by-Arthur A. Ross
Based on "Three Wives Too Many" by Kenneth Fearing
First print appearance-Michael Shayne Mystery Magazine, September 1956
Notes
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Episode title-"The Evil of Adelaide Winters" [9.16]
Broadcast date-7 February 1964
Teleplay by-Arthur A. Ross
Based on "The Evil of Adelaide Winters," a radio play by Arthur A, Ross
First print appearance-none; first radio broadcast on Suspense, 10 September 1951
Notes
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Available on DVD?-no


"The Evil of Adelaide Winters"

Episode title-"Anyone for Murder?" [9.20]
Broadcast date-13 March 1964
Teleplay by-Arthur A. Ross
Based on "Anyone for Murder?" by Jack Ritchie
First print appearance-Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January 1964
Notes
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Available on DVD?-no

Episode title-"Ten Minutes from Now" [9.26]
Broadcast date-1 May 1964
Teleplay by-Arthur A. Ross
Based on "Ten Minutes from Now" by Jack Ritchie
First print appearance-Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, October 1963
Notes
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Available on DVD?-no


"Anyone for Murder?"

Episode title-"Who Needs an Enemy?" [9.28]
Broadcast date-15 May 1964
Teleplay by-Arthur A. Ross
Based on "Goodbye Charlie" by Henry Slesar
First print appearance-Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January 1964
Notes
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Available on DVD?-no

Episode title-"Triumph" [10.9]
Broadcast date-14 December 1964
Teleplay by-Arthur A. Ross
Based on "Murder in Szechwan" by Robert Branson
First print appearance-Collier's, 9 October 1948
Notes
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Available on DVD?-no


"Triumph"

Episode title-"Thanatos Palace Hotel" [10.15]
Broadcast date-1 February 1965
Teleplay by-Arthur A. Ross
Based on "Thanatos Palace Hotel" by Andre Maurois
First print appearance-Candide, 16 December 1937
Notes
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Available on DVD?-no

Episode title-"Wally the Beard" [10.19]
Broadcast date-1 March 1965
Teleplay by-Arthur A. Ross
Based on "The Chinless Wonder" by Stanley Abbott
First print appearance-Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January 1965
Notes
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-no

In two weeks: Our series on Bill S. Ballinger begins with "Dry Run," starring Walter Matthau and Robert Vaughn!

Listen to Annie and Kathryn's entertaining discussion of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "Never Again," on the Good Evening podcast here!

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma's incisive podcast about the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "A Bullet for Baldwin," here!

6 comments:

Mitchell Hadley said...

Excellent writeup as always, Jack! It's always a balancing act to read about the episodes I haven't yet seen, but I figure by the time I get to the tenth season, I'll have forgotten the surprise ending!

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Mitchell! I'll miss you at the con tomorrow in Maryland.

Grant said...

I don't know Larry Blyden from that many things, but I've always liked him in this. Also his comical TWILIGHT ZONE episode "Showdown With Rance McGrew," where he plays a cowboy actor who's an incredible wimp in real life.
And George Mitchell's scene at the marina always stays with me.

Jack Seabrook said...

I also like Blyden in "Nice Place to Visit" on the TZ. George Mitchell creates a memorable character very quickly in this episode. I wonder if he and his wife were hired as a package or if one came first and then the other was added. This is one of the best roles I've seen her in, by the way.

Grant said...

I made a point of seeing it again after reading this review.

I'm sure she's a good actress, but her looks alone can make you wonder about Leslie Perkins not taking off in a bigger way on TV (not that BATMAN episodes are a small thing).

And I can't help thinking of the second landlady played by Elizabeth Harrower as (even though it's a pretty big label) a sort of "MILF" landlady. So it's almost easy to imagine a kind of chemistry between HER and "Philip Marshall." (But I guess I have a one-track mind.)

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Grant. I'm not going anywhere near that topic!