Thursday, December 5, 2019

The Hitchcock Project-Stirling Silliphant Part One: Never Again [1.30]

by Jack Seabrook

Stirling Silliphant wrote the teleplays for eleven episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, two of which have been examined already in this series: "Jonathan" and "The Glass Eye." Born in Detroit, Silliphant served in WWII and began his career as a TV writer on The Mickey Mouse Club. He wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation of Jack Finney's 5 Against the House (1955) and continued writing extensively for film and TV until his death in 1996 in Bangkok.

He created the TV series Naked City and wrote 37 episodes, he co-created the TV series Route 66 and wrote many of its episodes, and he created the TV series Longstreet and wrote five of its episodes. Among his screenplays were Village of the Damned (1960), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), and The Towering Inferno (1974). He won an Academy Award for his screenplay for In the Heat of the Night (1967).

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"Never Again" was first published here
Silliphant's first teleplay for Alfred Hitchcock Presents was "Never Again," based on a short story of the same title by Adela Rogers St. Johns that had been published first in the April 1934 issue of Cosmopolitan. It was reprinted in that magazine's February 1947 issue, then as the title story of the author's 1949 collection, Never Again and Other Stories.

Adela Rogers St. Johns (1894-1988) was born in Los Angeles and became a reporter in 1912, later writing for Photoplay and becoming well-known as a female journalist who covered major stories. She wrote screenplays for silent films, as well as short stories, novels, and non-fiction. Films and television shows were based on her work, and she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1970.

In the introduction to "Never Again" in her 1949 collection, St. Johns writes that it was "by far my best-known short story and ... one of the best known of our time." She remarks that she wrote it "in about four hours" in what must have been a burst of creativity.

The story begins as a woman named Karen awakens in bed with "the worst hang-over she'd ever had" and vows, "'never again.'" The story takes place in New York City and Karen recalls leaving a cocktail party and taking a taxi to a speakeasy on 53rd Street. Her boyfriend Micky had warned her that "'You'll do something someday you'll be sorry for,'" and she had not intended to drink at the party.

Phyllis Thaxter as Karen
Karen remembers the afternoon before, thinking that "It had been four weeks since she'd had a drink...she could take it or leave it alone." Her problems were compounded by insecurity, since "she was always jealous of Micky" and hated to see him dance with another girl. One night she had slapped him for pinching another girl's ear, and she has a "vague, dreadful memory" of seeing Micky with a blond and of screaming. Karen sits up in bed and realizes that she is not at home but in a hospital, though she cannot remember how she got there.

Struggling to remember, Karen recalls going with Micky to a cocktail party even though she promised not to drink; Micky said that "'As soon as you get two cocktails in you, I'm Public Enemy Number One.'" At the party, she told people she was on the wagon but the host insisted on bringing her a cocktail. She saw Micky talking with Renee Marlowe, whose "pictures were always in the papers." Other party guests were "amused because she was on the wagon" and one suggested that she "should wait until after repeal." Micky was having fun with Renee and a group of men and Karen "felt lower than she'd ever felt in her life."

She broke down and had one drink, then another; Micky grew angry with her and insisted that they leave. Karen remembers taking a taxi to a speakeasy on 53rd Street and she begins to remember what happened there: she told the bartender, "'None of this bootleg stuff for me'" and saw Micky talking to another girl. She thought the girl was his former girlfriend, though another man told her that the girl was a stranger; Karen remembers "saying an ugly word" and someone screaming at her. She wishes that Micky would come to her room so that she could apologize to him.

Warren Stevens as Jeff
At this point, a nurse enters the room and Karen asks if Micky has visited. She says that she wants to go home but the nurse tells her that she cannot; it's not a hospital, it's a jail, and "'You killed your boy friend in a  speakeasy last night.'"

Internal clues in "Never Again" make it clear that the story takes place during Prohibition, which ended in December 1933; the story was published in the April 1934 Cosmopolitan and presumably was written before Prohibition was repealed. There is little dialogue, other than bits of conversation in Karen's memories and at the end, when the nurse reveals the truth. Karen is an alcoholic whose jealousy and social anxiety drive her to break a promise, ending four weeks of sobriety with tragic results.

Micky's behavior seems to have been unsupportive of a woman struggling with alcoholism and jealousy, since he takes her to a cocktail party and then a speakeasy and spends his time in both locations talking to other women. His alleged efforts to preserve her sobriety were doomed to failure; despite telling her what to do, he failed to support her or to help her to stay out of dangerous situations. In the end, "Never Again" paints a vivid portrait of an alcoholic and of the dangers of losing control.

Louise Albritton as Renee
The first attempt to adapt "Never Again" for Alfred Hitchcock Presents was a screenplay by the husband and wife team of Irwin Gielgud and Gwen Bagni, but their efforts were deemed unsatisfactory and Stirling Silliphant was paid $500 to apply "the final polish." The TV show aired on CBS toward the end of the first season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, on Sunday, April 22, 1956.

"Never Again" is an outstanding half hour of TV, with a terrific performance by Phyllis Thaxter as Karen and with superb direction by Robert Stevens, who was nominated for a Directors Guild Award for his work on this episode. The show begins with a tight close up of Karen's face, her skin bathed in sweat, her lips cracked and parched. To convey the sense that the bed is in motion, she remarks in voice over that she is on the Staten Island Ferry; this delusion ends as soon as she realizes that she is suffering from a terrible hangover. Her boyfriend's name has been changed from Micky to Jeff, and she opens her eyes to see that her right hand is bandaged. The addition of the bandaged hand adds mystery and suspense, making the viewer wonder how the hand was injured.

Looking around the room, Karen immediately believes that she is in a hospital; in the short story, she does not even open her eyes for a few pages and initially thinks she is in her own bed at home. She continues to express her thoughts in voice over and, as she tries to remember how she got there, she looks at the foot of the bed and sees a giant wine glass superimposed on the screen. There is a dissolve to a new scene, where we see Karen in her apartment getting ready for the evening with a friend named Margaret. This scene helps establish her background as an alcoholic. She holds the same glass that had been superimposed in the prior scene and remarks on her four weeks of sobriety, pointedly using the glass as an ashtray. In Karen's closet, Margaret finds a dress, filthy and torn; this suggests that Karen keeps it in that condition to remind herself of what happened the last time she wore it.

Joan Banks as Margaret
Another dissolve leads to a scene some time later but still in Karen's apartment; she is anxious because Jeff is late in coming to pick her up. When he arrives, she kisses him passionately, suggesting desperation in her affection for him. He sees the wine glass and the camera cuts to a close up of it before pulling back; Karen insists on giving Jeff a drink to prove that she will not be moved by the sight of him imbibing alcohol. She tells him that she needs to find something to occupy her time after work and mentions one of his clients named Renee Marlowe. Jeff, who works at an advertising agency, calls Renee "'the brightest woman in advertising we have around'" as well as an old friend. He adds that Renee likes Karen, but Karen does not believe it and says "'I'm nothing anymore.'" He tells her that she needs to get out more and offers to take her to one of his agency parties that night, though she worries that she won't understand all that "'smart talk.'"

The scene then dissolves to the party, and Jeff quickly disappears into the study with Renee to review proofs, leaving Karen alone. Another guest forces a drink into her hand and, when she says she does not drink, the man responds, "'Sweetie, don't be disagreeable.'" There is a brief return to the present, with Karen in her bed remembering the party, and then a dissolve back to the party, as we see closeups of drinks being mixed and consumed, Karen utterly unable to enjoy the party with Jeff out of sight. A young man approaches her and strikes up a conversation, forcing another drink on her.

Jeff and Renee finally emerge and he immediately confronts Karen about the drink in her hand. She throws the drink in Renee's face and runs out the door. The scene dissolves back to Karen in bed, as she recalls her actions with shame and continues to wonder why she is in a hospital with a bandaged hand. Another dissolve finds her back at home, having fled the party. Jeff comes after her and finds her martini pitcher empty; once again, he suspects her of drinking. She confesses her fear of losing him, explaining that she suffers from extreme jealousy. Jeff tries to reassure her by telling her that "'All a man wants is someone who's simple and honest and who loves him.'"

Jack Mullaney as Renee's brother
He mentions marriage and she clings to it, since he has never formally proposed. "'I happen to love you,'" he tells her matter-of-factly. Invigorated by his backhanded declaration, Karen announces that she wants to return to the party to show everyone that she is immune to their criticism. There is a dissolve and we are back at the party, where a very understanding Renee tells Karen that all is forgiven. Unfortunately, one of Jeff's colleagues spirits him away almost immediately and Karen is left alone again.

Once more, she is approached by the young man with a drink, but this time he reveals that he is Renee's younger brother and admits that he drinks to excess. Karen continues to resist the temptation to drink until the young man tells her that Renee is crazy about Jeff and that Renee told him that Jeff's girlfriend is a hopeless drunk. This pushes Karen over the edge. She grabs the man's martini and downs it in a single gulp. She orders a double to follow it and invites him to go bar-hopping in Manhattan. They leave the party together and there is a dissolve to a bar, where we see Karen and the young man dancing wildly to tunes being played on a jukebox. Karen's hair and dress are a wreck and it is obvious that she is very drunk.

Karen violently grabs a bottle from the bartender and is drinking from a large glass when Jeff enters with Renee. Karen sees three images of each of them, two of Renee's merging with two of Jeff's. She falls, breaks the glass, and cuts her hand. Jeff helps her up with the broken glass in her hand and the camera dissolves back to the present, where a nurse enters and tells Karen the horrible truth of where she is and what she has done. Karen looks up, sees bars on the window, and screams when the nurse tells her that she killed Jeff by cutting his throat with a brandy glass.

In adapting "Never Again" from page to small screen, the teleplay writers added scenes and characters and made the flashbacks more straightforward and chronological. The time period of the story has been moved forward from Prohibition to the 1950s, and the speakeasy culture has been replaced by that of the Organization Man. Jeff's casual sexism is somewhat awkward when viewed from today's standpoint, though the contrast between Renee and Karen is interesting: Renee is the successful career woman while Karen is the traditional, subservient woman who spends all day taking dictation and then depends on her boyfriend to validate her identity. Jeff is a typical man of the era, but instead of having him take Karen to a speakeasy, as his counterpart Micky does in the short story, the TV show has another man take on that role, which seems more consistent with Jeff's criticism of what he thinks are Karen's intentions to resume drinking.

Gwen Bagni (1913-2001), who co-wrote the first draft of the teleplay, wrote for radio in the 1940s and 1950s, then wrote a handful of films and many TV episodes between 1950 and 1987. She wrote with three husbands in sequence: first, John Bagni, who died in 1954; then, Irwin Gielgud, whom she married in 1955 and who died in 1961; and finally, Paul Dubov, whom she married in 1963 and who died in 1979. She did not remarry after Dubov's death but she kept writing for TV. She and Gielgud contributed two teleplays to Alfred Hitchcock Presents and her papers are housed at the University of California, as are Stirling Silliphant's.

Carol Veazie
Her co-writer and husband at the time, Irwin Gielgud (1918-1961), does not have as long a list of credits as Gwen Bagni, having written four screenplays between 1949 and 1956 and having co-written teleplays with his wife from 1956 to 1961.

"Never Again" was directed by Robert Stevens (1920-1989), who directed TV shows from 1948 to 1987, including 105 episodes of Suspense and 49 episodes of the Hitchcock show. He directed a handful of films and two episodes of The Twilight Zone, and he won an Emmy for directing the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "The Glass Eye."

Phyllis Thaxter (1919-2012), who stars as Karen, was born in Maine and acted on Broadway before making her debut on film in 1944. She began acting on TV in 1953, appearing in six episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents; "Never Again" was the first. She also appeared on The Twilight Zone, Thriller, and three episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, including "The Long Silence," where her character is also bedridden. Later in her career, she played Ma Kent in Superman (1978), and she continued to appear on TV until 1992.

Second billing in the cast goes to Louise Albritton (1920-1979) as Renee. Born in Oklahoma City, she entertained the troops overseas during WWII in the USO and appeared on screen from 1942 to 1964, including roles in Abbott and Costello's Who Done It? (1942) and Son of Dracula (1943), with Lon Chaney, Jr. "Never Again" marked her only role on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Warren Stevens (1919-2012) plays Jeff. Born in Pennsylvania, he was a pilot in WWII and later a founding member of the Actors Studio. In addition to roles on Broadway, Stevens appeared on TV from 1948 to 2006 and in films from 1951 to 2007, including Forbidden Planet (1956). He was in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and he was seen on The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Star Trek.

In smaller roles:
  • Jack Mullaney (1929-1982) as Renee's kid brother; he was on screen from 1954 to 1980 and appeared in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Belfry." He was also on Thriller and in the film of South Pacific (1954).
  • Joan Banks (1918-1998) as Margaret, who helps Karen get ready in the early scene; she was on radio and then on screen from 1950 to 1967, appearing in one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents: "The Cream of the Jest."
  • Carol Veazie (1895-1984) as the nurse who breaks the bad news to Karen; she was on screen from 1954 to 1974 and her last credit was for a role on Kolchak: The Night Stalker. "Never Again" was one of her two appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
"Never Again" is available on DVD here or may be viewed for free online here.

The FictionMags Index,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
“Never Again.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 1, episode 30, CBS, 22 Apr. 1956.
Segaloff, Nat. Stirling Silliphant: the Fingers of God. Bearmanor Media, 2013.
St. Johns, Adela Rogers. “Never Again.” Never Again and Other Stories, Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1949, pp. 295–304.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

In two weeks: "The Manacled," starring Gary Merrill and William Redfield!

Listen to the podcast, Presenting Alfred Hitchcock Presents, here.

Listen to Annie and Katherine discuss "Never Again" on the Good Evening podcast here.


Mike Doran said...

This was one of the few shows where Hitchcock dispensed with his usual patter at the close.
That the story concerned alcohol abuse was not a coincidence.

Jack Seabrook said...

Absolutely. I think it's a great show. The more I study these, the more I'm impressed with Robert Stevens.

Grant said...

Hitchcock also left out the jokes on "Hangover" on AHH, for the same reason.

Jack Seabrook said...

I guess he could joke about murder but alcoholism was off limits!

Preta said...

Mike Doran, "That the story concerned alcohol abuse was not a coincidence"?? And the reason for that was what exactly?? I think it was one of the Best episodes he'd ever done (early PSA??).

Anonymous said...

Have been binge watching A. H. Presents. This episode leapt out. Hitchcock's epilogue really got me.

Jack Seabrook said...

A rare serious moment!

Donald Carpenter said...

Absolutely. The best episodes were usually directed by Stevens.

Donald Carpenter said...

He also had a somber tone for Bang! You're Dead in 1961, about the boy who goes around town carrying a loaded gun.

Jack Seabrook said...

Donald, I agree with you about Robert Stevens. He did some great work. You rightly point out that Hitch kept it serious with this episode's epilogue and with the one for Bang! You're Dead. They are two episodes that deal with real problems.