Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Hitchcock Project-Stirling Silliphant Part Five: The Return of the Hero [3.22]

by Jack Seabrook

If "The Return of the Hero" were to be broadcast today, it might be billed as a "Very Special Episode" of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It's not based on a published story, there is no murder or other crime, it takes place in France, features an international cast, and deals with the fallout of a then-current event. As he did at the end of "Never Again," another show with a teleplay by Stirling Silliphant, Alfred Hitchcock eschews his usual cheeky remarks at the end of the story.

"The Return of the Hero" was broadcast on CBS on Sunday, March 2, 1958 and, according to The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion, is based on a story idea by Andrew Solt. The teleplay is credited to Solt and Silliphant, which suggests that, once again, Silliphant was brought in to polish up another author's teleplay.

Vladimir Sokoloff
as Uncle Fernand
As the show begins, a man known as Uncle Fernand sits at a table outside Cafe Leon in the French port city of Marseille, drinking wine and telling the cafe's owner that he has no right to force his daughter, Therese, into a marriage she does not want.

At the bar inside the cafe sit two soldiers, Sergeant Andre Daumier and Corporal Marcel Marchand, drinking and talking as a woman sings and plays the accordion. Therese, serving behind the bar, is clearly infatuated with the young and handsome Andre; Marcel announces that they have been given their discharge papers and will soon be going home. A pair of crutches lean against the bar between the soldiers. Marcel adds that he saved Andre's life and tells the younger man that Therese is not like "'those witches in the Algerian desert.'" Both men are to be discharged that night after being given the Croix de Guerre.

Jacques Bergerac
as Andre
Andre is brusque with Therese and Marcel says that his friend is rich and engaged to a Belgian baroness. The duo have spent the last two weeks in Marseille and Andre tells Therese that he told her he planned to leave; he rejects her offer to help him get over his experiences in the war. He has recently been let out of the hospital and and wants to return home to his family and friends at Saint Gervaise.

Therese is engaged to Francois, the local butcher, an overweight man who is older than she. He tells Leon, her father, that the girl has gone "'gaga'"--she was sitting alone in the park that morning in the pouring rain. Francois and Andre have words but when the soldier pulls a knife, the butcher backs down. Marcel brags about Andre's chateau and racehorse and about his mother, the Countess d'Auberge, but Francois does not believe him, so the two men make a 10,000-franc wager. Marcel has Francois telephone the countess to say her son is calling and she accepts the call. Andre reluctantly takes the phone and speaks to his mother, who did not know he was back in France.

Iphigenie Castiglioni
as the Countess d'Auberge
At the chateau, a grand party is underway and Andre tells his mother that he is back from Algiers and has invited a friend, Marcel, to stay at the family home for a while. He speaks with his fiance, Sybil, and with his younger sister, Lili, whom he calls "'the only sane member of our family.'" Andre tells Lili that Marcel has lost a leg in the war and that it is too soon for him to be fitted with an artificial one. Sybil remarks that it is terrible to suggest bringing a "'cripple'" to the chateau because "'he won't fit in.'" The countess says that the family will pay for Marcel's medical care but tells Andre not to bring him home because it would be too depressing.

Andre hangs up and Marcel tells him to go back to his home alone, but Andre replies that he is not going home. He says goodbye to Marcel and tells Therese to marry Francois. He gets up from his bar stool and, from behind, we see Andre, on crutches, walk out of the cafe; his right leg has been amputated above the knee. Therese runs outside to go after him and her father tries to stop her, but Uncle Fernand intervenes and she runs after the soldier.

Susan Kohner
as Therese
The surprise at the end of "The Return of the Hero" is that Andre, not Marcel, is missing a leg and was lying to his family, presumably in order to test how they will react to his disability. For the episode to succeed, it is imperative that the viewer not see or even suspect that Andre is an amputee. There is but one pair of crutches between the two soldiers at the bar, so the viewer can reasonably infer that Marcel is an amputee, especially when Andre tells his family that this is the case. Their cruelty and shallow behavior toward his friend crushes Andre and is hard to watch today, since society's attitudes toward the disabled have progressed a great deal in the sixty years since this episode aired.

Director Herschel Daugherty was faced with a challenge when filming this episode: how to keep the story interesting when the main character cannot get up from his bar stool and the audience cannot see the lower half of his body. He solves the problem by changing scenes occasionally, including the scenes out in front of the cafe with Uncle Fernand and the scenes at the chateau when Andre speaks to his family. The characters and dialogue are also interesting throughout the episode, which distracts the viewer from noticing the oddity of Andre's lack of mobility.

Marcel Dalio
as Marcel
The fact that it is Andre, rather than Marcel, who is the amputee is hinted at midway through the show, when there is a hint at a transference of identities between the two men as Marcel shows Francois a picture of Andre's fiancee that he keeps in his own wallet. Andre is out of place among the denizens of Cafe Leon: the butcher from next door, the cafe owner and his love-struck daughter, the bar girl who stares at Marcel with sultry eyes, and the woman who sings and plays the accordion; he longs to return home to his wealthy family, estate, and horses, but his war wound prevents him from being accepted there.

When Marcel and Andre say that they have just returned from Algiers, they refer to the Algerian War that was raging in 1957. Many French soldiers were injured in the fighting and the war led to a political crisis in France in May 1958, not long after this episode aired. It is unusual that an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents would address something so topical, since the shows usually deal with crime, domestic strife, or events from the past.

Luis van Rooten
as Leon
The title, "The Return of the Hero," is ironic since Andre, the "hero" of the title, cannot return home at all. What lies in store for him? His goodbye to Marcel before he leaves Cafe Leon seems final, yet Therese runs after him. Will she redeem him? I think it is unlikely. She is a young woman, probably still a teenager, and he comes from another stratum of society. Presumably he will return home eventually, after the party season has died down, and his family will learn to accept him in spite of his disability. Therese will marry Francois and life will go on in the port city as if these two soldiers had never been there.

Andrew Solt (1916-1990), who had the idea for the story and who presumably wrote the first draft of the teleplay, was born in Hungary and had some success there as a playwright until he emigrated to the United States in 1939. He landed in New York but headed west to Hollywood the next year to write for the movies. He wrote films from 1942 to 1960 and TV shows from 1954 to 1961. He is credited with teleplays for three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and none of them is based on a published story. His most famous screenplay is for the Bogart film, In a Lonely Place (1950). I have been unable to find any short stories or novels by Solt, so it appears he just wrote for the screen once he came to the U.S.

Michael Granger as Francois
Director Herschel Daugherty (1910-1993) worked mostly in television from 1952 to 1975, directing 27 episodes of the Hitchcock show and 16 episodes of Thriller. He also directed "A Bottle of Wine," from a teleplay by Stirling Silliphant.

Sergeant Andre Daumier is played by the French actor Jacques Bergerac (1927-2014), who was recruited by M-G-M when he was a 25-year-old law student in Paris. He was on screen from 1954 to 1969 and appeared in Gigi (1958) as well as three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and episodes of Batman. After retiring from acting, he became an executive at Revlon. He is the only cast member in this episode to appear on the Hitchcock show more than once.

Susan Kohner (1936- ) plays Therese. She had a short career on screen from 1955 to 1964 before retiring to raise a family. She made a name for herself with her Oscar-nominated performance in Douglas Sirk's Imitation of Life (1959) as a young black woman passing for white.

Karen Scott
as the girl at the bar
Andre's fellow soldier, Marcel, is played by French actor Marcel Dalio (1899-1983), who had an illustrious career on screen from 1931 to 1982. He started out on stage in the 1920s and appeared in Jean Renoir's classic films, Grand Illusion (1937) and The Rules of the Game (1938). During WWII, in Occupied France, the Nazis used his face as that of the "typical Jew" on posters. He arrived in Hollywood in 1940 and his career continued to flourish with roles in films such as Casablanca (1942) and To Have and Have Not (1944).

Vladimir Sokoloff (1889-1962) is a familiar face to fans of classic television. Born in Moscow, he acted on the stage there before moving to Berlin in 1923, to Paris in 1932, and to the United States in 1937. He appeared on screen from 1926 to 1962 and may be seen in three films directed by Fritz Lang: Scarlet Street (1945), Cloak and Dagger (1946), and While the City Sleeps (1956). He was also on The Twilight Zone three times and Thriller twice.

In smaller roles:
  • Michael Granger (1923-1981) as Francois, the butcher; he originated the role of Lazar Wolf, another butcher, in Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway in 1964 and was on screen from 1952 to 1977, including a role in Lang's The Big Heat (1953).
  • Luis van Rooten (1906-1973) as Therese's father, Leon; born in Mexico City, he specialized in roles requiring foreign dialects and was on screen from 1944 to 1968.
  • Karen Scott as the girl at the bar with Marcel; she had an undistinguished screen career from 1952 to 1964.
  • Victor Varconi (1891-1976) as the Count d'Auberge, Andre's stepfather; born in Austria-Hungary, he was on screen from 1912 to 1959 and appeared in many silent films, a star in Europe who emigrated to the U.S. in 1924.
Victor Varconi
  • Iphigenie Castiglioni (1895-1963) as the Countess d'Auberge, Andre's mother; also from Austria-Hungary, she was on screen from 1936 to 1963, had a role in Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954), and was on Thriller.
  • Caren (Karen) Lenay as the singer with the accordion; she had a brief career, almost exclusively on TV, from 1954 to 1961.
Caren Lenay
  • Gloria Castillo (1933-1978) as Andre's younger sister, Lili; she was on screen from 1954 to 1967 and had a part in Night of the Hunter (1955).
Gloria Castillo
  • Lilyan Chauvin (1925-2008) as Andre's fiance, Sybil; born in Paris, she emigrated to New York in 1952 and appeared on screen from then until 2008. She was also on Thriller.
Lilyan Chauvin

Buy the DVD of "The Return of the Hero" here or watch it for free online here. Read the GenreSnaps take on this episode here.

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
"The Return of the Hero." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 3, episode 22, CBS, 2 March 1958.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

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