Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Hitchcock Project-Stirling Silliphant Part Nine: Graduating Class [5.14] and Wrapup

by Jack Seabrook

Wendy Hiller as Laura Siddons
"What we have here is a failure to communicate."--Cool Hand Luke

Stirling Silliphant's final teleplay for Alfred Hitchcock Presents was "Graduating Class," which was broadcast on CBS on Sunday, December 27, 1959, making it the last episode of the series to be shown in the 1950s. "Graduating Class" is a gentle story with an unexpected ending, where one character's attempt to protect another has unintended and harmful consequences.

An establishing shot opens the show, depicting the front of "Briarstone," a women's college located in a beautiful, large house. In the main lobby, as young women scurry to class, a middle-aged woman with a battered suitcase makes her way uncertainly through the crowd to the office of the principal, where she is welcomed. The woman is Laura Siddons, a teacher and former classmate of the principal, twenty-five years before. Laura has been out of the United States for a long time and she has just been hired at Briarstone as the new teacher of European literature. She remarks on how things have changed in the years she has been away and, after she leaves the room, the principal and the assistant principal discuss Laura's past: she wrote a desperate letter seeking employment and she has lived a desperate life, in which both of her parents died and she was left alone to survive World War Two and its aftermath. With no family, no money, and no job, Briarstone was her last chance at survival.

Gigi Perreau as Gloria
We next see Laura enter her classroom, where she teaches a group of young women. After the school day ends, she stands at the bus stop in front of the school and accepts an offer of a ride in a convertible driven by Gloria Barnes, a pretty, popular girl accompanied by four other students. Laura declines an offer to "split a calorie" at the "soda saloon" and instead is dropped off at the Clifton Arms. In the hall outside her apartment, she meets Ben Proudy, a gregarious man who is happy to meet his new neighbor. He invites her to join him at a bar down the street but she says she doesn't drink, so he suggests a movie; Laura is polite but cold.

Time passes, and Laura is back in the classroom, teaching Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, when Vera, one of the students, tries to sneak in late for the third time in a month. Vera confuses Prometheus with paramecium and questions why they are being asked to waste their time on people who have been dead for hundreds of years. As Laura said to the principal, things have changed in the time that Laura has been away. After class, Gloria, the student with the convertible, approaches Laura in the hallway and asks about The Last Man, a little-known novel by Mary Shelley that Laura had mentioned in class. (The Last Man is an obscure novel that was not well thought of until it was reprinted in 1965 and began to receive critical attention. The fact that it was mentioned in a 1959 TV show demonstrates that Laura Siddons had a detailed knowledge of European literature.) Laura offers to look for a copy and praises Gloria's classwork.

Robert H. Harris as Ben Proudy
Laura accepts Gloria's invitation to come home with her for tea and to meet her mother; she learns that Gloria's mother's health is fragile and that her father is in the state department, currently in Iraq. (Iraq was particularly unstable in 1959, after a revolution in 1958 overthrew the monarchy. Many people were fleeing the country at the time of the events of "Graduating Class," and the fact that Gloria's father was there on a mission for the U.S. State Department surely did not help his wife's health.)

Laura visits a used bookstore looking for a copy of The Last Man. Mr. Proudy appears and she declines an invitation for dinner but encourages him to ask her another night. While browsing through the books, she looks across the street and sees a nightclub called "The 7th Heaven." Gloria, her student, drives up in her convertible and walks into the club on the arm of a man. The recently jobless and desperate Laura Siddons is so rattled by the sight of her student entering what appears to be a racy club that she absent-mindedly pays $10 ($88.89 in 2020 dollars) for a copy of The Last Man. She rushes across the street and tries to enter the club but is denied entrance by a doorman, since she lacks an escort.

Jocelyn Brando as the assistant principal
Back in class the next day, Gloria wears dark sunglasses and falls asleep during Laura's lecture. After class, Laura gives her student the book she bought and Gloria explains her fatigue by claiming that she stayed up all night with her sick mother. Is she lying? Laura appears convinced by the story.

Some time later, on another evening, Laura exits a movie theater with Ben Proudy. They walk by the used bookstore and Laura again sees Gloria and the man come out of the club; this time, he kisses her in the dark against a wall next to the club's entrance. Laura tells Ben that the girl is one of her pupils and she is sure that the girl's parents would not approve of her spending time in such a place. Gloria drives off with the man and Ben and Laura follow them in Ben's car to the Cartwright Apartments. They see Gloria and the man together behind curtains in a second-floor flat. The lights in the apartment go off and Laura enters the building in order to slip a note under the door of the apartment for her seemingly wayward student. Ben tries to tell her that young people have different ideas about things today, but Laura says that right and wrong have not changed.

Sheila Bromley as the principal
The next day is Saturday and, early that morning, Gloria visits Laura at the teacher's apartment, angry at Laura for prying into her personal life. Laura explains that she sees Gloria as a special student of the sort who makes years of teaching worthwhile, telling the young woman, "'That is why I couldn't let you be harmed.'" Gloria reveals to Laura that she is secretly married and that she does not want to tell her sick mother for fear of giving her a shock. Her husband's father owns the nightclub and her husband is learning the business. Laura is satisfied with the explanation and pleased to have been taken into Gloria's confidence. When Gloria leaves the apartment, Ben sees her and Laura in the hallway and asks Laura what happened. Laura tells him only that Gloria shared a secret with her.

Back at school on Monday morning, Laura enters her classroom to find the students stone-faced, Gloria's seat empty, and a letter on her desk. As Laura reads the letter, we hear Gloria's voice on the soundtrack telling her that her friend Connie has already read it to the rest of the class. Gloria accuses Laura of being in partnership with Ben Proudy to spy on her. Ben tried to blackmail her mother, demanding $20,000 or he would go to the principal about what he called her "affair." He was picked up by the police and confessed, claiming that Laura had planned the whole thing. Gloria's mother is in a coma from the shock and may die, and the police are coming for Laura. The students stand and exit the classroom, leaving Laura alone.

Madge Kennedy as Mrs. Barnes
"Graduating Class" is the story of an unfortunate woman who means well but whose actions unintentionally lead to tragedy. Laura Siddons is the product of an earlier time and, despite the concerns of the principal and the advice of Ben Proudy, she thinks that she is doing the right thing by slipping a note under Gloria's door, presumably cautioning her about her seemingly inappropriate behavior. Little does Laura know that Ben Proudy is not above blackmail and that he (like she) assumes that Gloria is sleeping with a man who is not her husband. While Laura attempts to help the young woman privately, Ben takes advantage of the situation and commits a crime. The shock of the news--which is untrue--that her daughter is carrying on an illicit affair sends Mrs. Barnes over the edge, though one can assume that she held it together long enough to call the police and tell them about Proudy's attempt at blackmail.

What happens next? This episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents is so well done that one would like to see the aftermath of the rather abrupt ending. No policeman in his right mind would seriously think that Laura Siddons had planned a blackmail scheme with Ben Proudy so, even though Gloria writes in her letter that the police are coming for her, Laura will surely be exonerated almost immediately. When that occurs, one would hope that Gloria would forgive her and that she could return to teaching her class. Even the principal, who was in school with Laura 25 years before and hired her when she was in desperate straits, would surely understand that the fault lies with Ben Proudy and that Laura's intentions were good.

This episode is based on a story by Edouard Sandoz (1881-1971) that is the untitled fifth story in his book, Innocent Without Cause (1958). Sandoz was a Swiss sculptor and painter who was also a member of a family that built a pharmaceutical empire. He wrote or illustrated a few juvenile books, but he also had this one collection of stories published. It is very rare and has never been reprinted; only a handful of libraries in the U.S. hold copies.

Josie Lloyd as Vera Carson
In the story, the teacher's name is Gloria Siddons and the student's name is Laura Pope, so Silliphant flipped the characters' given names for his teleplay. The story is very long, at 52 pages, and contains a theme that is absent from the teleplay. It opens with the teacher traveling by train, recalling her childhood in Nazi Germany and her pride at seeing "Germany take her rightful place." She only learned of the Nazis' crimes after the war ended.

The decision to hire her is discussed by the headmistress of the school and her husband, a judge, and there is much attention paid to her time in Germany and to a broadcast that she made the day before Pearl Harbor was attacked; in the broadcast, she attacked "certain Americans whom ... she believed to be slanderers." Once she arrives at school, she is sensitive to a remark by a Jewish fellow teacher who says that "'I ought to hate you,'" though it turns out that the other teacher is just referring to Gloria's taking away various great books to teach in her class. Gloria's background of hardship is contrasted with the lives of the privileged young women whom she teaches. The basic plot is the same as in the TV show, though the story contains much more detail. It takes up the better part of an entire school year, from the beginning in September all the way to the end of the story, which is in early spring.

Instead of the quick observations of her student outside the club, Gloria ends up sitting in a coffee shop across the street, watching her student come and go night after night as the young woman's school work suffers. Gloria enlists the aid of Proudy as her escort and ventures inside the club, where she learns that the man she has seen with her student is the club's manager. Gloria first mentions the idea of blackmail to Proudy when she expresses concern that the student's male friend might blackmail the young woman. Proudy suggests that Gloria approach her student directly and, after Laura reveals the truth of her marriage to her teacher, Proudy assumes that Gloria demanded money from her student and demands his share.

Julie Payne as Connie
In the letter from student to teacher at the end of the story, Laura calls Gloria a "dirty-minded, hypocritical, treacherous, blackmailing Nazi," showing that Gloria's youth in Germany and her problematic broadcast the day before Pearl Harbor have not been forgotten.

In adapting the story for television, Silliphant removed all of the references to Gloria's youth in Germany and thus there is no reason for her to be called a Nazi in the final letter. His teleplay does a great job of streamlining a long story, but reading the source material does help to clear up some of the incidents in the TV show that seem to occur too quickly or without sufficient foundation, especially the abrupt ending. Edouard Sandoz has no other credits in film or television besides this one.

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 "Little White Frock," from a teleplay by Stirling Silliphant.

In addition to a great teleplay by Stirling Silliphant, "Graduating Class" benefits from excellent acting, especially by the leads.

David McMahon as the doorman
Playing Laura Siddons is Wendy Hiller (1912-2003), the great English actress whose career began on stage in the 1930s. She was on screen from 1937 to 1992 and won an Academy Award for Separate Tables (1958). She was in Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and The Elephant Man (1980) and she was made a Dame in 1975. This was her only appearance on the Hitchcock series.

Gorgeous Gigi Perreau (1941- ) plays Gloria Barnes. A child actress from the age of two, Perreau was on screen from 1943 to 1977 and returned to acting with voice work in 2008, something she still does today. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Like Wendy Hiller, this was her only role on the Hitchcock series.

Olan Soul√© as the bookstore clerk
Jocelyn Brando (1919-2005), Marlon's older sister, appears briefly as the assistant principal. Trained at the Actors Studio, she was on stage from 1942 and on screen from 1945 to 1983. She was in Fritz Lang's The Big Heat (1953) as well as two episodes of Thriller and four episodes of the Hitchcock show, most notably "The Jar."

Ben Proudy is played enthusiastically by familiar face Robert H. Harris (1911-1981). Born Robert Hurwitz, he was on Broadway from 1938 and on screen from 1948 to 1978, mostly on TV. He was on Thriller and he was seen in nine episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "The Greatest Monster of Them All."

In smaller roles:
  • Sheila Bromley (1911-2003) as the principal; she was on screen from 1930 to 1975 and was also known as Sheila Le Gay and Sheila Manners. She was in two other episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "The Evil of Adelaide Winters."
  • Madge Kennedy (1891-1987) as Gloria's mother; she was on Broadway from 1912 and in films from 1917 to 1928 before taking a long break. She returned to the screen in 1952 and kept working until 1976. She has a small part in North By Northwest (1959) and was in six episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "Help Wanted." She was also seen on The Twilight Zone and The Odd Couple.
  • Josie Lloyd (1940- ) as Vera Carson, one of the students; daughter of producer Norman Lloyd, she had roles on TV between 1959 and 1967 ("Graduating Class" appears to have been her first). She appeared once on The Twilight Zone and six times on the Hitchcock show, including "Coming Home."
  • Julie Payne (1940- ) as Connie, another student; she had a brief career on screen from 1959 to 1965.
  • David McMahon (1910-1972) as the doorman at "The 7th Heaven" club; he played countless bit parts on screen from 1947 to 1965 and also appeared on Thriller.
  • Olan Soul√© (1909-1994) as the bookstore clerk; he had a long career: on radio from the 1920s to the 1940s and on screen from 1949 to 1991, he was on The Twilight Zone and in eight episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "The Faith of Aaron Menefee." 
"Graduating Class" may be seen on DVD here or may be viewed for free online here. Read the GenreSnaps take on this episode here.


"Graduating Class." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 5, episode 14, CBS, 27 Dec. 1959.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
Sandoz, Edouard. Innocent Without Cause. NY: Vantage Press, 1958. 190-241.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

Stirling Silliphant on Alfred Hitchcock Presents: An Overview and Episode Guide

Stirling Silliphant wrote eleven teleplays for Alfred Hitchcock Presents between 1956 and 1959. The first two, "Never Again" and "Jonathan," appear to be instances where he was asked to take a teleplay already written by someone else and polish it up to put it in filmable form. With the exception of "A Bottle of Wine," which was based on a story published in the first issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and "Graduating Class," the stories that Silliphant was asked to adapt were either unpublished story ideas ("The Manacled," "The Return of the Hero") or else older short stories that had appeared in mainstream magazines.

"Never Again" is a tragic story of an alcoholic woman, based on a story from 1934, "The Glass Eye" is based on a story from a British collection published in 1944, and "The Perfect Crime" is based on a 1928 story from Harper's. "The Canary Sedan" is based on a 1930 story from The Cornhill Magazine, "Little White Frock is based on a 1920 story from The Story-Teller, and "The Crystal Trench" is based on a 1915 story from The Strand Magazine. It seems like Silliphant was often asked to adapt stories that were more in the nature of dramas than crime stories; like many other early-TV anthology series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents often showcased tales that were not strictly suspense, even though the series was hosted by the master of that form.

Silliphant's stories did not always contain a murder or even a crime; witness "The Return of the Hero," about a disabled soldier who is not welcome among his wealthy family members, or "Little White Frock," about an aging actor spinning an elaborate story as part of an audition. "The Perfect Crime" and "The Crystal Trench" were both directed by Hitchcock himself, while "The Glass Eye," directed by Robert Stevens, was awarded the only Emmy in the ten years that the series was on the air.

Stirling Silliphant's eleven half-hours for Alfred Hitchcock Presents are marked by high quality and demonstrate some of the highlights of the show's first five seasons.


Episode title-"Never Again" [1.30]

Broadcast date-22 April 1956
Teleplay by-Gwen Bagni, Irwin Gielgud, and Stirling Silliphant
Based on "Never Again" by Adela Rogers St. Johns
First print appearance-Cosmopolitan, April 1934
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

Episode title-"Jonathan" [2.10]
Broadcast date-2 December 1956
Teleplay by-Bernard C. Schoenfeld and Stirling Silliphant
Based on "Turmoil" by Fred Levon
First print appearance-Maclean's, 15 October 1948
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

"The Manacled"

Episode title-"The Manacled" [2.18]
Broadcast date-27 January 1957
Teleplay by-Stirling Silliphant
Based on an unpublished story by Sanford Wolf
First print appearance-none
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

Episode title-"A Bottle of Wine" [2.19]
Broadcast date-3 February 1957
Teleplay by-Stirling Silliphant
Based on "A Bottle of Wine" by Borden Deal
First print appearance-Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine December 1956
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

Episode title-"The Glass Eye" [2.19]
Broadcast date-6 October 1957
Teleplay by-Stirling Silliphant
Based on "The Glass Eye" by John Keir Cross
First print appearance-The Other Passenger: Eighteen Strange Stories by John Keir Cross
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

"The Perfect Crime"

Episode title-"The Perfect Crime" [3.3]
Broadcast date-20 October 1957
Teleplay by-Stirling Silliphant
Based on "The Perfect Crime" by Ben Ray Redman
First print appearance-Harpers August 1928
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

Episode title-"The Return of the Hero" [3.22]
Broadcast date-2 March 1958
Teleplay by-Stirling Silliphant
Based on an unpublished story by Andrew Solt
First print appearance-none
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

Episode title-"The Canary Sedan" [3.37]
Broadcast date-15 June 1958
Teleplay by-Stirling Silliphant
Based on "The Buick Saloon" by Mary O'Malley
First print appearance-The Cornhill Magazine, June 1930
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

"Little White Frock"

Episode title-"Little White Frock" [3.39]
Broadcast date-29 June 1958
Teleplay by-Stirling Silliphant
Based on "Little White Frock" by Stacy Aumonier
First print appearance-The Story-Teller, November 1920
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

Episode title-"The Crystal Trench" [5.2]
Broadcast date-4 October 1959
Teleplay by-Stirling Silliphant
Based on "The Crystal Trench" by A.E.W. Mason
First print appearance-The Strand Magazine, December 1915
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

"The Crystal Trench"

Episode title-"Graduating Class" [5.14]
Broadcast date-27 December 1959
Teleplay by-Stirling Silliphant
Based on an untitled story by Edouard Sandoz
First print appearance-Innocent Without Cause (1958)
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

In two weeks: Our series on Morton Fine and David Friedkin begins with "Change of Address," starring Arthur Kennedy and Phyllis Thaxter!

Listen to Annie and Kathryn's entertaining discussion of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "The Dangerous People," on the Good Evening podcast here!

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma's incisive podcast about the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "And So Died Riabouchinska," here!


Steve K said...

Searched information on Edouard Sandoz after watching the "Graduating Class" episode and was directed to your blog. Very grateful for the background information on the participants in this and other AFP episodes. My questions were answered and some leads to follow late night in these pandemic times. Thank you Mr. Seabrook and I look forward to reading more of the bare•bones e-zine.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Steve! I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

vanguard2003 said...

This is a very good episode about assumptions and values. Definitely one of the better ones. Good write up.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks! I thought it was a good half-hour as well.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad that I found your site. Your introduction of this episode was so in depth and enlightening. Thank you!

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks for leaving a comment!