Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Hitchcock Project-Morton Fine and David Friedkin Part Four: Thou Still Unravished Bride [10.22]

by Jack Seabrook

In "Ode on a Grecian Urn," John Keats wrote: "Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness..." The Romantic poem tells of figures on an ancient urn, including a woman who is being chased, always running but never caught. For their fourth teleplay for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Morton Fine and David Friedkin adapted a short story by Avram Davidson titled "Thou Still Unravished Bride," which had been published in the October 1958 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

While the story is well written and ends with, in the words of Richard Lupoff, "at least two startling twists," the televised version is not entirely successful, mainly due to the authors' decision to add a serial killer to the mix and to pad the short story to fit the show's running time.

Sally Kellerman as Sally Benner
Davidson's story begins as Sally Benner, age 30, awakens on the morning of her wedding and joins her parents for breakfast. Her parents bicker good-naturedly as they discuss her fiancee, Bob Mantin and, by 10 a.m., Sally is dressed and announces her plan to go out to pick up a few things from the store. Leaving her family at home to continue wedding preparations, Sally walks off and runs into her fiancee, awkwardly exchanging pleasantries.

When Sally has not returned by noon, her family begins to look for her. By 2:30 p.m., they call the police. The wedding is called off and Detectives Bonn and Steinberg investigate, but no one has seen Sally since she stopped in the drugstore just after 10 a.m. The area is searched but no one can explain the disappearance. The next day, someone suggests dragging the river for her body. Sally's mother and her friends appeal on television for information and begin to receive letters and phone calls from people who claim to have seen her. The detectives check the bars and are intrigued when a man named Oscar Portlin suggests dragging the river. They realize that he was at the Benners' house the day before and made the same suggestion.

Ron Randell as Tommy Bonn
Pretending to be reporters, the detectives take Portlin to the river's edge and he suggests that the woman could have accidentally fallen in the water. He admits to a previous incident where he was accused of statutory rape and they reveal that they are police detectives. Mrs. Benner is interviewed by a reporter and reveals Sally's love of poetry, especially that of Keats, with a favorite quotation being "Thou still unravished bride of quietness..."

Meanwhile, Bonn and Steinberg continue to question Portlin, who admits to having been charged with rape in the past. They press him to admit what happened to Sally and he agrees that she fell and hit her head. When he saw she was dead, he threw her in the river. The detectives resolve to drag the river and Bonn drives to the Benner house to break the news. He is shocked to find that Sally has returned! Uncertain about her impending wedding, she took a bus to the station and a train to Chicago, where she saw the story about herself being missing. She took the train back home and is ashamed to have caused four days of distress.

David Carradine as Edward Clarke
Bonn calls Steinberg to tell him to call off dragging the river, only to learn that a different girl's body has been found.

Avram Davidson (1923-1993) was born in Yonkers, New York, and served in the Navy in World War Two in the Far East. He went on to fight in the Israeli Army in the 1948 War of Independence. His first short story was published circa 1947 and, from 1954 until his death, he wrote over 200 short stories and at least 15 novels. He was prolific in science fiction and detective fiction and ghost-wrote two novels featuring Ellery Queen. He won a Hugo Award in 1958, an Edgar Award in 1962, and World Fantasy Awards in 1976 and 1979. He also edited The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction from 1962 to 1964. There is a website about him here.

Michael Pate as Stephen Leslie
Morton Fine and David Friedkin wrote and produced the television adaptation of Davidson's story, which was directed by Friedkin and which premiered on NBC on Monday, March 22, 1965. From the first shot of the episode, it is apparent that the writers decided to make significant changes to the short story, though these alterations do not improve upon the original. A title card superimposed over a shot of the Thames River establishes the location as "London," and there is a dissolve to a street scene, where police surround the body of a woman lying in the street. Detective Thomas Bonn unties a silk stocking from around her neck and his fellow detective, Stephen Leslie, comments on the grim nature of Bonn's welcome back from a holiday spent in New York.

Kent Smith as Mr. Benner
Leslie remarks that this is the fourth woman of about age 30 to be strangled with a silk stocking; all of the murders occurred while Bonn was away. A young man, who will later be identified as Edward Clarke, tries to get a closer look at the body but is prevented by a policeman. Out of nowhere, Leslie wishes Bonn a happy wedding day, and we learn that Tommy met his fiance on board ship, presumably during the voyage from New York to London; she and her family were traveling to Europe to see the sights. He describes her as lovely inside and out and remarks that she is a lover of Romantic poetry.

Their wedding must occur today because her parents "'are sailing tomorrow to continue the cruise.'" Like the victims of the strangler in London, Sally is about thirty years old. This odd first scene sets up the show's dichotomy between the serial killer on the loose in London, strangling women with a silk stocking, and the detective investigating the crimes, who has just returned and who has a wedding that day to a woman who fits the profile of the victims. In Davidson's short story, the murder is not revealed until the very end, and the fact that the woman whose body is found is not the woman who is to be wed represents the tale's biggest surprise. By starting off the TV show with the discovery of a murder, Fine and Friedkin remove much of the suspense from the plot, and by making Sally's fiancee a detective, they add an odd element that never really works.

Edith Atwater as Mrs. Benner
Tommy and Sally chat at a London landmark said to be famous for its association with Romantic poets. She admits her uncertainty about their impending nuptials and he presses her to confess her love for him. This scene parallels the one in the story where Sally and Bob meet awkwardly on the morning of their wedding right after she leaves home to go for a walk. Here, the repeated mentions of Romantic poets don't seem to amount to much.

At her parents' hotel room, Sally's mother and father prepare for the wedding. Fine and Friedkin chose to move this scene later in the narrative in order to focus on the murder first; Sally admits to feeling "'terror'" when Tommy wanted to touch her that afternoon and she plans to go for a walk. Three more characters are added to the mix as another family--father, mother, and grown son--arrive at the hotel room. They are the Setlins; the two families met on board ship and the Benners invited the Setlins to the abrupt wedding. The son, Elliot, exhibits an unhealthy interest in the murders. The Setlins seem to have been added to the story to pad the running time and to give the Benners people to talk to besides each other.

Virginia Gregg as Mrs. Setlin
For much of the rest of the episode, the scenes alternate between Sally, exploring the streets of London, and her parents and their friends, growing increasingly worried about her failure to return. In the short story, Sally leaves in the morning and is not seen or heard from again until she returns at the end, having taken a train trip to Chicago and back. In the TV show, the camera follows her as she walks from place to place and, admittedly, these are the most interesting and atmospheric scenes in the show. However, the fact that we see what she is doing while her family worries about her disappearance means that we do not share their concern, at least not until very near the end.

Sally visits a drugstore, as she does in the story, and a young man emerges from inside and follows her. Is he the strangler? He is only the first man in the TV show about whom we will ask this question. The next time we see Sally, an ominous pop song plays from what appears to be a speaker outside a store, and the lyrics warn women not to be out at night. Back at the hotel, the two families are joined by Myrna, an attractive young woman who was the social director on board ship; she plans to serve as Sally's maid of honor, thus reinforcing the sudden and unplanned nature of the wedding.

Richard Lupino as Guerny Jr.
Sally then visits a used book store, where the old, bearded owner reads poetry to her and she buys a rare book. She meets a prostitute on the sidewalk and the young woman mistakes Sally for a fellow streetwalker, counseling the rather dimwitted bride-to-be about the value of safety in numbers with a strangler on the loose. Sally naively remarks that her guidebook states that Percy Shelley once walked where they are standing.

Finally, at the hotel, Detective Tommy telephones, learns that Sally is gone, and arrives on the scene with his partner. Meanwhile, Sally enters a  bar, where Edward Clarke, whom we recall from the first scene, stares at her, making her uncomfortable. Finally, the investigation begins, and from this point on we don't see Sally again until she reappears in her parents' hotel room. The camera follows the two detectives as they walk the dark streets of London and revisit each of the places Sally was seen. At the drugstore, the older druggist provides information while his son, whom we saw earlier exit the store and follow Sally, exhibits odd personality traits and admits to having followed the young woman, making us wonder once again if he is the killer.

Ben Wright as Sutherland, the bookstore proprietor
The detectives interview the bookstore proprietor, who admits to having felt a stirring when Sally asked him to read poetry to her and who comments on how she fits the pattern of the strangler's victims. He tells the detectives that he read to her the Keats poem whose first line supplies the episode's title. Finally, they visit the bar, where they meet and interview Clarke, who corresponds to the short story's Oscar. Like the other men in London, he exhibits bizarre behavior, claiming that he and Sally had a drink together and went for a walk before he returned alone. He suggests dragging the river and takes the detectives to a bridge on the Thames.

Howard Caine as Mr. Setlin
Clarke says that he and Sally sat on a bench and talked, and the detectives come right out and ask him if he strangled her. His reactions are odd and he has a dreamy affect to him, claiming that he is a hunter of people. He admits to his criminal history with women and, when Tommy accuses him of killing Sally, he says that it could have been an accident. He shows them the spot where he threw her in and they arrange to have the river dragged. Steve tells Tommy to go back to the hotel. There is then a sudden cut to Sally, alive and well in the hotel room. This is where the episode fails badly, especially in comparison to the short story. Sally's appearance should elicit shock and relief, but it only creates confusion in the viewer's mind. Had Fine and Friedkin not gone to such lengths to set up the strangler on the loose and make it clear that murders were happening in London, we might think that the entire idea that Sally had met with a violent end was misguided. As it is, her decision to go for a walk seems to be of little concern. The teleplay twists itself into a pretzel to try to create suspense: the wedding has to be today, it's set for the unusual hour of 8 p.m., and the guests and wedding party are strangers to the bride's family. In the story, Sally is gone for four days and the length of her disappearance is explained by her trip to Chicago. In the show, she is gone for a few hours at most and, were it not for the strange urgency to have the wedding to avoid the need for her parents to change their travel plans, the time would not be very concerning.

Ted Bessell as Elliot Setlin
In any case, Sally and Tommy reconcile, both admitting to having had (understandable) jitters and both pledging their love to each other. Tommy announces that the wedding is still on for that night, despite the lateness of the hour, and calls Scotland Yard to report that his fiance is safe and sound. There is a cut back to the bridge, where Steve looks at a woman's body that has been recovered from the river. Clarke smiles and says, "'I told you I killed her. But not like you said. I ran after her, yes. But after that, it was different.'" The ending is satisfying in that the serial killer has been apprehended, but the shock of there being a dead woman who is not Sally is completely deflated by the viewer's knowledge that, all along, women were being murdered in London.

The episode has a couple of tangential connections with Hitchcock's work: in 1972, Frenzy was released, directed by Hitchcock and based on a 1966 novel, Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square. The film deals with a serial strangler of women in London. The other connection is some of the episode's music, which is comprised of pieces of themes written by Bernard Herrmann for other episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, though Herrmann is not credited in this case.

Alan Napier as Guerny
Detective Tommy Bonn is played by 45-year-old Ron Randell (1918-2005), who appears rather old for the role of Sally's fiancee. Born in Sydney, Australia, Randell began acting as a teenager, served in World War Two, and had a film and TV career from 1942 to 1983 in which he bounced back and forth among the United States, England, and Australia for roles. He hosted a British TV series called The Vise (1954-55) and starred in another British TV series called O.S.S. (1957-58). He appeared on The Outer Limits and this was his only role on the Hitchcock TV show.

Sally Kellerman (1937- ), on the other hand, was 27 years old when this episode was filmed, a bit young for the thirtyish Sally Benner, whose parents are worried that she remains unmarried at such an advanced age, and certainly too young for Ron Randell! Kellerman's career on screen stretched from 1957 to 2017 and her most famous role was as Hot Lips Houlihan in the 1970 film, M*A*S*H. She appeared on The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Star Trek, but this was her only appearance on the Hitchcock series.

Receiving second billing for an early role in his career is David Carradine (1936-2009) as Edward Clarke, the dreamy killer. Born John Arthur Carradine, son of John Carradine and brother of Keith Carradine and Robert Carradine, David had a long screen career, from 1963 to his death in 2009, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This is his second appearance on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour; the first was in "Ten Minutes from Now." He appeared in many films, such as Death Race 2000 (1975), Bound for Glory (1976), and Kill Bill (2003-04), but he will always be best known for his starring role as Caine in the TV series, Kung Fu (1972-75). There is website devoted to him here.

Betty Harford as the prostitute
Detective Stephen Leslie is played by Australian actor Michael Pate (1920-2008), which means that both London detectives are portrayed by Aussies! Pate worked Down Under in the late 1930s as a radio broadcaster and writer before serving in the Australian Army in WWII. He acted on the radio after the war prior to coming to America for TV and film roles from 1950 to 1968. He then returned to Australia and continued his career, doing some voiceover work in his later years. He appeared on Thriller and Batman and he was in one other episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, "The McGregor Affair," which also features a script by Fine and Friedkin.

Kent Smith (1907-1985) plays Sally's father. He had a long career on screen from 1936 to 1978 and appeared in such films as Cat People (1942) and Curse of the Cat People (1944). On television, he was on The Outer Limits and Night Gallery and he was a regular on Peyton Place (1964-66). He was in four episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "A True Account."

Smith's wife in real life, Edith Atwater (1911-1986), plays his wife in this episode. She was on screen from 1936 to 1985 and also played Smith's character's wife on Peyton Place (1964-65). In addition, she was in The Body Snatcher (1945) and Hitchcock's last film, Family Plot (1976).

 In smaller roles:
  • Virginia Gregg (1916-1986) as Mrs. Setlin; a busy actress on radio, film and TV, she was one of three actors to voice Mrs. Bates in Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) and she was on the Hitchcock TV show seven times, including "Nightmare in 4-D." She was also seen on The Twilight Zone, Thriller, and The Night Stalker. There is a website about her here.
  • Howard Caine (1926-1993) as Mr. Setlin; born Howard Cohen, he was on screen from 1953 to 1988. He had a recurring role as a Nazi on Hogan's Heroes and was seen on The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. His three appearances on the Hitchcock TV show included "Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat."
  • Ben Wright (1915-1989) as Sutherland, the bookstore owner; born in London, he was on screen from 1936 to 1989, played roles on The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, and was in three episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, including "Murder Case." He is best-remembered as Herr Zeller in The Sound of Music (1965).
  • Richard Lupino (1929-2005) as Guerny Jr., the odd young man who works at the drugstore; Ida Lupino's cousin, he was on screen from 1943 to 1985 and he was seen on The Twilight Zone, Thriller, and in four episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "The Hero."
  • Betty Harford as the prostitute who chats with Sally on the street; on screen from 1951 to 1991, she was in five episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "The Manacled," as well as being a regular on The Paper Chase (1978-79, 1983-86).
  • Ted Bessell (1935-1996) as Elliot Setlin; he was in front of the camera from 1955 to 1985 and behind it from 1987 to 1995. His most famous role was as Marlo Thomas's boyfriend on the series, That Girl (1965-71).
  • Alan Napier (1903-1988) as Guerny Sr., the older druggist; he was a busy actor on film and television from 1930 to 1981 and will forever be remembered as Alfred the butler on Batman (1966-68). He was in eight episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "Whodunit."
Read "Thou Still Unravished Bride" for free online here or watch the TV show here. It is not yet available on DVD in the U.S. Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the story!

"The Avram Davidson Website." The Avram Davidson Website,
Bernard Herrmann Music - Television Music,
Davidson, Avram. "Thou Still Unravished Bride." Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Oct. 1958, pp. 119–130.
The FictionMags Index,
Galactic Central,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
Lupoff, Richard A. "Avram Davidson, My Friend, This Stranger." The Investigations of Avram Davidson, St. Martin's Press, 1999, pp. 1–12.
Lupoff, Richard A. "Introduction to 'Thou Still Unravished Bride.'" The Investigations of Avram Davidson, St. Martin's Press, 1999, pp. 27–28.
"Thou Still Unravished Bride." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, season 10, episode 22, NBC, 22 Mar. 1965.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

In two weeks: Our series on Morton Fine and David Friedkin concludes with a look at "The Monkey's Paw--A Retelling"!

Listen to Annie and Kathryn discuss "Dip in the Pool" here!

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "Place of Shadows" here!


Grant said...

I've always had mixed feelings about this one too, but not necessarily for the same reasons. But David Carradine, even more than the other actors, makes it more watchable.
Also, it's always entertaining to see Ted Bessell's character go out of his way to annoy the other characters, because he's such a switch from "nice guy" Donald Hollinger.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Grant. Carradine is interesting, to be sure, and Bessell seems like such a dolt in this! I can't see him and not think of That Girl.