Thursday, January 7, 2021

The Hitchcock Project-Harold Swanton Part Two: Portrait of Jocelyn [1.28] (Revised)

by Jack Seabrook

Harold Swanton's second teleplay for Alfred Hitchcock Presents was "The Long Shot," which was based on his own radio play and discussed here.

His third and last teleplay during the first season (and his last until season five) was "Portrait of Jocelyn," based on an original teleplay by Edgar Marvin (1920-2005). Born in Brooklyn, Marvin won a MacDowell Fellowship in 1951 and worked at the MacDowell Colony, presumably honing his writing. He wrote scripts for radio and television from 1949 to 1956 and then changed careers to become an advertising copywriter and a creative director. A 1962 issue of Broadcasting reports that he won an award for an Autolite commercial. He later wrote a short book about movie star Norma Talmadge in 1978.

Philip Abbott as Mark Halliday
The credits for "Portrait of Jocelyn" state that the teleplay is by Harold Swanton, based on a story by Edgar Marvin; the story in question was actually Marvin's teleplay for "Portrait of Constance," an episode of the TV series Suspense that aired on March 24, 1953.

Three years later, on April 8, 1956, "Portrait of Jocelyn" aired on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It begins with Mark and Debbie Halliday on their first wedding anniversary as they visit an art gallery at closing time and persuade the clerk to bring out a painting that Mark had ordered as a present for his bride. To their surprise, the painting has been replaced by a portrait of a woman who strongly resembles Mark's first wife, Jocelyn. She disappeared five years before, as Mark reminds her brother Jeff, who notices that the painting has a date from three years ago and lets slip that he received a letter two years ago from Jocelyn, who was in Switzerland at the time. Jeff tells Mark that his first wife never loved him and found another man.

Nancy Gates as Debbie Halliday
At home, Debbie has placed the portrait on the mantel to symbolize the way that Jocelyn has cast a shadow over their marriage. Jeff telephones to suggest that he and Mark visit a man named Clymer, who painted the portrait. Debbie fears that Jocelyn may be alive and living in Shell Harbor, where the painter is located, so Mark decides that they will go to the town to investigate. Mark visits a real estate agent, who rents him the only cottage he has available, which happens to be the same one where Mark was living five years ago when Jocelyn disappeared.

Mark and Debbie go to the cottage, where all of the furniture is still covered. Debbie finds a vase full of fresh flowers of the type that were Jocelyn's favorite and she finds the woman's raincoat and scarf hanging in the closet. Debbie's insecurity grows as she compares herself unfavorably to the beauty who had been her husband's first wife; Mark uncovers a plaster bust of Jocelyn. Arthur Clymer, the painter, visits the Hallidays to reclaim the bust, which he says he sculpted a couple of months ago, using his wife Jocelyn as a model. He also takes her raincoat and scarf.

John Baragrey as Clymer/Iverson
Alone, Mark pays a visit to Clymer, who is drinking and who knows that Mark came looking for Jocelyn. Clymer pretends to call her to come down from upstairs before admitting that she has not been around recently. Mark presses Clymer and the painter says that Jocelyn is dead. Mark grows increasingly angry until Clymer takes him outside and says that Jocelyn's grave is near the cliff. Clymer tells a tale about the night he killed Jocelyn at his cottage, but Mark tells him that the details are right but the culprit is wrong: Mark killed his wife!

Mark attacks Clymer and they struggle until Jeff appears, holding a gun to Mark's head. Jeff and Clymer "'had to resort to psychology'" to force Mark to confess to what they thought had occurred; Clymer is really homicide detective Iverson, who set everything up to catch Mark. Jocelyn's body was discovered a month before, after a landslide. Mark is handcuffed and he is relieved that Debbie never knew about the plot or his guilt, remarking with sadness that "'there never could be anybody like Jocelyn.'"

Raymond Bailey as Jeff
In "Premonition," a man investigates his father's death only to learn that he is responsible; he has been in a hospital yet takes on the guise of a musician who has been studying abroad. In "The Long Shot," one man kills another and steals his identity, hoping to collect an inheritance, only to discover that the man he killed was also an impostor and a murderer. In "Portrait of Jocelyn," a policeman impersonates an artist in order to force a confession out of a man who murdered his wife. Swanton's first three teleplays for Alfred Hitchcock Presents succeed in keeping the various false identities hidden until the climax, when the truth is revealed and the killers stand unmasked.

The real victim in "Portrait of Jocelyn" is Debbie, Mark's second wife. Married to her husband for a year, she has terrible insecurity because she compares herself to his beautiful first wife. The strange events that lead to Mark's confession only increase her worry and, at the end, she remains married to a murderer yet uninvolved in the plot to unmask him.

Putting the wine bottle close to the camera
makes it look artificially large.

The plot itself depends on anticipating Mark's behavior, and his obsession with his first wife can only be explained by a desire to keep the truth from Debbie. All along, Mark knows that Jocelyn is dead and that he killed her, yet were he to fail to react appropriately to the sudden appearance of her portrait, her bust, and her clothes, he might arouse suspicion. Detective Iverson's plan, carried out with the knowledge and assistance of Jeff (and perhaps, to some extent, the men at the art gallery and the real estate office), is a complex one that only has a slim chance of success, but the psychological pressure that is exerted on Mark succeeds in eliciting the truth.

A rare process shot

Olan Soule
"Portrait of Jocelyn" is an entertaining mystery, well-directed by Robert Stevens (1920-1989), who was at the helm for 49 episodes of the Hitchcock series. Three particular shots show the Stevens style: there is a shot in the Hallidays' apartment when they are having dinner where a wine bottle appears oversized by being placed in the foreground; there is a nice process shot inside Clymer's cottage showing the cliffs and the ocean outside the window; and there is a tricky bit of work that depends on the confines of the television screen to be effective, when Mark and Arthur are struggling on the ground and, suddenly, a hand holding a gun appears from offscreen to point the weapon at Mark's head. In reality, it would be obvious that Jeff was coming up beside the men, but the rectangle of the TV screen allows the director to exclude the third person's body until he is ready to include only his hand with the gun, adding to the suddenness and surprise.

Comparing Harold Swanton's "Portrait of Jocelyn" to Edgar Marvin's "Portrait of Constance" on Suspense demonstrates just how much Swanton's efforts to revise the teleplay improved it. Instead of the couple visiting the art gallery and bringing home an unexpected painting, the original version opens with Burt Hastings, the counterpart of Mark Halliday, being assigned to investigate the death of Constance Manners, a woman who disappeared. Burt works for the Higgens Detective Agency and had been in love with Constance before he married Sally (Debbie in Swanton's version). The character of Jeff is not in the original teleplay, Burt was not married to Constance, and the missing woman was Sally's best friend and rival. In revising the script, Swanton changed the characters' motivations to make them more organic; instead of being told to go to the resort town to investigate Clymer, Halliday decides to do so on his own after finding the portrait.

The conclusion of "Portrait of Constance," with
(left to right) Hugh Reilly as Burt, Murvyn Vye as Clymer,
and Ann Rutherford as Sally
In Marvin's teleplay, there is no portrait--the case is reopened due to new evidence coming to light. There is a long scene at the rental office where Burt questions the eccentric woman proprietor (Doro Merande in her usual, eccentric performance style) and her hard-of-hearing co-worker, with little success. The bust that is discovered in the cabin is the titular "Portrait of Constance"--perhaps "Constance's Bust" was not deemed an acceptable title. Burt makes two visits to Clymer's cabin, with a return to Sally in between, and she is a more important character in Marvin's script. In fact, Ann Rutherford, as Sally, gets top billing.

Outside the cabin, Burt and Clymer struggle at the edge of a rocky cliff and Burt confesses to having murdered Constance. Since the character of Jeff does not exist in this version, it is instead Sally who appears on the scene to break the spell of the struggle and hear Burt's shocking confession. Swanton's script treats Mark's wife more kindly, with the confessed killer's final words expressing relief that his spouse did not know about his crime or the elaborate plan to catch him. Marvin gives Sally no such relief--she is present for her husband's revelation, having already been humiliated by his earlier admission that he is still in love with Constance.

"Portrait of Constance" is a weak episode of Suspense with a poorly-constructed original script by Marvin. In "Portrait of Jocelyn," Harold Swanton took the germ of an idea and the basic outline and cured many of its problems by inventing new characters and scenes and by making the improbable series of events much more credible.

Harry Tyler
In "Portrait of Jocelyn," Philip Abbott (1924-1998) gives an effective performance as Mark Halliday, His screen career lasted from 1951 to 1999, mostly on television, and this was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show. He was seen twice each on The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, but his most lasting role was as co-star of the series, The F.B.I., which ran from 1965 to 1974.

Playing his wife Debbie is Nancy Gates (1926-2019); she appeared on film starting in 1942 and on TV starting in 1952. She also appeared on radio in the forties and fifties, and her screen career ended in 1969. This was one of her two appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

The most entertaining performance in the episode is that of John Baragrey (1918-1975) as Arthur Clymer, who is later revealed to be Detective Iverson. He was in films from 1942 to 1972 but made most of his appearances on television between 1947 and 1967. He was also heard on radio and seen on the Broadway stage. In addition to two appearances on Thriller, he was in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "One for the Road."

The supporting players:
  • Raymond Bailey (1904-1980) as Jeff; he was on screen from 1939 to 1975 and he was seen in Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) and in eleven episodes of the Hitchcock TV series, including "Breakdown." He was on The Twilight Zone three times but is best remembered as Mr. Drysdale on The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-1971).
  • Olan Soule (1909-1994) as the art gallery clerk; he had a long career on radio, stage, television, and film, appearing in eight episodes of the Hitchcock TV show, including "The Faith of Aaron Menefee," He was on The Twilight Zone twice and he was the voice of Batman in many TV cartoons.
  • Harry Tyler (1888-1961) as the real estate man; he was on screen from 1929 to 1961 and often played small roles like this one; he was in eleven episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Premonition."
Watch "Portrait of Jocelyn" for free online here or buy the DVD here. Watch "Portrait of Constance" here.

Thanks to Al Sjoerdsma for discovering the original source of this story (listen to his podcast about "Portrait of Jocelyn" here). Comparing the Suspense version with the Alfred Hitchcock Presents version demonstrates just how far suspenseful TV shows progressed in the three years between airings!

"The Cream of the TV Commercial Crop." World Radio History, 23 Apr. 1962,
"Edgar Marvin (1920-2005) - Find A Grave Memorial." Find a Grave,
"Edgar Marvin - Artist." MacDowell Colony,
"Edgar Marvin: Radio Star: Old Time Radio Downloads." Edgar Marvin | Radio Star | Old Time Radio Downloads,
The FictionMags Index,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
"Portrait of Constance." Suspense, season 5, episode 23, CBS, 24 March 1953.
"Portrait of Jocelyn." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 1, episode 28, CBS, 8 Apr. 1956.
Sjoerdsma, Al. "Presenting Alfred Hitchcock Presents #28 - Portrait of Jocelyn." Ann Arbor District Library, 14 December 2020,
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

Listen to Annie and Kathryn discuss "Portrait of Jocelyn" on their podcast here.

Read The Pie Lady's take on "Portrait of Jocelynhere.

In two weeks: "Coyote Moon," starring Macdonald Carey and Edgar Buchanan!


Grant said...

It sounds a little like "Rebecca," except that here the second wife doesn't suspect the husband of anything.

Jack Seabrook said...

That process shot through the window certainly has a Rebecca feeling to it!