Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Hitchcock Project-Harold Swanton Part Eight: The Twelve Hour Caper [7.34]

by Jack Seabrook

Mike Marmer's short story, "The Twelve-Hour Caper," was first published in the May 1961 issue of Cosmopolitan. It was adapted by Harold Swanton for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and broadcast on NBC on Tuesday, May 29, 1962. The story begins as Herbert Wiggam leaves for work one morning, promising his mother that he'll see her that evening at seven o'clock. The dull details of his trip to work at a Wall Street brokerage are brightened by the knowledge that he plans to steal half a million dollars that day.

A bond transfer is scheduled for that afternoon and Herbert begins to set his plan in motion, forging receipts and meeting two crooks named Louie and Muggsy at lunchtime to explain his plan. The twosome will enter the office right before closing time and take the bonds by force, then drop them in the wastebasket next to Herbert's desk, where Herbert will be able to remove them without being suspected. Everything goes smoothly until a police lieutenant nearly kicks over Herbert's wastebasket, exposing the bonds to view. Herbert manages to cover them up but, unexpectedly, the office cleaning woman empties the garbage while Herbert is examining the scene of the crime with the policeman.

"The Twelve-Hour Caper"
was first published here
Once the lieutenant leaves, Herbert takes a taxi to the airport, where he meets his mother at the gate. Both wait to board a plane to Rio de Janeiro, and she seems happy to have finished her last day of work as the cleaning lady at Herbert's office.

"The Twelve-Hour Caper" is a delightful short story, tightly plotted, where the author succeeds in misdirecting the reader right up to the last page. Comedy and suspense mix, with the reader identifying with Herbert and rooting for him to succeed in his crime. When the cleaning woman empties his garbage can, we are disappointed, but the final revelation of her identity is a welcome surprise that makes the reader look back over the story to confirm that it was fairly clued. The title refers to the time between Herbert's goodbye to his mother in the morning and their reunion at the airport that evening.

In the TV version of "The Twelve Hour Caper," Harold Swanton removes the entire first part of the short story, in which Herbert is introduced as a 40-year-old man who still lives with his mother. Gone is the exchange where he says he will see her at seven o'clock, which seems like one thing and later turns out to be another. Gone, too are Herbert's thoughts about his plan to steal the money and his knowledge that he won't be returning home. By removing all of this, Swanton removes much of what makes the surprise ending so effective.

Dick York as Herbert Wiggam
Instead of being senior man at the office, as he is in the story, Herbert is an assistant cashier, as is shown by a sign on his desk. As the show opens, he sits at his desk in the office, perusing travel brochures about Rio de Janeiro. When Herbert's older co-worker, Frisbee, arrives, he asks Herbert about his mother, something he will do again later in the episode. Swanton uses these exchanges to replace the first scene and keep the idea of Herbert's mother alive in the viewer's mind, but the repeated mentions of an absent character seem out of place. There is a bit of comedy as a co-worker named Lowe flirts with Miss Pomfritt, the secretary, who rebuffs his advances.

Herbert's boss, Mr. Tupper, arrives and expresses concern to Herbert about the danger of taking delivery of such a large sum in bonds late on a Friday afternoon. There is then a scene between Frisbee and Wiggam in which Frisbee tells Wiggam that Tupper will tell him today that Herbert will not get Frisbee's job when he retires. There is no comparable incident in the short story, and this was likely added by Swanton to give Herbert a motive for theft. Another co-worker named Westbrook arrives at the office late and immediately starts teasing Herbert, who is reading another travel brochure about Rio. Westbrook asks mockingly if Herbert plans to travel there with his mother, inadvertently foreshadowing what will be revealed at the close of the episode.

Sarah Marshall as Miss Pomfritt
As Frisbee predicted, Tupper calls Herbert into his office and informs him that Westbrook, his wife's favorite nephew, has been selected to replace Frisbee. As Herbert leaves the office, masking his disappointment, Tupper asks him if he's "'ready for those bonds,'" to which Herbert replies, with a small smile, "'I certainly am, Sir.'" Throughout the episode, the dialogue has one meaning on the surface but another hidden underneath; here, Tupper asks if Wiggam is ready to handle the transaction, while Wiggam's reply really means that he is prepared to commit theft. Herbert then tells Frisbee that Tupper said: "'He had his eye on me, that I'm going places;'" once again, Herbert's words mean something different to himself than they do to his listener.

Wendell Holmes as Tupper
Herbert immediately picks up his phone and calls to set up his lunch meeting with the two crooks, In the TV show, it is implied that being passed over for promotion is the final straw that leads Herbert to decide to go through with the robbery. There is a dissolve to a scene in a city park, where Herbert sits at a picnic table with a chessboard and is quickly joined by the two criminals. In the short story, Herbert explains the plan to the men verbally. In the TV show, it is laid out in a clever visual way by use of the chessboard, on which Herbert has drawn a diagram of the office. He uses chess pieces to represent the people involved: Tupper is the king, Miss Pomfritt is the queen, and Herbert is a knight. All the others in the office are represented by pawns. Herbert finishes explaining his plan and the next scene occurs back in the office, late that afternoon.

Frisbee leaves for the day, again asking Herbert about his mother, making sure the viewer has not forgotten about her. Lowe makes another failed play for Miss Pomfritt. Herbert pops pill after pill as the bonds are late in arriving and Tupper nearly cancels the whole thing. The bonds finally arrive and Herbert takes delivery. From then on, everything goes according to plan. Miss Pomfritt disappears to do her makeup, the crooks knock out Tupper and lightly tap Herbert, and the bonds are deposited in the wastebasket. The scene is played comedically, with music to match, but it succeeds in advancing the plot and follows the short story closely.

Gage Clarke as Frisbee
Suspense builds as the lieutenant's foot nearly causes the wastebasket to topple over; again, as with the earlier dialogue, what appears to be going on to the other characters and what the viewer knows is going on in Herbert's head are two very different things. As is so often the case on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the viewer is rooting for Herbert to get away with his crime and fears that something will go wrong. In the TV show, the wastebasket actually does topple over, leading Herbert to set it right and then blow his nose a couple of times to give himself an excuse to deposit quite a few tissues on top of the bonds.

Unfortunately, this is where the TV adaptation goes wrong and fails to match the conclusion of the short story. In the story, Wiggam is pulled into Tupper's office to reenact the crime and he hears the cleaning woman outside, emptying wastebaskets. He can't see what's happening and we suspect the worst. Only when he emerges from Tupper's office does he discover that the wastebasket is empty and the cleaning woman is leaving. In the TV show, the cleaning woman does not enter until Herbert has emerged from Tupper's office. He sees her come in and watches as she empties the wastebaskets. The bonds are clearly visible as she dumps the contents of the wastebasket, the music is humorous, and the expression on Herbert's face is one of distress, but having him watch the process is less satisfying than having him hear it and wonder what is going on.

Charles Carlson as Westbrook
The cleaning woman leaves the office and there is a dissolve to the airport departure gate, where Herbert stands in line. In the short story, he is stuck at the office for another half hour and is said to feel "mild shock" when he leaves. He catches a taxi and rushes to the airport, where it's the last call for the flight to Rio. It begins to dawn on the reader that Herbert's concern about being stuck in the office had more to do with potentially missing his flight than with losing the bonds. In the TV show, his ticket is stamped and he walks around the corner to encounter his mother, whose back is to the camera. "'Ready, mother?'" he says, and she replies, "'Yes, dear,'" as she turns and reveals herself to be the cleaning woman. There is a sting of music and the episode ends as they walk, arm in arm, down the corridor to board the plane.

Ned Wever as Lt. Hargis
The twist ending of the short story works brilliantly; the ending of the TV show is less surprising and thus less effective. Harold Swanton's adaptation plays up the comedy in the situation but fails to maintain the suspense and, by removing the initial scenes with Herbert saying goodbye to his mother and going to work, the story's careful structure is damaged irreparably. The TV show remains entertaining, but the end fails and it is not as strong as Marmer's short story. The adaptation clocks in at just under twenty minutes, requiring an extended credit sequence to make up the show's running time. There are also careless errors in the show, such as Tupper calling Wiggins "'William'" at one point and Herbert referring to the events displayed on the chessboard as showing the office layout at "'ten minutes to four on almost any Friday morning.'" The show has the feeling of one that was put together quickly near the end of the last season of the half-hour series' seven-year run.

Kreg Martin and Tom Bellin
as Webster and Brand, the crooks
Mike Marmer (1925-2002), who wrote the story, was born Merrill Marmer and had a three-decade career as a TV writer, working with such comedy legends as Milton Berle, Ernie Kovacs, Steve Allen, and the Smothers Brothers. He also wrote for sitcoms, including Get Smart. He won an Emmy Award in 1972 for being one of the writers on the famous Gone with the Wind parody on The Carol Burnett Show. The FictionMags Index lists four short stories published under his name, between 1954 and 1962, and this was the only episode of the Hitchcock show to which he contributed.

Dick York (1928-1992) stars as Herbert. York was born in Indiana and his screen career lasted from 1953 to 1984. Plagued by terrible back pain caused by an injury sustained on the set of a film, he nevertheless appeared in seven episodes of the Hitchcock show, as well as being on The Twilight Zone and Thriller. York's most famous role, however, was as Darrin Stevens on Bewitched, the popular situation comedy where he co-starred with Elizabeth Montgomery from 1964 to 1969, when he quit the show due to his back problems. The character of Herbert is similar to that of Darrin Stevens.

Andy Romano
Oddly enough, Sarah Marshall (1933-2014) receives co-star billing on the title card with Dick York, even though her role as Miss Pomfritt is relatively minor. The daughter of the great British actor Herbert Marshall, who himself appeared on the Hitchcock show, she was born in London, England, and appeared on Broadway in the 1950s. Her screen career ran from 1954 to 1995 and included appearances on The Twilight Zone, Thriller, and Star Trek. She was on the Hitchcock show three times.

Playing the officious boss, Mr. Tupper, is Wendell Holmes (1914-1962), who started out in radio in the 1930s and had a screen career that was mostly on television from 1955 to 1962. He appeared in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Not the Running Type." His last role to air was in "The Twelve Hour Caper," which premiered 11 days after his death on May 18, 1962.

Gage Clarke (1900-1964) plays Frisbee, the head cashier who is a month away from retirement. He was on Broadway from the late 1920s and his screen career lasted from 1949 to 1964. He was on The Twilight Zone and Thriller and he appeared in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Right Kind of Medicine."

In smaller roles:
  • Charles Carlson (1930-2013) as Westbrook, Tupper's wife's nephew who is promoted over Herbert; he was on TV from 1960-1967 and appeared in five episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Where Beauty Lies."
  • Ned Wever (1899-1984) as Lt. Hargis; he was on Broadway in the '20s and '30s, on the radio, and then on screen from 1955 to 1968. He was on three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Night the World Ended."
  • Kreg Martin as Webster, one of the crooks; in a short TV career from 1962-1963 he was seen on The Twilight Zone and in seven episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "Maria."
  • Tom Bellin (1934-2011) as Brand, the other crook; he was on TV from 1962 to 2010 and appeared in three episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "The Big Kick." The opposite of Wendell Holmes, "The Twelve Hour Caper" was Bellin's first role to air.
  • Andy Romano (1941- ) as the second cop; he was on screen from 1961 to 2003, including an appearance on Batman and parts in eight episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "The Black Curtain."
  • Bob Reiner (1933-2013) as the airport clerk; he was on TV from 1962-1965 and appeared in nine episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "Thanatos Palace Hotel."
Bob Reiner
  • Lillian O'Malley (1892-1976) as Herbert's mother; she had a long career playing bit parts from 1936 to 1964; she was on The Twilight Zone, five episodes of Thriller, and ten episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "Revenge," the premiere.
Lillian O'Malley
  • Ernest Losso (1934- ) as the messenger who brings the bonds; this is one of his three credits as a TV actor; he went on to be a TV director and producer from 1970-86.
Ernest Losso
  • Don Durant (1932-2005) as Lowe, who keeps hitting on Miss Pomfritt; he was on TV from 1955 to 1963 and starred in a series called Johnny Ringo (1959-60).
Don Durant

John Newland (1917-2000) directed "The Twelve Hour Caper," which was one of four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that he directed, all in 1962. He had a long and interesting career, starting out in vaudeville as a teen, then acting from 1947 to 1964 and directing for television from 1954 to 1983. He is best remembered as the director and host of One Step Beyond (1959-61), but he also directed the famous episode of Bus Stop called "I Kiss Your Shadow," as well as four episodes of Thriller, and episodes of Star Trek and Night Gallery. Toward the end of his career, he hosted Next Step Beyond (1978-79) and directed 18 of its 25 episodes.

"The Twelve Hour Caper" is not currently available on US DVD or online.

The FictionMags Index, 
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001. 
Marmer, Mike. "The Twelve-Hour Caper." Alfred Hitchcock Presents: A Month of Mystery, Random House, 1969, pp. 116–125. 
"The Twelve Hour Caper." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 7, episode 34, NBC, 29 May 1962. 
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 

In two weeks: Our series on Harold Swanton concludes with "Body in the Barn," starring Lillian Gish!


Jon said...

I've seen this one on MeTV a couple times. It showed that Dick York could play a crook as effectively as a good guy. I thought he was as his nastiest when his character was tormenting Philip Coolidge's character in an AHP episode called "The Dusty Drawer". You didn't mention Hitchcock's final words, probably required by the TV Code at the time, that Wiggam & his mother didn't get away w/ their crime. There have been some episodes of both this show & the hour-long show where I didn't want the crooks to pay for their crime, but I don't think I cared about this one either way.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Jon. I agree that the episode doesn't do much to make the viewer care about whether they get away with it or not. The short story does a better job of establishing the characters.