Thursday, October 8, 2020

The Hitchcock Project-Harold Swanton Part Nine: Body in the Barn [9.32] and Wrapup

by Jack Seabrook

"Body in the Barn," a short story by Margaret Manners, was first published in the February 1945 issue of Argosy. It was selected for the 1946 collection of Best Detective Stories of the Year, and in 1960, when the collection, Best of the Best Detective Stories, was published, it was chosen to represent 1945 due to its "unique" nature, featuring "characterization and plot with a difference."

The story is narrated by Bessie Carnby, an old, bedridden woman, who writes an "account of evil" that she plans to conceal among a pile of recipes for discovery after her death. She recalls not liking Bill and Evelyn Raymond when they bought neighboring High Hollow Farm with Evelyn's money, and Bessie made things difficult for the Raymonds from the start in the community of East Huntley. Bill had "an eye for the girls," and would smile at Camilla, Bessie's niece, who was usually away teaching in a girls' school. One spring, a local man named Ephraim Judge fell and his body was carried away in the river, never to be found. In addition, the Raymonds had an ongoing boundary dispute with Bessie and, one day, she overheard them arguing and she heard Evelyn say that someday she would kill Bill.

"Body in the Barn" was first published here

The next day, Evelyn told Bessie that Bill had gone away suddenly. When he did not return that week or the next, Bessie asked around town and learned that he did not leave by train from the local station, nor had any letters been received from him. She confronted Evelyn, who suggested that he could have walked to a station 15 miles away and recalled that he said he would not write right away. The day after that, the sheriff and his men visited the Raymond house, carrying shovels, after they received a letter claiming that Bill's body was buried somewhere on the farm.

The sheriff asked Bessie where she thought a body might be buried and her suggestion to look under the floor of the barn led to the discovery of a man's body. The clothes and face had been eaten away by quicklime, but a metal matchbox belonging to Bill and a button torn off of one of Evelyn's jackets caused the body to be identified as that of the missing Bill Raymond. Evelyn insisted that he had gone off alone to try to make something of himself without relying on her money, but her story was not believed and she was accused of murder and tried. During the trial, it came out that the letter to the sheriff was written on a piece of Bessie Carnby's stationery and that the words of the letter had been cut out of old detective magazines she had stored in her woodshed. The letter was found in a cave that was hard to reach.

Evelyn was convicted and hanged for murdering her husband. That fall, Bill Raymond returned to East Huntley, to everyone's surprise, saying that he had joined the Merchant Marine and confirming the story that his late wife had told. Bessie told him what happened to Evelyn and the townsfolk started to suspect Bessie of orchestrating the events, accusing her of sending the letter to the sheriff and recalling a quarrel that she had had with Ephraim Judge the day he disappeared. It turned out that the body under the barn floor was that of Judge, whose corpse was thought to have been washed away in the river.

Lillian Gish as Bessie Carnby

Bessie's niece Camilla came home and Bill Raymond began to defend Bessie in town, causing Camilla to turn to him and eventually to marry him. Bessie alone knew that she was not responsible for sending the letter to the sheriff or for putting Judge's body under the barn floor, so she deduced that it must have been an elaborate plot by Bill to get rid of his wife. Bessie, confined to bed and an outcast in town, cooked up a plan of her own and carried it out to perfection. She hoarded morphine tablets, which she took for pain, and wrote a letter to the sheriff accusing Bill of planning to kill her because she knew the truth. She planned to have Bill give her a glass with her heart medicine and she would slip in a fatal dose of morphine when he was not looking. He would be accused of poisoning her and hanged for murder, just like his wife.

The story ends with a final note from the county attorney's report, stating that the manuscript was found long after Bessie's death and that Bill had been convicted of her murder. The manuscript was found by Camilla in a collection of recipes.

"Body in the Barn" is an excellent story that shows how even an old, bedridden woman whom no one listens to can solve a murder and see to it that justice is done. Bessie is a complex, often unlikable character and the author plays with reader sympathies, controlling our emotions and suspicions about who is guilty of what right up to the very end, when the truth is revealed.

Maggie McNamara as Camilla

Margaret Manners Lippmann (1914?-1974), author of "Body in the Barn," mainly wrote short stories, though she also seems to have written poetry and had one novel published, a 1961 paperback original tie-in with the TV soap opera, Love of Life. She wrote under the name Margaret Manners and her husband, Albert Lippmann, was a professor of French at New York University and Princeton University. The FictionMags Index lists short stories by Manners published from 1943 to 1961, and five of her stories were adapted for television, four of which were for the Hitchcock show.

Harold Swanton adapted "Body in the Barn" for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. It was scheduled to air on CBS on Friday, November 22, 1963 but, since President Kennedy was shot that day and all scheduled TV shows were postponed, this episode premiered the following week, on November 29, 1963. Swanton meets the challenge of dramatizing a story that is mostly narration by adding new characters and by making some significant changes while still keeping all of the main points of the plot intact.

The short story begins as Bessie introduces herself and sets the scene by explaining the genesis of her dislike for her neighbors. The TV show opens after Bessie's death, as workmen are cleaning out her house. An antique dealer and his young assistant supervise the process, cataloging the antiques in her parlor. The young man drops a glass vase and it shatters; the camera reveals a handwritten letter that had been concealed in the vase, and voiceover narration by Bessie begins as she reads the letter aloud. In the story, she had concealed her confession among recipes, while on TV Harold Swanton uses the more dramatic incident of a vase shattering to reveal the hidden missive.

There is a dissolve to Bessie hurrying along a footpath as her voice is heard on the soundtrack. She promises "'to bring to the light of day the two lies that together make a truth,'" and her statement foreshadows later events. Her niece Camilla meets her and the neighbors, renamed Henry and Samantha Wilkins, accompany Sheriff Turnbull as he examines the cliff from which Ephraim Judge fell the evening before. Dialogue quickly establishes the characters' personalities and relationships, then Bessie nearly collapses from the exertion of rushing up the path, so Henry lifts her in his arms to carry her home, accompanied by Camilla, who is much more present in the TV show than she is in the short story.

Peter Lind Hayes as Henry Wilkins

Henry turns on the charm and begins to ingratiate himself with Bessie, bringing in firewood and building a fire to warm her bedroom. A major new character is added in Dr. Sam Adamson, who verbally spars with his elderly patient. Swanton makes sure to introduce Bessie's bottle of applejack brandy that she keeps hidden behind her pillow; the viewer will be reminded of this bottle again so that it is familiar when she uses it at the end of the show to commit suicide and frame Henry for murder. Scenes follow with Camilla and Henry having tea together downstairs and Samantha and Henry fighting at home, demonstrating that Henry's marriage is not a happy one and that he has an alternative in Bessie's niece, who is away for most of the short story. Samantha reads from a newspaper article about her quarrel with Bessie and the article quotes Frost's poem, "Mending Wall," whose lines about walls and neighbors are particularly appropriate for this situation.

An additional character is introduced in Nora, maid to the Wilkins; she will have a couple of specific functions regarding the plot as the TV show unfolds. Bessie invites Henry to supper, but when he tells Samantha, they argue. At suppertime, Camilla sets the table while Bessie watches out her bedroom window with a pair of binoculars as Samantha goes back and forth to her barn. Camilla mentions to Bessie that Henry told her he had once tried to leave his wife and that she tried to kill him; Camilla thus plants the seed of this thought in Bessie's mind, something that will become important later in the show. Camilla and Bessie go next door to invite Samantha to join Henry at their home for supper, but Samantha announces that Henry has left suddenly. "'What do you suppose she was doing in the barn?'" asks Camilla, further introducing suspicion into Bessie's mind.

Kent Smith as Dr. Adamson

Ten days later, Dr. Adamson visits Bessie and gives her a bottle of pills to treat her worsening, chronic pain, thus introducing another element that will be used in her suicide. He checks behind her pillow and the bottle of applejack is again shown, reminding us that it is there so that it will not be a surprise when Bessie turns to it at the end. The character of Nora comes into play now, as Bessie and Camilla question her about Henry's disappearance under the guise of wanting to hire her to do some cleaning. Nora reveals that Henry left without packing any belongings but denies that Samantha killed him. Bessie and Camilla visit the sheriff, who also denies that Samantha killed Henry, despite the circumstantial evidence presented by Bessie. Once again, Camilla asks Bessie what Samantha was doing by the barn the night Henry disappeared.

After a visit to Samantha turns adversarial, the show departs significantly from the short story as Bessie herself ventures out under cover of darkness to inspect the barn with a flashlight. She has deteriorated from the first scene, where she was shown hurrying along a footpath up a hill, and now she walks with a cane. There is a moment of suspense as a barking dog causes Samantha to open her window, but Bessie makes it inside the barn and snoops around. There is a dissolve to the next day, when Bessie leads the sheriff and his men into the barn, where Dr. Adamson has examined the body found under the floor and determined it to be that of Henry. His wedding ring is on the right finger and in his hand he clutches a button that is shown to be missing from Samantha's vest.

Patricia Cutts as Samantha Wilkins

Samantha explains the circumstances behind Henry's departure, but she is not believed, and there is a fadeout, followed by a fade in to Bessie sitting in her parlor. Swanton deletes the sequence from the short story about the trial and about the finding of the letter in the cave that directed the sheriff to look in the barn. Instead, an egg in a basket indicates that it is Easter (or thereabouts), and Bessie falls asleep in her chair as a bulletin comes over the radio to announce that Samantha has been executed. A shadowy figure enters the house through the front door and the camera focuses on his shoes as Henry tiptoes in and surprises Bessie with a bottle of brandy; she is shocked to see him alive and asks, on suddenly awakening, "'What are you?'" as if he is a ghost.

Henry has been resurrected on Easter after his wife, an innocent woman, was put to death. He asks Bessie where Camilla is and says he wants to surprise her. He walks to his home and enters; we see the back of a woman vacuuming the rug and assume it is Nora, the maid, but when Henry taps her shoulder and she turns we see that it is Camilla, who reacts with a big smile, says "'Henry!'" with delight, throws her arms around him, and gives him a lingering kiss. At this moment, it becomes clear that Camilla and Henry planned the whole thing together and that she is complicit in causing Samantha's death. This is a significant departure from the story, where Bessie's niece is not present for most of the events and only becomes close to Henry after his wife dies.

Josie Lloyd as Nora

Dr. Adamson measures out more pills for Bessie and they both express feelings of being responsible for Samantha's death. Bessie washes down a pill with a drink from her bottle of applejack, associating the two items that will cause her death. She lies in bed and in her mind hears snippets of dialogue from Henry and Camilla that will allow her to piece together what really happened. In subsequent scenes, Henry removes the fence that led to Ephraim Judge's death, Bessie tells Camilla to send him away when he visits, and Camilla announces her plans to marry the widower. Sheriff Turnbull visits Bessie and again refuses to believe her, even though she tells him that Henry is planning to kill her with her own morphine pills. Bessie is now carrying out a plan of her own to frame Henry, much as Henry earlier successfully framed his wife.

Finally, Bessie lies in bed, near the point of death. She finishes writing the confessional letter and hides it in a vase on her night table. She puts a handful of pills in her bottle of applejack, wipes her own fingerprints off the bottle and a glass, and summons Henry, who unknowingly seals his fate by pouring her a drink and handing her the glass. There is a dissolve and the scene is back in the present, with a closeup of the letter that lies on the floor of Bessie's parlor, having fallen there when the young man dropped the glass vase and it shattered. Bessie explains in voiceover what she has done and the young man notices the letter and picks it up. Camilla, wearing black, is taken to a hearse, to attend Henry's funeral. "'He didn't kill her, he didn't! They hanged an innocent man!'" she says and, in part, she is correct: Henry did not intend to kill Bessie, but he was far from innocent. The show ends with the assumption that the letter will be read and that this will reveal the truth of the events surrounding the deaths of Samantha, Bessie, and Henry.

Doodles Weaver
as Gregg

Harold Swanton's teleplay for "Body in the Barn" follows the short story's plot but turns narrative into dialogue and introduces important new characters while greatly increasing the role of Camilla. Bessie is much more active, hurrying to the scene of Ephraim Judge's fatal fall and inspecting the barn at night by herself. Swanton's choices serve to create additional suspense and to provide rising action right before each act ends. The tension is increased by an original score by Bernard Herrmann, whose strings and woodwinds underscore the scene in the barn when Bessie is looking for the body.

Joseph Newman (1909-2006) directs this episode skillfully, keeping the story moving along swiftly and using closeups to display characters' emotions. He started out in Hollywood as an assistant director in 1932 and became a director of shorts in 1938 and of features in 1942. He served in World War Two and came back to continue directing feature films, including This Island Earth (1955). He directed for television from 1960 to 1965, including four episodes of The Twilight Zone and ten episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. He directed the suspense classic, "An Unlocked Window."

Starring as Bessie Carnby is Lillian Gish (1893-1993), one of the twentieth century's greatest actors. A child actress on stage, she starred in films from 1912 to 1933, including D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915), returned to the stage in the 1930s and 1940s, then to film in the 1940s. She appeared on TV from 1949 to 1986 and on film until 1987, including a great role in Charles Laughton's Night of the Hunter (1955). This was her only appearance on the Hitchcock show. A website is devoted to her here.

Maggie McNamara (1928-1978) plays Camilla (pronounced by Bessie as rhyming with Pamela). A teen fashion model, McNamara was on screen from 1953 to 1964 and this was her last role. She also appeared on The Twilight Zone. Her life later took a tragic turn and she committed suicide at age 49.

Kelly Thorsden as Sheriff Turnbull

The treacherous Henry is played by Peter Lind Hayes (1915-1998), who was born Joseph Conrad Lind. He was in vaudeville from age six and on screen from 1933 to 1987. He also served in the Air Force during World War Two. He often performed with his wife, Mary Healy. He appeared on The Outer Limits as well as in this single episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

Kent Smith (1907-1985) plays Dr. Adamson. Smith was on stage from the late 1920s and on screen from 1936 to 1978, including starring roles in Val Lewton's Cat People (1942) and The Curse of the Cat People (1944). He was on the Hitchcock show four times, including "A True Account," as well as The Outer Limits, Night Gallery, and The Night Stalker. He also played a doctor on Peyton Place from 1964 to 1966.

Samantha Wilkins is played by Patricia Cutts (1926-1974), who was born in London and who was on screen from 1946 to 1974. She was in two episodes of the Hitchcock series. Like Maggie McNamara, she ended her life by suicide.

In smaller roles:

  • Josie Lloyd (1940- ) as Nora, the maid; Norman Lloyd's daughter, she was on TV from 1959 to 1967 and appeared in six episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "Graduating Class." She was also on The Twilight Zone.
  • Doodles Weaver (1911-1983) as Gregg, who takes Camilla out to the car at the end; born Winstead Weaver, he was on radio in the 1930s and 1940s and later joined Spike Jones's band. He contributed to early issues of Mad magazine and was on screen from 1936 to 1981. He had a small role in Hitchcock's The Birds (1963). He is the third member of this unfortunate cast to die by suicide.
  • Kelly Thorsden (1917-1978) as Sheriff Turnbull; born Sherman Thorsden, he was on screen from 1956 to 1977 and also played a sheriff on the "Final Performance" episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
"Body in the Barn" is not available on U.S. DVD but may be viewed for free online here.


"Body in the Barn." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, season 9, episode 8, CBS, 29 Nov. 1963. 

Cooke, David C. "Introduction." Best of the Best Detective Stories, E.P. Dutton, 1960, pp. ix-xi. 

The FictionMags Index, 

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001. 


Manners, Margaret. "Body in the Barn." Best of the Best Detective Stories, E.P. Dutton, 1960, pp. 15–32. 

"MARGARET MANNERS." The New York Times, The New York Times, 24 Oct. 1974, 

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

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Harold Swanton on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: An Overview and Episode Guide

Harold Swanton wrote eleven teleplays for the Hitchcock TV series, ranging from the second episode broadcast in 1955 ("Premonition") to an hour-length episode in the ninth season ("Body in the Barn"). All of his scripts demonstrate a mastery of plotting and structure; he was a professional writer, equally adept at suspense and comedy.

In season one, "Premonition" is an original teleplay and a short film noir. "The Long Shot" is based on Swanton's radio play of the same name and features John Williams and a great twist ending. "Portrait of Jocelyn" is based on an unpublished story and is the third episode in a row that Swanton wrote in which a main character conceals his true identity.

Swanton then wrote nothing for Alfred Hitchcock Presents for three and a half years, returning in season five with three more scripts. He updated "Coyote Moon" from the World War Two setting of the short story on which it is based and the result was a highly entertaining half hour. His first real comedy episode came with "Anniversary Gift," adapted from a short story by John Collier and made even funnier in the transition to TV. "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" improves on Ambrose Bierce's original short story, adding new elements that increase the tale's haunting quality and adding the character of an enslaved man who guides the main character home. Swanton's adaptation turns a shocking tale into a mournful lament.

For season six, Swanton's two scripts were less successful. "Summer Shade" is a light tale involving witchcraft and, while Swanton relocates the events to Salem, Mass., the episode has an uneven tone. Even less successful is "Museum Piece," an odd episode about revenge that does not quite work on TV.

Season seven saw Swanton write "Bang! You're Dead," which is directed by Hitchcock. On the surface, it is a suspenseful show about gun control and children, but underneath it is a subversive commentary on America's history of race relations, colonialism, and the then-current obsession with TV westerns. His final half-hour episode is another comedy, "The Twelve Hour Caper," in which Swanton makes changes to the short story he adapted that reduce the tale's effectiveness.

He returned for one final episode in season nine, the second year of hour-long shows; "Body in the Barn" is an exciting episode where Swanton's teleplay is faithful to the plot of the short story while expanding it by adding characters and increasing dialog and action.


Episode title-"Premonition" [1.2]

Broadcast date-9 October 1955
Teleplay by-Harold Swanton
Original teleplay
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-yes

Episode title-"The Long Shot" [1.9]
Broadcast date-27 November 1955
Teleplay by-Harold Swanton
Based on "The Long Shot" by Harold Swanton
First appearance-Suspense (radio show), 31 January 1946
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-yes

Episode title-"Portrait of Jocelyn" [1.28]
Broadcast date-8 April 1956
Teleplay by-Harold Swanton
Based on an unpublished story by Edgar Marvin
First print appearance-none
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-yes

Episode title-"Coyote Moon" [5.4]
Broadcast date-18 October 1959
Teleplay by-Harold Swanton
Based on "Coyote Moon" by Kenneth Perkins
First print appearance-Colliers, 15 August 1942
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-yes

Episode title-"Anniversary Gift" [5.6]
Broadcast date-1 November 1959
Teleplay by-Harold Swanton
Based on "Anniversary Gift" by John Collier
First print appearance-Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, April 1959
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-yes

Episode title-"An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" [5.13]
Broadcast date-20 December 1959
Teleplay by-Harold Swanton
Based on "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce
First print appearance-San Francisco Examiner, 13 
July 1890
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-yes

Episode title-"Summer Shade" [6.15]
Broadcast date-10 January 1961
Teleplay by-Harold Swanton
Based on "Summer Evil" by Nora H. Caplan
First print appearance-Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, October 1960
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-yes

Episode title-"Museum Piece" [6.25]
Broadcast date-4 April 1961
Teleplay by-Harold Swanton
Based on an unidentified story by William C. Morrison
First print appearance-unknown
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-yes

Episode title-"Bang! You're Dead" [7.2]
Broadcast date-17 October 1961
Teleplay by-Harold Swanton
Based on an unidentified story by Margery Vosper
First print appearance-unknown
Watch episode-not available
Available on DVD?-no

Episode title-"The Twelve Hour Caper" [7.34]
Broadcast date-29 May 1962
Teleplay by-Harold Swanton
Based on "The Twelve-Hour Caper" by Mike Marmer
First print appearance-Cosmopolitan, May 1961
Watch episode-not available
Available on DVD?-no

Episode title-"Body in the Barn" [9.8]
Broadcast date-29 November 1963
Teleplay by-Harold Swanton
Based on "Body in the Barn" by Margaret Manners
First print appearance-Argosy, February 1945
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-no

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Listen to Al Sjoerdsma's podcast about "There Was an Old Woman" here.

Listen to Annie and Kathryn discuss "Last Request" here.

In two weeks: our series on Alfred Hayes begins with "A Piece of the Action" starring Gig Young and Martha Hyer!


Anonymous said...

Great Episode And Review!

Jack Seabrook said...