Monday, December 28, 2020

Hammer Meets Hitchcock!

 by Jack Seabrook

I recently watched Kiss Me Deadly on TCM's noir alley and I was struck with the kinetic opening sequence, where Cloris Leachman, playing Christina Bailey, runs down a dark highway at night. She is barefoot and wearing only a trench coat, having escaped from a psychiatric hospital. She stands right in front of Mike Hammer's speeding car, risking her own death in order to force him to screech to a halt.

Cloris Leachman in Kiss Me Deadly

The shots of Christina in the road reminded me of similar shots in the first-season Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "The Hidden Thing," where Laura, played by Judith Ames, is run down by a car on a similar dark road.

Judith Ames in "The Hidden Thing"

The similarity of the shots got me thinking: did Kiss Me Deadly influence Alfred Hitchcock Presents?

Kiss Me Deadly was released on May 18, 1955, so it was a relatively new film in the public consciousness as of the summer of that year, when the first episodes of Alfred Hitchcock presents were being filmed. The premiere episode of the series was "Revenge," broadcast on October 2, 1955, and filmed from September 15th to September 17th of that year. The screenwriter of Kiss Me Deadly was A.I. Bezzerides, and he was also brought in, uncredited, to polish the teleplay for "Revenge."

Ralph Meeker in "Revenge"

The first episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to be broadcast shares something else with Kiss Me Deadly: they both star Ralph Meeker, who plays Mike Hammer in the film and Carl Spann in the TV show. Both characters are brutish men who kill first and ask questions later.

The second episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to be broadcast was "Premonition," on October 9, 1955. Co-starring with John Forsythe is none other than Cloris Leachman, who made such an impression in the opening scene of Kiss Me Deadly.

Cloris Leachman in "Premonition"

Also in "Premonition" is everyone's favorite squeaky-voiced creep, Percy Helton, playing funeral director Gerald Eaton, a role not too dissimilar to the role he played in Kiss Me Deadly as greedy, corrupt Doc Kennedy, who runs the morgue. In both roles, Helton is assaulted by the story's main character, who demands that Helton's character give him a key!

Percy Helton in "Premonition"

So, in the first two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to be broadcast in the fall of 1955, we see contributions from the screenwriter, star, and two other cast members of Kiss Me Deadly, a highly influential noir film released earlier that year. Coincidence?


john kenrick said...

Fascinating analysis, Jack, and IMO spot on from start to finish. As to Kiss Me Deadly, a fine film, expertly tooled, and it didn't do much to draw the viewer in at an emotional level, but maybe that was the idea. It's such a cold picture. There's damn near nobody to like, care for or identify with. Okay, the women who get pushed around, I guess.

It was difficult to watch those scenes. I couldn't but get the sense I that director Robert Aldrich was sort of simultaneously slumming and reaching. Look at the ending! I wonder if Stanley Kubrick was influenced by it. The hard style of it, as if, from the git, Aldrich was saying "this ain't no movie for wussies". And it sure wasn't!

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, John. I agree that it's a cold flick. It starts out very engagingly but soon becomes almost hard to watch. But definitely worth the time.

john kenrick said...

The cold weather and social isolation has limited my movements, thus I was drawn into another "chilly" Hitchcock episode, this one. The Second Wife, for the second or at most third time, and I was deeply moved by the the coolness of this one, which felt more deeply sad and tragic, especially as I knew the ending, thus there was zero suspense, and a far greater focus on acting and the way the story developed.

I didn't mean to hijack your thread, Jack, but I can't help it. First, the performances from June Lockhart, in a teleplay a far cry from Lassie and Lost In Space. she turned in a sensitive, sympathetic performance playing a character even I could identify with a little bit. Her character was stronger than she looked, and being more outwardly receptive to other people, clearly hoping for a better marriage than she got with the John Anderson character.

Given how the story was was set up in The Second Wife,, Miss Lockhart was, on the surface, the "hero" (as it were), John Anderson, well, a difficult man to care for. His persistent selfishness regarding money and saving on bills was not an engaging way to for him to introduce himself in the early days of his marriage to the attractive and and basically
sensitive wife. This episode cuts deeper into the psychology of its character, and while the story itself was sheer melodrama, the two principal players were excellently written and portrayed , which ground it in a more familiar "reality" than most Hitchcock eps, hour or half-hour.

Jack Seabrook said...

I wrote about "The Second Wife" in 2012 here: You'll see that we share the opinion that it's a great episode!