Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Hitchcock Project-William Fay Part One: The Crooked Road [4.4]

 by Jack Seabrook

William Cullen Fay (1918-1981) wrote 15 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and two episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. He was an editor at Popular Publications starting in 1935 and he wrote over 160 short stories that were published from 1938 to 1962. His stories appeared mostly in mainstream popular fiction magazines such as Collier's, The Saturday Evening Post, Argosy, and Liberty. Fay also worked as a sports writer for the Chicago Tribune and, as of 1948, he was the sports editor for Collier's. He wrote for television from 1954 to 1967 and he wrote the screenplay for Kid Galahad, a 1962 film starring Elvis Presley.

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The first episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to air with a script by William Fay was "The Crooked Road," which premiered on CBS on Sunday, October 26, 1958. It was based on a story of the same name by Alex Gaby that was first published in the January 1958 issue of Argosy. In the story, a young married couple, Henry Adams and his wife, who is not given a name, are driving along a country road on a spring day when they pass a slow-moving police car and are soon forced off the road by the same car. Officer Carney is threatening to Henry and insists that the couple follow him into Robertsville, but the car was damaged when it left the road to avoid hitting the police car. A tow truck pulls up and Charley, a mechanic, insists on towing the car into town at a cost of $60.

"The Crooked Road" was
first published here


The Adamses ride into town in the back of the police car and are taken to see the justice of the peace. Officer Carney tells his version of events and Henry complains; the policeman hits Henry across the face with the back of his hand and then across the ear with his pistol. Henry pleads not guilty and the judge sets a hearing for two days later, but Henry, not wanting to wait in town, changes his plea to guilty and pays $95.50 in order to be allowed to leave. He and his wife walk to Charley's gas station to pick up their car. Though it is clear that the work they are being charged for was never done, Henry pays $70 to Charley and drives off. As the Adamses drive out of town, Mrs. Adams reveals that the large, black bag that she carried with her contained a tape recorder; they are from the Special Investigations Committee of the State Highway Commission and they recorded the entire series of events!

"The Crooked Road" is a satisfying short story that leads the reader to think one thing is happening before revealing that something quite different was going on. The Adamses are portrayed as well-off, with an expensive car. They wear good clothing and seem completely unprepared for what befalls them, as they are taken advantage of by corrupt policemen, a corrupt judge, and a corrupt mechanic. Even when they are alone in the car together, there is no indication that they are state investigators--Mrs. Adams is aghast when Carney runs them off the road. Henry is indignant throughout his interactions with the policeman, the judge, and the mechanic, and the fact that he allows himself to be slapped and hit with a gun suggests, in retrospect, that he may be willing to go too far to make a case against the people he is investigating. Still, it all succeeds as an entertaining story, where the twist ending promises that justice will be served and casts everything that happened before it in a new light.

Richard Kiley as Henry Adams
The title has two meanings: the Adamses drive along a crooked country road and the people they meet as a result are themselves crooked.

Alex Gaby (1914-1989), the author of the story, earned a degree in journalism at the University of Wisconsin and moved to New York City to be a freelance writer. He served in the Army in World War Two and, in the late 1940s, moved to Rochester, NY, where he went on to spend 31 years as editor of The Labor News. He also worked for the NY Department of Labor. He was interviewed in 1976 and his papers are held at Cornell. As for his fiction, the FictionMags Index lists 11 short stories by Gaby that were published between 1941 and 1959; like William Fay, his stories mostly appeared in mainstream popular fiction magazines, including The Saturday Evening Post, Collier's, and Argosy. He wrote one novel, a 1952 paperback original titled To End the Night. In addition to "The Crooked Road," one of his stories was adapted as the 1967 film, Hot Rods to Hell.

Walter Matthau as Officer Pete Chandler
The TV version of the story follows the written version closely. William Fay rewrote much of the dialogue and changed the violent acts of the policeman, who has been renamed Pete Chandler. In the story, when they are still on the side of the road, the policeman grips Henry's elbow roughly in a threatening manner; in the TV show, Chandler punches Henry in the face, knocking him to the ground. The sequence where the Adamses are driven into town in the police car is removed. Instead, Chandler and Charley agree that Henry was resisting arrest and earned the punch in the face, then there is a commercial break, and then the trio walk into the home of the justice of the peace.

It is unusual for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to be given a precise date, but the judge says that the date is June 10, 1958. In the short story, the date is given as March 20, 1957. When Henry argues in front of the judge, Chandler hauls off and punches him in the gut but does not pistol whip him as he does in the short story. Near the end of the episode, more attention begins to be paid to the bag that Mrs. Adams carries: after Henry gets Pete to agree that he keeps half of the fines, Mrs. Adams opens her bag and checks something inside, though the viewer doesn't get to see what it is. In retrospect, she must have been checking the tape recorder. At the very end, as the Adamses drive away, there is a bit more dialogue to clarify that they are state investigators than there is in the story.

Patricia Adams as Mrs. Adams

Like Alex Gaby's story, William Fay's teleplay for "The Crooked Road" is solid entertainment, where the bad guys get their just desserts. This is not an episode with a downbeat ending where the criminals seem to get away with their crimes and Hitchcock has to give a tongue in cheek assurance that justice was done offscreen!

The actors being the script to life. Richard Kiley (1922-1999) plays Henry Adams and is quite convincing as a man who feels he is being wronged at every turn but who chooses to take a practical approach in part to protect his wife. Kiley won two Tony awards and three Emmy awards; he was an accomplished actor on stage, screen and television. He also appeared in "Blood Bargain" on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour; his other notable roles included the live television play "Patterns" by Rod Serling (1955) and two episodes of Night Gallery.

Richard Erdman as Charley

Walter Matthau (1920-2000) is wonderful as Officer Pete Chandler, his laconic speech and manner demonstrating his confidence in his own power and authority. Born Walter Matthow in Manhattan, he was a child actor in Yiddish theater who served under Jimmy Stewart in the Air Force in WWII, earning six battle stars. He went on to star on Broadway, then on television, and finally in many films. He won two Tony awards and an Oscar. His TV career began in 1950 and his movie career followed in 1955. He appeared in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Dry Run," but he will always be remembered for his comedic film roles, especially The Odd Couple (1968) and The Bad News Bears (1976).

Charles Watts as the judge
Patricia Breslin (1931-2011) is perfect as Mrs. Adams. She acted mostly on TV from 1950 to 1969 and was seen in five episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "O Youth and Beauty!" She was a regular on a series called The People's Choice (1955-1958) and on Peyton Place (1964-1965); she also made appearances on The Twilight Zone and Thriller. She was in a handful of films, including Homicidal (1961) and I Saw What You Did (1965), and she left acting in 1969 and married Art Modell, owner of the Cleveland Browns football team. She spent the rest of her life engaged in philanthropy.

Charley the mechanic is portrayed by Richard Erdman (1925-2019), who was born John Richard Erdmann and who was on screen from 1944 to 2017. This was his only role on the Hitchcock show, but he was a regular on The Tab Hunter Show (1960-61), Saints and Sinners (1962-63), and Community (2009-15). He appeared in an episode of The Twilight Zone and was busy both as a character actor and as a voice actor in TV cartoons.

Charles Watts (1912-1966) plays the judge. He was on screen from 1950 to 1965 and was seen in five episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The West Warlock Time Capsule."

Peter Dane

Barely visible as the policeman driving the police car is Peter Dane (1918-1985). Born Edward Voight, he was on screen from 1944 to 1982 and this was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show.

"The Crooked Road" is directed by Paul Henreid (1908-1992), who began his career as a film actor. His career as a director began in the early 1950s, and he directed 29 episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "A Little Sleep."

"The Crooked Road" is available on DVD here or may be viewed online for free here. Oh, and the car the Adamses drive? It looks to me like a 1958 Lincoln Continental convertible, and a beauty!

Sources:

"The Crooked Road." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 4, episode 4, CBS, 26 Oct. 1958. 

The FictionMags Index, www.philsp.com/homeville/FMI/0start.htm. 

Gaby, Alex. "The Crooked Road." Alfred Hitchcock Presents: A Month of Mystery, Random House, 1969, pp. 97–111. 

Galactic Central, philsp.com/. 

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

IMDb, IMDb.com, www.imdb.com/. 

Isseman, Mort. Interview with Alex Gaby. 29 July 1976, www.lib.rochester.edu/IN/RBSCP/ATTACHMENTS/Rochester-Jewish-Oral-History-Project-Register/D259-Box-10-Folder-7-Gaby-Alex-transcript-OCR.pdf. 

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Nov. 2020, www.wikipedia.org/. 

"William Cullen Fay, Writer." Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/clip/4796504/william-cullen-fay-writer/. 

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In two weeks: "The $2,000,000 Defense," starring Barry Sullivan and Leslie Nielsen!

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "Portrait of Jocelyn" here!

6 comments:

john kenrick said...

Thanks, Jack for the concise review of The Crooked Road. It's a solid, modest entry that benefits greatly from featuring gifted players. Richard Kiley was solid as the put upon driver, though I've wondered how the episode would have played with a softer, more Mid-American actor like Macdonald Carey in his role. Kiley was a fine and skilled actor, yet he seldom, for me anyway, seems well cast when playing more "vulnerable" characters; while Carey's presence was more sympathetic.

I think I would have cared for him more when being pushed around by the shifty yokels who were giving him such a hard time. Kiley was clearly off his turf,--a city guy in the sticks--and he was solid; but maybe too solid. Carey would might been better at earning the viewer's respect and sympathy. As to Walter Matthau as the totally corrupt and bullying rural cop, I find his performance beyond praise. His Southern "country" accent may not have been 100%, but his performance was; and he was, most of them time, downright scary.

Jack Seabrook said...

MacDonald Carey showed up a year later in "Coyote Moon" and managed to outwit some yokels! Matthau is terrific here, as usual. He's an actor I've grown to appreciate as an adult.

john kenrick said...

Yes, Jack, and thanks for responding. I'm quite fond of Coyote Moon, which Macdonald Carey seemed to singlehanded keep grounded in reality. The other characters were rustic stereotypes. He was well above them in brains and cunning, and yet they had that Far West down home cleverness that often comes off in movies and TV shows as equal if not superior to what city folks have up their sleeves.

I've come to appreciate Carey of late, as you've come to appreciate Matthau, the flashier of the two. Carey's innate decency (nearly all the time, it seems) is something to see in action. I wish he could have found a sturdier place in films and TV. He did quite nicely for himself financially, and had a good career, albeit a mostly journeyman one, and yet I feel that he was capable of much more, just got kind of got stuck in a rut.

Grant said...

I don't know the movie well, but it's interesting to see MacDonald Carey and Oliver Reed (as a street gang leader), almost on the same side in THESE ARE THE DAMNED. In fact, I guess it's strange to see those two actors in the same movie, period.

I like Walter Matthau in nearly anything. He's especially good playing especially playing conniving characters in comedies, which this story isn't (except for the ending).

I'm sure the name Charles Watts in TV credits confuses Rolling Stones fans a little.

Jack Seabrook said...

I've never seen that movie. I looked it up--Charlie Watts was 17 years old when this episode aired!

john kenrick said...

I saw These Are The Damned a long time ago, Jack. It was good, very much a movie of its time. Those late Fifties through middle Sixties black and white Britflix had a way of capturing the zeitgeist, hey? Eveh the horrors and, more so, sci-fi. Part of this was the rise of the so-called "kitchen sink" school of drama, mostly in the theater, then transferred to film. Look Back In Anger is probably the most famous of the bunch. Another turn of phrase for these kinds of plays and films: the Angry Young Man school.

The aforementioned more or less coincide with the "rebellious youth" cycle in American films; movies about juvenile delinquents, confused and alienated youth and the like. James Dean became the template for that. The major difference between our rebel youths and the Brit "Angries" was age and life experience more generally. The Angries (girls, too) were more focused, occasionally literary or seriously artistic.

They also struck more as more bohemian in attitude; while their somewhat younger American "cousins" were more of the misguided bourgeoisie, in need of counseling, and much more,--and I don't care for the word I'm about to use, but it seems to fit: confused. It's sort of like, in the States, teens, and young people in general needed to learn to fit in, to adjust to life, to, essentially, learn how to be normal (to be blunt). Their counterparts on the other side of the pond needed outlets, ways of expressing themselves, and, quite frankly, sex. We were more circumspect in dealing with such matters.