Thursday, April 8, 2021

The Hitchcock Project-William Fay Part Eight: No Pain [5.5]

by Jack Seabrook

William Fay's first teleplay for the fifth season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents was "No Pain," an engaging look at the ugly hearts of two beautiful people whose marriage has been shattered by a tragic illness. The episode premiered on CBS on Sunday, October 25, 1959, and features strong performances by Brian Keith and Joanna Moore as the unfortunate couple.

"No Pain" is based on a short story called "Pigeon in an Iron Lung" by Talmage Powell that was first published in the November 1956 issue of Manhunt. Talmage Powell (1920-2000) wrote hundreds of short stories and a handful of novels from the early 1940s to the early 1980s, including some novels under the Ellery Queen byline. Four of his stories have been adapted for television, including two for Alfred Hitchcock Presents; he adapted one himself and wrote another teleplay based on a story by another author.

"Pigeon in an Iron Lung"
was first published here

"Pigeon in an Iron Lung" is narrated by Dave Ramey, a successful Florida real estate developer who clawed his way up from a boyhood spent in the slums of Chicago. Married to a beautiful Southern blonde named Cindy, he is now trapped in an iron lung, the unwieldy machine being the only thing that has kept him breathing since he contracted polio. Cindy recently met poor but handsome Arnold Barrett and now spends her days with him at the beach, while her husband remains behind, immobile from the neck down. Able to see events reflected in a mirror positioned above his head, Dave has his nurse wheel him out onto the terrace, where he watches Cindy and Arnold frolic in a sailboat on the water.

Later that afternoon, Cindy and Arnold return and Dave's nurse departs for an evening off. Arnold drives the nurse into town, leaving Dave and Cindy alone together. Dave confronts his wife, telling her that he hopes his killing will be painless. She does not deny that her plan is to murder him that night, and Arnold returns to join the unhappy couple for dinner. Once the meal is concluded, Dave encourages his wife and her lover to go for an evening swim. An hour later, Arnold returns alone, confirming for Dave that he has killed Cindy in the water and made it look like an accident. Dave and Arnold have known each other since they were young men in Chicago, and Dave promised Arnold $50,000 to murder his wife. Still trapped in the iron lung, Dave is relieved that his wife's death did not cause her to suffer needlessly.

Brian Keith as Dave Ramey

"Pigeon in an Iron Lung" is a short story that depends on a gimmick and a twist. The gimmick is the iron lung, which lulls the reader into thinking that Dave Ramey is helpless and destined to be a victim. The twist is the surprise ending, where it is revealed that Ramey arranged to have his wife meet and befriend Arnold, who is actually an old criminal colleague of Dave's. As the story's narrator, Dave leads the reader to believe that it is he who is going to be killed, while he knows all the while that the real victim will be his wife. Author Powell sets up the ending flawlessly and, until the last few paragraphs, the reader has no reason to suspect that things are the opposite of how they seem.

The producers of Alfred Hitchcock Presents set a challenge for themselves when they chose to adapt Powell's tale for the small screen; there is no action, there are only four characters, and the protagonist is trapped inside an iron lung the whole time. William Fay's teleplay does a great job of deepening the story's themes and increasing its suspense, while Norman Lloyd's creative direction ensures that the viewer's interest never flags in what is essentially a static situation.

Joanna Moore as Cindy Ramey

The show opens with a closeup of a long extension cord plugged into a wall. The camera follows the path of the cord across a carpeted floor until it reaches the iron lung, a long, metal tube with portholes on the side and windows on the top. At the head end of the machine, a mirror is positioned above it. The camera pulls back to show that the machine sits by itself in the middle of a large, modern living room with a stone fireplace. There is then a cut and the camera is positioned behind the head of the lung's inhabitant, who lies flat on his back but whose face is reflected in the mirror.

Iron lungs are obsolete today, but in 1959 the viewer of this episode would have recognized the machine immediately and understood that its inhabitant suffered from polio, a terrible disease that could cause muscle wasting and make a person unable to breathe on his own. The machine created pressure to push the chest in and out to assist breathing, since the person's muscles were no longer up to the task. The TV show's initial scene plays out just as it does in the short story, and Joanna Moore, playing Cindy, closely resembles the character described by Powell: "She stood motionless for a moment, lithe, tanned, tall, beautiful in white shorts and halter, a yachting cap cocked to one side on her close-cut blonde hair." Moore is wearing a bathing suit rather than shorts and wears it (with a shirt over it) throughout the show.

Fay's teleplay then skips the next page of the short story, in which Powell provides the background of Dave Ramey's early life, how he met Cindy, and how their life was changed when he contracted polio. Instead, there is a dissolve to Nurse Collins wheeling the iron lung out onto the patio and arranging the mirror so he can watch his wife sailing with her lover. The nurse introduces a new idea into the story when she suggests that they try taking Dave off the respirator for a few minutes, reminding him that the doctor said they could increase his time off the machine to eight or nine minutes. Dave defers, preferring to watch... the boats (the pause suggests that he's really watching his wife and her lover), commenting that "'I used to be pretty good with boats. Was pretty good with women, too.'" A dissolve is then used to switch to a short flashback that replaces the page of exposition in the short story.

Yale Wexler as Arnold

In the flashback, Dave and Cindy are on the beach at night, having just come out of the water. He is muscular and shirtless, wearing short bathing trunks. Dave and Cindy then trade kisses and cuddles, wrapped in a blanket, while he makes one of the least romantic marriage proposals in television history; he admits he plans to buy her and compares their decision to wed to "'betting on the horses or buying a block of real estate.'" Dave says he owns the boat and buys the liquor, so this scene, after the ones in his well-appointed, mid-century modern home, demonstrate that he is rich and that he uses money to get what he wants, including Cindy. He admits "'I was a mug five years ago,'" but says that now he owns a fair percentage of Florida real estate and has six million dollars in the bank. The camera pans away from the lovers on the beach to the moonlit bay and then the scene dissolves back to the present, again in Dave's house.

The nurse wheels the iron lung back into the living room and she and Dave discuss Cindy's suggestion that she take the evening off; the static scene is made more interesting by the sight of the nurse reaching through portholes into the iron lung to clean Dave's chest, which had been so muscular in the prior flashback scene but which is now incapacitated. There is another dissolve, and now Cindy and Arnold Barrett have joined Dave in the living room, still in their bathing suits. There is plenty of sexual innuendo below the surface of the dialogue. Dave says "'Things get pretty dull here, nights,'" and Arnold remarks that Cindy "'certainly knows her way around.'" Arnold departs with Nurse Collins in order to drive her to the bus, and Dave and Cindy discuss him after he departs. The camera then follows Cindy's gaze as she stares at the extension cord that is plugged into the wall and we realize that it is the only thing that stands between life and death for Dave. Ominous music plays on the soundtrack and Dave notices his wife looking at the plug; he tells her that he hopes the killing that she has planned for tonight will be painless, and the first act ends on this note of tension and suspense.

Dorothea Lord as Nurse Collins

In the second act, Cindy does not deny that she plans to kill Dave, but Fay's teleplay goes in a different direction than the short story. During a tight closeup on Dave's face, the steady hum of the iron lung's motor suddenly goes quiet. Dave asks his wife if this is the time, referring to his murder, but instead she pulls his gurney out of the iron lung, saying that Nurse Collins said that he could be out safely for ten minutes. There is a closeup of the clock above the fireplace and we see that it is ten minutes to seven; the race is now on to see if Cindy will let Dave suffocate or whether she will put him back into the iron lung in time. Complicating matters is the fact that she is drunk.

They discuss their relationship and their shared past as she continues to drink and the minutes tick by. At one point, she even pours some of her drink on his bare chest and massages it in like rubbing alcohol. She expresses self-pity and refuses to deny that her plan includes murder. The clock edges closer to seven o'clock and Cindy leaves the room, promising to be right back. We see her in her bedroom, admiring herself in a hand mirror and applying lipstick; these shots are intercut with shots of Dave, flat on his back in the iron lung, waiting for her to return to hook him back up to the life-sustaining machine. She sits down on the bed unsteadily as sweat pours off of Dave's forehead and his eyes begin to close, but she suddenly returns, pushes the gurney back into the machine, and restarts the motor after a moment's hesitation where it looks like she is about to pass out drunk.

Arnold comes back from taking Nurse Collins to the bus and stopping home to change clothes; he now sports a jacket and tie. Cindy tells him that Dave knows of their plan and he suggests a swim to sober her up. In the short story, the events are more spaced out in time. Cindy does not disconnect Dave from the iron lung and Arnold returns to have dinner with the unhappy couple. Dave suggests that Arnold and Cindy go for a swim. In the TV version, events are closer together in time and Cindy compliments Arnold on being so calm and dependable. He replies that all the girls say it's "'nice to know they're dealing with an old, dependable firm,'" a comment that seems to be in jest when he says it.

Arnold tells Dave that he'll have to borrow his swimming trunks and the camera fades out before fading back in on another close shot of the iron lung. There is a pan along the side of the machine to a closeup of Dave's head; his eyes snap open when he hears a slapping sound, and Arnold is then reflected in the machine's mirror, drying himself off with a towel. He reports on having killed Cindy in such a way that her body will be found with the change of tide. Dave makes sure that she suffered "'no pain'" and the arrangement and relationship between the two men is revealed. Fay's teleplay adds a fitting coda, as Dave asks Arnold if Cindy tried to make him a better offer. Arnold admits that he was tempted but reminds Dave that he's "'an old reliable firm.'"

"No Pain" is a faithful adaptation of "Pigeon in an Iron Lung," where William Fay enhances the story by adding a scene of great suspense where Cindy removes Dave from the iron lung and the viewer is forced to watch her get slowly more drunk and unreliable as the minutes pass and Dave's survival is called into question.

Director Norman Lloyd (1914- ) was born Norman Perlmutter and was active in the theater in the 1930s. He had a long career as a film and television actor, from 1939 to 2015, and he appeared in Hitchcock's Saboteur (1942) and Spellbound (1945). He also directed for television from 1951 to 1984. He acted in five episodes of the Hitchcock series and directed 22, including "Man from the South."

Brian Keith (1921-1997) spends most of the episode flat on his back as Dave Ramey. A popular actor in TV and on film, Keith was born in New Jersey and made his film debut in 1924 at age three. He was a Marine air gunner in World War II and then went into acting as an adult after the war. He started on TV in 1952 and eventually would star in no less than 11 TV series and miniseries, the most famous being Family Affair (1966-71). He also appeared in the prison-break film 5 Against the House (1955), based on a novel by Jack Finney. He appeared on the Hitchcock series five times (including "Cell 227") and committed suicide in 1997.

Joanna Moore (1934-1997), who plays Cindy, was born Dorothy Joanne Cook. She was orphaned as a child when her parents and sister were killed in a car accident. She grew to be a beautiful young woman and won a beauty contest in Georgia, then headed for Hollywood, where she began appearing on screen in 1956. She had film roles that included Touch of Evil (1958), Monster on the Campus (1958) and Walk on the Wild Side (1962). She had a recurring role on The Andy Griffith Show and appeared in six episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "Post Mortem." She was married to Ryan O'Neal from 1963 to 1967 and one of her children was Tatum O'Neal. Her later years were unhappily marred by bouts of addiction to drugs and alcohol and she died of lung cancer, as did so many actors and actresses of her era, in 1997. Like many beautiful women who led tumultuous lives, she has received a lot of attention online, and a good summary may be found here.

Yale Wexler (1930-1996) plays Arnold. He had a couple of roles on Broadway in the mid-1950s and was onscreen from 1955 to 1961, mostly on TV. He later became a successful real estate developer. His brother was cinematographer and director, Haskell Wexler and this was Yale's only appearance on the Hitchcock series.

Dorothea Lord (1920-2000) plays Nurse Collins; her TV career lasted only four years, from 1958 to 1962, but during that time she was in seven episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "A True Account."

Watch "No Pain" for free online here or order the DVD here. Read the GenreSnaps take on this episode here.


The FictionMags Index,

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



"No Pain." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 5, episode 5, CBS, 25 Oct., 1959.

Powell, Talmage. "Pigeon in an Iron Lung."  The Best of Manhunt. Ed. Jeff Vorzimmer. Eureka, CA, Stark House Press, 2019. 320-25.

Stephensen-Payne, Phil. Galactic Central,

Vintage New Media, inc. “Authors > Talmage Powell.” Vintage Library,

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

In two weeks: The Contest for Aaron Gold, starring Barry Gordon and Sydney Pollack!

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "The Gentleman from America" here!

Listen to Annie and Kathryn discuss "Bang! You're Dead" here!


Joad said...

Evan Hunter, as Richard Marsten, wrote a story called "Kill Me, My Sweet" which appeared in the Nov 1954 issue of Real magazine. The Marsten story is almost identical to the Talmage Powell story "Pigeon in an Iron Lung"; the main difference is Powell's lead character is in an iron lung while Marsten's is confined to a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down.
Same cheating wife, same loyal friend, same results.

Jack Seabrook said...

That's interesting. I haven't read that story. Thanks for letting me know about it.