Thursday, February 10, 2022

The Hitchcock Project-Lewis Davidson Part One: See the Monkey Dance [10.5]

by Jack Seabrook

Born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1926, Lewis Davidson is credited with writing two short documentaries: Prelude to Kitimat (1953), which was made in Canada, and The Longer Mile (1957), which was made in England. Beginning in 1959, Davidson wrote for British television, penning episodes for various series including Danger Man, with Patrick McGoohan, The Avengers, with Ian Hendry and Patrick Macnee, and The Saint, with Roger Moore. He wrote the screenplays for two films, including the 1971 Hammer film, Hands of the Ripper, and he only wrote for British TV, with one notable exception, until 1976-1977, when he ended his career by writing teleplays for three American TV series: Ellery Queen, Baretta, and Switch.

The only American TV show for which he wrote teleplays prior to 1976 was The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Davidson wrote three episodes for that show's last season, in 1964-1965. His last writing credit was in 1976 and he died in 1990 in California.

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Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., as the stranger

Davidson's first teleplay for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour was "See the Monkey Dance," which aired on NBC on Monday, November 9, 1964. The onscreen writing credit reads, "From a teleplay by Lewis Davidson," an unusual way for a credit to be worded. This is because Lewis Davidson's "See the Monkey Dance" had been filmed the year before as an episode of a British TV series called Suspense, airing on August 26, 1963. Unfortunately, only two full episodes and one partial episode of that obscure series survive today in the BBC Archives, and "See the Monkey Dance" is not among them, so it is not possible to make a detailed comparison between the earlier version and the one that aired on the Hitchcock show.

The Suspense episode was directed by John Crockett, who directed British TV shows from 1961 to 1965, and the cast included 44-year-old John Gregson as the stranger, 38-year-old William Lucas as the lover, and 33-year-old Jean Harvey as the woman. The Radio Times listing for that evening summarizes the plot: "A fantastic stranger--a curious train journey--a bewildering coincidence, freezing the lover as his normal week-end tilts slowly into nightmare..." The BBC version ran for 50 minutes, from 21:25 to 22:15. One may compare these bits of evidence to the Hitchcock version to guess how similar the two television programs were.

Roddy McDowall as George

In the version that survives on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, "See the Monkey Dance" begins as a train passing through the English (or perhaps Welsh, based on the name of the fictional town, which is Llangendorag) countryside makes a brief stop at a station and a passenger, whom we later learn is named George (though whether this is his first name or his last name is uncertain), takes the opportunity to place a telephone call to an attractive woman, who tells him that her husband is away for the weekend. They arrange to meet at the "'usual place'" in about an hour and he rushes back to his seat on the train, only to find that he has been joined in his compartment by a somewhat older man. George takes out a book to read, but the stranger insists on engaging him in conversation and criticizes George's "'typical'" behavior before taking a book out of his briefcase. The viewer (but not George) sees that the only other item in the case is a revolver.

The stranger apologizes and the men discover that they both own caravans outside the same town, seemingly in the same field--the stranger insists that the caravan is his, but George suspects that he is mistaken. The stranger accuses George of pretending to own his caravan in order to "'see the monkey dance,'" suggesting that George is toying with him. George calls the stranger "'crazy'" and they even have a brief duel with umbrellas! The train arrives at a small town (Llandrin--both train station signs seem to be Welsh, though nothing else about either town suggests Wales), where George disembarks and walks off briskly, followed at a distance by the stranger, who walks slowly with a limp. George stops to place another telephone call to his lover, who is already in her car, speeding toward their meeting-place.

Patricia Medina as the woman

The stranger picks up a shovel that he finds by the side of the road and follows George to a caravan parked in a field. From inside, George sees the stranger begin to dig a large hole. The stranger reveals that he is digging a grave for George and that he may dig another for the woman; he admits that he fabricated the story on the train so that George would lead him to the caravan. George guesses that the stranger is the woman's husband. The first act of "See the Monkey Dance" is delightful, filled with rapid-fire dialogue, humor, and engaging performances by both actors, who manage to make the most of the confined space in the train car. Roddy McDowall, as George, is dapper and well-groomed, while Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., is almost unrecognizable under a mop of unkempt hair, his face unshaven.

Act two begins as the stranger tells George that he plans to kill him and perhaps his girlfriend, as well. He continues to dig and prevents George from exiting the caravan by threatening him with the gun. The stranger remarks that the woman treated her last boyfriend badly; he claims that he shot the man and wounded him in the leg, resulting in a limp just like his own. They hear a car approaching and the older man hides inside the caravan, but the car drives past without stopping. This is the first moment of suspense in the show, as the viewer waits to see what the stranger will do when the woman arrives and is disappointed when she does not.

George Pelling
as the conductor

The stranger insists that George take over digging the hole, a reversal that underlines the story's themes of doubling and trading places, just as the men appear to have done in the woman's life. It's all very British and reserved, with the two adversaries speaking calmly and rationally about adultery and murder. The second act is made up entirely of dialogue between the two men, as the stranger's plan is revealed and George attempts to talk him out of it.

Another false alarm occurs near the start of act three, as the conversation between the men continues inside the caravan until there is a knock at the door. Has the woman arrived at last? Will the stranger start shooting? No, the visitor is a little girl (later referred to by George as "'the Williams girl'"--earlier dialogue had established that the caravan is parked on the Williams Dairy Farm), who brings a can of milk to "'Mr. George'" (hence, the confusion about whether George is his given name or his surname). The stranger produces a love letter that he discovered, but George insists that the letter is not his. The men deduce that the woman wrote the letter herself in order to drive them to murder, and the stranger recalls that it was his discovery of a similar letter that led him to shoot the woman's prior lover. Her goal must be to rid herself of both of them, with one dead and the other hanged for homicide. The men decide that the only way to resolve the situation is to kill the woman. The third act finds the story taking more twists and turns and, like the acts before it, it is essentially all dialogue between George and the stranger.

Act four opens as the woman speeds along the road in her car and finally arrives at the caravan. Darkness has fallen and George hides in the bushes outside. The woman enters the caravan and is surprised to find the stranger, who reveals that he is not her husband. While they argue inside, George remains outside, removing a nut that holds the car's right front wheel in place. The woman emerges from the caravan and drives off, intending to go to the railway station to pick up George, but, as she speeds along the road, the wheel comes off and she is killed.

Shari Lee Bernath
as the Williams girl

The men hear the crash and George rationalizes his deed, arguing that the woman tried to kill him and the stranger. The stranger tells George that the grave will look suspicious when the police arrive; he points out all of the evidence that will prove George a murderer and walks off into the night as George realizes that the stranger is not the woman's husband after all. George suddenly understands that the stranger is unknown in the area and, as he frantically tries to fill in the grave, the police arrive. George's insistence that he met a man on the train seems unlikely indeed.

The entire scheme appears to have been created and carried out by the stranger, who succeeded in convincing George to murder the woman who may have been the lover of both men in sequence. George turns out to be the monkey of the title, whose emotions and actions are skillfully manipulated by the stranger. Only the woman is unfazed by the stranger--in fact, she treats him with disdain and calls him a coward. Perhaps this is part of the reason that the stranger must kill her by proxy. "See the Monkey Dance" is an acting tour de force by Zimbalist, who convincingly plays an Englishman, and by McDowall. It is heavy on dialogue and there are only a couple of sets; it is enhanced by a playful harpsichord score.

Comparing the U.S. version to the available data on the U.K. version suggests that they may have used virtually the same script. "The stranger" is the older man, "the lover" is George, and "the woman" is herself. The running times are about the same, and the plot summary from Radio Times fits the Hitchcock version.

The show is directed by Joseph Newman (1909-2006), who started out as an assistant director in the Golden Age of Hollywood, from 1933 to 1942, before becoming a director of short subjects from 1938 to 1947, and finally of features, starting in 1942. His most memorable film is probably This Island Earth (1955), a science fiction classic. He worked in television from 1960 to 1965 and directed ten episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, including "The Second Wife". Newman also directed four episodes of The Twilight Zone.

The fatal crash

Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. (1918-2014), gets top billing as the manipulative stranger; born in New York City, he acted on radio in the 1930s before serving in the U.S. Army in WWII, for which he was awarded a Purple Heart. After the war he acted on Broadway before embarking on a screen career that lasted from 1946 to 2008. Zimbalist was a regular on the soap opera, Concerning Miss Marlowe (1954-1955), and had a recurring role as Dandy Jim Buckley in five episodes of Maverick (1957-1958), but he became famous as the star of the series, 77 Sunset Strip, which ran from 1958 to 1964. He then starred on another long-running series, The F.B.I., from 1965 to 1974, and later was a busy voice actor on such animated TV series as Batman (1992-1995) and Spider-Man (1995-1997). He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This is the only episode of the Hitchcock show in which he appeared, and it aired between the end of 77 Sunset Strip and the beginning of The F.B.I.

Roddy McDowall (1928-1998) plays George, the lover who realizes too late that he has been a patsy. Born in England, McDowall was a model as a baby before becoming a child actor on film. His family moved to the U.S. in 1940 to escape the war and he quickly became one of the biggest stars of the Classic Hollywood period, appearing in films such as How Green Was My Valley (1941). He made the transition from child star to adult star and began appearing on TV in 1951. Among his many roles were appearances on The Twilight Zone, Batman, and Night Gallery; he was on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour twice, including "The Gentleman Caller." Other great films where he played memorable roles include Planet of the Apes (1968) and The Poseidon Adventure (1972). He worked on TV and film right up until his death in 1998.

Patricia Medina (1919-2012) plays the woman. Born in Liverpool, England, she was on screen from 1937 to 1973. She was married to Joseph Cotten, another Hitchcock favorite, from 1960 to 1994, and appeared on Thriller twice. This was her only role on the Hitchcock show. She wrote an autobiography called Laid Back in Hollywood (1998).

George Pelling (1914-2008) makes a brief appearance as the train conductor. He was born in South Rhodesia and his screen career lasted from 1946 to 1966. He was on Thriller and The Outer Limits, and he was seen in no less than eight episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "Banquo's Chair."

Shari Lee Bernath (1952- ) plays the little Williams girl who brings a can of milk to the caravan. She was on screen from 1958 to 1973 and also appeared on The Twilight Zone. This was her only appearance on the Hitchcock show.

The distinctive score is by Lyn Murray (1909-1989), a busy composer who is credited on 34 episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. He worked on radio, in film, and on television starting in the 1930s, scored Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief (1955), and won an Emmy in 1986.

Watch "See the Monkey Dance" online here.


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


"Schedule." BBC Programme Index, BBC,

"See the Monkey Dance." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, season 10, episode 5, CBS, 9 November 1964.

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

In two weeks: Our coverage of Lewis Davidson continues with "Misadventure," starring Barry Nelson and Lola Albright!

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "Wet Saturday here!

Listen to Annie and Kathryn discuss "There Was An Old Woman" here!


Grant said...

I've always been attached to this one. It reminds me more than a little of SLEUTH, with the husband (whether he's really the husband or not in this case) tricking the boyfriend so thoroughly.

One line always stays with me. When Zimbalist produces that love letter as evidence, it's a very flowery one, and McDowall denies it's his by saying "That doesn't sound like something I would write."
Zimbalist says "It doesn't sound like something ANY man would write, but a lot of it gets written."

Jack Seabrook said...

The dialogue is excellent. Zimbalist is unrecognizable!