Thursday, April 7, 2022

The Hitchcock Project-Sarett Rudley Part Two: Mr. Blanchard's Secret [2.13]

by Jack Seabrook

"Mr. Blanchard's Secret" was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, with a teleplay by Sarett Rudley that was based on a story by Emily Neff. The TV show aired on CBS on Sunday, December 23, 1956, but the story was not published until June 1978, when it ran in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

As the story opens, Edith Fenton wonders why Mrs. Blanchard, whose son Charlie rides to camp three days a week in a carpool with her own son, Jerry, has never been seen. Did her husband murder her and bury her in the garden? Edith's husband Tom suggests other, more likely explanations. Mr. Blanchard is a professor who recently moved from Chicago to Edith's town. From the start, he has taken his family's weekly turn to drive in the camp carpool, and Edith begins to picture his wife as "a prisoner in her own home." On the last day of camp, at a party for the boys and their mothers, Charlie and Mrs. Blanchard fail to appear, having been concerned by the weather report, and Edith agrees to take Charlie's art projects to him at home. That afternoon, Celia Blanchard unexpectedly shows up at Edith's house, looking much younger and more attractive than Edith imagined. Celia compliments Edith on her home and its decorations, and Edith decides that "the professor was psychopathically jealous," hiding his wife away in order to keep her to himself. Celia leaves and, twenty minutes later, Mr. Blanchard telephones to ask if Edith is missing anything, such as "'an urn-shaped table lighter? Silver?'" Edith confirms that the item is gone and realizes that Mr. Blanchard's secret is that his wife is a kleptomaniac.

"Mr. Blanchard's Secret"
was first published here
Sarett Rudley's teleplay for the TV version is available; it is dated July 26, 1956, and it shows how she changed the story for television. The script opens with a scene where a sleeping woman screams as she is approached by a shadowy figure; this turns out to be a scene from a murder mystery being typed by Babs Fenton (the story's housewife, named Edith, has become a mystery writer named Babs). Voice-over narration is used to convey Babs's thoughts to the viewer as she details her suspicions about her next-door neighbors, the Blanchards. Gone is the carpool and the end of season party for the campers and their mothers; in its place is a nosy woman who writes mysteries and lets her imagination run wild.

Babs's husband John (as Tom has been renamed) pretends to be asleep in bed as Babs prattles on, and only when she leaves the room does he turn on the light to read a book in peace. For no reason that is ever explained, Mr. Blanchard suddenly appears, peeking through the Fentons' back door. As a result, Babs goes next door to investigate and walks into the Blanchards' house, uninvited. She explores the home and has just entered a woman's bedroom when Mr. Blanchard surprises her, though he does not seem concerned that his next-door neighbor is wandering through his house alone at night. Blanchard assures Babs that his wife is fine and sends her on her way. The next day, Babs works at her typewriter and a scene plays out in her imagination, as Blanchard murders his wife with a fireplace poker. As in the story, Mrs. Blanchard visits Babs unexpectedly, but her husband appears and orders her to return home. That night, Babs again talks to her husband as he tries to sleep, and she imagines Blanchard is keeping his wife a virtual prisoner. She looks out of her bedroom window and sees Blanchard dragging a heavy sack to his car; after rushing next door and getting no answer, she calls the police to report that she suspects her neighbor of murder.

Mary Scott as Babs Fenton
The following day, Ellen Blanchard (Celia's new name) reappears at Babs's house, alive and well. She lights her cigarette with the lighter and leaves; not long after, Blanchard returns the lighter to Babs. The teleplay tacks on an additional twist, as Babs finishes writing her story the next morning, only to be shocked when the police telephone to say that Blanchard killed his wife with a fireplace poker the night before and has been arrested for murder.

Rudley's teleplay for "Mr. Blanchard's Secret" uses the basic plot threads and characters of Neff's short story and expands them into a longer piece in which the characters are next door neighbors and Babs is a mystery writer. This provides a reason for her vivid imagination and makes it easier for her to snoop on the Blanchards. The twist ending, where her fantasy comes true, is unnecessary. As in Rudley's teleplay for "The Baby Sitter," there is a reliance on voice-over narration to provide exposition and to move the story along. Violent scenes are added that are not in the short story, but they are explained away as scenes that Babs imagines as she writes. There are some parallels to Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954) in that Babs spies on her neighbors, worries that the husband has murdered his wife, and sneaks into their residence. In Emily Neff's short story, the title secret is that the wife is a kleptomaniac. In Rudley's teleplay, the secret is that Blanchard turns out to be a murderer after all.

Robert Horton as John Fenton
The TV version of "Mr. Blanchard's Secret" was rehearsed and filmed on October 18, 19, and 22, 1956, with Alfred Hitchcock directing. Comparing the filmed version to the teleplay reveals that there must have been at least one more draft of the script before filming, since important changes have been made and it is unlikely that Hitchcock made them at the time of filming, especially in light of the three-day schedule. The initial scene, where the shadowy figure attacks the sleeping woman, is replaced by a close-up of a typed page, with a pencil moving across the lines that describe a scene similar to the one in the script. The following scenes feature a combination of voice-over narration and soliloquy by Babs, whose incessant chatter makes the viewer envy her husband as he pretends to sleep.

Meg Mundy as Ellen Blanchard
The most effective scene is the one that portrays Babs's fantasy of Blanchard murdering his wife. Instead of hitting her with a fireplace poker, he strangles her, and the scene is played as melodrama, with a theremin providing eerie background music under dialogue that establishes that Ellen is an alcoholic who has ruined her husband's career. One drawback to the TV version is that the viewer never gets to see what Babs sees outside her window, which makes comparisons to Rear Window less apt. In "Mr. Blanchard's Secret," there is more talk than action, to the show's detriment, and any action that does occur usually turns out to be in Babs's fertile imagination.

Dayton Lummis
as Mr. Blanchard
Another significant change occurs near the end. When Mr. Blanchard picks up the cigarette lighter, Babs remarks that it does not work and Ellen remarks that she adores silver. At the end of the scene, Babs hears her Irish stew sizzling on the stove and rushes out of the room. Ellen gets up to leave, steps, turns, picks up the silver lighter, and walks out with it. Babs returns and immediately notices that the item is missing. She remarks, "'Now I know what Mr. Blanchard's secret is!'" The TV version then departs from the script. The scene where Blanchard returns the lighter and apologizes is deleted, and when the police telephone, they do not tell Babs that Mr. Blanchard has murdered his wife; instead, she is told that they have found a woman's body and she is asked to come to the morgue to identify it. The viewer assumes that her suspicions have come true, and Babs blames herself for precipitating the murder. However, a new twist is added as she opens the door to find Mr. and Mrs. Blanchard standing outside. Ellen hands Babs the lighter, saying that her husband repaired it, and the show ends with a fade-out on Babs's face, surprised once again. There is no murder at all, and Mr. Blanchard's secret, if he has one, is that he is good at repairing lighters.

The TV show is uninspired, marred by an overly flamboyant performance by Mary Scott as Babs and by dull direction by Hitchcock, who only stages one scene with interest--the imaginary murder of Mrs. Blanchard by her husband.

"Alvin Brickrock Presents"

Five years later, the animated show, The Flintstones, ran a parody of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that may incorporate aspects of "Mr. Blanchard's Secret" along with aspects of Rear Window. On Friday, October 6, 1961, an episode titled "Alvin Brickrock Presents" aired on ABC; the seventh and final season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents was set to debut on NBC the following Tuesday. In the cartoon, Fred Flintstone is hooked on murder mysteries and he and Barney Rubble enjoy watching through his window as Fred's new neighbors fight. Alvin Brickrock, who resembles Alfred Hitchcock, has moved in next door, and his wife Agatha has disappeared. Fred, like Babs in "Mr. Blanchard's Secret," becomes concerned when Brickrock asks to borrow a shovel, and when Fred reads a detective magazine before bed, his imagination runs wild.

Fred and Barney investigate the neighbor's house and Brickrock discovers them, much as Blanchard discovers Babs investigating his house. They suspect that Agatha's body is hidden in a large trunk, but their suspicions turn out to be incorrect, though Brickrock's final speech to the camera (a parody of Hitchcock's typical closing comments) seems to suggest that he did kill his wife, after all.

"Mr. Blanchard's Secret" was remade in color in 1989 as "Murder in Mind," an episode in the fourth and final season of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series that ran in the mid- to late-1980s. Starring Melissa Sue Anderson as Julie (as Babs has been renamed), the episode aired on the USA network on Saturday, January 28, 1989. Surprisingly, the teleplay is credited to Sarett Rudley, based on a story by Emily Neff, and this version of the story is closer to Rudley's teleplay than the 1956 version, with one important addition.

Melissa Sue Anderson as Julie Fenton
Instead of the voice-over narration that is used in the version directed by Hitchcock, this version finds Julie speaking directly to the camera, and this time the viewer sees what she sees when she looks out of the window. The character of her husband, who has been renamed Donald, spends the entire episode in bed, vainly trying to sleep despite her chatter. There is an added flashback where Julie runs into Mr. Blanchard while shopping, and one scene where the murder is imagined is a parody of the shower scene in Psycho. This version also follows the 1956 TV show in regard to the lighter; this time, Mrs. Blanchard slyly pockets it when Julie is not looking. The episode as a whole is more enjoyable than the 1956 version, mainly because Melissa Sue Anderson is more likeable as Julie than Mary Scott is as Babs. The show's success is marred by a new scene that has been added at the very end. After the Blanchards have returned the lighter, Julie climbs into bed next to her husband, who has spent the episode trying to sleep. Presumably in response to her incessant chatter, he suddenly sits up, looks at the viewer, smiles, pulls out a large knife, and stabs his wife as she lies next to him! This supposedly humorous, violent murder is wholly unexpected and unwelcome and leaves a bad taste in the viewer's mouth after a reasonably successful episode.

The 1956 version of "Mr. Blanchard's Secret" is one of the less enjoyable episodes of the series, though that is not the fault of Emily Neff (1922-1999), who wrote the original story. Neff worked as a newspaper reporter and wrote a handful of short stories that were published between 1948 and 1978. Three of her stories were adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents (including "One for the Road"), and one was adapted for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. For more about Emily Neff, click here.

John Fenton reads
The Case of the Slippery
 in bed.
Robert Horton (1924-2016) receives top billing as John Fenton, though his role is secondary to that of his wife. Horton had been active in film since 1945, but from 1952 to 1989, he was a busy TV actor, co-starring in Wagon Train (1957-1962), and then starring on the short-lived series, A Man Called Shenandoah (1965-1966). A website devoted to his career is here. This was one of seven episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents in which he was featured, including "Crack of Doom," and after his television career ended he spent many years on stage.

Ellen Blanchard is played by Meg Mundy (1915-2016); this was one of her two appearances on the Hitchcock series, including "The Orderly World of Mr. Appleby." Born Margaret Anne Mary Mundy in London, she came to the U.S. at age six and began appearing on stage in 1934. By 1940, she was a top model, and she appeared on TV from 1949 to 2001, including a long run as a regular on the soap opera, The Doctors, from 1972 to 1982. She was also in films from 1978 to 1987.

The lead character, Babs Fenton, is played by Mary Scott (1921-2009). Born in Los Angeles, she appeared in movies beginning in 1942 and on TV beginning in 1951. She is best remembered today for her roles in eight episodes of the Hitchcock TV show, including "The Diplomatic Corpse." In the late 1940s, she was on Broadway in a production of Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra when she met the English actor Cedric Hardwicke; she got pregnant and he divorced his wife. Hardwicke and Scott wed in 1950, when he was 57 years old and she was 29. She later wrote an autobiography called Nobody Ever Accused Me of Being a 'Lady,' and there is an interesting obituary here.

Finally, Dayton Lummis (1903-1988) plays Mr. Blanchard. He was on screen from 1946 to 1975, appeared in Hitchcock's The Wrong Man (1957), which was released less than three months after this episode aired, and appeared in two other episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Crack of Doom," with Robert Horton. He also appeared twice on Thriller.

Despite being a mediocre episode of the TV series, "Mr. Blanchard's Secret" continues to generate interest; a stage adaptation by Lawrence Ripp was scheduled to run in Minneapolis in April 2022, days after this article was written.

Watch "Mr. Blanchard's Secret" online here or buy the DVD here. Watch "Murder in Mind" online here. Thanks to Melissa McMullen from the University at Albany Library for providing a copy of the teleplay!


"Alvin Brickrock Presents." The Flintstones, season 2, episode 4, ABC, 6 October 1961.

"Apr 1 Mr Blanchards Secret: Minnesota Association of Community Theatres." Apr 1 Mr Blanchards Secret | Minnesota Association of Community Theatres,


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

"Mr. Blanchard's Secret." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 2, episode 13, CBS, 23 December 1956.

"Murder in Mind." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 4, episode 8, USA, 28 January 1989.

Neff, Emily. "Mr. Blanchard's Secret" Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, June 1978, 25-31.
Rudley, Sarett. “Mr. Blanchard's Secret.” 26 July 1956.
Stephensen-Payne, Phil. Galactic Central,
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

In two weeks: Our coverage of Sarett Rudley continues with "My Brother Richard," starring Royal Dano and Harry Townes!

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "Fog Closing In" here!

Listen to Annie and Kathryn discuss "Mr. Blanchard's Secret" here!

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