Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Hitchcock Project-Sarett Rudley Part Three: My Brother, Richard [2.17]

by Jack Seabrook

"My Brother, Richard" first aired on CBS on Sunday, January 20, 1957. The teleplay is by Sarett Rudley and the onscreen credit says that it is based on a story by Jay Bennett.

Jay Bennett (1912-2009) was born in New York City and began writing for radio in the 1930s. During WWII, he wrote for the Office of War Information, and he wrote plays after the war, before writing teleplays for a few TV series in 1953 and 1954. By the late 1950s, he had switched from writing for TV to writing books, publishing novels from 1959 to 1993. He became a popular writer of fiction for young adults and won Edgar Awards for Best Juvenile Novel two years in a row, in 1974 and 1975.

There are several short stories by Bennett that appeared in collections between 1975 and 1997, but the FictionMags Index lists no short stories by the author, and it appears that "My Brother, Richard" was not based on a published story. However, an episode of the radio show, Suspense, called "Turnabout," was broadcast on January 24, 1960, and it was "written for Suspense by Jay Bennett." A comparison of the two shows strongly suggests that the script for "Turnabout" may have been the story that Rudley adapted as "My Brother, Richard"; it seems unlikely that Bennett would have written the story before 1957 and then adapted it for radio in 1960, making significant changes to what he had written three years earlier. For the purposes of this analysis, I will assume that the script for "Turnabout" was what Rudley had in front of her when she revised it for television.

Royal Dano as Martin Ross
"Turnabout" begins as Walter Carlton commits murder by bludgeoning Todd Blake with the butt of a gun. Carlton goes home and calmly reads Esquire while his manservant makes him a cocktail; the murderer then asks his servant to pack his bags because he is going on a trip in the morning and does not know how long he will be gone. In the morning, he boards a train at Grand Central Station, disembarks at the first stop, returns to Grand Central, and telephones his friend, District Attorney Martin Ross, from a phone booth. Carlton invites himself over for dinner at the Ross home that evening and Martin mentions that a man has been found murdered, describing the victim as a "'down and outer in a furnished room on the West Side.'"

After dinner, Walter tells stories to amuse Martin, his wife Emily, and their young son Billy, encouraging the boy to call him Uncle Walter, when the guest suddenly asks his host about the "'rooming house murder'" and admits that he is the murderer. Martin and Emily laugh, but when Walter pulls out a gun and kills their cat in the same way that he killed Blake, they are horrified. Walter tells the parents that he will sleep in Billy's room with the door barricaded, warning them that he will kill the child if they try to interfere with his plans.

The next morning, at breakfast, Walter foils Emily's effort to drug him when he offers his eggs to Billy to eat and the boy's mother stops the boy from taking a bite. Walter insists that Martin go to his office, where he resists holding a janitor named Swenson for questioning, since the man found Blake's body. Walter's reign of terror continues when he burns Emily's arm with a hot teakettle after she tries to throw tea in his face. Carlton tells Martin that he must bring Swenson to trial and convince a jury to convict him; he explains that, years before, Blake had wrecked Walter's marriage, so Walter swore to kill Blake one day and spent years planning his murder.

Inger Stevens as Laura Ross
After Walter tells Martin that, if he fails to comply, Walter will kill his whole family, Martin orders that Swenson be booked for Blake's murder. The trial goes forward and Swenson is found guilty and sentenced to death. Martin tries to outwit Walter by hiding a gun in the hedge outside his home, but Walter catches him in the act and beats Martin with a rubber hose. After staying home for a few days to heal, Martin returns to the office on the day that Swenson is set to be executed at night. Martin is told that Swenson's mother has arrived in town but, consumed by guilt, he insists that he does not want to see her.

At home, the doorbell rings and Swenson's mother is at the door. Since she has never seen Martin, Walter decides to impersonate the district attorney and speak to her, in order to prevent Martin from telling her about the real killer. Mrs. Swenson pleads with Walter to save her son but, when he says that there is nothing he can do, she pulls a gun out of her purse and shoots and kills him, thinking she is killing the district attorney who put her son on Death Row. Martin tells her that she has inadvertently saved her son, and the only person who laments Walter's death is Billy, whose illusions about his Uncle Walter remain intact.

"Turnabout" is a wonderful radio show that races along from start to finish, creating tension from the situation where the Ross family is held hostage by a murderer and Martin Ross, the district attorney, has to see to it that an innocent man is convicted in order to protect his loved ones. When Sarett Rudley adapted the story for television as "My Brother, Richard," she made significant changes that shed light on the differences between how a story is dramatized on radio and TV.

Harry Townes as Richard Ross
The show begins with a shot of a grey-haired man taking a shower in the locker room at a golf club. A close up of a hand holding a gun follows, and the man is shot in the back of the head. Already, the story has been changed; in the radio version, the victim is bludgeoned with a gun butt. The camera pans over to the killer, Richard Ross, who appears calm and unaffected by his crime. He is a dandy, wearing a suit and tie, with a bowler hat on his head and a carnation in his lapel. He pockets the gun and picks up the victim's shirt from the floor, placing it neatly on a table. Richard's act and appearance mark him as careful and attentive to detail, while Rudley's decision to have him shoot rather than bludgeon his victim allows him some distance from the physical act of murder.

There is a dissolve to the home of Martin and Laura Ross. She tells him that his briefcase is getting too full for a clean shirt, and his lack of concern for his clothes stands in contrast to his brother's fastidious nature. Richard Ross walks in the front door, clearly used to being at Martin's home, and it is revealed that the murderer is Martin's brother, a much closer relationship than that which the two men shared in the radio version, where they were old friends. Martin hopes to be nominated for governor, and there is no little boy in the TV version of the story, thus removing an important source of danger that was present in the radio play. Another big change is that the murder victim was not a man who had wronged his killer years before; instead, he is Burton Reeves, Martin's rival in the race for governor. Richard's act is intended to benefit his brother and help him to be elected, but it is also selfish, since he tells Martin that he expects to get construction contracts when his brother becomes governor.

Some online comments regarding this episode have suggested that its shower murder was a precursor to the one in Psycho, but the killing of Reeves bears no relation to the killing of Marion Crane in that film, other than that they both meet their end in a shower. A more apt comparison of this episode to a Hitchcock film is to Strangers on a Train. In that film, Bruno commits murder to help Guy, but Guy is horrified, much as Richard Ross engages in homicide and his brother is shocked. Like Bruno, Richard Ross is a psychopath who has so little remorse for his act that he will not even admit that it was a crime.

Ray Teal as Sheriff Briggs
With no little boy to menace, Richard must focus his wrath on Laura Ross; he pulls a gun and threatens to kill her. Martin recalls how Richard had worked to ruin his own business partner, suggesting that his ruthlessness as a businessman foreshadowed his later act of murder. As in the radio play, Richard insists that Martin find another person to blame for the murder, but this time it is young Tommy Kopeck, a caddy at the golf club where the crime was committed. Sheriff Briggs telephones Martin about the young man whom he has detained, and Martin goes to the sheriff's office, where he convinces Tommy to sign a confession as part of a plan to get the real killer. Martin tells Tommy that he cannot tell his mother the truth, which helps set up the show's final scene.

Unlike the radio play, there is no effort by Martin to sneak a gun into the house, nor is there a trial and a conviction. Instead, the events occur in a more compressed period of time. At the Ross house, Richard vainly admires his reflection in a mirror and tells Laura that he and his brother are very much alike. Martin returns home and Richard demands that he hand over the signed confession; Richard then announces that he will take Laura with him and hold her hostage until after Tommy has been executed. Richard is beginning to break down under the stress of the situation, as is shown by his hair, which grows more disheveled as the story progresses.

In an attempt to prevent Richard from taking Laura, Martin lunges at him, but Richard bludgeons his brother, who collapses to the floor. Richard is about to shoot Laura when the doorbell rings and Mrs. Kopeck arrives. Thinking Richard is Martin, she pleads with him, but Richard tells her that Tommy will be hanged and there is nothing that can be done. Richard turns his back on the woman and she pulls a small kitchen knife from her bag, rather than the gun that she uses in the radio show. She stabs Richard in the back as he is about to walk out the front door with Laura. Martin awakens, embraces Laura, and announces that they are all safe because of her, adding that "'That'll be our defense--yours and mine.'" This final line, which is not in the radio show, recognizes their shared culpability and looks forward to the difficulty that Martin will face in explaining what he and Mrs. Kopeck did, and why they did it.

Bobby Ellis as Tommy Kopeck
"My Brother, Richard" is an unsuccessful adaptation of an exciting radio play, but the duality that Rudley sets up by making Richard the brother of Martin creates some interesting parallels between the two characters. Martin represents law and order, and he is a loving husband who is willing to put a young man's life in jeopardy in order to protect his own wife. Martin cares less about his clothes and his appearance than his job as a public servant. Richard, on the other hand, is the wealthy owner of a construction company who ran his partner out of business. He is overly concerned with his own appearance, and he is a psychopath who thinks it is acceptable to commit murder in order to further his brother's political career and make more money. Richard has no qualms about killing his brother's wife and is so deluded that he thinks his brother shares his worldview, until events occur to make it clear that he is wrong. Unfortunately, the parallels and contrasts set up between the two men do not translate into exciting, dramatic action.

The changes made by Sarett Rudley in adapting Bennett's radio play for television were likely done due to the differences in the two mediums, and for budgetary reasons. Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes typically featured only a few sets, making it necessary to remove the opening scenes at Grand Central Station and at the killer's home, as well as the later courtroom scenes. In addition, a TV production requires that action be represented on screen, while a radio play can go anywhere, since the listeners can use their imagination to picture the scenes. Finally, it seems like the more expansive chronology of the radio play had to be compressed for the TV version to be believable.

"My Brother, Richard" is directed in pedestrian fashion by Herschel Daugherty (1910-1993), a prolific TV director from 1952 to 1975 who also directed a couple of movies. He directed 27 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents in all, including "The Blessington Method," and he directed 16 episodes of Thriller. I find his work on Thriller to be more interesting than his work on the Hitchcock show; he seems to have more success with the macabre than with suspense.

Lisa Golm as Mrs. Kopeck
Starring as Martin Ross is Royal Dano (1922-1994), whose screen persona resembles that of a bargain basement Jimmy Stewart. He had a long career as a character actor in movies and on TV, appearing on three episodes of the Hitchcock series and also in The Trouble With Harry (1955).

Lovely Inger Stevens (1934-1970) plays Laura Ross; she was in one other episode of the Hitchcock TV series. Born Inger Stensland in Stockholm, Sweden, she was on screen from 1954 to 1970 and appeared on The Twilight Zone twice. She starred in the TV series The Farmer's Daughter from 1963 to 1966 and died of an overdose in Hollywood.

Giving his usual fine performance as Richard Ross is Harry Townes (1914-2001), an actor who could seem intense and menacing one moment yet sad and vulnerable the next. He was on Broadway before serving in the Army Air Corps in WWII; his screen career lasted from 1949 to 1988 and included an important role in Screaming Mimi (1958). He was on the Hitchcock show four times, including "The Creeper," and also appeared in classic episodes of The Twilight Zone and Thriller. Oddly enough, in addition to being an actor, he was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1974.

In smaller roles:
  • Ray Teal (1902-1976) as Sheriff Briggs; he has hundreds of credits on IMDb and was on screen from 1937 to 1974, including a semi-regular role on Bonanza as Sheriff Roy Coffee. He made no less than eight appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Revenge."
  • Bobby Ellis (1933-1973) as Tommy Kopeck; he was on screen from 1948 to 1961 and he was a regular on the 1954 series, Meet Corliss Archer. He was also on radio from 1944 to 1953, and he appeared in one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "The Night the World Ended."
  • Lisa Golm (1891-1964) as Mrs. Kopeck; born Louise Schmertzler in Berlin, she fled Nazi Germany in the late 1930s and acted on screen from 1939 to 1962. This was her only appearance on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, but she also appeared on The Twilight Zone.
Watch "My Brother, Richard" online here or buy the DVD here. Listen to "Turnabout" here.


Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001. IMDb,
"My Brother, Richard." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 2, episode 17, CBS, 20 January 1957.
"Suspense - Turnabout." Escape and Suspense!,
"Turnabout." YouTube,
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

In two weeks: Our coverage of Sarett Rudley continues with "A Man Greatly Beloved," starring Cedric Hardwicke!

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "De Mortuis" here!

Listen to Annie and Kathryn discuss "Services Rendered" here!

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