Thursday, November 17, 2022

The Hitchcock Project-Helen Nielsen Part Three: You Can't Trust a Man [6.30] and wrapup

by Jack Seabrook

In Helen Nielsen's story, "You Can't Trust A Man," published in the January 1955 issue of Manhunt, Crystal Coe is a beautiful, blonde nightclub singer with a secret. She wears an expensive gown and a mink stole as she climbs into a late model convertible, where she is joined by a "thin man in a shabby suit and a battered hat." His name is Tony and they know each other. He sent her a note asking to meet; he has just spent seven years in prison, taking the rap for her after she tricked him into thinking she was pregnant. While in prison, Tony saw Crystal's picture in the newspaper, next to an announcement that she had married a band leader. She is now wed to an older man who owns "a few dozen oil fields." Tony reminds Crystal of what she was doing when they met and she asks him how much money he wants.

"You Can't Trust a Man"
was first published here
"'Once a saloon tramp, always a saloon tramp,'" he says, reminding her of their life as a married couple, when she would go to a dive while he worked late as a movie projectionist. Though he tried to invent something to make them rich, she couldn't "'wait around for some tinkering fool forever.'" Crystal stops to fill the tank at a gas station and Tony starts to get out of the car, telling her that he doesn't want her money. She asks him to wait and he stays put, aware that she does not want the station attendant to see a bum exit her car. Crystal takes a gas coupon book out of the glove compartment and signs a coupon to pay for the gas; Tony sees his old revolver and takes it out as well, telling Crystal he doesn't want it.

Back on the road, she drives down Sunset Boulevard, speeding up as Tony notices that a police car is following them. Crystal reveals that she wrote a message asking for help on the gas coupon and the car turns down a side street, where she takes the gun and shoots Tony three times. When the police arrive, she is sobbing hysterically, and her performance continues at the police station, where she explains that her passenger wanted to kill her. Her husband is about to take her home when a police lieutenant explains that they had received a report on Tony a few days ago, since he needed permission to come to their state to close a business deal. While in prison, he invented some new movie equipment worth over a quarter of a million dollars. The lieutenant speculates as to the amount of investigation it will take to find his beneficiary!

Polly Bergen as Crystal Coe
The story ends with Crystal and the reader sharing the knowledge that she will be found to have been married to Tony when she killed him, which will surely cast doubt on her story about his being a stranger who planned to kill her. Her career and her freedom are suddenly in jeopardy, not to mention her marriage and her fortune. It's a brilliant twist ending to a gripping and suspenseful story. Nielsen piles surprise upon surprise, saving the best for last: Tony is revealed as Crystal's husband; he doesn't want her money; she turns the tables and kills him; he gets unexpected revenge. Why can't Crystal trust a man? She can't trust Tony to stay away and leave her alone when she's successful, so she kills him. She also can't trust him to remain a failure, so she'll soon be exposed as a killer.

Joe Maross as Tony
Helen Nielsen adapted her own story for television, and it was broadcast on Alfred Hitchcock Presents on NBC on Tuesday, May 9, 1961. The TV version is an excellent example of how a skilled writer can adapt a story from the page to the small screen without losing any of its punch.

While most of the story takes place in Crystal's car, Helen Nielsen uses the visual medium differently. The show opens in Crystal's dressing room, as Pauline, her maid, tries on Crystal's mink stole before a full-length mirror, the first woman we see trying on another identity. Loud, brassy music is heard through the wall and, when it ends, applause. The maid puts the stole back in its place and prepares a drink for Crystal, who enters through the door, angry and rude to Pauline. Claiming she's tired, Crystal sends the maid home early, clearing the way for Tony's arrival.

Crystal sits before her makeup mirror, the back of her tight gown unzipped, and we see the door open and a man enter, shown only from the waist down. Crystal is not surprised and puts a cigarette in her mouth; the man approaches, lights a match, and she lets him light her cigarette, a way to show us that they know each other, have known each other for a long time, and that this is a familiar ritual. The camera pulls back and we see Tony for the first time. The dialogue closely follows that of the story, as Crystal goes behind a screen to change clothes while they discuss Tony's note and her fake pregnancy of seven years ago.

Frank Albertson as George
The beautiful singer emerges from behind the screen in a glittering, sleeveless dress and Tony grabs her roughly on her upper arm, telling her, "'I didn't know you could sing, baby'"; in the story, this line is followed by "'I always thought you had only one talent,'" implying that she was only good at sex, but this line is understandably deleted from the teleplay. The dialogue continues to follow that of the story closely, but when Tony tells Crystal that he didn't recognize her right away when he saw a picture of Crystal Coe in the newspaper, he gets rough again, grabbing her face and smacking her now dark hair. Tony's speech is brutal, the violence of his words matching his gestures. Crystal tries to act like it doesn't bother her, brushing her hair in the mirror, but the look on her face tells a different story. Crystal drops an earring and Tony rushes to pick it up; perhaps there is still a shred of gallantry left. He seems to put the earring on her ear with some gentleness, but then he grabs her hair again and turns her head to face him, demonstrating that any gentle moments are fleeting.

The line about Tony having been a "'lousy movie projectionist'" is removed, and Tony's invention at the end of the show will be different than in the story. As the dialogue continues to follow that of the story closely, Crystal wraps the mink stole around herself and Tony opens the dressing room door; he follows Crystal out into the empty hallway and finally confirms what the viewer has suspected up to this point: "'After all, you never divorced me. I'm still your husband.'" They go out of the club's back entrance and walk through an alley to her car. The first half of the short story takes place in Crystal's car, as she and Tony drive and talk. The first half of the TV show takes place in the dressing room, and the change allows for more space for the characters to move around; it also presents a contrast to the show's second section, which does take place in her car.

Walter Kinsella as the lieutenant
Tony holds the door for Crystal, a gentleman again, and she gets in the driver's seat, lighting another cigarette while he goes around to the other side of the car and gets in the passenger seat. The drive begins, and we see Tony and Crystal in the typical TV car shot, head-on, with rear projection images in the back window. Almost immediately, Crystal pulls into the gas station. As in the story, Crystal doesn't let Tony get out of the car. He thinks it's because she doesn't like being turned down and doesn't want anyone to see him emerge from her car, but later events will show that this was not correct--she had planned Tony's murder even before he arrived at her dressing room. As the gas tank is being filled, the attendant cleans the huge windshield and the shadow of his arm passes back and forth over Tony and Crystal as Tony talks, a visual way of showing how their conversation is private, held quietly in a metal box, unheard by the man outside.

As Tony leans across the seat toward Crystal, there is an insert shot of her hand opening the glove compartment to remove her gas credit card. Next to the card, we see a gun, and suspenseful music swells to underscore the danger posed by the weapon. Tony sees the gun and takes it out before putting it back, saying he doesn't want it anymore. Crystal then signs the gas receipt and it's clear she's writing a message for the attendant. She and he exchange knowing looks, underlining her secret message in a way that is absent from the story. Crystal drives off and we see the attendant rush into the gas station office to call the police.

Claire Carleton as Pauline
The dialogue that follows tracks the story closely. The police car begins to follow them and a siren is heard on the soundtrack. Tony turns around in his seat to look at the police car and Crystal opens the glove compartment and takes out the gun. Suddenly, she swerves to the side of the road and hits the brakes, causing Tony to hit his head on the dashboard (of course, there are no seat belts!). Dazed, he sees that she is pointing the gun at him. As the siren gets louder, Crystal tells Tony the truth in an exchange that is much shorter than the one in the story. Their voices escalate until she shoots him. He collapses on the seat and the police car pulls up behind them. A policeman opens the passenger door and shines a flashlight on Crystal, who begins to sob as she tells the policeman, "'He tried to kill me!'"

There is a dissolve to the police station, where the lieutenant helpfully reads aloud the message that Crystal wrote on the gas station receipt; in the story, she tells Tony what the message said not long before she shoots him. Crystal tells her story, claiming that Tony was waiting in her car when she left the club, which is closer to what happened in the story; her husband George asks if they can go home, and the lieutenant releases her. Instead of delivering the final lines at the station, however, there is a dissolve to Crystal's comfortable living room, where her husband is serving her coffee the next morning. Once again, Crystal plays the helpless woman, something we have seen that she definitely is not. George tells her that he'll take her on an extensive trip when she's finished at the club, but that's not to be. The doorbell rings and it's the lieutenant, who has brought Crystal's car back and who delivers the shattering final lines that seal Crystal's doom. Unlike the story, where Tony invented "'some kind of equipment for showing motion pictures,'" the lieutenant explains that Tony invented "'some kind of electronic equipment.'" Whatever the case, the search for his beneficiary won't end well for Crystal, and the show concludes with a closeup of her face, its troubled expression telling us all we need to know.

Andy Romano
Helen Nielsen does a superb job of adapting "You Can't Trust a Man" for television. The decision to set the first half of the show in Crystal's dressing room makes for a much more interesting half hour than it would have been if it were spent wholly in the car, and adding the scene at Crystal's house increases the irony of the final revelation. Director Paul Henreid uses shadows beautifully, especially in the scene at the gas station, and stages the scene where Crystal shoots Tony so that events happen rapidly and create maximum excitement. The cast is perfect, and the two leads, Polly Bergen as Crystal and Joe Maross as Tony, are completely believable as their characters. Bergen's Crystal is an attractive, calculating woman with a hard exterior who has a lot of experience in manipulating the men around her. As Tony, Joe Maross is tough and violent, exactly the way a man would be after spending seven years in prison taking the rap for his ungrateful wife.

"You Can't Trust a Man" is directed by Paul Henreid (1908-1992), who began his career as a film actor. His work as a director started in the early 1950s and he directed 29 episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "A Little Sleep."

Keith Britton
Polly Bergen (1930-2014) started out singing on the radio at age 14 and began appearing in films in 1949. She added TV in 1952 and Broadway in 1953; she was also a singer, who put out records from 1955 to 1963 and who sang in nightclubs, just like Crystal Coe. She wrote books on fashion and beauty and was a panelist on To Tell the Truth from 1956 to 1961. Bergen won an Emmy in 1958 for her performance as Helen Morgan in "The Helen Morgan Story," which had aired on Playhouse 90 on May 16, 1957. Morgan was a torch singer in the 1920s and 1930s who led a tragic life; perhaps it was this role that led Joan Harrison to cast Bergen as Crystal Coe. Bergen's run as a panelist on To Tell the Truth ended in February 1961, so it's possible that she filmed this episode soon after that.

Joe Maross (1923-2009) was born Joseph Marosz; he served in the Marines in WWII and had a long career on screen, mostly on TV, from 1952 to 1986. He appeared on Thriller ("Knock Three-One-Two"), The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "A Personal Matter."

In smaller roles:
  • Frank Albertson (1909-1964) as Crystal's husband, George; on screen from 1923 to 1964, he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and appeared in four episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "Out There--Darkness." He was also on Thriller and played Sam Wainwright in It's a Wonderful Life (1946). He had small parts in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and Psycho (1960).
  • Walter Kinsella (1900-1975) as the police lieutenant; he started on Broadway in 1927, acted on radio, and was on TV from 1954 to 1966. He served in the Marines in WWI and was on Alfred Hitchcock Presents three times, including "Most Likely to Succeed."
  • Claire Carleton (1913-1979) as Pauline, the maid in Crystal's dressing room; was on Broadway in the '30s and '40s and on screen from 1933 to 1969. She was on Thriller and she was seen in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "And So Died Riabouchinska."
  • Andy Romano (1941- ) as the gas station attendant; he was on screen from 1961 to 2003, including an appearance on Batman and parts in eight episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "The Black Curtain."
  • Keith Britton (1919-1970) as the cop who opens the door of Crystal's car; he played bit parts from 1955 to 1962, appeared on The Twilight Zone, and was in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "You Can't Be a Little Girl All Your Life."
Read "You Can't Trust a Man" online here. Watch the TV version online here or buy the DVD here.

Sources:

The FICTIONMAGS Index, http://www.philsp.com/homeville/FMI/0start.htm.

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

IBDB, IBDB.com, https://www.ibdb.com.

IMDb, IMDb.com, https://www.imdb.com.

Nielsen, Helen. "You Can't Trust a Man." Manhunt, Jan. 1955, pp. 14-24.

Stephensen-Payne, Phil. Galactic Central, http://philsp.com.

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, https://www.wikipedia.org.

"You Can't Trust a Man." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 6, episode 30, CBS, 9 May 1961.

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Helen Nielsen on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: An Overview and Episode Guide

Like other authors, Helen Nielsen's first episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents was based on one of her stories and adapted by another writer; in this case, William Fay adapted "Your Witness," a very good story, into a powerful half hour of television, in which a woman gets revenge on her cruel, faithless husband.

Nielsen then wrote four teleplays: "Letter of Credit" adapts Nielsen's own story into a less successful TV show; "The Baby-Blue Expression" expands Mary Stolz's brief short story about a vapid woman who accidentally seals her own doom; "You Can't Trust a Man" turns a great short story into a great TV show about a woman who kills her husband but knows she will soon be caught; and "You Can't Be a Little Girl All Your Life" adapts Stanley Ellin's short story about a woman who is attacked by a mysterious man who turns out to be her husband.

Finally, Nielsen's short story, "Death Scene," was adapted by James Bridges for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour; the story is good and the TV show is engrossing, featuring an older woman passing as younger. The six episodes with stories or teleplays by Nielsen often revolve around central characters who are female, and the writer demonstrates a strong command of plotting and irony that works perfectly for this series.

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EPISODE GUIDE-HELEN NIELSEN ON ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and THE ALFRED HITCHCOK HOUR

Episode title-"Your Witness" [4.31]
Broadcast date-17 May 1959
Teleplay by-William Fay
Based on "Your Witness" by Helen Nielsen
First print appearance-Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, December 1958
Notes
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-yes

"Your Witness"

Episode title-"Letter of Credit" [5.36]
Broadcast date-19 June 1960
Teleplay by-Helen Nielsen
Based on "Henry Lowden Alias Henry Taylor" by Helen Nielsen
First print appearance-Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, July 1960
Notes
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-yes

"Letter of Credit"

Episode title-"The Baby-Blue Expression" [6.12]
Broadcast date-20 December 1960
Teleplay by-Helen Nielsen
Based on "Sapphire Mink" by Mary Stolz
First print appearance-Argosy, April 1960
Notes
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-yes

"The Baby-Blue Expression"

Episode title-"You Can't Trust a Man" [6.30]
Broadcast date-9 May 1961
Teleplay by-Helen Nielsen
Based on "You Can't Trust a Man" by Helen Nielsen
First print appearance-Manhunt, January 1955
Notes
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-yes

"You Can't Trust a Man"

Episode title-"You Can't Be a Little Girl All Your Life" [7.7]
Broadcast date-21 November 1961
Teleplay by-Helen Nielsen
Based on "You Can't Be a Little Girl All Your Life" by Stanley Ellin
First print appearance-Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May 1958
Notes
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-no

"You Can't Be a Little Girl All Your Life"

Episode title-"Death Scene" [10.20]
Broadcast date-8 March 1965
Teleplay by-James Bridges
Based on "Death Scene" by Helen Nielsen
First print appearance-Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May 1963
Notes
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-no

"Death Scene"

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "Crack of Doom" here!

Listen to Annie and Kathryn discuss "The Jar" here!

In two weeks: Our look at episodes written by Jerry Sohl begins with "Dead Weight," starring Joseph Cotten and Julie Adams!

3 comments:

Grant said...

I can never see Andy Romano in anything without seeing his comical biker gang member in the Beach movies!

I need to find this episode, because it doesn't sound familiar to me at all.

Jack Seabrook said...

It's a good one. I provided a link to a free online source in the article.

Grant said...

Thank you.