Thursday, May 18, 2023

The Hitchcock Project-Halsted Welles Part One-The Dusty Drawer [4.33]

by Jack Seabrook

Halsted Welles (1906-1990) began his career as a director for the Broadway stage, in charge of various shows between 1936 and 1948. He also wrote the last one that he directed, but it only ran for five nights. He taught drama at Yale and Smith in the 1930s and 1940s and he began writing for the radio in 1944, including many episodes of Suspense.

After his stage career ended, he began writing scripts for films in 1949 and for TV shows in 1950; he wrote many teleplays for the TV version of Suspense in the early 1950s. He continued writing films on and off until 1968, including the screenplay for 3:10 to Yuma (1957), but most of his work after 1950 was for television, including six episodes of Night Gallery and six episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. His last teleplay aired in 1976. The FictionMags Index shows only one short story by Welles, published in 1953.

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"The Dusty Drawer"
was first published here
The first episode of the Hitchcock show to air with a Welles teleplay was "The Dusty Drawer," which premiered on CBS on Sunday, May 31, 1959. It was based on a short story of the same name by Harry Muheim that was published in the May 3, 1952 issue of Collier's.

As the story begins, Norman Logan sees William Tritt eating in a cafeteria and joins him, asking Tritt when he will return the $200 he stole from Logan. Ten months ago, Logan cashed in bonds worth $324 and Tritt, a bank teller, entered $124 in Logan's checking account. Logan, a botany professor at a university in New York City, is convinced that Tritt took his money to cover up an error.

Tritt walks across the street and enters the bank; Logan follows a few minutes later and removes a few bonds from his safe deposit box before chatting with Pinkson, the bank manager, who summons Tritt to cash the bonds. While Logan sits waiting at a table, he discovers an old drawer that is hidden from sight beneath an overhang. He opens the drawer and finds a "dirty, cluttered mess," including a dead spider and a calendar page from 1936. Logan realizes that the drawer has been forgotten and is nearly invisible. Tritt comes over and cashes Logan's bonds without mentioning their earlier conversation in the cafeteria. Logan returns to the university and suddenly realizes how he can use the drawer to "rob the bank and pin the robbery on Tritt."

Dick York as Norman Logan
Two months pass and, in November, Logan begins to enact his plan. At a novelty store on 51st Street, he buys a cigarette case that looks like a .38 automatic pistol; at a shop on Second Avenue, he compares the toy to a real gun to confirm that it looks authentic. Finally, he takes the subway uptown to the bank. Logan sits down at the table and, when no one is watching, puts the toy gun in the hidden drawer. He checks on it during two subsequent visits and a week before Christmas he makes his move.

Visiting the bank to cash more bonds, Logan takes the gun out of the drawer. When Tritt sits down next to him, Logan points the gun at him and demands $10,000 in twenty-dollar bills. When Tritt goes to get the money, Logan replaces the gun in the drawer. Tritt summons Pinkson and Louie, the bank guard, holds Logan at gunpoint, but when he is searched, no gun is found. Tritt is embarrassed but insistent, and Pinkson apologizes to Logan.

In the weeks that follow, Tritt begins to make mistakes, and in late January Pinkson tells Logan that the teller has been getting upset easily ever since the incident in December. On March 10, Logan confronts Tritt with the gun again, but this time Tritt brings him $10,000 in a bag. Logan again replaces the gun in the drawer and adds the bag of money. When he leaves the bank, Tritt sounds the alarm, leading to a similar, fruitless search outside the bank. Tritt makes a spectacle of himself looking for the money and insults Pinkson, who slaps the teller. Pinkson has Tritt arrested and the next day, Logan returns and retrieves gun and money from the drawer.

Philip Coolidge as William Tritt
At home, Logan types a letter to Pinkson, apologizing and returning the money, and signs it with Tritt's initials. The next day, Pinkson telephones Logan to say that Tritt returned the money but continues to deny taking it. Tritt is fired and Pinkson apologizes to Logan, who goes back to work.

"The Dusty Drawer" is a well-plotted tale of revenge, where Logan discovers an invisible hiding place, has a sudden inspiration, and then enacts a plan over the course of the next six months or so that ruins the career of an officious bank teller. Why does Logan go so far to discredit Tritt? It is because the man refuses to admit an error that cost the college professor $200. The scenes where Logan tricks Tritt with the toy gun are entertaining, and Muheim creates an environment in which it is believable that the teller can open and close the forgotten drawer without being seen, thus allowing him to put first the gun and then the money inside with the certainty that they will not be discovered. Logan's ethics are twisted; he is willing to go to great lengths to humiliate Tritt even though he has no proof that the bank teller took his money in the first place. The story plays out over the better part of a school year, starting right after Logan returns to work in September and ending in March, not long before summer break begins. The dusty drawer represents the hidden side of the bank, where a teller steals money from a customer to cover up his own error, in contrast to the clean, efficient exterior that greets the public. When Logan discovers it, the drawer is a demonstration that there is more to the bank than what is seen on the surface. He is thrilled to be able to utilize this knowledge to right a wrong.

The story's author, Harry Muheim (1920-2003) earned a Bronze Star while serving in the Navy during WWII. From 1950 to 1959 he wrote teleplays for TV anthology shows while also teaching speech and drama at New York University. He published three short stories during the decade, including "The Dusty Drawer." In the 1960s, he began writing speeches for politicians and he later wrote several TV documentaries and a novel.

Wilton Graff as Pinkson
In a note following the story in Hitchcock in Prime Time, Muheim writes that, after his story appeared in Collier's in 1952, he adapted it for TV as a live, one-hour episode of the Philco Television Playhouse, using "the device of the performer-as-narrator." William Prince, the lead actor, "would play a scene, turn from the scene to comment to the camera, then turn back into the scene. It was a complex device that worked against the essential simplicity of the prose piece."

Subsequent research has revealed that Muheim's adaptation of "The Dusty Drawer" actually appeared on the Goodyear Television Playhouse on NBC on Sunday, August 3, 1952. It was a live broadcast that appears to have been lost. Muheim's memory lapse is understandable since Goodyear and Philco alternated weeks as the show's sponsor.

"The Dusty Drawer" was collected in the 1953 volume of Best Detective Stories of the Year and reprinted in the March 1956 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. Finally, it was adapted by Halsted Welles for Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1959. The TV show is not as successful as the short story.

J. Pat O'Malley as Col. Binns
In the first scene, instead of meeting in a cafeteria across the street from the bank, Tritt and Logan sit next to each other at a table in Mrs. Merrell's boarding house, where they both reside. A telegram is delivered by Tritt and it turns out that it was sent by Logan, who demands his $200. Adding other characters around the table allows Welles to introduce the situation that exists between the two men while adding more dialogue and injecting a humorous tone. A short scene follows that is set in front of the boarding house, with dialogue similar to that found in the short story's cafeteria scene.

The third scene occurs inside the bank, where Pinkson is introduced. Logan accidentally drops his bonds on the floor under the table and discovers the dusty drawer when he bumps his elbow against it and it gives way; in the TV show, it is less clear that it has been forgotten for years. While in the story, Logan goes back to work and has his epiphany there, in the TV show he immediately is struck by an idea and is so excited that he leaves the bank without cashing his bonds. The events in the TV show are sped up and the time sequence is compressed from that of the short story; the entire episode takes place between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Almira Sessions as Mrs. Merrell
Logan immediately goes to a toy store and buys a plastic gun, not a cigarette case that resembles a gun. He returns to the bank, with only a short amount of time having passed, and holds Tritt up at gunpoint for the first time, leading to the first search. In the scenes up to this point, Tritt has been smug and self-satisfied, and when Logan holds him up there is a clever bit of business where Logan uses his finger inside his coat pocket to mimic a gun even after he has put it back in the drawer. At the end of the incident, Pinkson thanks Logan for not making a complaint and Logan chalks his own generosity up to the Christmas season.

In the next scene, Tritt is a changed man, agitated and making mistakes, while Logan stands outside his teller's cage, whistling "Jingle Bells" in front of a large Christmas tree. Tritt hides from Logan in Pinkson's office and the bank manager emerges to speak with his whistling customer; Logan tortures Tritt even more by offering to drive him home, at which point Tritt insists that he is fine while washing down pills with a glass of water.

Charity Grace as Mrs. Radford
Dinner at the boarding house follows as snow falls outside and another telegram is delivered. This time it's for Logan, who antagonizes Tritt by leaving it on the table unopened. Tritt is paranoid and complains to the other boarders, finally insisting that Logan open the telegram, which turns out to be from his mother. This scene features more humor involving the other residents. Logan returns to the bank and holds Tritt up for the second time; this time, he conceals the gun in one of his oversized mittens, allowing him to pretend to be holding it even after it is back in the drawer. By now, Tritt is a beaten man, his body language exhibiting defeat. When Logan is searched outside the bank, Tritt ends up digging in a snowbank, looking for the gun and the money until only his feet can be seen, sticking out of the snow. The effect is overly silly and demonstrates that the show's writer and director chose to play up the story's humorous aspects.

Logan re-enters the bank and puts the gun and the money in his briefcase. Once again, events are compressed in time and there is little attempt to conceal what he is doing with the drawer. As a result, his actions lack credibility. Another scene at the boarding house follows; it's breakfast time, and Tritt and Logan are absent from the communal table. Tritt is in the mental ward and Logan is in his room, typing the letter to Pinkson and signing Tritt's name. He reads the letter aloud for the viewer's benefit and, in a change from the short story, deducts $200 from the $10,000 he returns and keeps it, reimbursing himself for the theft that precipitated the events of the story. The final scene takes place at the bank, where Pinkson tells Logan that Tritt returned the money (minus $200) and will be fired. The effect is ironic, with Logan displaying a smug smile as "Deck the Halls" plays on the soundtrack.

Edgar Dearing
as Louis
The TV version of "The Dusty Drawer" is less satisfying than the short story. The timing of events is compressed and the dusty drawer, the central item in Logan's plan, never seems particularly well hidden, nor does Logan seem to try to keep his actions private. Adding the scenes at the boarding house is an attempt to add humor and dialogue for exposition, but the additional characters are not necessary to the story. Having Logan keep $200 at the end makes sense, but the punishment he doles out to Tritt seems overly harsh and the character of Logan ends up being as smug and self-satisfied as Tritt was in the early scenes.

The casting is perfect--Dick York is exactly right as Logan, while Philip Coolidge is believable as Tritt, even though he is physically the opposite of the fat man in the short story. Wilton Graff is excellent as the bank manager. The other people at the boarding house are forgettable.

This episode was directed 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.

Barry Brooks as the
toy shop salesman
Dick York (1928-1992) stars as Logan. York was born in Indiana and his screen career lasted from 1953 to 1984. Plagued by terrible back pain caused by an injury sustained on the set of a film, he nevertheless appeared in seven episodes of the Hitchcock show, as well as being on The Twilight Zone and Thriller. York's most famous role, however, was as Darrin Stephens on Bewitched, the popular situation comedy where he co-starred with Elizabeth Montgomery from 1964 to 1969, when he quit the show due to his back problems. Among his other appearances on the Hitchcock show was "Terror at Northfield."

Philip Coolidge (1908-1967) is perfect as Tritt; a radio announcer turned stage actor, he was on screen from 1947 to 1968, appeared in Hitchcock's North By Northwest (1959), and was seen in seven episodes of the Hitchcock TV series, including "Whodunit." He was also on The Twilight Zone.

Wilton Graff (1903-1969) plays Pinkson, the bank manager; he was on screen from 1939 to 1964 and also appeared in two other episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "Death of a Cop."

In smaller roles:
  • J. Pat O'Malley (1904-1985) as Colonel Binns, who sits at the head of the table at the boarding house; born in England, he began his career in the entertainment industry as a singer in 1925. He later emigrated to the U.S. as a singer and soon began acting, appearing on film starting in 1940. He was in Broadway shows from 1944 to 1954 and replaced John Williams as the inspector in "Dial 'M' for Murder"; he is best known today for his many TV roles, from 1950 to 1982, including appearances on The Twilight Zone, Thriller, Batman, and Night Gallery. This was his only role on the Hitchcock show.
  • Almira Sessions (1888-1974) as Mrs. Merrell, who runs the boarding house; her first stage role was in 1909 and regular appearances on radio followed. She appeared in numerous films and TV shows from 1932 to 1972, including Night Gallery and one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
  • Charity Grace (1884-1965) as Mrs. Radford, one of the women at the boarding house table; a schoolteacher who retired at age 60 and took up acting, she was on TV from 1947 to 1964 and appeared in five episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "Party Line."
  • Edgar Dearing (1893-1974) as Louis, the bank guard; he played countless roles in films and TV shows from 1924 to 1964, but this was his only role on the Hitchcock show.
  • Barry Brooks (1910-2000) as the toy shop salesman; he was on screen from 1948 to 1985 and appeared on The Twilight Zone as well as this single episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
Read "The Dusty Drawer" here or watch the TV version here; buy the DVD here. Read the GenreSnaps review of this episode here.


"Contemporary Authors. Encyclopedia.Com. 6 May 2023 ." Encyclopedia.Com,

"The Dusty Drawer." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 4, episode 33, CBS, 31 May 1959.


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

"Halstead Welles: Credits, Bio, News & More: Broadway World." BroadwayWorld,


Muheim, Harry. "The Dusty Drawer." Hitchcock in Prime Time. Eds. Francis M. Nevins and Henry Slesar. NY: Avon, 1985. 181-198.

Stephensen-Payne, Phil. Galactic Central,

"On Television This Week." New York Times, 3 August 1952, section 2, page 6.

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "Crackpot" here!

In two weeks: Our brief series on Halsted Welles continues with a look at "The Silk Petticoat," starring Michael Rennie!


Jon said...

I watched this episode once on MeTV and didn't much like it. It had Dick York at his nastiest (even more so than when he played a hitman), and he certainly gave Philip Coolidge's character a reason to be paranoid. (BTW, I saw Coolidge's sole TZ appearance this week on MeTV, and Coolidge could play mean really well too.) I was hoping for Hitchcock to give an outro stating that York's character didn't get away w/ it, but I didn't get that here. As an aside, are boarding houses around any more, at least in the US?

Jack Seabrook said...

I don't think many still exist. If they do, I've been lucky to avoid them!

Grant said...

I don't know this one well, but it left the same funny taste in my mouth that Jon mentions. Maybe it's typecasting, but there are some actors you just don't want to see like that, and Dick York is an obvious one.

Jack Seabrook said...

I agree. For some reason, he seemed like a real jerk in this one.

Todd Mason said...

There are boarding houses oldest friend has lived in one, given it's economical and situated in/convenient to one of the tonier neighborhoods in Boston, for a couple/few decades now. She's not paid poorly at all, but couldn't afford to live in her nabe in another sort of property.

Dick York always struck me as someone who played a jackass all too well. BEWITCHED and everywhere else. Even Dick Sargent seemed more like a peevish Dick in comparison.

Jack Seabrook said...

Todd, I had no idea boarding houses were still around!