Thursday, May 4, 2023

The Hitchcock Project-Talmage Powell Part Two-Victim Four [7.32]

by Jack Seabrook

A neon sign reading "BAR" blinks on and off outside an open window. A small, metal fan blows hot air around a one-room apartment where a man lies on a sofa, sweating from the heat. He switches on an old radio and hears a local news report about the Butcher, a knife-wielding serial killer who has slashed or stabbed three victims to date. There is a cane on the table next to the radio and the man's left leg is elevated on a pillow. He sits up, his leg stiff, and wipes sweat from his neck with a towel, when there is a knock at the door.

So begins "Victim Four," a neat half-hour of TV noir adapted by Talmage Powell from his short story, "Fear Stalks the Night!" and directed by Paul Henreid. The first sequence of shots establishes the scene and the main character's problem: he is disabled and living in squalor, despite being a handsome, well-built young man. What brought him to this state? The news report on the radio creates suspense by telling the viewer that a killer is on the loose.

Peggy Ann Garner as Madeline
The man, whose name is Joe Drake, opens the door to see Ralph Morrow, who is slightly taller, slightly thinner, and better dressed. Joe hasn't seen Ralph in six months and read "'a thing in the paper'" saying that he was in Europe; this establishes that Ralph is someone whose movements are newsworthy. Joe reluctantly admits Ralph, who asks about Joe's wife, Madeline; Joe claims he would not mind if Ralph saw Madeline, who is Ralph's former girlfriend, basing his faith in her fidelity on something she said on their honeymoon.

The screen goes hazy and there is a flashback to Joe and Madeline after their wedding. They are happy and in love and Joe's leg is not injured. Relaxing by a waterfall, the lovers chat and Madeline reveals that she is a waitress who did not expect to have a honeymoon, since it represents luxury. Joe promises to take care of her and compares himself unfavorably to her former boyfriend Ralph, who had plenty of money. In fact, Ralph sent an expensive carving set as a wedding gift, something that makes Madeline unhappy, since she thinks it did not come "'out of the goodness of his heart.'" She insists that Ralph can't hurt or come between them.

John Lupton as Ralph
Impulsively, Madeline rushes up a flight of wooden stairs to a platform that provides a great view of the waterfall. Joe follows her and they embrace; she poses next to the railing for a photo but the railing breaks and she falls, followed by Joe, who had rushed to her side. The moment is unexpected and shocking and the pair land in the tall grass next to the waterfall. Madeline is unconscious and Joe's leg is broken. She awakens and has blood on her forehead but, in her stupor, she is still thinking about Ralph and repeats her statement from atop the platform: "'He can't hurt us. He can't come between us. Not now.'"

There is a dissolve to a hospital room, where Madeline stands by Joe's bed as he awakens. She sustained a slight concussion and seems fine, but Joe's leg is badly broken and he remarks, "'no more power poles for a few weeks.'" He throws back the bed covers to reveal a leg that is encased in a large cast from his thigh to his toes. Joe and Madeline's future is in jeopardy--he did not have much money or many prospects before the fall, but now the specter of surgery, medical bills, and a long period of rehabilitation falls like a shadow over the newlyweds.

Paul Comi as Joe
The flashback over, there is another dissolve and we're back in Joe's apartment, where Ralph says that Madeline has had six months since the honeymoon to think it over, "'and women have a habit of changing their mind.'" He refers to the apartment as a rattrap and Joe as a cripple, pointing out the difficulty he will have in taking care of his new bride. It's almost one a.m. and Madeline is late coming home from her job as a waitress. She has a long walk home and her route takes her through the area where the Butcher has killed three people. Ralph offers to drive Joe to search for Madeline.

The city streets are dark as the duo look for the missing waitress. The first person they happen upon is an old man, who denies having seen Madeline and who admits that he is also worried about the Butcher. They drive to the bar and grill where Madeline works and encounter the owner, F.M. Tuttle, locking up; he tells Joe that she left some time ago and should be home by now. Tuttle adds that Madeline complained of having a bad headache and he suspects that she took a break on her way home. When Joe expresses concern about the Butcher, Tuttle reassures him that those things never happen to you or anyone you know.

Bryan O'Byrne as Tuttle
Back in the car, Joe agrees with Ralph's suggestion that they split up and cover twice as much territory, meeting back up in fifteen minutes. Ralph walks off into the shadows and Joe is left alone to hobble down the street, searching for his wife. Ralph inquires at the Silver Slipper, a club below street level, but learns nothing. Joe sees a woman who resembles Madeline walk up the stairs to her apartment; he next interrupts a young couple who are necking in the shadows.

Finally, Madeline comes walking around a corner and stops to check her watch. She hears someone behind her, whistling a tune, and walks on into more shadows. Joe returns to Ralph's car after fifteen minutes have passed but sees no sign of Ralph. He hobbles down the street and suddenly finds Ralph, who lies dead on the sidewalk with multiple stab wounds in his chest. Madeline emerges from the shadows with a dazed look on her face and Joe is happy to see her. She snaps back into consciousness and tells her husband that "'He was after me, Joe. You see, don't you? My headaches after the accident?'" She produces a sharp, bloody knife and tells her husband that "'I had to protect myself with this, night after night.'" Joe has a look of shock on his face and Madeline adds, "'Because you needed me so much. He kept coming back. Changing his appearance, trying to fool me. I killed him three times. Tonight he came back again. But you're here now, and I don't need the knife any longer, do I, Joe? Do I?'" Madeline drops the knife on the sidewalk and leans against her husband's chest as he puts his arm around her and the screen fades to black.

"Fear Stalks the Shadows!"
was published here
"Victim Four" may look like it was shot on a shoestring budget, but it presents a harrowing story in about 23 and a half minutes. At the end, three lives have been ruined as the result of an accident. Ralph lies dead on the sidewalk, Madeline is a murderer who will be locked away, and Joe's leg is the least of his problems! The episode's director, Paul Henreid, uses shadowy lighting and a variety of shots to ratchet up the suspense so that the ending is both a surprise and inevitable. Talmage Powell adapts his own short story and, while following the events closely, he makes a few changes that improve it and make it work well on the small screen.

The short story, which is titled "Fear Stalks the Shadows!," was published in the May 1961 issue of Off Beat Detective Stories and has never been reprinted. Madeline is called "Ain," which may be a diminutive of Madeline. The story begins like the TV show, with Joe alone in his apartment, but the flashback occurs prior to Ralph's arrival and the couple fall through a rotted log footbridge rather than from a wooden platform. There is no mention of Ralph's wedding gift of a carving set, which Powell added to the teleplay as an ironic twist, since it may be Ralph's gift that provides Madeline with the knife she uses to murder four men.

Nesdon Booth
Ralph arrives at Joe's apartment after the flashback and the scene that follows is similar to the one in the TV show. They set out in his car to look for the missing waitress, but the story does not include the various people they meet and question in the TV show. Instead, after Ralph and Joe split up, there are a few paragraphs told from Ain's point of view, explaining that she left work with a headache and stopped for a cup of coffee. In the TV show, Powell delivers this information through her boss, Mr. Tuttle. The final scene is similar to that of the TV show, except that Ain tells Joe that she thought each of the men she killed was the Butcher and that the knife looks like one she might have taken from the kitchen where she works.

The changes are subtle but important. Moving the flashback to the scene where Ralph has arrived and Joe explains his disability clarifies that it is meant to convey to Ralph the statement that Madeline made to Joe right before and after the fall, a statement that is absent from the short story and one that underlines Madeline's determination not to let Ralph hurt or come between herself and Joe. Adding the detail of the wedding gift of a carving set gives Madeline access to a weapon that has special significance, since she tells Joe that she did not want the gift and that she does not trust Ralph's motive behind giving it to them. Finally, having her refer to "'him'" in the final scene rather than the Butcher suggests that she thought she was killing Ralph repeatedly rather than the unknown murderer. All of these minor changes add up to a TV show whose story has more psychological depth than the story on which it is based. Madeline is devoted to her husband and will go to great lengths to protect both him and their union; in her concussion-addled mind, she thinks that Ralph represents a threat to their marriage and she eliminates that threat, over and over again.

Stephanie Hill and Glenn Stensel
Adding the various people that Joe and Ralph question on the street helps to open up and expand the short story. All in all, "Victim Four" is an improvement on its source, where the teleplay is more complex and the visual presentation more exciting, using film noir techniques to create suspense.

The show is directed by Paul Henreid (1908-1992), who began his career as a film actor. His career as a director started in the early 1950s and he directed 29 episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "A Little Sleep."

Peggy Ann Garner (1932-1984) receives top billing as Madeline. She had her greatest success as a child actress, appearing in films such as Jane Eyre (1943) and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945). She also appeared on stage, on radio, and on TV, starting in 1949. Her last role was in 1980. She appeared on The Outer Limits and Batman, but this was her only role on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Harry Hines
Playing Ralph is John Lupton (1928-1993), who co-starred on the TV series, Broken Arrow, from 1956 to 1958 and who was seen in films and on TV from 1951 to 1993. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The show's real star is Paul Comi (1932-2016), who plays Joe. He served in the Army during the Korean War and was awarded three Purple Hearts. He then had a long career on screen, mostly on TV, from 1958 to 1995. He had recurring roles on Two Faces West (1960-1961) and Ripcord (1961-1963), appeared on The Twilight Zone three times, and was on Star Trek; he was also seen on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in "Crimson Witness."

In smaller roles:
  • Bryan O'Byrne (1931-2009) as F.M. Tuttle, Madeline's boss; he was on screen from 1958 to 1991 and he was a semi-regular on Occasional Wife (1966-1967). He also played roles on Batman and The Night Stalker and appeared in over 200 TV commercials as well as being an acting teacher and coach. He was seen in two episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: "Annabel" and "Terror at Northfield."
  • Nesdon Booth (1918-1964) as the doorman at the Silver Slipper club; he was on screen from 1949 to 1964 and appeared twice on The Twilight Zone and once on Thriller. He was in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "John Brown's Body."
  • Stephanie Hill (1940- ) as the young woman with the young man below street level; she had a short career, mostly on TV, from 1961 to 1967 and was in one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "Profit-Sharing Plan."
  • Glenn Stensel (1930-1983) as Freddie, the young man with the young woman below street level; he was on screen from 1959 to 1974.
  • Harry Hines (1889-1967) as the old man on the sidewalk; he was on screen from 1950 to 1967 and appeared in three episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "Off Season." He is best-remembered as the man who crawls under the merry-go-round at the end of Strangers on a Train (1951).
"Victim Four" is not available on DVD. Watch it online here. Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of this rare story!



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


Powell, Talmage. "Fear Stalks the Shadows!" Off Beat Detective Stories, May 1961, pp. 28-35.

Stephensen-Payne, Phil. Galactic Central,

"Victim Four." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 7, episode 32, NBC, 15 May, 1962.

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "Crackpot" here!

In two weeks: Our brief series on Halsted Welles begins with a look at "The Dusty Drawer," starring Dick York!


Todd Mason said...

This may be the Only time any story from OFF-BEAT was ever memorialized, much less adapted for a high-profile a/v series. Goodness. I have to wonder if Powell sold the story to Shamley Productions first, and then didn't care where the original prose might land too much...oh, I can get another hundred dollars from it if A HITCHCOCK'S MM picks it up? Or another $25 from MIKE SHAYNE does? Whoop de do. I'll throw it at OFF-BEAT for a quick fiver.

Jack Seabrook said...

I'm fortunate to have a close friend with a collection of Off-Beats who was willing to scan the story for me! It's rare and costly.

Grant said...

I may not know him well, but Paul Comi is especially good in the TWILIGHT ZONE "People Are Alike All Over," always trying to make Roddy McDowall less scared of the trip to Mars. Even when he's fatally injured he keeps on doing that.

Jack Seabrook said...

I was too busy paying attention to Susan Oliver to notice Paul Comi.

Grant said...