Thursday, July 27, 2023

The Hitchcock Project-Frank Gabrielson Part One-Reward to Finder [3.6]

by Jack Seabrook

Frank Gabrielson (1910-1980) wrote two teleplays for Alfred Hitchcock Presents during the show's third season. Born in New York City, he began performing on the Broadway stage and writing shows in 1934. He continued on Broadway until 1941, then in 1944 he switched to writing for the movies and worked on screenplays until 1946. By 1949, he had begun writing for television, where he had the most success. He was the head writer for Mama, a popular series adapted from the 1948 film, I Remember Mama, and he wrote for various other series through 1962. Among his teleplays were four for Suspense, adapting short stories that later turned up, adapted by other writers, on Alfred Hitchcock Presents: "The Creeper," "Post Mortem," "The Monkey's Paw," and "The Hands of Mr. Ottermole." Gabrielson wrote one more screenplay for a film that was released in 1971 and he died in 1980.

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"The love of money is the root of all evil."--1 Timothy 6:10

Frank Gabrielson
Frank Gabrielson's first teleplay for Alfred Hitchcock Presents was "Reward to Finder," which aired on CBS on Sunday, November 10, 1957. The show was based on a short story called "Dangerous Money," by F. J. Smith, which was first published in the October 1956 issue of Manhunt.

The story begins as John, who works as a mechanic at a processing plant, comes home to Minnie, his wife of twenty-six years, with a surprise: he found an expensive wallet on the way home from work. She opens it to find thirty-two $100 bills and imagines the things she could buy with this windfall. A driver's license identifies the owner as a Mr. Crukshank from Rhode Island and Minnie wonders if there is a reward for returning the wallet to its owner.

After supper, John sees an ad in the newspaper offering a reward and Minnie imagines buying a new dress, but her husband tells her that she would be arrested on the spot if she paid with a $100 bill. John hides the wallet and grows "more sullen, secretive and short-tempered"; he is determined to keep the money and enjoys counting it in private, certain that it will ensure a secure future. Minnie walks in on him while he is counting and demands her share; she grabs a bill and he roughly grabs her wrist.

John tells Minnie to make a pot of coffee and she realizes that he has no intention of spending any of their newfound wealth. She mixes almost half a bottle of sleeping pills in with the coffee, aware of the label's warning that an overdose may be fatal. He arrives in the kitchen and kills her with a blow to the back of her head from a heavy, iron paperweight. He puts her body in the bathtub to make it look like she fell, hit her head, and drowned, then settles down to drink his coffee, unaware that it will kill him.

"Reward to Finder" was
first published here
"Dangerous Money" is a simple, two-character story that shows the effect that greed can have on poor, desperate people. John and Minnie are believable and the conclusion is satisfying; they are each rewarded for their greed.

Retitled "Reward to Finder" for television, the short story is transformed into an outstanding half-hour by a great script, superb direction, and fine performances. John and Minnie have been rechristened Carl and Anna Gaminsky. The TV show opens with a scene not in the short story: there is a closeup of Carl's legs as he walks along the sidewalk, his pants filthy and worn. He stops at a sewer grate to pick up a used newspaper and sees the wallet, which he also picks up. We see him open it and glance around furtively before tucking it inside his coat. The scene then dissolves to a shot of Anna doing the laundry by hand in their dark, dirty home; these initial shots make it clear that the couple are poor and desperate.

Anna notices right away that Carl seems unusually cheerful; she asks if it's due to the bottles he picked up on the way home (he can turn them in for four cents) or if he stopped off at the bar. He laughs and she self-consciously smooths her hair, afraid that he is laughing at her. Kaminsky works as a janitor and resents his boss and the tenants where he works; he is casually cruel to his wife, barking at her to "shut up," and the unspoken message is that this treatment is not unusual. Carl pulls out the wallet and shows it to Anna; now there are fifty-two $100 bills inside. Unlike the story, there is no driver's license in the wallet to identify its owner.

Anna wistfully talks about the "'beautiful things'" she sees in stores and desires a manicure set, but Carl is unsympathetic to her dreams. She seems honest, suggesting that they go to the police station or read the papers, looking for an ad to identify the wallet's owner. The Anna of the TV show is more sympathetic than her counterpart in the short story, at least in the early scenes. Anna's final act is foreshadowed when she takes a spoonful of medicine to calm her suddenly nervous stomach. She tells him that it would not be right to keep the money and makes a pathetic plea to buy a manicure set for $5.95 with the reward money.

Oscar Homolka as Carl
Unlike the story, where there are only two characters, a third person now enters the TV show: a policeman rings the doorbell and asks for money. Carl reaches into his pocket and begins to pull out the wallet until the policeman says that he's raising money for the Policeman's Benevolent Fund. In a closeup, we see Carl's hand quickly put the wallet back in his pocket and reach into another pocket for a donation.

Anna asks the policeman what to do if you find a lost item, but Carl interrupts and says that it was someone else who found something. The policeman says that failure to return a lost item is against the law and, while Carl responds that he'll tell the other man, we suspect that he has no intention to give back the wallet or the money. In the next scene, Anna is reading the paper and finds an ad offering a "generous reward to finder." Carl is not moved, insisting that the reward will be inadequate. As they sit together at the kitchen table, Carl says something that foreshadows the show's tragic conclusion: "'One thing I'll say about you, Anna--you make a good cup of coffee.'"

The next day, Anna waits for Carl to come home and admires her hand, thinking of the manicure set that she will buy with the reward, but when he comes home, he tells her that he got no reward. After talking Anna out of calling the wallet's owner to complain, Carl sneaks up the shadowy stairs to the attic, a look of fear and mistrust on his face. He locks himself in the attic, which is cluttered with junk and lit by a small, overhead lamp, and tiptoes over to a spot where he hides the wallet beneath a floorboard, chuckling to himself.

Jo Van Fleet as Anna
Carl arrives home one day over two weeks later carrying his usual stack of newspapers (which he saves to turn in for a few pennies--there are piles of them tied up with string in the attic) and what looks like a wheel from a baby carriage. It is details like this, which are not spotlighted but which appear in the background, that lend an air of authenticity to the scenes in "Reward to Finder." Carl and Anna are in the same socio-economic class as Ralph and Alice Kramden on The Honeymooners, which ended its run a year before this episode, but they are miserable. Anna complains about their home, her dirty stove, and her rough hands; they yell at each other and he retreats to his attic room.

Carl angrily gives Anna a piece of newspaper to clean the stove, unaware that it contains another ad offering a reward for the wallet's return. Suddenly realizing that Carl lied to her, Anna quietly mounts the stairs in another shadowy shot and looks through the keyhole, where she sees Carl counting the money. They argue through the closed door and she insists on her share of the money before he admits her.

In the next scene, Anna is painting her nails with her new manicure set and Carl is upset when she reveals that she opened a charge account at the store. In the following scene, Anna is overcome with excitement when Carl comes home and she shows him her new dress and the furniture she bought. Perhaps most pathetic is the price tag that still hangs from her dress! Carl angrily slaps her hand and leaves the house.

Claude Akins
Things go from bad to worse in the following scene, where Anna displays the new fur coat she bought. Unlike the short story, in the TV show Anna begins to purchase things on credit, determined at last to enjoy what she considers the good things in life. While Carl wants to live like a miser and save the money, Anna wants to live for today and spend it. He insists she return the coat and she responds by threatening to call the wallet's owner or the police. A screaming fight ensues, but when Anna tells Carl that he does not have the nerve to hit her, she slaps him in the face. She picks up the phone to call the police and he escapes to his attic sanctuary; Anna caresses her fur coat and hangs up the phone before turning Carl in to the police.

She walks into the kitchen, still wearing the fur, and spikes Carl's coffee with a fatal dose of medicine while he frantically counts the money in the attic and holds a heavy statue that Anna bought, the expression on his face making his intent clear. She brings the coffee to him in the attic and, among the shadows, he murders her in a brutal shot, bringing the statue down several times on her head. There is no attempt to cover up his crime by putting her body in the bathtub; instead, he takes a crumpled $100 bill from her hand, smooths it, and picks up the cup of coffee she brought him, taking a sip and repeating his earlier line: "'One thing I got to say about you, Anna--you sure make a good cup of coffee.'" The scene fades out on his face as he smiles to himself, unaware that he is about to die.

"Reward to Finder" improves on its source by making good use of the medium of television. Oscar Homolka, as Carl, is a poor, hardworking man who has never seen money like this before and who is loath to give it up. His performance is superb and he is utterly convincing as a man who has been down on his luck for so long that it has become routine. Even better is Jo Van Fleet as Anna, especially in the show's early scenes, where she makes the viewer sympathize with her downtrodden character. Later in the show, when she begins to buy clothes and furnishings on credit, her character becomes less sympathetic, and her final decision to poison her husband is understandable.

The direction by James Neilson is outstanding, keeping the story moving along briskly even though it mostly involves only two characters and limited settings. Claude Akins makes a brief appearance as the policeman who comes to the door to raise funds.

As Carl, Oscar Homolka (1898-1978) makes his first of three appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Born in Vienna, Homolka served in the Austro-Hungarian Army in WWI and began his career on the Austrian stage before leaving Germany when Hitler came to power. He was on screen from 1926 to 1976 and his films included Hitchcock's Sabotage (1936), Ball of Fire (1941), and I Remember Mama (1948). He was on TV from 1951 to 1976 and he was also seen on Thriller.

Jo Van Fleet (1914-1996) plays Anna. She was only 43 years old at the time, sixteen years younger than Oscar Homolka, though in her career she often played characters who were older than she was. She won a Tony Award in 1954 for "The Trip to Bountiful" and an Oscar in 1956 for East of Eden. She was a member of the Actors Studio, appeared in many TV episodes and movies, including Cool Hand Luke (1967), and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She appeared in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Shopping for Death."

Claude Akins (1926-1994) plays the policeman. Akins served in the Army in WWII and acted on screen from 1953 to 1994, appearing in such films as Rio Bravo (1959) and on TV in shows including The Twilight Zone and The Night Stalker. He was also another episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "Place of Shadows," but he was best-known as Sheriff Lobo in the TV series B.J. and the Bear (1978-1979) and The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo (1979-1981).

The author of the short story, F. J. Smith, had one other story adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents ("One More Mile to Go," broadcast earlier in 1957) and the FictionMags Index lists 15 short stories that he wrote, but I have not found any biographical details about the author. The fifteen stories appeared mostly in mystery magazines between 1956 to 1960, with two more in 1966 and 1967; "One More Mile to Go" is the earliest one listed. In Patrick McGilligan's Hitchcock bio, he lists Smith as "George F. J. Smith," and this is also reflected in The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion, but I have found no other source for this added first name--both the short story in Manhunt and the onscreen credit for the television adaptation list the author as "F. J. Smith."

"Reward to Finder" may be viewed online here, or the DVD may be purchased here. Read the GenreSnaps review of this episode here. Listen to Annie and Kathryn's discussion of the episode here. Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the short story, "Dangerous Money"!



Galactic Central,

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



"Reward to Finder." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 3, episode 6, CBS, 10 Nov. 1957.

Smith, F. J. "Dangerous Money." Manhunt, October 1956, 122-128.


Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "My Brother Richard" here!

In two weeks: Our series on Frank Gabrielson concludes with a look at "The Foghorn," starring Barbara Bel Geddes and Michael Rennie!

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