Thursday, August 10, 2023

The Hitchcock Project-Frank Gabrielson, Part Two-The Foghorn [3.24]

by Jack Seabrook

Frank Gabrielson's second and last teleplay for Alfred Hitchcock Presents was "The Foghorn," which aired on CBS on Sunday, March 16, 1958. Based on a short story of the same title by Gertrude Atherton that had been published in the November 1933 issue of Good House-keeping, Gabrielson's script is a fine example of how to adapt an old story with very little dialogue for television and the show succeeds in large part due to clever direction by Robert Stevens.

The cover of Good Housekeeping calls "The Foghorn" "an unforgettable short story" and, on the story's first page, the editor writes that it is "a story that will make you exclaim, 'Have you read Gertrude Atherton's story in Good Housekeeping?'" The readers' response in 1933 is unknown, but the story has been collected in many anthologies in the ensuing 90 years. Writer Somerset Maugham later praised "The Foghorn" as a powerful story and it has been compared to Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper, which tells of a woman's descent into madness when forced by her husband to stay in her room and stare at the wallpaper.

"The Foghorn" was
first published here
As the story begins, a woman lies in bed, having trouble waking up, and recalls her coming-out party six years before and the young men who were attentive to her beauty. After a series of heartbreaks and a broken engagement to a man named John St. Rogers, she fell in love with a married man who did not mind that she studied classics at a university. She recalls slowly getting to know him at formal dinners in San Francisco, where she loved to hear the foghorn echo across the bay. During a party, they stood together and gazed across the water at Alcatraz and the Golden Gate; he remarked on the fog.

They continued to meet in secret in the months that followed in a series of public places but were never seen. After dinner at a party in the spring, they wandered off into the woods, where they finally declared their love to each other. The next day, she told him that she would not "enter upon a secret intrigue," and he admitted that his wife would not give him a divorce although he had told her that he loved another woman. They agreed to run away to Europe together.

Barbara Bel Geddes as Lucia Clay
She recalls a boat ride on the bay where they were suddenly engulfed in dense fog, their small boat crashed into a large ship and her lover was killed. She sits up in bed and realizes that she is in a hospital and that her long hair has been cut short. She thinks that she must have been ill for weeks or months and wonders if there were scandalous reports in the newspaper after the accident, which involved a young woman out rowing at night with a married man. She notices her "old hands" and begins to mumble, then feels her toothless mouth. Finally understanding her plight, she drops back on the pillow, closes her eyes, and lies still. A doctor and a nurse enter the room and agree that she will soon die. She has not known reason or rational thought for many years--"'It's a long time now since she was stark raving,'" says the doctor. "'That was before my time.'" He and the nurse leave her alone in her hospital bed.

"The Foghorn" is a clever story with a surprise ending, but it is written in the style of women's magazine fiction from nearly a century ago that makes it less effective when read today. None of the main characters is given a name, though the location is given as San Francisco. It's not clear when the events take place, but one may assume that the love affair and tragic boating accident occurred in the nineteenth century. The plot is simple: a young woman falls for a married man and they meet in secret until he is killed in a boating accident. She then loses her mind and spends the rest of her life in a hospital; the story represents her recollections not long before she dies. There are two shocking moments: first, the accident, where the author writes: "Her own voice shrieking as she saw his head almost severed--the very fog turn red..." and second, the final revelation that she is not a young woman but rather a toothless old crone near death.

Michael Rennie as Allen Bliss
This was a challenging story to adapt for television, since it required the audience to be tricked into thinking the woman's recollections were not occurring very many years ago and to be kept in the dark about her real appearance until the very end. Director Robert Stevens was adept at visual trickery and, when Douglas Heyes directed "Eye of the Beholder" for The Twilight Zone  in 1960, he may have borrowed some of the techniques Stevens used to conceal the truth in "The Foghorn."

The show is structured as a series of flashbacks interspersed with scenes set in the present as a woman recalls past events. It opens with a shot of fog on the water with her face and torso superimposed on the picture; her eyes are closed, she is wet, and she wears a boating shirt. She narrates in voiceover and it becomes apparent that she is dreaming as there is a dissolve to her figure lying in bed in a dark, shadowy room. As she tosses and turns, we cannot see her face or get a clear look at her. She identifies herself as Lucia Clay, age 26, and mentions Allen, her lover. A clock chimes and she recalls the night they first met. The camera slowly dollies in on her but we still can't see her face and the shot dissolves to a party, where men and women dressed in formal attire waltz around a room.

The short story briefly mentions an engagement to a man named John St. Rogers, but he never appears; in the TV show, Frank Gabrielson expands his role so that he and Lucia dance together and he introduces her to Allen Bliss. John is a man focused on the world of finance, remarking that he would like to spend their honeymoon visiting "'every single one of the stock exchanges in Europe.'" When Lucia and Allen meet, it's a case of love at first sight. They dance and then go out onto a balcony together in dense fog where he foreshadows his own demise when he says that "'what fascinates me is the unexpectedness of it.'" "The Anniversary Waltz" plays as they chat and begin to fall in love; he is a romantic in contrast with the more pragmatic Rogers and mentions his love of sailing, another moment of foreshadowing.

Bartlett Robinson as John St. Rogers
Their reverie is shattered when a servant tells Allen that his wife is on the telephone from Boston. There is more voiceover and the scene dissolves back to Lucia in bed in the shadowy room, as she recalls that the foghorn sounded "'strange and dreadful.'" The long, slow courtship between the lovers in the short story is condensed in the TV show to a few scenes, the first of which takes place in the fog in Chinatown, as Chinese people pass through the street with sparklers and fireworks. Lucia meets Allen by chance and he suggests dining together at a Chinese restaurant, where she reveals that her engagement to John is over. In this scene, as in the party scene, the year in which events occur is unclear. Lucia wears old-fashioned clothes but the restaurant seems contemporary and, at the party, a telephone is mentioned.

A short scene in a library follows, where Lucia reads a short section of a poem to Allen and there is more foreshadowing as the lines she quotes mention both love and death. The scene dissolves to the couple on a sailboat and more voiceover by Lucia foreshadows the fatal crash that will occur later. There is another shared meal in the same Chinese restaurant eight weeks later and Lucia tells Allen that she can no longer see him because she fears that she will fall in love with him. He responds that he asked his lawyer to arrange for a divorce and he proposes marriage; in the story, he tells Lucia that his wife will never divorce him. The scene then dissolves back to the dark hospital room, where Lucia, in voiceover, recalls some "'dreadful'" event and yells out Allen's name over and over until a nun rushes into the room.

Jennifer Howard
The nun tells Lucia that there was an accident and she will bring the doctor; the nun leaves and Lucia's voiceover resumes as she tries to remember the accident. The scene dissolves back to the Chinese restaurant, where Allen arrives late due to the "'wretched fog'" and she replies, "'How dare you call our fog wretched!'" He explains that his wife won't grant him a divorce and, with more voiceover by Lucia, the scene dissolves to them out on the sailboat again, where he tells her that he bought two tickets for a ship the next day to sail to Canton, a plan similar to that in the story where they agree to run off to Europe together.

Allen gives Lucia a Chinese wishing ring that is said to guarantee happiness and there is a closeup of her young, pretty hands as she puts the ring on her finger; this sets up a shot later in the show when she sees her old, wrinkled hands. Lucia is at her peak moment of happiness as she and Allen exchange expressions of love, but just then he remarks on the dead calm that will make it harder to return to shore. The fog rolls in, they hear a foghorn in the distance, and suddenly a huge ship appears out of nowhere and their sailboat capsizes. There is no depiction of the moment in the short story where Allen is nearly decapitated and the fog seems to turn red; instead, Lucia is shown swimming alone toward the wreckage of the sailboat, with Allen nowhere in sight.

William Yip
The scene dissolves back to her bedroom for the show's conclusion, where she realizes that Allen was killed and she is in a hospital. The camera pans around the room and back to another closeup of her hands; she still wears the wishing ring but now her hands appear aged. She feels her hair, which has been cut off. Director Robert Stevens delays the inevitable shot of her face even more at this point by means of an angled closeup of a mirror in the room that shows just her legs as she gets out of bed. There is a cut to the nurse and doctor approaching her room in the hall outside and he reveals that "'it's been fifty years since she recognized anything or anybody.'"

The doctor and the nun enter Lucia's room to find her lying dead on the floor, and this is the first clear shot of her old face in the entire episode. The show ends with the nun making the sign of the cross (similar to one of the final shots in the bell tower in Vertigo) and the show ends. The doctor's comment clears up the mystery of when the flashbacks were taking place throughout the show. It aired in 1958, so fifty years before would be 1908, which seems about right for Lucia's clothing, though some of the sets don't seem that old, the mention of the telephone is a bit misleading, and "The Anniversary Waltz," which plays at the party when Lucia meets Allen, was recorded in 1941. Still, the episode successfully hides the final secret from the viewer and Gabrielson's teleplay adapts a short story that is almost entirely narration into a TV show filled with dialogue, albeit with a healthy use of voiceover.

Selmer Jackson,
obscured by fog
"The Foghorn" also has a number of similarities to "Never Again," a 1956 episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that was based on a short story that was first published in the April 1934 issue of Cosmopolitan, five months after "The Foghorn" was published. In "Never Again," a woman awakens and struggles to remember what happened to her and where she is. She begins to think that she is in a hospital but in the end discovers that she is in prison after having killed her boyfriend in a drunken rage. Unlike "The Foghorn," there is no concealment of her identity, yet both stories feature as their main character a woman who has trouble recalling a traumatic, violent event and who does not immediately understand where she is at present.

Robert Stevens (1920-1989) worked in television from 1948 to 1987 and directed 44 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and five episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. He won an Emmy for "The Glass Eye." He also directed 105 episodes of Suspense in the early 1950s.

Mark Henry
Barbara Bel Geddes (1922-2005) stars as Lucia, the first in a series of women who are unlucky in love that the actress played around this time in Hitchcock projects.  In Vertigo, which opened in San Francisco two months after "The Foghorn" aired, she plays Midge, doomed to be disappointed in her love for Scottie, who is besotted with the gorgeous Madeleine. "The Foghorn" was her first role on the Hitchcock TV show; it would be followed a month later by "Lamb to the Slaughter," where she plays a woman who takes culinary revenge on her unfaithful husband; by "The Morning of the Bride," in 1959, where she waits years to marry a man with an unhealthy fixation on his mother; and by "Sybilla," in 1960, where her husband tries to kill her. Bel Geddes started as a stage actress in 1941, moving into film in 1947 and TV in 1950. She later starred in the television series Dallas from 1978 to 1990, winning an Emmy in 1980. A website devoted to her career may be found here.

Suave as always in the role of Allen is Michael Rennie (1909-1971), who was born Eric Alexander Rennie in England. He started acting late, at age 26, and his first film role was as a stand-in for Robert Young in Hitchcock's Secret Agent (1936). He became a star after WWII and his best-remembered role is in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). He acted on TV starting in 1956 and appeared on Batman, as well as in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and "The Long Silence" on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

In smaller roles:
  • Bartlett Robinson (1912-1986) as John St. Rogers; Robinson was on screen from 1949 to 1982 and was in 11 episodes of the Hitchcock show; including "Man With a Problem."
  • Jennifer Howard (1925-1993) as the nun; she began her career as a stage actress and was a founding member of the Actors Studio. She was married to Sam Goldwyn, Jr., from 1950 to 1968 and appeared on TV from 1948 to 1962 and in a handful of films in 1961 and 1962. Her most notable role was as the nurse whose deformed features are kept in shadow throughout most of the famous episode, "Eye of the Beholder" on The Twilight Zone; that episode is similar to "The Foghorn" in that faces are hidden from the viewer until the end.
  • William Yip (1895-1968) as Wong, who waits on Allen and Lucia in the Chinese restaurant; born in San Francisco, he was on screen from 1942 to 1967 and appeared in an episode of Thriller.
  • Selmer Jackson (1888-1971) as the servant at the party who tells Allen that his wife is on the telephone; he often played small, uncredited roles in film or on TV from 1921 to 1963. He appeared in Hitchcock's Saboteur (1942) and was in six episodes of the Hitchcock show; his last credited role was in "Starring the Defense."
  • Mark Henry as the doctor; he had a brief TV career from 1958 to 1960.
The last moment of happiness.
Gertrude Atherton (1857-1948), who wrote the short story, was born in San Francisco. Her first published work appeared in 1882 and her first novel was published in 1888. Her husband died at sea, like Allen in "The Foghorn," and she had a long career writing fiction and non-fiction. A number of films were adapted from her fiction between 1917 and 1933 but only two TV shows have been made from her works--one in 1952 and this episode of the Hitchcock show.

Read "The Foghorn" here, buy the DVD here, or watch it online here. Read the GenreSnaps review of this episode here


Atherton, Gertrude. "The Foghorn." Good Housekeeping, November 1933, 16-17, 129-30, 132.


"The Foghorn." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 3, episode 24, CBS, 16 March 1958.

Galactic Central,

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




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

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