Thursday, January 11, 2024

The Hitchcock Project-Richard Fielder, Part One-Night of the Owl [8.3]

by Jack Seabrook

Richard Fielder (1925-2000) wrote the teleplays for two episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, "Night of the Owl" and "To Catch a Butterfly," both of which aired in the first season of the hour-long show. Fielder's credits include numerous TV episodes from 1957 to 1997 and two movies, released in 1964 and 1970. Many of the TV shows he wrote were Westerns. I have not found any books or short stories credited to him, so he seems to have confined his work to the screen.

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"Night of the Owl" is based on The End of the Track, a novel by Andrew Garve. In the book, Peter Mallory is a forest warden in the south of England who lives on an open heath. He left British Guiana twelve years before when his wife, Linda, couldn't stand the heat, and they now have three children: two young boys and fifteen-year-old Anne, who was adopted. Their happy family life is threatened when a man named Gill arrives and threatens to tell Anne that her late father, an alcoholic named Herrick, murdered his wife in British Guiana and died in prison. Gill reveals that he has an associate named Parker and tells Mallory to bring £2000 to Oakham Heath on Monday evening. Mallory goes to the police and speaks to Superintendent John Ames, who hatches a plan for Mallory to deliver counterfeit bills and for the police to follow Gill until he leads them to Parker so that both men may be apprehended.

Richard Fielder
Gill does not show up for the meeting and later calls Mallory to explain that he saw the police arrive. Another meeting is set, this time without the police. All is not well between Gill and Parker, however; they were in prison with Herrick and Parker distrusts Gill. Parker follows Gill to the second meeting with Mallory, but when Gill insists that Mallory did not bring the money, Parker accuses him of lying and chokes him, accidentally killing him. Parker hides the body in the woods and sets a fire to keep it from being discovered.

Mallory and his team fight the forest fire and put it out, but he finds Gill's partially burned body and realizes that Parker killed him. Ames questions Mallory and seems to suspect him of killing Gill; a policeman is assigned to watch Mallory's house. The next day, Parker calls Mallory and tells him to put £200 in an envelope under a forest notice board that afternoon. Parker takes a billhook and escapes out the back door of his house, unseen by the police. That night, he encounters Parker in the woods and a fight ensues, in which Parker is killed after Mallory strikes him with a broken bottle.

First edition
Mallory returns home and tells his wife what happened before returning to the woods to look for the billhook that he dropped during the fight. He decides to stage Parker's death to look like an accident after seeing a nearby sharp tree root. Back at home, he calls Ames, claiming that he is to meet Parker later that night in the woods with money. After the police find Parker's corpse, Ames reveals that they found evidence showing that Parker killed Gill. Mallory's attempt to cover up the circumstances surrounding Parker's death fails when the police find his footprint under the body; he confesses the truth to Ames, only to learn that the sharp root, not the bottle, really did cause Parker's death. Mallory tells Ames the whole story from the beginning and the policeman agrees to keep it quiet; Mallory's family's life goes on without incident, and his daughter never learns the truth about her real father.

Brian Keith as Mallory
The End of the Track is a thrilling novel, well-told, fast-paced, and suspenseful, with enough surprises to keep the reader guessing. The title comes from a sentence near the end when Mallory is said to have "reached the end of the track" after Ames explains the cause of Parker's death. The book is focused on a father's determination to keep his daughter's sordid past from being revealed to her and, in the last lines, Anne remarks, with feigned injury, "'Nobody bothers about me.'" Of course, she is able to say this due to her father's success in defeating the blackmailers and preventing her from knowing her heritage. Andrew Garve's novel was published in 1956 and, when Richard Fielder adapted it for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in 1962, he changed the title to the evocative "Night of the Owl," though his original title was "Whisper a Secret."  The TV version follows the novel's events for the most part, while changing the focus and expanding Anne's role.

Patricia Breslin as Linda
As with so many entries in the Hitchcock TV series, the events are moved from England to America and some of the characters' names are changed slightly. Peter Mallory becomes James Mallory and the show opens with an establishing shot of a sign that identifies him as a District Ranger in the Forest Service. While the novel's first chapter provides some background on Mallory's prior posting in British Guiana, where Anne's parents died, the TV show skips this exposition and moves right into the story, with George Locke, as Gill has been renamed, arriving at the Mallory home. Locke tells Linda that he was chaplain of the "'Seabrook State Prison in the Smokies'" many years ago and that he knew Anne's real father.

Claudia Cravey as Anne
Jim and Anne return home and, when Jim speaks privately with Locke, a theme is introduced that is not in the novel: Locke remarks that Anne has seen a psychiatrist and Jim explains that it was due to her putting too many demands on herself in regard to her schoolwork. Locke maliciously suggests that she might be too much like her real father, adding that her mental health might be harmed were she to learn the truth about her parents. The contrast between the characters is marked, since Brian Keith, as Jim, has a strong physical presence, his anger barely lurking below the surface, while Philip Coolidge, as Locke, is tall, thin, and balding, presenting no physical threat at all, yet he clearly holds the upper hand when he tells Mallory that "'All her life she'll wonder: Am I insane, like my real daddy was? Will I commit suicide like my real daddy did?'"

Mike Kellin as O.D.
Anne knocks on the door and enters the room, apologizing for interrupting her father's conversation. She wears white gloves and a dress, her innocence standing in sharp contrast to the verbal picture that Locke had painted of her father a moment earlier. Anne's appearance demonstrates what her father wants to protect. Claudia Cravey gives an excellent performance as Anne and is convincing as a young woman beset by doubt about her place in the world. That evening, Anne's role is further expanded from the novel when she learns that her sister ruined a science experiment she was conducting. Anne loses her temper and twists her sister's arm; Linda makes Anne apologize, and the scene suggests that Anne puts too much pressure on herself and is emotionally fragile. In the following scene, which also is not in the book, Jim consoles Anne, who laments that she does not know how to make people happy and that she fears that something is wrong inside her.

Philip Coolidge as Locke
A nicely staged scene follows, where Jim and Linda wash the dishes in the kitchen and discuss the blackmailers' demands. Their daughters are seen in the next room, framed between their parents but far enough away so that they cannot hear their conversation; the girls innocently watch TV and the contrast between their activity and the discussion of the blackmailers' demands shows the necessity of keeping the truth hidden in order to maintain the family's happiness.

After visiting the police station, Jim waits in the woods at night and an owl is heard hooting. The owl is heard in all of the scenes that take place at night in the forest and serves as a harbinger of bad luck or death. The novel's chapter eight, where details of the blackmailers' background are provided along with an explanation of how they met Anne's real father, is removed, and another discussion between Jim and Linda is added in which Jim underlines his concern for his daughter's mental health. The first part of the novel's chapter ten is omitted, which delineates Parker's actions in the hours leading up to the night he murders Gill. Instead, in the nighttime scene between Mallory and Locke, Parker is seen up close for the first time. He speaks with a thick Southern accent and drinks from a bottle, his rough appearance and behavior are contrasted with Locke's more polished demeanor.

Robert Bray as Ames
Parker refers to himself as "O.D." and murders Locke before taking the dead man's cigarette lighter and setting fire to the forest; his eyes are seen in extreme close up with the lighter's flame dancing before them. After the mid-show break, the second half begins with stock footage of firefighters battling a forest fire. Jim discovers Locke's corpse, which is not shown, and in the next scene he is back at the police station, being interrogated by Lieutenant Ames and Captain Garner. Jim admits that he killed Locke "'in my mind a hundred times I wanted to, but I didn't'" and Ames asks if he is disturbed by the thought that he might have been a murderer; the comment makes a subtle parallel with Anne's situation and Jim's fear of harming her with the truth.

Back at home, Jim awakens from a nightmare after having slept all day, exhausted from fighting the fire and spending time with the police. Anne comforts him and their close bond is shown when she intuits that he is worried about something having to do with her. Parker calls Jim and demands that he bring money to the woods tonight; when Jim and Anne discuss Parker, Anne overhears them talking about him being a killer, something that is new to the TV show. In the novel, Mallory sets out to meet Parker carrying a billhook; in the TV show, he carries a gun. A major change occurs to the story when Anne climbs out of a window and follows her father to the woods.

Frank Ferguson as Garner
As in the book, Jim finds Parker up in a tree and confronts him, with a gun instead of a billhook. The shots of Parker up in the tree are evocative, his grinning face illuminated only by the beam of Jim's flashlight. Suddenly, Anne appears, and when Jim tells her to go home and tell Linda to call the police, Parker threatens to kill Jim if she leaves. The young woman is torn and, at this point, the TV show takes a sharp turn away from the novel by having Parker tell Anne that he is her "'second cousin, twice removed.'" He goes on to reveal that her father killed her mother with an axe and then "'hung'" himself in prison! Anne screams and holds her head in her hands; this powerful scene is new to the TV show and definitely not in the novel, in which Anne never learns the truth about her parents.

Norman Leavitt as Ben
The young woman runs off and the men struggle, the fight ending with Jim thinking he has killed Parker. Much of the latter part of the novel is eliminated from the TV show and Mallory does not attempt to stage Parker's death as accidental for the benefit of the police. Instead, there is a new scene between father and daughter at home in her room, which resolves the show's psychological theme. Instead of being distraught, Anne tells Jim that she feels sorry for her real parents and is grateful for the love that she has received from the parents who adopted her. "'I never felt special until now,'" she tells Jim, showing a completely unexpected reaction to learning the horrible truth. Claudia Cravey, as Anne, is particularly good in this emotional scene.

The novel ends with Ames explaining to Mallory that Parker's death was accidental. The TV show ends with Ames telling Mallory that Parker is not dead after all and that he has confessed to Locke's murder. "Night of the Owl" is an interesting adaptation of The End of the Track, keeping most of the book's plot details while greatly expanding the character of Anne and changing the focus from her father's efforts to keep the truth from his daughter to her father's concern about her fragile psyche and the revelation that she was stronger than he thought. The climax, where Anne follows Jim into the woods and learns the truth, only to process it successfully when back at home, works mainly because of the acting skill of Brian Keith and Claudia Cravey. In the book, Mallory succeeds in maintaining the illusion he has created for his child; in the show, his failure to do so allows her to take an important step toward maturity, one that may well allow her to alleviate some of the doubts that have been plaguing her.

"Night of the Owl" is directed by Alan Crosland, Jr., and the direction is a mixed bag. Many of the shots are close ups that surely worked well on small TV screens in 1962; on today's larger TVs they are less successful. The stock footage used for the forest fire adds little to the show, but a few scenes are evocative, especially the one near the end when Parker is in the tree, lit only by Mallory's flashlight. Crosland (1918-2001) started out as a film editor, working on features from 1944 to 1954 and on TV from 1955 to 1957, then began directing episodic television in 1956. He directed 16 half-hours and three hours of the Hitchcock series, including "The Woman Who Wanted to Live," as well as episodes of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. Crosland directed a handful of movies, but his main focus was on TV, and he directed his last show in 1986.

Andrew Garve, who wrote The End of the Track, was a pseudonym of Paul Winterton (1908-2001). Winterton began his career as a reporter and published his first novel in 1938. He also wrote under the names Roger Bax and Paul Somers. In 1947, he retired from journalism "to become a full-time thriller writer." He published 40 books between 1938 and 1978. A few of his stories were adapted for TV or film, including two for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour; the other was "House Guest."

Giving a strong performance as Jim Mallory is Brian Keith (1921-1997), who was a popular actor in TV and on film. Born in New Jersey, he made his film debut in 1924 at age three. He was a Marine air gunner in World War II and went into acting as an adult after the war. He started on TV in 1952 and eventually would star in no less than 11 TV series and miniseries, the most famous being Family Affair (1966-1971). He also appeared in the film 5 Against the House (1955), based on a novel by Jack Finney. He appeared on the Hitchcock series five times, including "Your Witness." He committed suicide in 1997.

As Linda Mallory, Patricia Breslin (1931-2011) portrays a woman who is a strong wife and mother, giving good advice to her husband and not afraid of letting him take the lead when dealing with their adopted daughter. She acted mostly on TV from 1950 to 1969 and was in five episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "O Youth and Beauty!" She was a regular on a series called The People's Choice (1955-1958) and on Peyton Place (1964-1965); she also made appearances on The Twilight Zone and Thriller. She was in a handful of films, including Homicidal (1961) and I Saw What You Did (1965), and she left acting in 1969 and married Art Modell, owner of the Cleveland Browns football team. She spent the rest of her life engaged in philanthropy.

Terry Ann Ross as Barbara
Claudia Cravey (1948- ) gives an excellent performance as Anne. She began studying dance as a child and spent ten years as a professional ballerina, in Chicago, New York City, and overseas. While in New York, she began teaching dance, and she has been teaching since the 1960s. In addition to this episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, she appeared in two films under the name Claudia Corday.

Mike Kellin (1922-1983) plays the menacing O.D. Parker; he served in the Navy in WWII and then attended the Yale School of Drama. He was busy on Broadway and appeared on screen from 1950 to 1983. In addition to this episode, he was in one episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "And the Desert Shall Blossom."

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

Robert Bray (1917-1983) plays Lt. Hank Ames; he was a Marine in WWII and who followed his service with a screen career that lasted from 1946 to 1968. He played Mike Hammer in My Gun is Quick (1957), was a regular on Stagecoach West (1960-61), appeared on The Twilight Zone, and was in five episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "Not the Running Type." He is best-known for his role as a regular on Lassie from 1964-68.

In smaller roles:
  • Frank Ferguson (1906-1978) plays Captain Garner, who is with Lt. Ames at the police station when Mallory is interrogated. Ferguson played numerous roles on screen from 1940 to 1976, including parts in This Gun for Hire (1940), Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), and Rancho Notorious (1952). This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock TV show.
  • Norman Leavitt (1913-2005) as Ben Kaylor, who is the other firefighter who speaks with Mallory right before Locke's body is discovered; he was on screen from 1946 to 1978 and appeared in seven episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "One More Mile to Go."
  • Terry Ann Ross (1952- ) as Barbara, Anne's younger sister; she had a brief career on screen from 1955 to 1962 and this was her only role on the Hitchcock series.
Watch "Night of the Owl" online here. It is not available on DVD in the US.


"Archives West Finding Aid." Richard Fielder Papers - Archives West, Accessed 2 Jan. 2024.

"Artistic Staff." Ballet Palm Beach, 8 Nov. 2023,

Garve, Andrew. The End of the Track. NY: Lancer Books, 1963. [1955.]

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


"Night of the Owl."  The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, season 1, episode 3, CBS, 4 October 1962.

"Out My Backdoor: Halloween Superstitions and Backyard Wildlife." Out My Backdoor: Halloween Superstitions and Backyard Wildlife | Department Of Natural Resources Division,,that%20can%20live%20with%20ghosts. Accessed 2 Jan. 2024.

Wagner, Jodie. "Longtime Dancer Now Ballet Mistress at Palm Beach Gardens' Esther Center." The Palm Beach Post, Palm  Beach Post, 8 Apr. 2012,


Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "The End of Indian Summer" here!

In two weeks: Our series on Richard Fielder concludes with a look at "To Catch a Butterfly," starring Bradford Dillman and Diana Hyland!

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