Thursday, February 8, 2024

The Hitchcock Project-Irving Elman, Part One-Murder Me Twice [4.9]

by Jack Seabrook

Irving Elman wrote the teleplays for three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents: "On the Nose," "Murder Me Twice," and "The Door Without a Key." Born in 1915, he wrote and produced plays, including three on Broadway, beginning in the early 1940s, and he began writing screenplays after WWII ended. He wrote for television starting in 1951 and he was also a TV producer from 1962 to 1971. Toward the end of his writing career, he served as head writer for two daytime soap operas, Search for Tomorrow (1976-1977) and General Hospital (1977). He also wrote eight books. Elman died in 2011.

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"Murder Me Twice" aired on CBS on Sunday, December 7, 1958, and it was based on a short story of the same name by Lawrence Treat that had been published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine in May 1957. Before discussing the story, some background on the case of Bridey Murphy is useful. In 1952, a woman named Virginia Tighe was hypnotized and claimed to recall her past life as a nineteenth century Irish woman named Bridey Murphy. A 1956 book called The Search for Bridey Murphy was a best-seller and it set off a national craze; a film of the same title was released that year. Treat’s short story was probably written in 1956, during the craze.

"Murder Me Twice" was
first published here
 As the story begins, Assistant District Attorney Burke struggles with the Lucy Prior case, where he has a murder recorded on tape and he has three eyewitnesses, but he can’t prove felonious intent. At a gathering at the home of wealthy Will and Lucy Prior a few months ago, talk turned to Bridey Murphy, and Dr. Farham admitted that he used post-hypnotic suggestion on his dental patients to avoid pain. To demonstrate, he hypnotized Lucy Prior at the party, and she recalled a former life as Dora Evans, who lived in Philadelphia in the 1850s.

The party guests continued to meet weekly and, each time, Lucy was hypnotized and assumed Dora’s personality, though her memories ended with an event that took place one morning in June 1853. When pressed, Lucy/Dora explained what happened that morning: the gardener was drunk and Dora's husband Charles was upset. Lucy/Dora refused to say what happened next, so Dr. Farham asked her to demonstrate, at which point she took a gun out of a table drawer and fatally shot her husband.

Phyllis Thaxter as Lucy Prior
Subsequent investigation revealed that there really was a Dora Evans who shot and killed her husband in Philadelphia in June 1853; she was tried for murder and convicted and she died in prison a year later. Burke suspects that Dr. Farham and Lucy Prior were lovers who conspired to kill her husband, but Lucy denies the charge. Burke knows that he’ll have to prove motive and intent, but when he interviews Dr. Farham, the man denies everything. Burke finds an old book about famous crimes and tells Lieutenant Drobney that Lucy must have read about the details of the Evans murder. After she shot her husband, Lucy said, "'I fear me, he is dead,'" approximately the same words spoken by Dora in 1853, though she had claimed that she heard shots, rushed inside to find her husband dead, and picked up the gun.

Dora had blamed the shooting on the gardener, who said that he had been asleep and too drunk even to stand up straight. Lt. Drobney interviews Lucy again, but she says that if she used similar words to those quoted in the book then she really was Dora in a past life. Burke and Drobney next summon Dr. Farham and show him an 1859 newspaper with a report that Dora was innocent and that the gardener eventually confessed to the murder. Farham is baffled, but when Lucy is brought into the room she blurts out, "'Miles! You fool! I told you we'd never--.'" Having cracked the case, Burke later tells Drobney that he had a fake newspaper made up and used it to trick Dr. Farham and Lucy into confessing. Burke wonders if Dora Evans really did kill her husband a century ago.

Tom Helmore as Dr. Farnham
When Irving Elman adapted "Murder Me Twice" for the small screen, he kept the central premise and the main characters but made significant changes to the story and completely altered the ending. The TV show does not use the flashback technique found in the short story; instead, it begins with the party at the Priors' house. Dr. Farnham is a parapsychology teacher, not a dentist, and events are streamlined: Lucy is hypnotized, takes on Dora’s personality, and murders her husband. In the story, the parties and hypnotic trances go on for weeks before the killing, but in the TV show it all happens in one evening. Lucy makes an interesting comment that provides a clue to the denouement; when asked if she’d like to be hypnotized, she replies, "'I’ve managed to keep this husband of mine fooled so far, so why take the risk of giving myself away?'"

Alan Marshal as Will Prior
The sequence where Dr. Farnham (his name is slightly different than in the story) hypnotizes Lucy uses lighting and music to create an eerie atmosphere. When Lucy becomes Dora, she speaks in an archaic way, using phrases such as "'And it please thee, sir'" and "'In the year of our blessed Lord, eighteen hundred and fifty-three,'" and Phyllis Thaxter is convincing as Dora, showing off her garden in the living room to the party guests. Instead of a gun, Lucy grabs a pair of scissors that are lying on a desk and stabs her husband in the back, killing him instantly. Burke later reveals that Dora Evans killed her husband with a pair of pruning shears, not a gun, This is a rare instance of Alfred Hitchcock Presents changing a gun to a sharp object; usually, it’s the other way around.

Ward Costello as Burke
The TV show really begins to deviate from the story when Farnham visits Lucy at home after both have been interviewed by Burke. It's immediately evident that they are not in cahoots, since Farnham suggests to Lucy that she planned the murder and says that he will blackmail her, telling her that he wants money in exchange for supporting her at the coroner's inquest. Lucy angrily throws him out of her house. At the inquest, Farnham testifies that he's "'an accredited metaphysician'" but he is cross-examined by Burke, who brings up a 1938 case where Farnham was indicted for fraud and malpractice. When Burke asserts that Lucy was not really hypnotized when she killed her husband, Farnham angrily defends himself and offers to hypnotize Lucy right in the courtroom. None of this is in the short story.

Herbert Anderson
as George
Lucy agrees and Farnham again puts her under in another eerie sequence. Lucy becomes Dora Evans once again, speaking in archaic phrases. The scissors that she used to kill her husband are lying on the coroner's desk, marked as evidence, and she suddenly grabs them and stabs Farnham in the back, killing him instantly and eliminating the man who had threatened to expose her. His body is later taken out of the courtroom on a stretcher and everyone leaves while Lucy sits on a bench in the hallway outside the hearing room. The only other person present is Burke and, just as Lucy is about to walk away, he asks her a question in order to satisfy his curiosity: "'Did you plan the whole thing?'"

Lucy turns to Burke and smiles and, in the voice of Dora Evans, replies, "'Wouldst not thee like to know?'" The show ends there, with Lucy having successfully murdered two men, gotten away with it, and admitted her guilt in such a way that she cannot be prosecuted. The TV version of "Murder Me Twice" takes a different approach to solving the problem that is set up in the short story. This time, instead of the assistant district attorney tricking Lucy and Dr. Farnham into revealing their crime, Lucy kills the doctor and gets away with murder.

Liz Carr as Adele
The TV show has echoes of two Hitchcock films of the 1950s: Dial M For Murder, in which a woman kills a man by stabbing him in the back with a pair of scissors, and Vertigo, which was released in May 1958, seven months before "Murder Me Twice" aired. In Vertigo, Tom Helmore, who plays Dr. Farnham in "Murder Me Twice," plays a similar character, the manipulative husband of a woman who seems to be possessed by the spirit of a nineteenth-century woman.

"Murder Me Twice" was remade as an episode of the 1980s Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV show, and Buck Henry, who adapted Elman's earlier teleplay for the 1980s, makes even more changes. In this version, which aired on October 20, 1985, as "Wake Me When I'm Dead," Barbara Hershey plays the Lucy character, but after she kills the hypnotist in the courtroom, she ends up in Switzerland in bed with the prosecutor, played by Buck Henry!

King Calder as Sherman
Lawrence Treat (1903-1998), born Lawrence Goldstone, worked as a lawyer before he became a writer. He wrote hundreds of short stories and many novels and he was known for his police procedurals. A founding member of the Mystery Writers of America, he won two Edgar Awards. Five TV episodes were adapted from his short stories, including two for Alfred Hitchcock Presents; the other was "On the Nose."

"Murder Me Twice" was the only episode of the Hitchcock TV series directed by David Swift (1919-2001), who was both a writer and a director of films and TV shows from 1948 to 1998. He served in the Air Force in WWII and created the TV series, Mr. Peepers (1952-1955), for which he wrote 62 teleplays. He also wrote and directed Good Neighbor Sam (1964), which was adapted from the Jack Finney novel.

Robert Carson as the coroner
Phyllis Thaxter (1919-2012) plays Lucy Prior (and Dora Evans). Born in Maine, she acted on Broadway before making her debut on film in 1944. She began acting on TV in 1953, appearing in six episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Never Again." She also appeared on The Twilight Zone, Thriller, and three episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, including "The Long Silence." Later in her career, she played Ma Kent in Superman (1978), and she continued to appear on TV until 1992.

Dr. Farnham is played by Tom Helmore (1904-1995), who was born in London and whose career on screen lasted from 1927 to 1972. He also appeared on Broadway from the 1940s to the 1960s. Helmore was in three Hitchcock films: The Ring (1927), Secret Agent (1936), and Vertigo (1958). Helmore was in one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents ("Little White Frock") and he also appeared on Thriller and on Night Gallery, which was his last credit.

Charles Seel
as the clerk
Alan Marshal (1909-1961) appears briefly as Will Prior, Lucy's unfortunate husband. Born in Australia as Alan Willey, he appeared on Broadway in the 1920s and 1930s and his screen career lasted from 1936 to his death. This was his only role on the Hitchcock TV show.

Ward Costello (1919-2009) plays Burke, the assistant district attorney. He served in both the British Air Force and the U.S. Army in WWII and was mostly seen on TV between 1951 and 1989. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock TV show.

In smaller roles:
  • Herbert Anderson (1917-1994) as George, a party guest; he was on screen from 1940 to 1975, appearing in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (the other was "The $2,000,000 Defense") and two episodes of Batman, but he is best remembered for his role as Henry Mitchell, father of Dennis the Menace on the series that ran from 1959 to 1963.
  • Liz Carr as Adele, the party guest who does not want to be hypnotized; she has only four TV credits, from 1958 to 1960, and two are on Alfred Hitchcock Presents ("The Baby-Blue Expression" is the other).
  • King Calder (1897-1964) as Sherman, who is with Burke when he interrogates Lucy and Dr. Farham; he was on screen from 1949 to 1964 and appeared in seven episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "The Gloating Place."
  • Robert Carson (1909-1979) as the coroner; he was the brother of actor Jack Carson and he appeared on the Hitchcock show eleven times, including "Mother, May I Go Out to Swim?" His career as a character actor lasted from 1939 to 1974.
  • Charles Seel (1897-1980) as the clerk who opens the inquest; he had a long career in vaudeville, on Broadway, and on the radio, and he was on screen from 1938 to 1980. In addition to roles on The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, and Night Gallery, he made four appearances on the Hitchcock show, including "Return of Verge Likens."
  • Alma Lawton (1896-1982) as Alma, Lucy's maid, who announces that Farnham is there to visit after the murder; she was on screen from 1951 to 1973 and this was her only appearance on the Hitchcock show.
Alma Lawton
Watch "Murder Me Twice" online here or buy the DVD here. Read Lawrence Treat's story online here. Watch "Wake Me When I'm Dead" online here. Read the GenreSnaps review here.



Galactic Central,

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


"Irving Elman Dies at 96." Variety, 27 Nov. 2011,

"Murder Me Twice."  Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 4, episode 9, CBS, 7 December 1958.

Treat, Lawrence. "Murder Me Twice." Alfred Hitchcock's A Choice of Evils. London: Severn House, 1987. pp. 310-19.


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

In two weeks: Our series on Irving Elman concludes with a look at "The Door Without a Key," starring Claude Rains!


Grant said...

The Bridey Murphy story caused as big a craze as you say. I don't know many of them very well, but I know it set off a whole set of movies, and I guess TV show episodes like this one.
One of the stranger ones is Roger Corman's THE UNDEAD.

Is this one of the few Hitchcock episodes where you don't hear that the killer got caught, even in Hitchcock's closing segment? I don't know it that well, but it seems to me like it's one of them.

Jack Seabrook said...

You're right! I watched the DVD and reviewed the full closing in the Companion and he doesn't mention it. It looks like all of the websites that had put up free episodes have been told to take them down for now, so the only way to watch these is on disk, when they air, or on a pay service.

Grant said...

Thank you.