Thursday, July 11, 2024

The Hitchcock Project-Completely Foolproof by Anthony Terpiloff [10.23]

by Jack Seabrook

In the short story, "Completely Foolproof," which was first published in the March 1958 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Joe Brisson receives a telephone call from the bank and imagines strangling his wife Lisa after he approves a request to allow her to cash a check for $5000. Twenty years ago, Joe led "a goon squad against striking workers," but now he is a rich, respected factory owner, married to a beautiful woman whose grandfather was a junk dealer. She is responsible for their social success and for "some of the more elaborate doublecrosses" in his business career.

That morning, Lisa told Joe that she would not be sailing with him on the Queen Mary the next night; instead, she is flying to Reno for a divorce. She insists on half of the business and threatens to make public a series of letters Joe wrote to his lover, Anna, letters that Lisa's private detective procured for her. Joe grows enraged and throws a cup of coffee at Lisa.

"Completely Foolproof"
was first published here
On his way to the office, Joe stops off to see Anna, who confirms that the letters are gone. Deciding he will have to pay Lisa off, Joe goes to his office and receives a visit from Howard Duncombe, whose plant Joe bought and now plans to close. Duncombe pulls out a gun and threatens Joe, who calmly talks the man out of killing him and instead makes "'a very interesting proposition.'"

That evening, Joe is in his cabin on the Queen Mary, waiting for Duncombe to murder Lisa in exchange for keeping his plant open. Out of curiosity, Joe telephones Lisa and hears her get shot. He hangs up the phone only to find Lisa's private detective in his cabin, aiming a gun at him. Joe now understands why Lisa withdrew $5000 from the bank, as the man quietly shoots and kills him. Joe's body is thrown overboard and he will be listed as "lost at sea." Regarding his late wife, "as he had often thought, they were well matched."

J.D. Cannon as Joe Brisson
Anthony Terpiloff adapted the story for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and it first aired on NBC on Monday, March 29, 1965. While the short story begins with Joe Brisson getting a phone call from the bank, the TV version opens in a dark, rainy parking lot at night, where Joe meets a man named Baines in order to give him a briefcase of cash to resolve a "'zoning difficulty.'" Brisson sees a third man watching them and grabs back his briefcase, telling Baines to "'get lost.'" Brisson confronts the watcher and a fistfight ensures; Brisson forces the man to admit that Lisa hired him, and the man later turns out to be the private detective. This initial scene establishes that Brisson is crooked, tough, and not afraid of physical confrontation.

Patricia Barry as Lisa Brisson
There is a cut from the darkness of the parking lot to the brightness of Brisson's home, where his beautiful wife, Lisa, hands a glass of champagne to her guest, Walter Dunham, and asks where Joe is. Her husband then walks in the front door, and immediately he and Lisa begin to argue. Joe speaks to Dunham, who asks how the payoff of Baines went and is thus shown to be part of Joe's crooked circle; Dunham's companion is a younger woman named Betty Lawrence, whom Joe does not even pretend to be cordial to. Joe and Lisa argue and she mentions Anna and asks for a divorce. In the story, Lisa demands half of the company, but in the TV show she wants three-quarters. She mentions his past as a goon and her social skills, details that are conveyed through narrative in the story and through dialogue in the show.

Geoffrey Horne as Bobby Davenport
During the argument, Joe mentions Bobby Davenport, a young lover of Lisa's who comes from a well-known family. Davenport replaces Howard Duncombe from the short story. Instead of coffee, Joe throws champagne in Lisa's face and the glass smashes against a door as it closes behind her after she leaves the room.

The following scene is new to the show, as Lisa visits Bobby Davenport at home. He is her younger lover, just as Anna plays that role in Joe's life. Having each of the Brissons have a younger lover makes them more equal than they are in the story. Despite his position in society, Bobby owes Joe money and Joe holds a promissory note on Bobby's land.

Myron Healey as George Foyle
The next scene dramatizes Joe's visit to Anna in the story, where she cannot find his letters. She is young and pretty and speaks in the same, breathy voice that Lisa uses, yet Joe tosses an envelope of money at her and tells her that he never wants to see her again. Beauty and subservience are not enough for Joe; he is drawn to Lisa's mind and her calculating ways. Director Alf Kjellin cuts back and forth between these parallel scenes, as both Brissons deal with their troublesome, younger lovers.

Back at home, the Brissons are ready for bed and continue to spar. Joe agrees to Lisa's demands and attempts to seduce her, but she maintains the upper hand, avoiding his attempt at a kiss. The cat and mouse game turns into a business negotiation, as Lisa gets Joe to agree to give her Bobby Davenport's promissory note in exchange for ten percent of the business. In the end, they do kiss, but it seems more like a confirmation of a business deal than a passionate embrace. Lisa predicts her own fate when she tells Joe that "'you don't want me to live.'"

Joyce Meadows as Anna
Another new scene follows as Brisson visits the office of Foyle, the private detective Lisa hired and the man with whom Joe fought in the parking lot in the first scene. Brisson offers to pay Foyle for the letters to Anna, but the detective says that he no longer has them. Brisson then offers to pay Foyle to kill Lisa, but this offer is flatly refused and Foyle pulls a gun on Joe, telling him to leave the office. Joe has lunch with Bobby Davenport and his table manners and speech are contrasted with Bobby's more refined behavior. Bobby visits Lisa and asks her to marry him, but she sees right through his transparent attempt to manipulate her for his own benefit and makes it clear that, from now on, their relationship will be strictly business. After Lisa leaves, Bobby takes a revolver out of a hidden place on a bookshelf and examines it.

Lester Matthews as Walter Dunham
The following scene parallels the one in the short story where Howard Duncombe visits Joe at his office, pulls a gun on him, and is talked into agreeing to murder Lisa. In the TV show, Duncombe is replaced by Bobby Davenport. The final scene plays out much as it does in the short story, with Joe on the cruise ship telephoning Lisa at home. Bobby enters her bedroom, where he shoots and kills her. Joe hangs up and Foyle enters his stateroom, holding a gun; he shoots and kills Joe who, like Lisa, collapses to the floor. The show ends there, omitting the short story's detail of Joe's body being tossed overboard.

Robert Lieb as Baines
The TV adaptation of "Completely Foolproof" improves on its source by giving additional time to the main characters so that their personalities can be more fully developed. Joe and Lisa Brisson are indeed well-matched; she is a strong, ruthless woman who knows how to use her beauty to make men do her bidding. Joe Brisson is never far from his roots as a goon; though he has made a killing in real estate, violence always lurks near the surface. Replacing Howard Duncombe with Bobby Davenport also improves the tale by presenting a contrast between new money and old money and setting up a lover for Lisa to parallel Joe's lover, Anna. The end of the story is the same, but getting to know the characters better and having Bobby Davenport act as Lisa's murderer is more satisfying than having the deed done by a stranger.

Jo de Winter as
Betty Lawrence
Anthony Terpiloff (1929-1978), who wrote the teleplay, was born in New York and died in Wales. He wrote for television from 1963 to 1978 and this is one of his two scripts for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in its final season; the other was "The Monkey's Paw--A Retelling." He also wrote two episodes of The Avengers and five of Space: 1999.

The show is directed by Alf Kjellin (1920-1988), who was born in Sweden and started out in the movies in 1937 as an actor. He began acting on TV in 1952 and continued until 1979. He started directing films in 1955 and worked as a director on American television from 1961 to 1985, concurrent with his work as an actor. As an actor, he appeared in the 1966 film adaptation of Jack Finney's Assault on a Queen and in one episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. As a director, he was at the helm for one episode of the half-hour Hitchcock series ("Coming Home") and eleven episodes of the hour series.

Janet MacLachlan as
Brisson's secretary
J.D. Cannon (1922-2005) plays Joe Brisson. After serving in the Army in WWII, Cannon was a founding member of the New York Shakespeare Festival in 1954 and appeared on screen from 1958 to 1991, mostly on TV. His best-known role was as a regular on McCloud (1970-1977); he also appeared in Cool Hand Luke (1967). "Completely Foolproof" was his only role on the Hitchcock TV show.

Patricia Barry (1920-2013) plays Lisa Brisson. She was born Patricia White and she came to Hollywood in 1946 after winning a Rita Hayworth look-alike contest. She began appearing on screen in 1946 but most of her roles over the next 60 years were on TV, including starring on First Love (1954-1955), co-starring with Jack Klugman on Harris Against the World (1964-1965), and playing another role on a soap opera called Loving (1992-1994). Fans of televised fantasy know her for her two roles on The Twilight Zone and her three roles on Thriller; she also appeared in one other episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, "Good-Bye, George."

In smaller roles:
  • Geoffrey Horne (1933- ) as Bobby Davenport; he trained at the Actors Studio and appeared on screen from 1955 to 1999. This was his only role on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour; he was also seen on The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.
  • Myron Healey (1923-2005) as George Foyle, the private detective; he has countless credits on film and TV from 1943 to 1994 and appeared in five episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "Incident in a Small Jail."
  • Joyce Meadows as Anna; she was born in 1933 as Joyce Burger and was still performing as of 2022. Meadows started in movies and on TV in 1956 and appeared four times on the Hitchcock series, including "A Night with the Boys." She was kind enough to comment for this blog in 2013.
  • Lester Matthews (1900-1975) as Walter Dunham, who is visiting the Brisson home in the second scene; a British actor, he was on screen from 1931 to 1974 and he appeared in such classic horror films as The Raven and Werewolf of London (both 1935), as well as in Assault on a Queen. This was his only role on the Hitchcock show.
  • Robert Lieb (1914-2002) as Baines, who meets Brisson in the parking lot in the first scene to trade briefcases; on screen from 1946 to 1999, he appeared on The Twilight Zone and in two other episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, including "Hangover."
  • Jo de Winter (1921-2016) as Betty Lawrence, who visits the Brisson home with Walter Dunham; born Juanita Maria-Johana Daussat, she was on screen from 1965 to 2016 and this was her only appearance on the Hitchcock TV show.
  • Janet MacLachlan (1933-2010) as Brisson's secretary; this was her first credit in a screen career that lasted until 2003. She was also seen in "The Monkey's Paw--A Retelling."
Robert Arthur (1909-1969), who wrote the short story, was born in the Philippines, where his father was stationed in the Army. He earned an M.A. in Journalism from the University of Michigan before moving to New York City in the early 1930s and becoming a prolific writer of short stories. He later was an editor at Dell and Fawcett but is best known as the ghost editor of many of the Alfred Hitchcock anthologies. He also wrote a beloved series of books about Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators for young adult readers. In 1959, he moved to Hollywood to write for television and edit screenplays. Before that, he won two Edgar Awards as a writer for radio. Many of his stories were adapted for TV; five episodes of the Hitchcock series were based on his stories and he wrote one additional teleplay himself. There is a website devoted to him here. Oddly enough, the onscreen credit for this episode says that the short story was by Andrew Benedict, one of Arthur's pseudonyms, even though Arthur's name is on the story in the magazine.

Telly Savalas as Joe Brisson
"Completely Foolproof" was remade as an episode of the TV series Tales of the Unexpected that aired on June 21, 1981. The half-hour show was produced on videotape and is in color. Robin Chapman adapted Arthur's story this time, and the teleplay follows the short story closely for the most part. The writer or director made the odd choice to set the events in late 1930s New York City, which allows for the use of art deco furniture and sets. Telly Savalas plays Joe Brisson and the only notable change is the addition of a short scene near the end where Anna visits Lisa to beg for her letters in exchange for promising not to see Joe again. The final scenes, where Lisa and Joe are both shot and killed, are longer than in the 1965 version but, overall, the show is dull and underlines the comparative high quality of the earlier adaptation. Watch it online here.

Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the short story!


Arthur, Robert. "Completely Foolproof." Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, May 1958, pp. 84-93.

"Completely Foolproof." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, season 3, episode 23, NBC, 29 March 1965.


Galactic Central,

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




Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "One More Mile to Go" here!

In two weeks: "Six People, No Music," starring John McGiver!

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