Sunday, June 26, 2011

Fredric Brown on TV Part Eight - Alfred Hitchcock Presents: “A True Account”

by Jack Seabrook

    “A True Account” was adapted for television by Robert C. Dennis and Fredric Brown, but it was not based on a Fredric Brown story.  Instead, it was based on “Curtains for Me,” a very short story (about 1200 words) by Anthony Gilbert that was first published in the October 3, 1951 issue of the newspaper, the London Evening Standard.

    The story is narrated by a lawyer named Brett, who tells of the visit a year before by Mabel Hughes, a nurse.  She had cared for an elderly woman with a younger husband.  Some time after the woman died, the nurse began dating the widower and eventually he proposed marriage.
    After they wed, Mr. Hughes demonstrated distrust of his new wife.  She overheard him talking in his sleep and what he said led her to believe that he had poisoned his elderly wife.  His new wife fears she’ll meet the same fate.  Her husband eventually commits suicide and the former nurse inherits his fortune.  She tells Brett, who has become her lawyer, that she knew her husband was going to poison her, so she switched glasses on him and he drank his own fatal brew.
    Brett weds the rich widow but soon hears her talking in her sleep and realizes he has married a double murderess.  The story concludes with his thought:

My profession is to give advice to troubled men and women.  This is one of the occasions when I want it myself—and quickly, before it’s Curtains for Me.

    The producers of Alfred Hitchcock Presents most likely saw this story when it was reprinted in the February 1958 issue of John Creasey Mystery Magazine.  John Creasey had a fascinating life.  Born in 1908 in England, he wrote over 600 novels in his career, often under a pseudonym, including mysteries, science fiction stories, and westerns.  His most famous series characters were Gideon of Scotland Yard and The Toff.  He won an Edgar Award and a Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America; he was also a politician and a Member of the British Empire.  He edited a mystery digest from 1956 to 1965 and died (likely of exhaustion) in 1973.
    The author of “Curtains for Me,” Anthony Gilbert, was a pseudonym of Lucy Beatrice Malleson, who lived from 1899-1973.  A British crime writer like John Creasey, she wrote 69 crime novels, 51 of which featured her series character Arthur Crook, a “vulgar London lawyer.”

    The TV adaptation of “Curtains for Me” was retitled “A True Account,” and starred Jane Greer as the nurse, Maureen Hughes, with Robert Webber as the lawyer, Paul Brett, and Kent Smith as the unfortunate husband, Gilbert Hughes.  Jocelyn Brando (Marlon’s sister) also shines in this episode as the nurse/roommate of Maureen Hughes; the scenes where they are together in their apartment are comedic and reminded me of similar scenes in Fritz Lang’s The Blue Gardenia (1953).

    In adapting the story for television, Dennis and Brown were faithful to its twists and turns while expanding the details.  The show contains a flashback within a flashback and has two narrators.  It begins as a story told by Brett on a reel to reel tape player, as he relates the visit to his office by the nurse.  She then tells him about her experience caring for the old woman, which becomes a flashback in itself.  The story goes back and forth between the past and the present until Mr. Hughes dies and the nurse’s tale is done.  The show continues in flashback as Brett tells what happened next, ending in the present as the tape concludes and we see Brett lying dead on the floor.  His wife, now thrice a murderess, removes the tape and throws it in the fire.

    The performances in this episode are all very good.  Jane Greer (1924-2001) began her career in movies in 1945 and is best remembered as the femme fatale in the noir classic, Out of the Past (1947).  She continued to appear on television into her 70s.  In “A True Account,” she seems to be playing a character older than herself (she was 35 at the time), somewhat reminiscent of Audrey Meadows and displaying streaks of grey in her hair.  Kent Smith (1907-1985) gives a solid performance as the older husband, walking with a cane.  He appeared in countless TV shows and movies, including Val Lewton’s The Cat People (1942) and a regular role on the TV series The Invaders (1967-68).

    Robert Webber (1924-1989) is also a familiar face, and his good looks and slightly dull demeanor fit the role of the lawyer perfectly.  Among his roles were as a juror in Twelve Angry Men (1957), in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and in “Keeper of the Purple Twilight” on The Outer Limits (1964).  Finally, Jocelyn Brando (1919-2005) appeared in Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat (1953), as well as in episodes of One Step Beyond, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller, and one of my favorite segments of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, “The Jar” (1964).

    “A True Account” was directed by TV veteran Leonard J. Horn and was broadcast on June 7, 1959, near the end of the fourth season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  The story, “Curtains for Me,” was reprinted only once, in 1960, in the collection The Mystery Bedside Book, edited by John Creasey.  This book, which is now very hard to find, contained many short pieces from John Creasey Mystery Magazine, including items by Agatha Christie, Georges Simenon, Sax Rohmer, Ngaio Marsh, Raymond Chandler, and Erle Stanley Gardner.
    The rare story “Curtains for Me” can be read on my blog, Fredric Brown Rarities .  Thanks to Phil Stephenson-Payne for locating the date and place of the story’s first publication.

Gade   gadettection / FrontPage. Web. 25 June 2011.
Galactic Central. Web. 25 June 2011.
Gilbert, Anthony. "Curtains for Me." The Mystery Bedside Book. Ed. John Creasey.  Bungay: Hodder & Stoughton, 1960. 167-71.
The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Web. 26 June 2011.
"A True Account." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. 7 June 1959. DVD. Universal, 2008.
Wikipedia. Web. 25 June 2011. Web. 25 June 2011.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Fredric Brown Lost Stories - Part Two: “Fatal Facsimile”

by Jack Seabrook

In the first part of this three-part series, I discussed “Compliments of a Fiend,” the recently-discovered condensed version of the novel of the same name featuring Fredric Brown's detective team of Ed and Am Hunter.  This time, I will discuss another unreprinted story that features Brown's lesser-known series character, insurance salesman/detective Henry Smith.

Henry Smith was quite an ordinary man, who sold insurance as an agent of the Phalanx Insurance Company.  He was skilled at observation and deduction, and he solved crimes in six short stories published in a variety of detective pulps in the 1940s.  He was the consummate company man, whose every move was calculated toward selling insurance policies.  When he solved a crime, he usually ended up selling a policy to a policeman or to someone else he had met along the way.
He first appeared in “Life and Fire,” published in the March 22, 1941 issue of Detective Fiction Weekly.  This story was reprinted in the 1963 collection, The Shaggy Dog and Other Murders.

Next came “The Incredible Bomber,” in the March 1942 issue of G-Men Detective.  It was reprinted in the 1986 collection, Pardon My Ghoulish Laughter.

Third was “Murder Without Mustard,” in the March 1943 issue of New Detective.  It was reprinted in the 1986 collection, Sex Life on the Planet Mars as “A Change for the Hearse.”

Then came “Anecdote for Poison,” in the October 1943 issue of Ten Detective Aces.  It was reprinted as “Death Insurance Payment” in the 1986 collection, Thirty Corpses Every Thursday.

The fifth Henry Smith story was “The Bucket of Gems Case,” published in the August 1944 issue of Detective Story Magazine and reprinted as “Mr. Smith Kicks the Bucket” in the 1985 collection, Carnival of Crime.

The sixth and last Henry Smith story (or so I thought) was “Whistler's Murder,” published in the December 1946 issue of Detective Story Magazine.  It was reprinted in The Shaggy Dog and Other Murders.

Earlier this year, I learned from Phil Stephenson-Payne that there was another Henry Smith story, one that had been in some bibliographies and absent from others (including mine), probably because it was thought to have been a reprint and retitling of another story, “Fatal Error.”  The seventh Henry Smith story, which has never been reprinted, was titled “Fatal Facsimile” and was published in the September 1962 issue of The Saint Mystery Magazine.
In this story, Smith calls on James Brock, a fellow coin collector, to try to sell him an insurance policy.  After learning that Brock is also an insurance salesman and thus would never buy a policy from Smith, our intrepid salesman targets Brock's brother, also a coin collector.  When the second man is murdered by a burglar, Smith uses his powers of deduction to solve the crime.  Will his success allow him to sell insurance to his rival?
If you are interested in reading this story, help is on the way!  Phil Stephenson-Payne, who discovered it, plans to reprint it in his upcoming collection of Brown rarities.  Also in the collection will be a complete run of Brown's columns for The American Proofreader from the late 1930s and early 1940s, as well as previously unreprinted fiction that Brown wrote for trade magazines around that time.
I also highly recommend Phil's website, Galactic Central, which is the source of many of the cover pictures of old magazines that illustrate my articles.  The website is a treasure trove of information on old pulps, among many other magazines, and the collection of cover scans online is worth perusing.

Brown, Fredric. “Fatal Facsimile.” The Saint Mystery Magazine September (1962): 53-62.
Brown, Fredric, Francis M. Nevins, and Martin Harry Greenberg. Carnival of Crime: the Best Mystery Stories of Fredric Brown. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1985.
Galactic Central. Web. 11 June 2011. 
Seabrook, Jack. Martians and Misplaced Clues: the Life and Work of Fredric Brown. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1993.
Stephens, Christopher P. A Checklist of Fredric Brown. Hastings-On-Hudson, NY: Ultramarine, 1992.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Announcing Marvel University!

Peter and I are proud to announce our latest addition to the blogosphere, or blogoverse, or our own little blog-o-rama...

With Marvel University, we'll be working our way through almost every comic published by Marvel from the birth of the Fantastic Four in November 1961 up through the end of the decade.

We hope you'll check it out, and consider coming along for the ride!