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.


Sextonblake said...

Nice to see someone mention John Creasey. I should say, though, that according to Creasey's son those 600 novels are the ones that we know about. At the beginning of his career he published under several different pseudonyms, and there is some suggestion that he might have written even more. That makes me feel so lazy!

john kenrick said...

I enjoyed the episode, Jack, though I agree with an IMDB reviewer who criticized it for faulty character development. In other words, we learn about Miss Greer's monster of a nurse, do not learn about her character. We learn her ways but not her motivations, greed being her apparently, by the episode's end, the primary one. Kent Smith's older man with a cane was far more interesting, and Smith, who could be dull with a mediocre script, could actually shine when given a good one. This one was good enough to inspire him to give a first rate performance as a weary but not yet resigned man who falls for a woman whose character he wholly misreads and doesn't understand. A True Account was clever in a mechanical sort of way, a sort of wind-up doll of an episode. It got the job done but never, Smith's performance aside, drew me in emotionally.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, John. I recall this as seeming like an unusual episode for AHP. I've never been a big fan of Jane Greer but you're right that Kent Smith could do well with a good script, such as in the Lewton films.