Saturday, October 29, 2011

Robert Bloch on TV Part One - Alfred Hitchcock Presents: “The Cure”

by Jack Seabrook

Beloved horror writer Robert Bloch was the source for no less than 17 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and its successor, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.  The first of these to air was “The Cure,” based on Bloch’s story of the same name that had been published in the October 1957 issue of Playboy.

Nehemiah Persoff as Jeff
As the story begins, it is after midnight when Jeff awakens to see Marie standing next to his bed, naked.  She attacks him with a machete.  He grapples with her until Luiz, an Indian, grabs her and pins her to the wall, his own machete pressed to her throat.  Jeff tells him not to kill her.  Mike arrives and he and Jeff agree that Marie is sick in the head.  They are all waiting for money to come.  Luiz is loyal to Jeff and protective of him.  Mike and Jeff discuss Marie, and Jeff says she needs to go to Belém, the big city, to see a headshrinker.  Mike plans to go with Luiz to take Marie to Santarém, then on to Belém.

Mike and Marie plan to kill Luiz
Mike and Luiz leave with Marie while Jeff stays behind to let his ankle wound heal.  He recalls robbing an armored truck with Mike before hiding out in the Brazilian jungle until their associate, Gonzales, could launder the money in Cuba and send them their cut.  They took a freighter to Pòrto de Moz and met Luiz.  Jeff also met Marie, a TV singer, and brought her along with promises of cash and the good life.  Yet life in Brazil is unbearable.  Jeff waits for the others to return as his ankle heals and his fever breaks.

Luiz finally returns, alone, and tells Jeff that Mike had the money already.  It turns out that Mike was planning to kill Luiz and run off with Marie.  Mike failed in his goal, however, and Luiz killed him instead.  The money fell in the river, but Luiz took care of matters himself.  He took Marie to see his friends in the jungle and she saw a headshrinker after all—Luiz unwraps a bundle and out rolls Marie’s shrunken head, the size of an orange.

The three cities in the story.
"The Cure" first appeared
in the October 1957 Playboy.
“The Cure” is an atmospheric little story with a great twist ending.  It takes place somewhere deep in the Brazilian jungle, along a river.  The three cities mentioned—Belém, Santarém, and Pòrto de Moz—are all in the province of Para in the northern region of Brazil.  Both the Amazon and the Tapajos Rivers border Santarém and, judging from internal evidence in the story, Jeff’s camp was further inland than Santarém. 

“The Cure” was adapted for television as an episode during the fifth season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and broadcast on CBS on Sunday, January 24, 1960.  The teleplay was by Michael Pertwee, brother of Jon (Dr. Who) Pertwee and the director was Herschel Daugherty.  Michael Pertwee (1916-1991) had an undistinguished career, mostly in British television, and this was his only Hitchcock episode.  Herschel Daugherty (1910-1993), on the other hand, had a long and wonderful career from the early 1950s to the mid-1970s, directing 24 half-hour and 3 hour episodes of the Hitchcock series among many other well-remembered shows.  His work was notable for its atmosphere—he worked best in black and white.

The television version of “The Cure” sticks closely to the short story, with some exceptions.  In the first scene, when Marie attacks Jeff, she wears a flimsy nightgown but is not naked.  She attacks Jeff with a knife rather than a machete and injures his arm, not his ankle.  On television in 1960, a woman could not appear naked, and perhaps the producers thought a machete too horrifying.  As played by Cara Williams, Marie never really seems mentally ill—just annoyed and cruel.  At one point, she laughs at Jeff, who is played by Nehemiah Persoff as a very primitive man, naïve and stupid.

Jhean Butler as Chita
A fifth character is added to the four-character story in the person of Chita, an Indian who essentially babysits Marie during the night.  The relationship between Mike and Jeff is more fleshed out in the TV show, with Mike suggesting that Marie doesn’t love Jeff and that he should have allowed Luiz to kill her.  The reason that they are all in Brazil is also changed.  In the story, they were crooks hiding out with a TV singer. In the show, they are looking for oil and Jeff suggests that Marie was something like a prostitute when he met her.  Also, Mike and Marie embrace at one point, showing that they have a secret relationship even before they head off to the city to find a headshrinker.  On TV, we get to see Mike, Marie and Luiz take off on the river in a small motorboat, stop on the river bank for the night, and fight.  Luiz kills Mike rather brutally onscreen, though the actual slaughter is not shown.  The twist ending is the same, and it is beautifully executed.  Luiz tells Jeff that he took Marie to the “best headshrinkers in the world,” and he pulls her shrunken head out of his bag.  We are treated to a final close up of the impressive shrunken head prop, complete with hair that looks like Marie’s.

Mark Richman as Mike
Nehemiah Persoff (Jeff) was born in 1919 and is still living today. He started acting in movies in the late 1940s and usually played ethnic roles, in such genre series as The Twilight Zone, Thriller, and The Untouchables.  He has a website to sell his paintings and it includes what looks like a recent photograph of the 92 year old actor.  Mark Richmond, as Jeff, was born in 1927 and is also still alive.  He as appeared on countless television shows and last turned up in 1999.  He starred in the series Cain’s Hundred (1961-1962), was on The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, and had starring roles on Dynasty and Santa Barbara.  He also has a website .  There is an interesting interview with him in which he discusses some of his work in genre TV shows at

Cara Williams, as Marie, was born Bernice Kamiat in 1925 and is also still alive. She started in movies in 1941 as Bernice Kay, and acted until 1978, starring in two series:  Peter and Gladys (1960-1962) and The Cara Williams Show (1964-1965).  TV producers tried to market her as a Lucille Ball type due to her red hair, but she never caught on.

Leonard Strong as Luiz
Leonard Strong (1908-1980), as Luiz, is familiar to Twilight Zone fans as the title character from the episode, “The Hitchhiker.”  He appeared on three episodes of the Hitchcock series, and a woman claiming to be his daughter has posted that reports of his Eurasian heritage are incorrect—he was of British heritage and got roles as Eurasians because he was short, had an olive complexion, and Japanese actors were interred in camps during World War Two when he first started acting in films, leaving a void to be filled by white actors who looked the part!

Last of all, Jhean Burton (1928-1992) played Chita, the female Indian.  Her career is notable for a role in Roger Corman’s cheapo camp classic, A Bucket of Blood (1959).

“The Cure” as been collected in Blood Runs Cold (1961), Such Stuff as Screams Are Made Of (1979) and Bitter Ends:  The Complete Stories of Robert Bloch, Volume Two (1990).  The television program of “The Cure” on Alfred Hitchcock Presents has not yet been issued on DVD by Universal, but it has been scheduled for release on January 3, 2012.

Bloch, Robert. "The Cure." Bitter Ends: The Complete Stories of Robert Bloch. Vol. Two. New York: First Carol Group, 1990. 91-96. Print.
"The Cure." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 24 Jan. 1960. Television.
Galactic Central. Web. 27 Oct. 2011.
Google Maps. Web. 26 Oct. 2011.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
Wikipedia. Web. 26 Oct. 2011.


Matthew Bradley said...

Excellent job, Jack, and a great kickoff to what will surely be an enjoyable series. When I tread this ground for an article that appeared first in FILMFAX and then in the Bloch anthology THE MAN WHO COLLECTED PSYCHOS, I had access to most of his TV episodes, but not this one. So I was reduced to summarizing the short story, noting who was in the cast and crew, and praying that the two versions weren't that different! :-)

While researching my book RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN, I contacted Persoff through his website to see if he would share any anecdotes about appearing in the TV-movie THE STRANGER WITHIN. He was very pleasant, but confessed that he had no recollection of the film whatsoever! At least he had the courtesy to respond (unlike, say, Barbara Eden, the leading lady).

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Matthew. This is going to be a fun series to write.

Peter Enfantino said...

What a fabulous Halloween present! Thanks for this, Jack. I hope you're saving some comments up for that AHP/AHH blog we'll be doing one of these days!

Jack Seabrook said...

With over 350 episodes, this series could keep us all busy for years and years!

Walker Martin said...

I'm sure Peter and John are up for an ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS a day series. That should keep us all busy for a year, unlike the THRILLER A DAY which was only good for a couple months.

Matthew Bradley said...

If I may pick a belated nit, there were indeed 17 Bloch-related episodes of the Hitchcock series, but not all of them were derived from his fiction. In some cases, he adapted the work of other writers.

Readers may also find it of interest that the screenwriter's brother, Jon Pertwee, starred with the late Ingrid Pitt in "The Cloak," an episode of the Amicus anthology film THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1970), which Bloch adapted from his published short stories.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Matthew. I removed one word and that solved the problem!