Thursday, October 4, 2012

Ray Bradbury on TV Part Five: Alfred Hitchcock Presents "The Faith of Aaron Menefee"

by Jack Seabrook

Sidney Blackmer as Healer Jones
Ray Bradbury’s fourth teleplay for Alfred Hitchcock Presents represented the first and only time he would adapt a story by another writer for this series. “The Faith of Aaron Menefee,” based on the short story of the same name by Stanley Ellin, begins as a big car pulls into a gas station by the side of a dusty country road. Attendant Aaron Menefee fixes the carburetor and his honesty in charging only $2 for the service impresses the car’s passenger. When Aaron suffers an attack from a stomach ulcer, the man introduces himself as Otis “Healer” Jones, a radio and television faith healer.
Aaron tells Jones that he does not listen to the radio or watch television because he has heard that they portray “a load of sinful stuff . . . drinkin’ and killin’ and sinful women.” Little does he know that this chance encounter will soon lead him to experience firsthand two of those three demons. Jones lays hands on Aaron and begins to heal him, inviting him to that night’s meeting. Before the car drives off, Aaron also meets the healer’s pretty daughter, Emily.
That night, Jones leads a tent meeting and heals a woman before calling Brother Menefee forward to have his ulcer healed. Sidney Blackmer, in the role of Jones, is tremendous as the thundering preacher, his voice booming out with the certainty of his cause. After the meeting, Jones, Emily, and his driver, Charlie Fish, count up the “faith offerings” donated by grateful members of the audience and Jones hires Aaron as his new chauffeur.
Before Aaron leaves his hometown to go on the road with Jones, however, he is warned by old Doc Buckles; Buckles is a cynical healer of another sort who tells the young man that his ulcer is “bunk” and that his problems stem from his father’s “hellfire” teachings. Buckles does not come right out and say it, but his comments suggest that Healer Jones may represent a father figure to Aaron, replacing the real father whose teachings seem to have been not very different from those of Jones.
Robert Armstrong and Andrew Prine
What follows is a brief montage as Jones and his group move from town to town, healing the sick and collecting faith offerings; this segment is narrated by Aaron in a voice over. So much time spent with Emily takes its toll, however, and we see Aaron subjecting himself to a bath in ice cold water (complete with large blocks of ice) to purge his mind of sinful thoughts of the Healer’s daughter. Emily, having none of it, orders Aaron to take her out in a rowboat, threatening to fire him if he refuses.
As Aaron rows Emily around a lake he confesses that the devil is in him; she kisses him and quotes The Song of Solomon, suggesting that they marry. He is twenty-five years old, “long overdue,” according to Emily. Aaron tells her that marrying without her father’s blessing would be “sharper than a serpent’s tooth” (quoting Shakespeare’s King Lear), and they head back to the tent, where Aaron asks Healer Jones for Emily’s hand in marriage.
The old man objects, telling Aaron that he is not fit to inherit Jones’s business: “I reaped a mighty harvest, tax free!” he boasts. Aaron, naive and innocent, is putty in the charismatic man’s hands and meekly backs down when Jones tells him that Emily will be free to choose for herself after her father dies. Jones is shown to have almost supernatural power; when Emily pledges her love for Aaron out of sight of her father, his voice booms out of a loudspeaker above their heads (like the voice of God) to stop them from kissing.
Maggie Pierce as Emily Jones
After more time on the road, the troupe returns to Aaron’s home town and Aaron pays a visit to Doc Buckles, who is being held captive by Vern Byers, a gangster whose legs were paralyzed by a policeman’s gunshot. Byers does not accept the diagnosis of Doc Buckles, who tells him that his legs cannot be cured. Aaron tells Byers that he needs the attention of Healer Jones and Byers gives Aaron $1000 to bring Jones to him, promising another $1000 on arrival. Doc Buckles reveals that Byers killed the doctor in Crescent City who removed the bullet from his spine and left him paralyzed; he adds that he will kill any man who takes his money without fixing his legs. Aaron counsels him to have faith and he and Byers’s henchman drive to find Jones in his tent.
When Aaron shows Healer Jones the $1000 faith offering from Byers, the preacher leaps into action and rushes to meet the donor. As Jones head up the stairs to the doctor’s office where Byers awaits, Aaron warns him that the man is short on faith, but Jones goes in alone, confident in his abilities. Byers pulls out his gun and holds it close to his chest as Jones asks the nature of his affliction. The door closes and we are left thinking that Jones will not survive for long and Aaron will have a clear field to marry Emily.
On first viewing “The Faith of Aaron Menefee,” I wondered if Aaron took advantage of the situation in which he found himself, but on watching it a second time it was clear that Aaron is consistently faithful and is simply an unwitting beneficiary.
“The Faith of Aaron Menefee” was broadcast on NBC on Tuesday, January 30, 1962, halfway through the seventh and final season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The story on which it was based had been published in the September 1957 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and would be reprinted in two collections of Stanley Ellin’s short stories: The Blessington Method and Other Strange Tales (1964) and The Specialty of the House and Other Stories (1979). In adapting the story for television, Ray Bradbury was very faithful to the text. The tale is narrated in the first person by Aaron, and the gas station where he works is identified as being 40 miles from Cincinnati, which could put it in Ohio, Kentucky or Indiana. The only place identified in the teleplay is Crescent City, and I was unable to find any Crescent City near Cincinnati.
Bradbury’s teleplay does an outstanding job of compressing time and place and of turning narrative into action and dialogue. While it follows the story very closely, even using dialogue verbatim in spots, there are some differences in the transition from page to screen. The tent meeting that Aaron first attends is described in the story to be attended by “maybe ten thousand people” in Aaron’s estimation; on the small screen it is a much more intimate affair. Some background on Healer Jones is omitted; Aaron tells the reader that the Healer had been living a miserable existence as a lowly bank clerk when he “felt the power seize him.”
The scene where Aaron is healed at the tent meeting is more powerful in the story than on screen, where it is somewhat subdued. Doc Buckles does not tell Aaron that his ulcer is a figment of his imagination; instead, he attributes it to verbal and emotional abuse by the young man’s father. Bradbury removed a section where Aaron first goes to work for Healer Jones and interacts with the rest of his crew; he learns that they are sinners and is teased for his righteous behavior. When Aaron gets into a fight with Everett Kane, the crew foreman, he is forced to tell Jones the truth about the men who work for him. As a result, the men are fired and Aaron is put in charge. The troupe tours the north of the country in the summer and the south in the winter, which seems like a longer span of time than that which is depicted on television. Emily Jones “wasn’t what you’d call a real pretty girl,” as opposed to the attractive Ms. Jones shown in the TV episode. (This is in keeping with a pattern on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, whose producers seemed to have trouble casting less attractive actresses in younger roles.)
Andrew Prine as Aaron
In the story, Emily and Aaron go for long walks at night and he tells her how he feels about her one night “in a grove of trees right outside Tulsa, Oklahoma.” Bradbury compressed these events in his teleplay and made Emily into a more forceful character who orders Aaron to take her out in a rowboat and threatens to fire him unless he complies. The rowboat scene does not appear in the story and recalls similar (yet far more tragic) scenes in the films A Place in the Sun and Night of the Hunter.
The story’s conclusion is altered slightly, as Healer Jones does not allow Aaron to get into the car with him to go back to Doc Buckles’s office. In the teleplay, Aaron and Emily both accompany him but Jones walks up the stairs to the office alone. The story ends as Aaron thinks, “A man’s got no right to question what is meant,” continuing a theme that runs throughout the story but was omitted from the teleplay—that is, Aaron’s willingness to accept what he sees as destiny.
In short, “The Faith of Aaron Menefee” is a great short story that was reworked by Ray Bradbury into a great half-hour of television suspense. Credit for the show’s success also goes to director Norman Lloyd (who was also the associate producer); Lloyd must have had an affinity for Bradbury, since he acted in “Design for Loving” and also directed “Special Delivery,” the previous two episodes written by Bradbury.
I have already mentioned the outstanding performance by Sidney Blackmer (1895-1973) as Healer Jones. Blackmer was in movies from 1914 and is remembered for his chilling role in Rosemary’s Baby (1968) as well as for his work in episodes of The Outer Limits (“The Hundred Days of the Dragon”) and Thriller (“The Premature Burial”). He was in one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, as well.
Don Hammer as Byers
Playing the role of Aaron Menefee was Andrew Prine, born in 1936. He has appeared in numerous TV episodes, including “Demon in Lace” on Kolchak: The Night Stalker. He is still acting today and maintains an extensive website.
Lovely Maggie Pierce (1931-2010) played Emily; she was a regular on My Mother, the Car (1965-1966), appeared in Tales of Terror (1962), and was in three episodes of the Hitchcock series. Her brief career lasted from 1959-1967.
Olan Soule (1909-1994) had the small role of Charlie Fish; he is a recognizable character actor who was in eight Hitchcock episodes and two Twilight Zones; he was also the voice of Batman in many TV cartoons.
Finally, the great character actor Robert Armstrong appeared as Doc Buckles. Living from 1890-1973, Armstrong will forever be remembered as Carl Denham in King Kong (1933); he also appeared in Son of Kong (1933) and Mighty Joe Young (1949). In movies from 1927, he appeared in over 150 films in his long career and he was on TV beginning in 1950. He appeared in three Hitchcock TV episodes.
Stanley Ellin, author of the story on which the show was based, was one of the great writers of mystery and suspense stories of the mid-twentieth century. He lived from 1916-1986, received three Edgar Awards, and was president of the Mystery Writers of America. His stories were the basis for eight episodes of the Hitchcock series, and I will review the other seven in future articles.
Olan Soule and Prine
Season seven of Alfred Hitchcock Presents is not yet available on DVD, but “The Faith of Aaron Menefee” can be seen online here. The show has never been remade.


Ellin, Stanley. "The Faith of Aaron Menefee." 1957. The Blessington Method and Other Strange Tales. Middlesex: Penguin, 1971. 28-44. Print. 

"The Faith of Aaron Menefee." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. NBC. 30 Jan. 1962. Television. 

"Galactic Central." Galactic Central. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2012. <>. 

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.

IMDb., n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2012. <>.

Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2012. <>. 


john kenrick said...

The Faith Of Aaron Menefee is one of my favorite Hitchcock half-hours, and I'm surprised that there seems to be little love for it.

It's a neat little story, not at all far fetched, and well acted by all. I was impressed by Sidney Blackmer's performance; Andrew Prine and Maggie Pierce were fine;but what it put it over for me in the acting department was Robert Armstrong's strong, no-nonsense performance as a deceptively perceptive country doctor with a sharp eye.

Mr. Armstrong, best remembered as the showman who captured King Kong in the 1933 classic, is now playing a realist, not an impresario with dreams of glory. The wounded criminal was the King Kong of this tale, and Armstrong handled the predicament he was in far better than when he was dealing with the big ape some thirty years earlier.


Jack Seabrook said...

Don't you love Robert Armstrong? King Kong is my all-time favorite movie and he's a big part of what I love about it.

john kenrick said...

Yup. Armstrong's always a treat. Hitchcock used him in a few half-hours. He was put to somewhat better use on Perry Mason, really getting a chance to shine as a serious actor a couple of time. Not that he isn't serious in Aaron Menefee, he just doesn't own it.

King Kong is my favorite movie as well.