Thursday, January 10, 2013

John Collier on TV Part Four-Alfred Hitchcock Presents: "None Are So Blind"

by Jack Seabrook

Having exhausted their supply of stories from Fancies and Goodnights, the producers of Alfred Hitchcock Presents turned to a more recent story for their fourth adaptation of a work by John Collier. "None Are So Blind" was written around December 1955 and was published in The New Yorker on March 31, 1956. A thorough search has failed to turn up any source where this story has been reprinted, so it looks like it made one appearance in print, was quickly purchased for TV adaptation, and was forgotten.

The story concerns Seymour Johnstone, proprietor of a small antique shop in New York City and more preoccupied with wondering when his rich Aunt Muriel will die than he is with running his shop. He happens upon an article in a magazine about life expectancy and is discouraged to learn that his aunt may not die as soon as he hopes. Out of the magazine falls an envelope, in which Seymour finds a driver's license issued in California to Antonio Bertani, whose physical description is similar to that of Seymour. Seymour decides to masquerade as Bertani in order to murder his aunt. He constructs an identity as a shady Italian in New Jersey, disguising himself with a gold tooth, different clothes, and facial dye.

Muriel Drummond, his aunt, invites him to spend the Easter weekend at her Connecticut home. On Good Friday, he announces that he will take the train to New Jersey to inspect an antique. From New Jersey, he drives back to Connecticut in Bertani's car and then joins his aunt for dinner. After dinner, he places a threatening note in her desk and shoots her dead. He sneaks upstairs, then races down to find his aunt's dead body. He raises a ruckus that the maids witness, runs outside, and makes sure that Bertani's car is stuck in the mud. He calls the police and they come to the house and interview him.

Seymour pretends to have been fearful when he set out to chase the murderer. He tries to charm the policemen, who leave to continue their investigation. They return the next evening, having traced the car to Bertani's residence in New Jersey. Descriptions of Bertani by his neighbors mention a gold tooth, but also "a nasty little cyst on the left side of his nose." The detective observes that Seymour also has a cyst on his face in exactly the same spot. The title of the story comes from Matthew Henry (1662-1714), who wrote "none are so blind as those that will not see" in a Bible commentary. Collier's use of the name Seymour for his main character is ironic, since he actually "sees less" than others.

Mildred Dunnock as Aunt Muriel
"None Are So Blind" is a weak story compared to the first three that were adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The ending is subtle but it is clear that Seymour was in the habit of putting the left side of his face out of his mind and did not realize that his attempts to disguise himself were doomed to failure because of the large defect on his face.

The visual nature of the twist ending to this story must have made it appealing to adapt for TV. The teleplay was written by James Cavanagh and the episode was broadcast on CBS on Sunday, October 28, 1956, two weeks after "De Mortuis" had been aired, making it the third episode of the show's second season to be adapted from a story by John Collier. Once the viewer is aware of the twist ending, the most interesting part of the show becomes the process of watching how director of photography Reggie Lanning and director Robert Stevens set up their shots and film Hurd Hatfield (as Seymour) to hide the left side of his face without making it obvious that that is what they are doing.

The plot of the show follows that of the story with some revisions. Seymour narrates the show in voiceover, which helps to tie it together. He spends a lot of time staring at his right profile in the mirror and self consciously rubbing the left side of his nose, though the reason for this is not revealed until the last shot. Clues are sprinkled liberally throughout the show, such as this line of Seymour's: "The only way I could possibly survive in this so-called civilization is not to see anything unpleasant, just to pretend it doesn't exist." Aunt Muriel comments on Seymour's habit of positioning himself so others only see what he believes is his best angle.

K.T. Stevens as Liza
Instead of finding the driver's license in an envelope that drops out of a magazine, Seymour finds it in a wallet he picks up from the floor. A new character is added to the story: that of Liza, Seymour's girlfriend. He chats with her in his antique shop and reveals to her his plan to assume Bertani's identity and murder his aunt for her money. The Bertani disguise is rather absurd, consisting of a wig, a mustache, and bushy eyebrows. When Seymour is about to murder his aunt, she laughs at him and mocks his plans to plant the letter in her desk drawer; Liza had also laughed at Seymour when he told her his scheme. The show's continuity is a bit sloppy; Seymour puts the letter into an empty drawer, yet when the detective opens the drawer it is stuffed full of junk and he has to rummage through it to find the letter. A curious moment occurs when Seymour runs up the stairs after murdering his aunt: he trips and drops a glove, then runs up the stairs partway and has to come back down to pick up the item. Presumably, this was an attempt to increase suspense, but it falls flat.

Hurd Hatfield as Seymour
In the final scene, when the detective confronts Seymour, the detective explains that he had been good friends with Aunt Muriel and she had told him that, when anything annoyed Seymour, he pretended it was not there. The detective suddenly realizes that Seymour's facial defect matches that of Bertani. He spins Seymour around and we see his full face for the first time, with a large birthmark next to his nose.

"None Are So Blind" is a mediocre story that cannot be saved by good performances and competent direction. James Cavanagh (1922-1971), the writer who adapted it for television, was the author of many TV scripts in the 1950s and 1960s. He wrote 15 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "'Mother, May I Go Out to Swim?'" and "Fog Closing In," for which he won an Emmy. Director Robert Stevens also won an Emmy for the episode "The Glass Eye," one of the 49 episodes of the Hitchcock series that he directed.

Rusty Lane as the detective
Starring as Seymour was Hurd Hatfield (1917-1998), who had become famous for his role in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945). Though he continued to appear in movies and on TV until the early 1990s, his career never again reached the peak that he had hit with one of his first movie roles. He appeared in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Aunt Muriel was played by character actress Mildred Dunnock (1901-1991). Like Robert Emhardt, she was a founding member of the Actors Studio and had great success on Broadway in the original production of Death of a Salesman, where she played Willy Loman's wife Linda. She was on TV from 1948 to 1982, appearing in four episodes of the Hitchcock series and one episode of Thriller. She was also in Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry (1955).

Seymour disguised as Bertani
"None Are So Blind" is available on DVD here and may be viewed online here.


Collier, John. "None Are So Blind." The New Yorker 31 Mar. 1956: 29-34. DVD.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb., n.d. Web. 04 Jan. 2013.
"John Collier: An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center." John Collier: An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Jan. 2013.
"The New Yorker." The New Yorker. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Jan. 2013.
"None Are So Blind." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 28 Oct. 1956. Television.

"Quote/Counterquote: None so Blind as Those That Will Not See." N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Jan. 2013.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 04 Jan. 2013.


Harvey Chartrand said...

I Hurd it was pretty bad. Rusty Lane has a face like a cowcatcher. But NONE ARE SO BLIND as those who pass judgement on a Hitchcock episode without having seen it, so I'll watch the darn thing on YouTube.

Jack Seabrook said...

I try to find a positive approach to each episode, but this one was tough. My wife watched it with me and her comments were not very favorable!

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm one of the few who loved this episode. It's easily the best one I've seen yet. The ending was perfect.

Jack Seabrook said...

I'm glad you liked it! I wish I did.

Anonymous said...

thanks for this synopsis! so glad to see descriptions of these obscure shows.

Jack Seabrook said...

I'm happy that you enjoy them. I plan to do the entire series, but it will take awhile!

john kenrick said...

I saw None Are So Blind the other night, Jack, and while the story wasn't compelling there was something about the acting, the choice of players,--Hatfield, Dunnock, Stevens, Lane--that made it work for me. Their faces and voices all seemed just right for the characters they were portraying. Also, there was an elegance in the presentation of the story, as something distinct from the story itself, that drew me in. Not emotionally maybe, nor intellectually, as I guessed it would be such an easy puzzle to figure that I didn't even put much effort into solving it.

As this is one John Collier tale I'm unfamiliar with I found the Big Reveal (the birthmark) satisfying, even ingenious, as after the fact this was one possibility (of catching Hatfield) that ought to have occurred to me, and it didn't. Yet it's so simple. Also, given the character's vanity over his looks, his "exquisite" tastes and all, as an echo of Dorian Gray, while this much I understood, as there was no central object, no painting, in other words, I was at a loss as to how to go about guessing how the perp would get caught. Yet the obviousness of it came as a near shock, and I was (and am still) grateful for that.

Jack Seabrook said...

I haven't seen it in 5 years, since I wrote this post, but I recall being disappointed by it. I do like the actors and I'm becoming a real admirer of the work of Robert Stevens, so maybe I'll like it better the next time I see it.

Unknown said...

I replayed the episode on dvd and paused it so I could try to see if every shot and angle of Seymour's face hid his birthmark

Jack Seabrook said...

Well? What did you find? Now I'm curious.