Thursday, February 21, 2013

John Collier on TV Part Seven-Alfred Hitchcock Presents: "I Spy"

Mrs. Morgan and Mr. Frute inside the Royal Pavilion
by Jack Seabrook

"I Spy" is a charming light comedy that was filmed on location in the English seaside resort of Brighton. It begins at a London office where a lawyer reports to his client, Captain Morgan, on the efforts of a private detective named Frute to discover why Morgan's wife left him. The scene shifts to the Queen's Hotel in Brighton, where Frute masquerades as a waiter in the hotel's dining room in order to keep an eye on Mrs. Morgan, who now works as a waitress. Frute is not a very dashing investigator, dropping plates as he attempts to carry four at once along his arm. When he follows Mrs. Morgan along the Boardwalk as she spends her day off with her friend Gladys, he is easy to spot in his costume as a priest and he ends up catching a cold from a sudden rainstorm.

Exterior of the Queen's Hotel, Brighton
Back in London, Captain Morgan is vainly certain that another man must have swept his wife off her feet; why else, he reasons, would she fail to be attracted to her exemplary husband? In Brighton, Frute's surveillance of Mrs. Morgan blossoms into romance. The lawyer confronts the detective in the dining room, pretending to be a diner, and insists that the investigation must soon yield results or the man will be fired. Frute takes Mrs. Morgan out on a date that ends with a chaste kiss; he subsequently writes a report to the lawyer detailing the woman's outing with an unidentified man. Satisfied that he has learned the truth, Captain Morgan agrees to divorce his wife, and she and Mr. Frute celebrate by planning to wed.

Cecil Parker as the lawyer
"I Spy" is not suspenseful but it does represent a pleasant diversion that is characteristically British. It was adapted by John Collier from a one act play by John Mortimer (1923-2009), the lawyer turned writer best known for Rumpole of the Bailey. The play takes place in the fictional Cold Sands Hotel in a seaside town called Cold Sands, Norfolk. The overall story is the same; in adapting it for the small screen, Collier compresses events, reorders scenes, and essentially rewrites the entire play, using only bits and pieces of the original dialogue. The effect is one of streamlining and removing some of the more British touches. The location filming takes advantage of the Queen's Hotel and the Palace Pier in Brighton, both of which are real places that still flourish today. The exterior of the Queen's Hotel is seen in an opening shot. Frute, dressed as a priest, follows Mrs. Morgan and Gladys along the Palace Pier as he attempts to surveil her in his bumbling fashion. Later scenes in the program are filmed outside and inside the Royal Pavilion, formerly a vacation home for the Prince of Wales but a museum by the time this episode was filmed.

Eric Barker as Frute
Direction by Normal Lloyd is unremarkable, with a few odd camera angles that don't add anything to the tale. On two occasions, early in the show, he shoots upward toward the characters from a low angle; midway through, he includes closeups of Frute's feet soaking in a bath and in one instance the camera tracks the man's lower legs as he walks across the room.

The cast of "I Spy" is wholly British, and none of them ever appeared in another episode of the Hitchcock series. As Mrs. Morgan, Kay Walsh (1911-2005) is kind, demonstrating a middle-aged beauty that is appropriate for the character. She was married to director David Lean from 1940 to 1949 and appeared in many films from 1934 to 1982, including Oliver Twist (1948) and Hitchcock's Stage Fright (1950). Eric Barker (1912-1990) plays Frute as a gentle man who seems to have taken up the wrong profession. He was a popular British comedic actor who had his start in films in 1916; he also appeared in an episode of The Avengers.
Kay Walsh as Mrs. Morgan

The lawyer is played by Cecil Parker (1897-1971), who was seen in Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938) and Under Capricorn (1949), as well as an episode of The Avengers and an episode of the American TV series I Spy, starring Robert Culp and Bill Cosby. Finally, as the disgruntled husband, Captain Morgan, William Kendall (1903-1984) is gruff in a British military sort of way.

The crew of "I Spy" features a series of names that never appeared in the credits of Alfred Hitchcock Presents except for this episode: director of photography Peter Hennessey, art director Jack Maxsted, assistant director Kip Gowans, makeup artist Eddie Knight, and hair stylist Biddy Chrystal. A clue to the reason for their participation is provided at the end of the credits, where it reads that "I Spy" was "Filmed in Cooperation with Eyeline Films, Ltd., London, England."

William Kendall as Captain Morgan
Unlike the majority of episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which were filmed at a studio in Hollywood, "I Spy" was filmed on location in England. Anthony Perry, founder of Eyeline Films, wrote me that they made it entirely on location and "did it all except for the director--Norman Lloyd." Mr. Perry wrote that he had to meet with Hitchcock to be approved and he thinks the project came about because one of his "colleagues knew Joan Harrison," the show's producer.

"I Spy" is not available on DVD but can be viewed online here. The play on which it was based , I Spy, by John Mortimer, was first performed on November 19, 1957, on the BBC Third Programme, then performed again on the BBC on January 28, 1958. It was first performed on stage at the Salisbury Playhouse on March 16, 1959. The adaptation for Alfred Hitchcock Presents was broadcast on NBC on Tuesday night, December 5, 1961. The play is available in several collections of Mortimer's plays.


Mrs. Morgan and Gladys on the Palace Pier, Brighton
"Brighton Uncovered : Historical Hotels | Brighton Visitor - Brighton & Hove, Sussex, UK." Brighton Visitor Brighton Hove Sussex UK Brighton Uncovered Historical Hotels Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2013.
"Eyeline Publications." Eyeline Publications. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2013.
"I Spy." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. NBC. 5 Dec. 1961. Television.
IMDb., n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2013.
Mortimer, John. "I Spy." 1958. Five Plays. London: Methuen &, 1970. 103-36. Print.
"Norman Lloyd." Archive of American Television. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2013.
Perry, Anthony. "I Spy." Message to the author. 17 Feb. 2013. E-mail.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2013.

Exterior of the Royal Pavilion, Brighton

A happy ending!


Peter Enfantino said...

I just tuned into youtube and watched this. Such a great upload with fabulous sound. So youtube is good for something other than videos of kids falling off bicycles? I've never been a fan of the whimsical and humorous eps of Hitch and this one (which was one of the rare dozen or so I hadn't already seen) doesn't change my feelings at all. Our old friend John Williams must have been on another set someplace while this was being made since I couldn't help thinking he would have been a natural for the private dick. Not a great episode but, as usual, stellar journalism, my friend! Can't wait 'til the book comes out in 2026.

Jack Seabrook said...

If I live that long!

Brian Durant said...

Just watched this one for the first time. I have to agree that I have never been a fan of the whimsical episodes of AHP either and this one seems so light-hearted that it almost doesn't fit the show. Nevertheless, a great write up as always. So who are you going to spotlight next? Still think Henry Slesar would make a great series. Just saying.

Unknown said...

Oh, this is just plain cool. Ta for the great read, Jack.

Harvey Chartrand said...

I SPY is a perfectly dreadful choice for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. A more suitable anthology series for this "silly love story" would be Letter to Loretta. Norman Lloyd strikes out again. Forget John Collier. Bring on Henry Slesar or Richard Matheson.

Jack Seabrook said...

Brian: Henry Slesar is up next in about 8 weeks.

Andrez: Thanks and good luck with your upcoming book!

Harvey: see my reply to Brian!

Mike Doran said...

Henry Slesar in eight weeks ?

Can't wait.

Of course you realize that his Hitchcock work could take us all through to the end of the decade ...

(... not that I'd mind ...)

Jack Seabrook said...

Yep, Slesar will be a long term commitment!