Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Hitchcock Project-Henry Slesar Part Twelve: "One Grave Too Many" [5.32]

by Jack Seabrook

"One Grave Too Many" is a rarity for Alfred Hitchcock Presents--no one is killed and the protagonist is done in by his own sense of right and wrong. Based on Henry Slesar's story of the same name, which was first published as the lead story in the November 1958 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, this episode was adapted for television by Eli Jerome and directed by Arthur Hiller. I wonder if the story title was changed by the magazine's editor, because it has no relation to what happens in the story.

Slesar's story concerns Joe Helmer, who thinks himself too good for most jobs and spends his afternoons at the movies. His wife, Irene, stews alone at home as the bills pile up. One morning, Joe sees a man collapse on the sidewalk in front of him when no one else is around. Finding the man dead, Joe takes his wallet, which is filled with cash. Joe runs home and tells Irene that he met an old Army buddy who paid him back for a long-forgotten loan.

Looking through the wallet, Joe discovers a card that reads "I AM NOT DEAD" and that asks anyone who finds the man in a cataleptic state to notify his doctor at once. Horrified at the thought of the man being buried alive, Joe returns to the spot where he had taken the wallet, only to learn from a policeman that the man had already been taken away. That night, Joe can't sleep and thinks of himself as a murderer. Joe sneaks out and goes to a drug store, where he telephones the police. He warns them not to bury the man, but they insist that he come to the station. He tries to call the doctor listed on the card but gets his answering service.

Biff Elliot
Finally, Joe goes to the police station and tells Lt. Bates what happened. He admits to having taken the wallet. Bastes takes him to the morgue, where Joe identifies the corpse. Bates explains that the dead man was Sonny Capper, a well-known pickpocket with a heart condition. He invites Joe upstairs to discuss his own crime.

Joe Helmer is a layabout, a thief and a liar, but he has a moral line that he will not cross and confesses to theft in order to save a man from being buried alive. One measure of a good story is that it is easy to imagine that the characters existed before the events of the story and that they will continue to exist after the story's end. In "One Grave Too Many," Henry Slesar portrays a married couple with financial problems that are easy to understand. What will become of them after Joe goes upstairs with Lt. Bates? I suspect that Joe will get a slap on the wrist, since he can easily return the money, which had been stolen in the first place. One hopes that Joe's decision to admit his crime to try to prevent a greater wrong from being done will work in his favor with the police.

Neile Adams
The televised version of Slesar's story was first aired on CBS on Sunday, May 22, 1960, near the end of season five of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It ran two weeks after "Insomnia," Slesar's prior episode. This time, Slesar did not write the teleplay; instead, it was penned by Eli Jerome, about whom I have been able to discover nothing, beyond this credit and the credit for adapting Slesar's "Party Line," which aired the following week.

Jerome's script sticks closely to Slesar's story. A scene is added early on where Joe goes to the Friendship Loan Company to borrow $100 but cannot get a loan. The loan officer, Mr. Pickett, is played by Howard McNear, who is instantly recognizable as Floyd the Barber from The Andy Griffith Show. The scenes that follow are marked by evocative lighting. Joe sees the man collapse on a dark street at night, and when he goes home, his apartment is filled with shadows cast by candlelight, since the electricity has been shut off by the power company for non-payment of bills.

Jeremy Slate
Jeremy Slate is believable as Joe, but Neile Adams, as his wife Irene, acts a bit too histrionically and the script provides her with too many opportunities to sigh, "Oh, Joe!" Arthur Hiller's camerawork is quite active in this episode, with a nice variety of shots and quick cutting providing a rapid pace to the action. Even the stock music cues are well used to create an ominous tone, especially when Joe reads the fateful card in front of his bathroom mirror. When Joe is in the telephone booth, one closeup is so tight that the screen is filled with only a portion of his face.

Biff Elliot, playing Lt. Bates, has little screen time but makes the most of it, playing the detective as a sweating, exasperated professional who is frustrated by Joe's story but does his job anyway. A good example of his manner of speaking comes when he telephones the morgue and tells the attendant, referring to the corpse, to "Showcase him-we'll be right down."

Howard McNear
Arthur Hiller (1923- ), who directed "One Grave Too Many," directed 17 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. This was the fourth adaptation of a Henry Slesar story he would direct; the one before this had been "Forty Detectives Later."

Credited first, Neile Adams (1932- ) was married to Steve McQueen from 1956 to 1972 and began a career in movies and TV in the 1950s. She was in three episodes of the Hitchcock series, most notably "Man From the South," in which she appeared with her husband. She maintains a website today.

Tyler McVey
Jeremy Slate (1926-2006), born Robert Perham, was billed second but was clearly the star of the show. He landed at Normandy on D-Day and later went on to a career in movies and on TV from the late 1950s to the early 1990s. He appeared in five episodes of the Hitchcock series. In an interview, he admitted that he acted from 1960 to 1970 and then tuned in, turned on and dropped out, spending the next ten years traveling around the USA in a motor home.

Biff Elliot (1923-2012) was born Leon Shalek and was in TV and movies from the early 1950s until his death. He appeared five times on the
Hitchcock series and starred as Mike Hammer in the 1953 film, I, the Jury. A website devoted to Biff Elliot is here, though it has not been updated recently.

Howard McNear (1905-1969) played on the radio series Gunsmoke from 1952 to 1961, then was seen on 80 episodes of The Andy Griffith Show from 1961 to 1967. He was on Alfred Hitchcock Presents twice and also appeared on The Twilight Zone and Thriller.

Finally, Tyler McVey (1912-2003), who plays the cop at the front desk, made eight appearances on the Hitchcock series, always in small roles. He can be seen in "Human Interest Story" and "The Gloating Place."

"One Grave Too Many" is on the season five DVD set of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and it can also be viewed online for free here. It was rerun in 1981 as part of PBS's 26-part series, The Best of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

"Galactic Central." Galactic Central. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2013.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb., n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2013.
"Jeremy Slate - Interview Part 1 of 4." YouTube. YouTube, 10 Feb. 2007. Web. 15 Sept. 2013.
"One Grave Too Many." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 22 May 1960. Television.
Slesar, Henry. "One Grave Too Many." 1958. Clean Crimes and Neat Murders: Alfred Hitchcock's Hand Picked Selection of Stories by Henry Slesar. New York: Avon, 1960. 42-50. Print.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2013.


Harvey Chartrand said...

ONE GRAVE TOO MANY is an excellent episode that stands the test of time. It's hard to go wrong with such a great cast. Jeremy Slate had a good career in TV and movies in the sixties. I remember watching him every week in the adventure series THE AQUANAUTS, way back in 1960-61. Too bad Slate dropped out and joined a commune. He describes his extended stay there in an interview for Shock Cinema Magazine that ran about 15 years ago. Slate also guest starred in one other episode of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and in three episodes of THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR. And Slate had a small role as a policeman in NORTH BY NORTHWEST.

Jack Seabrook said...

The online interview with Slate that I watched is very funny. Have you noticed the uptick in quality in the Slesar episodes after a bit of a dip?

Harvey Chartrand said...

Yes, there has been a definite improvement in the quality of the more recent episodes scripted by Henry Slesar (FORTY DETECTIVES LATER, INSOMNIA). It wouldn't surprise me if the teleplay of ONE GRAVE TOO MANY was written by Slesar under the pen name of "Eli Jerome".

Unknown said...

Loved this — cheers, Jack.

john kenrick said...

Good one, Jack. Jeremy Slate was fine in the lead and I liked the ambiguity of his character. Or is it ambivalence? Maybe both.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, John. Another good Slesar episode. I wish I knew something about Eli Jerome.