Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Hitchcock Project-Henry Slesar Part Nineteen: "The Throwback" [6.20 ]

by Jack Seabrook

"The Throwback," by Henry Slesar, does not concern murder, robbery, or any of the usual topics showcased on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Instead, it deals with a love triangle, a May-December romance, and a question of honor, with a little deceit thrown in for good measure.

Elliot Gray is a young man with a dilemma: his lovely girlfriend Enid will only see him on certain nights of the week and does not want him to stay very long in her apartment. One night, he arrives for a date with a bottle of wine in hand, hoping for "'a quiet evening at home.'" When Enid resists, he asks her if there is another man and she confesses that she has been seeing Cyril Hardeen, a 54 year old widower, for four years. She calls him a gentle man, "'a knight in a storybook, a Don Quixote.'" Enid presses Elliot to profess his love for her and, when he does, she agrees to break off her affair with Cyril.

Elliot visits Cyril's mansion and is welcomed by a butler. The suitors meet and are a study in contrasts: Elliot is young, uncomfortable in his suit and tie, and surly, while Cyril is older, immaculately dressed, polite and well-spoken. Cyril confesses to being a 59 year old throwback, a romantic who should have lived in medieval days. He invites Elliot to have a drink with him at the bar in his basement and they go downstairs, where Cyril also has a gym. They drink to honor and Cyril removes his coat and rolls up his sleeves. He proposes that they fight for the love of Enid.

Scott Marlowe as Elliot
Elliot argues that fighting is pointless but Cyril insists, proposing that they solve the problem of their difference in age and strength by the old custom of allowing a substitute to fight in Cyril's place. Joseph, the butler, is summoned, and beats Elliot soundly, with the younger man offering only token resistance. Cyril puts a stop to the fight and, as Elliot leaves, Cyril warns him not to tell Enid what happened. Cyril and Joseph then don boxing gloves.

At home, Elliot tends to his wounds and rests until two policemen arrive at his door. They ask him to come to Cyril's house for identification. Back at the mansion, they find Cyril in bed, badly beaten, with Joseph the butler and Enid at his side, tending to him. Hardeen identifies Elliot as the man who beat him and says that he does not want to press charges for assault and battery. Elliot protests but no one believes him, and he is led off by the police as Enid tells him to go away. Cyril and Joseph exchange knowing looks as the story ends.

Slesar's onscreen credit states that he wrote the teleplay "From His Story." "The Throwback" had not been published before it was aired, so the nature of the story on which it was based is not known. Slesar may have written a treatment that was read and approved by the producer before he wrote his teleplay, or perhaps the producer preferred to create the appearance of having based the show on a previously published story. In any case, the short story was first published under the title "And Beauty the Prize" in Slesar's 1962 paperback collection, A Crime for Mothers and Others.

Murray Matheson as Cyril
The story differs from the show in a few ways. First of all, the comparison with Don Quixote, which is briefly mentioned in the teleplay, is a key theme of the story. After Enid tells Elliot about Cyril, he goes home and "a white-whiskered knight clanked through his dreams until Monday morning." At Hardeen's house, Elliot sees "cool white busts of heroic figures," suggesting that--like Don Quixote--Cyril idolizes heroes of old. On seeing Cyril for the first time, Elliot is reminded of Don Quixote again by the man's appearance, and Hardeen tells Elliot that he should have been born long ago, "'when honor was honor, and beauty the prize.'" The duel, using a substitute, continues the Quixote theme, and when Elliot learns that Cyril has been beaten, we read that Enid was at the hospital, "ministering to her fallen knight." The story's concluding sentence seals the theme: "Elliot lifted his arms in a gesture of helpless despair, and then let them fall to his side like the arms of a windmill suddenly out of wind."

Don Quixote has tilted at a dragon/windmill and won, defeating his younger rival and winning the hand of his lady. Yet to do so, he had to perpetuate the lie that he was beaten by Elliot, thus making his claim of honor ring hollow.

Joyce Meadows as Enid
One other significant change from teleplay to story concerns the reason that Elliot visits Cyril's home. In the TV show, it is somewhat confusing, since the first scene ends with Enid telling Elliot that she will speak to Cyril to end their affair. In the next scene, Elliot arrives at Cyril's house. There is mention of an appointment, but the transition is clumsy. In the short story, Elliot goes to work on Monday morning and receives a message to call Cyril. He does so, and accepts the man's invitation to his home that evening. When I watched the show, I wondered if a scene had been cut, but the scene transition is by dissolve, making a cut unlikely.

The last change from teleplay to story concerns the ending. In the short story, the police take Elliot to the station and charge him with assault and battery. Enid arrives after having been with Cyril at the hospital. There is no visit to Cyril's house and no pardoning of Elliot by the older man. Even stranger is Enid's insistence that Cyril never had a butler! It is clear to Elliot and to the reader that the older man tricked him by hiring a boxer to pose as his butler and beat up both Elliot and Cyril. The short story is more carefully crafted and subtle, whereas the teleplay is more obvious and less satisfying.

"The Throwback" first aired midway through season six of Alfred Hitchcock Presents on Tuesday, February 28, 1961. The uninspired direction was by John Brahm, and the show was followed by the "Well of Doom" episode of Thriller, also directed by Brahm but more in keeping with his oft-used Gothic style. Brahm directed 10 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and five of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour; his last episode before this one had been Henry Slesar's "Pen Pal."

Starring as Elliot was Scott Marlowe (1932-2001). Marlowe's career lasted from the early 1950s to the late 1990s and included episodes of Thriller and The Outer Limits, as well as a syndicated soap opera in 1994 called Valley of the Dolls. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock series.

Murray Matheson (1912-1985) played Cyril. Born in Australia, he appeared in movies and on TV from the 1940s to the 1980s. He was on the Hitchcock show four times, and appeared on The Twilight Zone, Thriller, Night Gallery and Kolchak: The Night Stalker. He also had a role in Assault on a Queen, which was adapted by Rod Serling from Jack Finney's novel.

John Indrisano as Joseph
Joyce Meadows made her third appearance on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, this time playing Enid. She was born in 1933 and is still performing today. Her career in TV and movies began in the mid-1950s and she would later appear in one episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour as well as the movie, I Saw What You Did (1966).

Joseph the butler is played by John Indrisano (1905-1968), a former professional boxer who worked as a boxing coach for actors and who appeared in many small roles on film and TV. He also appeared in an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

"The Throwback" is available on DVD here or may be viewed for free online here.

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb., n.d. Web. 04 Jan. 2014.
"No More Secrets." N.p., 31 Oct. 2005. Web. 04 Jan. 2014.
Slesar, Henry. "And Beauty the Prize." A Crime for Mothers and Others. New York: Avon Book Division, 1962. 29-39. Print.
"The Throwback." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. NBC. 28 Feb. 1961. Television.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 04 Jan. 2014.


Brian Durant said...

I haven't read the short story but from your description it flows along much nicer than this episode. Had no idea Brahm directed this; it looks nothing his characteristically moody pieces. Maybe he wasn't feeling well when he shot it. Thanks for the great article!

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks for your comment, Brian! Brahm really mailed this one in. Funny that such a good Thriller episode was on right after it, also directed by JB!

Harvey Chartrand said...

The Throwback is the second ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS episode about dueling that was directed by John Brahm. Touché (1959) starred Paul Douglas and Robert Morse and was based on a story by Bryce Walton. Both episodes are equally disappointing.

Jack Seabrook said...

I will probably do a series on Bryce Walton eventually and then I'll get to "Touche"!

Grant said...

I saw it again pretty recently. I noticed it also had Bert Remsen as one of the police.

Even though I know him from a decent number of things, to me Scott Marlowe is always Andre the blackmailer (who seems to be a blackmailer for fun as much as for money) in the Outer Limits episode THE FORMS OF THINGS UNKNOWN.

Jack Seabrook said...

When I wrote this article, I deleted comments about Scott Marlowe's personal life, but it's pretty interesting if you want to look it up. Suffice it to say that only in Hollywood could Scott Marlowe and Murray Matheson duel over a woman.

john kenrick said...

Now that's funny, Jack. It did occur to me that Scott Marlowe was not credible playing a straight guy, and this hurt the episode somewhat. Imagine Robert Horton in the role, eh? Being British, or British seeming, Murray Matheson, whom I've always liked, was just a bit more credible inasmuch as in the good old days Brits tended to come off as gay or gayish in films and on television, thus his gentleman's gentleman came off as at least if nothing else dashing.

Still, using his butler (if that's what he was), and a butch one in the bargain, raised issues of subtexts, as in abounding. Still and all, an entertaining episode with more of a sexual edge than most Hitch half-hours, which often come off an asexual, even with cheating husbands and wives, and even with their running off with someone else, committing murder, one thinks of them more as bad people, morally wrong, more than as sexual beings,--or maybe that's just me.

Of course television was heavily censored back then, yet sexuality was implied in some series, such as Peter Gunn, The Untouchables, various anthologies, to one degree or another, till the rules of the game were modified somewhat in the middle and late Sixties. In the half-hours, not so much in the hour longs, Hitchcock's show seems more asexual than most, as it was aimed at an adult audience, and yet those man/woman scenes seldom give off strong sexual vibes.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, John. This is one of those episodes that's probably more interesting to talk about than it is to watch.

john kenrick said...

Hi Jack. I had to get back to you regarding a decent Hitch Presents on MeTV tonight: Tea Time. The title wasn't promising but the episode, female dominated for the most part, was interesting in presenting two attractive women, one markedly older than the other (but WTF), the actor who was the objects of their (er...) affections, or, more properly, ambitions, was none other than that middle aged, silver haired Leslie Howard of old television in the black and white days, Murray Matheson; and he did not disappoint.

He played a wealthy professional man balancing two lovers, one his wife, aging and needy, the other the woman he seems eager to marry. Alas, for these ladies, a third woman enters the scene late in the play, and so far as the viewer can ascertain the scheming Mr. Matheson was going to come out the winner, as he had set the whole thing up in the first place so as to. well, kill two birds with one stone. The reward: a much younger, hotter bird young enough to be his grand-daughter.

Like many Hitch episodes of Season 4 this one was talky, and it featured more "tortuous" (and not in a bad way) plotting than most, in which as often as not character was destiny. In this case guile trumped everything. The ladies were ruthless enough, but what they were after (money) they did not possess in sufficient quantity for either to win out; and besides, I don't think either cared as much for Our Murnau as they claimed to. Murray, of course knew what he wanted, and he was able to get the prize. I like Tea Time way better the another featuring Mr. Matheson having lady troubles in which he gets into a fight with Scott Marlowe to settle the matter once and for all. This episode goes straight for the jugular. The competing women cancel one another out, leaving the spoils to the gentleman, with his not having to lift more than a finger, and that to dial a telephone.

Jack Seabrook said...

I haven't worked on "Tea Time" yet but I'm looking forward to it! Thanks for the note!