Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Hitchcock Project-Henry Slesar Part Forty: "House Guest" [8.8]

by Jack Seabrook

There is an old hymn that goes:

Each day I'll do a golden deed,
By helping those who are in need;
My life on earth is but a span,
And so I'll do the best I can.

--William Golden, 1918

Golden lived in Mississippi and wrote most of his hymns while serving time in jail. In Andrew Garve's 1960 novel The Golden Deed, Frank Roscoe helps those in need but will likely end up sharing William Golden's fate.

The Golden Deed was first published, probably in condensed form, in the Toronto Star Weekly on September 5, 1959. The novel version was published in 1960 and it was televised as a one-hour live show on an NBC summer replacement anthology series called Moment of Fear on July 1, 1960. The teleplay was by Mel Goldberg and MacDonald Carey starred as Jim, with Nina Foch as Sally and Robert Redford as the stranger. The story was shown again on Moment of Fear on September 2, 1960; I don't know if it was another live performance or if it was a kinescope of the July 1, 1960 performance. In any case, I have been unable to locate a print of this televised version.

Two years later, The Golden Deed was adapted for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour by Henry Slesar and Marc Brandel under the title "House Guest." It was broadcast on CBS on Thursday, November 8, 1962.

Garve's novel is an exciting read. It begins as Sally Mellanby and her children visit the Somerset Coast for a day at the beach. They are accompanied by the childrens' nurse, Kira, an 18-year-old girl from Norway. Tony, Sally's eight-year-old son, paddles his raft too far out into the water. Sally tries to swim to his aid but begins to flounder; a man from the beach jumps into the water and rescues them both. He is Frank Roscoe, an ex-Army man of about 40 who is in the area after having been discharged and who is looking to buy land to start a poultry farm. Grateful for his aid, Sally invites Frank to dinner the next evening.

First edition
Sally and her husband John live in Bath, England, and are wealthy and well-liked in the community. Frank comes for dinner and soon they invite him to stay at their home while he looks for a place to live. Soon, his behavior changes and he is too familiar with Sally and too attentive to Kira. One day, while he is using the Mellanbys' car, Frank gets into a minor accident with a caravan driven by George Sherston who, with his wife Eve, is exploring the countryside. The next day, Frank makes a pass at Eve, which leads George and Frank to argue.

Frank receives a letter from a Colonel in the Army demanding that he repay a 7000 pound loan and he asks John to give him that amount as a reward for saving the lives of his wife and son. John does some checking and learns that Frank's story does not hold up. He confronts the house guest, who tells him: "I saved your wife and child, didn't I? I did my golden deed, and that's what it's damn well going to be--golden!" Frank threatens to harm Sally and the children if John doesn't pay up. Frank slaps John and George appears, furious. He gets into a violent scuffle with Frank and John hits Frank with a chair, knocking him out.

MacDonald Carey as John Mitchell
George insists on taking the unconscious Frank back to his caravan for the night. Later, George calls to tell John that Frank has died. John goes to the caravan and finds George in the process of burying Frank's body. George convinces John that it's the only way and that they can say that Frank left town suddenly. "Why should we risk ruining our lives for a man like Roscoe?" George asks. John and Sally decide to keep quiet because John fears that he would be convicted of manslaughter and spend five years in jail. They take Frank's suitcase to George to be buried and, after the Sherstons leave, John and Sally think the ordeal is over.

Four days later, a letter arrives for Frank from a London man named Charles Faulkner, who demands that Frank repay the 7000 pounds he owes or else he will go to the police. Fearing an investigation, John goes to see Faulkner in London and pays Frank's debt. John spends the ensuing weeks feeling terrible until an article in the newspaper reports that the place where Frank's body is buried is scheduled to be the site of a road-widening project. John and Sally resolve that they must dig up Frank's body and move it to a safe place. Under cover of darkness, they dig up and move his suitcase first, barely escaping being seen. Before they can move the body the next night, a storm soaks the area, preventing the deed from being done for a couple of days.

Peggy McCay as Sally Mitchell
The act of digging up the suitcase makes them realize that George did not have enough time to dig a hole and bury Frank between the time of the phone call and the time John arrived at the caravan. They begin to suspect that George killed Frank and kept the truth from John and Sally. With the help of the motor club, they track down the Sherstons' caravan and confront George and Eve with their suspicions. To their surprise, George admits having killed Frank when the violent man awoke and came at him. George apologizes to John and insists that he will go back to Bath and move the body himself.

John and Sally drive away but accidentally encounter Charles Faulkner, who claims to be on holiday in the area. They are suspicious and return to the caravan, where they see George, Eve, Faulkner and Frank Roscoe sitting and chatting together. There is a confrontation and the foursome admit to being con artists. The body in the grave was a dummy. Frank insists that John will not report them to the police because he fears scandal and, to seal the deal, Frank gives John a check for 8000 pounds. John and Sally drive away, with Sally upset at John, until he tells her that he has no intention of letting the crooks get away and that he plans to report them to the police. John and Sally drive home, happy to have nothing to worry about at last.

Robert Sterling as Ray Roscoe
Andrew Garve, who wrote The Golden Deed, was a pseudonym of Paul Winterton (1908-2001). Winterton began his career as a reporter but began publishing novels in 1938. He also wrote under the names Roger Bax and Paul Somers. In 1947, he retired from journalism "to become a full-time thriller writer." He published 40 books between 1938 and 1978. A few of his stories were adapted for TV or film, including two for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

The adaptation of The Golden Deed, "House Guest," was written by Henry Slesar and Marc Brandel (1919-1994). Brandel was born in London as Marcus Beresford and was active as a TV writer from 1951 to 1979. This was his only contribution to the Hitchcock series, which suggests that he wrote a first draft and that Slesar was brought in to make revisions.

The TV version is similar to the novel but has some important changes. The setting is moved from the southwestern part of England to the central coast of California, around Monterey. The Mellanbys are renamed the Mitchells and have only one child, Tony. John and Sally own a boys' school and live next door to it. In the beach scene, Roscoe, renamed Ray instead of Frank, is swimming in the ocean when Tony ventures in. Sally is negligent and turns her back on her eight-year-old son, who runs into the waves and quickly finds himself in too deep. Roscoe later reveals that he called to Tony to lure him into the deep water, giving his act of salvation a much different cast than the accidental event found in the novel.

Karl Swenson as George Sherston
Although the beach scenes are clearly shot on location, the shots where Tony is floundering and Ray swims to his rescue were obviously shot in a studio tank and do not look convincing. Another change made due to the transplanting of the story from Bath to Monterey occurs when Ray has his car accident with the Sherstons. In Bath, the vehicles become wedged between two stone walls along a narrow lane. In Monterey, Ray tries to pass George's car on the highway and clips the fender.

As the show progresses, the changes become more significant, much to the detriment of the televised version. The scene in the book where George and Frank fight in John's house and John hits Ray with a chair and knocks him out is handled much differently. On TV, Ray tells John and Sally that he wants $20,000 and then goes outside to let them talk it over. They hear a gunshot and rush outside to find Ray on top of George, choking him. John pulls Ray off and they tussle; John punches Ray and he falls, hitting his head on a car bumper and losing consciousness. Having John get into a fistfight with Ray seems out of character for John, especially compared to the way he is portrayed in the novel, where he walks with a limp and is very gentle.

That's no dummy!
The alterations continue. George calls John later that night to say that Ray stopped breathing just before he got him to the hospital. In the book, there was never any talk of taking Frank to the hospital; instead, George took him back to his caravan. Perhaps the most important moment in the book is botched onscreen: in the book, John arrives to find George burying Frank's body and John sees just a glimpse of the supposedly dead man's face before George shovels dirt over it. Onscreen, we see a long shot of the body in the grave and, knowing what happens in the book, it could be a dummy. But the camera then cuts to a closeup of Ray's head and torso and there is no doubt that he is a real person. This begs the question, which is never answered in the TV version, as to how Ray got out of the grave in which he was buried alive!

To streamline the story, the teleplay omits any mention of the burial of Ray's suitcase. John receives the letter from Charles Faulkner, but on TV he is an old sea captain and John visits him in a bar and gives him the check. The last section of the TV show is the most different from the novel. John and Sally never discuss digging up Ray's body themselves, nor do they do a dry run by digging up his suitcase. There is no search for George's caravan. Instead, John drives right up to the caravan, which has not left the area. As John drives away, we see Charles Faulkner peering out of the door of the caravan. This eliminates the need for John to run into him in town.

Ray reveals that he is alive
John then telephones Sally to tell her that he is suspicious of George. Though he instructs her to stay home, she heads out alone and goes to the place where the body was buried. She finds George there, having already dug up the body and nearly done filling in the hole. She is suspicious because he has done this before John's arrival and she follows him into the caravan, where she sees Ray's body laid out on the floor under a tarp. She spies a rifle propped against a wall and accuses George of having killed Ray. Sally says she will go to the police, but suddenly Ray's hand shoots out and grabs her ankle. She screams as he throws off the tarp and gets up from the floor.

Sally realizes that the whole thing was a trick done to blackmail her and John. Ray plans to kidnap Sally so that she can't tell John about them before the bank opens on Monday and he can cash the $20,000 check that John gave to Faulkner. Just then, the police rush in with guns drawn and arrest the four con artists. John had summoned them without telling Sally.

Billy Mumy as Tony Mitchell
The conclusion to "House Guest" falls flat, despite plot changes that were surely intended to make it more exciting. The "jolt" moment of Ray's hand reaching out to grab Sally's ankle is a good one, and the idea of having Sally venture into danger alone plays on the cliche of the helpless female, but the last-minute rescue by the police--who had not been involved in the story up to that time--recalls too many Saturday afternoon serials or Western TV shows. It also does not help that Robert Sterling, who plays Ray Roscoe, seems to do everything tongue in cheek. His character never seems particularly menacing and, at the very end of the show, as he is being led off by the police, he cracks a joke by asking if John knows anyone who wants to buy a used trailer!

"House Guest" is directed by Alan Crosland, Jr. (1918-2001), who did much better work on some of Slesar's half-hour episodes. He directed 16 half-hours and three hours in the Hitchcock series.

John Mitchell is played by MacDonald Carey (1913-1994), whose movie and TV career stretched from 1942 to 1994. He played Detective Jack Graham in Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and appeared in one episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents in addition to "House Guest," but he was best known for his long-running role on the daytime soap opera, Days of Our Lives, on which he was featured from 1965 to 1994.

Adele Mara as Eve Sherston
Peggy McCay (1930- ) plays Sally Mitchell. She was 17 years younger than MacDonald Carey but plays a part somewhat older than her real age. She has been appearing on TV since 1949 and is still active today. She was in three episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "The Magic Shop," and--like Carey--appeared on Days of Our Lives, beginning in 1983 and continuing to this day.

Ray Roscoe is played by Robert Sterling (1917-2006). Born William Sterling Hart, his acting career lasted from 1939 to 1986. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show but he was a regular on the TV series Topper (1953-1955), playing George Kerby, "that most sporty spirit."

Karl Swenson (1908-1978) plays George Sherston. His acting career lasted from 1935 until his death and he was frequently seen on episodic TV. He was on the Hitchcock show three times, including Slesar's "On the Nose," he had a small role in Hitchcock's The Birds (1963), and he was a regular on Little House on the Prairie.

His wife Eve is played by Adele Mara (1923-2010). Born Adelaide Delgado, this was her only appearance on the Hitchcock series. She was married to Roy Huggins, creator of Maverick and co-creator of The Rockford Files.

Robert Armstrong as Captain Charles Faulkner
Captain Charles Faulkner is played by Robert Armstrong (1890-1973), the veteran character actor whose greatest role was as Carl Denham in King Kong (1933). He appeared in three episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "The Faith of Aaron Menefee."

Finally, the beloved child star Billy Mumy (1954- ) plays Tony. Mumy was on three Hitchcock episodes, as well as three episodes of The Twilight Zone and, of course, he was a regular on Lost in Space. He maintains a website here and he is still acting, making music, and putting out comic books!

"House Guest" is not yet available on DVD but may be viewed for free online here.

"CTVA - The Classic TV Archive Homepage." CTVA - The Classic TV Archive Homepage. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Oct. 2014.
"The FictionMags Index." The FictionMags Index. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Oct. 2014.
"Galactic Central." Galactic Central. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Oct. 2014.
Garve, Andrew. The Golden Deed. London: Pan, 1974. Print.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
"House Guest." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. CBS. 8 Nov. 1962. Television.
IMDb., n.d. Web. 16 Oct. 2014.
McCarty, John, and Brian Kelleher. Alfred Hitchcock Presents: An Illustrated Guide to the Ten-year Television Career of the Master of Suspense. New York: St. Martin's, 1985. Print.
Tooney, Mike. "Review of "House Guest"" MYSTERY*FILE ON-LINE. N.p., 29 Mar. 2010. Web. 16 Oct. 2014.
"Tune: [Each Day I'll Do a Golden Deed]." N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Oct. 2014.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 16 Oct. 2014.

  • Antenna TV is airing back to back episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents nightly and will host a 28-hour marathon this "Hitch-O-Ween"! Check out the daily schedule here.
  • ME TV is airing The Alfred Hitchcock Hour every Saturday night! Find out this week's episode here.
  • Coming in two weeks: "What Really Happened," starring Anne Francis!


Peter Enfantino said...

Don't forget that Robert Sterling (the poor man's Richard Long) also played Captain Lee Crane in the film version of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

This one rates a really big MEH! in my book. It's hard to swallow all the events in the chain that had to go just right or the whole house of cards would fall. The leads are all pretty bland with the only standout being
veteran western actor Karl Swenson (I just watched him the other night in a classic Maverick episode) as wolf in sheep's clothing, George Sherston.

Once again, Jack, your coverage is better than the episode.

joad said...

This has nothing to do with anything, I just thought it was funny. Someone on ebay was selling a copy of TRAPPED DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE FEBRUARY 1957 ....... WITH A SHORT STORY FROM HARLAN ELLISON USING THE PSEUDONYM HENRY SLESAR"

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Peter! The book was better than the TV show. Henry Slesar once said that he didn't think the hour long format worked as well as the half hour format. Having reviewed his first few hours, I think the truth is that Henry Slesar wasn't as good with the hours as he was with the half hours. Sad to say, the next one is not much better.

Jack Seabrook said...

Joad--I guess Cordwainer Bird was busy that month! Thanks for reading!

Grant said...

I somehow missed this review 18 months ago. I'm not crazy about this episode, though I like it just a little more than you do, mainly due to the actors. (As you say, Robert Sterling plays the part without a lot of seriousness, but I couldn't help liking that instead.)

Of course, his daughter Tisha Sterling was in the AHH episode "Change of Address." I don't know if you've reviewed that one, but I've always liked it.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Grant! I have not gotten to "Change of Address" but I certainly remember the lovely Ms. Sterling.