Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Hitchcock Project-Henry Slesar Part Forty-Five: "Who Needs An Enemy?" [9.28]

by Jack Seabrook

"Who Needs An Enemy?" represents another attempt at comedy by the producers of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Based on Henry Slesar's short story, "Goodbye Charlie" (Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January 1964), the TV show succeeds due to good performances by the lead actors, skilled direction by Harry Morgan, and rapid-fire dialogue by Arthur Ross, who adapted the story for television.

In Slesar's story, Charlie is a businessman who steals $75,000 from his partner, Max Turtin. Charlie has big expenses, the biggest of which is his flashy girlfriend, Danielle. When Turtin discovers the theft he promises to call the district attorney after an audit, so Charlie cooks up a scheme to fake his own suicide and avoid going to jail. With a little help from Danielle, Charlie dumps a coat and heavy package off a bridge into the water below, convincing onlookers that a man has jumped to his death.

Charlie hides out in a "shabby hotel downtown" and, after three days, visits Turtin's apartment, planning to kill his partner. Turtin is not surprised to see his partner alive, since Danielle had told him Charlie's plan. He drugs Charlie with a drink and Charlie awakens to find himself bound and gagged. Max points out to Danielle that Charlie is already believed to be dead, so no one is surprised when Charlie's body "washed up on shore ten days later." Max now owns the store and no longer has to share the profit.

"Goodbye Charlie" does not seem long or detailed enough to warrant adapting into a one-hour teleplay, but Arthur Ross solves the problem by turning it into a black comedy. The first scene finds Charlie sneaking into his office in the early morning to alter the books when he is caught by his partner, renamed Eddie, who has already discovered his deceit. Eddie holds Charlie at gunpoint but there is no sense of menace or suspense--the show is clearly a comedy right from the start. Director Harry Morgan uses close ups extensively to focus on the dialogue, which is the highlight of the show. Steven Hill, as Charlie, gives a marvelously deadpan performance and demonstrates right from the start how his character can tell lies with ease, usually by avoiding looking at the person to whom he is speaking.

Joanna Moore as Danielle
Joanna Moore, as Danielle, is introduced in the second scene, when the location switches to her apartment. She gives the show's best comedic performance, perfectly portraying a beautiful blond who is not flustered by any of the dishonest or absurd things that come out of her fiancee's mouth. One of the funniest things about "Who Needs An Enemy?" is that she and Charlie rarely react the way one expects them to. When Charlie laments that he could go to jail for 35 years, Danielle quips, "I'll miss you terribly!" Her main concern is finding out where Charlie hid the rest of the stolen loot.

Charlie first plans to kill Eddie by running into him as he leaves the office; the plan goes wrong when Eddie veers off unexpectedly and Charlie's vehicle crashes into another parked car. Back at Danielle's apartment, Charlie comes up with the idea of faking his own suicide. After going to the office and confessing his guilt to Eddie, Charlie stages his own death in the show's most ludicrous sequence. In a scene that appears to have been shot day for night, Charlie goes out onto an ocean side pier with three items: a dummy made of straw and dressed in a suit, a bag filled with heavy objects, and a long coil of rope connecting the two. Charlie sets a timer on dynamite inside the dummy, then throws the bag over the side. As the rope plays out and the dummy sits perched atop the railing on the edge of the pier, Charlie yells, "No, don't jump!" This alerts a man who had been standing on the other side of the pier with his girlfriend. The man runs across the pier to try to save the dummy but Charlie sees that he will arrive too soon and tackles him! In the background, the dummy is obviously not a real person and the rope can be seen playing out below it. The man gets up and races to the side of the pier, too late to save the dummy. A crowd gathers and someone suggests that Charlie jump in and save the drowning man, but before he can do that there is an explosion in the water.

Steven Hill as Charlie
This scene is so ridiculous that one has to laugh at Charlie's antics. The thought that any onlooker would be fooled by the dummy and the rope is unbelievable and, if anyone did not realize that this was a comedy before now, there is no longer any doubt. In addition to the snappy dialogue, the comedic performances, and the speedy pace set by the director, "Who Needs An Enemy?" benefits from an entertaining score by Lyn Murray, who mixes lush strings and "Mickey Mousing" with occasional stings to highlight the action and the punchlines.

Another strong scene occurs when Danielle attends a memorial service for Charlie. Despite the meager turnout, Eddie gives a passionate and very amusing eulogy in which he praises his late partner and friend but keeps having to rein himself in every time he starts to get upset about the money that Charlie stole from him. Richard Anderson, as Eddie, is surprisingly good here and calls to mind a Mark Antony who can't help criticizing Caesar. Back at Danielle's apartment, Joanna Moore gets another chance to shine when she is interrogated by a police officer. It seems the police recovered the weighted bag filled with items from her apartment, but each time a question is asked of her she finds a new and creative way to respond, "I don't know." Like Charlie, she finds it easier to lie by not looking at the person with whom she speaks.

Richard Anderson as Eddie
The shows final scenes find Charlie in a disguise that consists of sunglasses, a mustache and a goatee, telephoning Danielle daily to give her updates on his progress toward making their escape plans a reality. After getting passports, visas and plane tickets, he enlists her aid to go back to his own office and recover the $60,000 he stashed in a file cabinet. She suggests a toast and he pours drinks from Eddie's best bottle; Charlie downs his drink and immediately collapses. He awakens to find himself bound and gagged and at the mercy of Eddie and Danielle, who threw her hat in with Eddie after the funeral when he told her about all of the girls Charlie had betrayed in the past.

A short final scene occurs back at the same pier where Charlie had faked his own suicide. Eddie pushes Charlie off of the railing and into the water, and Eddie and Danielle walk off together arm in arm as an explosion rocks the water behind them.

Charlie takes "Charlie" to the edge of the pier
"Who Needs An Enemy?" is not the sort of show that will satisfy those looking for horror or suspense on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, but it succeeds as a black comedy due to a good mix of actors, script, direction and music. I cannot say why Arthur Ross wrote the teleplay instead of Henry Slesar but, based on several of Slesar's prior efforts at comedy on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, I think it was the right choice. Ross (1920-2008) was a writer who started out in the early 1940s in movies and also wrote for radio before starting in TV in the early 1950s. He wrote the screenplays for Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956) as well as eight episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. His papers are held at the University of Iowa and are indexed online.

Harry Morgan (1915-2011), who directed the show, was born Harry Bratsberg and was best known as an actor. He was on stage, in movies, or on TV for over sixty years, from the 1930s through the 1990s, starring in four long-running TV series, including M*A*S*H from 1974 to 1983. He does not have many credits as a director and he only worked in this capacity on TV. He directed this and one other episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour; he also appeared as an actor in the John Collier episode, "Anniversary Gift."

Moments before the final push
Starring as Charlie is Steven Hill (1922- ), born Solomon Krakovsky, who acted on stage, in movies and on TV from 1946 until 2000. An Actor's Studio graduate, he starred on the first season of Mission: Impossible (1966-1967) but was replaced by Peter Graves, partly because Hill was an Orthodox Jew and refused to work on the Sabbath. He appeared in three episodes of the Hitchcock series and also spent ten years on the series Law and Order, from 1990 to 2000.

Lovely Joanna Moore (1934-1997) is hilarious as Danielle. She was born Dorothy Cook and acted in movies and on TV from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s. She was in six episodes of the Hitchcock series, including Slesar's "Most Likely to Succeed." She was married to Ryan O'Neal in the 1960s and she was Tatum O'Neal's mother.

Barney Phillips as the police officer
A familiar face to fans of fantastic television is that of Richard Anderson (1926- ), who plays Eddie. His TV career ranged from 1950 to 1998 and he was also in movies starting in the late 1940s, including Forbidden Planet (1956). This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show, but he s well-remembered as Oscar Goldman on The Six Million Dollar Man (1974-1978) and The Bionic Woman (1976-1978). He was in Thriller's "The Purple Room" and maintains his own website here.

In a small role as the police officer who interrogates Danielle is Barney Phillips (1913-1982). His three appearances on the Hitchcock series were all in hour-long episodes either written by Henry Slesar or based on short stories by Slesar; last was "Starring the Defense."

"Who Needs An Enemy?" may be viewed for free online here.

Galactic Central. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Dec. 2014.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb., n.d. Web. 27 Dec. 2014.
Slesar, Henry. "Goodbye Charlie." Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine Jan. 1964: 26-33. Print.
"Who Needs An Enemy?" The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. CBS. 15 May 1964. Television.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 27 Dec. 2014.

*MeTV is showing The Alfred Hitchcock Hour every Saturday night/Sunday morning at 3 a.m. Eastern Time.

*Antenna TV is showing back to back episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents every night from 3 a.m. to 4 a.m. Eastern time.

*In two weeks: "The Second Verdict" with Martin Landau and Frank Gorshin!


Grant said...

I don't know this one well, but of course there's the attraction of seeing Richard Anderson play a funny character, and a halfway broad one, so that part stays with me.

I'm definitely looking forward to SECOND VERDICT. I thought Martin Landau was very good in it (even by his standards), and Frank Gorshin is always very entertaining.

Jack Seabrook said...

I am working on "Second Verdict" this weekend. I'm interested to see how Alfred Hayes adapts Slesar's story for the small screen. Thanks for reading!