Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Hitchcock Project-Henry Slesar Overview and Updated List of All Episodes Reviewed So Far

by Jack Seabrook

"A Night With the Boys"
Henry Slesar was born in Brooklyn on June 12, 1927. After graduating from the School of Industrial Art in New York City, he was hired to work at an advertising agency, beginning a career that would last for decades. Slesar served in the U.S. Air Force either during or just after WWII. During his lifetime, he was married three times and had two children.

"The Brat" (1955) was his first published short story and it would be followed by hundreds more. He also wrote six novels, as well as many teleplays, radio plays, and movie scripts. The Gray Flannel Shroud, a 1959 novel set in the world of advertising, won the Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1960 for best first mystery novel.

Four collections of Slesar's short stories were published: Clean Crimes and Neat Murders (1960), A Crime for Mothers and Others (1962), Murders Most Macabre (1986) and Death on Television (1989). He wrote many scripts for the CBS Radio Mystery Theater starting in the 1970s and won a Daytime Emmy Award in 1974 for Best Writing for a Drama Series; the award was given for his work as head writer for the TV soap opera, The Edge of Night.

Writing in Twentieth Century Crime and Mystery Writers, Frances McConachie noted Slesar's "mixture of detection, popular psychology, Gothic horror, and romance," and these themes were evident in his stories and teleplays produced as episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Slesar was involved, either as the writer of a story, a teleplay, or both, in 47 episodes of the Hitchcock series--37 half hours and ten hours--making him the most frequent contributor among the many writers involved in this classic show.

Henry Slesar's work for Alfred Hitchcock Presents began in the fall of 1957, during the show's third season, with "Heart of Gold," an adaptation by another writer of a Slesar short story. This tough little slice of noir was followed by three more episodes in season three: "Night of the Execution," which features a good cast that includes Pat Hingle and Russell Collins; "On the Nose," a light crime story; and "The Right Kind of House," which has a classic twist and continues to examine mother-son relationships, something that was also the subject of "Heart of Gold."

"Forty Detectives Later"
The fourth season saw four more adaptations of Slesar's short stories by other writers. "The Morning After" is an excellent crime drama directed by Herschel Daugherty that includes an all-star lineup: Jeanette Nolan, Dorothy Provine, Robert Alda and Fay Wray. "The Right Price" is an attempt at comedy that falls flat, while "The Kind Waitress" is a weak crime story. "A Night With the Boys" rounds out the season with a strong noir episode directed by John Brahm.

Slesar was able to break into the business of writing teleplays with his first offering in season five, "Forty Detectives Later," an outstanding homage to (and parody of) classic private investigator films. "Insomnia" is a gritty crime drama with a haunted performance by Dennis Weaver and another teleplay by Slesar. The season's final two episodes were based on stories by Slesar but he did not write the teleplays: "One Grave Too Many" is shadowy and surprising, while "Party Line" lulls the viewer into thinking it is light fare before transforming into a shocking tale of horror with inventive direction by Hilton Green.

The producers of Alfred Hitchcock Presents liked what they had in Henry Slesar and began to rely on him heavily in season six, when he wrote teleplays for ten of his eleven stories that were adapted for the small screen. The sheer number of stories by Slesar this season meant that some of the shows were less successful than others. For every dull and uninspired effort like "Pen Pal," there was a memorable episode like "A Crime for Mothers," cannily directed by Ida Lupino and featuring an outstanding performance by Claire Trevor. Alan Crosland Jr.'s exciting direction enlivened shows like "The Money" and "Servant Problem," while the master himself--Alfred Hitchcock--directed "The Horseplayer," with a memorable star turn by the great Claude Rains. "Incident in a Small Jail" scored an Emmy nomination for film editor Edward Williams and starred John Fiedler in an unexpected role as a serial killer.

Henry Slesar was most productive in season seven, the last season in the half hour format, writing the teleplays for thirteen episodes, eleven of which were based on his stories and one of which was an original. These shows ran the gamut but were, on the whole, of high quality. Alan Crosland, Jr., directed three good shows: "Cop for a Day, a hardboiled effort starring Walter Matthau; "Keep Me Company," in which Anne Francis plays a lonely housewife; and "The Right Kind of Medicine," with Robert Redford as a cop-killer on the run.

"Party Line"
"The Test," with Brian Keith as a clever trial lawyer, prefigures the courtroom dramas Slesar would write for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, while "The Kerry Blue" paints a portrait of a toxic marriage. "The Matched Pearl" was Slesar's first original teleplay for the series, and is a delightful tale of a trio of con artists who pull off a successful job. Most surprising is "The Opportunity," adapted by Slesar from a J.W. Aaron short story, which seems to be about sex but turns about to be about murder.

Thirty-seven episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents were either based on a story by Henry Slesar or featured his teleplay; he quickly grew to become a mainstay of the series. He later commented that he "much preferred writing for the half-hour show," and this may be due to the fact that his work for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour was not as successful as his work for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Slesar was involved in one way or another in ten episodes of the hour-long series.

The four episodes that Slesar worked on in the first season of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour were, as a group, among his weakest. "I Saw the Whole Thing" was adapted from an entertaining novel by Henry Cecil but, despite direction by Alfred Hitchcock, this courtroom drama fails to come alive on the small screen. "Final Vow" was a Slesar original, and the story of a young nun trying to recover a stolen statue is dragged down by poor acting. "House Guest," with a teleplay by Slesar and Marc Brandel, is based on an exciting book by Andrew Garve but once again is less exciting to watch than to read. Worst of all is "What Really Happened," a confused adaptation of a 1926 novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes that again spends too much time in the courtroom.

Fortunately, the six episodes Slesar had a hand in during the second season of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour include some gems. The first three hours were adapted by Slesar from his own stories: "Blood Bargain" is a hardboiled tale of a hit man who falls for the wrong woman; "Starring the Defense" is his most successful courtroom drama yet; and "Behind the Locked Door" features a great performance by Gloria Swanson and one of the most shattering endings of the series. The last three hours that Slesar worked on were "Who Needs an Enemy?", adapted by Arthur Ross from a short story by Slesar; "The Second Verdict," adapted by Slesar and Alfred Hayes from a short story by Slesar; and "Isabel," adapted by Slesar and William Fay from a novel by S.B. Hough. "Enemy" is the most successful comedy of any episode involving Slesar, "Isabel" is the best transition from novel to small screen of Slesar's hours, and "Verdict" is his best courtroom drama, in large part due to strong performances by Martin Landau and Frank Gorshin.

"Servant Problem"
Henry Slesar's contributions to The Alfred Hitchcock Hour end with the show's second season; he was not involved in the third and final season. The 47 episodes of both series on which his name appears include many great half hours and several great hours, and--at least in the sixth and seventh seasons of Alfred Hitchcock Presents--Henry Slesar made significant contributions to the show's continuing success.

An episode guide to Henry Slesar's work on Alfred Hitchcock Presents may be found here.

Henry Slesar on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour Episode Guide

Episode title-“I Saw the Whole Thing” [8.4]
Broadcast date-11 Oct. 1962
Teleplay by-Slesar
Based on-Independent Witness by Henry Cecil
First print appearance-1963 novel
Watch episode-unavailable
Available on DVD?-No

Episode title-“Final Vow” [8.6]
Broadcast date-25 Oct. 1962
Teleplay by-Slesar
Based on-"Hiding Out" by Slesar
First print appearance-Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine March 1976
Available on DVD?-No

Episode title-“House Guest” [8.8]
Broadcast date-8 Nov. 1962
Teleplay by-Slesar and Marc Brandel
Based on-The Golden Deed by Andrew Garve
First print appearance-Toronto Star Weekly 5 Sept. 1959; 1960 novel
Available on DVD?-No

Episode title-“What Really Happened” [8.16]
Broadcast date-11 Jan. 1963
Teleplay by-Slesar
Based on-What Really Happened by Marie Belloc Lowndes
First print appearance-1926 novel
Available on DVD?-No

Episode title-“Blood Bargain” [9.5]
Broadcast date-25 Oct. 1963
Teleplay by-Slesar
Based on-"Blood Bargain" by Slesar
First print appearance-Web Detective Stories Sept. 1961
Watch episode-unavailable
Available on DVD?-No

Episode title-“Starring the Defense” [9.7]
Broadcast date-15 Nov. 1963
Teleplay by-Slesar
Based on-"Starring the Defense" by Slesar
First print appearance-Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine Apr. 1963
Available on DVD?-No

Episode title-“Behind the Locked Door” [9.22]
Broadcast date-27 Mar. 1964
Teleplay by-Slesar and Joel Murcott
Based on-"Starring the Defense" by Slesar (as O.H. Leslie)
First print appearance-Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine Jan. 1961
Available on DVD?-No

Episode title-“Who Needs an Enemy?" [9.28]
Broadcast date-27 Mar. 1964
Teleplay by-Arthur Ross
Based on-"Goodbye Charlie" by Slesar
First print appearance-Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine Jan. 1964
Available on DVD?-No

Episode title-“The Second Verdict" [9.30]
Broadcast date-29 May 1964
Teleplay by-Slesar and Alfred Hayes
Based on-"Second Verdict" by Slesar
First print appearance-Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine Feb. 1964
Available on DVD?-No

Episode title-“Isabel" [9.31]
Broadcast date-5 June 1964
Teleplay by-Slesar and William Fay
Based on-The Bronze Perseus by S.B. Hough
First print appearance-1959 novel
Available on DVD?-No

The Hitchcock Project--Episodes Reviewed So Far:

An introduction to The Hitchcock Project may be found here. The episodes that have been review so far are listed below. Click on any episode name to jump to the post.

"Keep Me Company"
1.18-Shopping for Death
1.20-And So Died Riabouchinska
1.23-Back for Christmas

2.1-Wet Saturday
2.24-The Cream of the Jest
2.31-The Night the World Ended
2.39-The Dangerous People

3.1-The Glass Eye
3.23-The Right Kind of House

"The Right Kind of Medicine"
4.6-Design for Loving
4.14-The Morning After
4.22-The Right Price
4.32-Human Interest Story
4.34-A True Account 

5.6-Anniversary Gift

5.10-Special Delivery
5.17-The Cure
5.24-Madame Mystery
5.26-Mother, May I Go Out To Swim?
5.27-The Cuckoo Clock
5.28-Forty Detectives Later
"The Opportunity"
6.14-The Changing Heart
6.18-The Greatest Monster of Them All
6.19-The Landlady
6.31-The Gloating Place

7.1-The Hatbox
7.4-Cop for a Day
7.5-Keep Me Company
"Behind the Locked Door"
7.9-I Spy
7.11-The Right Kind of Medicine
7.14-Bad Actor
7.16-The Case of M.J.H.
7.17-The Faith of Aaron Menefee
7.20-The Test
7.21-Burglar Proof
7.25-The Last Remains
7.37-The Big Kick

S.1-The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (shown only in syndication)

8.4-I Saw the Whole Thing

8.6-Final Vow
8.8-House Guest
"The Jar"
8.16-What Really Happened

9.1-A Home Away From Home
9.5-Blood Bargain
9.7-Starring the Defense
9.13-The Magic Shop
9.17-The Jar
9.22-Behind the Locked Door
9.27-The Sign of Satan
9.28-Who Needs An Enemy?
9.30-The Second Verdict

10.3-Water’s Edge
10.4-The Life Work of Juan Diaz
10.14-Final Performance
10.27-The Second Wife
10.29-Off Season

IMDb., n.d. Web. 2 Feb. 2015.
McConachie,Frances. "Henry Slesar." Twentieth Century Crime and Mystery Writers. 2d ed. Ed. John Reilly. London St. James, 1985. 806-809.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 2 Feb. 2015.

*In two weeks: a series on Roald Dahl begins with "Lamb to the Slaughter"!

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