Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Hitchcock Project-John Williams Part Three: The Rose Garden [2.12]

by Jack Seabrook

Season two of Alfred Hitchcock Presents began with "Wet Saturday," directed by Hitchcock himself and co-starring John Williams. I reviewed this episode here as part of my series on John Collier.

Williams was next seen in "The Rose Garden," which premiered on CBS on Sunday, December 16, 1956. The credits at the end of the show say that Marian Cockrell wrote the teleplay based on a story by Vincent Fotre, and since I have been unable to find any published story by Fotre (other than a "pictorial feature" in the men's magazine Argosy ("The Last Ride," July 1956), I believe that Fotre's story was either unpublished or merely a treatment that Cockrell expanded.

Vincent Fotre has an interesting background. IMDb reports that he lived from 1901 to 1975 but I think this is wrong and that an online obituary with dates of 1924 to 2014 is more likely correct. He was born in Chicago and moved to Beverly Hills at age 15. He attended UCLA and fought in the Navy in WWII before becoming a contract writer for Warner Brothers. His TV credits span the years from 1956 to 1958 and "The Rose Garden" was his first. His film credits stretch from 1958 to 1972 and include screenplays for Red Nightmare (1962), a Red Scare film, and Baron Blood (1972), directed by Mario Bava. He also wrote a western paperback called The Trailmakers (1961) and a non-fiction book called Why You Lose at Tennis (1973), since he seems to have been an accomplished tennis player.

Patricia Collinge and John Williams in the rose garden
The teleplay for "The Rose Garden" is elegantly written by Marian Cockrell (1909-1999), whom I wrote about in connection with "Wet Saturday" and who also co-wrote "Whodunit" with her husband, Francis Cockrell. Francis directed "The Rose Garden" and, with "Whodunit," these represent the only two times he directed anything in his career. I wrote about him in more detail here, in connection with "Momentum."

"The Rose Garden" unfolds in nine scenes. It begins with a point of view shot from inside a taxi as it drives down a small town street. This is followed by a studio shot inside the car that uses rear projection. Barney is a taxi driver with a southern accent and Alexander Vinton is his passenger, a distinguished gentleman with a British accent who has come from out of town to see Julia Pickering, who has written a novel that his firm would like to publish. Barney is surprised to learn that Julia has written a book, since she is dominated by her sister Cordelia. He comments that Cordelia's husband, who once had been Julia's beau, walked out on his wife.

This initial scene sets up the story effectively and features John Williams as Vinton, an outsider visiting the Deep South. In this small town, the taxi driver knows everybody's business and begins to plant the seeds in Vinton's mind about the relationship between the sisters. The scene ends with another point of view shot from inside the car as it approaches a grand, ante-bellum house.

Evelyn Varden as Cordelia
Scene two begins as Vinton comments that the house looks just like the one in Julia's novel. A black servant opens the door and we meet Cordelia, who invites Vinton in. He then meets Julia, who wrote the book, described as a sensational murder mystery, without telling her sister.

In scene three, Vinton settles into a guest room and quickly notices details that correspond to things in the novel. In fact, the room appears to be the scene of the murder and the murder weapon--a brass candlestick--still stands on the mantel.

Vinton shares coffee with the sisters in the drawing room in scene four, as he and Julia discuss prospects for the book. He comments on the furnishings and points out two antique pistols that are displayed on the wall. He mentions how impressive the novel's setting is and how closely it resembles the actual house. Cordelia expresses an interest in reading the manuscript but Julia resists.

John Williams as Vinton
In scene five, Vinton sees Cordelia in his room, paging through the manuscript. He allows her to escape without knowing that she has been seen. Noticing that the candlestick is gone, he reads a portion of the novel aloud, in which one sister witnesses the other digging in the rose garden at night. One sister's husband had missed an appointment to meet the other sister in New Orleans and we suspect that the wife has murdered him and is burying the body.

Like "Whodunit," "The Rose Garden" concerns a mystery novelist, yet this time John Williams is not the novelist but rather a representative of her publisher who finds himself playing the role of a detective of sorts. Scene six finds Vinton outside the house, observing the rose garden and the window above it that correspond to those in Julia's novel. He and Julia discuss how the novel will be received in town and he asks her about a key scene in the book, where one sister sees the other dump something in a trench in the rose garden. He begins to suspect that he is at the site of a real burial. As he and Julia talk, it becomes clear that, while they appear to be discussing fictional events, they are really discussing an actual crime. Julia comments that the character in the novel is a coward for not reporting what she saw; we know that she is referring to herself. Her book is a cry for help sent to the outside world by a woman too fearful to confront her domineering sister.

Cordelia holds Julia at gunpoint
Julia signs a contract with Vinton in scene seven, and Cordelia insists that Julia accompany her to choir practice, leaving Vinton alone in the house. In scene eight, Vinton is overcome by curiosity and digs up the rose garden by moonlight. He finds nothing and is embarrassed when Cordelia comes home early and finds him in the trench. She knows that he is looking for her husband's corpse and explains that Julia has a vivid imagination; she wrote the book to portray her sister as a villain when her fantasy of running off with Cordelia's husband came to nought.

The ninth and final scene begins with Julia telling Vinton that she is withdrawing her novel and breaking her contract. As he leaves to walk to the train station, he notices that one of the antique pistols is missing from the wall. After he is gone, Julia tells Cordelia that she will go to the sheriff in the morning to tell him to come and dig in the right place. Cordelia threatens her with the antique gun but Vinton returns to save the day. Julia has finally found the courage to stand up to her sister, who leaves the room in disgust. Vinton congratulates Julia on her bravery and suggests that she write him another novel. The final shot shows Vinton as godlike, as the camera looks up at his face from below. We can surmise that it was his intervention in the family that allowed Julia to move beyond her cowardice and ensure that her sister would be brought to task for her crime.

Patricia Collinge as Julia
Francis Cockrell does a fine job directing "The Rose Garden." His shot selections are varied, the actors are well guided, and the story moves along briskly to a satisfying conclusion. It's too bad he did not direct more TV episodes in his career. The acting is outstanding and the story, though it is a bit melodramatic in the final scene, is entertaining.

Julia is played by Patricia Collinge (1892-1974), who was born Eileen Collinge in Dublin, Ireland. She debuted on the London stage at age 12 and emigrated to the U.S. in 1907, where she was on the New York stage by 1908. A long career on the stage followed. Her first film role was in 1941's The Little Foxes, for which she received an Academy Award nomination. She appeared in Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and contributed to its script as well as to that of Lifeboat (1944). Her film career lasted until 1959. She also made appearances on TV from 1952 to 1967, including six episodes of the Hitchcock series. One of her memorable roles was as "The Landlady."

Ralph Peters as Barney
Evelyn Varden (1893-1958), who plays Cordelia, also started out on Broadway in the early part of the century and had a long stage career. She was in the original cast of Thornton Wilder's Our Town and she was heard on radio in the 1940s and 1950s, seen on film from 1949 to 1957, and appeared on TV from 1950 until her death. She was in Charles Laughton's classic film, The Night of the Hunter (1955), and this was her only appearance on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

In the small role of Barney, the taxi driver, is Ralph Peters (1902-1959), who had a two-decade career on film and on TV as a character actor playing bit parts. He was in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

"The Rose Garden is available on DVD here.

"The FictionMags Index." The FictionMags Index. Web. 02 Oct. 2016.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb. Web. 02 Oct. 2016.
"The Rose Garden." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 16 Dec. 1956. Television.
Vincent Fotre's Hall of Fame Induction Bart Bowen. Perf. Bart Bowen and Vincent Fotre. YouTube. 24 Sept. 2012. Web. 2 Oct. 2016.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 02 Oct. 2016.

In two weeks: "I Killed The Count," starring John Williams and Alan Napier!


SteveHL said...

Did Varden ever play anyone who was nice? Just looking at her in the two pictures you posted,she seems so unpleasant. (Of course, the gun doesn't help.)

Usual very fine review!

Jack Seabrook said...

I don't know, but I think her most famous role also found her portraying a rather unpleasant character in Night of the Hunter. Thanks for reading and for commenting--haven't heard from you in a while!

Grant said...

She was very good as Monica in THE BAD SEED, the amateur psychologist who was always analyzing one character or another. Speaking of unpleasant, the character can get pretty trying when it comes to that, but that seems to be the idea.

Jack Seabrook said...

I've never seen The Bad Seed. Thanks for commenting!