Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Hitchcock Project-Francis and Marian Cockrell Part One: Revenge [1.1]

by Jack Seabrook

Francis Cockrell (1906-1987) and his wife, Marian Cockrell (1909-1999), were frequent contributors of scripts to the early seasons of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Between them, they wrote 28 episodes of the series, including the first one filmed ("Into Thin Air"), the first one broadcast ("Revenge"), and the first one directed by Hitchcock ("Breakdown"). They collaborated on one episode ("Whodunit") and Francis directed that episode as well as one more written by his wife ("The Rose Garden"). Six of the eighteen half-hour episodes directed by Hitchcock had scripts by one of the Cockrells. Francis's younger brother Eustace also co-wrote two of the episodes written by Francis.

Francis Cockrell wrote a handful of film screenplays between the early 1930s and the mid-1950s but did most of his writing for TV in the '50s and '60s, including four episodes of Batman, an episode of The Outer Limits, eighteen episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and "Four O'clock," the episode of Suspicion directed by Hitchcock.

Marian Cockrell wrote novels, including Shadow Castle (1945) for young adults and six others for adults. The FictionMags Index lists five short stories by her in the second half of the 1930s and a couple of serialized novels. She also wrote a movie but most of her work--like that of her husband--was for TV, from the mid-'50s to the mid-'70s, including four episodes of Batman and eleven episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Thirteen of the shows written by the Cockrells have already been examined in this series. Starting with "Revenge," I will now look at the remaining fifteen.

"Revenge" by Samuel Blas

Samuel Blas, whose short story "Revenge" was published in the January 11, 1947 issue of Collier's, is a man of mystery. I have been able to find no information about him whatsoever, nor have I located any other works published under his name. "Revenge" is mentioned on the cover of Collier's and it is the lead story in the magazine, but Blas appears to have come and gone without leaving any other impression.

The story is a short one, only two pages long, with a third page featuring an illustration. It is narrated in the first person by a man whose name is never revealed. He and his wife Elsa are on their honeymoon and have parked their camping trailer in a quiet glade. He drives to a nearby small town to buy provisions and learns that an escaped convict is hiding in the woods. Hurrying back to the camp, he finds dinner burning on the stove and Elsa lying naked in bed, bruised from a beating. "He killed me," she says, but her attacker was not the escaped convict--it was a salesman who edged his way inside and then assaulted her.

"I never thought of the police," the narrator tells the reader, and he swears to kill the man who harmed his wife. He takes Elsa and drives into town, where she points out her assailant. The narrator follows the man into a hotel and gains entrance to his room by pretending to be a buyer; he kills the man with a hammer blow to the back of his head and leaves the hotel unseen, rejoining Elsa in their car. They return to the camp and hook up the trailer. That evening, many towns away, Elsa points out another man as her attacker.

Ralph Meeker as Carl Spann
The story ends without describing the narrator's reaction to the realization that he probably has killed the wrong man. The initial source of his concern was the news of the escaped convict, but this turns out to have been unrelated to his wife's assault. Instead, she was attacked by a salesman, raising the question of why a salesman would visit a remote glade in the woods. Any suspicion that Elsa imagined the attack is belied by the bruises on her body, however, and her shock following the violation is all too real. Her statement that "he killed me" is code for rape, and her husband most likely avoids calling the police out of shame regarding what happened to his wife and his own inability to protect her.

Was the attacker really a salesman or was that a ruse? Certainly, there is mirroring of his crime when the narrator pretends to be a buyer to gain entrance to the hotel room and then commits a violent deed of his own. Elsa's state of shock and her break with reality doom her husband, whose cruel act of revenge makes him a murderer. As the story ends, he knows that he will be hunted and his wife remains traumatized--he has been robbed of his revenge in addition to his manhood.

"Revenge" on Alfred Hitchcock Presents

"Revenge" was adapted for television by Francis Cockrell with uncredited assistance from A.I. Bezzerides, who later said in an interview that he was brought in to polish the script. It was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and stars Ralph Meeker as the husband and Vera Miles as Elsa. According to Patrick McGilligan, Hitchcock's enthusiasm for Vera Miles and for this short film made him decide to use it as the premiere episode of his new TV series, and it was first shown on CBS on Sunday, October 2, 1955. It had been produced only two weeks earlier, from September 15th through 17th.

In his introduction to the show, Hitchcock calls himself "an accessory before and after the fact," describing his role as giving "the title to those of you who can't read and to tidy up afterwards for those of you who don't understand the ending."

Vera Miles as Elsa Spann
Francis Cockrell made significant changes and additions to Samuel Blas's story in order to expand a two-page narrative into a 25-minute film. The narrator is given the name of Carl Spann and his wife remains Elsa. There is no voice-over narration and the story is told in the third person rather than the first person. The location of the rape is changed from a quiet glade in the woods to a trailer park by the beach; no longer are the couple stopped in a remote location--they are in a busy spot where strangers are hardly noticed.

Importantly, the couple is not on their honeymoon but have been married for a short time; Elsa is not shy but rather bold and confident in her sexuality, unafraid to display her body in a revealing swimsuit while lying in a lounge chair outside the trailer. There is irony in the banter between Carl and Elsa in the trailer before the attack when she insists that people are kind and helpful both locally and in general. Elsa is given a prior life as a ballet dancer, something she trained for since childhood. She also has a history of having had a nervous breakdown and having moved to the coast along with her husband in order to recover. These additions make her both sexy and fragile: her body attracts her assailant and her fragility causes her deep shock after the attack.

New characters are added, most noticeably Mrs. Ferguson, a neighbor. Unlike in Blas's story, the police are called and respond; a doctor also comes to examine Elsa. All of these people expand the tale beyond the narrow focus on the husband and wife. The final scene adds a reaction shot of Carl's expression as he realizes what his wife's words mean to them, and the police siren in the distance is a bow to the censors, suggesting that he will be caught, even though it makes no sense based on the events of the story.

Lighting gives a sinister cast to
Carl's face right before the murder
Hitchcock's direction is worth noting. The show begins with a series of shots in the Hitchcock tradition that go from the general to the specific: the beach and the ocean, the trailer park, and finally the inside of the Spann trailer. The treatment of the subject matter and some of the shots and dialogue are surprisingly bold for 1955 TV; the first shot of Elsa shows cleavage and her character is sexually voracious despite the twin beds required by the censor. She responds hungrily to her husband's kisses and he tells her that he has to go to work. It is implied that she would prefer it if he would join her in bed. Over breakfast he comments on her talents, implying sexual skill; she is not the new bride of Blas's story but rather a woman with some experience.

Her swimsuit is a two-piece that reveals a considerable amount of her legs and the camera travels down her body in a shot from the point of view of Mrs. Ferguson, who observes Elsa's near-naked beauty and looks around apprehensively as if to say, "are you sure you should display yourself like that here?" Later in the show, Carl's murder of the salesman is filmed with the camera out in the hall observing the events in the hotel room's mirror. The actual killing is shown in shadow in the glass, distancing the viewer from the sheer brutality of the act. Carl's face is lit to make it appear sinister as he stops in the hallway just before entering the room to commit murder.

The stars of the show give solid performances. Ralph Meeker, as Carl, is strong and handsome in a blue-collar way. He is not required to do much but he is low-key and determined when carrying out his character's revenge. He has a muted reaction to the concluding shock.

Elsa after the attack
Vera Miles steals the show as Elsa. She is vivacious and hungry before she is attacked, withdrawn and flat after it. She shows a noticeable change in appearance and demeanor and her catatonic stare is haunting.

Frances Bavier plays Mrs. Ferguson, the neighbor, and adds an undercurrent of concern with comments about Elsa's looks and an apprehensive glance around.

The rest of the cast is unremarkable.

"Revenge" is an above-average episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and it was a good choice to introduce the series to the viewing public.

Cast and Crew

The writer brought in to polish the script, A.I. Bezzerides (1908-2007), was born in what is now Turkey and his family emigrated to the U.S. when he was a baby. His first published short story appeared in 1935; he also wrote novels, screenplays, and teleplays. They Drive By Night (1940) was based on his novel and he wrote the screenplay for Kiss Me Deadly (1955), which starred Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer.

Frances Bavier as Mrs. Ferguson
Ralph Meeker (1920-1988) was born Ralph Rathgeber and served in the Navy in WWII. He started on Broadway after the war in 1946 and was on screen for thirty years, from 1950 to 1980, appearing both in film and on TV. Key roles include Kiss Me Deadly and Paths of Glory (1957), as well as the TV-movie, The Night Stalker (1972). He appeared on The Outer Limits and in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

As the first episode of the long-running series, "Revenge" has garnered more attention than most episodes, and much of that attention has centered on Vera Miles (1929- ). Born Vera Ralston, she was seen in three episodes of the Hitchcock TV series, including "Death Scene." Hitchcock first saw her in a small role in For Men Only, a 1951 film directed by Paul Henreid. Patrick McGilligan writes that "during the making of 'Revenge' Hitchcock grew so excited about Miles that he signed her to a five-year contract." She then starred in his 1956 film The Wrong Man as a character who becomes depressed and requires hospitalization after her husband, played by Henry Fonda, is wrongfully accused of robbery. She was supposed to star in Vertigo but when she got pregnant she was replaced by Kim Novak. She later had an important supporting role in Psycho (1960) and appeared in two classic John Ford films: The Searchers (1956) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). Her TV and film career included roles on The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits and she remained a busy actress into the mid-1990s.

Mrs. Ferguson, the neighbor at the trailer park, is played by Frances Bavier (1902-1989), who started out in Vaudeville and acted on Broadway before her screen career began in the early 1930s. She was on film and TV for 40 years and had a role in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) but will always be remembered for her role as Aunt Bee on The Andy Griffith Show from 1960 to 1968. This was her sole appearance on the Hitchcock show.

In smaller roles:
  • Ray Montgomery (1922-1998) plays the man who is killed by Carl Spann in an act of revenge in hotel room 321. On screen from 1941 to 1990 he was on Thriller twice and on Alfred Hitchcock Presents three times, including "Pen Pal" and "The Woman Who Wanted to Live."
  • Ray Teal (1902-1976) plays the police lieutenant who investigates the rape. He has hundreds of credits on IMDb and was on screen from 1937 to 1974, including a semi-regular role on Bonanza as Sheriff Roy Coffee. He made no less than eight appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
Ray Teal
"Revenge" in other places
Before being filmed for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "Revenge" had been adapted in 1950 in comic book form as "Murder May Boomerang" for the first issue of the EC Comics title, Crime SuspenStories.

"Revenge" was later remade and presented as the first regular episode of the revival of Alfred Hitchcock Presents in the mid-eighties, airing on NBC on September 29, 1985.

The original version of "Revenge" on Alfred Hitchcock Presents is available on DVD here or may be viewed online here. Read Samuel Blas's original story in Collier's here and here.

Blas, Samuel. "Revenge." Collier's 11 Jan. 1947: 14+. Web.
The FictionMags Index. Web.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb. Web.
McCarty, John, and Brian Kelleher. Alfred Hitchcock Presents. New York: St. Martin's, 1985. Print.
McGilligan, Patrick. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light. New York: Regan, 2003. Print.
"Revenge." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 2 Oct. 1955. Television.
Spoto, Donald. The Life of Alfred Hitchcock: The Dark Side of Genius. London: Collins, 1983. Print.
Wikipedia. 22 Aug. 2017. Web.

In two weeks: "Into Thin Air" starring Patricia Hitchcock!


Grant said...

I wish I could remember the title it was given or which site I saw it on (it might've been "The Horrors Of It All"), but someone adapted this story for one of the ' 50s horror / suspense comics (presumably after the episode came on TV). Maybe it WAS called "Revenge" instead of being retitled.

Jack Seabrook said...

We wrote about the story on our EC blog, which appears every other Monday. The story was "Murder May Boomerang!" The comic book came out years before the TV show.

Grant said...

That's very interesting.

JP said...

Great write-up, Jack. I've always liked this episode and you're right that it's probably gotten more attention than most because it was the first aired. I still think it's one of the best twist endings on the series although by now it appears hackneyed due to overexposure. I didn't know about the adaptation by the EC crew. The episode sounds like a vast improvement over the short story.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Jordan! The story is good but the show deepens some of the issues involved. It's especially interesting to me because it was made when Hitchcock was making some of his best films.

Majestic Tiger said...

I was surprised that this episode only received a 7.4 rating on IMBD, which is mediocre. I myself gave this episode a 10. The plot is excellent, the acting is excellent, and particularly that of beautiful Vera Miles, and the direction by Alfred Hitchock is likewise excellent. If this show had been combined with a couple of others that he directed and then shown on the big screen I would imagine that it would have done quite well at the box office.

Jack Seabrook said...

I agree with your assessment. This is a strong episode with which to start the series.