Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Hitchcock Project-Bernard C. Schoenfeld Part Ten: Out There--Darkness [4.16]

by Jack Seabrook

"Over There--Darkness" was first published in the October 1958 issue of a digest called Sleuth Mystery Magazine. This was the first of only two issues of this periodical, which was published in cooperation with the Mystery Writers of America.

The story's author, William O'Farrell (1904-1962), wrote short stories and novels from 1941 to 1962. His stories appeared in the slicks from 1941 to 1947 and in the digests from 1955 to 1962. At the same time, he was busy writing novels, 15 of which were published between 1942 and 1962, two of them under the pseudonym of William Grew. Two movies were adapted from his novels and, once TV became a viable market in the 1950s, he had two stories and three novels adapted for television from his works. He wrote three teleplays himself, including "The Kind Waitress" for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In addition, the first episode of Thriller was based on one of his novels.

"Over There--Darkness" won the Edgar Award for Best Short Story in 1959 and was collected in Best Detective Stories of the Year and again in Best of the Best Detective Stories. Bernard C. Schoenfeld adapted it for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and today it is probably O'Farrell's best-known work.

"Over There--Darkness"
was first published here
The story concerns a wealthy, middle-aged woman named Miss Fox, who lives alone in a Manhattan apartment with her dog, Vanessa. "Her favorite elevator boy," handsome Eddie McMahon, walks her dog six nights a week. She has been alone since her fiancee, a military man, died in 1943, and she treasures the diamond engagement ring her gave her. One April day, Eddie appears unexpectedly at her apartment on his day off, out of uniform and out of breath after having climbed fourteen flights of stairs. He asks her to loan him $50, explaining that his girl is in a sanitarium and that he pays half of her medical bills. Miss Fox turns him away.

That night, she takes Vanessa for a walk, following the dog past the lighted area in front of her building and into the "sinister" darkness in front of a row of neighboring brownstones. She is attacked from behind and left unconscious on the sidewalk, her ring and money stolen. Police sergeant Kirby questions Miss Fox, who convinces herself that Eddie must be the thief. Summoned later that night to the police station, she denies that another young man was her assailant. The next day, she calls Eddie to her apartment and suggests that she will pay $500 for the return of her ring. Eddie does not realize that she suspects him, and later that day she tells Sergeant Kirby that Eddie was the thief. Eddie is tried, convicted, and sent to prison.

Late that fall, Sergeant Kirby tells Miss Fox that her ring was found in the room of the man whom she refused to identify at the police station. Eddie is released from prison and resumes his job. Miss Fox asks him to walk her dog, but he refuses. He no longer needs extra money; his fiance died. Miss Fox attempts to pay off her feelings of guilt by giving Eddie an envelope containing $500. That night, she heads outside to walk Vanessa. Again, a man attacks her from behind, this time killing her. When the doorman finds her corpse, she has five one-hundred dollar bills in her hand.

Bette Davis as Miss Fox
"Over There--Darkness" takes place in a specific location: West 23rd Street, in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood. There are hints that Miss Fox is attracted to Eddie, but the social gulf between them is always clear and one may infer that the reason he is forced to walk up 14 flights of stairs to reach her apartment on his day off is because elevator boys are not welcome to use the elevator when they are not on duty. Eddie is an honest young man who asks Miss Fox for a loan because he thinks she is "kind." He is paying half of his girl's medical bills and works hard, so there is no reason to suspect that he is a criminal, yet Miss Fox jumps to this conclusion probably because she views him as her inferior. There is an imbalance of power between them: she is middle-aged, wealthy, and lonely, while he is young, poor, and in love. Proud and haughty, she refuses to loan him money that she surely has; she assumes that he is lying and trying to "take her in."

Miss Fox seems unreasonably fearful about walking into the darkness that lies just beyond her own building, yet her fears are justified when she is attacked and robbed. Once again, her wealth and privilege are on display when she thinks of Sergeant Kirby as "plodding." She thinks that she has solved the crime on her own by jumping to conclusions based on little evidence, and her ego will not allow her to admit that the vulgar man in custody at the police station might be her assailant, since she has already solved the crime to her own satisfaction.

James Congdon as Eddie
When Eddie is released from prison and back at work, Miss Fox's efforts to re-establish a relationship with him are all based on money. The story's conclusion suggests that he is disgusted by her gesture, since it appears that he is the one who kills her and returns her money. While satisfying in that Miss Fox seems to get what she deserves, it seems out of character for Eddie to kill her. Perhaps his year in prison has changed him, since he barely speaks to her and is described as follows: "He had changed. His smile was fixed and meaningless, and there was a glassy quality in his eyes."

This well-written and well-received short story was quickly purchased by the producers of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and adapted for television by Bernard C. Schoenfeld. The episode aired on CBS on Sunday, January 25, 1959, only a few months after the story's first publication. As is often the case, narrative and description in the story are converted to dialogue in the TV show, which opens with Miss Fox (played perfectly by Bette Davis) talking to her dog in her apartment. "Never mention age," she tells Vanessa, and she then speaks to a framed photo of her dead fiancee and also to herself. The Miss Fox of the show is not as isolated as the character in the story; this woman is going out to play bridge with friends when Eddie arrives to fulfill his dog-walking duties. She flirts with the handsome young man but the attempt at romance is clearly one-sided. She tells him to have the superintendent of the building let him in if the dog ever needs walking and she is not home; this shows that she trusts him and that he has an approved way to get into her apartment, which may be important in considering the show's conclusion, which has been changed from that of the short story.

Frank Albertson as Sergeant Kirby
Later, there is a medium close-up of Miss Fox's legs as she puts on leopard-print, high-heeled shoes. Her fashionable attire is in sharp contrast to that of the off-duty Eddie, who arrives, unshaven and in street clothes, to ask for $50. As the scene is played by Bette Davis, the viewer can infer that she will not give Eddie the money he requests because she is jealous of his girlfriend, who is only twenty years old: Miss Fox will not help out a perceived rival. As she explains her refusal to Eddie, she fingers her expensive necklace and gazes at her expensive engagement ring.

As in the story, she walks her dog at night and is attacked. Sergeant Kirby interviews her in her apartment, and events from the story are compressed when he gets a telephone call about the suspect in custody and she accompanies him back to the police station.  At the station, she denies that the man is her assailant and we see that he resembles Eddie. Eddie comes when called to her apartment and she offers to pay him to get her ring back; in a well-played exchange, she says one thing but means another and we are unable to tell if he is doing the same. Sergeant Kirby arrives and Miss Fox accuses Eddie, seeming like a spurned lover.

Almost a year later, Sergeant Kirby is clearly angry at Miss Fox when he arrives to tell her that the real thief has been caught. Miss Fox is defensive and even tries to put blame on the sergeant for arresting the wrong man. When she encounters Eddie later in the elevator and gives him the envelope containing $500, he tells her that his fiance "died while I was in prison" and the elevator doors close, shutting out Miss Fox and reinforcing the barrier between her and Eddie.

Arthur Marshall as Jerry
The final dog walk arrives and Miss Fox follows Vanessa down the same alley where she had been attacked. There is a scare as a cat jumps out and a garbage can lid falls loudly to the ground. Miss Fox is relieved, and readers of the short story expect her to be attacked, but instead she goes back into her building and up to her apartment. Inside, she is attacked and strangled by a man who at first is not seen. She falls to the floor, dead, and we see the $500 taken from the envelope and dropped on her corpse. Finally, the camera reveals that Eddie is the killer, and the episode ends on a shot of the dead Miss Fox (who appears to be played by a stand-in).

Why did Schoenfeld move the ending of the story inside her apartment? Perhaps it was done to allow for a period of quiet relief after the scare from the alley cat. Still, this ending makes even less sense than the one in the story on which it is based. Why would Eddie enter her apartment, wait for her, and kill her there? It is not only inconsistent with his personality (unless he changed a great deal while in prison), but it is also a sure way to get caught. He will have to leave her apartment and find a way down 14 flights of stairs and out of the building without being seen. I can think of no valid reason for ending the story in this way.

The show centers around Bette Davis, who gives an outstanding performance. Her Miss Fox is more vibrant and outgoing than the character in the short story, who is portrayed as afraid to leave the area in  front of her apartment building. She also is more overtly sexual in her interest in and flirtation with Eddie, as she vainly tries to deny her advancing age.

Miss Fox and Vanessa in the alley
shortly before she is murdered
The lead actors in "Out There--Darkness" create believable characters. Schoenfeld's teleplay is, with the possible exception of the ending, well-constructed, with a strong structure and engaging dialogue. The direction is solid and the pacing rapid; the lighting and shot selection are also quite good, with the shadowy scenes in the alley outside contrasting with the bright scenes in Miss Fox's apartment. Overall, this is a memorable episode.

Bette Davis (1908-1989) was one of the best and most successful actress of the classic Hollywood period. She started out on Broadway and began appearing in films in 1931, winning Academy Awards for Best Actress for her roles in Dangerous (1935) and Jezebel (1938). She also starred in the brilliant All About Eve (1950). She began appearing sporadically in television roles in 1956 and was seen in film and on TV for the rest of her life. A website devoted to her is found here. This was her only appearance on the Hitchcock show.

Giving a strong performance as Eddie is James Congdon (1929- ), who began appearing on TV in 1949 and on film in 1951. His career on screen lasted until 1986 but does not contain a large number of  credits. He also appeared on Broadway from 1956 to 1984 and was in the original cast of The Miracle Worker in 1959. This was his only role on the Hitchcock TV show.

The role of Sergeant Kirby is played by Frank Albertson (1909-1964), a veteran character actor who appeared on film from 1923 and on TV from 1950. He was in four episodes of the Hitchcock show and also appeared on Thriller. He had a small role in Hitchcock's Psycho (1960).

Eddie, out of uniform on his day off
Finally, Jerry the doorman is played by Arthur Marshall, who had a handful of roles on TV and film from 1951 to 1964 and who was not seen otherwise on the Hitchcock TV show.

The assignment to direct Bette Davis in "Out There--Darkness" was given to Paul Henreid (1908-1982), the actor-turned-director who had co-starred with Davis in Now, Voyager (1942). He directed 29 episodes of the Hitchcock series including "The Kind Waitress," which had a teleplay by William O'Farrell.

Making his only appearance on the list of crew members in all of the ten years of the Hitchcock TV show was director of photography Ernest Haller (1896-1970), who was Bette Davis's favorite cameraman. He went to Hollywood in 1914 and became a cinematographer in 1920, later winning an Academy Award for his work on Gone With the Wind (1939). He did some TV work from 1957 to 1966, including a 1957 episode of Suspicion that starred Bette Davis, and his final credit was for the second pilot of Star Trek, "Where No Man Has Gone Before."

Read the GenreSnaps take on this episode here. The TV show may be viewed online for free here or the DVD is available here.


The FictionMags Index,

Galactic Central,

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
O'Farrell, William. “Over There--Darkness.” Best of the Best Detective Stories, Ed. David Cooke. NY: Dutton, 1960. pp. 250-266.
“Out There--Darkness.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 4, episode 16, CBS, 25 Jan. 1959.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

In two weeks: Our series on Bernard C. Schoenfeld wraps up with a discussion of "Hitch-Hike," along with an episode guide to Schoenfeld's work for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and a summation of his contributions to the show.

Special note: A podcast called "Presenting Alfred Hitchcock Presents" has begun appearing. One episode per month is examined in detail, and five episodes have appeared thus far. Here is a link to the podcast's website. I recommend giving this series a listen!


john kenrick said...

Good job, Jack. I have no problem with what you wrote, and I found the episode less than engaging; as it's plot driven it plays rather slowly, with little room for character development.

Bette Davis was not sympathetic as the rich old woman; or at least I didn't think so. There was almost no big city hustle or bustle in this compact entry apparently filmed on a tight budget.

Or maybe most of the money allotted to it went to Miss Davis. Its intriguing premise didn't seem well thought out, and my sense is that time has not been kind to it, either, as it feels of another time; and indeed it is. The very mid-20th century ambiance and attitude make it feel almost like a period piece.

Women of the sort Miss Davis played have nearly vanished from the urban landscape, which is more dense now, with less sense of community even in affluent neighborhoods; and less familiarity between strangers who just happen to pass one another daily on the street, take the same train now and again, maybe even exchange newspapers once in a while.

John said...

An aside question regarding the AHP series. I'm trying to track down an episode of a TV show around the time of AHP. The plot centered around a troubled boy who acted pretty maliciously and seemed to be a little unstable. In one scene, he cut through the screen of (I think) his Grandparent's house to unlatch the door with his pocket knife. I know that's not much to go on, but this seems to be the place that scrutinizes episodes of this show. Any ideas?

Jack Seabrook said...

John Kenrick-I guess I like the episode more than you do, though that ending bugs me. I'm often disappointed when the TV show removes the subtlety of the story on which it's based. I've always considered this episode special because of the participation of Bette Davis. Thanks for reading, as always, and Merry Christmas!

John-That story is not ringing a bell with me. Maybe another reader recalls it?

john kenrick said...

Bette Davis did make her one Hitchcock episode classy just by being in it...and I wish a Merry Christmas back at ya', Jack!

The other John (no last name) referenced what I remember as an hour long Hitchcock episode, and I may as well respond to him now while I'm here...

john kenrick said...

John (no last name guy): I remember an Alfred Hitchcock hour long episode, To Catch A Butterfly (I think I got that right) that aired in early 1963. It played almost like a horror entry, as occasionally episodes in the longer show did. I can't recall all the details but he was a sick puppy, and that his father apparently abused him terribly when he was younger was offered as the reason. The actor who played him, Mickey Sholdar, was excellent, and he later turned up as a regular on The Farmer's Daughter TV series a little later on. Ed Asner played his nasty, two-faced father on the Hitchcock show.

John said...

John Kennrick -- You're right! Found the episode on Daily Motion. Incidentally, it was a window screen that he sliced up, not a door screen. Thanks for taking the time in solving this decades-long mystery! John @ Monster Magazine World

john kenrick said...

My pleasure, the "other" John. That was a good, psychologically unsettling episode. The actor who played the kid solid it. That he was the most disturbing character in the story made it all the more frightening given that he was a child, as in yikes!

It was particularly unnerving when I first watched it, as I was of a similar age as that boy; and while my father could be a nasty piece of work I fortunately didn't develop that kind of pathology.

There were a fair number of "kid shocker" type stories, on television and the movies in the wake of the 1956 film The Bad Seed. There was one I saw recently on the Hitch half-hour, The Young One, with a "diabolical" Carol Lynley.

John Sede said...

I view Bette Davis' Miss Fox more sympathetically than most other viewers' comments here and elsewhere. She's a lonely woman worrying about her age, and ditsy enough to talk to her perfectly-named poodle Vanessa like it was her sister. Conversely, many seem to view the character of Eddie the doorman as the one we should root for, but why? Nothing Miss Fox did was so horrible as to justify his murder of her, not even remotely.

It is true that her false identification of him as the thief put him behind bars for a year, but it's not like she was trying to railroad him (her perception was likely prejudiced by his refusal to go along with her advances toward him, but she talks herself into making him the suspect). After all, she is so desperate to get her ring back that she lets him know that he (or whomever the thief is) could get an $500--along with keeping the other $1500 stolen--just for returning the ring.

And yes, she refused to loan him money and his girlfriend ends up dying, but there was no indication that the refusal was malicious (self-centered, perhaps, but that doesn't necessarily equal malicious, a trait that isn't exhibited), and neither did she have a moral obligation to loan him money. It's not like he couldn't have gone to other people--his family and friends, his girlfriend's family and friends--to secure the money. Miss Fox comes off as uncharitable, but she didn't kill Eddie's girlfriend, whatever he thought. This strikes me as a plot weakness, because the conclusion is meant to makes us sympathize with him and feel that Miss Fox got just retribution from him, a karmic payback. That doesn't resonate with me.

Clearly, a year in jail has hardened Eddie, pushed him to the brink of borderline psychotic (and maybe over the brink), and he ends up the real villain in this, despite all attempts to put the focus on Miss Fox. Her greatest "crime" in the episode, aside from her narcissism, is getting to friendly with a deranged man.

This was a very enjoyable performance from Miss Bette Davis. She was very believable even in this minor part--yet another example of her plus plus acting talent.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, John! There were definitely moral shadings in both characters. No one can condone murder, but she certainly didn't do him any favors.