Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Hitchcock Project-Bernard C. Schoenfeld Part Eleven: Hitch Hike [5.21] and Wrapup

Journeys and generational conflicts have always been fertile subjects for stories, from Homer's Odyssey to the Biblical tale of David and Saul. In his last teleplay for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Bernard C. Schoenfeld used both themes to weave an entertaining half hour in "Hitch Hike," based on a short story by Ed Lacy called "Pick-Up," which had been published in the January 1959 issue of Mystery Digest.

Ed Lacy was a pseudonym of Leonard Zinberg (1911-1968), a writer born and raised in New York City who began publishing short stories in the 1930s. He was interested in left-wing causes, boxing, and race relations, and he wrote under his own name, the Lacy name, and the pseudonyms Steve April and Russell Turner. He began writing novels in earnest after serving in Italy in WWII and published the majority of his works as Ed Lacy, writing 28 novels and well over 100 short stories in all. Room to Swing (1957) won the Edgar Award for Best Novel in 1958 and was one of the earliest books to feature a black private detective.

"Pick-Up" is narrated by an unnamed man who, with another 100 miles to go on his drive to Detroit, picks up a young hitchhiker, who admits that he just spent 18 months in the state penitentiary for pick-pocketing. The driver, a salesman, worries about the young man but won't admit that he is frightened, and decides to take a longer route through small towns because he thinks it will be safer than taking the lonely thruway. After stopping for lunch at a diner, the car is pulled over for speeding. The narrator gets out to argue with the policeman and is joined by the young hitchhiker. Realizing he has been caught in a speed trap, the narrator is given a ticket and drives off. He complains to the young man and hands him the ticket, which the young man tears up. The hitchhiker shows the driver the policeman's ticket book and admits that he picked the cop's pocket. The young man says that he plans to go straight but decided to do the driver a favor and suggests that they burn the ticket book in an open field.

"Pick-Up" was first published here
"Pick-Up" is a very short story, only three and a half pages long, little more than a vignette with an unexpected ending. To turn this into a half-hour television show, Bernard C. Schoenfeld expanded the tale a great deal, adding a third passenger to the car and introducing new themes that make for a memorable show. The title was changed to "Hitch Hike" and the episode aired on CBS on Sunday, February 21, 1960, directed by Paul Henreid and starring John McIntire as Charles Underhill, the driver, Robert Morse as Len, the hitchhiker, and Suzanne Pleshette as Underhill's niece, Anne, the new passenger in the car.

The show begins with Underhill and Anne descending the steps outside Juvenile Hall; they get into his car and he drives off, breaking the uncomfortable silence between them by trying to engage her in conversation and providing background on the situation for the viewer. Anne was arrested for riding around town with a car thief and the judge let her off with a reprimand to protect the reputation of Underhill, a respected councilman from nearby Allendale, a town 50 miles from San Francisco. Despite having attended Deep Valley School, "the finest finishing school in the West," Anne fell prey to temptation and her uncle tells her that she can spend the next year working in his office as punishment.

The first scene of "Hitch Hike" establishes the story's location and introduces two of the three main characters. Charles Underhill represents the older generation; he is a middle-aged, successful businessman whose livelihood depends on maintaining the status quo. His niece, Anne, represents the younger generation, on the cusp of major changes about to erupt in the new decade and questioning the value of traditional gender roles. She has upset her uncle by turning her back on her training at finishing school and enjoying a ride with a young man on the wrong side of the law: Charles sees himself as her guide and protector and, although he is not her father, he takes it upon himself to try to ensure that she does not continue to stray from the safe path.

John McIntire as Charles Underhill
Charles parks the car and walks across the street to a tobacco shop to buy cigarettes, leaving Anne alone in the car and subject to new temptation, which comes along in the form of a handsome, young hitchhiker a short way up the block from where the car is parked. He and Anne exchange glances just before Uncle Charles returns to the car. Fate intervenes as another car backs into the front of Underhill's car, causing him to sound his horn, which gets stuck in the on position. Charles opens the hood to look for the source of the noise and suddenly the hitchhiker appears next to him and pulls a wire under the hood, silencing the horn and solving the problem. This small gesture foreshadows the story's conclusion, where the hitchhiker will once again come unexpectedly to Charles's aid.

The young man is headed to San Francisco and speaks in a beatnik lingo that marks him as belonging to a different generation than Underhill; he tells the older man, "Either you dig a motor--or you don't." He talks his way into a free ride as far as Allendale. Once they are on the road, with Charles driving, Anne in the passenger seat, and the young man occupying the back seat, Charles again tries to make conversation and asks the hitchhiker his name, eliciting the reply: "If it's names you want, make mine ... Len." It seems that the young man makes this name up on the spot and it is possible that Schoenfeld was giving a sly nod to Leonard "Len" Zinberg, the author of the short story upon which the teleplay is based. Len is reticent about providing personal details and suddenly Underhill has to stop because a truck is blocking the roadway. In the back of the truck are a group of young men who yell with delight when they see pretty Anne in the front seat of the car; she appears to enjoy the attention and, after the truck moves on and the car resumes its trip, Len explains that the men in the truck were convicts from a nearby youth correctional facility.

Robert Morse as Len
Charles questions the source of Len's knowledge and Len reveals that he had been a resident at the prison until that morning. Underhill immediately stops the car and orders Len out, but then changes his mind and decides to keep his word and give the young man a ride to Allendale. Len then lectures Anne about Insiders and Outsiders, putting himself in the second category and Charles in the first. Len begins to make Charles nervous when he discusses his friend who loves knives and knows how to fix cars; it is clear that Charles suspects that Len is talking about himself. They stop at Henry's Diner to eat and, inside the diner, Len continues to discuss his friend, remarking that: "He was a flipper, from way, way out." Len plays a song on the jukebox and dances with Anne, while Charles goes outside to a phone booth to call the police. Len suddenly appears next to him, interrupting Charles and hanging up the phone.

Back in the car, night has fallen and the conversation between the two young people turns to literature, as Len recommends Dostoevsky and alludes to Crime and Punishment, where a poor student murders an older businesswoman. In the first sign of growth and change among the characters, Anne has become emboldened by her time with Len and talks back to her uncle, telling him that she will return to school despite his threats to keep her from doing so. Len remarks that he would like to build a race car and suggests that if his friend were there he would cut Charles's throat. This is all too much for poor Underhill and, perhaps inspired by Len's mention of a race car, he begins to drive faster and faster, hitting 80 mph in a 45 mph zone and attracting the notice of a motorcycle cop, who follows him and pulls him over for speeding.

Suzanne Pleshette as Anne
Charles, relieved at no longer being trapped in the car with Len, tells the policeman that the hitchhiker threatened him. The cop pays little attention to Charles's story at first, putting the councilman in the unfamiliar position of being an Outsider to the policeman's Insider. However, Charles convinces the policeman to speak to Len and the cop searches the young man, finding only a pocket comb instead of the knife that Underhill feared.

After the cop leaves, Len pulls out the ticket book and admits for the first time that he spent three months in prison for "picking a guy's pocket when I was out of a job." In a clever turn of events, Len asks Charles if he wants to return the ticket book to the police station across the street and risk going to jail for speeding. Charles thinks for a moment and then the trio get back in the car. As they drive off, Len rips up the ticket and lets the pieces fly out the car window, where they scatter in the breeze.

A good story often shows how a character or characters change and grow in response to catalysts. In "Hitch Hike," each of the three main characters learns something from their time together and exhibits growth. Anne begins the show quiet and ashamed, afraid to respond to her uncle's criticisms of her choices and seemingly resigned to her fate. After spending time with Len, however, her confidence increases and she speaks up on her own behalf, telling Charles that she will return to finishing school despite his wishes to the contrary. Len's change is very subtle: he goes from being an Outsider to an Insider, as evidenced by his move from the back seat, where he sits during the first part of the show, to the front seat, where he occupies the place next to Anne in the show's latter scenes.

Paul E. Burns as the diner owner
The biggest change of all occurs in the show's protagonist, Charles Underhill. At the beginning, he is a proud member of the community, lecturing his niece and mentioning a safety award he has earned twice before. At the end, he is presented with a choice: either follow his own strict code of conduct and, by doing so, destroy his standing in the community, or bend the rules and become a willing participant in a crime, thus preserving his reputation at the cost of knowing that it is a facade. By choosing the second option, Charles admits that he is open to accepting the sort of behavior he had earlier criticized; he also opens his heart to his niece and to Len, allowing for the possibility that a bridge can be erected to allow for some level of understanding between the generations.

Schoenfeld's script for "Hitch Hike" is a marvel and it is a wonderful demonstration of his ability to take the bare bones of a short story and expand them into a tale that contains both entertainment and sly social commentary, without being overly preachy. Once again, Paul Henreid (1908-1992) uses the camera to tell the story effectively--the half hour speeds along like Underhill's car, the shots  perfectly chosen to provide the viewer with all the information he or she needs to keep up without being needlessly showy.

John McIntire (1907-1991) is superb as Charles Underhill, giving another in a career of great performances. He began as a busy actor on radio in the 1930s and his film career started in 1947. He first appeared on TV in 1956 and was a regular face on screen until 1989, two years before his death. He was in Winchester '73 (1950) with Jimmy Stewart and plays the sheriff in Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). On television, he starred in the first season of Naked City until he got tired of working in New York City and quit. He later starred in Wagon Train from 1961 to 1965 and in The Virginian from 1967 to 1970. He was married for over 50 years to Jeanette Nolan, a great actress who was on Alfred Hitchcock Presents several times and who was one of the unseen actresses giving voice to Mrs. Bates in Psycho.
Read Morgan as the motorcycle cop

Robert Morse (1931- ) gives a memorable performance as Len, not long before he made a big splash (and won a Tony) on Broadway in 1961 as the star of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Morse had been on Broadway since 1944 and had begun appearing on big and small screens in the mid-1950s; he was also in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "Touche." Morse later appeared on Night Gallery and was a regular on TV's Mad Men as Bert Cooper from 2007-2015. He is still working today at age 87.

Only 22 years old at the time "Hitch Hike" was filmed, Suzanne Pleshette is convincing as the attractive young woman, Anne. Her acting career had just started, with roles on Broadway and TV beginning in 1957 and her first film role in 1958; this was her only appearance on the Hitchcock show. She would go on to have an important part in Hitchcock's The Birds (1963), but her most famous role came as one of the stars of The Bob Newhart Show from 1972 to 1978. She continued working until 2004 and died in 2008.

In smaller roles:
  • Read Morgan (1931- ) as the motorcycle cop; he was seen often in small parts, mostly on TV, from 1949 to 1994 and appeared on the Hitchcock show three times. He also showed up on The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.
  • Paul E. Burns (1881-1967) as the owner of Henry's Diner; he made a career out of bit parts that were often uncredited and was on screen from 1930 to his death. He was seen on The Twilight Zone and in two other episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including a small part in "The Blessington Method" as the fisherman whom Dick York's character sends off the pier to his death.
"Pick-Up" has never been reprinted but is reproduced below. "Hitch Hike" is available on DVD here or may be viewed for free online here. Read the GenreSnaps take on this episode here. Thanks to Peter Enfantino for helping me search for the story that was the basis for this episode, and thanks to Jennifer Nyiri at Bowling Green State University for sending me a scan of the story!

Sources:
The FictionMags Index, www.philsp.com/homeville/FMI/0start.htm.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
“Hitch Hike.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 5, episode 21, CBS, 21 Feb. 1960.
IMDb, IMDb.com, www.imdb.com/.
Lacy, Ed. “Pick-Up.” Mystery Digest, Jan. 1959, pp. 17–22.
Lynskey, Ed. Ed Lacy: New York City Crime Author. www.mysteryfile.com/Lacy/Profile.html.

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, www.wikipedia.org/.


Bernard C. Schoenfeld on Alfred Hitchcock Presents: An Overview and Episode Guide

Bernard C. Schoenfeld wrote 14 teleplays from Alfred Hitchcock Presents on his own and is co-credited on two others; it is not known if he worked with the other writers on those two shows or if he (or they) rewrote each other's work. His first two teleplays, "Decoy" and "Alibi Me," were adapted from radio plays, while the rest were adapted from published short stories. Schoenfeld did not write any original teleplays and none of his scripts were adapted from his own stories.

His first show came at the tail end of the first season. He wrote five episodes in season two, three in season three, five in season four, and two in season five. One of his strengths was in story structure, as evidenced by the scripts for "The Better Bargain," "The Jokester," "And the Desert Shall Blossom," and "Hitch Hike." Like Robert C. Dennis, an even more prolific contributor of scripts during the series's early years, Schoenfeld seems to have been replaced by Henry Slesar, whose contributions during the latter years of the half-hour show were extensive.


EPISODE GUIDE-BERNARD C. SCHOENFELD ON ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS

Episode title-"Decoy" [1.37]
Broadcast date-10 June 1956
Teleplay by-Bernard C. Schoenfeld
Based on-"A Murder of Necessity" by Richard George Pedicini
First print appearance-none; aired 4 March 1952 on radio show Suspense
Notes
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

Episode title-"Alibi Me" [2.7]
Broadcast date-11 Nov. 1956
Teleplay by-Bernard C. Schoenfeld
Based on-"Alibi Me" by Therd Jefre
First print appearance-none; aired 4 January 1951 on radio show Suspense; radio play by Walter Newman
Notes
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

Episode title-"Jonathan" [2.10]
Broadcast date-2 December 1956
Teleplay by-Bernard C. Schoenfeld and Stirling Silliphant
Based on-"Turmoil" by Fred Levon
First print appearance-Maclean's, October 15, 1948
Notes
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

"Alibi Me"

Episode title-"The Better Bargain" [2.11]
Broadcast date-9 December 1956
Teleplay by-Bernard C. Schoenfeld
Based on-"The Better Bargain" by Richard Deming
First print appearance-Manhunt, April 1956
Notes
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

Episode title-"Vicious Circle" [2.29]
Broadcast date-14 April 1957
Teleplay by-Bernard C. Schoenfeld
Based on-"Murder Comes Easy" by Evan Hunter
First print appearance-Real, March 1953
Notes
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

Episode title-"The Night the World Ended" [2.31]
Broadcast date-28 April 1957
Teleplay by-Bernard C. Schoenfeld
Based on-"The Night the World Ended" by Fredric Brown
First print appearance-Dime Mystery, January 1945
Notes
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

"Vicious Circle"

Episode title-"Night of the Execution" [3.13]
Broadcast date-29 December 1957
Teleplay by-Bernard C. Schoenfeld
Based on-"The Day of the Execution" by Henry Slesar
First print appearance-Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, June 1957
Notes
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

Episode title-"The Percentage" [3.14]
Broadcast date-5 January 1958
Teleplay by-Bernard C. Schoenfeld
Based on-"The Percentage" by David Alexander
First print appearance-Manhunt, April 1957
Notes
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

Episode title-"Listen, Listen .....!" [3.32]
Broadcast date-11 May 1958
Teleplay by-Bernard C. Schoenfeld
Based on-"Listen, Listen!" by R.E. Kendall
First print appearance-Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, June 1947
Notes
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

"Listen, Listen .....!"

Episode title-"The Jokester" [4.3]
Broadcast date-19 October 1958
Teleplay by-Bernard C. Schoenfeld
Based on-"The Jokester" by Robert Arthur
First print appearance-The Mysterious Traveler, March 1952
Notes
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

Episode title-"And the Desert Shall Blossom" [4.11]
Broadcast date-21 December 1958
Teleplay by-Bernard C. Schoenfeld
Based on-"And the Desert Shall Blossom" by Loren D. Good
First print appearance-Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March 1958
Notes
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

Episode title-"Out There--Darkness" [4.16]
Broadcast date-25 January 1959
Teleplay by-Bernard C. Schoenfeld
Based on-"Over There--Darkness" by William O'Farrell
First print appearance-Sleuth Mystery Magazine, October 1958
Notes
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

"And the Desert Shall Blossom"

Episode title-"The Right Price" [4.22]
Broadcast date-8 March 1959
Teleplay by-Bernard C. Schoenfeld
Based on-"Make Me an Offer" by Henry Slesar
First print appearance-Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, December 1958
Notes
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

Episode title-"A Night With The Boys" [4.30]
Broadcast date-10 May 1959
Teleplay by-Bernard C. Schoenfeld
Based on-"A Fist Full of Money" by Henry Slesar
First print appearance-Playboy, February 1959
Notes
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

"Specialty of the House"

Episode title-"Specialty of the House" [5.12]
Broadcast date-13 December 1959
Teleplay by-Victor Wolfson and Bernard C. Schoenfeld
Based on-"The Specialty of the House" by Stanley Ellin
First print appearance-Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May 1948
Notes
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

Episode title-"Hitch Hike" [5.21]
Broadcast date-21 February 1960
Teleplay by-Bernard C. Schoenfeld
Based on-"Pick-Up" by Ed Lacy
First print appearance-Mystery Digest, January 1959
Notes
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

In two weeks: Our series on James P. Cavanagh begins with "The Hidden Thing," starring Biff McGuire and Robert H. Harris!

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!








2 comments:

Will Rigby said...

You know Roald Dahl wrote a similar story to this called The Hitch-Hiker. The story was later adapted for Tales of The Unknown.

Just an interesting coincidence,I guess.

Jack Seabrook said...

I did see that when I was doing the research. Thanks for your comment!