Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Hitchcock Project-James P. Cavanagh Part Five: One More Mile to Go [2.28]

by Jack Seabrook

F. J. Smith's short story, "One More Mile to Go," begins as an "elderly, small-town storekeeper" named Jacoby strangles his nagging wife, Edna, as she sleeps. Having planned the murder in advance, he loads his wife's body in the trunk with "a box of iron weights" and drives from his home in Edgetown toward New Orleans. He plans to sink the weighted corpse in a "deep bayou" off a "seldom used dirt road."

As he gets close to the place where he plans to turn off the highway, his reverie about having committed the perfect crime is shattered by the siren of a police car behind him. The policeman tells Jacoby that his car's taillight is out. Nervously, Jacoby chats with the highway patrolman, who suggests that he stop at Fischer's Service Station, "up the road," to have the taillight replaced. Jacoby does as instructed, giving the gas station attendant a five-dollar bill and asking him to install a new bulb. The bulb fails to work, however, and the trooper pulls into the station to buy a Coke. The policeman deduces that Jacoby's car has a "bad connection" and notices that its trunk looks "pretty loaded down." Jacoby, who owns a feed store, explains that heavy bags of fertilizer are in the trunk. The trooper suggests opening the trunk to fix the loose wire, but Jacoby, feeling "as though he were about to fall or faint," claims that he left the key to the trunk at home. The policeman tries to yank the trunk lid open but the lock holds; finally, the trooper bangs on the fender and the light goes on.

David Wayne as Jacoby
Jacoby drives off, relieved at his "remarkable deliverance from near calamity" and convinced that it was "the result of his own ingenuity." As he approaches the turnoff to the dirt road that leads to the bayou, the trooper's car approaches from behind and Jacoby again has to pull over. This time, the policeman gives him the change he neglected to take from the five-dollar bill he gave the gas station attendant. Unfortunately, the trooper notices that Jacoby's taillight is out again and suggests that Jacoby follow him "a half mile up the road" to police headquarters, where the mechanic can fix the light at no charge. Jacoby has no choice but to follow the policeman to certain discovery of his own crime.

Smith's suspenseful story is built around a situation with which any reader can identify: the feeling of fear and powerlessness that overcomes a driver when he or she is pulled over by a policeman. Usually, the infraction is minor, but here, where the driver in question harbors a terrible secret, the stakes are immeasurably higher. The reader is forced to identify with the driver, a cold-blooded murderer, and the transference of guilt is complete as the reader cannot help but root for the killer and hope he makes his escape. Ironically, despite all of Jacoby's planning, his scheme is unraveled by something as simple as a malfunctioning taillight. It is as if the universe will not allow him to succeed in committing the perfect crime.

Steve Brodie as the cop
Smith's story was published in the June 1956 issue of Manhunt and it was collected by David C. Cooke in the 12th Annual Collection of the Best Detective Stories of the Year, published in 1957. The tale was purchased for adaptation on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Alfred Hitchcock chose it as one of the three episodes he would direct for the second season of the series. He was in between finishing The Wrong Man and starting Vertigo when "One More Mile to Go" was rehearsed and filmed in three days, from January 9, 1957, to January 11, 1957; the show aired on CBS on Sunday, April 7, 1957. The telefilm is a brilliant piece of work that shows the master enjoying a technical challenge and exploring themes that he would return to in Psycho.

James P. Cavanagh's script features minimal dialogue for long stretches and one wonders how many of the wordless sequences were invented by the director. The show opens with a fade-in on a view of a house in the distance, with bare trees in the foreground suggesting a winter scene that will soon be reflected in the cold relationship between the main character and his wife. A picture window on the house is the only source of light, and its placement at the center of the shot makes it resemble a movie screen at a drive-in movie. There is a dissolve and we get a closer look as the screen is filled by the multi-paned window, whose central pane is cracked--again, this suggests a fracture in the relationship behind the glass. The camera moves forward a bit but cannot penetrate the window glass, so it remains outside as the scene plays out in a room beyond the window and inside the house.

Louise Larabee as Jacoby's wife
We hear muffled voices but cannot make out words clearly, and ominous music playing on the soundtrack foreshadows dark deeds to come. A man (Jacoby) sits, reading the paper by the fireplace (the cold temperature outside hardly matches the chilly marriage portrayed inside), while a woman, presumably his wife, stands before him, berating him. She snatches the newspaper from his hands and throws it in the fire (I think I could make out her yelling, "Now you're listening!") and he stands and uses the fireplace poker to push the burning newspaper further into the hearth. The argument intensifies and the woman slaps her husband; he begins to threaten her with the poker, she steps out of the view of the camera, and he violently hits her over the head with the poker.

For the first time, the camera enters the house, as there is a cut to a close-up of Jacoby's face. What was the argument about? It does not matter--a typical battle between husband and wife has ended in sudden, angry murder. Contrast this to the short story, where Jacoby planned out the murder and strangled his wife while she slept. In Cavanagh's teleplay, Jacoby's actions seem to constitute a crime of passion, and this makes his subsequent behavior easier to identify with. The initial scene that portrays the events leading up to the murder is added to the story to establish motivation.

Norman Leavitt as Red
Jacoby confirms that his wife is dead and looks around the empty house to see if anyone witnessed his act. Seeing no one, he picks up the telephone but sees blood on his sleeve and puts the phone down. The sight of the blood on his clothing tells him that he cannot hide his own guilt and makes him change his plan. But what was his plan? Who was he going to call--the police? Did he think he could get away with murder and then change his mind when he saw the blood? We have no idea and we must try to read the thoughts and emotions on Jacoby's face because, to this point, there has been no dialogue other than what was muffled behind the window when we could not hear clearly.

Deciding to cover up his act, Jacoby uses a handkerchief to clean the blood off the poker. He also wipes off his own fingerprints, putting the poker back in its stand and throwing the handkerchief in the fire. He enters the garage (we see that his car has California license plates, so the location of the story has been moved from Louisiana), picks up a shovel, and puts it down--perhaps he thought about burying the body and then changed his mind. Unlike the Jacoby in the story, this Jacoby planned nothing in advance and is making it up as he goes along. It is a credit to Hitchcock's direction and the acting of David Wayne (as Jacoby) that we are able to understand his thoughts as he processes his options without a word of speech or even voiceover narration. There is a quick shot of his wife's dead body on the floor, and then we see Jacoby take a large sack from the garage and put her body into it. We see him pulling the sack slowly over her clothes and, with the closing of the bag, she ceases to be a person and becomes a thing to be disposed of.

The opening shot resembles a drive-in movie
Jacoby struggles to put the heavy burden in the car's trunk and throws in some heavy, metal objects to weigh it down, along with a rope and a chain. He opens the garage, gets into his car, and drives off into the night. There is a dissolve to the car driving on a lonely road (a highway sign identifies it as Route 99, a north-south highway later replaced by an interstate) and many critics have commented that the shots of Jacoby driving are similar to those of Janet Leigh driving to the Bates Motel in Psycho; both characters fear discovery of their crimes and have something with them in the car that they must keep hidden. Jacoby is pulled over by a motorcycle cop and finally the first words are spoken, approximately ten minutes into the episode. There is a nice shot where the cop examines Jacoby's license and Jacoby notices the blood on the cuff of his sleeve and rolls it up to conceal it. He is from Edgetown, though there is no such place in California and this is surely carried over from the short story.

At the gas station, Jacoby once again does something while no one else is looking, this time surreptitiously checking that the trunk is still securely locked. Rather than drinking a Coke, the cop drinks from a water fountain, perhaps because Coca-Cola was not one of the show's sponsors. There are several tight close ups of the characters' faces that allow us to get a good look at their emotions, and a look of terror comes over Jacoby's face when the cop asks the gas station attendant for a crowbar to pry open the car's trunk. As so often happens in Hitchcock's films, the viewer is fully engaged with the killer and is afraid he will be caught; the transference of guilt is strong in this scene, as we quietly pray that the cop will not find the body in the trunk. Fortunately for Jacoby, the act of trying to pry open the trunk causes the taillight to go back on, and Jacoby's face shows delight in his deliverance.

Cracked glass as metaphor for broken marriage
There are more shots of Jacoby behind the wheel as he lights and smokes a cigarette; these shots alternate with point of view shots of the road and the lake as he approaches it with the intention of submerging his wife's corpse. The cop pulls him over, the taillight fails, and the show ends with Jacoby's car pulling out to follow the cop's motorcycle to his doom, but there is one final shot--that of the car's taillight flickering on and off, evidence of the cruel fate that the killer was unable to escape.

"One More Mile to Go" is  a triumph. In his seminal article on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Steve Mamber notes the "superbly executed opening scene" and comments on the show as a whole that the "incident is suspenseful because the audience knows the hero to be in even greater danger than the law officers themselves suspect." The fact that Mamber refers to Jacoby as a "hero," even inadvertently, demonstrates how successful Hitchcock is at making the viewer identify with the criminal. Patrick McGilligan calls this episode the "season highlight" and comments that it represents a "tour de force of macabre humor and suspense..."

The author of the short story, F.J. Smith, had one other story adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents ("Reward to Finder," broadcast later in 1957) and the FictionMags Index lists 15 short stories that he wrote, but I have not found any biographical details about the author. The fifteen stories appeared mostly in mystery magazines between 1956 to 1960, with two more in 1966 and 1967; "One More Mile to Go" is the earliest one listed. In Patrick McGilligan's Hitchcock bio, he lists Smith as "George F.J. Smith," and this is also reflected in The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion, but I have found no other source for this added first name--both the short story in Manhunt and the onscreen credit for the television adaptation simply list the author as "F.J. Smith."

David Wayne (1914-1995) was born Wayne James McMeekan and began acting on stage in the 1930s. He started appearing in films in 1940, with a bit part in Stranger on the Third Floor, then spent time fighting in WWII before joining the Actors Studio. He first appeared on TV in 1948 and his screen career lasted until 1987. He won two Tony Awards for his stage work and was seen on The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery. Wayne memorably played the Mad Hatter on the Batman TV series and co-starred with Jim Hutton as Inspector Queen on the Ellery Queen TV show that ran from 1975 to 1976. He also starred in an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, "The Thirty-First of February."

The motorcycle cop is played by Steve Brodie (1919-1992), who played the husband in Cavanagh's "The Creeper." Born John Stevenson, Brodie was on screens big and small from 1944 to 1988 and was seen in four episodes in all of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, as well as on Thriller and in such films as Out of the Past (1947) and Winchester '73 (1950).

Poor Louise Larabee (1916-2002) once again plays a nagging wife who is murdered by her husband; her other appearance on Alfred Hitchcock Presents is in a similar role as a wife who is murdered by her husband in "The Orderly World of Mr. Applebee." Born Alberta Louise Lowe, she worked briefly in film from 1935 to 1936, then pursued a stage career beginning in 1937, supplemented by roles on TV from 1951 to 1966.

Finally, Red, the gas station attendant, is played by Norman Leavitt (1913-2005), a busy character actor whose screen career stretched from 1946 to 1978 and included roles in seven episodes of the Hitchcock show, such as "John Brown's Body." He was also seen on The Twilight Zone and Thriller.

Watch "One More Mile to Go" for free online here or buy the DVD here. Read the GenreSnaps take on this episode here. Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the story!

The FictionMags Index,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
Mamber, Steve. The Television Films of Alfred Hitchcock.
McGilligan, Patrick. Alfred Hitchcock: a Life in Darkness and Light. Regan Books, 2003.
“One More Mile to Go.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 2, episode 28, CBS, 7 Apr. 1957.
Smith, F.J. “One More Mile to Go.” Manhunt, June 1956, pp. 19–26.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Nov. 2018,

In two weeks: Father and Son, starring Edmund Gwenn!

  • The podcast "Presenting Alfred Hitchcock Presents" continues on a monthly basis. Al Sjoerdsma from the Ann Arbor District Library dissects one episode per installment; the latest is "Breakdown." This podcast is extremely detailed and very well done.
  • Another podcast worth a listen is "Good Evening: An Alfred Hitchcock Podcast." Sisters Annie and Kathryn examine an episode every other week. This podcast is less serious and less detailed but the commentary is entertaining. The most recent episode discussed was "Murder Me Twice."


Grant said...

I'm not sure if I know this one at all, but to me "The Thirty-First of February" is a very good episode of the hour show. Without giving too much away (though I think you've reviewed it already), it shows what happens when a detective's little tricks are used on someone who MIGHT NOT be guilty, and David Wayne really makes you believe the character is coming apart because of the tricks.

Jack Seabrook said...

It is good, but the novel is even better!