Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Hitchcock Project-Arthur A. Ross Part Three: Anyone for Murder? [9.20]

by Jack Seabrook

Psychology professor James Parkerson wants to test out a theory: would husbands and wives be more likely to resort to murder if they could delegate the act to someone else? He places an ad in the Herald Journal suggesting the "ultimate solution" to the "problem" of being "hopelessly tied to your marriage partner," and when he visits the newspaper offices the next day to collect the responses, he is met by Sergeant Larson of the bunco squad. Parkerson explains himself to the satisfaction of the policeman and promises to disclose the names of the people who responded to the ad once he has determined how serious they are.

At home, his own marriage seems to need some attention, but the professor's head is in the clouds and he tells his wife Doris that he is too busy with his research to take her on vacation. He does begin to suspect that she might have penned one of the responses to his ad, but he dismisses the thought and tries to keep an appointment at a bar with one of the people who replied. The letter-writer does not show up but instead tracks down Parkerson the next day; the man turns out to be a killer for hire who offers to pay the professor for leads garnered by his ad.

"Anyone for Murder?"
was first published here
The professor's suspicions that his wife may want to murder him grow incrementally as he makes small observations regarding her behavior, including the presence at his home of his neighbor, Professor Conner. Eventually, Parkerson dons a fake beard and sunglasses to keep an appointment with another person who responded to his ad, worried that the writer might be his own wife. He is relieved that the respondent is another woman entirely. He walks home and arrives to see Doris pull up in her car with Conner. After seeing them embrace and remain in the car longer than they should, Parkerson heads for a phone booth to call the killer and ask what he'd charge to kill Doris ... and perhaps Conner ... or perhaps they should go into business together and the service would be free!

"Anyone for Murder?" by Jack Ritchie was first published in the January 1964 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and, when it was reprinted in the 1985 collection, Hitchcock in Prime Time, Francis Nevins wrote that it was "a gem of a tale, combining radical storytelling economy and bizarre humor." The title is a play on the question, "anyone for tennis?," which is "often used to typify a particular genre of drawing room comedy about the leisured upper class." The characters in Ritchie's story fit that description, since they treat the idea of murder as just one option among many for solving problems created by their own selfishness.

Arthur A. Ross adapted "Anyone for Murder?" for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and it was aired on CBS on Friday, March 13, 1964, starring Barry Nelson as Parkerson, Patricia Breslin as his wife Doris, Edward Andrews as Bingham, the killer for hire, and Dick (Richard) Dawson as Robert Johnson, Doris's lover. Though Ross's teleplay sticks fairly close to Ritchie's story at first, it soon veers off into new territory and succeeds in making the story more interesting and amusing.

Barry Nelson as James Parkerson
The show opens with a scene at home between James and Doris Parkerson. Unlike the short story, which begins with Parkerson placing the ad, in the show he has already placed it in secret and telephones the newspaper to ask why it did not run that morning. He is hiding the ad from his wife and only telephones when she is out of the room. He lies to Doris, saying that his leave was postponed; she is disappointed and has been getting ready for the trip--there is tension between them and the moment she leaves the room he is back on the phone. Even when Doris tells James that she loves him, he is distracted and treats her statement like an intellectual concept. In the first scene, he comes across as a distracted professor, his head in the clouds, even though he is married to a beautiful, down-to-earth woman.

Scene two finds Parkerson at the newspaper offices, where he explains his project to Connelley, the editor, and Lieutenant Barker of Homicide. It turns out that his ad ran once and he got twenty letters in reply; for the first time, he becomes passionate in his explanation of his thesis, suggesting by his behavior that his work means more to him than his marriage.

Parkerson then goes to the bar to meet one of the letter-writers. In a comic scene, he ties his shoelace over and over and eyes a couple sitting at a table, thinking that the man is the person he is supposed to meet. Unfortunately, the man follows the professor out to an alley and punches him for making eyes at his date!

Patricia Breslin as Doris Parkerson
The killer for hire, named Bingham in the TV show, approaches Parkerson in the alley and takes him for a ride in his car, though Parkerson rejects Bingham's offer to pay for client leads.

Meanwhile, we see that Doris is spending the day with her lover, Johnson, and she makes it clear that she neither loves him nor hates her husband. Doris approaches the love affair as a business transaction, giving it the same level of importance that her husband seems to give to their marriage. She keeps her real identity a secret from her lover, who is petulant about her lack of commitment. He even suggests murder but she rejects the idea; it seems that Johnson has seen Parkerson's ad in the newspaper!

Johnson and Parkerson then meet at the stock exchange and Johnson suggests hiring Parkerson to murder Doris's husband, completely unaware that he is speaking to the very man. Parkerson soon realizes that Johnson is his wife's lover and it dawns upon him that (referring to himself) "'he's a fool--a blind, self-centered, egocentric fool--a man so self-absorbed he doesn't even know what's going on.'" Parkerson agrees to identify Doris's spouse and kill him for $5000.

He then visits Bingham, eager to hire him to murder Johnson. The professor is highly emotional while the professional killer is calm, and the contrast between the two is striking. Bingham tells Parkerson to calm down and be sure what he wants before Bingham will agree to murder Johnson. The cool, aloof professor has become an emotional, jealous husband, suddenly loving his wife and wanting to protect their marriage now that he realizes she has a lover. Her cheating on him has had the unintended consequence of making him realize his love for her, and it was his own ad in the newspaper that led to the coincidental meeting with his wife's lover that opened Parkerson's eyes.

Edward Arnold as Bingham
The professor meets the lover again at the stock exchange. He first angers Johnson by telling the man that his lover has dominated him, but then Parkerson agrees to commit the murder for free and Johnson agrees to do as he is instructed. Parkerson returns to Bingham, calm this time. We expect him to order a hit on Johnson, but instead he instructs the assassin to "'kill my wife--before I do.'"

The show's final scene is complicated and funny. Bingham approaches Parkerson's house at night and knocks on the door. Doris answers and lets him in, but the conversation that ensues follows two different tracks. She thinks he is there to redecorate her husband's study, and her comments as she shows Bingham the room are instructive: "'He wanted a study, I wanted a family room. We have no family.'" The subtext is clear that Parkerson put his career ahead of his wife, who describes his soundproof study as "'barren, sterile, empty,'" all words that describe their marriage. Doris is both bitter and wistful, but Bingham tells her that her husband chose between his study and his wife.

The killer dons black gloves and moves to attack her, but she fights back, biting his hand and then swinging a hanging light fixture so that it hits him in the head and knocks him out of the room. She locks herself in, in effect using her husband's sanctuary to protect herself from his agent, and Bingham is unable to break down the door. Doris realizes that her husband hates her and has hired a man to kill her, and she offers to pay Bingham to go away.

Richard Dawson as Robert Johnson
The show has departed substantially from the short story by this point, and the depth of the examination of the Parkerson marriage is far beyond anything hinted at in Ritchie's work. With Doris locked in her husband's study and Bingham unable to enter, we suddenly see that there is a second entrance, located on the far side of the room. Through the second door comes Parkerson himself, who claims that he came home in order to stop the murder from taking place. Doris runs from the room and  a shot rings out, just missing her--Bingham is outside, trying to finish the job! James and Doris cower on the floor, working out their marital difficulties while avoiding the assassin.

Johnson appears, as if from nowhere, and struggles with Bingham, who has by this time come back into the house. Johnson knocks Bingham out cold and all is revealed to James, Doris, and her lover. It seems that Parkerson planned to have Bingham kill Doris and then frame Johnson for her murder, but he was unable to go through with it. Loyalties seem to shift quickly in this scene as Doris explains to Johnson that she loves her husband and that their affair was just "'adolescent fantasy.'" The show ends as she calls the police to report a murder, apparently planning to shoot Bingham, who is still out cold in the floor, and blame it on Johnson! Why Johnson would stand for this is unexplained, and the scene is more humorous than cogent, as Doris waves the gun around, explaining convoluted emotions and planning to kill a man in cold blood. The whole thing is nonsense, but it's very entertaining.

Richard X. Slattery as Lt. Barker
Arthur A. Ross succeeds in expanding Jack Ritchie's short story and making it a very funny examination of the relationship between an intellectual professor and his loving wife. Only when he learns that his wife has gone elsewhere seeking affection does the professor realize his love for her, and the business with his ad and his plan to test people's interest in spousal murder is turned into an opportunity to solve a marital problem in an inventive, if violent, way. The episode has a tone reminiscent of Hitchcock's film, The Trouble With Harry (1955), in that it treats murder nonchalantly and is laced heavily with tongue-in-cheek black humor.

Keeping all of the relationships and activity straight is director Leo Penn (1921-1998), who only directed this one episode of the Hitchcock TV show. Penn was a member of the Actors Studio who, after he was blacklisted, turned to directing. He appeared mainly on stage and TV from 1945 to 1963, then directed for TV and film from 1963 to 1995. He was also the father of actor Sean Penn.

Jack Ritchie (1922-1983), who wrote the short story on which the TV show was based, was born John Reitci and had over 500 short stories published between 1953 and 1983. Three of his stories were adapted for the Hitchcock show. He won an Edgar in 1982 and there is an extensive website dedicated to him here.

David Fresco as the waiter
Starring as Parkerson is Barry Nelson (1917-2007), a busy actor on the large and small screens from 1938 to 1990. He appeared on the Hitchcock show three times and was also seen on The Twilight Zone and in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980). As Parkerson, Nelson is very funny, thinking himself superior to others yet again and again finding himself a fool.

Patricia Breslin (1931-2011) shines as Doris, his wife. She acted mostly on TV from 1950 to 1969 and was seen in five episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "O Youth and Beauty!" She was a regular on a series called The People's Choice (1955-1958) and on Peyton Place (1964-1965); she also made appearances on The Twilight Zone and Thriller. She was in a handful of films, including Homicidal (1961) and I Saw What You Did (1965), and she left acting in 1969 and married Art Modell, owner of the Cleveland Browns football team. She spent the rest of her life engaged in philanthropy.

The wonderful character actor Edward Andrews is dryly funny as Bingham, the killer for hire. Andrews was a fixture on Broadway, film, and TV from the 1930s to the 1980s, appearing in countless TV shows, including The Twilight Zone and Thriller. This was his only part on the Hitchcock TV show, though.

Grant Lockwood as the man who punches Parkerson
Robert Johnson, Doris's lover, is played by Dick Dawson (1932-2002). Born Colin Lionel Emm in England, he was better known as Richard Dawson, and he was a regular on Hogan's Heroes (1965-1971). He was also a regular on Laugh-In (1970-1973), a panelist on the game show Match Game (1973-1978), and the host of the game show, Family Feud (1976-1985 and 1994-1995). One could say that his role in "Anyone for Murder?" was one in which he dealt with a family feud of another sort! Dawson's career on the large and small screens lasted from 1962 to 1995, but this was his only appearance on the Hitchcock TV show. He was also seen on The Outer Limits. At the time he was playing Doris's lover in "Anyone for Murder?," Dawson was, in real life, married to Diana Dors (1959-1966), who had her own memorable roles in two of the Hitchcock shows, including "Run for Doom."

In smaller roles:
  • Richard X. Slattery (1925-1997) as Lieutenant Barker; he was on screen from 1946 to 1990 and appeared once on The Odd Couple. This was his only role on the Hitchcock TV show.
  • David Fresco (1909-1997) as the waiter; he was on screen from 1946 to 1997 and may be seen in twelve episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "The Day of the Bullet."
  • Grant Lockwood (1932-1968) as the man who punches Parkerson in the alley; he was born Earl Grant Titsworth and he was also known as Grant Woods; he had a short TV and film career from 1961 to 1968 before dying in a motorcycle accident. He was not in any other episodes of the Hitchcock series but he was on Star Trek three times.
"Anyone for Murder?" is not yet available on DVD or online.

“Anyone for Murder?” The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, season 9, episode 20, CBS, 13 Mar. 1964.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
Ritchie, Jack. “Anyone for Murder?” Hitchcock in Prime Time, Avon, 1985, pp. 294–309.
Stephensen-Payne, Phil. Galactic Central,
The FictionMags Index,
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

In two weeks: Ten Minutes from Now, starring Donnelly Rhodes!


Grant said...

I guess the Lt. Barker character doesn't fit the pattern, but no one could play a comical tough guy character better than Richard X. Slattery (you can tell that just by looking at him). Coincidentally, I just saw him in an ODD COUPLE episode threatening both Oscar and Felix.

Jack Seabrook said...

"The Fight of the Felix"! I thought of that when I was watching the Hitchcock episode. The Odd Couple is one of my all-time favorite shows.