Thursday, August 1, 2019

The Hitchcock Project-Arthur A. Ross Part Four: Ten Minutes from Now [9.26]

by Jack Seabrook

Jack Ritchie's short story, "Ten Minutes from Now," is an exciting tale of a series of bomb threats with an ending that is wholly unexpected. First published in the October 1963 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, it was quickly purchased for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and adapted by Arthur A. Ross into a show that was broadcast on CBS on Friday, May 1, 1964. Unfortunately, in expanding  the story for television, Ross's script lost much of what makes the story entertaining.

Told in first-person narration by a man named James Bellington, the short story begins with the narrator entering City Hall, carrying a 9" x 9" x 9" package wrapped in brown paper and demanding to see Mayor Pettibone. Police Lieutenant Wymar confronts Bellington and grabs the package, immersing it in a sink filled with water and summoning the bomb squad. Wymar shows Bellington a threatening note that had been sent to the mayor by someone who signed his name as the Avenger; in the note, the writer vows to blow Mayor Pettibone to kingdom come due to his actions regarding the Veterans Memorial development.

"Ten Minutes from Now"
was first published here
The box that Bellington held is revealed to contain nothing but a ticking alarm clock and Bellington leaves, vowing to return. He visits a newsstand and complains about the adult magazines on sale there, commenting that a well-placed bomb could blow the stand sky-high. Bellington observes that he is being followed and purchases another alarm clock, along with batteries and wire; he then walks to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he enters and proceeds to a gallery of modern art, where he complains about the paintings and says they should be blown to bits. He takes steps to lose a man who is following him and buys milk, bread, cold cuts, and sugar before returning to his hotel room, where he eats a sandwich for lunch and reads an article about the Veterans Memorial Center: it seems that Mayor Pettibone changed the proposed building site and speculators lost their shirts. A man named Geoffrey Mipple telephones Bellington to ask about his visit to the mayor's office.

Taking a taxi back to City Hall, Bellington visits the mayor's office, again carrying a box. Lt. Wymar intercepts him and the box is x-rayed and thought to be a bomb; Bellington spends four hours in jail before Wymar returns to admit that what was thought to be a powder charge was just the bag of sugar that Bellington had purchased earlier that day.

Donnelly Rhodes as James Bellington
Psychiatrist Dr. Sam Burton interviews Bellington and suggests that he must be working his way up to a real bomb that will be detonated by a push button. That evening, Bellington buys a push button, visits his friend Geoffrey, and spends the night in uneasy dreams. The next morning, he and Geoffrey prepare the third and final package and Bellington calls Dr. Burton to say that he has bought a push button and may never see the doctor again.

Bellington takes a cab to City Hall, where he finds the street roped off and cleared of people. He begins to walk toward the building but changes direction and is chased by Lt. Wymar, Dr. Burton, and other police until he runs into the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Racing to the gallery of modern art, he announces that in ten minutes he will release the push button on the box he carries, blowing up the entire building. The minutes tick by and Bellington advances toward the others, driving them out of the building. After a few minutes, he emerges from the front door and removes his finger from the button, to no effect. He displays the alarm clock and wire that were the only contents of the box and discards it all before telling Lt. Wymar that he plans to sue the city. Bellington finally meets the mayor face to face and complains about noise outside his hotel room window.

Lonny Chapman as Lt. Wymar
Bellington then takes a taxi to the West Side, where he discards his false beard, walking stick, and hat, and turns his coat inside out. He takes a taxi to the airport and meets Geoffrey in St. Louis the next day. Geoffrey displays seven modern art paintings that he stole from the museum while the building was empty and, finally, Bellington's goal becomes clear.

"Ten Minutes from Now" is a clever tale of misdirection, with plenty of humor and excitement. It seems tailor-made for filming, and the light, comic tone appears perfect for Arthur A. Ross, whose prior teleplay for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour had been a successful adaptation of Ritchie's "Anyone for Murder?" Ross takes a different approach this time, one that removes almost all of the humor from the story and adds an element of protest that was timely in 1964 but which has dated badly today.

Lou Jacobi as Dr. Glover
The show begins with Bellington watching a TV news report about letters threatening the life of Thomas Grindley, the Commissioner of Recreation and Parks, who has replaced the mayor of Ritchie's short story. There are paint supplies on a table next to the TV and, as the camera pans around the room to land on Bellington's face, we see that he is in an art studio. He then visits City Hall, much as he does in the story and, after Lt. Wymar has submerged the box in the sink and the man from the bomb squad has concluded that it was not a bomb, we learn that Bellington is a disgruntled painter whose artwork was passed over by Grindley for inclusion in a public exhibition. This takes the place of the financial loss that is ostensibly the driving force behind the bomb threats in the short story, and Ross continues throughout the episode to portray Bellington as an angry, unsuccessful artist.

In the story, Bellington is made to seem like a crank when he complains about the adult magazines at the newsstand and the modern art paintings in the museum. In the TV show, he speaks in an affected, educated manner that makes him seem pompous and arrogant; his dialogue is almost a parody of the sort of dialogue Rod Serling would often write to much better effect. Ross rearranges some of the events of the story: Bellington is sent to see Dr. Glover, the psychiatrist, after the first bomb threat, and the two engage in verbal fencing that serves as exposition.

Neile Adams as Sgt. Marklen
A scene is added where Lt. Wymar and his men search Bellington's hotel room and Dr. Glover joins them, commenting favorably on Bellington's technique as a painter and warning Wymar that the painter will know that his room has been searched and be more likely to carry out an attack as a result. Instead of being set in New York City (though the city is never named in the story, some of the action takes place in the Metropolitan Museum of Art), the TV version of "Ten Minutes from Now" takes place in an unnamed town that happens to be home to the Memorial Museum, a building that houses more great paintings than one would expect outside a metropolitan area.

On his first visit to the museum, Bellington strikes up a conversation with a shy, mousy woman and explains to her that the box he carries contains paint supplies, items that he would like to use to paint copies of the masterworks displayed on the walls if only the authorities would let him. The scene, like the search of his hotel room, feels like padding but does foreshadow the show's surprise ending by introducing the idea of Bellington painting copies of what his confederates will later steal.

Ed Peck
The longest added scene is the most unexpected. After Dr. Glover and Lt. Wymar discuss the likelihood that Bellington has resolved to carry out his final attack, they bring in Sergeant Louise Marklen, a pretty, young policewoman, who is sent undercover to try to get clues to where and when Bellington's real attack will occur. The next scene is rather long and takes place in a bar, as Louise strikes up a conversation with Bellington. It is very much of its time: Bellington is the angry young man, protesting authority, and the two trade words and phrases associated with the protest movement. Louise remarks that "'I admire anybody who can make the fat cats jump and run,'" a comment that typifies the dialogue in this scene. Yet the scene is the most interesting in the episode, mainly due to the performance of Neile Adams as Sgt. Marklen; even though she is playing a part, her character seems more genuine and natural than anyone else in the show, certainly more so than Bellington.

Sandra Gould
The scene ends when Bellington runs his hands over her shoulders and down her arms, causing her to drop her purse. He picks it up and discovers a reel-to-reel tape recorder hidden inside, and he knows that he has been tricked. The final scene plays out much as it does in the short story, but with an important change: after the museum is cleared and Bellington is seemingly left alone, he walks to an art gallery and finds his two confederates removing paintings from their frames and replacing them with copies he has painted. The scene is played so matter of factly that it loses any element of surprise, and the show ends with Bellington going outside and revealing that his push-button bomb was another fake.

David Carradine
"Ten Minutes from Now" could have been a comedy, had Ross's teleplay stuck closer to the tone of Ritchie's story, or it could have been fifty minutes of suspense, portraying a mad bomber coming closer and closer to destruction. Instead, it is dull and padded, with a particularly wooden performance by Lonny Chapman as Lt. Wymar and an odd, almost comic performance by Lou Jacobi as Dr. Glover, who seems at times to be casting a skeptical eye on the proceedings. Donnelly Rhodes, as Bellington, is never anything but pompous, and his flowery dialogue does not help.

Donnelly Rhodes (1937-2018) was born in Canada as Donnelly Rhodes Henry and had a long career onscreen from 1956 to 2016, appearing more often on TV than in film. This was one of his two appearances on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

Tommy Kirk
Lou Jacobi (1913-2009) was also born in Canada, as Louis Jacobovitch, and was on the stage starting in 1924. His film and TV career lasted from 1953 to 1994 and he was also in "Dear Uncle George" on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

Lonny Chapman (1920-2007) played numerous roles on TV from 1951 to 2000 and also appeared in many films, including Hitchcock's The Birds (1963). This was his only role on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

Going undercover as Sgt. Marklen came naturally for Neile Adams (1932- ), who was born Ruby Neilam Salvador Adams in the Philippines and who served as a young spy for the resistance during World War Two. She was on screen from 1952 to 1991 and appeared in three episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "Man from the South" with her husband, Steve McQueen.

In smaller roles:
  • Ed Peck (1917-1992) as (of course) a policeman; he played many such roles in a screen career from 1950 to 1983, including a recurring role as a policeman on Happy Days and three memorable appearances on The Odd Couple.
  • Sandra Gould (1916-1999) as the secretary to the Commissioner of Recreation and Parks; she was on screen from 1942 to 1999 and is best remembered as Gladys Kravitz on Bewitched from 1966 to 1971.
  • David Carradine (1936-2009) as Bellington's partner in crime who is removing paintings from their frames; this uncredited role was one of his earliest and he went on to a long and successful career in such TV shows as Kung Fu (1972-1975) and such films as Death Race 2000 (1975) and Kill Bill (2003-04).
  • Tommy Kirk (1941- ) as the other art thief with David Carradine; also uncredited here, he was a child star for Disney who had major roles in films like Old Yeller (1957) and The Shaggy Dog (1959) but few roles after the end of the 1960s.
Jack Ritchie (1922-1983) was profiled in the last post, "Anyone for Murder?" Born John George Reitci, he wrote over 500 published short stories and three of them were adapted for the Hitchcock TV show.

Director Alf Kjellin (1920-1988) was born in Sweden and worked mainly as a TV director and actor. He appeared in one episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and directed one Hitchcock half-hour and eleven hours, including "Where the Woodbine Twineth."

Like most episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, "Ten Minutes from Now" is not currently available on DVD in the U.S. or online.

Sources:
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
IMDb, IMDb.com, www.imdb.com/.
Ritchie, Jack. “Ten Minutes from Now.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories to Stay Awake By. Random House, 1971, pp. 355–371.
Stephensen-Payne, Phil. Galactic Central, philsp.com/.
“Ten Minutes from Now” The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, season 9, episode 26, CBS, 1 May 1964.
The FictionMags Index, www.philsp.com/homeville/FMI/0start.htm.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, www.wikipedia.org/.

In two weeks:

Triumph, starring Ed Begley and Jeanette Nolan!

4 comments:

Grant said...

I can't really disagree with a lot of this review, but I also can't help liking this episode better than you do (though it's a little hard to pinpoint the reasons).
One thing that would have "dated" the scene with the policewoman even more (though I wouldn't mind) would be if she'd used a lot of all-out beatnik language to go with her anti-authority talk, since I guess it's an early enough TV show to still use it. Again, I'm just a little sorry it DIDN'T have her do that.
Obviously seeing David Carradine in the final scene really surprised me. Even though a lot of people (including me) aren't all that fond of the whole episode, do you plan to review "Thou Still Unravished Bride" with him and Sally Kellerman?

Jack Seabrook said...

I will get to that one eventually! I recently passed my 200th episode, so I'm on the downhill side of 365 (or however many there are). I'm glad you like this episode. I watched it a few times and it did not get better. Sometimes they improve on repeat watchings.

Grant said...

I'm glad you've reached 200.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks! It's a lot of fun to research these old shows.