Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Hitchcock Project-Bill S. Ballinger Part Two: Road Hog [5.11]

by Jack Seabrook

Four weeks after "Dry Run," Bill Ballinger's second teleplay for Alfred Hitchcock Presents was another memorable half hour: "Road Hog," which first aired on CBS on Sunday, December 6, 1959.

The episode is adapted from a story of the same title by Harold R. Daniels that was first published in the September 1959 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

The narrative begins as Ed Fratus, a fat and red-faced traveling salesman, arrives at Ben Tulip's bar (or "juke") to restock the supply of lottery tickets and novelties. Especially popular are key rings with racy pictures inside. Fratus spends two hours losing at poker and then leaves, heading off to Lost Creek along a rough, narrow road. Meanwhile, at a farm somewhere along the same road, Old Sam Pine's youngest son, Davey, is gored by a bull and Sam must rush him to the doctor in Lost Creek.

"Road Hog" was first
published here
Davey is bleeding badly in the pickup truck when they come up behind Fratus's panel truck, driving down the middle of the road to avoid the ditches along both sides. Angry about losing at poker, Fratus refuses to move over and let them by. Sam's middle son, Clay, tries to pass Fratus, but the farmer's pickup truck lands in the ditch and precious time is lost digging it out. By the time the Pines reach the doctor it's too late for Davey; the doctor tells Sam that he could have saved the boy if they had arrived sooner.

The Pines search for the driver of the panel truck and Sam tracks him to Ben Tulip's bar, where he learns the driver's identity; Ben tells Sam that Fratus might return in a week. Davey is buried on the family farm and Sam soon takes his place at Tulip's bar, awaiting the return of Ed Fratus. He's still there the next day when Ed arrives. Sam does not even look at the salesman, but outside his sons drain almost all of the gas from the fat man's truck.

Raymond Massey as Sam Pine
Soon, Fratus leaves and drives along the road to Lost Creek, where the Pines find him, out of gas. They push his truck with their own to the Pine farm, where they invite Fratus into the kitchen for a drink. Sam checks the glasses to make sure his son did not accidentally pour poison instead of alcohol, and Fratus finishes his drink while Pine's son fills his gas tank.

Sam slowly reveals Davey's fate and it dawns on Fratus that his refusal to move his truck was the cause of the boy's death. Fratus fears that Pine gave him poison to drink and rushes to his truck. He drives down the same narrow road, in a hurry to reach the doctor, only to find Pine's truck blocking the way, its driver refusing to speed up or move over.

Robert Emhardt as Ed Fratus
Later, Clay Pine returns home to report that Fratus is dead. He drove into the ditch and started to run, then keeled over from a heart attack. Sam drinks his previously-untouched drink, aware that neither glass contained any poison.

"Road Hog" is a wonderful story that pits honest country folk against a cruel salesman and that allows the victims to exact vengeance without resorting to violence. The goings-on at Ben Tulip's juke are seedy: men idly pass the time in gambling, drinking, and looking at racy pictures. Contrast that with the Pine farm, where the father and his three sons work hard and take care of each other.

Ray Teal as Ben Tulip
Fratus's decision not to give way on the narrow road is petty and demonstrates his selfish nature, while Pine's scheme to get revenge on Fratus is worked out carefully and takes advantage of the salesman's poor health and suspicious bent. It is only implied that Fratus drinks poison in the Pine kitchen; Fratus's mind attributes evil intent to an honest man, anticipating the sort of trick that Fratus himself might attempt.

Did Pine expect Fratus to die? It's hard to say. He certainly made a fool of the salesman and was not upset when Fratus suffered the fatal heart attack. A well-told tale of revenge with a satisfying conclusion, "Road Hog" is a short story that was immediately adapted for television: it appeared in a digest cover-dated September 1959 and the TV version aired on December 6, 1959.

Richard Chamberlain as Clay Fratus
In adapting the story for television, Bill Ballinger made very few changes to the source. The show opens with a close up of a butterfly before the camera pulls back to reveal a little girl watching the beautiful insect. Fratus pulls up in his station wagon and walks to the porch of Tulip's bar, where he purposefully crushes the butterfly under his soiled tennis shoe. The little girl tears up and the salesman smiles, pats her on the head, and walks inside. In moments, his cruel streak is established for the viewer, foreshadowing his later decision on the road.

The scenes that follow hew closely to the short story. Fratus's first visit to the bar does not include the poker game, which is briefly summarized in the story although it lasts two hours. The scene at the Pine farm is unchanged, while the scene on the narrow road is altered slightly to make it clear that Fratus knows that there is an emergency unfolding behind him. Clay Pine yells ahead to Fratus and Fratus responds; in the story, one could charitably interpret the situation as one where the salesman assumes wrongly that the truck behind him is driven by someone who is simply in a hurry. In the show, the verbal exchange between drivers makes it clear that Fratus knows at least some of what's at stake and makes a cruel choice anyway.

Brad Weston as Sam Pine, Jr.
If that's not enough, Ballinger then makes Fratus an active participant in the disaster: Pine's truck pulls up alongside Fratus's station wagon and Fratus turns his wheel to force the truck off the road. Visually, the image is arresting, showing Fratus acting intentionally to cause harm and making him seem more deserving of his later fate.

The scene that follows at the doctor's office is in line with that in the story, though Pine's subsequent search for the driver is shortened and he is shown finding the tracks of the station wagon in front of Tulip's bar. When Pine calls to Tulip and Tulip emerges from inside to identify Fratus, the situation recalls an old cowboy summoning someone out of a saloon for a confrontation in a dusty street. Sam then waits inside the bar for Fratus to arrive and the tension reaches a high point when the salesman walks through the door. The subsequent events track those of the story, as the action moves from the bar to the road to the Pine farm.

Roscoe Ates
Robert Emhardt is superb as Fratus, especially in the show's latter scenes; he starts out cocky at Pine's kitchen table, but as the truth of what happened dawns on him he becomes fearful and then frantic. He rushes out, gets in his station wagon, and heads off down the fateful road once again, where he encounters Clay Pine's truck blocking the way. Fratus is desperate, begging the young man to move over. Fratus gets more and more worked up until he runs his car off the road and is killed in a crash. Here, the teleplay differs significantly from the short story. In the story, we don't witness Fratus's death; instead, it is reported by Clay Pine when he returns to his father's farm. Bill Ballinger makes a more visual choice to have the station wagon crash and to show us Fratus's dead body lying halfway out of the car as Pine observes it.

The final twist is also slightly different: back at the Pine kitchen, Clay Pine remarks that his father made up the story about the county agent supplying him with poison and says that there never was any poison. In the Daniels story, there is poison, but Fratus was not served any in a glass.

The overhead shot in the barn
"Road Hog" is a faithful adaptation of the short story that makes a few changes for visual effect. It is directed brilliantly by Stuart Rosenberg (1927-2007), who makes good use of close ups to display moments of emotion on characters' faces. The bull in the barn scene does not seem very menacing, but there is a fine overhead shot that establishes the spatial relationships among the characters as Sam rushes in to find Davey on the ground. The scene on the road that follows is handled particularly well, with great suspense, and the doctor's office scene features shadowy lighting to highlight the gloom of the news of Davey's death. Also well-staged is the climactic kitchen scene with the showdown between Sam Pine and Ed Fratus; Fratus's final panic in the car is convincing, even if the final crash stretches believability. The last scene, back in the Pine farm kitchen, displays similarly shadowy and noirish lighting as the earlier scene in the doctor's office, suggesting that perhaps the Pines are not such innocent country folk after all.

Jack Easton, Jr., as Davey Pine
Rosenberg directed for television from 1957 to 1966 and for film from 1960 to 1991. He taught at the American Film Institute beginning in 1993. He won an Emmy in 1963 for directing an episode of The Defenders, and he also directed three episodes of The Twilight Zone as well as the films, Cool Hand Luke (1967) and The Amityville Horror (1979).

Top billing among the cast goes to Raymond Massey (1896-1983) as Sam Pine. Born in Ontario, he fought in both World Wars and began his stage career in 1922. He began appearing on screen in 1929 and on TV in 1948; his last credit was in 1973. Massey has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for movies and another for television. His many film roles include The Old Dark House (1932), Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), The Woman in the Window (1944), and East of Eden (1955). "Road Hog" was his only appearance on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, but he was on Night Gallery twice and co-starred on the TV series, Dr. Kildare, from 1961 to 1966. In "Road Hog," Massey is like an Old Testament figure, strong and silent as he sits waiting for Ed Fratus to return to Ben Tulip's bar, planing to dole out justice to the wicked.

Gordon Wynn as the doctor
Robert Emhardt (1914-1994) plays Ed Fratus. He may get second billing to Raymond Massey, but he steals the show; whiny and seedy, fat and sweaty, he's perfect as the amoral salesman. His descent into panic at the end is a display of great acting, shown in tight close ups on Emhardt's face. The actor was Sydney Greenstreet's understudy on Broadway in the 1930s and a founding member of the Actors Studio; he appeared onscreen from 1949 to 1982. Emhardt was seen in six episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "De Mortuis," one unforgettable episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour ("Return of Verge Likens"), and episodes of The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery.

Strong and steady as Ben Tulip is Ray Teal (1902-1976); he knows Ed Fratus is a creep but understands that they must do business together. Teal's long screen career stretched from 1937 to 1974 and he was very busy as a character actor in the 1930s and 1940s. He appeared on Alfred Hitchcock Presents eight times, including a role in "Revenge," the first episode; he was also seen on The Twilight Zone and Thriller.

Betsy Hale
The very first credit for Richard Chamberlain (1934- ) on IMDb is "Road Hog," in which the young actor plays Clay Pine. Chamberlain is still acting today. He began appearing on film in 1960 and has worked in both TV and the movies ever since. He was in an episode of Thriller and became a star as the lead on Dr. Kildare (1961-1966), in which his co-star was Raymond Massey. He also starred in the popular 1973 film adaptation of The Three Musketeers. Chamberlain was a fixture in TV mini-series in the late 1970s and early 1980s, including Centennial (1978-1979), Shogun (1980), and The Thorn Birds (1983). In "Road Hog," he is effective if perhaps too handsome for the part of a hardworking young farmer.

In smaller roles:
  • Brad Weston (1928-1999) as Sam Pine Jr.; he was on screen from 1958 to 1991, appeared on Alfred Hitchcock Presents three times, and was also seen on an episode of Star Trek.
  • Roscoe Ates (1895-1962) as the man in the bar who is enthusiastic about the racy pictures in Ed Fratus's key rings; he started out in vaudeville and then was on film from 1929 to 1961 and on TV from 1950 to 1961. Among the many films in which he had small roles were Freaks (1932), King Kong (1933), and Gone With the Wind (1939). He was in six episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Jokester."
  • Jack Easton, Jr. (1943- ), as Davey Pine; he had nine credits on TV from 1959 to 1964 and this was his only role on the Hitchcock show.
  • Gordon Wynn (1914-1966) as the doctor; he played small parts on film and TV from 1942 to 1964 and was in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Together."
  • Betsy Hale (1952- ) as the little girl at the beginning who watches the butterfly; like Richard Chamberlain, this is her first credit on IMDb and she only appeared in a single episode of the Hitchcock series. In her short screen career, from 1959 to 1965, she was in an episode of Thriller, played a small part in Hitchcock's The Birds (1963), appeared in an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and had a small role in 7 Faces of Dr. Lao.
Harold R. Daniels (1919-1980), who wrote the short story on which the TV show was based, was nominated for an Edgar for his first novel, In His Blood (1955), and wrote five more novels after that, as well as 10 short stories, according to the FictionMags Index. He was also editor of the magazine, Metalworking, from 1958 to 1972 and wrote non-fiction books on that topic. In addition to "Road Hog," which was filmed in 1959 and 1986, his novel, House on Greenapple Road, was filmed in 1970 as a TV movie.

The final scene in the kitchen
The remake of "Road Hog," broadcast on May 1, 1986, as part of the 1980s reboot of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, is a disappointment. Updated and in color, the show stars Burt Young as Ed Fratus, and his performance is hard to watch. The Pines, renamed the Medwicks, work on an oil rig, and the son is injured in a fall from high atop an oil derrick. The Medwicks' truck tries to pass Fratus's Cadillac on a wide desert road without success; the scene goes on too long and is unconvincing, not to mention the terrible '80s music playing loudly on the soundtrack. Ben Tulip is replaced by an attractive woman who is revealed to be Medwick's wife and the mother of the boy who was killed; the final confrontation occurs in the bar, rather than back at the farmhouse, and features Mrs. Medwick crushing aspirin tablets and putting them in Fratus's drink; of course, he thinks it's poison. The show is available to watch free online here but I don't recommend it.

The original version of "Road Hog" may be viewed online here, or you can order the DVD here. Read the GenreSnaps take on this episode here. Listen to a podcast about this episode here. Like "Dry Run," "Road Hog" was selected for the PBS series, The Best of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, that ran in 1981-82. Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the short story!

Daniels, Harold R. “Road Hog.” Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Sept. 1959, pp. 37–46.
The FictionMags Index,
Find in a Library with WorldCat,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
“Harold R. Daniels.” Goodreads,
Kelly, George. “The Crime Novels of Harold Daniels.” Mystery File, 14 Jan. 2009,
“Road Hog.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 5, episode 11, CBS, 6 Dec. 1959.
Stephensen-Payne, Phil. Galactic Central,
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Sept. 2019,

In two weeks: "The Hero," starring Eric Portman and Oscar Homolka!

1 comment:

Jose Cruz said...

Starring Raymond Massey as Mr. Magoo.