Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Hitchcock Project-Stirling Silliphant Part Two: The Manacled [2.18]

by Jack Seabrook

A wide shot of a railroad terminal serves as the opening of "The Manacled," a thrilling episode written by Stirling Silliphant that premiered on CBS on Sunday, January 27, 1957. The scene is set as an announcer's voice is heard listing the California cities at which the next train will stop.

There is a dissolve to a busy lunch counter inside the terminal, where the counter girl is shocked when two men sitting at the counter lift their arms and she sees they are handcuffed together. The men are Sergeant Rockwell, a policeman, and Steven Fontaine, his captive, a con man and thief who is being escorted to San Quentin Prison. Fontaine explains to the shocked counter girl that he "'merely stole from the rich to help the poor,'" though he admits the only poor person aided was himself.

The duo rise from their stools at the counter and there is another dissolve, this time to the platform, where we observe that Fontaine is not just handcuffed--he also wears a heavy iron shackle around his left foot and ankle. A close up of the shackle shows us its weight, as the prisoner drags his foot up the stairs and onto the train.

Gary Merrill as Sgt. Rockwell
As Rockwell and Fontaine pass through a train car, an older woman asks for help lifting her bag onto the luggage rack and the sergeant obliges. A little boy pretends to shoot his toy gun at Rockwell and Fontaine scares the boy with his handcuffs. The two men enter their cabin and a nosy conductor offers to help the policeman with his prisoner, causing Fontaine to deliver a sarcastic retort when the conductor asks if he is being taken to the gas chamber. The contrast between Fontaine and Rockwell is interesting: the criminal is well-dressed, handsome, and a smooth talker, while the officer of the law is gruff, rugged, and brusque.

The train gets underway and the sergeant explains that the shackle around the prisoner's ankle is what is called an Oregon Boot, which requires a special key to unlock and remove it. Fontaine begins to talk to the sergeant, trying to engage him in conversation and telling him to look in his inside jacket pocket, where Rockwell finds an envelope containing a small key. He deduces that the envelope was planted on him by the old woman in the train car when he helped her with her bag; Fontaine confirms that she is a skilled pickpocket working with him. The old woman's suitcase is said to contain $50,000--half the money that Fontaine was convicted of stealing--and the con man offers it to the policeman to let him go free.

William Redfield as Fontaine
Fontaine uses psychology to try to win over the sergeant, playing on the assumption that the hard working policeman could use a $50,000 windfall to relieve some of the tension in his life. Rockwell fingers the key pensively but gives the envelope back to Fontaine, who gently places it atop a magazine Rockwell is reading, leaving it there for further consideration by the sergeant. As the train continues to roll on through the night on its way to San Quentin, Fontaine plays solitaire. The train stops at Bakersfield and the con man keeps adding details about how Sergeant Rockwell could successfully get away with accepting the money and losing his prisoner.

Rockwell is being won over by his smooth-taking captive and leaves Fontaine alone and handcuffed in the cabin as he ventures back to the old woman's seat to check for the money in her suitcase; she got off at the last stop but left her bag behind. Sure enough, the money is there, and the sergeant demonstrates how seriously he is considering taking Fontaine up on his offer by ducking down in the seat and hiding when the conductor walks by. If Rockwell were not thinking about taking the money, he would surely just pick up the suitcase and take it back to his cabin!

The Oregon Boot
The sergeant returns to join Fontaine and the con man's hopes dim when Rockwell says that he will get a reward when he turns the money in to the authorities. Fontaine keeps the pressure on, making correct assumptions about Rockwell's home life and lack of funds; Fontaine portrays the sergeant's personal life ironically, but the policeman sees it differently. As the train approaches the stop for San Quentin, Fontaine begins to get frantic, insisting that he cannot go to prison. Rockwell tortures him by describing the final stages of the trip to San Quentin, step by step.

In a last, desperate attempt to win over Sergeant Rockwell, Fontaine suggests shooting the sergeant  with Rockwell's own gun to ensure that the officer will not be suspected of complicity. He posits a flesh wound in the arm, allowing Fontaine to take the key, unlock the boot, and escape; the sergeant could later call for the suitcase at Lost and Found and no one would be the wiser.

Rusty Lane as the conductor
The conductor calls out that the last stop is coming up. Rockwell has made his decision: he takes out the handcuffs to put them on Fontaine, but suddenly there is a struggle as the prisoner resists. Fontaine pulls out Rockwell's gun and fatally shoots the sergeant in the chest. He takes the key to the Oregon Boot from the dead man's pocket and attempts to unlock the shackle, only to find, to his horror, that the bullet damaged the key and he is trapped. Fontaine is crushed as he realizes that he is no longer just a thief--he is now a murderer, unable to escape.

"The Manacled" is a thrilling half hour of suspense, expertly directed by Robert Stevens, who keeps the pace quick and who succeeds in convincing the viewer that the actors are on a train hurtling through the night; the tight compartment that they share increases the tension between captor and captive. The illusion of a moving train is accomplished by means of visual and auditory tricks. After Rockwell and Fontaine first enter their cabin, there is a cut to a shot of a train racing along the rails at night, its light shining brightly from the front of the engine. During the men's conversation, lights reflect on them intermittently through the window from outside, as if the train is passing the lights along the way. There is another shot of the train traveling along the rails at night after Fontaine offers to give the sergeant half of his money, and this is followed by a reflection shot from inside the cabin where we see Fontaine, Rockwell, and Rockwell's image as the men converse. Finally, while the duo sit together in the cabin, it seems to rock gently back and forth, conveying the sense of a train traveling rapidly along bumpy rails.

Betty Harford as the counter girl
The other important ingredient in making the illusion of train travel work is sound, which is managed perfectly in "The Manacled." As Fontaine walks through the train corridor early in the show, we hear the sound of his foot dragging along the floor, weighed down by the heavy boot. Later, to accompany the exterior shot of the train at night, we hear a loud horn blowing. Subtle audio clues to the moving train continue as the men talk in their cabin, with the ringing of bells growing and decreasing in volume as the train passes various landmarks. When the train stops at the Bakersfield station, we hear a car horn and voices outside, letting us know that the motion has ceased for a few minutes and that life goes on as usual despite the drama unfolding inside the train. The conductor is heard to yell, "'All aboard!'" and we know the train is about to depart. The last station stop is announced in a similar way by the conductor, who calls out "'Richmond'" as the train approaches the stop for the prison. All of these carefully worked out sounds act in conjunction with the visual clues to give the viewer the feeling that they are witnessing action that is taking place on a real, moving train.

Edith Evanson
The two lead actors give superb performances and their personalities and acting styles complement each other and make the events believable, right down to the shocking conclusion. The episode credits report that Stirling Silliphant wrote the teleplay based on a story by Sanford Wolf, though I have been unable to find any evidence of any short stories ever published that were written by this author. It is likely that Silliphant was given either an unpublished story or a teleplay that needed revision, much as he was brought in to polish the script for "Never Again."

So who is "The Manacled" of the title? The obvious answer is Fontaine, since he wears handcuffs on and off and also the Oregon Boot that limits his mobility. But I think there is also an argument that Sergeant Rockwell is manacled, both by his life as a policeman who has to work hard to raise his family and by his task of having to escort prisoners to San Quentin. Fontaine certainly thinks this is the case and tries to use it to his advantage as he plays on what he hopes are Rockwell's insecurity and greed. The word "manacled" can be either singular or plural, and the fortunes of Rockwell and Fontaine are inexorably joined together as they hurtle toward their doom.

The Oregon Boot was a real accessory among prisoners, according to an article in Wild West. Invented by the warden of an Oregon prison in the nineteenth century, it was more effective than the ball and chain because it could not be picked up. Use of the shackle spread in the decades that followed, though it fell out of favor after the 1920s.

How the key works
Sanford Wolf, who is credited with writing the story, wrote for TV between 1957 and 1967 and is credited with writing three films. He was known variously as Sanford Wolf, A. Sanford Wolf, and A. Sanford Wolfe, but I have been unable to find out any other information about him.

"The Manacled" is TV noir, dealing with themes of doubling and reflection, as the lawman and criminal represent two paths open to a man in the frightening world portrayed by director Robert Stevens (1920-1989). Stevens directed mostly for TV from 1948 to 1987, including 105 episodes of Suspense and 49 episodes of the Hitchcock series. He also directed two episodes of The Twilight Zone. He won an Emmy for directing "The Glass Eye."

Starring as Sergeant Rockwell is Gary Merrill (1915-1990), who served in the Air Force during World War Two and who played Batman on the Superman radio show in the 1940s. He was on screen from 1943 to 1980 and on Broadway intermittently from 1939 to 1981. Married to Bette Davis from 1950 to 1960, his films included All About Eve (1950) and Fritz Lang's Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950). On TV, he was seen on The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and seven episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "O Youth and Beauty."

The damaged key
William Redfield (1927-1976) is brilliant as the smooth-talking con man Steven Fontaine. On Broadway from 1936 and on screen from 1939, Redfield appeared in Fantastic Voyage (1966) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and he was seen on Alfred Hitchcock Presents three times, including "The Greatest Monster of Them All." He also played Felix Unger's brother Floyd in a memorable episode of The Odd Couple.

In smaller roles:
  • Rusty Lane (1899-1986) as the conductor; he was on screen from 1945 to 1973 and played numerous roles on shows such as The Twilight Zone and Batman. He was on the Hitchcock show nine times and played a priest on "Listen, Listen.....!"
  • Betty Harford (1927- ) as the girl working at the lunch counter; she was on screen from 1951 to 1991 and she was in five episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "Santa Claus and the Tenth Avenue Kid."
  • Edith Evanson (1896-1980) as the older woman with the suitcase; she was on screen from 1940 to 1974 and appeared in Hitchcock's Rope (1948) and Lang's The Big Heat (1953). She was also in "Listen, Listen.....!" with Rusty Lane.
The sound credit for this episode goes to the aptly-named Stephen Bass (1912-1993), who worked mostly in television from 1951 to 1980, including doing the sound for 36 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents between 1956 and 1959.

Watch "The Manacled" online for free here or buy the DVD here.

Bristow, Allen P. “The Oregon Boot Was Not Made for Walking.” HistoryNet, HistoryNet,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
“The Manacled.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 2, episode 18, CBS, 27 Jan. 1957.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

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john kenrick said...

Excellent episode of the Hitchcock half-hour, and an excellent review as well. Thanks, Jack. Your description of it, with accompanying praise for director Robert Stevens, was nicely done and spot on. I always watch The Manacled when I see it listed in schedule of upcoming shows as it plays well and holds up to repeat viewings. The actors were well chosen, with Gary Merrill's low key world weary masculinity making him highly sympathetic. Whatever his character's ambivalence regarding the money, he's the hero of the show, such as it has one, all the same, albeit an unlucky one. William Redfield was fey, almost magnetically repulsive, using his somewhat effeminate mannerisms to emphasize that indeed his character is the bad guy. I wonder if this would be allowed today. In this the episode plays a bit like another one with Gary Merrill, the one in which he turned out to be the villain at the end, with his victim a scarcely coded gay man, as played by Alan Hewitt.

Jack Seabrook said...

I did not interpret Redfield's character as fey so much as smooth. What really struck me was the way he called the older woman "mother"--it just rolled off his tongue and made me wonder what it was about that era where men could and would refer to women of a certain age as "mother" and no one would blink an eye. Thanks very much for your comment and for reading!

john kenrick said...

Yes, yet his calling the older woman "mother" was part of what made him come across as fey, as in over-refined, eccentric, somewhat exaggerated, even affected (in a manner of speaking). In this he reminded me a bit of Robert Walker in the Hitchcock feature Strangers On A Train. Like Walker's character it that film he was aiming for a quid pro quo with a (at first literal) stranger on a train. There was no implied seduction or subtext between Redfield and Merrill, yet perhaps as in the Invitation To An Accident episode there was was something in one man that made him an easy "target", as it were, for the other. In this case the tables were turned against Merrill, yet in the end, as in the earlier episode, both men suffered.

Grant said...

It also used to be common for men above a certain age to call their WIVES "Mother." I don't usually get caught up in "Then vs. Now" thinking, but I've never gotten used to men in earlier stories doing that!

I don't know how many I've actually seen (maybe not as many as I think), but I always associate William Redfield with comedies not dramas, so I'm glad you mentioned his ODD COUPLE episode.
He also has a great scene with Walter Matthau in the comedy A NEW LEAF.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Grant, and Merry Christmas! You mentioning men calling their wives mother made me realize I have an example right in my own family--my 91 year old father in law!

john kenrick said...

I'm getting OT here but WTF: as to what husbands and wives call each other, or used to, my father once related to me a story about the parents of a colleague of his (who was also a close friend) and how his Victorian parents (the colleague, I mean) would only address one another as Mr. and Mrs. An old Anglo-Saxon custom, I would imagine, that migrated across the pond and remained fairly common till the early to mid-20th century, then just vanished. For my part, I'd never even heard of such a thing actually happening outside the drawing room world of Jane Austen.

Jack Seabrook said...

Now that's a new one! Or perhaps an old one...

Jon said...

You left out William Redfield's short life span, 1927 to 1976. He died much too young of leukemia. I just saw him recently on a BEWITCHED episode, where he played an old friend of Darrin's who had to perform 3 weird tasks in order to avoid being arrested of theft later.

Jack Seabrook said...

You're right! He died too young. He was great in Cuckoo's Nest.

C.L. Rogers said...

Great episode but a bit confusing in storyline. What are the chances that a prisoner is going to end up on the same train as a woman he's been pickpocketing with?

Jack Seabrook said...

It was no coincidence! She was there to help him escape.

Anonymous said...

Was the key to the boot not double-sided...? Only the one end was damaged. Unless the two ends are for two different types of threading.

Jack Seabrook said...

Perhaps one side of the key opens one hole on the boot and the other side opens the other?