Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Hitchcock Project-Morton Fine and David Friedkin Part One: Change of Address [10.2]

by Jack Seabrook

Morton Fine and David Friedkin were writing partners who wrote five episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in its final season. They began working together in the 1940s, writing for radio, and continued to work in tandem until Friedkin's death in 1976

Born in Baltimore, Morton Fine (1916-1991) served in the Air Force in World War Two before completing a Master's degree in English and trying his hand at writing for magazines. Soon, he met David Friedkin and they began writing for radio, authoring many scripts from 1948 to 1958, including numerous episodes of Escape. They wrote for television beginning in 1952 and for film beginning in 1957; though the majority of their work was for the small screen, they adapted the novel, The Pawnbroker (1964), for the big screen successfully. Fine often produced TV shows that he co-wrote with Friedkin, including 17 episodes of Breaking Point (1963-64), four episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, 82 episodes of I Spy (1965-68), 12 episodes of  The Most Deadly Game (1970-71), and 13 episodes of Bearcats! (1971).

David Friedkin (1912-1976) was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and served in the Signal Corps. in World War Two. He co-wrote or co-produced many of the shows listed above with Morton Fine and often directed their scripts, including four of the five episodes they wrote for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.


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The first episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour with a teleplay by Fine and Friedkin is "Change of Address," originally broadcast on NBC on Monday, October 12, 1964. The script is based on a short story of the same name by Robert Arthur that was published in the January 1952 issue of The Mysterious Traveler, a magazine Arthur edited. "Change of Address" was published under one of Arthur's pseudonyms, Mark Williams, undoubtedly because it followed another story in the same issue credited to Arthur called "Eye Witness." The title card on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour inexplicably credits the original story to Andrew Benedict, another of Arthur's pseudonyms.

Arthur Kennedy as Keith Hollins
Arthur's story opens as Andrew and Jocasta Hollins are looking for a house to rent on the beach in California. A real estate agent named Smiley shows them a home that Jocasta thinks "'is only fit for a murder.'" Andrew ignores her concerns and agrees to rent the house. He likes the fact that it has a basement, an unusual feature in that area, and insists that any dampness can be cured by installing a cement floor. Smiley tells Andrew that Wilson, the owner, does not want to sell and that he and his wife quarreled; she went to live with a sister in Texas while he moved to Seattle.

Jocasta tells Andrew that he has been "'acting very strangely ever since we left Philadelphia'" and mentions "'that little typist,'" presumably a young woman with whom Andrew had had an affair. Jocasta agrees to stay for six months until they return to Philadelphia as planned. Andrew is delighted and they move in the next day, though Jocasta quickly complains of the damp and chill, asserting that "'There's something wrong with this house. At night as I lie awake I can feel it. Something we don't know about.'" Andrew goes to the cellar, starts the furnace, and digs a large hole behind it, to collect all of the moisture in one place.

The next day, Jocasta announces that she wants to move. She resolves to write to Mrs. Wilson, hoping to find out something about the history of the house that will give them an excuse to break the lease. Hollins drives into the village and asks Smiley if he has heard from Wilson; Smiley mentions that Jocasta was looking for Mrs. Wilson's address, which he does not know. In the morning, Andrew calls Jocasta down to the cellar. She tells him to fill in the hole that he dug and he does so by hitting her over the head with his shovel and dumping her body in the hole. He covers her with dirt, packs her belongings into trunks, and ships them to a storage warehouse in Philadelphia, where he had already arranged for indefinite storage. Andrew tells Smiley that Jocasta has left and he returns to the house.

The next day, Smiley appears and tells Andrew that Wilson has decided to sell the house in order to raise money for counsel fees. Hollins signs the papers to buy the house and composes a letter to "Snookums," telling her that his wife has left and that he plans to divorce her. He will fix the house up as their "'love nest.'" Andrew walks to the village to mail the letter and returns to find the sheriff and two men with picks and shovels waiting for him. He lets them in and the sheriff sends the men to the cellar, remarking that Jocasta could not find a change of address for Mrs. Wilson at the post office and thus deduced that she must have been murdered by her husband, since no woman would leave her spouse and allow him to receive her mail. She convinced the sheriff, who sent a wire to Seattle. The police there questioned Wilson, who assumed that his wife's body had been found and who confessed that he killed her and buried her "good and deep" behind the furnace in the cellar.

Phyllis Thaxter as Elsa Hollins
Did Andrew Hollins plan to kill his wife even before they moved into the house by the beach? He had made storage arrangements beforehand, he had a girlfriend, his wife was suspicious, and he chose a house with a dirt floor in the cellar. The story is filled with implicit sexism: Hollis rents the house over his wife's objections and he, Smiley, and the sheriff all act as if they have a secret "boy's club" that looks at women as pests to be ignored until their nagging forces men to pay attention to them. Arthur's tale has similarities to John Collier's story, "Back for Christmas," which was adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1956; in both stories, husband kills wife, buries her body in the cellar, and is unexpectedly caught by events his wife set in motion before she died. "Change of Address" succeeds due to the amusing style of writing and to the depiction of the characters, especially Andrew Hollins.

Robert Arthur (1909-1969), who wrote the short story, was born in the Philippines, where his father was stationed in the Army. He earned an M.A. in Journalism from the University of Michigan before moving to New York City in the early 1930s and becoming a prolific writer of short stories. He later was an editor at Dell and Fawcett but is best known as the ghost editor of many of the Alfred Hitchcock anthologies. He also wrote a beloved series of books about Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators for young adult readers. In 1959, he moved to Hollywood to write for television and edit screenplays. Before that, he won two Edgar Awards as a writer for radio. Many of his stories were adapted for TV; five episodes of the Hitchcock series were based on his stories and he wrote one additional teleplay himself. There is a website devoted to him here.

"Change of Address" turns on the assumption that women think differently than men and that no woman would allow her mail to be sent to her ex-husband. While there is a sexist undercurrent to the story as a whole, it is driven more by character than by theme. When Morton Fine and David Friedkin adapted it for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, they preserved all of the plot elements but broadened the theme considerably, creating a brilliant study of relationships between men and women that focuses on the main characters' struggles with their advancing age.

Tisha Sterling
The episode opens with the beginning of its score by Bernard Herrmann, a romantic theme with an undercurrent of menace. The first shot depicts a young woman walking along the edge of the beach by the Pacific Ocean. She looks up at large house, projecting out over the beach, and there is a cut to the inside of that house, where Elsa Hollins (as Jocasta has been renamed) looks in a mirror, comparing her aging face to that of the woman on the beach. Everywhere Elsa turns in the room she sees another mirror that shows the lines in her face. She hears laughter coming through a vent that leads to the cellar and there is a cut to the cellar, where Keith Hollins (Andrew in the short story) and Miley, the real estate agent (Smiley), are laughing together; unlike Elsa, they seem happy and untroubled.

Back upstairs, Elsa looks out a window at the ocean and the glass suddenly shatters, as if her aging face caused it to break. She screams and the two men rush up the stairs, anxious to protect the lone woman in the house. Keith sticks his head out through the broken window and sees a dead seagull on the beach. The top section of the broken window begins to slide down toward Keith's neck and Miley smashes it just in time. Just as the dead gull on the beach foreshadows Elsa's fate, the image of the sharp glass heading for Keith's neck is a precursor of his eventual punishment. The first scene of "Change of Address" effectively sets up the show's theme and looks forward to its climax.

Royal Dano as Miley
In the scenes that follow, the relationship between Keith and Elsa Hollins is depicted. He is passionate, grabbing her, kissing her, and waxing enthusiastically about the house, while she is reserved, cold, and reticent, complaining that she does not like it. She says that the house reminds her of death and we then see the young woman again on the beach, digging a hole in the sand with her hands and burying the dead seagull, much as Keith will later dig a hole in the cellar and bury Elsa.

Another close call occurs soon after this, when Keith calls Elsa up from the beach to join him as he begins to repair a broken rail on the deck. Though he says that some remodeling will make the house into their "'own little castle by the sea,'" she needles him, commenting that it "'Makes you feel young to be here, doesn't it?'" He fires back by mentioning her "'busted hip'" and adding that "'bones take longer to knit at your age.'" She appears to have broken her hip skiing after he goaded her into taking a slope before she was ready. The argument continues as she brings up "'little what's her name,'" a typist with whom he had an affair; he responds by grabbing and kissing her passionately, nearly causing another accident as the unrepaired railing gives way. Keith's way of dealing with conflict is to display sudden physical affection; however, his sincerity is called into question when we see him looking over Elsa's shoulder, even as he holds her, to watch the young woman walking along the edge of the beach.

The male gaze in action.
The next scene demonstrates what Keith really wants and his deluded self-image. A group of young people enjoy themselves on the beach, with music playing and surfboards stuck in the sand, as Keith does calisthenics nearby. The young woman walks away from the crowd and he jogs after her. She stops and stands, framed by two vertical surfboards, and removes her towel as he stares at her, enraptured by her youth and beauty. She is a middle-aged man's fantasy figure--a beautiful young woman who is happy to pose for him like a sexy model. This brief scene is a classic example of the male gaze.

Soon, Keith is unloading bags of cement from his station wagon and he and Elsa get into another argument. He tells her to enjoy the beach, trying to mold her into the image of the young woman who is the object of his lust. Elsa does go to the beach and she meets the young beauty; we don't hear what they say to each other, but Elsa's one-piece bathing suit contrasts with the young woman's bikini and, in the next scene, Elsa tells Keith that they shared "'woman talk.'" His plans for her are suggested as he continues to dig the basement hole, which is the size and shape of a grave.

The relationships between men and women even extend to Miles's real estate office, which Keith visits in the next scene. Miles's secretary, Reba, spends the scene giggling, another ideal female in the eyes of two middle-aged men. Back at the house, Elsa watches Keith as he continues to dig. He condescendingly tells her that she wouldn't understand the "'principles of drainage'" and she asks if he'll ever give up trying to be a twenty year old. She asks if he has stopped running after "'pretty young things,'" but he pushes her aside, commenting that "'you're in the way.'" "'Yes, I know,'" she replies, giving his remark a different, more comprehensive meaning; she knows that she is holding him back from pursuing younger women.

At the dance club
The troubled relationship reaches its breaking point when Keith takes Elsa to a dance club, where they sit awkwardly at a table surrounded by young people dancing to swinging music. She confronts him, asking "'how we rid ourselves of each other, and when.'" They argue and she walks out, leaving Keith to exit with the young woman from the beach, their arms around each other as they walk away from the club in the darkness.

In the house again, Elsa paces the floor until Keith calls her to the basement to show her the hole he has dug. She mocks his pride in his work and he responds by killing her with the shovel and then finishing off the floor, beneath which her corpse has been deposited. Keith goes upstairs, admires a picture of himself as a young man, and eats some yogurt and wheat germ, determined to restore his youth and vitality. Later, we see him put the finishing touches on a cement floor in the cellar before packing Elsa's possessions and pausing to admire himself in her hand mirror. He returns to Miley's office, interrupting more of Reba's giggles, and buys the house, explaining that Elsa left him after they had an argument.

Soon, Keith joins the young woman on the beach, kissing her passionately in the same way he earlier kissed Elsa. She speaks for the first time in the episode. He tells her that he plans to teach her about culture and she tells him that he is "'wise,'"; she is the perfect, pliant woman whom he can mold in his own image. Later, Keith's reverie is interrupted as he does calisthenics on the beach and the police arrive. The show ends as does the story, with the police digging in the cellar, discovering the evidence of Keith's crime.

"Change of Address" is a brilliant adaptation of a short story that keeps the plot of its source while deepening its meaning, exploring themes that were barely touched upon by the original author. The performances by the two leads are fearless, as both actors create fully-rounded, not entirely likable characters. Keith ignores Elsa's concerns and her attempts to discuss the problems in their relationship, while Elsa rarely misses a chance to needle her husband and point out his past and present failings.

Robert Karnes as the sheriff
Arthur Kennedy (1914-1990) stars as Keith. His professional acting career began in New York City in the 1930s when he was part of the Group Theater. He started out on Broadway in 1938 and began appearing in films in 1940. After a stint in the Air Force, making training films during World War Two, he returned to the stage and screen. He won a Tony Award in 1949 for his role as Biff in Death of a Salesman on Broadway, and he appeared in such films as Fritz Lang's Rancho Notorious (1952), David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and John Ford's Cheyenne Autumn (1964), which was released a week before "Change of Address" aired. Kennedy continued to appear on Broadway until 1973 and on film until the year of his death. He also made many appearances on TV between 1954 and 1989; this was his only role on the Hitchcock series.

Phyllis Thaxter (1919-2012), who co-stars as Elsa, was born in Maine and acted on Broadway before making her film debut in 1944. She began acting on TV in 1953, appearing in six episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and three episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, including "The Long Silence," She also appeared on The Twilight Zone and Thriller. Later in her career, she played Ma Kent in Superman (1978), and she continued to appear on TV until 1992.

Miley, the real estate agent, is played by Royal Dano (1922-1994), whose long screen career spanned the years from 1949 to 1993. He was in Hitchcock's The Trouble with Harry (1955), as well as three episodes of the Hitchcock TV series. He also had roles in 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964) and The Right Stuff (1983) and he was seen on many TV shows, including Night Gallery and Twin Peaks.

Playing the beautiful young woman on the beach (called Rachel in the closing credits but never referred to by name in the show) is Tisha Sterling (1944- ), the daughter of actors Robert Sterling and Ann Sothern. She was on screen from 1960 to 1999 but this was her only appearance on the Hitchcock series. She was also seen on Batman and Night Gallery and she wrote a memoir called Why I Failed Charm School.

Robert Karnes (1917-1979) plays the sheriff in the last scene; he had many small roles, often as a law enforcement officer, in a screen career that lasted from 1946 to 1980. He appeared in eight episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "Escape to Sonoita," and he was also on Night Gallery and The Night Stalker.

"Change of Address" is directed by David Friedkin, who is also co-writer and co-producer with Morton Fine.

Robert Arthur's short story had been adapted once before for television, as an episode of the Canadian 30-minute series, The Unforeseen. This version was broadcast on June 17, 1959, but I do not know if it survives.

Watch "Change of Address" for free online here. It is not available in the U.S. on DVD.

Sources:
Arthur, Robert. "Change of Address." Butcher, Baker, Murder-Maker. Ed. George Harmon Coxe. Alfred A. Knopf, 1954, pp. 3–10.
"Change of Address." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, season 3, episode 2, NBC, 12 Oct. 1964.
The FictionMags Index, www.philsp.com/homeville/FMI/0start.htm.
Galactic Central, philsp.com/.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
IMDb, IMDb.com, www.imdb.com/.
RadioGOLDINdex, radiogoldindex.com/.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, www.wikipedia.org/.

In two weeks: The McGregor Affair, starring Andrew Duggan and Elsa Lanchester!

3 comments:

Grant said...

I don't know this one all that well, but it's surprising that they changed the real estate agent's name from "Smiley" to anything else, because I seem to remember him having almost a constant smile on his face just like his secretary.

Maybe it's typecasting, but Tisha Sterling played a similar role in the COLUMBO episode "Candidate For Crime." In other words, without knowing it, she was part of the motive for a married man to commit a murder (even though in this case it wasn't his wife who was murdered). And Robert Karnes also played a police detective in that story (I don't know whether that's a coincidence or not).

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Grant! As to the seemingly random name change, I've noticed a lot of that. I wonder if writers felt they had to change a certain amount of the source in order to justify a credit, or some level of payment, or who knows what. I wish I could talk to a writer from those days to ask them!

Tisha Sterling was also on a Batman episode, with Shelley Winters. There's a still for sale of her on eBay. She was a beauty, but from a glance at her book, it sounds like she was not very happy. She's still alive and living in California.

Grant said...

I've always liked her in the Bert I. Gordon film VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS, which is entertaining either with or without the MST3K version (since it's pretty much a comedy to begin with, even without comedians commenting on it).
She, Gail Gilmore and Joy Harmon play three of the "giantess" characters, so that's a real attraction of the movie.