Thursday, August 27, 2020

The Hitchcock Project-Harold Swanton Part Six: Museum Piece [6.25]

by Jack Seabrook

"Museum Piece" is a tale of a father's revenge, the evidence of his crime hidden in plain sight for years, and two murders committed by a seemingly reasonable man. In the end, four men are dead: one by accident, one from despair, and two due to careful planning.

The show opens with a close up of a skull that has a large hole in its cranium. We hear the voice of a museum tour guide discussing the artifact, and the camera pulls back to see the man speaking to a tour group in a museum as they observe an entire skeleton on display. The guide then leads the group to another skeleton hanging nearby, that of a modern male Caucasian, a "'present-day American, very much like you and I.'" Soon, the group leaves and the guide closes the doors of the museum for the day. He discovers that one man has remained inside, examining a series of primitive, Obsidian knives displayed atop a glass display case. Like Chekhov's gun, the focus on knives at this early point ensures that one of these knives will be used later in the episode!

Larry Gates as Hollister
The visitor identifies himself as Newton B. Clovis, an archaeo-psychologist who walks with a cane due to an old skiing injury. He opines about the men who fashioned the knives and suggests that one in particular was "'sensitive, an artist.'" Clovis examines the second skeleton and notes a break in the leg, comparing it to his own injury. The guide, whose name is Hollister, says that the skeleton is that of a man he knew who died many years ago. Hollister invites Clovis for a drink before dinner and the shot dissolves to the inside of Hollister's home, which is attached to the museum. The room is decorated with numerous objects, including a stuffed and mounted prairie falcon, a selection of Boy Scout merit badges, and a stuffed fox in a glass case. Hollister calls the fox "'Circe,'" the temptress, and tells Clovis that all of the items in the room on display belonged to his son.

Myron McCormick as Clovis
Hollister than narrates his son's story and we see the events portrayed in flashback. Young Ben Hollister is seen tracking a fox outdoors with a rifle. After several days of tracking, he discovered that the fox's den was in a barn. Ignoring a "Keep Out!" sign, Ben climbs over a fence and follows the fox into the barn, unaware that a young man and woman are in the midst of a passionate embrace up in the hayloft. Ben shoots and kills the fox inside the barn, and Tim McCaffrey descends from the hayloft and recognizes the hunter, deriding him as "'Nature Boy Hollister.'" Tim confronts Ben as a trespasser and the young woman accuses him of "'stealing pigeons'"; Tim calls Ben a coward and Ben asks him to step outside before turning to walk away. Tim picks up a pitchfork and hurls it at Ben, who ducks. His rifle goes off and Tim is shot through the eye and killed. The woman in the hayloft calls Ben a murderer!

Bert Convy as Ben Hollister
After a fade out, the camera fades in on Hollister in the office of District Attorney Henshaw, pleading with the D.A. to spare his son. A newspaper story has accused Ben of killing Tim McCaffrey "'on purpose, like he killed a specimen for his collection.'" Hollister blames Henshaw for the news story and asserts that the negative publicity will ensure a guilty verdict at trial. He accuses the D.A. of targeting Ben because Tim's father's support put Henshaw in office. We then witness Ben's trial, at which Henshaw explains to the jury that Ben shot animals in the eye to preserve them as specimens and claims that Ben planned Tim's murder in the same manner. Ben's outbursts in the courtroom protesting his own innocence are for naught. For some reason, the young woman in the hayloft, who witnessed the incident, is nowhere to be seen. Henshaw's argument that an accidental shot in the eye is nearly impossible is convincing and, although the D.A. asks for the death penalty, Ben is sentenced to life in prison.

Edward Platt as D.A. Henshaw
In prison, Hollister visits his son to announce that he has bought an old ranch and plans to turn it into a private museum. He asks Ben to design it to house his collection, attempting to engage the young man, but Ben is listless and uninterested. After Ben goes back to his cell, a prison guard tells Hollister that his son does not belong there and is refusing to eat. Hollister again visits D.A. Henshaw to beg for Ben to be paroled, insisting that Ben will die inside of a year if left in prison, but Henshaw ignores Hollister's entreaties.

There is another dissolve and we are back in the present, as Hollister tells Clovis that Ben died two months later. He again comments that the events took place "'years ago,'" and we can see that Hollister has aged: his hair, grey in the flashbacks, is now white. His story done, Hollister leaves the room to finish locking up. Clovis returns to the museum and examines the contemporary skeleton closely, paying special attention to its teeth. Hollister returns to find him there, and Clovis reveals that he is not really an archaeo psychologist--he's from the office of the District Attorney. Hollister remarks that it "'took almost a year to put him there,'" referring to the skeleton, and he mentions a manhunt.

Tom Gilleran as Tim McCaffrey
Behind his back, Hollister picks up one of the Obsidian knives and approaches Clovis. He admits that he carried out the "'execution'" of D.A. Henshaw, whose skeleton now hangs in the museum, and calls him "'the man who murdered my son.'" Clovis asks how it was done and turns to face the skeleton, at which point Hollister stabs him in the back. Clovis falls to the floor, dead. There is another dissolve, and we see Hollister leading another tour group through the museum, but this time there is a third skeleton on display: that of Newton B. Clovis.

Harold Swanton's teleplay for "Museum Piece" is well-structured, with parallel scenes at the beginning and end. The acting is good, too, especially the performance of Larry Gates as Hollister, the anguished father. Yet the story seems too complicated for a 21-minute film, with too many things happening for the viewer to be able to follow clearly. One assumes that the skeleton in the museum is that of Ben, and the revelation at the end that it is Henshaw's is unexpected and confusing, though a careful review demonstrates that Hollister never says directly that the skeleton is that of his son. It is hard to imagine how Hollister manages to get away with murder twice--the unseen killing of D.A. Henshaw and the onscreen killing of Clovis--not to mention stripping the bodies down to their skeletons and boldly displaying those skeletons in a museum off the highway.

Charles Meredith as the judge
Although Hollister says that the events concerning his son Ben occurred many years ago, the flashback scenes seem contemporary, with clothing and hairstyles indistinguishable from those in the scenes set in the present. The events in the barn, with Tim throwing a pitchfork at Ben, Ben's rifle discharging, and a bullet going through Tim's eye, are also hard to fathom, and when Henshaw argues to the jury that the sequence of events makes no sense, his claim is believable. Finally, Hollister as a double murderer seems implausible, since his sincere concern for his son and his reasoned approach don't seem to jibe with his role as a cold-blooded killer.

The onscreen credit states that Swanton's teleplay is based on a story by William C. Morrison, but to date I have been unable to determine which story that is. IMDb lists "Museum Piece" as the only TV or film adaptation of a Morrison story, and the FictionMags Index lists 101 stories published under his name and three more published under a pseudonym.

Darlene Tompkins as the girl in the hayloft
William C. Morrison was the pseudonym of Joseph Samachson (1906-1980), who worked as a research chemist until 1938, when he quit to try his hand at freelance writing. He wrote short stories for pulps and digests from 1941 to 1958, as well as some non-fiction and many comic book stories for DC Comics. He is credited with creating the character of J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter, for DC. He also worked as a teacher in California and as a camp counselor. In the 1950s, he appeared on the TV show, You Bet Your Life, as a contestant being grilled by Groucho Marx. His obituary says that he wrote scripts for TV's Captain Video, but IMDb does not list any credits for that show.

The majority of Morrison's short stories were in the science fiction genre and, using online sources, I have been able to examine and eliminate all but 22 of the 101 stories listed in the FictionMags Index as the source of "Museum Piece." Of those 22, four are science fiction, two are (presumably) general fiction (published in 1954 issues of Family Circle), and three are western, leaving the probable source story one of 13 published in detective magazines; 12 of them between 1941 and 1944 and one more in 1953. The 13 possible stories are:

"Santa Claus Ain’t Tough" (Thrilling Detective, March 1941)
"The Birds Tell Everything" (Thrilling Detective, April 1941)
"G-Boy" (G-Men Detective, September 1941)
"Money from Heaven" (G-Men Detective, March 1942)
"Happy Birthday, Dear Warden" (Exciting Detective, Summer 1942)
"You Got Me Hypnotized" (The Masked Detective, Summer 1942)
"Death Takes Wings" (G-Men Detective, July 1942)
"Murder Takes Nerve" (Thrilling Mystery, November 1942)
"Don’t Tell the Police" (Popular Detective, February 1943)
"Flight to Death" (Popular Detective, June 1943)
"They Picked a Sucker" (Thrilling Mystery, Summer 1944)
"No Medal for Murdock" (G-Men Detective, Fall 1944)
"Killer on the Run" (Fifteen Detective Stories, August 1953)

"Museum Piece" was first broadcast on NBC on Tuesday, April 4, 1961.

Clovis's skeleton has been added to the display
Director Paul Henreid (1908-1992) was born in Austria-Hungary and made his name as an actor, first appearing on screen in 1932. His two most famous roles came in 1942, in Now, Voyager and Casablanca. He also worked as a director from 1948 to 1971, mostly on television, and he directed 29 episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "The Landlady." He also directed two episodes of Thriller.

Larry Gates (1915-1996), who stars as Hollister, served in the Army in World War Two and appeared on screen from 1952 to 1994. He had an important role in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), as Dr. Kauffman, and he was a regular from 1983 to 1996 on the soap opera, The Guiding Light. He was in one episode of The Twilight Zone and this was his only role on the Hitchcock series.

Receiving second billing is Myron McCormick (1908-1962), as Newton B. Clovis. He was on Broadway from 1932 to 1957 and he had a supporting role in South Pacific from 1949 to 1954, winning a Tony Award in 1950. He was also on Old Time Radio, and he began appearing on film in 1936 and on TV in 1948. He had a role in The Hustler (1961) and returned to Broadway for a two-year run of No Time for Sergeants (1955-57). He was in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Bert Convy (1933-1991) plays Ben Hollister. Convy played minor league baseball in 1951-52 and began acting on TV in 1951. His first film was in 1958, and he continued to appear onscreen until 1990. He was seen in Roger Corman's A Bucket of Blood (1959) and on Night Gallery; this is his only part on the Hitchcock series. Convy became best known as a game show participant and host from 1968-90, hosting Super Password from 1984-89.

District Attorney Henshaw is portrayed by Edward Platt (1916-1974). After serving in the Army during World War Two, Platt had a two-decade career on screen, from 1954 to 1974, appearing in such films as Rebel without a Cause (1955), House of Numbers (1957), and North By Northwest (1959). He was a familiar face on TV, appearing on Thriller, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and The Odd Couple, but he will always be remembered for his role as the Chief on Get Smart (1965-1970). "Museum Piece" was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show.

In smaller roles:
  • Tom Gilleran (1936- ) as Tim McCaffrey; he had a few roles on TV between 1960 and 1984, including an appearance on The Twilight Zone and parts in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Gloating Place."
  • Charles Meredith (1894-1964) as the judge; he was an actor in silent film from 1919-24 who took a break to act on the stage until returning to the screen from 1947-64; he played a judge in Strangers on a Train (1951) and he was a regular on the TV show, Rocky Jones, Space Ranger (1954). He was in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Kind Waitress."
  • Darlene Tompkins (1940-2019) as the girl in the hayloft; she was an actress on screen from 1960-67 and a TV stunt woman from 1975-78; this was her only part on the Hitchcock show.
Watch "Museum Piece" for free online here or order the DVD here. Please leave a comment if you have any information about the short story that served as the source for this episode.

The FictionMags Index,
Galactic Central,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
“Museum Piece.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 6, episode 25, NBC, 4 Apr. 1961.
SFE: The Science Fiction Encyclopedia,
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

In two weeks: Bang! You're Dead, starring Billy Mumy!


Grant said...

People like to kid men in the mid-70's for suddenly wearing leisure suits and fluffing up their hair, but somehow Bert Convy looked perfectly at home that way.
I've always liked him in the dark comedy you mention, BUCKET OF BLOOD, where he plays the undercover cop at the beatnik hangout.
And I've always liked Myron McCormick in a LIGHT comedy, the film version of NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS. So it's strange to see him in something as dramatic as this.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Grant. I was surprised to see that he had so many non-game show roles, since I remember him as a daytime TV mainstay from the '70s.

Jack Seabrook said...

I was able to get a copy of "Pop and the Law" from the Library of Congress and, after reading it, I can confirm that it was not the source for this episode. I revised the post accordingly.