Thursday, December 3, 2020

The Hitchcock Project-Alfred Hayes Part Four: Beyond the Sea of Death [9.14]

 by Jack Seabrook

When shall they meet? I cannot tell,
Indeed, when they shall meet again,
Except some day in Paradise:
For this they wait, one waits in pain.
Beyond the sea of death love lies
For ever, yesterday, to-day;
Angels shall ask them, 'Is it well?'
And they shall answer, 'Yea.'

--from "One Day" by Christina Rossetti

In "Beyond the Sea of Death" by Miriam Allen deFord, which was first published in the May 1949 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and which won a fourth prize in the magazine's story competition that year, an unnamed reporter narrates the tale of Sophie Renford, "a rich young woman" convicted of murder. The identity of her victim is not disclosed at first, and the reporter is determined to examine her motive. Sophie's mother died when she was born and she inherited a fortune when her father died. Not pretty, she was shy and awkward; she was raised by Minnie Briggs, who evolved from Sophie's nurse to her governess, her chaperone and, finally, her adult companion. Briggs "cherished her with a maternal passion" and was crestfallen when Sophie eloped with the family's chauffeur.

"Beyond the Sea of Death"
was first published here

After two years of unhappiness, they were divorced and he was paid $50,000 to disappear. Sophie bought a gun to protect herself if he should return and became convinced that no man would ever love her for anything but her money. Time passes, and one day Sophie answers an ad in a literary magazine and begins corresponding with Keith Holloway, an American engineer living in Bolivia. She conceals her wealth from him and finds that they have much in common; he is also an orphan who lives with an elderly friend. They exchange photos and he writes that he's coming to America for a visit and wants to see her.

Keith arrives and he and Sophie are inseparable. She hides her wealth and large home from him, but when he proposes marriage, she confesses that she is rich and had a prior husband. Keith is not concerned, so she brings him home to meet Minnie, her surrogate mother. He returns to Bolivia and his letters to Sophie are filled with plans for their future together. Sophie's joy comes to an abrupt end when she receives a letter telling her that Keith was killed in a mine explosion. She pores over his past letters and fixates on a quotation from the poem cited above: "'Beyond the sea of death Love lies for ever, yesterday, today.'"

Interpreting the quotation as a premonition, Sophie settles into the quiet life of a spinster with Minnie until, one evening, she reads in the newspaper an advertisement for a talk by Swami Avranyakananda, who uses the same quotation in the ad. She thinks it's a message from Keith, attends the swami's lecture, and makes an appointment for a private meeting with him. She returns home from the meeting convinced that he gave her messages from her dead lover. Minnie is skeptical, especially when Sophie announces that she plans to spend all of her fortune to finance a temple for the swami. Minnie decides to investigate and watches people come and go from the building where the swami is staying, until she selects an unhappy young woman and approaches her.

Diana Hyland as Grace Renford

The young woman tells a tale of heartbreak, involving a Bolivian mining engineer whom she agreed to marry but who was killed in a mining accident. She shows Minnie a photograph of the man and Minnie recognizes him as Keith Holloway. Like Sophie, the woman is convinced that the swami carries messages from her dead fiance. Minnie understands the confidence game now and how Sophie was led astray. Before she goes to the police, she decides that she must tell Sophie, so that the young woman can "face life with more common sense." The reporter tells the reader, "It was a bad mistake. It made a murderess of Sophie Renford."

That evening, Minnie tells Sophie about her investigation and what she discovered. Later that night, Sophie "committed her murder." The reporter explains that he or she met Sophie in prison and later won the Pulitzer Prize for helping break the "'Rich Young Widow Conspiracy Ring.'" But it was not the swami whom Sophie killed. "The one thing she could not endure was the bursting of the iridescent bubble of her dreams"; forced to face the truth that no man had ever truly loved her, Sophie "shot Minnie Briggs through the heart while her old companion slept."

Mildred Dunnock as Minnie Briggs

In the introduction to "Beyond the Sea of Death" in its original magazine publication, the author calls this story "'primarily not a murder story but a story.'" It poses the question, what does one do when a dream dies? Sophie spent years convincing herself that no man could love her for anything but her money. Duped by Keith, she fell hopelessly in love, and when he died, she believed that she could communicate with him beyond the grave. She felt this so strongly that she was willing to give away her entire fortune to build a temple for the man she thought had established communication between her and Keith. When she discovered that Minnie was responsible for the death of this dream, she killed the closest thing to a mother that she had.

Minnie is the victim of her own love for Sophie. She believes that she is helping the young woman by telling her the truth, but she really is destroying the only thing Sophie had to cling to, as false as it was. DeFord's portrait of two women and their tragic fate is well done. As a mystery, it works--we know who the killer is from the start, but we don't know the identity of the victim until the story's final line. Minnie becomes an unlikely detective, but her "client" does not appreciate her efforts and pays her with a bullet.

This short story has been reprinted many times since its original publication; perhaps the producers of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour noticed it in the collection, The Quintessence of Queen, published in 1962. It was adapted for television and aired on January 24, 1964. The story had been adapted for TV once before, airing on the live, half-hour series, The Web, on October 24, 1951, but it is unlikely that this show was available to the writers of the Hitchcock hour and it is probably lost. Like "Bonfire," the adaptation is credited to Alfred Hayes and William D. Gordon, which suggests that there were two versions of a problematic script.

Jeremy Slate as Keith Holloway

The show opens with Grace (as Sophie has been renamed) running up the stairs and going to her room in tears. She speaks briefly in voiceover (the only voiceover in the show) and takes from her dresser drawer a stack of letters tied with ribbon, and a gun, which she loads. We see a framed photo of Keith Holloway on her dresser and there is a dissolve to "'less than a year ago.'" The character of the reporter who narrates the short story has been eliminated and almost the entire show plays out in flashback. Keith checks into a hotel, having traveled from Bolivia to see Grace, and Grace tells Minnie about her beau for the first time, taking her companion to an apartment that Grace has set up to deceive Keith into thinking that she is not rich. The viewer can infer Grace's status by the fact that she has a butler and wears a fur coat; dialogue between Grace and Minnie is used to explain how Grace met Keith and how their relationship developed. The initial section of the story is jettisoned and dealt with in a few lines of dialogue so that the show can get right to the moment where Keith arrives.

In addition, the magazine where Grace saw the ad from Keith was not a literary magazine but rather a magazine called The World Beyond, which Minnie refers to as "'that spooky spirit magazine you read.'" This shows that Grace is already predisposed to believing in the supernatural even before she meets Keith. A scene follows in which Keith, in an ill-fitting suit, visits Grace at her fake apartment, where she ineptly tries to cook and serve dinner; the steaks are inedible and the coffee only hot water. Keith pulls a volume of Christina Rossetti's poetry from her bookshelf and reads from it, setting up the later use of her poem. Keith tells Grace that he became interested in spiritualism when he was in New Dehli and that he felt he was somewhere else when he was in the mountains of Bolivia. He then quotes the line, "beyond the sea of death" from the Rossetti book, again foreshadowing the later importance of this verse.

Abraham Sofaer as Dr. Shankara

In a budget-conscious effort to show their courtship progressing quickly, we see stock footage of a football game and shots of Keith and Grace cheering in a small section of what is meant to be a large crowd at the game but which looks nothing like it. Despite Minnie's counsel to move slowly, Grace accepts Keith's marriage proposal on a romantic overlook above the city of San Francisco. There is yet another mention of the Rossetti poem as Keith says goodbye to Grace before ostensibly returning to Bolivia. After she learns of Keith's death, we see Grace reading from the book of poetry and taking a gun from a case.

The swami, renamed Dr. R.D. Shankara, has already given his lecture when Grace sees his ad, and we next see them in a darkened room together as he speaks as if giving a message from beyond the grave. She immediately believes that Keith is speaking to her. Minnie tells her, "'You're in love with a ghost,'" and Grace replies, "'Keith is real to me. More real than this world or anyone in it.'" This is a big hint about how Grace will react when Minnie tells her the truth. Minnie's investigation is shortened; she meets a woman in the hallway outside Dr. Shankara's room and pretends to need advice. They sit together and the woman reveals that her story mirrors that of Grace, right down to the same photo of Keith.

Unlike in the story, Minnie goes to the police before speaking to Grace and, when she tells the young woman the truth, Minnie brings in police Lieutenant Farrell to talk to Grace. He shows her Keith's mug shot and explains that her beau has used many aliases; she drops the photo and runs upstairs to her room. There is another dissolve and we are back to the opening scene. Minnie enters Grace's bedroom and sees the gun in her hand. Now, rather than thinking that Grace intends to murder the swami, the inference is that she is contemplating suicide. Minnie tries to talk her out of it, but suddenly Minnie realizes that Grace is pointing the gun at her. Minnie tries to run but is shot and killed in a most unconvincing fashion. Grace talks to her companion after shooting her, accusing her of taking Keith away and asking why.

Ann Ayars as Lucy Barrington

The TV adaptation changes the murder mystery of the story, dragging it out and telescoping it in ways that diminish its effectiveness. We don't know until the very end of the TV show that a murder will occur, while the mystery in the story is focused on who will be the victim. Much of the character development in the early part of the story is eliminated and covered in brief lines of dialogue; in its place, the TV show adds a scene where Grace demonstrates her inability to impersonate a less-affluent woman. One wonders if the voiceover that we hear briefly in the first scene might have been a remnant of an earlier draft of the teleplay, and perhaps more voiceover to explain the story's narrative might have been a better way to dramatize it than the dialogue used in the show.

Both the TV adaptation and the short story don't address the issue of Grace's deceit. She is not entirely innocent in her relationship with Keith, deceiving him about her real station in life and seeming to make him fall in love with her under false pretenses. Still, when marriage is proposed, Grace confesses the truth, while Keith maintains his deception.

The co-writer of the teleplay is William D. Gordon (1918-1991), who wrote for radio in the 1930s, served in the Infantry during WWII, and had dual careers as an actor and as a writer and story editor for TV from the late 1950s through the mid-1980s. As an actor, he appeared twice on The Twilight Zone and once on Thriller. As a writer, he wrote two episodes of Thriller and six episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, including two where he is co-credited with Alfred Hayes. He also worked as a story editor/supervisor for four TV series, from 1963 to 1981.

Orville Sherman as Charles

Director Alf Kjellin (1920-1988) was born in Sweden and started out in the movies in 1937 as an actor. He began acting on TV in 1952 and continued until 1979. He started directing films in 1955 and worked as a director on American television from 1961 to 1985, concurrent with his work as an actor. As an actor, he appeared in the 1966 film adaptation of Jack Finney's Assault on a Queen and in one episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. As a director, he was at the helm for one episode of the half-hour Hitchcock series ("Coming Home") and eleven episodes of the hour series.

Diana Hyland (1936-1977), as Grace, is a pretty, blue-eyed blonde, and it is hard to accept that she would ever have trouble finding a husband. In the story, she is described as not pretty, shy, and awkward, but Hyland does not display those traits. Still, she does her best to portray a hopeless woman. Born Diana Gentner, Hyland appeared mainly on TV from 1955 to 1977. She was on one other episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, she was on The Twilight Zone, and she was a regular on Peyton Place from 1968 to 1969. Hyland was romantically involved with John Travolta after they met while filming a TV movie; she was 40 and he was 22. She died of breast cancer at age 41.

Francis DeSales
as Lt. Farrell

Mildred Dunnock (1901-1991), as Minnie, is excellent, embodying her character with humor and compassion. She was a founding member of the Actors Studio and originated the role of Linda Loman in Arthur Miller's classic play, Death of a Salesman, on Broadway in 1949. Dunnock played many roles on screen from 1944 to 1992 and appeared in Hitchcock's "The Trouble with Harry" (1955). She was on the Hitchcock show four times, including "Heart of Gold," and she was also seen on Thriller.

Jeremy Slate (1926-2006), as Keith, is believable as a con man who knows how to appeal to desperate women. Born Robert Perham, he landed at Normandy on D-Day and later went on to a career in movies and on TV from the late 1950s to the early 1990s. He appeared in five episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "One Grave Too Many." In an interview, he admitted that he acted from 1960 to 1970 and then tuned in, turned on and dropped out, spending the next ten years traveling around the USA in a motor home.

In smaller roles:
  • Abraham Sofaer (1896-1988) as Dr. Shankara. He was on screen from 1931 to 1974 and appeared in three episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "The Changing Heart." He was also on The Twilight Zone, Thriller, The Outer Limits, Star Trek, and Night Gallery.
  • Ann Ayars as Lucy Barrington, the other woman duped by Keith. She was on screen from 1941 to 1967, but this was her only appearance on the Hitchcock show. She also appeared on Batman. Ayars was a star soprano in the New York City Opera and taught music for two decades after her film and TV career ended.
  • Orville Sherman (1916-1984) as Charles, the butler. He was on screen from 1958 to 1982 and also appeared on The Twilight Zone. This was his only role on the Hitchcock show.
  • Francis DeSales (1912-1988) as Lt. Farrell. He was on screen from 1950 to 1978 and has numerous TV credits. He also played a police lieutenant on the radio show, Mr. and Mrs. North (1942-1954) and its TV version (1952-1954). He has an uncredited role in Psycho (1960) and was on The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. He can also be seen in "Crack of Doom" on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
Vince Williams
  • Vince Williams as the first hotel clerk. He was on screen from 1958 to 1971 and appeared in four episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, including "Death Scene."
Ollie O'Toole
  • Ollie O'Toole (1912-1992) as the second hotel clerk. He started out on radio in the 1930s and was one half of a comedy due with Art Carney, impersonating famous politicians. His screen career lasted from 1950 to 1984 but this was his only role on the Hitchcock show.
Jim Barringer
  • Jim Barringer (1943-2002) as the messenger boy. He appeared in ten TV shows between 1957 and 1964 and this was the only one of them for the Hitchcock series.
Watch "Beyond the Sea of Death" for free online here. Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the story!


"Beyond the Sea of Death." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, season 9, episode 14, CBS, 24 Jan. 1964. 

DeFord, Miriam Allen. "Beyond the Sea of Death." Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May 1949, pp. 40–57. 

The FictionMags Index, 

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001. 


"Introduction to 'Beyond the Sea of Death.'" Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May 1949, p. 40. 

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 

In two weeks: Our series on Alfred Hayes concludes with "The Photographer and the Undertaker," starring Jack Cassidy and Harry Townes!

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "Help Wanted" here!

Listen to Annie and Kathryn discuss "Bad Actor" here!


Grant said...

I guess I never knew he was a writer, but I've always liked William D. Gordon as an actor. On THE TWILIGHT ZONE, he played the very sympathetic doctor whose face you never see till the end in "Eye of the Beholder," and a slightly similar role in the TV mini-series CAPTAINS AND THE KINGS.

Jack Seabrook said...

I knew him as an actor, too, mainly for that TZ episode. I never saw Captains and the Kings but remember the ads in TV Guide with Richard Jordan. Isn't it weird what sticks?

Jon said...

"Unlike in the story, Minnie goes to the police before speaking to Grace and, when she tells the young woman the truth, Minnie brings in police Lieutenant Farrell to talk to Sophie." I think you mean "Grace" rather than "Sophie" here.

I remember William D. Gordon's earlier TZ appearance even more, where he played the vicious bad guy that Jackie eventually fought off in "Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room".

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks for catching that error! I made the change.

I watched "Nervous Man" not too long ago. It's an interesting episode and Gordon is tough.