Thursday, May 20, 2021

The Hitchcock Project-William Fay Part Eleven: Ten O'Clock Tiger [7.26]

by Jack Seabrook

Mixing greed and illegal performance-enhancing drugs in the boxing world leads to tragedy in "Ten O'Clock Tiger," which first aired on NBC on Tuesday, April 3, 1962. The onscreen writing credit says that the teleplay is by William Fay, "from his story," and this has led to some confusion about the source material.

The TV show, "Ten O'Clock Tiger," is not based on Fay's story, "The Ten O'Clock Tiger," which was published in the August 9, 1947 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. That story concerns a young boxer who meets a pretty young woman at the New York Public Library prior to a championship fight. She helps boost his confidence and he wins the title after having convinced himself that he was being set up to lose.

"Epitaph for a Heel"
was first published here

The Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "Ten O'Clock Tiger," is instead based on Fay's last published short story, "Epitaph for a Heel," which appeared in the January 20, 1962 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, less than three months before the TV show aired. It's possible that Fay recalled his own story of twelve years' before and decided to reuse the title for his teleplay. This episode is the only one of the sixteen that Fay wrote for the Hitchcock series to be based on one of his own short stories, even though he had been publishing short fiction in popular magazines since the late 1930s.

"Epitaph for a Heel" begins as Arthur (The Professor) Duffy, a "manager of fighters," is approached at McCooley's Midtown Gym in New York City by a former jockey named Boots, who offers a tip on a horse race. Arthur is not interested, but Boots follows him into the dressing room of Soldier Fresno, "a shop-worn heavyweight," who is asleep on a rubbing table. Lamenting that Soldier will "make out like General Custer" at his next fight, against Buster Bigelow, Arthur is upset when he hears that the horse Boots tipped him off about not only won, but set a new track record.

Saul Bass designed this
illustration for the short story

Boots explains that he gave the horse a dose of a new formula that leaves no trace after ninety minutes. Arthur suggests giving a dose to Soldier before his upcoming fight and Boots agrees. They test it out and it works like a charm; Soldier knocks out a sparring partner in the gym who had "bombarded" him the day before. The following Tuesday, with the help of Boots's formula, Soldier knocks out Buster Bigelow in the second round. Arthur wagers heavily on the fight and wins big. Two weeks later, after another dose of formula, Soldier knocks out Luther Felix in the fourth round of a bout in Chicago. Two more successful fights follow and Soldier is set to "meet the champion in June."

Now Soldier is famous and Arthur is reaping the rewards, living in a swanky hotel suite on Manhattan's Park Avenue. On the morning of the championship fight, Boots visits Arthur and suggests that he let Soldier get knocked out and not risk further injury. Yet Arthur is greedy and wants to split the two million dollar purse with Boots. The manager is even more certain when Boots reveals that the two vials of formula in his hand are the last of it--the inventor "'died in Leavenworth last year.'"

That night, at twenty minutes before ten, Arthur gives Soldier a shot of formula, then a second shot, doubling the dose to a dangerous level. Soldier goes wild, losing his sense of place and thinking he is already in the boxing ring. He beats Arthur to death and the police find the manager dead on the floor of the dressing room, where Soldier believes he has just won the championship.

Robert Keith as Arthur (The Professor) Duffy
A headline above the story calls it "a story of the sordid underworld of big-time boxing," and that is the truth. William Fay had written other stories about the sport, such as "The Champ's Last Fight" (1951) and "Nice Clean Fight" (1955), so he was familiar with the characters and setting. He uses dry humor, such as referring to the manager by both his full name and his nickname in parentheses--Arthur (The Professor) Duffy--but the essence of the tale is the way that Duffy sees his fighter as less than human. Soldier is just another animal, no different than a racehorse, to be experimented on and profited from. Even Boots, who Arthur calls "'a known crook,'" shows concern for the boxer's welfare prior to the last fight, but the manager will not be deterred from his determination to abuse the simple athlete and he pays the ultimate price. Duffy is the heel of the title and Fay's story serves as his epitaph.

Frankie Darro as Boots
The TV adaptation of "Epitaph for a Heel," retitled "Ten O'Clock Tiger," follows the short story very closely, scene for scene, and much of the dialogue is lifted from the page. There are bits of business and snatches of dialogue added, but there are no significant changes. In the short story, the formula is injected in Soldier's buttocks ("portside"), while in the show it is given as a shot in the arm. After he gets the first shot, Soldier goes out into the gym and punches a heavy bag, leaving a tear in the bag's side from which sand pours. This visually demonstrates the boxer's newfound power.

After Soldier beats Bigelow, Fay adds some dialogue to the hotel room scene between Arthur and Boots to show Boots beginning to demonstrate concern for Soldier's welfare. This helps set up the final scene, where Boots tells Arthur not to dose Soldier for the championship fight. Boots is portrayed as a small-time crook with a heart, whereas Arthur lacks any sort of love for his fellow man.

Karl Lukas as Soldier Fresno
The biggest problems with the TV version are the performance of Karl Lukas as Soldier and the staging of the final scene. Lukas plays Soldier as a complete innocent, but when he receives a shot of formula he takes a quick intake of breath and becomes a caricature of an animated boxer. In the show's last scene, he loses control of himself, but it would not be possible to show a heavyweight boxer beating a frail old man to death on television, so director Bernard Girard resorts to several tricks to avoid focusing in on what is happening. When Soldier approaches Arthur, swinging punches furiously, Girard films the boxer coming toward the lens with a handheld camera that gives the shots a shaky quality. As in the basement scene in Psycho, a hanging overhead lamp is struck by Soldier's arm, and it swings back and forth above the action to create movement and distract the viewer from what is happening. Girard also cuts back and forth between the inside of the dressing room and the outside, where police try to break the door down. The end result is an unsatisfying scene, where it is clear that Soldier is not really hitting Arthur.

Syl Lamont (?)
The fight scenes are a mix of stock footage for the long shots and close-up shots featuring a limited number of cast members, relying on the soundtrack's cheering crowd to complete the illusion. Robert Keith is perfectly cast as Arthur and fully inhabits his role, looking at first like an old buzzard in a cardigan and slacks. By the scene in the hotel room, he has changed into a suit, taking advantage of the money he has made off of his chemically-enhanced fighter. Yet the fine clothes can't hide the liver sports on his face or his perpetually sour expression. Frankie Darro is also good as Boots; he is a sharper dresser than Arthur and looks every inch the racetrack tout in hat and bow tie. Unfortunately, Karl Lukas portrays Soldier as too much of a mug and overplays the palooka role. In the end, "Ten O'Clock Tiger" is a disappointment, a seedy episode that looks as cheap as its subject.

Andy Romano
Director Bernard Girard (1918-1997) was born Bernard Goldstein and worked as both a writer and director of movies and TV from the late 1940s to the mid-1970s. He directed a Twilight Zone as well as four half-hour Hitchcock episodes and eight hour-length Hitchcock episodes, including the Robert Bloch classic, "Water's Edge."

Robert Keith (1890-1966) had a long career on film and TV from 1924 to 1964. He also played many roles on Broadway, from 1921 to 1951, and was in the original cast of Mister Roberts when it premiered in 1948. Keith was seen on the big screen in The Wild One (1953) and Guys and Dolls (1955) and this was one of his two appearances on the Hitchcock show. His last role was in an episode of The Twilight Zone. His son, Brian Keith, was also in several episodes of the Hitchcock series, some scripted by William Fay.

Charles E. Perry (?)
Frankie Darro (1917-1976) was born Frank Johnson Jr. and was the son of circus aerialists. He started out as a child actor on film but only grew to 5'3" as an adult. He was on screen from 1924 to 1975 and had a voice role in Pinocchio (1940). He was also one of the actors to play Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet (1956). This was one of his two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and he also appeared on Batman. A website devoted to him is here.

Karl Lukas (1919-1995) was born Karol Louis Lukasiak, he was on screen from 1951 to 1991 and had roles on Batman, Night Gallery, and The Odd Couple. He had begun his career on Broadway in the 1940s and was a semi-regular on The Phil Silvers Show (1955-58). He was in five episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "Bang! You're Dead."

In smaller roles:
  • Syl Lamont (1912-1982) as an attendant; he was on screen from 1950 to 1975 and appeared in six episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "A Tangled Web."
  • Chuck Hicks
    Andy Romano (1941- ) as the cop who says "he's dead" to end the episode; he was on screen from 1961 to 2003, including an appearance on Batman and parts in eight episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "The Black Curtain."
  • Charles E. Perry (1900-1967) as a handler; he was often uncredited but he was on screen from 1940 to 1965. He played a corner man in the Playhouse 90 production of Rod Serling's "Requiem for a Heavyweight" and appeared in five episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." He was also on The Twilight Zone.
  • Chuck Hicks (1927- ) is credited as Gypsy Joe, though he is called "Gypsy Boy" in the show; he was an actor and a stuntman who was on screen from 1952 to 2010. He boxed in college, the Navy, and professionally, and he played a boxer in The Twilight Zone episode, "Steel." He was on Batman six times but this was his only role on the Hitchcock show. A website devoted to him is here.
"Ten O'Clock Tiger" is not available on U.S. DVD or for free online, but may be viewed at the Peacock site for a fee. The short story, "Epitaph for a Heel," may be read on the online archives of The Saturday Evening Post.


Fay, William. "Epitaph for a Heel."  The Saturday Evening Post. Jan. 20, 1962, 26-27, 48-50.

The FictionMags Index,

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



Stephensen-Payne, Phil. Galactic Central,

"Ten O'Clock Tiger." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 7, episode 26, NBC, 3 Apr., 1962.

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

In two weeks: Our coverage of William Fay concludes with Good-Bye, George, starring Robert Culp!

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "The Baby Sitter" here!

Listen to Annie and Kathryn discuss "The Blessington Method" here!


Grant said...

I don't know this one well, but it's always funny to see Andy Romano in anything besides the Beach Movies, where he plays a member of the comical biker gang very believably. So seeing him in a police uniform is really the flipside of that.

Jack Seabrook said...

I've never watched the beach movies, so I only know him from AHP!