Thursday, May 5, 2022

The Hitchcock Project-Sarett Rudley Part Four: A Man Greatly Beloved [2.33]

by Jack Seabrook

When is a lie better than the truth? If one fails to correct a misapprehension in order to protect oneself, is it wrong? When one has paid for a crime, can one conceal the past and start over? What's more important: past identity or present actions? Does a crime from long ago wipe out subsequent good acts? These are the sort of questions raised by "Greatly Beloved," a story by A. A. Milne that was published in the February 1950 issue of Good Housekeeping and collected (as "A Man Greatly Beloved") in Milne's short-story collection, A Table Near the Band, which was published that same year.

A precocious 15-year-old named Antonia Fell narrates what she refers to as the "Strange Case of John Anderson," writing in her school exercise book. She lives in the English village of Essington, where her father is the vicar, and she hopes to be a novelist someday. When Antonia was nine, a man named John Anderson moved into a 13th-century cottage known as Ballards. Not waiting to be invited, Antonia rode her bicycle to the cottage and introduced herself to Anderson, an unmarried man with "a sad sort of face." He was 55 and retired from business, and he soon became known and liked in the village. New in the country and having come from the city, Antonia thought of him as "the kindest man I ever knew."

"Greatly Beloved" was
first published here
When she was eleven, a local busybody named Miss Viney showed Antonia a letter from her nephew Fred, who worked in a London bank. He reported that a superintendent at Scotland Yard who retired two or three years earlier was named John Anderson; he was known for solving famous crimes such as the Luton case, in which a man "strangled his wife and buried her under the floor of the summerhouse." Antonia visited Anderson, who by then was her "great friend," and asked him if the was "the Superintendent Anderson who solved the Luton case."

He seemed to admit having been the famous policeman, and news of his identity spread quickly through the village; he went from being everyone's friend to possessing a "halo of authority." When an inmate escaped from the asylum seven miles away, the villagers were unafraid, secure in the knowledge that Anderson was among them. He became "not only the most loved but the most influential person in Essington."

Sir Cedric Hardwicke as John Anderson
Antonia reports that Anderson died a few weeks ago of a stroke. The villagers decided to pay for a funeral, and Antonia suggested having a quotation from Thomas Hardy put on his tombstone. Her mother suggested, instead, "a man greatly beloved," from Daniel, and her father agreed. A solicitor arrived from London and revealed to Antonia's father that "Anderson's real name was John Luton. And he strangled his wife." He had been in prison for fifteen years and changed his name. Antonia remarks that "when I knew him, he was a good man and did good things," and her father has a text from Psalms added to the tombstone, concerning redemption.

In the eyes of a child, the former murderer was a good man who had paid for his crime and who should be evaluated by his more recent actions. Sarett Rudley adapted "Greatly Beloved" for TV and it was broadcast as "A Man Greatly Beloved" on CBS on Sunday, May 12, 1957. Perhaps thinking that a 15-year-old girl was too old to narrate the story on film, Rudley lowers the age of the narrator considerably, and the child, renamed Hildegard Fell, is played by seven-year-old Evelyn Rudie, who is conspicuously missing her front teeth. The events are relocated to Massachusetts from England, and Hildegarde addresses the viewer directly, looking right into the camera as she speaks. The story's long passages of first-person narration are broken up by dialogue, first between the child's parents, and soon between Hildegarde and John Anderson.

Evelyn Rudie as Hildegarde Fell
Instead of having her meet the man just as he is moving in, she pays him a visit to try to convince him to change his mind about letting the church bazaar committee use his garden for its annual affair. Oddly enough, though the story has been relocated to New England and Anderson is said to have moved to Essington from Boston, he is played by Sir Cedric Hardwicke, whose British accent is never explained. As in the short story, the TV show is told in a series of flashbacks that are intercut with scenes of Hildegarde speaking to the viewer. In the first flashback, Hildegarde visits Anderson, who plays chess alone until she joins and beats him. He seems gruff at first but he is quickly won over by the child's direct approach and intelligence.

Unlike the short story, where the narrator ages from nine to fifteen during the course of events, Hildegarde Fell in the TV show remains the same age throughout, and it appears that the events take place in a short span of time. There is a bit of foreshadowing added when Hildegarde asks Anderson if he is married and, when he replies that he is not, she suggests that his wife could have died. Fred in the story has become Clarence, who works in a bank in Boston and whom Hildegarde says she plans to marry someday. Miss Viney, who pays a very minor role in the story and spreads gossip that she learned from her nephew Fred, becomes Mrs. Whiteford, an eccentric woman who is studying to be a medium.

Hugh Marlowe as Richard Fell
Hildegarde asks Mrs. Whiteford to request that her nephew find out more about Anderson's background, at which point the woman suggests contacting the spirit world. Unlike the short story, where Fred does not appear, Clarence appears in the TV show and flirts with Hildegarde, who asks him about Anderson. Clarence recalls that Anderson was a judge, rather than a Scotland Yard detective, as in the short story. Hildegarde confronts Anderson with what she knows and promises not to tell anyone his identity, though she crosses her fingers behind her back as she says this.

The second half of the show is quite different from the short story. The church bazaar is held inside Anderson's house due to rain (another "Wet Saturday" for Sir Cedric Hardwicke?), and Mrs. Whiteford unexpectedly provides the entertainment by conducting a seance. Instead of Anderson's identity being revealed though village gossip, it is revealed during the seance by Hildegarde, who hides under a table and pretends to be a spirit, telling those assembled about Anderson's past. The revelation of his identity is the climax of the TV show. Brief narration follows, as Hildegarde explains that Anderson became a changed man before he died. The final revelation comes not from a solicitor but from Clarence, who visits the Fells and reveals the truth about Anderson. Hildegarde eavesdrops on the conversation between Clarence and her father, welling up in tears before ending on a happy note, just like the short story.

Robert Culp as Clarence
"A Man Greatly Beloved" is an excellent example of how to adapt a story heavy on first-person narration into a TV show focused on dialogue. Adding the scene with the church bazaar and making the revelation of Anderson's identity a central event adds much-needed action to the story. The two main performances are excellent and Rudley's teleplay succeeds in opening up the short story for the small screen.

A.A. Milne (1882-1956), who wrote "Greatly Beloved," was born in London and fought in WWI. He began publishing verse and essays in 1906 and went on to a long writing career, publishing plays, novels, poetry, short stories, and non-fiction. He is the author of the classic novel, The Red House Mystery (1922), and many of his stories and plays were adapted for film and television. Two of his stories were adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents (the other was "The Three Dreams of Mr. Findlater," also adapted by Sarett Rudley). Of course, everything he wrote has been overshadowed and essentially forgotten except for the wildly popular and beloved children's stories about Winnie the Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood.

Rebecca Welles as Mrs. Fell

The show is directed by James Neilson (1909-1979), who had directed 33 episodes of Janet Dean, Registered Nurse in the 1954-1955 television season; that show's producer was Joan Harrison, who was the associate producer of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and who probably brought Neilson along with her to her new assignment. This was one of 12 episodes he would direct for the Hitchcock series, including "On the Nose."

Top billing goes to Sir Cedric Hardwicke (1893-1964), who portrays John Anderson, and who had a long and distinguished career on stage, appeared in films from 1931 to 1964 (along with a couple of earlier appearances in silent films), and was seen on television from 1949 to 1964. He was knighted in 1934 and his films include Karloff's The Ghoul (1933), Laughton's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), Chaney's The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), The Lodger (1944) with Laird Cregar, and Hitchcock's Suspicion (1941) and Rope (1948). He appeared in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (the other was "Wet Saturday") as well as one each of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. Hardwicke's scenes with Hildegarde are delightful.

Edith Barrett as Aggie Whiteford
Evelyn Rudie (1949- ) plays Hildegarde Fell. On TV and in film from 1955 to 1963, she made a splash in 1956 on Playhouse 90 playing Eloise, a popular character from children's books. As an adult, Rudie has had a busy career on stage, and she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This was her only appearance on the Hitchcock show.

Hildegarde's father, Reverend Richard Fell, is played by Hugh Marlowe (1911-1982). Born Hugh Herbert Hipple, he started onstage in the 1930s and also appeared on radio. He played Ellery Queen on radio and television and appeared in movies beginning in 1936. He had a role in All About Eve (1950) and began appearing in TV shows that year. He was seen in six episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "John Brown's Body." Later in life, he was a regular on the soap opera, Another World, from 1969 to 1982.

In smaller roles:
  • Robert Culp (1930-2010) as Clarence; Culp's long screen career spanned the years from 1953 until his death in 2010. He starred in a series called Trackdown from 1957 to 1959, became a major star with his lead role in the series, I Spy (1965-1968), and later was a semi-regular on The Greatest American Hero (1981-1986). He was on The Outer Limits three times and also starred in an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, "Good-Bye, George."
  • Rebecca Welles (1928-2017) as Mrs. Fell; prior to 1957, she acted under her real name, Reba Tassel. She was married to director Don Weis, who directed five episodes of the Hitchcock half hour, including "Backward, Turn Backward." Tassel/Welles was in four episodes of the show and her career was mostly on TV from 1951 to 1964.
  • Edith Barrett (1907-1977) as Aggie Whiteford; a stage actress from age 16, she was a member of Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre in the 1930s and she was married to Vincent Price from 1938 to 1948. She began appearing on film in 1941 and she was in three classics in 1943: Jane Eyre, I Walked With A Zombie, and The Song of Bernadette. She appeared in a number of TV shows between 1954 and 1959, including "The Night the World Ended" on Alfred Hitchcock Presents; she made no more screen appearances after 1959.
Read the GenreSnaps review here.

Read "Greatly Beloved" here.

Watch "A Man Greatly Beloved" here or order the DVD here.



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

"A Man Greatly Beloved." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 2, episode 33, CBS, 12 May 1957.

Milne, A.A. "Greatly Beloved." Good Housekeeping, Feb. 1950, 52, 162-71.

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "De Mortuis" here!

Listen to Annie and Kathryn discuss "A Man Greatly Beloved" here!

In two weeks: Our coverage of Sarett Rudley continues with "The Young One," starring Carol Lynley!

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