Thursday, December 1, 2022

The Hitchcock Project-Jerry Sohl Part One: Dead Weight [5.9]

by Jack Seabrook

Jerry Sohl (1913-2002) wrote the teleplays for four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that aired from 1959 to 1961. After serving in the Army Air Corps in WWII, he wrote for a newspaper and began to publish short stories in the early 1950s. In 1959, he began to write for TV, and this continued for two decades, during which time he wrote for shows such as The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Star Trek. He was also a novelist, writing books for three decades, mostly in the science fiction genre. His last novel was published in 1983 and his last story in 1985.

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Jerry Sohl
Sohl's first teleplay to air was the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "Dead Weight," which premiered on Sunday, November 22, 1959. The script was based on an unpublished story by Herb Golden (1914(?)-2005), who spent 14 years as the motion picture editor at Variety before becoming a vice president at United Artists in 1959, the year this episode was filmed.

The show begins on Lover's Lane, as ad executive Courtney Masterson is parked above the lights of a city in his expensive convertible, passionately kissing his much younger girlfriend, Peg. The couple's lovemaking is interrupted suddenly by a man who holds a flashlight and a gun; he is Rudy Stickney, a young criminal who speaks in hip lingo and orders them out of the car. Rudy removes Courtney's wallet from his pocket and mocks his name, forcing the older man to open the car's trunk and remove its contents, including a couple of bags and a set of golf clubs. When Peg tries to run, Courtney leaps on Rudy, who drops his gun. Rudy pulls out a switchblade, but Courtney picks up the gun and suddenly the roles are reversed. Courtney forces Rudy into the car's trunk and closes the lid before driving off with Peg.

Joseph Cotten as Courtney Masterson
Quickly realizing that taking Rudy to the police station would create bad publicity, not to mention revealing to his wife that he was out with another woman, Courtney fails to mention his trunk's contents when a motorcycle cop pulls up alongside him at a traffic light. Peg tells Courtney that he should have killed Rudy when he had the chance; Courtney takes her home and then drives back to Lover's Lane and lets Rudy out of the trunk at gunpoint. The criminal quickly turns on Courtney, suggesting that he will blackmail the ad executive in regard to his relationship with Peg, so when Rudy begins to walk away, Courtney shoots and kills him.

Julie Adams as Peg
At the police station, Courtney claims that Rudy was a hitchhiker whom he picked up; the detective seems suspicious of the story, but Courtney explains that he grabbed for the gun, there was a fight, and the gun went off. The detective reveals Rudy's identity and criminal past, and before long, Courtney's actions draw praise and he is taken home. He tells his wife the same story that he told the police and the next morning Courtney is back at the office, where he is hailed as a hero. Unfortunately, waiting to speak to him is a private detective named Lester Eldridge, who explains that Courtney's wife was suspicious and hired him to follow her husband. He saw everything that happened at Lover's Lane and produces Rudy's switchblade. But Lester has an idea: instead of reporting to Courtney's wife or to the police, perhaps he and Courtney can come to an arrangement.

Don Gordon as Rudy Stickney
"Dead Weight" is a strong episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that benefits from a tight script, good performances, and crisp direction. There is wonderful lighting throughout the show; first, on Lover's Lane, which is convincingly remote and shadowy; then, as Courtney and Peg drive through town, with excellent rear-projection shots; and finally, at the police station, where harsh lighting makes it look like Courtney is being interrogated for murder. The four main characters all have serious ethical problems:
  • Courtney cheats on his wife, murders Rudy, and lies to the police.
  • Peg has an affair with a married man, suggests that Courtney kill Rudy, and supports covering up the initial incident and not going to the police.
  • Rudy is a career criminal who holds up Courtney and Peg, threatens physical and sexual violence, and hints at future blackmail.
  • Lester is willing to cover up murder and suggests blackmail.
Quite a group of mid-century villains! Courtney Masterson is an ad executive with his name on the door of a prosperous agency, making him a contemporary of Mad Men's fictional Don Draper, who has similar grey areas in his moral makeup.

Ted de Corsia as Lt. Ward
"Dead Weight" is directed by Stuart Rosenberg (1927-2007), who directed television shows from 1957 to 1966 and films from 1960 to 1991. He taught at the American Film Institute beginning in 1993. Rosenberg won an Emmy in 1963 for directing an episode of The Defenders, and he also directed three episodes of The Twilight Zone as well as the films, Cool Hand Luke (1967) and The Amityville Horror (1979). This was the first of five episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that he would direct; others included "Road Hog" and "Escape to Sonoita."

Angela Greene as Carol
Joseph Cotten (1905-1994) stars as Courtney Masterson. He was born in Virginia and appeared on screen from 1937 to 1981. Cotten met Orson Welles in 1934 and later became an inaugural member of the Mercury Theatre, appearing on stage and on radio in Welles's productions. He began his film career in 1937 but his first great role was in Citizen Kane (1941). Many other great films followed, including Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and The Third Man (1949). Cotten began appearing on TV in 1954 and his career onscreen continued until 1981. This is one of three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents in which he appeared; others include "Breakdown."

Claude Stroud as Lester Eldridge
Two decades younger than her onscreen boyfriend, Julie Adams (1926-2019) plays Peg; voted Miss Little Rock at age 19 in 1946, she was on screen from 1949 to 2018 and her most famous role was in Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Adams was in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Little White Frock," as well as episodes of Night Gallery and The Night Stalker. There is a website devoted to her here.

Don Gordon (1926-2017) seems a bit old to be playing the crook, whom the detective refers to as a "boy;" he was 32 at the time of filming. Gordon served in the U.S. Navy in WWII and appeared onscreen from 1949 to 1993. He was a regular on The Blue Angels (1960-1961), appeared on The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, and was a regular on Lucan (1977-1978). This was his only role on the Hitchcock series.

In smaller roles:
  • Gail Bonney
    Ted de Corsia (1905-1973) as Lt. Ward, who interrogates Courtney; he was on Old Time Radio and then on screen from 1947 to 1972, playing countless small roles on TV, including appearances on The Twilight Zone, Thriller, and The Outer Limits. He was seen on the Hitchcock show three times, including "The Magic Shop." His first film credit was for Orson Welles's The Lady from Shanghai.
  • Angela Greene (1921-1978) as Courtney's wife, Carol; she was born in Dublin, Ireland, worked as a model, and dated John F. Kennedy. Her screen career lasted from 1944 to 1976 and included roles on Thriller and Batman; she was also on one episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
Reita Green
  • Claude Stroud (1907-1985) as Lester Eldridge, the private detective with blackmail on his mind; he was on screen from 1934 to 1983 and appeared in two other episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "The Long Silence."
  • Gail Bonney (1901-1984) as Mary, who tells Courtney that Lester is waiting in her office; born Goldie Bonowitz, she was on screen from 1948 to 1979 and played many bit parts. In addition to roles on Night Gallery and The Night Stalker, she was one of the most prolific actresses on the Hitchcock TV show, appearing in eleven episodes in all.
  • Reita Green (1936- ) as the receptionist at Courtney's office; she was a dancer turned actress who had a short career on screen from 1956 to 1961. She married actor Doodles Weaver and, later in life, was known as the Wallpaper Queen of Burbank.
  • George Dockstader
    George Dockstader (1914-1987) as the motorcycle cop; he was on screen from 1947 to 1974, often in uncredited roles. He was on the Hitchcock show three times, including "The Cadaver," and had an uncredited role in Psycho (1960).
Watch "Dead Weight" online here or order the DVD here. Read the GenreSnaps review here.


"Dead Weight." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 5, episode 9, 22 Nov. 1959. 

Durant, Brian. "Lost in the Fifth Dimension: Jerry Sohl's Legacy in the Twilight Zone." Lost in the Fifth Dimension: Jerry Sohl's Legacy in the Twilight Zone, 


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

"Herbert Lincoln Golden's Obituary (2005) New York Times.", 


Prial, Frank J. "Business People." The New York Times, The New York Times, 20 Dec. 1978, 

Sohl, Jerry, 

StellaStar. "Reita Green." Those Obscure Objects of Desire, 26 Feb. 2020, 

"United Artists Television." Wikiwand,

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "Crack of Doom" here!

Listen to Annie and Kathryn discuss "Dead Weight" here!

In two weeks: Our look at episodes written by Jerry Sohl continues with "The Doubtful Doctor," starring Dick York and Gena Rowlands!


Grant said...

I'm sure I've said it before, but no one could play a "hard luck" character better than Don Gordon.
In fact, he plays kind of a similar role in the very good COLUMBO episode "Negative Reaction."

Jack Seabrook said...

You haven't said it here, because this is Gordon's only appearance on the Hitchcock show! I do know what you mean, though. He was a good actor. Thanks for reading and for leaving a comment!