Thursday, June 27, 2024

The Hitchcock Project-The Trap by Lee Kalcheim [10.18]

by Jack Seabrook

"The Trap" is based on a short story of the same name by Stanley Abbott that was published in the November 1964 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. In the story, all is not well in the marriage of wealthy Emory Sinclair and his lovely wife, Helen; they have a home in Manhattan and another in Palm Beach, but his pursuit of more money leaves her feeling neglected and bored. Emory hires handsome Paul Fenton as his new secretary, and soon a passionate affair between Helen and Paul is underway. Since divorce would leave her penniless, Helen's thoughts turn to murder, and she devises a plan.

On the day that they are closing their New York house for the winter and she is flying to Florida, while Emory is to fly to Chicago for a three-week stay, Helen carries out her scheme. She hears Emory enter the elevator and, knowing no one else is home and that the house will be empty for months, she removes the fuse from the fuse box and replaces it with one that is burnt out. Helen hears the elevator stop and frantic pounding at the door. She leaves the house and flies to Florida, where she is troubled by dreams and thoughts of her husband slowly dying, alone, trapped in the elevator.

After three weeks, her conscience is clear. The Hendersons are giving her a birthday party that night, and they think that Emory will be there. To Helen's shock, when she goes downstairs to leave for the party, she comes face to face with her husband. He explains that he went shopping for a birthday gift for her on the morning when she left for Florida, and he left Paul at home to finish things up. Emory explains that he returned home to find Paul still there, and the secretary was still there when he left.

"The Trap" is a clever short story, only six pages long in the digest, which depends on keeping from the reader the knowledge that Paul, not Emory, was trapped in the elevator. To translate this to TV, the secret would need to be kept from the viewer until the very end. The story's author, Stanley Abbott (1906-1976), wrote a handful of short stories in the 1950s and early 1960s (The FictionMags Index lists a total of eight), and three were adapted for television: one on General Electric Theater in 1959 and two on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in 1965 (his other episode, "Wally the Beard," aired the week after "The Trap").

"The Trap" was first published here
The TV version of "The Trap" is greatly expanded from the short story. It begins as John Cochran (Paul Fenton in the short story) arrives at the home of the Beales (as the Sinclairs have been renamed); he is welcomed by a butler, looks around at the beautiful surroundings, including the private elevator, and sees Peg Beale embracing a man other than her husband behind a partly open door. John takes the lift to the second floor, where another servant sends a handwritten message by toy train into Ted Beale's office to announce Cochran's arrival.

Cochran is ushered in to meet Beale, a middle-aged man in a smoking jacket who is loud and loquacious. The initial scene quickly establishes that the Beales are rich, they have a private elevator, and Mrs. Beale is unfaithful. Unlike the short story, Ted Beale is a major character in the TV show; he makes and sells toys and likes practical jokes. In contrast, Cochran is serious and tells Beale that he graduated from Princeton and is a shorthand champion. Peg Beale enters and she and Cochran exchange looks, each aware that he saw her with another man. She asks her husband not to hire him but Ted does not listen to her, demonstrating that he is in charge and that he is able to resist her attempts to manipulate him with soft words and kisses.

Soon, John is established as Ted's employee and is living in an apartment on the top floor of the Beale home. Peg again tries to get her husband to fire his new secretary but he continues to resist her entreaties. The elevator is used repeatedly so that the viewer is familiar with it; there is a tense scene between John and Peg as well as scenes at a birthday party for Ted where the conduct of the wealthy guests is contrasted with that of John, who does not drink. Once again, John sees Peg with another man and this time he prevents Ted from discovering his wife's betrayal.

Anne Francis as Peg Beale
The next morning, John and Peg begin their affair in the elevator with a kiss after he assures her that he will not tell her husband about her dalliances. The elevator stops partway down and Ted then shows John (and the viewer) how to replace the fuse. John and Peg spend more time together and she suggests killing Ted so that she can inherit his money and marry John. Her seduction works much better on the younger man than it does on her husband and he agrees to try to think of a way to murder Ted.

The first sign of tension between employer and employee comes when Ted challenges John to a game of tether ball in his office; the younger man beats the older man, and Ted is a sore loser. A girlfriend of Peg's tells her that Ted has made plans to take her on a vacation in the country, and Peg confides in John, concerned that her husband suspects that they are planning something. Ted tells John that he's being promoted and sent to Europe for six months to scout for new business. As with every decision Ted makes, there is no discussion allowed: he is the boss of his company and his marriage. Peg begs John to hurry and kill Ted, but he counsels patience. As in the story, Peg thinks that John leaves and Ted remains. In the TV show, she is shown looking out a window as a man gets into a car to be driven away. The viewer does not see who the man is and assumes it's John; Peg helpfully says, "'Bye, John.'"

She takes the elevator downstairs and, when it goes back up and someone gets on and starts to descend, she pulls out the fuse, just as in the story. Peg rushes out, ignoring the alarm bell that is being pressed by the elevator's inhabitant (the bell had been demonstrated earlier), takes a taxi and a plane and ends up at a vacation spot in the country. Her friend's young daughter shows her a teddy bear that had been shown earlier in the episode; Ted had recorded his own voice saying "'I love you'" over and over and hearing him causes her to get upset.

Unlike the story, where husband surprises wife in Florida and relates what happened in New York, the TV version shows Peg rushing back home by plane and taxi. She enters the house and observes that the elevator remains stuck between floors. She changes the fuse and Ted appears, to her shock. He gives her a pearl necklace and she realizes that John is in the elevator. Ted remarks that three weeks have passed, pushes the button, and the elevator comes down. The door opens to reveal John's corpse and the show ends as Ted gives Peg a knowing look.

Donnelly Rhodes as John Cochran
While the short story of "The Trap" is mostly narrative and features little dialogue, the TV version is essentially a three-character play that is dominated by the character of Ted Beale, the cuckolded husband who seems jovial but who ends up manipulating his wife and her lover. Beale proudly tells John that he has an eighth-grade education, in contrast to John's degree from Princeton; the older man is rich, successful in business, and married to a young, beautiful woman. Yet he is not as transparent as he seems, since he realizes that his wife is unfaithful to him and springs "The Trap" of the title on her so that she unwittingly eliminates his biggest rival.

John Cochran is serious throughout the episode; his character is easily led by both Peg Beale and her husband. The wife's beauty and charm work on John to an extent, though she is never quite able to get him to settle on a concrete plan to murder her husband and thus must take matters into her own hands. Peg is an unhappy wife who serially cheats with men younger than her husband; her character changes little throughout the episode, though her apparent sense of remorse near the end, when she hears her husband's voice coming from the teddy bear, suggests that she might have some small amount of conscience.

"The Trap" is expanded from the short story with numerous scenes involving Ted Beale and his outsized personality but, in the end, the main plot of the short story remains: John is hired as Ted's secretary, becomes Peg's lover, and she inadvertently kills him instead of her husband. The show's writer and director alter the ending to make it more visually shocking, and the final shot, with Ted looking at Peg as if he knew what she was doing all along, adds more depth to his character.

Lee Kalcheim (1938- ) wrote the teleplay, his only contribution to the Hitchcock series. He had written a teleplay for a comedy series that aired in 1961, but "The Trap" was his first TV drama. He would go on to write for TV (and a couple of movies) until 1995; he wrote one episode of The Odd Couple and won an Emmy in 1973 for an episode of All in the Family.

Robert Strauss as Ted Beale
The show is directed by John Brahm (1893-1982) and it was the last of the fifteen episodes he directed for the Hitchcock series, including "The Hero." The German-born director began making films in 1936 and moved to TV in 1952.

Starring as Peg Beale is Anne Francis (1930-2011), who was born Ann Marvak in upstate New York. She began modeling at age five and was on Broadway by age eleven. Her first movie came out in 1947 and she was on the scene at the dawn of television in 1949. She worked both in movies and TV until 1969; after that, most of her roles were on episodic TV. She is best known for Forbidden Planet (1956), as the star of the Honey West series (1965-1966), and for a couple of roles on The Twilight Zone. She appeared on the Hitchcock show five times, including "What Really Happened."

Donnelly Rhodes (1937-2018) plays John Cochran. He was born in Canada as Donnelly Rhodes Henry and had a long career onscreen from 1956 to 2016, appearing more often on TV than in film. This was one of his two appearances on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour; the other was "Ten Minutes from Now."

Robert Strauss (1913-1975) steals the show as Ted Beale. He started out on Broadway in 1930, began appearing on film in 1942, and was first seen on TV in 1950. He had a busy career on stage and screen until his death, but this was his only role on the Hitchcock TV show.

The rest of the cast is unremarkable.

Read "The Trap" online here or watch the TV show online here. Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the short story!


Abbott, Stanley. "The Trap." Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Nov. 1964, pp. 58–64.


Galactic Central,

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



"The Trap." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, season 3, episode 18, NBC, 22 February 1965.


Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "I Killed the Count, part three" here!

In two weeks: "Completely Foolproof," starring J.D. Cannon and Patricia Barry!


Grant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Grant said...

It's interesting to see Donnelly Rhodes playing very "intense" dramatic characters in these ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR episodes, because outside of them I mainly know him from sitcoms like SOAP, where he's usually playing likable "big lug" characters instead.

Jack Seabrook said...

He has a face that makes you think, where do I know that guy from? But his name isn't all that familiar.