Sunday, August 23, 2015

Best of Show?: "The Best of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' Volume I"

This review contains spoilers! Alfred Hitchcock not only hosted his anthology series, he even directed a few episodes. The three episodes on this video were all directed by the master of suspense, but they do not live up to his better film work.

The first episode, written by Roald Dahl, is entitled "Lamb to the Slaughter." Barbara Bel Geddes is a young, eager-to-please pregnant wife whose cop hubby comes home one night and springs a surprise. He is in love with someone else and wants a divorce. She goes about her wifely duties, trying to ignore the painful situation. He decides to leave, daring his wife to stop him. She does, by konking him on the head with a frozen leg of lamb. She goes about ransacking the place, and calls the police. While she was at the market, someone broke in and killed her husband. As the detectives investigate, they come up with few clues. They decide the murder weapon was a club-like blunt instrument, and eat Bel Geddes' lovely lamb roast, destroying the evidence.

Tom Ewell stars in "The Case of Mr. Pelham." He talks to a doctor at lunch, and tells him a peculiar story. It seems Pelham's been in a couple of different places around town. He snubs a local client while out of town. He does work in morning, then comes in to the office in the afternoon, not remembering the work. He leaves instructions with his butler, and does not remember them. Pelham figures out he has a double who is taking his place at work, play, and his home, fooling friends and employees alike. In the end, he confronts the other Pelham, with unexpected results.

The final story is a weak murder mystery called "Banquo's Chair." In 1903 England, retired inspector calls in a murder suspect who was never charged. He invites him to dinner on the two year anniversary of the suspect's aunt's murder. He plants an actress in the other room to play the aunt's ghost. The suspect sees the "apparition," confesses, and is arrested. The ghost actress then arrives late, and apologizes for not getting to play the spectre in time...cue ominous music.

If you think I spoiled the first and third stories, you are half right. The episodes are so poorly written, you would have been able to figure them out for yourself. Bel Geddes is very good in her role. The look on her face when her husband dumps her is heartbreaking. The problem is you know exactly what is going to happen through the finale. The premise really does not make much sense. How many cops sit down to dinner in the house of a murdered colleague, cooked by his pregnant grieving widow? Tom Ewell is very good in his role as the paranoid man with the double. He is very believable without going over the top. The final story has no real stars, just tried and true English character actors doing what they do best. It is not badly done, it is just done, with no challenge to the cast.

Hitchcock's direction is nothing special. He does not have all the tricks at his disposal to make this any different than any other television director's work. He tries some stuff with "Banquo's Chair," but even the ghost sequence fails to spark anything. Accept for the second episode, the best sequence is Hitchcock's introduction and conclusions after the third episode. He talks about hunting in Hollywood, and the puns here are actually funny. Hitchcock's work has always been either really great ("Rear Window," "Rope," "Psycho") or very very not good ("Topaz"). This falls in the middle, but since one good episode cannot make up for two bad ones, I cannot recommend this collection. "The Best of 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' Volume I" is unrated, and contains mild physical violence. (* *) out of five stars.

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