The Tick Tock Man

The climax of Four O’Clock, a Hitchcock TV episode in his series Suspicion. Like REAR WINDOW, it’s based on a story by Cornell Woolrich, and like the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes Breakdown and One More Mile to Go, it basically gears up into a single protracted suspense sequence.

EG Marshall has set a bomb to go off to kill his wife, whom he believes has been unfaithful. But a couple of punks rob his house, binding and gagging him in the cellar next to the ticking alarm clock. (One of the hoods is a nibile Harry Dean Stanton.) While he’s helpless, he overhears his wife talking with her secret man, and there turns out to be an innocent explanation for her behaviour. Then she goes out, and he’s left alone with the ticking bomb…

OK, the above clip is fairly spoilerish, but I’m holding back what follows — which is extremely moving and beautiful –you shall have to track down the episode in order to see it.

I dig the way the child at the window is not only a suspense element — is he going to get help? — but also a symbol of life — that which our man may shortly be leaving behind, violently and irrevocably. See also: the last shot of John Frankenheimer’s SECONDS.

17 Responses to “The Tick Tock Man”

  1. Bill Krohn (who’s haveing soem sort of computer problem) asked me to post this–

    “Invisible weavers” – a prime example of how awful some of Lehman’s lines can be. Peggy Robertson says that there was “a little man in white” who got trapped by the camera in one of Capricorn’s 10-minute takes. When AH saw it, he said “No one will see it because they’ll be looking somewhere else.” I still haven’t. According to Albert Whitlock, he would say on such occasions, “If they see that, we’re in trouble,” meaning that they aren’t involved and looking where they should be. He said that when I brought up something Greg Ford noticed: all the shadows in the crop-duster sequence point in different directions — naturally, because it was shot over the course of a day. Watch the characters on the edge of the frame in the intercut group shots in Psycho when Sam and Lila are expostualting with the sheriff. Hitchcock would never reshoot something like that. Neither would Capra, for instance — he’d use the takes where the characters were being maximally engaging and leave continuity errors to the pedants. I resaw Shock Corridor in 35mm last night, one of the greatest films ever made. It has its share of those.

    On the other hand, AH’s mania for tying up loose ends is on display in the 1000-pp transcript of his story conferences with Lehman for Family Plot. I believe that the very last-minute looping-in of a Mormon service during the “Mondrian” in the cemetery was initially arrived at that way; the collaborators were looking for a small town where people don’t ever move away and genealogical records are kept religiously: ie a Mormon town. So Ed Lauter got a Mormon beard and a Mormon burial. But he was also capable of cutting that stuff when it slowed things down — like the eliminated shots/dialogue about how Novak gets from pt. A to pt. B in Vertigo, to make her more ghostly.

    The ROT matchbook is at the Herrick Library — Murray Pomerance showed it to me, pointing out that the “O” is shaped like a coffin. If you haven’t read Murray’s chapter on NBNW in An Eye for Hitchcock, David, I strongly recommend it. It’s hilarious!

    There’s a whole book on Hitchcock and Homosexuality, which contains a brilliant chapter on Torn Curtain’s gay subtext that Ken Mogg ran in the MacGuffin. Murray P. (same book) sees the subtext as being the sociology of academia. Oddly, the author of that book missed the “long golden curls” line and the gay gags in the cross-country trip in Saboteur, which AH underlined at the last minute by sticking Cummings in the back seat with Goldilocks and having the mugs in front sing an out-of-tune love ballad while he looks uncomfortable. On the AH-FT tapes FT asks a question about Grant and AH says, “Turn off the tape.” When the recording starts again, FT is in a state of shock.

    Landau claimed the gay thing was his idea when I interviewed him — obviously it wasn’t. (The censor even warned about it after reading the script.) But he told me a great one: AH wanted Grant to be afraid of Leonard, so he ordered a suit made for Landau at Grant’s Saville Row tailor without telling his star. When Landau showed up wearing it the first day, Grant recognized the drape of the cuffs and was completely unnerved — it worked for the character interaction from then on.

    In the discussion with an actual CIA man that took place before they started writing Topaz, AH references Spy Who Came in as the sort of thing he wants to do. See my Video Watchdog piece on Topaz, which contains lots of new info on how it was made and unmade. Now that the missing scenes are available on DVD, I hope a friend and I can do a digital restoration of the SF preview cut with the right ending (which is not on the new “director’s cut”) and the right end-music. Ronnie Scheib saw it at the time and thought it was a great Hitchcock film. She also told me she thinks the heroes of TC and T are Hitchcock, responding to orders from Lew Wasserman to do another NBNW. Newman and Stafford’s motto is “Be cold. Do your job.”

    NBNW and Vertigo were written simultaneously, and they are mirror films. Novak destroys Stewart’s life and Saint sends Grant to his death. (The only deadly femme fatales in the oeuvre, which makes Hitchnoir so special. He was too much of a feminist to use that convention.) But when they’re up on the high place at the end, Grant doesn’t let her fall. Shakespeare! (and Godard’s Nouvelle vague.) It’s not a superficial film. It keeps revealing depths long after Notorious runs out of them.

  2. Thank you!

    Notorious is “deep on the surface,” it’s so obviously twisted and tormented that there’s maybe less to discover revisiting it. Whereas NBNW conceals its serious side almost utterly. Vertigo, being beyond anything Hitch ever did elsewhere, is a special case.

    I didn’t write about the fact that Hitch got ill when prepping Vertigo and Alma got seriously ill afterwards, leaving Hitch quasi-suicidal. Hitch directed a Tv episode about wife murder during this. Arguably these intimations of mortality darkened his later films.

  3. Christopher Says:

    lol..That’ll teach you to set a BOMB for your wife…

  4. Alma put up with quite a lot.

  5. Well, for a Hollywood wife she was lucky in that her husband wasn’t tempted to stray too far. Whatever the stories, he never seems to have managed to be unfaithful, and he depended so totally on Alma psychologically and in a way creatively, she must have felt more secure than a lot of women at the time.

    His tribute to her at the AFI dinner is very touching.

  6. Bill Krohn Says:

    He also directed and/or starred in a tv show for the American Cancer Society to urge people to get screened for cancer because he was so grateful when Alma was cured by an experimental treatment at UCLA. It was called “Tactic” and had a very Hitchcockian subject: Pat McGilligan says he “directed” it on-camera because he was a specialist in fear — the fear that keeps people from getting screened.

    I don’t think Alma put up with nearly as much as Bunuel’s wife! He was insanely jeaolus (f. El), wouldn’t let her have her beloved piano (cf. Tristana)… Her still untranslated memoir is called “Memoirs of a Woman without a Piano.”

  7. Yeah, I think he gambled away her piano or something. I want Bunuel to be lovable, like in Alex Cox’s unproduced screenplay, but he doesn’t quite make it.

    I wasn’t completely clear from the McGilligan book if Hitchcock actually directed Tactic, or if he merely appeared in it, playing the role of the director…

  8. Bill Krohn Says:

    Welles said the job of a director is to play the director.

    Good Spanish film at AFIfest — Una mujer sin piano. We the jury gave it half of first prize. Bunuel is nowhere alluded to.

    I think he and Hitchcock were pretty nice to their wives. It’s just that Bunuel didn’t want anything coming between him and Jeanne. Not even a piano. He threatened to kill the brilliant composer of Subida al cielo, their neighbor, because he stopped by during his daily walk and had coffee w. Jeanne while LB was at the studio. They didn’t work together again till Viridiana. Touchy.

  9. I don’t know, I like Bunuel regardless. That man was a genius.

  10. Yes, I’ll still like him, but I regard him with a little suspicion as a person. As a filmmaker he’s virtually unbeatable, the only director Michael Powell looked up to. Similarly, I like William Wellman’s work, but he sounds like kind of a bastard. Otto Preminger, Fritz Lang, the list goes on.

    I’d really like to read Jeanne’s book! That and Ophuls’ memoir, although undortunately he wrote it during his years of unemployment in Hollywood, before most of his masterpieces. But still…

  11. Well as a huge Fassbinder fan, I’ve long made peace with film-makers not necessarily being nice guys. Fassbinder is kind of the acid test for that. It becomes an issue in so far as it informs the kind of films they made. Bunuel, an insanely jealous man, made movies about men whose insane jealousy defeats them and ruins them. Fassbinder who had a history for cruelty and manipulative behaviour made movies about cruel and manipulative people and about the people they exploit. Preminger and Fritz Lang made movies about imperfect people. And so on.

    Bunuel actually isn’t even close to these guys. He was refined, cultured and a lifelong leftist. And as is clear with Los Olivdados his heart was in the right place.

  12. Yes. And it’s actually pretty interesting that Bunuel could dissect his jealous male characters so ruthlessly, and still be unable to alter his own behaviour.

    I’ll be delving into LB again for the Auteurs soon…

  13. Fassbidner is indeed the test case. He was a monster. Incredibly abusive to women (except for Hanna Schygulla who he turned into a star and treated as such) and horrible to Armin. But then Salem was horrible to him, so maybe it evens out.

    Got a DVD of Martha — a Cornel Woolrich adaptation that’s one of his very best, highlighted by the most dizzing 360s ever shot. There’s a documentary on the disc called “Fassbinder in Hollywood” which deals with his desire to come to Hollywood and work — and the role Hollywood movies played in his life. Ulli Lommel and Michael Balhaus are interviewed in it. But it doesn’t mention the brief period in the 70s’ when Fassbinder came to L.A. stayed at the Tropicana Motel (where Heat was shot) and sat every day at “Arthur J’s” a legendary coffee shop and hustler hang-out on Santa Monica blvd. It was there he wrote his most controversial play Garbage The City and Death

  14. I’ve never seen Martha perhaps the only major RWF movie I haven’t head-hunted yet. I got to see Berlin Alexanderplatz earlier this year and that was amazing, simply stupendous. Fassbinder claimed that Franz Biberkopf was his alter-ego, at least he has no illusions about himself on that front. That documentary sounds fascinating. I’ll try to get myself a copy of that DVD too. Fassbinder said that what he wanted was to make movies like Hollywood, just as universal but not as hypocritical. His films are really tough, bitter triumphs in that regard. His characters are louts, thugs, hustlers but he frames them all with the colours and lighting of Hollywood movies.

  15. Sourced that disc recently, have yet to watch. Let me know if I can help you out with it, Arthur. The combo of Woolrich and Fassbinder sounds fascinating, and it’ll be great to see Boehm again.

  16. If you can, send me a line!

    Karlheinz Boehm was part of Fassbinder’s stock company – he appeared in Effi Briest(Fassbinder’s most austere and sparse film), and in Fox and His Friends and some others. I don’t know if RWF saw Peeping Tom though, Boehm was a respected theatre actor in Germany, the film with Powell however was a key cult film of that generated circulated in poor B+W prints so Fassbinder might have seen some form of it until Scorsese put his name on a Technicolor print for wide release.

  17. Bill Krohn Says:

    Though Number 17 has come and gone, here’s an out-of-sequence tip for fans still baffled by the comings and goings on-screen: there’s a service stair that’s never shown. Seeming teleportaions are achieved using it.

    I love that film. I hope I get to finally see it in a good print when it’s shown at LACMA this month. David and whoever else mentioned Whale are right — it’s very like TODH, but way more formalistic.

    I re-saw AH’s British films when I wrote a critical monograph on him for the Cahiers and Le Monde, and each film astonished me, including supposed small potatoes like Downhill, Juno, Champagne, Skin Game and Farmer’s Wife, not to mention the ones that are beginning to be recognized as masterpieces like Rich and Strange and The Manxman. It’s those damn PD prints!

    I’ll have to jump back to what was said here about Aventure Malagache, the French war short, which is downright Straubian! BTW, tired Angelenos saw their first Straub, La Streghe, in the last screening of AFIfest thanks to Bob Koehler, who programmed the festival this year and made it worthwhile for the first time ever.

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