The Taking of Pelham


Why had he always been haunted by those underground caverns, by the drip of water in dim light, by the musty air of tunnels, the tortuous entrails of the earth which led down to black pools full of sleeping precious stones?

~ D’entre les morts, by Boileau and Narcejac.

This post, which was left over from my week of VERTIGO posts, reminds me of another stray thought. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode Banquo’s Chair has an amazing cast, including Hitch fave John Williams, Kenneth “early clue to the new direction” Haigh, the Great Max Adrian, and Reginald Gardiner (as a character called Cock-Finch). It also has a supernatural gimmick, making it one of only two Hitchcock-directed works to meddle with the ineffable in a direct way — MARY ROSE, if he had been allowed to make it, would have been the greatest expression of this impulse. And I suppose THE BIRDS is pretty far along the road to the supernatural.

Anyhow, in Banquo’s Chair we have a retired detective undertaking a case, we have a character called Ferguson, we have one woman impersonating another, we have the murder for money of a family member, we have a faked return from the dead… all of which makes the piece sound like a close relative to VERTIGO. And if I were a less honest fellow, I might allow you to believe that the movie was a practice-run for the masterpiece that is V. Or, if I were slightly less crooked, I might admit that the TV show was made in 1959, after VERTIGO, and then allow you to think that it was a slight reprise of the themes which obviously haunted Hitch.

In fact, the similarities cited above count for absolutely nothing, except amusement. When you see the episode, it’s so utterly unlike VERTIGO in plot, theme, character, and perhaps above all, presentation, that such thoughts are unsustainable. File under “amusing coincidence.”

A closer similarity, in a way, occurs in The Case of Mr Pelham, adapted, like Banquo’s Chair, by Francis M Cockrill. This is the other supernatural Hitchcock. Tom Ewell, for no good reason, is persecuted and replaced by a doppelgänger. Ewell, whose comedy always inclines towards the hangdog (in Richard Corliss’s memorable phrase, he possesses “a certain vegetable magnetism” — when I praised this description and a friend challenged me to name the vegetable, I replied “turnip” without hesitation), does a superb job of conveying Mr Pelham’s slide into paranoia and ineffable horror. He doesn’t have to do much to suggest disintegration — he’s kind of pre-disintegrated, isn’t he?

The tone of inexplicable threat is closer to VERTIGO, and THE BIRDS, than anything in Banquo’s Chair.

We also get an amusing intro and outro, in which our host is hauled away by the authorities and replaced by an even more lugubrious lookalike. A wobblegänger, if you will.

“But I am the real Alfred Hitchcock, I am!”

16 Responses to “The Taking of Pelham”

  1. “Hah! The real Alfred Hitchcock wouldn’t wear a tie as loud as yours, mistah!”

  2. […] The Taking of Pelham « shadowplay […]

  3. Didn’t the Twilight Zone remake this with the very un-hang-dog-if-anything-hung-upside-down-dog Bruce Willis?

  4. Ha ha, the episode’s called “Shatterday”.

  5. Great post! I’ll have to seek these out.

  6. Ah, Shatterday is by Harlan Ellison, who script edited the Zone reboot. So it’s not OFFICIALLY the same story, but it’s the same root idea.

    I made a point of seeing all Hitch’s TV work as director, and I’ll try to at least mention all of them before the year is out,

  7. Christopher Says:

    One of the funniest things watching Hitchcock presents on regular television,is how silly he made the Commercials seem when he introduced them in his wry subtle got a double laugh when the ad came up….

  8. Alas, my copies all have the ads removed. I’d like to see them with the original sponsor’s comments intact. It was really pretty bold the way he just heaped scorn on them.

  9. The endearing beer lush Esther Howard also bandies the term “turnip” when discussing men in Wise’s BORN TO KILL. To her mind there are turnips and then there are “real men” such as Tierney. This of course is before she learns of Larry’s murderous ways. A much-maligned vegetable, this turnip.

  10. Hey Norm, what’s going down? Always great to see Mr Lloyd, a man who truly remembers the days…

  11. Mr. Lloyd was “show runner” for Alfred Hitchcock Presents — a job Hitch gave him wehn he learned Lloyd had been blacklisted.

    Mr. Lloyd is in excellent health and plays tennis every day — even as he edges towards the century mark. Recently he was teriffic in Curtis hanson’s In Her Shoes.

  12. Hitch also hired Paul Henreid to direct for the show, having admired one of his feature films. “But, the blacklist!” spluttered PH. “Oh, I think that’s all over now,” said Hitch, “And a good thing too.”

    This was in 1957!

  13. Christopher Says:

    just watched Saboteur again last night with young Norman Lloyd.pretty fun romp..but probably wouldn’t mistake it for a Hitchcock film if I didn’t know already..

  14. Harvey Chartrand Says:

    Tom Helmore is up to his old tricks again, bringing spirits back from d’entre les morts in MURDER ME TWICE, a 1958 episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Plot synopsis from IMDB: “At a house party, Lucy Prior (Phyllis Thaxter) allows herself to be hypnotized by Miles Farnham (Helmore). While under his spell, she claims to be a woman living in 1859 and in the process of describing what she did, picks up a pair of scissors and kills her husband. In looking into the case, the coroner (Ward Costello) determines that in 1859 a woman did just as Lucy described but is suspicious that this could be a sham. At the inquest, Miles suggests that he hypnotize Lucy, with unexpected consequences.” The episode is included on the newly released DVD Alfred Hitchcock Presents Season 4. MURDER ME TWICE is not directed by Hitchcock, but by David Swift (POLLYANNA, THE PARENT TRAP). Still, Helmore’s presence and the VERTIGO-like plot similarities are an odd coincidence, as this episode aired the same year VERTIGO was released. And Helmore’s character is a slightly more disreputable version of Gavin Elster.

  15. A sort of Bridie Murphy murder case! Fascinating. I have a pet theory that every Hitchcock film has a TV episode that would go well with it as a supporting short.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: