…how it got in my pyjamas I’ll never know

I’ve now watched the one Hitchcock-directed episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that was left, and pleasingly, it’s a minor classic, confirming my theory that the best episodes revolve around a single, clear suspense situation affording opportunity for character development en route. This one being a Roald Dahl story, the character development is elementary, but it all hangs together nicely.

In Poison, James “Madness! Madness!” Donald is discovered in dire straits, having discovered a highly poisonous snake curling up to sleep on his belly while he’s reading. The arrival of Wendell Corey doesn’t exactly put his mind at rest (and why would it? This is Wendell Corey, not Harrison Ford we’re talking about) since Corey is a romantic rival, one apt to enjoy Donald’s discomfort more than is strictly necessary. I should say no more. No overt Hitchcockian flourishes in this one, just the steady drip-drip of tension, mainly maintained by impassioned performances, and expert and sparing use of “extremes” like the above angle.

Now, it might be nice to get some suggestions from you all for non-Hitchcock directed episodes, since the famous The Man from the South (Dahl again, directed by Norman Lloyd) convinces me there must be plenty of good episodes helmed by other filmmakers…

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10 Responses to “…how it got in my pyjamas I’ll never know”

  1. Jordan Marc Benedict Says:

    D:

    Having been addicted to all the Alfred Hitchcock tee vee shows in my youth, I would be hard put to pit other directors’ episodes against the master. You could ask a similar question about the writing and directing of the episodes for Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone. Both were anthology series that set high water marks that have yet to be bettered. That isn’t to say every episode was outstanding, but when they were good they were really marvelous entertainments.

    For those who are only interested in the episodes directed by Hitchcock, there was a compilation of all 25 shows, replete with Hitch’s humorous intros and exits, available on French Amazon. Not sure if the set is still in print, but if you’re hooked on Hitch hunt for it.

    And for Heaven’s sake! add all the shows to your collection. It’s television at its very best. For younger viewers who can’t connect with black and white shows and movies, get past it! This is gr-reat stuff!

  2. A surprising number of the Alfred Hitchcock Hour episodes were good, and were of generally higher quality than the non-Hitchcock half-hour episodes. It helped that Bernard Herrmann scored a few of them. Two standouts were The Jar (directed by Norman Lloyd from a story by Ray Bradbury) and The Sign of Satan (about the making of a horror movie – starring Christopher Lee, from a story by Robert Bloch).

  3. I watched Melville’s Un flic last night. What a great film. I love the poetry, the melancholy, the existentialism. And some great photography. Plus Alain Delon playing a piano.

  4. Thanks for the recommendations. Not all the hour-long episodes are easy to get, but I’ll look out for those. I’m also keen to see the adaptation of John Wyndham’s Consider Her Ways (set in a nightmare feature populated only by women!) Robert Stephens directed.

  5. Peter, I like all the late Melvilles. The use of model shots and backdrops and rear projection gets a little comic, but as his cinematic world shrinks and becomes more strictly codified, it crystallizes into something beautiful. His fantasy of crime cinema gets more and more remote from any reality, but it has its own integrity.

  6. I got a chance to chat with the late, great Richard Crenna about Melville. He said that when he got the call that this noted French director wanted him, and him alone, for a film he couldn’t believe it. It was a great experience for him.

    One of the things I most love about Un Flic is its opening sequence. It’s a bank robbery. But Melville found a bank that was right next to a beach. So the robbers drive in out of the morning fog as the waves crash in the background. Really really different.

  7. Crenna’s a great, underrated player. He’s magnificent in Squaring the Circle, Mike Hodges’ film of Tom Stoppard’s script about the Solidarity struggle in Poland. Deserves to be better known.

    The opening of Un Flic is indeed terrific — Melville is more interested in the sound of surf than in anything else!

  8. ————————
    His fantasy of crime cinema gets more and more remote from any reality, but it has its own integrity.
    ————————-
    I agree. Such is the integrity of Melville’s “fantasy” reality that for me he more closely approximates ordinary reality than many so-called realists. His poetic stylisation is underpinned by and grounded in a genuine humanity. Melville was a real cinematic poet.

  9. Well, as Michael Powell tells us, there’s no such thing as realism.

  10. Un Flic’s opening sequence is wonderful, but equally stunning is the closing sequence, with the two men sitting silently together in the moving car. It works wonderully, both as a closure to the film as well as a fitting epitaph to Melville’s great body of work.

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