What do I do with this?

So I watched THE GAZEBO, a George Marshall movie based on an Alec & Myra Coppel play I saw performed by an am-dram group as a kid. I remember enjoying the play but not as much as the same company’s production of Arsenic and Old Lace. I feel that Marshall’s very good at farce, having worked with Laurel & Hardy and made a funny film called MURDER, HE SAYS with Fred MacMurray and Helen Walker that’s very skillful.

Alas, this movie wrecks all the careful construction of the play by opening it out, and also pulls some nonsensical writing to make the hero more sympathetic, a wasted effort in my book because he’s Glenn Ford. Who can act, and be believable as the blackmailed writer, but can’t make me like him.

It did seem like a problem early on that Ford is paying out his earnings and presumably those his spouse, a Broadway star played by Debbie Reynolds, to a blackmailer to cover up what sounds like a dalliance with a secretary. Doesn’t make you like the guy AT ALL. This emerges when he tells a hypothetical story to his pal Carl Reiner (playing it straight, nicely), trying to make it sound like this didn’t happen to HIM. But then it turns out it DIDN’T happen to him, and the blackmailer actually has nude pictures of Reynolds, which he’s threatening to sell to a scandal sheet.

Surprisingly, the movie actually lets us SEE the pics, or nearly.

So, they’ve wasted our time and made us vaguely dislike Ford, and are now trying to claw back some sympathy. All in all, there’s little fun to be had here.

But original co-author Coppel is best-known for doing some work on VERTIGO, and he also penned six Hitchcock teleplays. One of the nicer conceits is another hypothetical: Ford’s character, who, like Coppel, writes for TV, speaks to Hitch on the phone, spinning a yarn about a man who’s being blackmailed and asking the master of suspense for advice on how to fictionally dispose of the blackmailer. Which he intends to use in real life. (Hitch is never actually seen or heard, alas, we only get Ford’s end of the call.) Hitch’s advice is that the tiny shovel from a fireside companion set can be used to bury a body.

What puzzles me is that at the very time I was watching this film, Fiona watched The Forms of Things Unknown, an Outer Limits episode which Chris Schneider guest-blogged about here, and remarked on the comedy of Vera Miles having to bury a corpse using the shovel from a companion set. And at the very same time, I was reading pulp thriller You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up, in which the dopey protagonist, plotting to clear an innocent man of a murder he was personally mixed up in, tells the story to a film director, disguising it as a script he’s writing, in hopes of getting advice.

Hitch may the shovel advice for real to Coppel for The Gazebo and also to his other collaborator Joseph Stefano, who scripted PSYCHO and then The Outer Limits… But none of that explains the link to Knight’s 1937 novel, nor why all three things fell into my life at the same time.

There is apparently a web of synchronicity tangled around an indifferent 1959 stage adaptation called THE GAZEBO. But so what? WHAT DO I DO WITH THIS?

5 Responses to “What do I do with this?”

  1. Jeff Gee Says:

    I used to confuse this with THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY, released a few years earlier and starring the Glenn Ford-esque Jonathan Forsythe. It also involves murders that turn out not to be murders, nude pictures of the leading lady, and desperate attempts to conceal a corpse. I’m not sure what to make of the parallels. Hitchcock’s quasi-cameo in GAZEBO suggests they had a cordial working relationship. Coppel worked not only on VERTIGO (1958) but TO CATCH A THIEF (1954) so he surely saw HARRY (1955), which is based on a 1950 Jack Trevor Story novel. I haven’t read the book, but there’s surely some sort of cross-fertilization (or commentary?) going on.

  2. Jeff Gee Says:

    Eep. Too many “surelys.”

  3. Coppel certainly wouldn’t have incorporated Hitch into his plot if he had any suspicion the Master wouldn’t be flattered and pleased: why risk the possible future gigs?

    The Trouble with Harry connections do seem significant, now that you draw my attention to them.

  4. ehrenstein47 Says:

    Alec Coppel’s credits also include “The Captain’s Paradise,” “The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom” and “The List of Adrian Messenger”

  5. I keep meaning to watch Blossom! The current lockdown seems timely.

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