Archive for Roald Dahl

“Don’t tell him, Pike!”

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 4, 2016 by dcairns

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36 HOURS (1964) has a really neat thriller premise, derived from Roald Dahl: James Garner has the details of the D-Day landings in his head, and German psychologist Rod Taylor wants to make him spill. He kidnaps Garner and tries to convince him that traumatic amnesia has caused him to lose all recall of the last six years — it’s really 1950 and the war is over, and to help him recover his memory, he ought to tell the good doctor everything he can remember…

Since Garner’s character is called Jefferson Pike, this whole film is basically “Don’t tell him, Pike!”

The Dad’s Army similarity is reinforced by a bit of ill-advised comedy relief at the end involving the German Home Guard and featuring, among others, an aged, aged Sig Rumann.

The other televisual connection is with The Prisoner. Here’s Jim Garner waking up in a  new environment ~

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And here’s Patrick McGoohan doing the same. ~

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To clinch the resemblance, recall that McGoohan was put through a similar scheme, being tricked into thinking he’d escaped from The Village, in the episode entitled The Chimes of Big Ben.

36 HOURS would be pretty good too, a Phildickian conspiracy thriller, except it turns into a run-of-the-mill escape drama at the end — too bad, they got ninety minutes out of their Unique Selling Point High-Concept, then abandoned it. Garner and Taylor make great sparring partners, and the movie even manages to make its villain sympathetic by giving him a nasty, stupid S.S. officer opponent. Werner Peters plays this part nicely, his purring delivery at times recalling the considerably suaver Anton Walbrook. And he has a cute way of ending a conversation with a mumbled, “H’l’ittler.”

Eva Marie Saint, obviously, is good too, though it seems sadly typical of MGM to cast, as a concentration camp survivor, the least Jewish actor they could find.

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I liked the detail of this newspaper — the Germans have to invent an alternate future, based on the information available in 1944, to convince Garner that it’s 1950. Roosevelt’s vice-president, Henry Wallace, was generally expected to succeed him, and Harry Truman was a nonentity in 1944. Werner Peter’s sickly reactions to Taylor’s recounting of the war’s end is wickedly funny.

I wonder how the original story ends? Dahl was rather good at endings.

One thing about George Seaton’s script and direction — he makes a lot of play of windows, and this pays off nicely at the end, when of course romance must blossom…

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The Mythomaniac

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2010 by dcairns

So, a sometime correspondent self-combusts, and we must ask “Why?” Some of the speculation surrounding the death of F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre has viewed him as a delightful eccentric, which is a little odd since his chosen exit seems to have been calculated to assassinate his neighbours, and since in 2001 he was charged with a horrifying, yet deeply bizarre, assault on a neighbour, strapping her to a chair, shaving her head, and spray-painting her black from head to toe.

As if this weren’t weird enough, it chimes oddly with FGM’s sole novel, The Woman Between the Worlds, where the hero, a tattooist, is approached by an invisible woman demanding he tattoo her all over to render her visible. It’s all… very strange.

Here’s the second email I received from the late “Froggy” MacIntyre. Alas, I don’t seem to have preserved any more, and I think there were others. Author’s interjections/annonations in grey.

Ahoy, Dave:

In case any of you didn’t know, calling a David “Dave” without being invited to do so is bad form.

Eily Malyon was distinctly Victorian in appearance. Very small and thin, with very sharp hatchet-faced features. A wide range of English and Scottish accents, less successful with Yank accents. In terms of character type, much like Margaret Hamilton but far more distinctive in appearance. Her best roles were as the scheming aunt in ‘On Borrowed Time’ and the wife of butler John Carradine (and sister of the escaped convict) in ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’.

She was perfectly cast as the Victorian orphanage-mistress in ‘Jane Eyre’. She bullied Shirley Temple in ‘A Little Princess’. She briefly appeared (with no lines) as the nurse in ‘Dracula’s Daughter’. She was the priests’ housekeeper in ‘Going My Way’. She was the prim librarian (chastising Teresa Wright for coming to the library at closing time) in ‘Shadow of a Doubt’. She was the owner of the laundry, tormenting Maureen O’Sullivan in ‘Devil Doll’. She was the dairymaid who shared a touching moment with Garbo in ‘Camille’, the nun who aided Fredric March in ‘Les Miserables’. She had a very brief appearance (head and voice only, body never seen) in ‘Confessions of a Nazi Spy’, instantly memorable as a Scotswoman loyal to the Reich. She was an hotelier, sceptical of Joan Crawford and Fred MacMurray in ‘Beyond Suspicion’. She played weeping bullied wives in ‘The Wet Parade’ and ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. She was the minister’s dutiful wife in ‘Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm’. She appeared in the opening scene of ‘I Married a Witch’, circa 1690, wearing Pilgrim garb as a woman named Tabitha … who looked very hag-like indeed, yet who was NOT the witch in this movie. If memory serves, I believe Eily Malyon was in ‘She-Wolf of London’, sharing scenes with Sara Haden: not a good idea, this, as she and Haden were similar in type and physical appearance.

We were talking about our favourite character actresses and I wasn’t sure, at the time, who Malyon was.

In REAL life, Sara Allgood was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the cult that featured so prominently in my novel ‘The Woman Between the Worlds’. She was a member of the London chapter, alongside Yeats, Machen, Crowley and Florence Farr. Noted for her fine speaking voice, it often fell to Allgood to read out the texts during their rituals. Allgood worked with Hitchcock but she had a very low opinion of him as a director. Begorrah!

Una O’Connor. Oh, dear. I despise that shriek of hers. Still, I would like to have seen the Broadway production of J B Priestley’s play ‘The Linden Tree’, in which O’Connor played the housekeeper of an elderly professor. The professor was played by Boris Karloff. When Priestley learnt that Karloff had been cast, he objected on the grounds that audiences would think it was a play about an axe-murderer. After reading Karloff’s favourable notices, Priestley apologised.

I quoted Richard Lester’s statement that Ralph Richardson said he always started off with the walk, a baffling assertion, since all RR’s characters walk the same way. I still believe Lester was telling the truth, and Ralph was probably indulging a flight of whimsy.

Ralph Richardson ‘always started with the walk’? Erm, I think you’re thinking of Alec Guinness.

Which reminds me: it’s been a while since I’ve seen ‘Heavenly Creatures’ but I guess you’re correct that I’ve got the two girls swapped.

This was in regard to the question of which actress played the woman who grew up to be crime writer Anne Perry. FGM said he’d often used the argument that “write what you know” is a fallacy, since murder mysteries are not written by murderers, and he resented Perry for blowing a hole in this argument.

I like to pretend that any given director’s film oeuvre all takes place in the same universe. This explains why, during the murder scene in Peter Jackson’s ‘Heavenly Creatures’, you can see Gollum lurking in the shrubbery.

I mentioned Olivia DeHavilland’s claim that she had a special scent made to symbolize each character she played. Wearing the perfume would instantly get her “into character.” I presumed she wore two different scents to play twins in THE DARK MIRROR.

The DeHavilland story about her scents is a new one to me. I admire her for her bravery in bucking the studio system’s repressive contract suspensions. A lot of big-name actors (including Bogart) gave lip service to her cause, but didn’t have the guts to stand with her.

I still don’t know how they did the twin sequences in ‘The Dark Mirror’. The usual lurk for a double exposure is to mask one side of the frame whilst filming the other, then switch. Apparently DeHavilland filmed all of her twin scenes in one take, with another actress on-camera playing the second twin, facing the camera … and then, afterwards, DeHavilland’s head (facing the camera) was superimposed over this woman’s head in the print lab. I don’t understand how this was done. Unless the other woman was a microcephalic, surely her own head would stick out in places where DeHavilland’s head was narrower.

I suggested that this story originated from DeHavilland, who had not fully understood the technical processes involved. From her point of view, she had acted both roles against another actress, and then somehow replaced her, but the exact mechanism escaped her grasp.

I’m surprised, looking back, that all this didn’t lead FGM to repeat his claim of having a twin brother, for which there is no evidence…

‘The Corsican Brothers’, starring Douglas Fairbanks Jnr as twins, features one astonishing fight scene in which the brothers circle each other in the same shot, with no discernible cut nor masking. When I saw this, circa 1974, I resolved that if I ever met Fairbanks I would ask him how it was done. I *did* meet him years later, but quite forgot to ask this question.

I’m now determined to check this out.

In ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’, Mary Pickford played the title role (a small boy) AND his mother, both onscreen at the same go. For decades, I kept hearing that the double-exposure sequences in this film were so incredibly sophisticated that to this day nobody knows how they were done … most notably a scene in which the boy jumps into his mother’s arms. When I finally saw this movie, I found the special effects very crude by modern standards. I quite accept that they were advanced for the time. In the arm-jumping scene, the boy is clearly a double with his back to the camera.

Did DeHavilland have any input into the creation of her scents, or did she just trust someone to create a scent appropriate to the character?

My favourite detail in the novel ‘Camille’ never got into the movie: the prostitute wore a white camellia corsage every day … except three days each month, when she wore a red camellia. I can’t imagine what this symbolises. (Not half!)

The musical ‘Annie’ (by John Huston, of all people) and the Rodgers&Hart bio ‘Words and Music’ both contain the same bizarre anachronism: both feature a scene in which the main characters go to a cinema and watch ‘Camille’. In both cases, this scene takes place BEFORE ‘Camille’ was filmed! In the case of ‘Words and Music’, ‘Camille’ is actually re-edited as a SILENT film so that Richard Rodgers can see it in the 1920s. Feel free to run this past your friend Wingrove Melville, or whatever alias he’s using.

I forgot to do so.

I knew about Patrick MacNee’s lezzy mum and her ‘wife’: they dressed him in a kilt and kept his hair long, and told him he’d make an excellent girl, but they didn’t quite go so far as putting him into girls’ clothes. I hadn’t known about Peter Cushing being given that treatment, nor Wyler. Ernest Hemingway and his older sister had a mother who delighted in treating them as same-sex twins: sometimes dressing both as girls, sometimes as boys. (Joan Crawford adopted two unrelated girls, and insisted on raising them as twins.) Another boy raised as a girl was Charles Beaumont, author of ‘Twilight Zone’ scripts. In fact, this wasn’t his real name; I suspect he took this name from Charles Beaumont, Chevalier d’Eon, real-life cross-dresser and namesake of Britain’s Beaumont Society.

The oddest such case known to me is that of the father of Walter D Edmonds, a best-selling Yank novelist of the 1930s, several of whose novels were filmed. Edmonds’s paternal grandmother decided to enrol her son (Edmonds’s father) in the school she had attended. Unfortunately, it was an all-girl school. She was afraid her son would be conspicuous as the only boy in an all-girl school, so her ‘solution’ was to send him to school dressed like all the other students: in the schoolgirl uniform! Apparently he didn’t mind this but he *did* mind the ordeal of walking to and from school, jeered by the local boys (one of whom broke his nose with a stone).

The reason why the above cases lodge in my memory is because I too spent part of my boyhood as a girl. I was one of the ‘child migrants’ who were forcibly expatriated from postwar Britain to Australia; in my case, I was sent to a ‘work farm’ in Queensland, and used as slave labour by Anglican priests and their matrons. When I was 11 years old I escaped, and the local authorities went to considerable trouble to find me. I was fortunate to receive some protection from an expat Scotswoman: a former gynaecological nurse who — shades of the recent ‘Vera Drake — had been struck off the register for doing abortions. (Illegal at the time, circa 1959.) She had performed an abortion on a teenage girl who had died on the table, and had been quietly disposed of, with no death certificate issued. The authorities were looking for me, so the ex-nurse hid me in plain sight by disguising me as a girl and equipping me with the dead girl’s identity for a few weeks until the search went cold … she also had me make a few public appearances as the dead girl, so that this girl’s disappearance could not be traced to her visit to the nurse’s address. After a few weeks, and a relocation of several hundred miles, it was safe for me to reclaim my male identity. A good job it was, too, as I was not very passable as a girl. I know for a fact that at least one person rumbled me. In all, I likely spent far less time in skirts than Hemingway did.

All of which brings me full circle to Eily Malyon. I shan’t divulge the name of the nurse who saved me, but physically and vocally she was a dead ringer for Eily Malyon. (I think they may have been related.) To this day, whenever I see Malyon onscreen, I have to fight off a momentary belief that I’m seeing the woman whom I knew. But I am indeed genuinely impressed with Eily Malyon as an actress, and I believe that I would still hold her talents in high regard without this coincidence.

Up until WW1, it was fairly common to raise boys in skirts, but this was for practical reasons: it made them less likely to climb trees and get up to other dangerous stunts, and it made it easier to change their nappies. The first stage on the path to manhood was the ritual of the ‘breeching’, in which a boy was deemed sufficiently mature to give up his skirts in favour of trousers… usually short ones.

I’ve encountered a couple of remote seacoast villages in the Hebrides and Orkneys in which the boys were raised in skirts, allegedly so that the sea (being animist and sentient) would mistake them for girls (less valued) and not carry them off on a wave.

I mentioned the young William Wyler’s stunt of driving his motorcycle off a diving board at parties.

Wyler rode his OWN motorcycle into swimming pools? I should think this would cost him considerable money. When Wyler directed the Ben-Hur remake, the studio publicity made much of the fact that he had been assistant director on the original. Wyler modestly pointed out that his duties as ‘assistant director’ were largely a matter of crowd control. From what little I know of him, he was a genuinely modest man in an industry run by egomaniacs.

I’m gobsmacked by what you tell me about Wyler’s daughter being abducted by a paedo, and more gobsmacked that she wasn’t harmed. Did the bastard have a pang of conscience and let her go, or was she rescued before he could do anything? This reminds me of how Forrest Ackerman’s wife Wendayne (translator of ‘Perry Rhodan’) was assaulted by two Italian thugs on a Vespa. Those damned things are illegal but the Eyeties don’t care.

A touch of racism here. MacIntyre was a rabid right-winger. In fact, I believe Wyler’s poor daughter was harmed, in the sense of being molested, but not otherwise physically injured. In a fashion which seems almost impossible to credit now, everybody simply got on with their lives and didn’t make a big fuss about it. Glad to have her back alive.

The movie ‘Hammett’ (filmed in London) features a scene in which he stops at a newsagent’s kiosk in San Francisco which carries an advert for the News of the World.

One of Hammett’s novels (I forget which) mentions a case about a man named Flitcraft. I believe that this was an actual case that Hammett worked on for Pinkerton, although the name Flitcraft was probably made up. Flitcraft was a respectable family man, went to his job every day, went home every night. No scandal. One day he left for work and simply never showed up. No corpse found, no ransom note. Detectives encounter such cases; usually the guy had a double life for a long time, involving a mistress, and spent months or years crafting a second identity for himself before scarpering. But the Flitcraft case showed no such pattern. Eventually, Flitcraft was located hundreds of miles away, living a very undistinguished life under a new name. Here’s what happened. One his way to work, he passed a building site. A steel beam fell off the site and struck the pavement quite near where he was standing. A sherd of concrete struck his face, shocking him more than actually injuring him. But for the vagary of a few inches, he would have been killed instantly. The emotional shock of this ‘death’ was so powerful that, purely on the spur of the moment, Flitcraft effectively ‘died’ and started over as somebody else, with no prior preparation. I find this very spooky.

The Flitcraft case is alluded to in The Maltese Falcon.

A similar case (which I’ve mentioned on IMDb) is that of 1930s comedian Paul McCullough, who was in a horrible auto accident: he emerged unscathed, but became firmly convinced he had died. A few days later, he was in a car that stopped outside a barbershop in which the barber was stropping one of those Sweeney Todd razors. McCullough rushed in, grabbed the razor and slit his own throat. Shockingly, he took a considerable time to die of this.

Cornell Woolrich. For some reason, I keep thinking he wrote ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’. It was Dahl, of course. I think Woolrich wrote the one about the kidnapped boy who is hidden in plain sight at a fairgrounds. The kidnapper drugs him, sews him into a chimpanzee skin, and leaves him asleep in a monkey cage.

I’ve only ever seen the Victorian cylinder case in one article (not story) by ES Gardner. He may have made it up, but it doesn’t sound like his yarns.

This is Erle Stanley Gardner, but I have quite forgotten what the Victorian cylinder case WAS.

I’ve heard of William Roughead but never read him.

I referenced Groucho’s line, a reported outtake from his game show You Bet Your Life, in response to a man with many kids who claimed to love his wife: “I love my cigar, but I take it out of my mouth occasionally.”

That Groucho line is an urban legend. It never happened. Groucho DID sometimes unloose a wisecrack with such alacrity and acerbity that even he was shocked, but this one didn’t happen. Of similar provenance are two others that (never) occurred on the Stateside chat-show compered by Johnny Carson. Allegedly, an actress strode onto his set, carrying a moggie. She then sat down with the moggie in her lap and asked Carson: ‘Would you like to pet my pussy?’ to which he ostensibly replied: ‘Move the cat and I will’. No way an actress would voluntarily appear on a live show with an animal that might upstage her, and no way Carson would have approved it if she had. The other dodgy one: allegedly Carson interviewed the wife of a pro golfer, and asked if her husband had any good-luck rituals. She replied that, before a big match, she kissed her husband’s balls … prompting Carson to rejoin: ‘I bet that makes his putter stand up.’ Why would Carson interview the wife of a celebrity, rather than the celebrity himself?

I can think of several explanations: maybe the woman was famous in her own right? Maybe the incident took place in private life, not on TV? Either way, neither story is very funny.

The ‘League of [Extraordinary] Gentlemen’ comic books featured a young woman as the leader of the 19th-century League: very 21st-century PC, you know. (I well and truly dislike period pieces in which the characters have a modern-day ethos.) The film version of ‘League of Gentlemen’ made Connery the boss. This was intended as a ‘lad’ flick, and the lads don’t want to see a movie where a lassie gives the orders.

Straight on till mourning,

Froggy MacIntyre

The part of my discussion with MacIntyre which isn’t preserved, but which I remember, is his expressed resentment at the actress Margaret Sullivan’s suicide. She became depressed after losing her hearing, and MacIntrye claimed that his former wife had coped so bravely with her own deafness, that he was made angry thinking of Sullivan yielding to despair. All tragically ironic since “Froggy” apparently took his own life.

Startlingly, FGM has a letter published in this month’s Fortean Times: as was his wont, he uses the opportunity of a FT article to drop in some piece of obscure lore, and then link this to a plug for one of bis publications. A boost from beyond.

Alfred Christmas Presents

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 11, 2009 by dcairns

Before we run out of Hitchcock Year, I just wanted to run through the episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents directed by the master, so I can say I’ve done ’em.

Breakdown is a real mini-masterpiece, reuniting Hitch with two-time collaborator Joseph Cotten. There’s an extremely nice conflation of theme, character and plot in this one, which gives the impression of being a simple exercise in suspense and subjective camera. Many of the best AHPs do this: deceptive simplicity at the service of an idea.

Revenge went out as the series opener, bumping Breakdown into a secondary spot, purely because Hitch was so pleased with Vera Miles. She co-stars with Ralph Meeker in a very dark, upsetting little conte cruel, strong meat for 1950s TV.

The Case of Mr Pelham I’ve already discussed, and it’s a nice, inexplicable fantasy tale with Tom Ewell and Tom Ewell. Hitch’s intro and outro actually expand the story nicely.

Mr Blanchard’s Secret is basically comedy — I think Hitch was often drawn to these episodes as a way of working outside the thriller genre which his feature films committed him to. This is a tiresome, overplayed story, with a very annoying performance by Mary Scott as a crime writer (a frequent Hitchcock character/stand-in) with REAR WINDOW style suspicions about a neighbour. I found this so tedious the first time, I’m deliberately leaving it unwatched in Hitchcock Year. Because nothing should ever be really complete.

Maybe because it’s so dull, the episode escapes mention altogether in Charlotte Chandler’s filmography in It’s Only a Movie, Alfred Hitchcock, A Personal Biography.

Back for Christmas is a marital murder romp (lots of wives and husbands get the chop in these things), undistinguished as a story but enlivened by the presence of John Williams, sometimes called Hitchcock’s most frequent star. Williams also crops up in —

Wet Saturday, a fairly delightful John Collier adaptation with Sir Cedric Hardwicke, another actor Hitch enjoyed greatly. Collier’s stories also graced The Twilight Zone, and one, The Fountain of Youth, got the experimental treatment by Orson Welles. If you haven’t sampled his short fiction, I highly recommend it. In amoral little comedies like this, Hitch’s outro is often used to placate the censor with a tacked-on “happy” or “moral” ending.

One More Mile to Go is another neat little suspense situation, referred to in my PSYCHO post. David Wayne (the killer in Losey’s M) plays another sympathetic wife-murderer in search of a body of water to lay his wife to rest in, and pestered by a persistent traffic cop and a faulty tail-light. A lot of these pieces nicely balance the sympathies of the audience, as deftly manipulated by Hitch, with the demands of morality and censorship.

Perfect Crime is enjoyable enough, the story not being anything special, but the pleasure of seeing Hitchcock direct Vincent Price is a unique one.

A Dip in the Pool is a comedy with uncertain sympathies but a very nice twist. Keenan Wynn stars, and it’s nice to see Fay Wray in a supporting role. Spectacular stunt, also (above).

Poison — almost missed this one! Will watch it tonight and report back.

Lamb to the Slaughter is the famous one where Barbara Bel Geddes kills her policeman husband with a leg of lamb, which she then cooks and serves to his investigating colleagues. Even better than the idea suggests, although it is basically a typical Roald Dahl piece, stronger on its central gimmick that anything else. This shot of BBG seems to anticipate the end of PSYCHO.

The chair against the wall, the slow track in to a smile…

Banquo’s Chair is a fairly predictable story, in which a fake ghost is to be used to trap a killer, but the cast is magnificent: John Williams, Kenneth Haigh, Max Adrian. The VERTIGO echoes are amusing too, with impersonation, faked supernaturalism, a retired detective hero, and a Ferguson.

Arthur is a black comedy about a homicidal chicken farmer, with a lovely sinister and charming perf from Laurence Harvey, and the always-welcome Hazel Court.

Crystal Trench crams most of Fred Zinneman’s 5 DAYS ONE SUMMER into half an hour, with this tale of a woman waiting decades for her lover to be freed from the glacier in which he perished. Evan Hunter, preparing to take the job of writer on THE BIRDS, came by the set, and the block of ice shipped in nearly melted while Hitch entertained Hunter’s attractive wife.

Mrs Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat is another incredibly drab comedy, with no bad-taste or homicidal element whatsoever — it shouldn’t have been done on the show, let alone by the master himself.

The Horseplayer could be said to have similar issues, but the religious setting is intriguing for Hitch, and the presence of Claude Rains (and Percy Helton!) means the piece can’t be considered a total loss. Quite enjoyable.

Bang! You’re Dead is another masterpiece, and a great note to end on. It’s not the last ever episode of Hitch’s show, but it’s the last he directed himself. The story is so nerve-wracking, Hitch dispenses with humour in his intro in order to justify the torture he’s about to subject us to. It’s a little gun-safety lecture wrapped up in another basic suspense situ: a small boy with a loaded gun. The small boy is Bill Mumy. As he aims the pistol at his mother, neither of them realizing that it’s a genuine weapon, the effect is both frightening and deeply shocking, almost blasphemous. Various parties are placed in danger as the story goes on, and the jeopardy mounts as the kid keeps adding bullets to the gun, so what starts as Russian roulette ends with the certainty of a shot being fired…

Hitch guesses that we don’t expect him have the kid assassinate his own mother, so for the climax he aims the pistol at the family maid. We’re calculating… is Hitch going to go through with this? He wouldn’t kill the other, that would be too much. But maybe the maid? After all, she’s not a family member, she’s not white, she’s not middle-class… You’d think the mother might produce the maximum suspense, but it’s the maid, because she seems more… disposable.

Hitch and his writers have thought it all through, of course.

British readers can support Shadowplay by shopping here:

Fancies and Goodnights (New York Review Books Classics)
Alfred Hitchcock Presents – Series 1 – Complete [DVD]
Alfred Hitchcock Presents – Series 2 – Complete [DVD]
Alfred Hitchcock Presents : Complete Season 3 [1957] [DVD]