Depending on the source, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour is either seen as an extension of the anthology show Alfred Hitchcock Presents or is classified as its own show. I strongly believe that Hour is a separate entity as it has a darker visual and narrative aesthetic. Going against the grain (yet again), it is my assertion that Hour had more interesting and complex scripts and better production values than the more popular and acclaimed Presents plus that extra je-ne-sais-crois factor that not only entertained but also transfixed.
Many wrongly assert that most of Hour’s scripts should have been thirty minutes but were bloated into hour-long episodes. There are certain stories that drag on too long such as Season 3’s Misadventure, but honestly, that story is so trite it would even be so in the half-hour format.
Presents is akin to Hitchcock’s early British films; they are charming and witty one-act drawing room comedies with murders plus the famous twist ending. Hour has more of a feel of his American films with a three-act structure that’s more about the journey. The twist isn’t as pronounced.
For the most part the show was adept at doing many styles and subsets of the suspense genre. The only times the show tripped up was when they went The Twilight Zone route (Where the Woodbine Twineth, or the dreadful The Monkey’s Paw-A Retelling) or when they strained in a purely broad comedy (How to Get Rid of Your Wife).
While Hitchcock may not have been involved with the day-to-day tasks of his show, his influence is strongly felt in the episodes in terms of style and content. Most of the entries were crafted with impeccable consistency, very worthy of the Hitchcock brand (and in my opinion, on the whole better than the more prolific, but spotty The Twilight Zone).
I could go on and on, but I’ll let y’all come to your own conclusion. Enjoy some quality television. Here are the first 5 out of 10 great Alfred Hitchcock Hours.
THE DARK POOL S1 E29 (aired 3 May 1963)
Exec Prod. Joan Harrison, teleplay by William B. Gordon and story and teleplay by Alec Coppel, dir. Jack Smight
This episode, like many of the Harrison-produced episodes, is condescendingly looked down as a “woman’s melodrama.” Lois Nettleton gives a gritty performance as Dianne, an alcoholic wife and adoptive mother married to a well-to-do businessman (Anthony George), whose baby drowns due to her drunken neglect. A beautiful and conniving blackmailer (creepily played by the exotic Madlyn Rhue), claiming to be the baby’s birth mother, threatens to expose our heroine’s drinking problem to her oblivious husband and tries to steal the husband. It’s incredibly entertaining and a real treat to see Nettleton and Rhue excel at the type of roles that they do best.
THE THIRTY FIRST OF FEBRUARY S1 E15 (4 Jan. 1963)
Prod. Joan Harrison, teleplay by Richard Matheson and story by Julian Symons (Based off novel), dir. Alf Kjellin
This one shares the same premise (and the same leading man, David Wayne) as the well-known Presents episode One More Mile to Go, about a mild-mannered man who kills his wife in the heat of the moment. He is stopped by a cop first for a broken car light, but due to the cop’s deeper suspicion he is continually pursued. This version goes further and casts a mystery over the man’s guilt, made compelling and taut by Wayne’s stellar performance of a man with a sense of alienation and an undercurrent of anger. The cat-and-mouse is heightened with a formidable antagonist, William Conrad, who has Orson Welles intensity as the detective hell-bent on pinning the murder on Wayne.
THE SIGN OF SATAN S2 E27 (aired 8 May 1964)
Exec Prods. Alfred Hitchcock and Norman Lloyd, teleplay by Barré Lyndon and story by Robert Blotch, dir. Robert Douglas
Apparently Christopher Lee was a little blindsided when he came to LA to film this episode, under the impression that he would be directed by Hitch himself. Even under the direction of the lesser-known Robert Douglas, Lee gives a great performance, showing a vulnerable and human side as the moody and uptight (it turns out for good reason) German actor brought to Hollywood to star in a vampire movie. An interesting counterbalance is the befuddled production team, who contrary to the typical show people cliché of high-strung divas, are logical and pragmatic. There’s a sense of community in their collaboration and the leading lady (Gia Scala) is as respected as the guys.
ANNABEL S1 E7 (aired 1 Nov. 1962)
Prod. Joan Harrison, teleplay by Robert Blotch and story by Patricia Highsmith (based off novel), dir. Paul Henreid
Many who have read Patricia Highsmith’s novel commend this episode for deftly condensing but retaining the flavor of this long material. While I haven’t read Highsmith’s story, I thought Bloch’s teleplay had an intriguingly intricate spider web structure especially in the creation of a love pentagon which heightens the suspense. Much of its drama comes from the crazed protagonist’s (Dean Stockwell) obsession with the titular character (Susan Oliver), making everybody act irrationally and exposing their more flawed sides. Lyn Murray’s lush gothic score has shades of Rebecca and Laura.
CHANGE OF ADDRESS S3 E2 (aired 12 Oct. 1964)
Exec Prod. Norman Lloyd and Prods. David Friedkin and Morton Fine, teleplay by David Friedkin and Morton Fine and story by Andrew Benedict, Dir. David Friedkin
For those of y’all sick of the sentimentalizing and prevalence of man-children in entertainment and society, this episode’s nefarious portrayal of male mid-life crisis is required viewing. Five-time Academy Award-loser Arthur Kennedy plays a fifty-something husband with a morbid case of arrested development who forces his long-suffering wife (Phyllis Thaxter, superb!) into moving to a Malibu beach house. The restaurant scene alone, where Kennedy’s and Thaxter’s characters have reached the final impasse in their miserable marriage, makes this story more than worthwhile. Many commenters in the video call Thaxter’s character a shrew and a bitch, showing an interesting, though unfortunate paradigm of our culture.