A sampling of the masterful Alfred Hitchcock Presents

Breakdown, Lamb to the Slaughter and Bang! You’re Dead!

Alfred Hitchcock Presents…Alfred Hitchcock!
  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents…Alfred Hitchcock!

Good evening! Here we have but a small sampling of the 17 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents personally directed by the Master. Find them all on Amazon.

— Scott Marks

Breakdown (1955)


The director reunites with Shadow of a Doubt’s “Merry Widow murderer” Joseph Cotten for this audaciously experimental adaptation of Louis Pollock’s short story. A Hollywood executive (Cotten) — the type who’s too coddled to fetch a smoke, so he orders a flunky to hand-deliver one — decides he has spent enough time (and long distance dollars) dabbing the tears of the employee he just canned, and quietly returns the handset to its cradle. A karmic drive home leaves him paralyzed, and the majority of the action plays out with an immobile Cotten providing a stream of consciousness narration filmed in tight, unblinking closeups. (It makes sense when one considers the size of the average TV screen in 1955 was no bigger than today’s laptop.) Suddenly, the man who had such little regard for the lives of others must convince passersby that there’s still breath in the lungs of the seemingly lifeless corpse before them. A morbid morality play, and one that Hitchcock takes great delight in relating.

Lamb to the Slaughter (1958)

Lamb to the Slaughter

Drollery reins supreme when Hitchcock’s legendary dread of lawmen comes to a head in what’s by far the most recognized episode of the anthology series. Barbara Bel Geddes (Vertigo’s terminally forlorn Midge) stars as Mary Maloney, the pregnant, soon-to-be widow whose inarticulate policeman hubby (Allan Lane) returns home from pounding a beat only to be beaten to death with three pounds of frozen leg of lamb. (That’s what he gets for announcing, on an empty stomach, his intentions of ditching the little woman for another gal.) There’s no mystery to be solved or secrets to unravel. We not only know whodunit, after one look at what Mary married, we know why. As fate (and Roald Dahl’s superb short story) would have it, murdering Maloney destroys the evidence by serving it to those sworn to serve and project. The concluding long, slow dolly-in on Mary’s face prefigures Hitchcock’s parting glance at Norman Bates by two years.

Bang! You’re Dead! (1961)

Bang! You're Dead!

A timely-to-this-day parable about the importance of keeping firearms out of the hands of children turned out to be the last Hitchcock-directed episode of the series. The afternoon Uncle Rick (Stephen Dunne) returns home from the war finds brother Fred (Biff Elliot) mixing cocktails, sister-in-law Amy (Lucy Prentis) fretting that her domestic won’t show up in time to work that evening’s party, and little nephew Jackie (Billy Mumy) chancing upon a gun and box of bullets in Rick’s suitcase. Made at a time when westerns dominated the small screen, the majority of the little boys in Bang! sport cowboy hats and cap gun holsters. Hitchcock didn’t have the temperament required to make a western, and this is probably as close as he came to the genre. “You get him off this western kick, I’ll be glad for a change”: dialogue delivered by Fred that could just as easily have been spoken by the Hitch. Whether you’ll be gripping the armrest because of the lamentable political incorrectness or the unstoppable suspense depends on the viewer.

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A somewhat darker version of the same basic premise was done a year earlier on Boris Karloff's Thriller, "Child's Play," with little Tommy Nolan playing a genuinely disturbed Western-obsessed kid that nobody realizes is going around with a real loaded gun. Written by Robert "Batman" Dozier and directed by Arthur Hiller, Hitch was no doubt well aware of "Child's Play" before "Bang! You're Dead" went into production, since Hitch was already annoyed with Universal for producing another suspense show, on the same Universal lot no less and using the same locations from Hitch's shows (including the Psycho mansion). Then Karloff's show also started using Robert Bloch and others from Hitch's posse, even his makeup artist - there are several accounts that indicate Hitchcock was instrumental in eventually getting Thriller axed. I kind of like Mumy's performance better than Nolan's, tho the Thriller story has more genuine (albeit drawn out) suspense and creepiness. If the Thriller episode had been pared down to a half hour, it'd be at least as good or better than the Hitchcock show! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7GKWzUZZDzg

I would love to spend my Saturday morning watching this, but doody calls and I'm off to examine "Smallfoot." I'll check it out later tonight and report back. Thanks for the expert sleuthing, although Hiller is to Hitchcock what aerosol Cheese Whiz is to Pule!

Hey, leave that aerosol Cheez Whiz alone, Scott (sometimes "Groucho") Marks! They feed that to newborn babies in Kentucky!

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