Distributor: Via Vision Entertainment
Release Date: July 21, 2021
Region: Region Free
Video: 576I (MPEG-2, PAL)
Main Audio: 2.0 English Mono Dolby Digital
Notes: This series is not yet available on the Blu-ray format.
“This is the way of television… Half-hour shows were becoming one-hour shows, so it was decided that ours was to become a one-hour show. I don’t recall whose idea it was. I cannot say I know how the arrangements were made. In television the problem is to maintain a standard (especially after seven years). We were always pretty offbeat, but people get used to us being offbeat.” —Alfred Hitchcock (as quoted in “The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion,” 2001)
NBC aired the première of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour on Thursday, September 20, 1962. (The sixth and seventh seasons of Alfred Hitchcock Presents had been moved to NBC from the show’s original home on CBS.) It seems likely that the final few seasons of Alfred Hitchcock Presents saw a slight drop in their ratings, and the powers that be decided that it was time to press the reset button. Fans often look at it as essentially a continuation of Alfred Hitchcock Presents as it maintained the same essential format as the earlier series, but this overlooks quite a few changes in content that aren’t as obvious the change in duration. There were also changes in personnel for the majority of this series, and the magnificent Joan Harrison was replaced by Norman Lloyd for the final two seasons after Harrison married Eric Ambler. However, if the new series was fundamentally different from its predecessor, the main reason for this was undoubtedly the result of another change. While Alfred Hitchcock Presents relied on short stories for content during its run, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour was forced to alter this approach.
“If we had the money and the time for a television show, I would still prefer to use short stories on the one-hour program. But it takes time to build up a short story if you want to do it properly. If it is done hastily, there is the risk of a bad script. It is simpler to get a novel or novella when you are in a hurry and to prune it down to a one-hour show.” —Alfred Hitchcock (as quoted in “The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion,” 2001)
Norman Lloyd was even complaining about a lack of material in the press during preparation for the new show’s first season.
“No one is writing good suspense stories these days… I don’t know what has happened to the great story tellers — people like Kipling and Stevenson. We have to take stories and shape them to our needs. Meanwhile, we must go on. We can’t wait for the great ones to show up. I must take the scripts as they land on my desk. I’m responsible for sixteen programs, and I have only seven properties on hand. [Lloyd and Harrison produced all but four episodes from the first season] I’ve managed to get several fine stories, I believe. One is a gambling tale, A Piece of the Action, starring Gig Young and Martha Hyer. It has bitter irony in it. Another is The Final Yow, in which Carol Lynley plays a nun involved in a search for a stolen statue. It has a delicious twist.” —Norman Lloyd (The Newark Evening News, August 26, 1962)
Many critics and fans have criticized the hour format for being a watered down or padded out version of the former series, and some of the writers would have certainly agreed with this assessment.
”I much preferred writing for the half-hour show… There was always the possibility of doing what I call ‘gems.’ The half-hours were compact and full of sharp point-breaking, bringing the audience in at the middle and then hitting them with the climax. Very clean. This got a little difficult to achieve in the hour shows, which were more like features except that they weren’t, not really. They were actually more like extended half-hours. More was told about the same thing. I think the show suffered because of it, and I think the Hitchcock people felt so, too.” —Henry Slesar (as quoted in “The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion,” 2001)
Norman Lloyd would contradict Slesar as he felt that the hour format simply had its own set of strengths and weaknesses.
”My own feeling is that while the hour show did seem a bit spread out at times, we were able to do shows with a little humanity to them; we were able to develop characters more. There were a lot of good hour episodes. Like ‘The Jar’ and another Bradbury story called ‘The Life and Work of Juan Diaz,’ a marvelous story about a guy who earned more money dead than when he was alive. So, for my money, both formats were good and just as effective — only in different ways.” —Norman Lloyd (as quoted in “The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion,” 2001)
However, he still felt that the original series benefited from the abundance of available short stories at their disposal.
“One must remember that in the early half-hour days, we were getting the cream of the crop… Some of the best stories of their type in English literature, such as The Glass Eye. In the latter days of the hour show, however, we occasionally had to develop stories from scratch, and the results didn’t always measure up. The half-hour show, which ran twenty-two and a fraction minutes, was sometimes a delight in its brevity and its point, but that doesn’t mean it was a better format.” —Norman Lloyd (as quoted in “The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion,” 2001)
Of course, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour would need a new opening title. The first season of the new series was very similar to the one used for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Lyn Murray arranged a new version of Charles Gounod’s “Funeral March of a Marionette” that is much shorter and more tentative than previous incarnations, and Hitchcock no longer walks into the iconic sketch of his visage in profile. Instead, we see his shadow looming large as it approaches before filling the sketch and then turning into profile.
All of this would soon be changed for the show’s second and third seasons, and this more common version of the show’s opening is the more interesting of the two. In this animated opener, we recognize our host’s shadow as it moves towards a door as spooky tropes of terror drift across the screen. Finally, the shadow comes upon a door before everything fades to black. Interestingly, the legendary Bernard Herrmann would redo the theme song with “creepy bassoons” for these two seasons. As a matter of fact, Herrmann was also responsible for scoring no fewer than seventeen of the episodes in these seasons as well.
“He even worked on Marnie while at the same time, composing pieces for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Reapplying the use of the habanera from Vertigo‘s nightmare sequence [in] The Life Work of Juan Diaz still remains an excellent form of storytelling. A circus organ is used in the sound track of The Jar, bassoons in Terror at Northfield, and harps in Consider Her Ways.” —Martin Grams, Jr. and Patrik Wikstrom (The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion,” 2001)
Unfortunately, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour would only last for three seasons, and it was never as acclaimed or as embraced by audiences as its predecessor.
“Near the end of the second season, the end of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour was clearly in sight. As the headmaster of an institution, this was a fact of which Hitchcock was fully aware… His health and age [were] starting to take [their] toll, and… Hitchcock was no longer directing any television episodes… He was now sixty-five years old, and his age was showing in front of the cameras. For the tenth — and what would become the final — season. The Alfred Hitchcock Hour moved again from CBS to NBC, where it would quietly fade away — but not before going out with a bang. The producers were choosing stories that varied from the normal mystery clichés, and occasionally pushed the borders. Ray Bradbury’s The Life and Work of Juan Diaz was received with high acclaim. Lonely Place was an intense character study of a neglected wife who took matters into her own hands. Death Scene concerned a horror film star who owed his gruesome screen presence to dealings with satanic ritual. The familiar W. W. Jacobs story, The Monkey’s Paw was modernized and revised twentieth-century style. Memo from Purgatory was a compelling story of an investigative reporter’s study of juvenile gang warfare… Where the Woodbine Twineth concerned a small child who traded places with her doll. The most impressive, however, was An Unlocked Window concerning two nurses caring for an invalid in an isolated Victorian home as a mentally disturbed killer is loose in the countryside… Even with story content that might normally stir a few concerns among the network censors, Hitchcock wanted to bow out in style… Upon the cancellation, ‘TV Guide’ noted: ‘As of May 10, Alfred Hitchcock presents no more. After ten years on CBS and NBC, the series leaves the air without fanfare. NBC did not even announce its departure. [They] simply failed to announce a renewal. The ratings of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour have gradually slipped — although not catastrophically — and, according to an NBC source, ‘We merely found Mr. Hitchcock a little too costly.’ Hitchcock fans would still have summer and syndicated reruns to console them, but the master would no longer toddle onto the screen in prime network time, fit himself gently into his own Indian-ink profile, and deliver his flannel-mouthed, lugubrious jokes…
… ‘We must be philosophical about this,’ said Hitchcock about the demise. ‘As we all know, television is a great juggernaut, and we’re all nuts and bolts attached to it. Sometimes the nuts and bolts fall off.’ He would be financially afflicted by this decision, of course, but artistically speaking it did not move him profoundly. Just before the decision was made, he was complaining about the difficulty of doing good work on television. In fact, apart from keeping his eagle eye on the scripts, Hitchcock had little to do with the practical work on the show.” —Martin Grams, Jr. and Patrik Wikstrom (The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion,” 2001)
Norman Lloyd had a more direct explanation as to why the show was cancelled.
“The real reason was that Hitch didn’t want to do it anymore… He felt that ten years was enough, and he had a lot of other things to do.” —Norman Lloyd (as quoted in “The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion,” 2001)
The fact that Hitchcock only directed a single episode of the series seems to be evidence to support this theory (especially considering that that episode was made during the earliest part of the show’s first season.
The Hitchcock Episode
I Saw the Whole Thing
(Season One — Episode 04)
“As [Hitchcock] launched post-production of The Birds… Hitchcock also devoted himself to preparing and shooting the one hour I Saw the Whole Thing — the last television show he would ever direct, and the only one he made for the new Alfred Hitchcock Hour. I Saw the Whole Thing was adapted from a story by Henry Cecil, the author of ‘No Bail for the Judge’ [a novel that Hitchcock had wanted to adapt for the screen only a few years prior].” —Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, October 19, 2010)
The Rashomon-like courtroom drama originally aired on October 11, 1962 and features John Forsythe as Michael Barnes. Barnes has been accused of causing a fatal car accident, but he insists that he is completely innocent and acts as his own attorney at his trial. In court, he proves that the various eyewitnesses called by the prosecution are unreliable. Interestingly, this is one of the only episodes that Hitchcock discusses at any length during his notorious interview with François Truffaut (although this is probably because it was fresh on his mind at the time).
“I had a car accident, as the basis for a trial, in one of my recent television shows. What I did was to use five shots of people witnessing the incident before I showed the accident itself. Or rather, 1 showed five people as they heard the sound of it. Then I filmed the end of the accident, just as the man hits the ground after his motorcycle has turned over and the offending car is speeding away. These are moments when you have to stop time, to stretch it out.” —Alfred Hitchcock (Le Cinéma selon Hitchcock, 1966)
He would also mention the episode during one of their many conversations about shot construction and storytelling economy.
“The size of the image is used for dramatic purposes, and not merely to establish the background. Just the other day I was doing a television show and there was a scene in which a man came into a police station to give himself up. I had a close shot of the man coming in, the door closing behind him, and the man walking up to the desk; I didn’t show the whole set. They asked me, ‘Aren’t you going to show the whole thing so that people know we’re in a police station?’ I said, ‘Why bother? The sergeant has three stripes on his arm right next to the camera, and that’s enough to get that idea across. Why should we waste a long shot that may be useful at a dramatic moment?’” —Alfred Hitchcock (Le Cinéma Selon Hitchcock, 1966)
3 of 5 MacGuffins
There are 24 DVDs in this collection: 8 Season One discs, 8 Season Two discs, and 8 Season Three discs. Each season is given its own case with similar artwork to what is shown above (but with different color tints to the background for each season — red, blue, and orange). The clear cases are wider than the standard size that is usually used for most DVD releases, and the insert sleeve is dual sided so that episode information can be seen in the interior of the case. There is a “PG” ratings logo at the bottom left corner of box’s artwork, but the individual season artwork isn’t marred by this label.
2 of 5 MacGuffins
Ford Startime: Incident at a Corner
Startime (which was also called Ford Startime and Lincoln-Mercury Startime) was a short-lived anthology series that aired on NBC. The series only lasted for a single 33 episode season (1959-1960). MCA was the force behind the series, and Lew Wasserman was responsible for convincing Alfred Hitchcock to do an episode. The format varied considerably from one episode to the next as there were variety shows, revues, and telefilms throughout the course of the season.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Incident at a Corner was a color telefilm that serves as the 27th episode in the series. It aired on April 05, 1960 and starred Vera Miles, George Peppard, and Paul Hartman in important roles. The story focuses on the Medwick family as they are nearly crushed when one of their number is falsely accused of an unspeakable act. In some ways, one might see this as a continuation of the “wrong man” theme (a favorite of Hitchcock’s).
All three seasons of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour is now available to own on DVD courtesy of Via Vision Entertainment, but isn’t it time for a Blu-ray release of this series?
Review by: Devon Powell
François Truffaut (Le Cinéma Selon Hitchcock, 1966)
Donald Spoto (The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock, 1983)
Martin Grams, Jr. and Patrik Wikstrom (The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion, 2001)
Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, 2003)