11 February 2010

Alfred Hitchcock Presents

Revenge is the first episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the television series hosted by Hitchcock for a decade and first broadcast on 2nd October 1955. The series was apparently devised by Lew Wasserman, who advised Hitchcock to capitalise on his celebrity status by appearing on TV. Royalties from the CBS show gave Hitchcock a substantial income, as did his shares in Wasserman's MCA talent agency. At a time when the rest of the film industry was competing with TV using gimmicks such as 3D (which even Hitchock could not avoid) and Cinerama, the idea of a film director producing a TV show was unexpected. (Thomas Schatz discusses this in The Genius Of The System.)

Hitchcock directed seventeen half-hour episodes of the show (and one hour-long episode of the programme's successor, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour), though he appeared at the beginning of every episode to set the scene with a droll monologue. The dramas themselves featured several actors from Hitchcock's films, including Claude Rains and Vera Miles. Hitchcock's daughter, Patricia, also appeared in several episodes. (She also appeared in three Hitchcock films: Stage Fright, Strangers On A Train, and Psycho.) Famously, Hitchcock used members of the show's crew to film Psycho (the subject of recent books by David Thomson and Philip J Skerry), in order to cut costs and produce an AIP-style thriller.

Revenge, directed by Hitchcock, stars Vera Miles, who later appeared in Hitchcock's The Wrong Man and Psycho (and was unsuccessfully groomed for the lead role in Vertigo, later replaced by Kim Novak). Her character suffers a nervous breakdown and is subsequently attacked by an unidentified man, and her husband attempts to track down her attacker. In the establishing scenes before the attack, Miles is sexy and confident, and she then makes an effective transition to post-traumatic confusion (similar to her character in The Wrong Man). The episode's conclusion is rather predictable, though it's an effectively suspenseful and succinct drama.

There are two inexplicable moments: a female character looks at Miles's legs for slightly too long, and Miles is seen holding the head of a carnation. The carnation clearly suggests the Miles has been 'deflowered', though its status as a clue to the attacker's identity is not explained, and potential suspicions about the other female character are also unresolved.

6 comment(s):

Gautam Chopra said...

Thanks for this entry. I recently saw this episode and was struck by unsettling it is. Also, I was equally confused by the "two inexplicable moments". However, because these moments feel calculated (i.e. we feel we're in good hands with the filmmakers) and they only serve to ratchet up the film's disturbing psychological effect. A wonderful short.

Matthew Hunt said...

Gautam, thanks for your comment. I like your shot-by-shot analysis of a sequence from The Birds.


PAXOUT said...

The carnation never did make sense to me. Also, why did she say, "He killed me."

OK to tell you the truth I thought she made the whole thing up. Her descriptions of the man were very generic. After all she was very crazy. The old lady did not see anyone.

Matthew Hunt said...

It's possible that she was making it up, yes.

There are some loose ends. I guess the short running-time means that HItch could either keep it simple and tie everything up at the end, or make it complex but be unable to resolve every element. Glad that he chose the latter.

Unknown said...

I believe the carnation in her hand is a reference to the nosy neighbor,Mrs Ferguson.In the beginning of the episode she is gardening flowers in front of her trailer.The strange lingering and disapproving look she gives Elsa shows she resents the young woman exposing herself to the other neighbors.Perhaps she is jealous.Since we never see a man in a grey suit or the alleged attack the only other scenario is the older woman attacking the young wife.

Matthew Hunt said...

Interesting theory about the neighbour.

I believe Hitchcock called unexplained elements such as these 'icebox moments', i.e. they wouldn't confuse the audience while the movie was in progress, but after it finished, when people went to their iceboxes to get ice for their post-movie drinks (?), they would realise that something wasn't quite right, and this would prompt them to keep thinking/talking about the film. And it seems to have worked.

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