Each of the 39 episodes in Alfred Hitchcock Presents Season Two begins with a musical piece that became Hitchock's personal signature tune, Funeral March of a Marionette by Charles Gounod. According to an online source about the TV show, Hitchcock liked the tune when he heard it in 1927's Sunrise.
The music brought our heads up out of our homework for a chance to see Hitchcock in person, a stout man with a vacant expression and a controlled English voice. Hitch's funny on-screen intros made one reach to 'get' his brand of humor. They were a perfect kind of 'product branding' that made him easily the most visible film director working in Hollywood. By 1959 Hitchcock's screen persona was so well established that he carried it over to the trailers for his major feature films.
Every Hitchcock intro is different. In this second season Hitch can be seen holding his own head under his arm, trapped in a box and holding a large switch to electrocute channel-changers (what did the FCC say to that?). In another he stands amid a line of bathing beauties, too shy to use his measuring tape. In one Hitchcock appears as his own Cockney stand-in, and he's so good, we can imagine "Alfie" being a successful minor comedy actor, dead-panning his way through stories of the East End markets.
What we don't get in Season two are monologues in which Hitchcock makes fun of the sponsor. Maybe that practice came later? Note: 10.27.06: Reader Michael Adams informs me that the sponsor jokes are in season 1 ... so perhaps Hitchcock was induced to forego them.
The industry admired Hitchcock's television show as a marketing gimmick almost as effective as Walt Disney's -- his name became synonymous with mystery, murder and intrigue. The show also gave Hitchcock a proving ground for his big screen ideas, an audition platform for new faces, and perhaps a way of rewarding old friends and helpers.
The classic season is still the first, as it had more experimental episodes. The show has now settled into its winning formula. Episodes vary but most come off as miniature playlets and exercises in minimalism with fat parts for actors. Some say they are too much like radio shows, but few of these shows would work if the characters weren't visible. Some episodes are limited to just two or three people in a room, yet the show also made frequent ventures into elaborate second-unit work, and the occasional story with a larger than normal cast.
Seeing an entire season at once lets one appreciate the incredible array of interesting actors. Plenty of Hitchcock friends and favorites show up, like Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn and John Williams. We also see many actors with minor roles in his earlier pictures. Individual names often make more than one appearance, suggesting two-show contracts. Vic Morrow and Rip Torn are mentioned on the box, but we've also got Phyllis Thaxter, Ralph Meeker, Patricia Collinge, Robert Hutton, Henry Jones, Cedric Hardwicke, George Grizzard, K.T. Stevens, Mildred Dunnock, Hurd Hatfield, Robert Middleton, Corey Allen, Russell Collins, Hugh Marlowe, Robert Emhardt, Biff McGuire, Barbara Baxley, Gary Merrill, Royal Dano, Inger Stevens, Phillip Coolidge, Edith Barrett, James Gleason, Louise Platt, Pat Hitchcock, Anthony Dawson, David Wayne, Dick York, George Mcready, Judith Evelyn, Robert Culp, Edmund Gwenn and Albert Salmi, and those are only the names that caught Savant's eye.
As Hitchcock was orking at Paramount and Warner Bros. at the time, he obviously didn't personally run the show. That was the job of his long-time collaborator Joan Harrison, the wife of author Eric Ambler. An almost invisible presence in Hitchcock's career, Harrison had worked for the director since 1933, suggesting properties and editing scripts. She also became a screenwriter on Rebecca, Foreign Correspondent, Suspicion, and Ride the Pink Horse. In 1943 she moved up to producing on Universal's Phantom Lady. Harrison probably handled all the producing chores on the TV show and reported to Hitchcock only for approvals. Her impeccable taste blended well with Hitchcock's sensibility.
The season's writers are a cross-section of mystery names and up 'n' coming TV scribes: Marian Cockrell, Francis Cockrell, James P. Cavanaugh, A. J. Russell, Victor Wolfson, Bernard C. Schoenfeld, Robert C. Dennis, Stirling Silliphant, Sarett Rudley, Martin Berkeley, George P. Slavin. Most of Hitchcock's directors did multiple episodes. Justus Addiss, Herschel Daughtery and John Meredyth Lucas each did several, while Robert Stephens, Paul Henreid, James Nielson and Jules Bricken also contributed.
Alfred Hitchcock directed a couple of episodes on his own. One More Mile to Go seems a dry run for some of the driving and 'solitary suspense' scenes in Psycho.
The shows are still consistent. The little murder mysteries invariably end with a result unexpected by the murderer, the victim, and the audience. Not all stories have ''twists" and those that do aren't necessarily subtle. The 'tail twist' Twilight Zone-like episodes tend to be a bit more schematic and easier to guess ... a moralistic twist is the easiest kind to see coming. Even those shows in which the twist is halfway predictable find some way to keep us interested, if only to anticipate the expression of the trapped criminal when the jig is up -- the real loser, after all, is not us. It is not infrequent for an Alfred Hitchcock Presents to suddenly conclude without a full resolution. Either the ultimate fate of the hero is implied in the story, or Hitchcock's brief ending monologue dryly explains how the apparently victorious villains were thwarted. One episode ends with a pair of sneaky killers happily driving off to a new life. After the fade-out Hitchcock tells us that their disloyal dog turned them in.
Only a couple of episodes actually lay an egg, or are so subdued as to deny us even a minimal morbid thrill. Oddly, one of the few duds is the first one in the set, Wet Saturday, and Alfred Hitchcock directed it. He must have been thinking about his next day's problem on The Wrong Man.
Universal's Alfred Hitchcock Presents Season Two is beautifully presented and spread across five discs. That's roughly eight shows per disc so there's no fighting for bit rate space. The simple menus get one to the shows with the least amount of fuss and without spoilers -- there aren't any 'information pages' with plot synopses! For the most part the shows are flawless in quality and clean. A few have a slightly lower audio volume. For some reason, the music on the main menu page is distorted, a needless problem and one that encourages skipping to the next menu quickly. There are no extras. The shows, and the droll presence of Alfred "Good E-evening" Hitchcock are compensation enough.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Alfred Hitchcock Presents Season Two rates:
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