While often lumped together with “The Twilight Zone” and “Boris Karloff’s Thriller,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” is the true original, debuting 4 years before TZ and 5 before “Thriller.”
Alfred Hitchcock’s show was also different than the other two in that it didn’t deal in either supernatural or science-fiction. The situations may have been odd, but were always rooted in reality. Cold, brutal or gruesome reality, but reality nonetheless.
The show debuted in the fall of 1955 featuring a pair of now-classic episodes directed by the master himself. The first, “Revenge” about a husband looking for the man who assaulted his wife when she was alone in their mobile home and “Breakdown” featuring Joseph Cotton as a man paralyzed in a car crash, unable to tell the workers carting him off to the morgue that he’s not dead!
Hitch would go on to direct 15 more half-hours during the show’s 8 season run. But even when he wasn’t directing, the show always highlighted ed his style of crime thrillers. And of course, each episode featured the master himself introducing and closing each program with a generous helping of his macabre sense of humor and disdain for the sponsor.
You might not realize it, but Hitchcock used many an episode’s closing to skirt the censorship issues of the day. TV standards demanded that the guilty always be punished for their misdeeds. Hitchcock didn’t care about that. He wanted a story with a good punch at the end. As such, quite a few episodes of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” end with crime paying – and paying very handsomely. But to please the censors, Hitch would show up on camera to assure the censors that the guilty were eventually punished.
The original half-hour produced 268 episodes. For the ninth season, it was expanded to 60 minutes and the show’s title was changed to “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.” That version ran for another 3 season and produced an additional 93 episodes.
Among the current or future stars who appeared during the shows run: Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, Steve McQueen, Walter Matthau, Claude Rains, Dick Van Dyke, Peter Lorre, Leslie Nielsen, Angie Dickinson, Burt Reynolds, Christopher Lee, William Shatner, Peter Falk, Bette Davis, Telly Savalas Olivia de Havilland, Martin Balsam, Elsa Lanchester, Bruce Dern, Richard Basehart, Francis Bavier, Charles Bronson, James Caan, John Carradine, Art Carney, Tony Randall, Robert Duvall, Peter Fonda, Martin Landau, Jayne Mansfield, Roddy McDowell, Bob Newhart and Vincent Price.
We all have our favorite episodes, but here are a few of the most famous:
- Barbara Bel Geddes kills her husband by beating him with a frozen lamb chop (Hitchcock’s personal favorite)
- Billy Mumy as a 10-yerar old wandering around with a real loaded gun that he thinks is only a toy
- Claude Rains as a ventriloquist who seems to have a very strange relationship with his female dummy
The series proved so popular in syndication that a revival was attempted in 1985. It lasted one season on NBC and three more on USA Network. In a ghoulish touch Hitchcock himself might appreciate, the new series featured colorized footage of the late director from the original series at the beginning of each episode.
By the way, that famous theme song is actually a piece of classical music, appropriately titled “Funeral March of the Marionettes.” And that line drawing caricature that opened the show was drawn by Hitchcock himself.
The first 6 seasons are available on DVD in the USA. The 7th season as well as the complete “Alfred Hitchcock Hour” series is available in Australia.