Friday, October 23, 2020

Friday Fright Night Four: Too Terrifying for Television? Alfred Hitchcock Presents Stories They Wouldn't Let Me Do on TV (1957)

Here's are this week's frightabulous Friday links!

Clothes in Books

Cross Examining Crime

My Reader's Block

Sweet Freedom

Pretty Sinister

And here's my FEARSOME contribution!

....eerie tales of the supernatural make up a part of the book, but the chief staple is that ever popular crime--murder.   

However, you will look in vain for the story of an underworld killing--homicide as practiced by hoodlums.  I have nothing against gangsters, you understand.  Some very delightful murders have been committed by professional criminals.  By and large, however, the more interesting work in the field is done by amateurs.  Highly gifted amateurs, but still amateurs.  They are people who perform their work with dignity, good taste and originality, leavened with a sense of the grotesques. 

Furthermore, they do not bore you afterward by telling you how they got the way they are.  Here is polite and wholesome mayhem as practiced by civilized people and I think it makes good reading.   

--preface to Alfred Hitchcock Presents Stories They Wouldn't Let Me Do on TV (1957)

Alfred Hitchcock (or more accurately someone else under his name) edited a half-dozen crime and horror story anthologies in the 1940s, but these "Alfred Hitchcock" anthologies really came into their own only in 1957, when the book series was relaunched, due to the popularity of the superb television anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents [AHP], which ran from 1955 to 1965 (the last three years under the title The Alfred Hitchcock Hour) and was famously introduced to the mirthfully macabre strains of Charles Gounod's Funeral March of a Marionette

The revamped book series would run for over three decades until 1989, outlasting the series and even Hitch himself (by nearly a decade).  They used to be familiar to me on bookstalls back in the 1970s, along with Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, launched in 1956 and still around today.  You could say that Hitch had a brand, and he made the most of it.

The first of these relaunched book anthologies was Alfred Hitchcock Presents Stories They Wouldn't Let Me Do on TV.  Ostensibly these were stories that were "too shocking, macabre or grotesque" for television in the Fifties.  But some of them did make it on to television, after all--some of them even presented by Hitch himself.

It's a huge anthology of twenty-five stories (one a novella), which, when reprinted by English paperback publisher Pan in 1960 in their "Giant" series, ran to nearly four hundred pages.  About half of the tales are what I would call suspense/horror chestnuts.  How many of these do you know? 

The lead off story, Being a Murderer Myself, (1948) by Arthur Williams, is about a chicken farmer in South Africa who murders a tiresome ex-girlfriend. 

The police follow the woman's tail--I mean her trail--to the narrator's farm, but then are stymied because they simply can't find the woman's body.  What happened to her?  Only the narrator knows....

Two years after the publication of Stories they Wouldn't Let Me Do on TV, an adaptation of Being a Murder Myself aired on AHP, under the title "Arthur." 

It was directed by Hitchcock himself and starred Oscar-nominated Angry Young Man actor Laurence Harvey and film Scream Queen Hazel Court and co-starred Patrick Macnee, I recollect, in a familiar pre-Avengers role as a police inspector.  It's one of the classic Hitchcock television episodes, buoyed by Hitch's creative direction, a wicked script (an improvement on the story) and Laurence Harvey's brilliantly sardonic performance.  If ever there was a man who charmed like the Devil himself, it was Laurence Harvey.

Laurence Harvey as Arthur putting an end
to a domestic problem

The actual author of the story was Peter Barry Way (1917-1969), a South African himself, who likely based his account on a real life murder case from the Twenties in England.  Although, to be sure, "Arthur" came up with a much better way of getting rid of the body....

Next is Lunkundoo (1927) by Edward Lucas White, one of the classic African curse stories.  What a source of imaginative horror was Africa for writers of the colonial era! 

Certainly this one was too grotesque for television as it is written, though it's a bit derivative of a superb, and more subtle, HG Wells story, Pollock and the Porroh Man (1895), which had been previously anthologized by "Hitchcock."

From here, I'm going to highlight the more successful stories in the collection, in my view.  "The Perfectionist" (1946) is oddly one of only two stories by women in the collection, the one here being Margaret St. Clair.  It's about a scapegrace nephew (a familiar character from fiction of this era), who comes to live with and do odd jobs for his well-off Aunt Muriel, a nice older lady who has developed a nice new hobby: still life art.  This is a clever tale, reminiscent of Roald Dahl, though like several in the collection you can deduce ahead of time where it's going.

The Price of a Head (1919) by John Russell is another warning to white men about the dangers of tropical locales, this time the Solomon Islands.  It's a good story but it was spoiled for me because I read a cribbed version of it years ago in the gruesome Tales from the Crypt comic book.

Lake Patzcuaro, Mexico, where Love Comes to Miss Lucy climaxes

Next is Love Comes to Miss Lucy (1947) by Q. Patrick, or more accurately Hugh Wheeler, who will be quite familiar to readers of this blog.  Hugh Wheeler and his partner Richard Webb spent the winter of 1946-47 in Mexico, and this superb short story was one of the fictional fruits of that stay.  In a way it's another peril in sunny climes tale, although it has emotional resonance to go along with its shock value, and in my view it thereby cuts deeper than older tales like Lunkundoo and The Price of a Head.  Also the protagonist is a woman, not a man.

In the story Miss Lucy Bram is touring Mexico with two other proper middle-aged Quaker ladies from Philadelphia (people with whom Wheeler and Webb were quite familiar, having lived in Philadelphia), when she shockingly (to herself) becomes enamored with her young Mexican tour guide, Mario.  This a very cleverly constructed story with an ending which is both jolting and moving.  Probably the best thing Wheeler and Webb ever did in the way of the short crime story.

Lucy was never aired on AHP, but belying the title of the anthology, it aired six years before the book was published as part of the television anthology series Danger, in an adaptation directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Maria Riva, the only child of Marlena Dietrich, who is still around at age 96.  Anyone ever seen Danger?  I'd love to see this episode.

Sredni Vashtar (1912) is one of the classics by the great satirical short story writer Saki (HH Munro), and another one of his tales about a child pitted against the cruel adult world; if you haven't read it, read it!  It is highly cathartic if you had an unhappy childhood.

Love Lies Bleeding (1950) by English crime writer Philip Macdonald is a much-praised and awarded short crime story with an ending that I suppose must have been a shocker in its day, but to me has lost some of its impact.  Still, it's one you often see mentioned.  Once you read it, you'll know why it would have presented problems for Fifties television.

Casting the Runes (1911) by the great English Edwardian supernatural writer MR James is here as well, probably on account of the fact that the story had been filmed as Night of the Demon the same year in which the anthology was published.  I was exposed to MR James' horrors in the 1990s through a volume of his selected stories introduced by the subject of last's week entry, Ruth Rendell, who was a great admirer of MR James (as well as PD of course); and I was impressed indeed with his work. 

Until I read MR James, I had only known American horror writers like HP Lovecraft, who for me was always a tad much.  Rereading Runes two decades or more later it feels rather like a detective story, albeit one with major supernatural underpinnings! There is, however, a splendid horrific bit which has always stuck with me, though it's told only at second-hand, about the villain of the piece terrorizing a group of children with a diabolic slide show.  Ever so malevolent, it was ripped off to good effect in the first of the two-part It films.

I simply adore the film version of the story, Night of the Demon, possibly my favorite horror film of all time.  It was directed by the great Jacques Tourneur (of Cat People fame) with an Oscar-worthy supporting performance by Niall MacGinnis as the antagonist.  (Dana Andrews and Peggy Cummins head the cast.)  And the interesting thing is that, despite its being a huge expansion of the story, Demon is quite faithful to James' concept and even what details there are in the story. 

By the by, as someone with experience in the academic world, I have always loved the idea of a man summoning a demon to avenge himself on the person who blackballed his proposed journal article.  But naturally!

It's certainly one way to deal with rejection!

The Voice in the Night (1907) by William Hope Hodgson and How Love Came to Professor Guildea (1900) by Robert S. Hichens are Edwardian/Victorian chestnuts of horror, the first about the fate which befalls a couple shipwrecked on an uncharted and deserted (?) isle and the second about the horrible thing which befalls a scientist who declares affection an abomination to himself.  The former was adapted as the freaky Japanese film Mantango in 1963.

The Moment of Decision (1955), about the run-in between a know-it-all man and his retired magician neighbor, is by the great American crime writer Stanley Ellin.  Arguably the story is his nod to the classic tale "The Lady or the Tiger," beloved of middle school English classes.

Nunc Dimittis (1953) by Roald Dahl is one of his delightfully nasty little tales about humanity, in which a priggish old bachelor gets his highly vindictive revenge on a woman he believes insulted him--but where does that get him?

Richard Connell's The Most Dangerous Game (1924) is the one about the great white hunter who hunts humans, the source for the classic 1932 film of the same title.  Classic notion, but the film is better!

Rockstown Castle, Ireland

The Lady on the Grey (1951) is by the English author John Collier, one of the great writers of mid-century weird tales.  At least four of his stories were adapted as AHP episodes--though not The Lady on the Grey, which is brilliant little episode drawing on Irish folklore (and yet older).

The Waxwork (1931) by AM Burrage made it to AHP in 1959.  It's the classic tale of the man who spends the night in the popular Murderers' Den of a wax museum. 

What happens?  Nothing good you can be sure!

Couching at the Door (1942) is a supernatural story by DK Broster, aka Dorothy Kathleen Broster, the only other woman author in this collection.  It tells of the comeuppance of Decadent poet Augustine Marchant.  It's very convincingly fin de siecle, hard to believe it was published in 1942.

Three of the last ones are The October Game (1948) by Ray BradburyWater's Edge (1956) by Robert Bloch and The Jokester (1952) by Robert Arthur.  Despite being exceedingly nasty and gruesome in the events it details, to be sure, the Halloween-set Bradbury story somehow didn't scare me, perhaps because I could see it coming from a long way off.  Bradbury always seems so full of humanity and human understanding to me too, he's like the Charlotte Armstrong of horror. 

Ann Sothern (!) and John Cassavettes in
Water's Edge

The story by Robert Arthur, an important person in the Alfred Hitchcock publishing empire, as he wrote some of the Three Investigators books and edited Alfred Hitchcock anthologies, was also too predicable to me.  If I described the plot in a line or two, you could tell me the ending I'm sure. 

However, Bloch's Water's Edge was terrific, though somewhat reminiscent of a similarly terrific Cornell Woolrich story, The Living Lie Down with the Dead (1936).  (See my blog post on Cornell Woolrich short fiction here.)  

I hadn't read Water's Edge before, although it was discussed seven years ago by John Norris at his blog.  (You should read the story before reading John's blog post, on account of spoilers.)  

Water's Edge appeared originally in Mike Shayne's Mystery Magazine and it's definitely hard-boiled, a superbly hateful slice of noir about an ex-con who will do anything to get his hands on some hidden stolen money--even seduce and plot the murder of his former cellmate's wife!

Water's Edge made it to AHP in the series' last season in 1964, where it was one of the highlights of the season, along with Ethel Lina White's fantastically eerie An Unlocked Window.  Even then they had to tone down the ending for television.  Just what you'd expect from the author of Psycho.  Read it for yourself and see--and then have yourself some sweet dreams!


  1. "Water's Edge" is definitely top-flight Bloch, and it's notable that appearing in MIKE SHAYNE first means that EQMM, AHMM, MANHUNT, PLAYBOY, and all the other better-paying markets turned it down (since Bloch didn't have the Scott Meredith Literary Agency representing him, there was only a very slight chance of his placing a story with MANHUNT or its shorter-running stablemates).

    In a sense, the "real" AHP: books series ended with Harold Q. Masur's last ghost job for Random House, AHP: THE MASTER'S CHOICE (1979), just before Hitchcock's death. I suspect both sales and the desire to not seem Too ghoulish, even given it's AH, contributed to the series sadly coming to an end. The subsequent hardcovers from the Dial Press were their (mostly library-trade) editions of the best-ofs from AHMM that Davis Publications was publishing in magazine form as ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S ANTHOLOGY beginning with the 1977-dated issue, in the same manner as they had been publishing ELLERY QUEEN'S ANTHOLOGY issues semi-annually after purchasing EQMM from Mercury Press at Davis's foundation. (Of course, the Dial Press was one of the hardcover arms of Dell Books, who had been publishing the best-ofs from AHMM under such tiles as AH'S NOOSE REPORT since 1965, while also doing he US paperbacks of the Random House AHP hardcover anthologies ghosted by Robert Arthur and then Harold Q. Masur in two volumes each, sometimes with some stories substituted when novels reprinted in the hardcovers already were still in paperback editions.

    It's quite a complicated set of publications, as you already know--the best descrambling I've seen is by Frank Babics, on his blog CASUAL DEBRIS
    ...though he does fall prey to one common error, only partially corrected, where he confuses the first or second AHMM best-of from Dell, ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S WITCHES' BREW (1965) with Henry Veit's Random House YA anthology series-ender AH'S WITCH'S BREW (Veit did two RH YA anthos after Robert Arthur's early death in 1969, even as Masur picked up the adult series and did a handful more till '79...and then, to add to the confusion, did a fat best-of AHMM for the instant remainder market in the '80s).
    Then there are the Peter Haining volumes, most not but some published in the US as well as the UK...and Dell retitling some of their paperback editions in later releases...

  2. That sounds like quite a collection. I love the theme of the stories he couldn't do...

    And what a *spooky* coincidence that I did Casting the Runes this week, and also featured that hilarious but appalling children's party! But then, Night of the Demon has to be an all-time favourite for many people of discernment...

    1. I saw it twenty or so years ago and loved it! So much better than the ubiquitous atomic monster films of the day.

  3. I was on the road all day Friday travelling to St Louis and tried my best to get my contribution for this week published Friday night. I failed. Will you please add my piece of "The Half Pint Flask" to the list of links above? Here it is:

  4. Alfred Hitchcock Presents really was a great series - my favourite out of all the American suspense/mystery/horror/sci-f anthology series of the era. And the Alfred Hitchcock anthology books bring back some happy memories. You've made me want to start looking for copies.

    1. I miss the days when you could walk into a bookstore (a bookstore?) or drugstore and buy these off the shelf or rack. So much macabre fun! And, yes, I love AHP!

  5. Love Comes to Miss Lucy also formed the basis for an episode of Kraft Suspense Theatre which was aired in 1964 called The Robrioz Ring. It can be viewed at a well-known video sharing site. Although the basic framework of the story is recognisable, it is altered in some major respects. It is set in the San Diego area and the age difference between the two leads (Julie Harris and Robert Loggia) was far smaller than in the print version.

    1. Poor Julie Harris always had to play those lovelorn spinsters, didn't she? I looked this up and they changed the outcome rather a lot! Definitely put a new spin on it. I wonder if the earlier adaptation stuck strictly to the story?