The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: Annabel (1962)

During the week David Kelsey lives in a little apartment in Froudsberg but at weekends he drives off to a large secluded house near Ballard to become ‘William Newmaster’, where he dreams of a life with his ex-girlfriend Annabel, now married to someone else. This is the premise of Patricia Highsmith’s This Sweet Sickness (I reviewed it here last week), which shortly after its publication became the debut episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Dean Stockwell starred as Kelsey and Susan Oliver played Annabel in an adaptation scripted by the great Robert Bloch that substantially altered the book.

Annabel-08

This review is offered as part of the 2013 Book to Movie Challenge at the Doing Dewey blog – for review links, click here and Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme hosted by Todd Mason over at his Sweet Freedom blog.

“I understand, I always understood you, ever since we met, ever since we fell in love”

This TV version (there is also a French movie from 1977, Dites-lui que je l’aime [Tell Her I Love Her] starring Gérard Depardieu and Miou-Miou that I have yet to catch up with) compresses and shorten the narrative greatly and should be seen as a palimpsest of the novel. Much of the plot character material has been removed entirely and the timeframe condensed massively. Arguably though is no bad thing as Highsmith’s novel does in fact feel overlong, slowing down considerably on its way to its nihilistic finale as Kelsey succumbs to his obsessions with murderous results. It was originally screened on 1 November 1962 as the first episode of the Alfred Hitchcock Hour, the new incarnation for the Hitchcock anthology when, after seven years on the air, it expanded on its original half-hour format and moved back to CBS after being screened on NBC for two years. Despite the inevitable simplifications of the narrative to fit its 60-minute slot and the predictable prettification of the books highly disagreeable cast of characters, this reduction (starting with Highsmith’s Annabelle losing the last two letters of her name) is none the less quite an effective adaptation on its own highly unfaithful terms.

Annabel-04

Having Psycho author Robert Bloch pen the script (one of several he did for the show) strikes me as a very good bit of casting as there is more than a touch of ‘Norman Bates about David – and this is certainly borne out by the heavily revised ending that fans will recognise as being fairly typical of his blackly comic sensibility. Many of the changes in Bloch’s script though are simple expedients to reduce the size of the cast and the number of sets, pretty much boiling everything down to its bare essentials. Kelsey and Wes Carmichael are still co-workers at a chemical plant but are now roommates too, so cutting out all the subsidiary characters at Mrs McCartney’s rooming house from the novel where David stays. Wes is no longer married (and no longer a drunk), though still trying to get Effie (now re-named Linda) to go out with him, so maintaining the book’s two love ‘triangles’. Annabel’s husband Gerald is, like Wes, also a more reasonable and urbane chap here than in the novel. Other changes are cosmetic, like David now claiming to be visiting his invalid father at weekends rather than his mother (perhaps to avoid comparisons with Psycho), but he is still pestering Annabel and sending her expensive gifts that Gerald can’t hope to match. Linda is now also a co-worker at the plant, making it easier for her to discover that David is lying about visiting his father at weekends by peeking at his personnel file (or rather, getting a friend in HR to do it for her). When Gerald decides to warn off David and gets the ‘Newmaster’ address from Linda, who discovered it when she jealously followed David to his Ballard home one day, the culminating scene plays out very differently than in the book however. Originally Gerald’s death is an accident after a scuffle in the snow but here it is most definitely murder and Kelsey is under no illusions – he just thinks he is justified so he can get Annabel back.

Annabel-03

Dean Stockwell, as in the recent Compulsion (1959), Sons and Lovers (1960) and Long Day’s Journey into Night (1962), is once again cast as a tormented young man, though here not much effort is made to make him especially likeable or sympathetic. He does brings a waspish, even humorous quality to his playing, but is also clearly nuts from the get-go. Susan Oliver does her best in the title role as the object of David’s affection but beyond her kewpie doll good looks it is hard to truly understand his obsession with her given her reduced the role in this version, which of necessity brings a less subjective look at the story. ‘Linda’ is played by Kathleen Nolan (who was just coming off a five-tear stint co-starring as Kate in rural sitcom The Real McCoys) and her character has been altered greatly – no longer almost as madly in love with David as he is with Annabel, here she more or less acts as the detective in the story, providing a standard identification figure for the audience. Having said that, it is still through her own capricious act of revenge that Gerald finds the Newmaster house and is so partly responsible for the death there though this version only hints at this, which is understandable given its overall trajectory to in effect ‘de-angst’ the story beyond the Kelsey character.

Annabel-05

But it has to be said that, apart from Stockwell’s Kelsey, as the characters have had all their hard edges ironed out they don’t get to make much of an impression. On the other hand Bloch’s new finale, completely different from the book’s, actually creates a surprisingly ‘happy’ ending in which David gets to live his dream after all, though (and no, no spoilers here) this is achieved through a very nasty turn of events that, to my mind, improves on Highsmith’s book in terms of Annabel’s role in the story. For a very detailed (and very, very spoiler-heavy) analysis of the book and its TV adaptation and a breakdown of all the changes, visit Jack Seabrook’s fabulous bare.bones e-zine. And to watch the episode you need go no further than YouTube, where it has been posted in a surprisingly good edition that appears to be completely intact – indeed the quality is good enough to make to clear that director Paul Henreid’s closing backward tracking shot has been zoomed in on an optical printer to make it slightly less ghoulish and mask the something horrible on the right-hand side of the screen … Overall well worth a look, though the book remains preferable in most ways.

The Alfred Hitchcock Hour / Annabel (1962)
Director: Paul Henreid
Producer: Joan Harrison
Screenplay: Robert Bloch
Cinematography: John L. Russell
Art Direction: Russell Kimball
Music: Lyn Murray
Cast: Dean Stockwell, Susan Oliver, Kathleen Nolan, Gary Cockrell, Hank Brandt, Bert Remsen

***** (2.5 fedora tips out of 5)

About these ads
This entry was posted in 2013 Book to Movie Challenge, New York, Patricia Highsmith, Robert Bloch, Tuesday's Overlooked Film. Bookmark the permalink.

37 Responses to The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: Annabel (1962)

  1. Sergio – Much as I like Hitchcock (and I do!) I honestly don’t think this was his best effort. A great story and I agree with you about Stockwell’s acting. But I just wasn’t quite as impressed with this one as I have been with other Hitchcock work. I think I’ll have to mull it over a bit to figure out why. Thanks for making me think about this…

    • Thanks Margot – well, he had very little to do wih it of course, just filiming the comedy intros – otherwise it was completely in other hands (though he did personally direct a few of the other episodes). I found it fascinating to see how they adapted the book and the many changes – ultimately, while Highsmith’s stories are grabbers in terms of their central conceit, it is her treatment of characters that distinguishes her and that is much harder to convey on-screen.

  2. Colin says:

    Nicely done. AHP was one of the best anthology series around, and a real favorite of mine. I haven’t seen that much of the one hour format – the odd episode here and there – so I can’t comment on whether they frequently felt padded in the way expanded shows sometimes do.

    The US DVD releases seem to have stalled at season 5, but Universal has released the remaining two half hour series and the three(?) one hour series in Australia.

    • I agree – one of the smart things things they did with the hour was rely on adapting novels rather than short stories, though in this case they really had to ‘boil it down’ to keep it at manageable length.

      I noticed the Oz releases and am tempted especially as I have family out there – I sometimes wish though that companies would use Blu-ray to pack a lot more content on to a single disc as you would imagine it would bring per-disc costs down – although there were huge flaws (i.e. faux widescreen), this was handled very well with the McCallum INVISIBLE MAN release for instance.

  3. Colin says:

    I guess I did something dumb with the italics there – I only meant to have the “and” emphasized. HTML mutter, mutter…

  4. Colin are you typing out the code or is there a keyboard shortcut to be had?

  5. Patti Abbott says:

    I am sure I watched this but have no memory of it. I loved both leads though and haven’t heard Susan Oliver’s name mentioned in years.

    • Apparently the filming began with two different actors and then it had to be re-shot with Stockwell and Oliver but I have no idea who the original choices were. Just for her appearance in the original STAR TREK pilot (and her appearance painted green in the end credits) she probably fuelled rather a lot of adolescent fantasies over the decades – I wished she had been given a bit more to do in this one though.
      Susan Oliver in STAR TREK

      • neer says:

        “Just for her appearance in the original STAR TREK pilot (and her appearance painted green in the end credits) she probably fuelled rather a lot of adolescent fantasies over the decades …

        Well, she was playing an Orion female and apparently human males cannot resist their allure.:) I would love to read who was behind this bit of Star Trek mythology: Roddenberry, Fontana, Coon, or somebody else.

        • Thanks Neer – well, this was probably down to Roddenberry (and I’m not much of a fan of his as a writer or producer particularly I might add though I do quite like the fairy tale quality of “The Cage” even if it is chock full of stupidities) just because Dorothy Fontana and Gene Coon didn’t work on the original pilot. But week in, week out when the Desilu credit came up at the end, there was Susan Oliver again – oh, happy days :)

          • neer says:

            Thanks Sergio for this bit of information. Haven’t seen The Cage but have seen The Menagerie which I thought was pretty nicely put together in the first part. The second part was a bit of a drag though.

          • I agree with you Neer, as in many ways I prefer The Menagerie with its more complex set-up (mandated partly by the cost-cutting exercise that it was anyway, but also as a way of explaining the largely different cast of course and the unavailability of Jeffrey Hunter) and the way that is uses the extant footage to generate a happy ending – they are both worth seeing though.

  6. TracyK says:

    Fascinating. Sounds like I should try some of the Alfred Hitchcock shows. I know I watched some when I was young but I don’t remember specific ones.

  7. Kelly says:

    I’m really excited about watching this, just because I can’t get enough of Highsmith adaptations — even though I’ve yet to see one that didn’t let me down. I’m a glutton for punishment, I guess. Thanks for the write-up (and for making sure I saw it).

  8. Thanks for the review, Sergio, I have seen Hitchcock’s films but nothing by way of television series like The Alfred Hitchcock Hour or Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the latter currently telecast on Indian cable. I’ll have to make time to watch some of these episodes either on TV or YouTube.

  9. Pingback: 2013 Book to Movie Challenge – completed | Tipping My Fedora

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s