I’m happy to be back today for a contribution to my own blogathon, The 110 Years of Claire Trevor Blogathon, that I’m co-hosting with Crystal from In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood! As a subject, I wanted to do something else than reviewing a film (don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against that) and a good idea came to mind: watch and discuss the two Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes in which Claire Trevor starred! Of course, I was hoping to like them to give you a positive review… And I did! I really did as a matter of fact. The first episode in which she appeared was called Safe Conduct and was directed by Justus Addiss. It was released in 1956 during the first season. The second episode, A Crime for Mothers, was directed by no other than reputed female director Ida Lupino and released a few years later in 1961 as part of the 6th season.
Both episodes introduce excellent performances by Claire Trevor, but also very different ones which prove her undeniable versatility.
Safe Conduct was constructed in perfect Hitchcock-fashion, especially for its central setting taking place on a train. The Master of Suspense introduces the story next to a pool table, and we are then quickly brought at the heart of it, aboard Mary Prescott (Claire Trevor)’s compartment. Prescott is a female reporter travelling in Eastern Europe for her work. She is assured protection thanks to a safe-conduct letter and is on her way to Munich. She makes the acquaintance of young soccer star Jan Gubak (Jacques Bergerac) and eventually finds herself in some kind of weird trap. But, faithful to a Hitchcock story, it has a lot of surprises in reserve that I will let you discover by yourself if you haven’t seen it yet!
Safe Conduct is an immensely thrilling story and the fact that it is condensed in 25 minutes makes it look as if it lasted 2 minutes only. I was captivated by its atmosphere, the tension it illustrates perfectly. Just like in The Lady Vanishes, Hitchcock’s ultimate train film, we don’t know who to trust and what is going to be the outcome of this adventure. Claire Trevor delivers a clever performance as the classy and clever war-time reporter a bit like Tallulah Bankhead did it years before in Lifeboat (Alfred Hitchcock, 1944). She has a lot of tact and says her lines with a lot of ease. The character she plays, Mary Prescott, is one who knows how to handle weird situations even if it can get on her nerves at one point. We guess it she probably knew what she was getting into by travelling in Eastern Europe with all the risks that it involves.
Jacques Bergerac was a French actor who appeared in a few American films and other famous TV show such as Batman, The Dick Van Dyke Show and Perry Manson. He was also married to Ginger Rogers from 1953 to 1957 and then to Dorothy Malone from 1959 to 1964. He was not an actor I was really familiar with although I had heard about him before. He and Claire Trevor make an interesting conflictual pair in this episode of the suspenseful TV show, adapting themselves smoothly to the course of the story.
The episode gives a feeling of threat and fear according to the circumstances in which the characters are travelling. However, it doesn’t have a demoralizing heavy atmosphere, and it might make you smile on a few occasions. Why? Because it’s so good!
In the 60s, Hitchcock directed two Cold War films, Torn Curtain (1965) and Topaz (1969), but this story is by far much better than those two films. It’s short-length at its best proving us that a convincing story can be delivered without too much meat around the bone. In my opinion, if you are someone who aspires to write short films, by all mean, watch Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes as they are perfect lessons and models for that. It’s almost surprising to know that this episode was not directed by Hitchcock himself as it was maybe one of the most Hitchcockian ones I’ve seen so far. Well, it’s the proof that Justus Addiss was able to stay faithful to the acclaimed work of the British-born movie director!
The second episode in which Claire Trevor played a leading role, A Crime for Mothers, has nothing to do with the first one, presenting the actress as a tormented alcoholic mother whose estranged child had been put in foster care not long after being born. The story begins when Mr and Mrs Birdwell (Howard McNear and Patricia Smith), the foster parents, receive an unexpected and rather disagreeable visit from Mrs Meade (Claire Trevor) who wants her little girl back. It doesn’t take them long to understand that it’s only for the money and not because she truly cares for her. They intend to do the best they can to protect their foster child. After the visit, Mrs Meade meets Phil Ames (Biff Elliott) who suggests helping her make money by kidnapping the little girl on the only condition that he gets 20% of the profits.
After winning an Oscar for Key Largo (John Huston, 1948), Claire Trevor was able to prove us she could perfectly play the tormented alcoholic ladies, and she once again does it successfully in this Hitchcock-produced episode. However, if her character from Key Largo, Gaye Dawn, was a good-hearted one, Mrs Meade is one that people will mostly tend to despise at first. However, it might be more pity that we have for this poor woman who visibly doesn’t know how to handle her life and who remains of a great naivety despite her desire to make us believe that she is capable of anything. Even as this type of villain, Claire remains interestingly very elegant and very faithful to herself. She played the bad ones more than once before in films noirs, which, once again made her a perfect candidate for the role.
It’s interesting that Ida Lupino directed this episode and I highly appreciated discovering more of her work. This was not the first time she presented tormented ladies in her work (having played some herself on a few occasions), and this episode makes us ask a lot of questions. It’s actually difficult to establish the line of justice in this story and determine if all that Mrs Meade is going through is fair or not. We understand that her child was taken away because she could not take care of her, but then our first question is “Could she have gotten help?” Then, when we and her foster parents suspect that she has never loved her and only wants her back for money questions, we ask ourselves “but is it only just that?” It’s very confusing. In that scene where Ames shows her who is the little girl she must kidnap (she hasn’t seen her daughter since a very long time, so she doesn’t remember what she looks like), we almost sense a glimpse of maternal instinct vibe for a second, making us wonder if she’s as terrible as she sounds. The kidnapping is also not done with any violence, but it does remain a kidnapping. Anyway, she’s that character trapped in a sort of vicious circle, and it’s nearly impossible for her to get out of it.
Ida Lupino directed her first Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode the year before. It was also not her first time working with Claire Trevor as this one starred in her 1951 film Hard, Fast and Beautiful.
I didn’t think that A Crime for Mothers was as good as Safe Conduct, but it remains an excellent entertainment with a good plot twist.
It’s too bad that Claire Trevor had never starred in a Hitchcock film. If you have seen her in those excellent films noirs, you might agree that she would have been a great cold-blond addition to those!
I hope you will take the time to watch those two Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes in a near future. It’s 50 minutes of your life that I’m sure will be well-spent!
Don’t forget to check the other entries of our Claire Trevor Blogathon here.
And of course, happy heavenly 110th birthday to this amazing lady!