Top of the World: 15 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Episodes

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Last Friday, some film buffs like me honoured what would have been Alfred Hitchcock’s 121st birthday. The British director, born on August 13, 1899, undeniably had one of the most prolific careers in the entertainment industry and revolutionized the art of films forever. Since I have seen 49 of his films- including the short war propaganda film The Fighting Generation (1944) – and wasn’t so much in the mood to watch Juno and the Paycock (1930)… I’ve decided to celebrate the day by watching more Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes because I knew it was hard to go wrong with that. As you know, he’s my favourite movie director, and I’m always inspired to blog about him on all kind of subjects, including very unexpected topics. I didn’t find the time on Friday to blog about him because I went downtown. I thought I’d now remedy to that by precisely presenting you a top list of my favourite Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes! Hopefully, this will be a fun article and will help you choose what to watch because there are so many of them. It’s hard to know where to begin sometimes.

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Alfred Hitchcock Presents was an anthology series that was aired on BBC and NBC channels between 1955 and 1965. In 1962, the series changed its name for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and the running time was then of around 50 minutes instead of 30. Each episode was introduced by Hitchcock himself in comical mise-en-scènes sparkled with dark humour. Although Hitchcock created the series, produced it and hosted it, several people were behind the direction of the episodes: Paul Henreid, Arthur Hiller, Don Taylor, Ida Lupino, Norma Lloyd, Robert Stevens and, of course, Hitchcock himself. The TV show also gave the occasion to audiences to see major stars appeared in the Hitchcock world while they hadn’t been in any of his films. Among them, we can think of Diana Dors, Bette Davis, Roger Moore, John Cassavetes, Claire Trevor, etc.

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One of the aspects I perfectly like about this series is that its anthology format and short running time give place to stories that are great inspirations for screenwriters and for the development of short but efficient stories. As a matter of fact, the first screenplay I wrote for school, a ten-minutes dark comedy entitled The Crystal Garden, was very Hitchcockian and probably could have worked well for the series!

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Before going further, I would like to give a few precisions:

– As always, this is a list of FAVOURITES and not of what I could objectively consider the best. So, it’s very subjective, and our tastes might differ.

– I have decided to mix both Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour episodes because there wasn’t many differences between the two except the length of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour that gave place to more story development. But, other than that, it pretty much was the same concept. However, I haven’t included any episodes of the 1985 revival. I haven’t seen any anyway.

– I’ve included 15 episodes on my list and, according to my calculation, I have seen around 24 of them. I know that’s not a lot compared to the total number of episodes, but it’s a start. Therefore, it’s the kind of top list that could change all the time.

– There are some episodes that I have watched quite a long time ago and honestly can remember if I have seen them or not. So, here I have included stuff that I am sure I have seen.

We are lucky because many of the episodes are available on YouTube or Dailymotion so I’d try to provide links for you to watch them!

Now, as Pike Bishop would say, “let’s go”!

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15. The Paragon (The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Dir: Jack Smith. Starr: Joan Fontaine and Gary Merrill. Year: 1963)

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Short summary: An insensitive woman (Joan Fontaine) troubles her family by not minding her own business. Her husband (Merrill) has a plan to stop her.

Commentary: 22 years after starring in Hitchcock’s Suspicion (1941) (and winning the Oscar for it), an always elegant Joan Fontaine and her amazing hairdo were back in the Hitchcock World, opposite the underrated Gary Merrill, in a role that was far different from the ones in Rebecca (1940) and Suspicion. Not the sweet innocent lady anymore, but a bitchy one, Joan proved that she hadn’t lost her touch and was a much more versatile actress than we would have thought. The story isn’t necessarily the best of the series, but it deserves mention for the actors’ performances along.

To watch this episode:

14. One More Mile to Go (Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Dir: Alfred Hitchcock. Starr: David Wayne. Year: 1957)

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Short summary: A man (David Wayne) kills his wife during a heated argument and, while he’s on his way to dispose of the body, he is stopped by a policeman because one of his car’s tail lights is not working. They go together to a garage while the dead wife is still in the trunk of the automobile.

Commentary: In this episode, Hitchcock used the same formula he used three years later in Psycho: make the viewer guilty of rooting for the villain. Indeed, just like we hope that Marion Crane’s car will sink entirely in the water, we also hope the police won’t discover Mrs Jacoby’s corpse! Hitchcock surely knew how to manipulate its audience.

To watch this episode:

13. Silent Witness (Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Dir: Paul Henreid. Starr: Don Taylor, Dolores Hart and Patricia Hitchcock. Year: 1957)

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Short summary: Donald Mason (Don Taylor), a school teacher, is having an affair with one of his students (Dolores Hart). When Claire (the student) asks him to divorce his wife (Pat Hitchcock) and marry her, or else she’ll ruin his life, the enraged man kills her. Only, there is a witness: the baby that Claire was babysitting.

Commentary: I watched this TV episode for Dolores Hart and also because I think Don Taylor was a very intriguing actor. Although Hart’s part is quite small, the story provides good suspense as of what will happen to that teacher.

To watch this episode:

12. A Nice Touch (The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Dir: Joseph Pevney. Starr: Anne Baxter and George Segal. Year: 1963)

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Short summary: A big Hollywood star (Anne Baxter) has an affair with a younger man (George Segal) and convinces him to kill her husband (Harry Townes).

Commentary: A bit like Joan Fontaine, Anne Baxter is a queen in this episode and offer a different product than what she had in I Confess (1953). I must admit I don’t remember everything from this episode but I remember it was well-constructed, and the story kept me captivated.

To watch this episode:

11. You Got to Have Luck (Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Dir: Robert Stevens. Starr: Marisa Pavan and John Cassavetes. Year: 1956)

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Short summary: An escaped convict (John Cassavetes) breaks into the house of a young lady (Marisa Pavan) while her husband is away. The brutal man takes the occasion to take shelter then but take his time a bit too much.

Commentary: In this episode, Hitchcock provides another clever plot twist. It was my introduction to Marisa Pavan, Pier Angeli’s lesser-known twin sister.

To watch this episode:

10. A Crime for Mothers (Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Dir: Ida Lupino. Starr: Claire Trevor and Biff Elliot. Year: 1961)

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Short summary: Mrs Meade (Claire Trevor) has abandoned her baby girl and now requests money from the couple who is raising her. Meade plans to kidnap her biological daughter but is caught in a trap.

Commentary: This was one of the two episodes Ida Lupino directed for the series, and we wish she would have done more! Trevor plays the role of a complex and quite hateful woman.

To watch this episode:

9. The Black Curtain (The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Dir: Sydney Pollack. Starr: Richard Basehart and Lola Albright. Year: 1962)

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Short summary: A man (Richard Basehart) suffering from amnesia discovers his past as a killer.

Commentary: Here, Richard Basehart plays a tormented man whose journey through this episode makes it one of the darkest of the series.

To watch this episode:

8. Change of Address (The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Dir: David Friedkin. Starr: Arthur Kennedy and Phyllis Thaxter. Year: 1964)

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Short summary: A couple, Elsa and Keith Hollin (Phyllis Taxter and Arthur Kennedy) rent a house by the beach which Esla turns out to dislike. When she tries to spoil her husband’s project to buy the house, this one kills her and buries her in a hole he had dug in the basement. Will he be able to fool the police?

Commentary: You have guessed it, I watched this episode because Arthur Kennedy was in it. And he delivers a brilliant performance with a lot of subtleties, as usual. That is a narrative where a place, in this case, the house, almost becomes a character since its existence has much influence on the characters.

To watch this episode:

7. Revenge (Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Dir: Alfred Hitchcock. Starr: Ralph Meeker and Vera Miles. Year: 1955)

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Short summary: Carl (Ralph Meeker)’s wife, Elsa (Vera Miles), has been attacked by a man, and this created a serious psychological impact on her. When she designs the man who has done her harm to Carl, this one kills him. But this impulsive act was probably not the best solution has we discover later in the episode.

Commentary: Directed by Hitchcock, this was the very first episode of the series and one that probably made audiences eager to see more.

To watch this episode:

6. Bang! You’re Dead (Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Dir: Alfred Hitchcock. Starr: Bill Mumy. Year: 1961)

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Short summary: Uncle Rick (Steve Dunne) has arrived from Africa and has a surprise gift for his nephew Jackie (Bill Mumy). The little boy can’t wait to get his present and goes in his uncle room where he finds a loaded gun, which he believes is a toy, and takes it with him to play. His parents and his uncle eventually discover that little Jackie is out fooling around with a loaded gun.

Commentary: This was probably one of the most stressful Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes! In my opinion, it summed perfectly this famous Hitchcock’s citation: ” There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it”.

To watch this episode:

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5. Arthur (Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Dir: Alfred Hitchcock. Starr: Laurence Harvey, Hazel Court and Patrick Macnee. Year: 1959)

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Short summary: Arthur Williams (Laurence Harvey), a chicken farmer, is abandoned by his fiancée (Hazel Court) for another man. When she comes back a few years later and insists that they should get married, he kills her and executes a Machiavellian plan for the police not to discover the body.

Commentary: Laurence Harvey had the perfect look and charm to play the charismatic villain we see in some Hitchcockian film characters like uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) in Shadow of a Doubt (1943) or Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) in Stranger On a Train (1951). So, having him played Arthur in this episode was a well-calculated choice. Moreover, Harvey was supposed to be of the distribution of Hitchcock’s film No Bail for the Judge along with Audrey Hepburn. Unfortunately, the project was cancelled for various reasons but, at least, Harvey had, after all, the chance to work with the Master of Suspense!

To watch this episode:

4. See the Monkey Dance (The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Dir: Joseph M. Newman. Starr: Roddy McDowall and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. Year: 1964)

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Short summary: A young man, George (Roddy McDowall), is on his way to see his girlfriend (Patricia Medina). In the train, he meets a strange man (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.). When the two men arrive at the same caravan, George understands that the man must be no one else than the husband. This one has twisted revenge in mind.

Commentary: With another good plot twist, this episode traps the innocent-looking Roddy McDowall in an inevitable downfall. The cleverness of the episode resides particularly in the contrast created by the two men and how Zimbalist plays, not only with McDowall but with the audience as well.

To watch this episode:

3. Safe Conduct (Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Dir: Justus Addiss. Starr: Claire Trevor and Jacques Bergerac. Year: 1956)

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Short summary: During the cold war, Mary Prescott (Claire Trevor), a reporter, is travelling in Eastern Europe for her work. She is on her way to Munich with a safe-conduct letter assuring her protection. In the train, the woman meets the famous soccer player Jan Gubak (Jacques Bergerac). When she agrees to carry his valuable watch through the border, the soccer player denounces her for smuggling items. Gubak is, in fact, member of the resistance, and this mascarade is part of a clever plan.

Commentary: I truly loved this episode with its political thriller vibe that made it quite different from the ones I had seen previously. It’s one that has a lot of surprises in its bank!

To watch this episode:

2. Lamb to Slaughter (Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Dir: Alfred Hitchcock. Starr: Barbara Bel Geddes. Year: 1958)

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Short summary: Mary Maloney (Barbara Bel Geddes) kills her husband (Allan Lane) by hitting him with a frozen leg of lamb after this one tells her he is going to leave her for someone else. After the murder, Mary prepares a whole mise-en-scène to fool the police.

Commentary: I’m probably not wrong if I say that this is one of the most famous episodes of the series. It’s among the first I saw and remains one of my absolute favourites to this day. The ending is cleverly twisted, and if you haven’t seen any of the episodes, it’s certainly one I would recommend starting with.

To watch this episode:

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1. Breakdown (Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Dir: Alfred Hitchcock. Starr: Joseph Cotten. Year: 1955)

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Short summary: A film producer (Joseph Cotten) is the victim of a road accident which leaves him paralyzed. The only way he can attract people’s attention and make them aware that he is not dead is with his little finger, which is his only member that can still move.

Commentary: That is the first episode I ever saw and, so far, it hasn’t been dethroned by any other. Cotten plays a cold-hearted man whose life has a terrible revenge for him. He will learn about the importance of caring for other people. It goes without saying that, like Bang! You’re Dead this remains one of the series’s most stressful episodes. Here, Hitchcock also used the character’s internal thoughts to communicate with us. We are, therefore, witnessing his thoughts and his despair.

To watch this episode:

Honourable mention: A Home Away from Home (The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Dir: Herschel Daugherty. Starr: Ray Milland. Year: 1963)

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Short summary: In a mental hospital, a patient (Ray Milland), kills the doctor and takes his place.

Commentary: I labelled this one as an honourable mention because, somehow, I’m really not sure if I have seen it or not. I probably have since it rings a bell, and Ray Milland is one of my very favourite actors. Anyway, I think the plot is quite brilliant so, in my opinion, it does deserve an honourable mention at least!

To watch this episode:

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I am conscious that there are still tons of Alfred Hitchcock Presents/Hour episodes that I still have to see. I mean, the TV show ran for ten years! I would love it if you could tell me, in the comments, which one is your favourite. It would certainly help me chose what to watch next time!

See you!

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