Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"I am a typed director. If I made Cinderella, the audience would immediately be looking for a body in the coach." --Alfred Hitchcock

Carole Lombard, who costarred with  Robert Montgomery in the 1941 film Mr. and Mrs. Smith, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. 

I have no doubt that Hitchcock was correct in the above statement. However, Hitchcock did direct a few films that were more romance than suspense, including Mr. and Mrs. Smith, a 1941 comedy starring Robert Montgomery and Carole Lombard. Although the film is a comedy/romance, I watched the entire film waiting for and fully expecting a murder!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Alfred Hitchcock Hour: "Return of Verge Likens"

Peter Fonda stars as Verge Likens in one of his finest performances. 

A mansion in the darkness of a storm, a mask, a broken clock face, a door with the shadow of Alfred Hitchcock, "Funeral March of a Marionette" plays in the background, and suddenly he appears. "Good evening," he says with his trademark droll tone. 

Episodes of the Alfred Hitchcock Hour always consist of two shows in one. There is the first show, the performance by Sir Alfred Hitchcock, and the second show, which he refers to as "the play."
In this particular episode, we see Sir Alfred Hitchcock greeting his guests, then suddenly he is charming, good-natured Al sitting behind a set of drums. He places a shaggy dark wig on his head, imitating the popular British group, The Beatles. "If you see three young men with electric guitars please send them back," he tells the viewing audience. "They seem to have wandered off. They can't be far, however, as they are still plugged in, all evidence to the contrary." Hitchcock tells us he is convinced that music has charms to soothe he savage breast, and the drums are his example. The drums, he claims, were made by a tribe of aborigines and were made from human skin. He holds up two giant bones and tells the audience they are drum sticks, "which we buy at a modest profit," he says. "Unfortunately we keep running out of salesmen," implying that the drums are, of course, made out of the salesmen. This is the morbid sense of humor of the great Alfred Hitchcock.

Tonight's play is "Return of Verge Likens," which first aired in 1964 and stars Peter Fonda and Robert Emhardt. There are few performances by Peter Fonda that have impressed me, and his most famous performance as Wyatt in the 1969 film Easy Rider is not one of them. However, he has had some stellar moments on screen, including his performance as Ulee Jackson in the 1997 film Ulee's Gold. He has also had smaller roles that impressed me greatly, such as this one on the Alfred Hitchcock Hour.  Fonda is spot on.

The Play

The play begins in a bar with the bartender forcing a customer, Stoney Likens (Robert Barrat), out the door. He tells Stoney he cannot allow him to speak to his customers that way, "especially Riley McGrath." Clearly, McGrath is a man of some importance in this community. The bartender steps inside and apologizes to a loud, obnoxious customer and his girlfriend who are seated at a table. There is loud, 50s rock music playing in the background and McGrath shouts out for pickled pigs feet and more beers as he nibbles on the neck of the woman beside him.

George Lindsey plays D.D. Martin in "Return of Verge Likens." 
He later became famous as Gomer Pyles in Mayberry R.F.D.

Stoney walks into the dark parking lot. He stands behind his truck bed that is filled with boxes of peaches. He hears McGath laughing, turns around and storms back into the bar. Then the door opens, and Stoney returns. D.D. Martin tries to grab Stoney's arm. Martin appears to be working for Mr. McGrath, his "man." Martin is played by George Lindsey, who later becomes famous as Goober Pyle in The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry R.F.D. Martin appears in three episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Show as well as a few other supernatural anthologies, such as The Twilight Zone and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

"It's a free country Mr. McGrath," Stoney says. McGrath waves him on. Stoney tells him he worked hard for his hundred acres and no one will make him sell. Stoney starts throwing beer bottles at McGrath. McGrath pulls a gun. Stoney shakes up some beer bottles and sprays McGrath and his girlfriend and McGrath shoots Stoney. Stoney dies on the barroom floor.

Next we are in the Likens home Verge Likens (Peter Fonda) and his brother, Wilford (Sammy Reese) are tossing a knife into the dining room table. A truck pulls up and Wilford, who appears to be mildly mentally challenged, believes it's their father, but Verge does not recognize the sound of the truck. Verge answers the door with a piece of cornbread in his mouth. The sheriff asks if he's Stoney Likens boy. The two men nod. The sheriff tells them there's been an accident. They drive to the bar.

The bartender claims it was self-defense, that Stoney was going after McGrath with bottles. "My daddy didn't have no gun on him," Verge Likens responds. "If he'd had a gun on him, and had been pointin it at him, well then that'd be a different thing, but it ain't self-defense to me when a man with a gun shoots down a man who ain't got none." The bartender seems confused and says it seemed like self-defense, but now he's not sure. Verge asks what McGrath was doing in the bar. The sheriff says he was stopping by on his way back from a political rally in Charleston. Verge asks why he didn't stay. The sheriff says there was no need, that he questioned McGrath at his home. "He was tired, upset, taking handsful of heart pills. I told him to go to bed, get a good night's sleep," the sheriff says. "You two boys do the same. Verge questions the sheriff, if that's all he plans to do, and the sheriff looks around, points out that seven people are willing to swear it was self-defense. Verge storms out. The sheriff hands the items from Stoney's pockets to Wilford.

The boys walk out to Stoney's truck. Verge comments that Stoney had a good day, made ten dollars. Then he tells Wilford not to cry, but Wilford cries. Verge picks up a peach and throws it through the bar window, breaking the glass. He throws more peaches. The sheriff runs onto the porch. The next morning, Verge and Wilford's aunts are cleaning the house and setting up a wake. Wilford comments that they never really had any friends. The aunts seem very loving toward the two young men. One aunt comments on the marks on the table and Wilford explains how the two brothers used to practice with their knives by throwing them at the table.

The dog barks. The sheriff is returning Verge. Apparently he was arrested the night before. The sheriff warns Verge to forget everything. "Stay here and pick your peaches." Wilford tells Verge the aunts have cooked plenty of food. Verge walks into the yard and hugs his aunts. Next, it is evening, and Verge is reading the Bible as they sit around Stoney's coffin. Wilford asks if its bedtime. Verge says he won't go to bed until their father is in the ground. "It wasn't self-defense, Wilford," Verge says. Wilford reminds him their father is dead and there's nothing they can do about it. "Yes, yes there is something," Verge tells him. Wilford may be slow, but he knows what his brother is talking about. He reminds Verge that their father is gone, that there is nothing that can be done. "I'm fixin to do it, Wilford," Verge replies. "It's all I've been thinking about since I saw Daddy dead on the barroom floor." Verge reads from the Bible, the book of Leviticus 24:17-20, "an eye for an eye." Wilford asks Verge straight out what he plans to do. "I'm sayin I'm gonna kill Riley McGrath," Verge replies. He turns and looks at his father in his coffin, nodding his head. This is prime acting by Fonda. He is so convincing he gave me goosebumps.

Next we see Verge outside the McGrath house. He has a rifle. He takes aim, but he can't shoot. He smiles, though. A very disconcerting smile. He comes home to Wilford who is visibly upset, complaining that he's been left alone three nights. Verge asks Wilford if he knows where Mr. McGrath is at the moment, then he tells him, every detail, that McGrath will go to his office, open his mail, drink his coffee, then go downstairs at 10 a.m. to the Sigafoose Barber Shop and get a shave and a shine. Verge tells Wilford it's an expensive barber shop, costs $1.25, and McGrath has his hair cut once a week whether he needs it or not. Verge knows where he eats dinner, that he has a girlfriend, and every other Thursday he sees a Doctor Sanders for his bad heart. Clearly, Verge has been watching McGrath very closely. He confesses to his brother he's been following McGrath every day for a month. He tells Wilford he almost shot him that very morning, then realized it wasn't enough. "I want him to know my name when I kill him," he says. Wilford is afraid. He reminds his brother that Verge is the only real family he has left. Verge goes to bed, but Wilford is afraid.

The Clues

This is an interesting play because all of the details that are important to the story are presented to the viewer in the first few minutes. We learn that Stoney has two adult sons and sells peaches on 100 acres. We learn that McGrath, a ruthless politician, is trying to force him from his land, that he won't hesitate to use force, and that the people of the town are afraid of McGrath and will always take his side. We also learn that McGrath takes heart pills. We learn from the aunt that the brothers are experienced with knives, particularly Verge. And we learn when and where McGrath gets his haircut. The clues are all there, laid out before us, but the story is so compelling, the acting so fine that we cannot stop watching. We suspect that we know what is to come, but we cannot stop watching.

Wilford's Fear

Wilford pays a visit to Mr. McGrath at Sigafoose Barber Shop. When he tells Mr. McGrath his name, McGrath and the barber stop their banter and exchange a glance, then McGrath suggests that he continue the conversation with Wilford in his office. Wilford tells McGrath that he is afraid for his brother, afraid his brother might kill McGrath. Wilford asks McGrath to send for Verge and talk to him. McGrath asks Wilford for his address, which Wilford willingly provides. I'm not sure why this is important as this is information McGrath could easily obtain from the sheriff since the entire town seems to be on McGrath's payroll. McGrath then does something that surprised me as a viewer--he tells Wilford that he knows how it feels to lose a parent--both his parents died recently. McGrath then removes $500 from an envelope and gives it to Wilford, then tells him he hopes this will "spread some oil on these obviously troubled waters." He tells Wilford to go with his blessing.

We next see Wilford at the dinner table trying to explain his visit to his brother. Verge is clearly incensed, until Wilford pulls out the $500. Verge stands up from the table and goes to his room. He tells Wilford he hopes he thanked McGrath for the money. "Momma didn't raise us in a barn, you know," he tells his brother. Then he begins to pack. He tells Wilford he is sending for their aunts to take care of him because Verge is going to school. "What kind of school?" Wilford asks. Verge stops packing and stares at his brother with a determined look in his eyes. "The kind of school that's gonna teach me how to kill Mr. Riley McGrath the way I wanna," he says. Wilford asks if there's a killing school in Charleston. Verge claims there is, the kind of school that will teach him to kill McGrath "real slow, so he has to look at my face a long time and know what's coming." He then makes Wilford promise that if McGrath comes looking for him Wilford will not tell McGrath what Verge is doing in Charleston.


Alfred Hitchcock once again appears onscreen. He doesn't always perform an intermission, but he does in this show. He is still seated behind a set of drums. "We have not come to the end of our play. There is much more," he informs the audience, "but we thought it wise to stop here in order to ease tensions and break station." I found this station break interesting because it made me realize I really was growing tense over this plot! And yet, as I've said before, I do wish they would show the old station breaks and vintage television commercials. I think that would add to the fun of watching classic television!

Special Delivery

When we return to the show a delivery truck from Flowers by Florene pulls up in front of McGrath's office. The delivery is a large memorial wreath wrapped in a ribbon that says "Rest in Peace." D.D. Martin (George Lindsey) carries the wreath into McGrath, who is taking an afternoon nap in his office lounge chair. "Who's that for?" McGrath asks. D.D. Martin tells him it is a gift from Verge Likens. McGrath tells Martin to fetch the car.

Wilford, the Good Brother

In the meantime, Wilford receives another card from Verge. No message, no words, just his name. The aunts comment on how the men in the house need a woman to teach them manners. Wilford makes it clear that he does not expect information from Verge. He knows Verge is working on a plan and does not want to expose his brother's intentions to his aunts. He pins the card to the wall. He counts the cards. Six. Verge has now been gone for six months.

Wilford is more than a good brother in this story, he is a great brother! Now, this is not to say that Verge is bad, he's just angry. Obsessively angry. Wilford, on the other hand, is protective of Verge. He wants to make sure that Verge is safe. He has already visited McGrath once on Verge's behalf. Even with his slow thinking, he must have known he was risking his life as the town is "owned" by McGrath, but his love for his brother is more important. McGrath made it clear when he paid Wilford $500 to compensate for the death of his father that he, McGrath, considered the matter closed. The problem is, of course, that Verge does not consider the matter closed, and Wilford, the good brother, must do all he can to protect Verge, even from himself. At this point, I have begun to realize just how impressed I am with the performance of Sammy Reese, who plays Wilford Likens. His acting is convincing, always.

The Knock at the Door

D.D. Martin is in the doorway at the Likens' house looking for Wilford. He tells him Mr. McGrath wants to see him. The aunts are suspicious and warn him not to talk to McGrath. Wilford willingly follows. He trusts McGrath, perhaps not as much as he trusts his brother, but he sees the good in people that his brother does not. The audience, however, knows that Wilford is using bad judgment in this situation.

Wilford follows Martin out the door. He is impressed by the limousine and asks if he can sit in the back seat. Martin laughs and opens the door for him. The aunts are standing on the lawn, twisting their hands, exchanging worried glances. Martin drives Wilford around, but Wilford quickly realizes they are not headed back to town. They stop at a cafe, but it is closed. Martin escorts Wilford inside. The wreath is on the bar. McGrath asks Wilford about the wreath and Wilford admits he received a postcard from his brother in Charleston, but refuses to tell what his brother is doing. In all fairness, Wilford doesn't know what Verge is doing. McGrath tells Wilford he believes him. It is a tense scene. Clearly, McGrath means to harm Wilford. He tells Martin to take Wilford home then tosses the wreath on the ground.

Martin drives a few feet then stops outside the cafe. He asks Wilford about Verge once more and when Wilford repeats that he doesn't know Martin beats him up and leaves him on a pile of boxes. He drives back around to the door and picks up McGrath. McGrath pays the bartender. The bartender no longer appears to be comfortable with McGrath.

Sharp as a Razor Blade

Mr. McGrath enters Sigafoose Barber Shop for a shave and a shine. He removes his hat and coat and sits in his usual chair. The barber explains that he still has ten minutes to go on his current client, but McGrath has to give a speech in half an hour. McGrath asks for the barber's assistant, Mack, but he's on vacation. However, Mr. Sigafoose has hired a replacement who is wearing a white coat, washing his hands and preparing for the shave. He raises his head, looks in the mirror, slowly turns around and who do we see? Verge Likens! "I guarantee you, Riley, he'll give you a fine, fine shave," Sigafoose says to the accompaniment of eerie music.

Likens wraps McGrath's face in a towel, then tells Sigafoose there are no towels. Sigafoose heads outside for towels and Likens tells him they are out of bay rum, too. Likens sets out his tools of the trade on a clean, white towel, opens a black velvet case and removes a razor. He checks the razor on his thumb and slices his thumb. Then he picks up a jar of cream and a brush. He slowly spreads the cream on McGrath's face. McGrath asks his name and Likens introduces himself as Odell Jones. McGrath tells him he wants a close shave. Sigafoose returns, confused about lack of bay rum, but he tells them he'll run down to the store for more. Likens runs to the door and shouts outside that they also need witch hazel. McGrath is watching him. "I just wanted to save him from making two trips," Likens says with a grin, then he turns and locks the door.

Classic razor blade. Photo by Dr. K.

Likens returns to McGrath. He picks up the razor and sharpens it once more on the strap. McGrath is still watching, but doesn't seem suspicious. I however, am on the edge of my seat. Likens makes a cut. "Don't take off my sideburns," McGrath says. He then asks if "Jones" is related to someone in town. McGrath remarks that Likens looks familiar and Likens tells him he saw McGrath once in a parade. He scrapes the razor across McGrath's neck and I am holding my breath. Likens looks in the mirror and says, "Some folks say I look like my daddy." McGrath asks about his father and Likens says, "My daddy's dead. He didn't have no hardware store. A hundred acres. Real poor. Had to work real hard for that land. Someone tried to put a road through there, but my daddy wouldn't sell." McGrath is suspicious. Likens continues his story, telling about how nice it was picking peaches, and how proud his daddy would be to know one of his sons went to Charleston for an education in barbering.

"You're not Odell Jones!" McGrath says. He tries to leave the chair.

"You're going to have to sit still Mr. McGrath," Likens says. "You jerk around like that, I might cut you," and he looks like he might do so anyway. The expression on McGrath's face, on the other hand, is one of sheer terror. "Now that I got me a trade I'm figuring on saving my money to send my brother, Wilford, to the big city to open up a barber shop of our own." He turns McGrath's head and holds the razor to his throat. McGrath is panting, trembling. "Remember your heart," Likens says.

Human heart. Photo public domain.

Sigafoose returns. He bangs on the door, then runs for the sheriff. McGrath is panting. He is staring up at Verge Likens, precisely as Verge described it so many months earlier to his brother--the murderer of his father staring up at his face. Likens repeats his face numerous times as he walks in a circle around McGrath, razor in hand, repeating his name. "Verge Likens, Verge Likens, Verge Likens." Then he says, "This here's the scary part Mr. McGrath because the juggler vein is right there."

The sheriff returns. People are banging on the door and windows. Likens slowly walks to the door. "I found the bay room Mr. Sigafoose," he says. "It was in the drawer with the scissors." He returns to McGrath and removes the towel. "There you go, Mr. McGrath. All done."

The sheriff tells Likens he is under arrest for the murder of Riley McGrath. "Oh, you can't arrest a man for giving a shave," Likens said. "Look at him. Not a scratch on him." And it's true, there's not a scratch. It was the perfect shave. Riley McGrath died of a broken heart.


Hitchcock often closes with a few words about how the killer is actually convicted in the end. Audience surveys revealed that fans of the show preferred not to know, but Hitchcock insisted, ending most of his shows with some comment regarding justice for the victim, even though the victims in his shows were often the "bad guys." Sometimes, though, he returns to his own mini-performance.

Drum set. Photo by Artaxerxes.

In this episode, at the end, Hitchcock is shown still standing in front of the drums with the wig in his hand. "By the way," he says, "I know the secret of these wigs. They are actually ear muffs so you don't have to listen to your own music. Next week we'll be back with another story, and perhaps by then my three companions will have returned (remember, he is imitating The Beatles). Until then, good night," he says, and the show closes to the tune of "Funeral March of a Marionette."

A Few Last Words

I think "Return of Verge Likens," the first episode to air on NBC, is one of my favorite shows from The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. The suspense is almost overwhelming, and yet, the plot is simple, obvious, clear, the characters are uncomplicated, the dialogue is blunt, revealing.

The author of the teleplay, James Bridges, was a graduate of Arkansas State Teacher's College and obviously had a clear understanding of the language and atmosphere in a small southern town. Bridges received an Edgar Award from Mystery Writers of America for one of the 16 episodes he wrote for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. In 1979, Bridges directed one of the most intense films of its time, The China Syndrome. In 1980, he wrote the screenplay for the edgy and violent, Drama/Western Urban Cowboy. 

The show was based on the short story, "Return of Verge Likens," by author Davis Grubb, who also wrote The Night of the Hunter, a terrifying and macabre novel made into a film in 1955 starring Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

"Funeral March of a Marionette" by Charles Gounod

Puppet Tinkler, woodcutter Šilar

Charles Gounod (June 17, 1818-October 17, 1893) was a French composer perhaps best known for his version of Ave Maria, based on a work by Bach.  His mother was a pianist and his father was an artist. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire and studied under Pierre Zimmermann, then later married Zimmermann's daughter, though at one point he considered becoming a priest. In 1839, he won the Prix de Rome for his cantata Fernand. He was a remarkably talented man, highly respected and popular in his day. So, why would I mention him on a blog about Alfred Hitchcock? Because he also composed the theme song to The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: "Funeral March of a Marionette."

It is a strange little tune, both spooky and somewhat cheerful simultaneously. It does indeed remind one of a puppet, and a funeral march, as well. It is a short piece written specifically for the piano, and one of Alfred Hitchcock's favorites.

In 1959, Alfred Hitchcock participated in the BBC Radio Program Desert Island Discs, the forerunner to contemporary reality shows. Each week, a "distinguished guest" was asked to imagine that he or she was stranded on a desert island, but they were not without entertainment. The "castaway" was allowed to choose eight pieces of music, a book, and a luxury item that they would most like to have during their island confinement, and during the show they discussed the items they chose and why they made each choice. One of the records chosen by Alfred Hitchcock was "Funeral March of a Marionette."

In fact, Alfred Hitchcock enjoyed this piece so much that he chose this music for the introduction of his television anthologies Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. The song was an instant hit with fans who connected the quirky tune with Alfred Hitchcock's equally quirky sense of humor. This wasn't the first time the tune was used to introduce a drama. It was also used in the American silent film Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, produced in 1927 by F.W. Murnau, and in Harold Lloyd's first "talkie,"  Welcome Danger, released in 1929.

It would be interesting to ask Gounod how he would feel about the use of his tune to introduce dramatic films and "plays" about murder and mayhem. Although the theme of a funeral march for a marionette does seem rather dramatic, it is possible Gounod would have been happier knowing this particular piece was used by Catholic students for piano practice rather than to introduce a crime. Gounod was a devout Catholic who once considered becoming a priest and always worked on a piano that had a portrait of Jesus carved on the music rack.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Alfred Hitchcock Presents and the Alfred Hitchcock Hour

Alfred Hitchcock, circa 1956, Public Domain. Alfred Hitchcock's sarcastic humor and his ability to laugh at himself and his sponsors may explain why these combined series were the longest running anthology shows in the history of television.

He never wrote a single script and only directed 20 of the 362 episodes that aired during the life of the show, but his fans all know that Alfred Hitchcock Presents and its predecessor, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, would be nothing without Alfred Hitchcock. It is apparent in every last detail that this anthology was a labor of love for the legendary director.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents was 25 minutes long not counting "the sponsors" as Hitchcock haughtily called them. The show aired on Sunday evenings from 1955 to 1962 on the CBS network. The Alfred Hitchcock Hour aired on Tuesday evenings during prime time from 1962 to 1965. The show's individual episodes ranked in the top 25 television shows 67 times and won two Emmy Awards after 17 nominations.
Although anthologies were popular in the 50s, Alfred Hitchcock Presents was the first to use the name and regular appearance of a famous film director--Alfred Hitchcock.  Alfred Hitchcock Presents also ranked number four in Time Magazine's "The 100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME." 
The Concept
The idea for the show came from Hitchcock's friend and former agent, Lew Wasserman. Wasserman, the head of MCA, was seeking a way in to television and realized his friend, Hitchcock, was the perfect ticket as he already has such a strong following through the popularity of his films. Hitchcock was also famous for his cameo appearances in his films--he had a well-known face. In addition, Hitchcock had just signed with a magazine publisher to produce The Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, which served to reinforce his image as a "master of suspense." In fact, Hitchcock's image was so solid that the network and sponsors did not require the usual test pilot show. With the first episode--"Revenge," which aired on October 2, 1955--a cult classic was born. 
Two Shows in One
Watching either Alfred Hitchcock Presents or The Alfred Hitchcock Hour is like watching two shows simultaneously--a witty performance by Hitchcock, the master of horror and suspense, followed by "the play," which is how he referred to the actual show. The early shows begin with the appearance on the screen of a sketch, or nine-stroke line drawing of Alfred Hitchcock created by Hitchcock who loved to doodle and was once a commercial artist. Eventually, the shows began with Hitchcock stepping into the scene and lining his body up with the sketch. Later episodes show Hitchcock's shadow in profile, slowly rising from the bottom of the screen until if fits snuggly into the sketch. The intro then changed to show a variety of "spooky" images, such as a castle at night, a broken clock face, a locked door, but also included the caricature of Hitchcock. Hitchcock's shadow moves slowly up the door, then the door disappears and is replaced with Hitchcock himself.
Each show begins and ends with the "Funeral March of a Marionette" by Charles-Francois Gounod, a tune carefully chosen by Alfred Hitchcock to represent the combination of light humor in the intro and dark suspense in the story, a tune that stays with you long after the show has ended. 
When Hitchcock first appears to introduce the evenings "play," as he calls them, he begins with his trademark greeting, "Good eeeeevening." The opening scene often shows him in an odd setting, settings that represent his great sense of humor--obviously, this was not a man afraid to laugh at himself. In one scene he appears sitting before a set of drums wearing a wig as a reference to the musical group The Beatles. In another he is shown inside a giant mixing bowl wearing a chef's hat. He appeared in a wine vat in one show and a torture chamber in another. He was the postmaster at the "Dead Letter window," a surfer, and a scarecrow. These settings are the basis for jokes that introduce the program, but often have little to do with the play, and he clearly states this to the audience.
After he has had his fun with puns and made a few comments regarding the evening's show, Hitchcock often makes sarcastic remarks about the commercial and station identification break that must appear before the show begins. When he first started these comments the network executives (CBS and NBC) suggested he drop the comments on the commercials. However, a survey showed that the audience and advertisers liked the cheap shots at advertisers and product sales actually increased when they were shown on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. According to surveys, viewers thought highly of the advertisers because they, like Hitchcock, were able to laugh at themselves and not take themselves too seriously. When the networks realized the comments were appreciated Hitchcock was allowed to resume his sarcastic comments about the advertisers. It is unfortunate that these old commercials are not included in the re-runs since Hitchcock's remarks seem to make the "sponsors" and "station identification" a part of the show.  
Joan Harrison was the Executive Producer of the show. She actually worked with Hitchcock for 20 years before the show's conception, starting as his secretary, then moving up to scriptwriting. In the 1940s, Harrison became famous as the only female film producer in the world. She started working on Alfred Hitchcock Presents by selecting the stories that would be used for the shows, and the selection process was an important part of the show to Hitchcock. The shows in this anthology are unique. They are generally based on short stories, but present like short films. Harrison was vital to the success of the show, but her job was extremely time-consuming and she eventually left to spend more time with her husband, writer Eric Ambler.
Harrison was replaced by Norman Lloyd, who previously acted in many of Hitchcock's films and was familiar with the Hitchcock "style." When the show ended, Harrison returned to acting, appearing in The PracticeSt. Elsewhere, and eventually earning two Primetime Emmys.  
Directors and Awards
As stated before, Hitchcock never wrote any of the shows, but he did direct 17 of the episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The 1955 episode "The Case of Mr. Pelham" starring Tom Ewell and the 1958 episode "Lamb to the Slaughter" starring Barbara Bel Geddes were both nominated for Emmy Awards. A third episode, the 1957 show "The Glass Eye," also won an Emmy Award. There were 268 total episodes.
Hitchcock only directed one episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in 1965, "An Unlocked Window," written by James Bridges who won an Edgar Award for the episode.  
Directors used for the rest of the shows were also famous, perhaps not at the time, but certainly later in their careers. The list of directors include Robert Altman (Bonanza, Combat!); Sydney Pollack (Tootsie); Arthur Hiller (Silver Streak); and Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke). 
 Hitchcock was meticulously careful about the stories chosen for the shows. The shows were generally scripted from short stories or novellas by famous authors, such as Ray Bradbury, H.G. Wells, John Cheever, and the short stories often came from the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Hitchcock always used previously published works because he had a theory that writers would save their best work to promote their own reputations and not his show.
A large majority of the stories were written by Henry Slesar, who also wrote for Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, which was where Hitchcock discovered his writing, according to Slesar.
In 1960, Roald Dahl wrote "Man from the South" starring Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre. "Man from the South" was included in a the special collector's issue TV Guide Magazine's 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time. 
According to John Javna's Cult TV, the only episode that never aired was the 1962 show "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," written for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS decided the show was too morbid. In this episode a mentally challenged boy watches a magician saw a man in half. The boy doesn't realize the performance was a trick and actually saws an unconscious woman in half trying to duplicate the performance. 
The list of actors who started with Hitchcock is equally impressive, including Robert Redford who appeared in one of my favorite semi-romantic dramatic episodes, 1963's "A Tangled Web." Redford also starred as Charlie Marx in the 1961 episode "The Right Kind of Medicine." Hitchcock tended to use actors, writers and directors for multiple productions.
Peter Falk, who made his name with the series Columbo as an obnoxious detective who always had "one more question," also starred in one of my favorite episodes where he played a traveling preacher in "Bonfire" with Dina Merrill.
Other famous actors appearing on the show include Charles Bronson; Steve McQueen who appeared in numerous episodes; and Gena Rowlands and John Cassavetes who paired up in "Murder Case" as well as a few other episodes for various 1950s anthology shows, and they do make an outstanding pair!  
A Wise Investment
When Hitchcock signed the contracts for the show he insisted that the profits from each episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents would go to him. In 1964 he traded the rights to the series to Music Corporation of America for 150,000 shares of the company, which made him the fourth largest shareholder of MCA, and extremely wealthy!
Javna, John. Cult TV: A Viewer's Guide to the Shows America Can't Live Without! St. Martin's Press. New York: 1985.  
Nevins, Jr., Francis M. Death on Television: The Best of Henry Slesar's Alfred Hitchcock Stories. Southern Illinois University Press. Carbondale: 1989. 
Winship, Michael. Television: Companion to the PBS Television Series. Random House. New York: 1988. 

Alfred Hitchcock and The MacGuffin Plot Device

Photo is the set from the movie Psycho. Photograph by Superchilum.

In the 1960 horror/suspense film Psycho, starring Anthony Perkins as the legendary Norman Bates, scream queen Janet Leigh makes a brief appearance as Marion Crane, a bored secretary in Arizona who steals $40,000 when her employer asks her to deposit the money in the bank for a customer. Instead of stopping at the bank, Crane takes the money and runs, headed for California in her car. Exhausted from a day of driving, she pulls to the side of the road to sleep, but a police officer wakes her up and becomes suspicious of her anxiety.
The tension is rising for the audience, as well. Crane trades her car in at a dealership and returns to the highway in a different vehicle, then she is caught in a sudden rainstorm and forced to find a motel. She chooses the Bates Motel because it is isolated from the highway traffic, which provides her with a false sense of security.
At this point, the audience is introduced to the star of the film, Anthony Perkins, the shy, insecure motel manager who lives with his mother in the Bates Mansion, the deteriorating house on the hill. Bates invites Crane to dinner at trathe mansion and Crane overhears Bates arguing with his mother who suspects Bates of being sexually atcted to Crane. At dinner, Crane suggests sending Mrs. Bates to an institution, which clearly upsets Norman.
Crane returns to her room and decides to return the money, making lists of how she can repay the money already spent. She then steps into the shower while Bates watches through a peephole. Next we see one of the most famous horror scenes in film history as the shadow of a woman is seen entering the bathroom. She repeatedly stabs Crane through the shower curtain. It is now clear that the mystery--the disappearance of Crane and the strange motel manager--are the focus of the film. The $40,000 is The MacGuffin.
What is The MacGuffin?
The MacGuffin was used in storytelling for years, but director Alfred Hitchcock was the man who made the use of this plot device, and its name, famous. The MacGuffin is something that motivates the characters to do almost anything as they pursue, protect, or control an object, person, or even a place, with little or no explanation as to why this object, person, or place, is important.
Alfred Hitchcock, who directed and produced Psycho, made the use of this plot device, and its name, famous. In Dick Cavett's 1972 interview with Alfred Hitchcock, Cavett asked Hitchcock to define The MacGuffin for the audience. According to Hitchcock: "It might be a Scottish name taken from a story about two men on a train. One man says, "What's that package up there in the baggage rack?" and the other answers, "Oh, that's a MacGuffin." The first one asks, "What's a MacGuffin?" "Well," the other man says, "it's an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands." The first man says, "But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands." And the other one answers, "Well, then that's no MacGuffin!" So you see, a MacGuffin is nothing at all." 
Hitchcock's story may seem a bit vague, but his point is that The MacGuffin is not really important because it's a plot device. The package on the baggage rack builds tension, creates a mystery, it is a possible reason for suspense, but has nothing to do with the story of what is happening, or has happened, or is about to happen to the two men on the train.
In the 1959 mystery North by Northwest, also directed by Alfred Hitchcock, The MacGuffin is the mysterious "government secrets." In the 1964 mystery/drama Marnie, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring another famous scream queen, Tippi Hedren, paired up with Sean Connery of James Bond fame, The MacGuffin is the color red.
The Birds
In the 1963 horror thriller The Birds, The MacGuffin is a pair of love birds that Melanie Daniels, played by another famous scream queen Tippi Hedren, buys as a gift for Mitch Brenner's (Rod Taylor) younger sister. The presence of the birds in Bodega Bay seems to set off a series of attacks by birds of all species, and there are a few hints in the film to indicate the love birds are The MacGuffin, but the response of the residents to the presence of Melanie Daniels in the town could also indicate a second MacGuffin in the film as Melanie Daniels and the love birds arrived at the same time, which would make Daniels a MacGuffin. In the end, no one really knows why the birds attacked, but the attacks do seem to be a warning against the mistreatment of the environment, a theme explored more deeply in the film's sequel, The Birds II: Land's End. Some film reviewers have indicated that the reason for the attacks by the birds is The MacGuffin, but the bird attacks are an integral part of the plot and not a simple device to keep the plot moving. 
The Thomas Crown Affair
Although Hitchcock used The MacGuffin often in his films, it was not his invention. He was not the only writer, director, or publisher to use it in films past and present. In fact, both versions of The Thomas Crown Affair contain solid examples of the use of The MacGuffin. 
In the 1999 version of The Thomas Crown Affair starring Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo, The MacGuffin is a painting: Monet's San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk. In the 1969 version of The Thomas Crown Affair starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, The MacGuffin is $2.6 million dollars. The two films are essentially the same--bored millionaire plans or commits the perfect crime; sexy insurance investigator solves the mystery; the couple falls in love. In the 1969 version, Steve McQueen, who plays the millionaire, is not caught, but the lovers are sadly parted. In the 1999 version, Pierce Brosnan also gets away with the initial crime, but he returns the painting in the end and runs away with Rene Russo. The audience is left with the impression that the millionaire's temporary life of crime, and his life of boredom, have both ended, replaced by a new life with Russo.
So, what about the money and the painting? In the end, no one really cares. The money and the painting are plot devices used to move the story forward, but neither one is important because the story is about the romance between the millionaire and the investigator. The audience is lured into a high degree of sympathy for both the millionaire and the insurance investigator--two bored and lonely people--and they are so completely focused on this love affair between the couple that nothing else matters. The money, the painting, The MacGuffins, are now precisely what Hitchcock called them in the Dick Cavett interview. They are "nothing."