I am a longtime devotee of Alfred Hitchcock. He’s possibly my favorite director. Ironically, an extremely close 2nd isn’t even a horror director, and is in fact Wes Anderson. I saw The French Dispatch this past Sunday and will most likely go back today. But that’s another post. I love Hitchcock’s macabre sense of humor, the type that also drew me at a young age to the likes of Charles Addams, Roald Dahl, and Edward Gorey as well.
One of the best places to find Hitchcock’s brand of the tense and macabre is Alfred Hitchcock Presents which ran from 1955-1965 (becoming The Alfred Hitchcock Hour near the end). And so, as a die hard fan, here are my Top 10 Episodes Of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It’s worth noting that lotsa these are from the first season which is partly because it’s my favorite season which in turn is partly because it’s arguably the best season.
#10 The Cheney Vase (S1 E13 dir. Robert Stevens, story by Robert Blees)
Okay this one’s not particularly spooky or suspenseful, but the ending is just so gleefully vicious. A ne-er-do-well nephew (the ever entertaining Darren McGavin) curries the favor of his invalid scupltor aunt (Patricia Collinge) in order to get his hands on a valuable piece he’s created. Like I said, gleefully vicious. Blees, incidentally, would go on to write/co-write the the camp spectacular Dr. Phibes Rises Again, the nature’s revenge silliness of Frogs, and the fairy tale-like Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?
#9 The Glass Eye (S3 E1 dir. Robert Stevens, story by John Keir Cross)
Jim Whitely (William Shatner back when he could kind of act) relates a tale of a distant cousin Julia (Jessica Tandy) who fell in love with ventriloquist Max Collodi. She follows him all over the country to catch his act until. As you may well imagine, it just gets weirder from there.
#8 Breakdown (S1 E7 dir. Alfred Hitchcock, story/teleplay by Louis Pollock)
Joseph Cotten plays a movie producer paralyzed in a car accident and can’t communicate to anyone that he is actually alive. With one exception coming up in just a bit, this is about as tense as Hitchcock gets.
#7 Our Cook’s A Treasure (S1 E8 dir. Robert Stevens, story by Dorothy L. Sayers)
If Sayers sounds familiar, that’s because she wrote the Lord Peter Wimsey stories. This story, though, involves a serial poisoner posing as a maid. Ralph (Everett Sloane) suspects his own maid Mrs. Sutton (Beulah Bondi). Misdirection ensues, and the whole thing has very Roald Dahl overtones. And speaking of Roald Dahl…
#6 Dip In The Pool (S3 E35 dir. Alfred Hitchcock, story by Roald Dahl)
I’ve mentioned this story before, and it’s the first of several Roald Dahl episodes on this list as he and Hitchcock seem to have been made for each other. Nobody adapted Dahl’s stories to the screen like Hitchcock did, and this one in particular captures that kind of macabre irony I love so much about them both. Mr. Botibol bets on the ship’s pool then devises a plan to slow the ship down in order to win said pool. It’s got one of the best “pull the rug out from under you” endings ever.
#5 The Man From The South (S5 E15 dir. Norman Lloyd, story by Roald Dahl)
I love this story and mentioned it back in the same post as “Dip In The Pool.” A young man bets he can light his lighter 10 times in a row. The stakes? The little finger of his left hand against and expensive car. Like “The Cheney Vase,” it’s got a nasty little comeuppance at the end, only this one has much darker implications.
#4 The Older Sister (S1 E17 dir. Robert Stevens, story by Lillian De Torre)
A year after Lizzie Borden’s acquittal, an irritating and aggressively nosy reporter shows up. She’s convinced Lizzie is really guilty and tries to strong-arm her into an exclusive.
#3 Revenge (S1 E1 dir. Alfred Hitchcock, story by Samuel Blas)
This was a short story adapted for the show and boy howdy does it pack a helluva wallop. If you don’t know, stop what you’re doing, and go watch it. Incidentally, before Hitchcock got a hold of it, Revenge showed up in Issue #21 of a Tales From The Crypt type comic called Witches Tales.
#2 Bang! You’re Dead (S7 E2 dir. Alfred Hitchcock, story by Margery Vosper)
This one definitely sits squarely in the suspense realm, but god damn that suspense is tough to sit through. Thinking he’s found a present his dear Uncle Rick has brought him, six-year-old Jackie Chester takes the gun and bullets from said uncle’s suitcase and goes wandering around the neighborhood unaware that he’s carrying an actual loaded pistol. It’s a tough, tough watch, and arguably the most terrifying thing Hitchcock ever created.
#1 Lamb To The Slaughter (S3 E28 dir. Alfred Hitchcock, story by Roald Dahl)
Was there any doubt this triple threat was gonna be #1? My favorite Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode just so happens to be my favorite adaptation of my favorite Roald Dahl story. Mary Maloney (Barbara Bel Geddes) is A) pregnant and B) about to be left by her husband for another woman. As with Revenge, if you somehow haven’t seen this, drop everything and avail yourself. Then go read the story. In that order. Trust me. You’ll thank me later.
And there’s my list. I’d love to see what your faves are down in the Comments, and I’m already gearing up for a similar Twilight Zone post.