Retrospective: Even in death, Alfred Hitchcock a master of suspense

Monday marks the passing of Alfred Hitchcock. A&E takes a look at some of the best episodes of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”

Spencer Doar

From the Seussian theme music to the silhouette of the man himself, “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” is the most telling look at Hitchcock the person while still being an exhibition of Hitchcock the auteur.

The 30-minute program, which ran from 1955-62, gave Alfred Hitchcock the opportunity to showcase his uncanny, inherent hosting abilities, acting like a dry, sardonic distant relation all while sporting the look of a regal English butler.

Airing concurrently with “The Twilight Zone,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” was a fitting companion, providing a less surreal and supernatural alternative while being in the exact same vein. 

Oddly enough, Hitchcock only directed 17 of the nearly 300 episodes. What follows is the cream of that crop.

 

“Revenge,” Season 1, Episode 1

Starting a series off on the right foot is a tricky science: You need to represent the tenor of what will follow yet focus on the current production without letting quality suffer. 

This episode did that perfectly. What starts as nine minutes of placid domestic life for a married couple shifts gears when the wife is assaulted by an enigmatic culprit. 

Taking matters into his own hands, the husband’s grim determination to do right in the only instinctual Neanderthal way he knows ends poorly. 

This is the unifying factor for every episode in the series:  a series of events befitting a Lemony Snicket title.  

 

“The Case of Mr. Pelham,” Season 1, Episode 10

One of the greatest strengths, or rather accomplishments, of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” is the ability to build a taut story and resolve it satisfactorily in only 20 minutes.

“The Case of Mr. Pelham” makes this list for embodying that talent. 

The eponymous lead starts questioning reality as coworkers and acquaintances reference seeing him at times and locations when he was somewhere else.

The only explanation appears to be that Mr. Pelham has a double who, for an unknown reason, decided to drive him into an identity crisis of epic proportions. But who is the real Mr. Pelham? Is there a real Mr. Pelham?   

 

“One More Mile to Go,” Season 2, Episode 28

As Hollywood has demonstrated many times, the crime is frequently easy and the getaway hard. 

The plot, like so many of Hitchcock’s brilliant choices for stories, is simple: A man murders his wife and must get rid of the body. In this instance, eight straight minutes of nonexistent dialogue bring tension to a feverous head. 

As he is driving on the road, the husband gets pulled over for a broken taillight. This is the first of multiple instances with the same motorcycle cop — each scene driven by the expected discovery of the body. 

Look forward to a particularly harrowing moment with a crowbar.

 

“Dip in the Pool,” Season 3, Episode 35

Roald Dahl wrote this story and three others in the series — yeah, the “James and the Giant Peach” Roald Dahl.

Keenan Wynn (an indomitable character actor) is a compulsive gambler who finds himself in over his head while on a cruise. 

Wynn makes a bet on the distance the ship can travel in a day, thinking that he has the inside scoop. When you-know-what hits the fan, Wynn ends up going to desperate measures to affect the course of the ship’s travel. 

Like the rest of the best, “Dip in the Pool” gets your Spidey sense tingling without fully revealing the reason why you suddenly have a feeling of impending doom.  

 

“The Horseplayer,” Season 6, Episode 22

Much like “Dip in the Pool” and numerous other installments of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” this short story is anchored by an established versatile actor, in this case Claude Rains.

Rains finds himself in an ethical and spiritual dilemma as a priest receiving huge donations from a gambler who makes his money at the track. The gambler attributes prayer to his success, and while Rains wants the man to stop praying for his bets, he equally desires the proceeds for his dilapidated church.

But even the holiest among us can get bogged in their greed.