Sunday, May 17, 2009

Do Look to a Masterly "Alfred Hitchcock Hour" for "Don't Look Behind You"

Vera Miles, a frequent player for "Master of Suspense" Alfred Hitchcock is being surreptitiously followed and studied--she assumes by "Woodside" College Music Professor Edwin Volck (Alf Kjellin; an accomplished director in both cinema and television in his own right, also pictured above), when in fact she ought to be in fear of the movements of her fiance, psychologist and faculty member Harold (Jeffrey Hunter). Hunter's twisted Harold was among the most compelling of his many television characterizations, and through repeated viewings of "Don't Look Behind You" (the teleplay can now be downloaded through the Internet Movie Data Base, or IMDB), it is fast becoming one of the late Hunter's (he died at all of 42 in 1969, of complications from surgery following two strokes) also most memorable. The flawlessly handsome (complete with deep crystal blue eyes) Hunter remains best remembered for his role as Martin Pawley, who accompanies John Wayne's Ethan Edwards, and curiously enough, Vera Miles' Laurie Jorgensen as among "The Searchers," John Ford's 1956 western classic, and of course for portraying The Christ in Nicholas Ray's 1961 "King of Kings
"Don't Look Behind You" was adapted by Barre Lyndon from the novel by Samuel Rogers; directed by John Brahm; photographed under the direction of John Russell; original music by Lyn Murray; airing as an episode of "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour" on September 27, 1962, via CBS.
Principal Players: Jeffrey Hunter as psychologist and "Woodside" College faculty member Harold; Vera Miles as Daphne, Harold's fiancee; Alf Kjellin as music professor Edwin Volck; Dick Sargent as colleague Dave Fulton; Abraham Sofaer as Dr. MacFarlane; Madge Kennedy as Mrs. MacFarlane; Ralph Roberts as Paul Hatfield.
Although Alfred Hitchcock directed a mere eighteen of the 361 episodes comprising both his half and full-hour television anthologies, his personal influence in the selection of suspense material, and of the performers and technicians chosen to convey that material, was pervasive throughout. The hour-long "Don't Look Behind You," adapted by Barre Lyndon from the novel by Samuel Rogers and directed by John Braham, is quintessential Hitchcock for, like the great Hitchcock feature films, the viewer comes away with an impression that propriety least exists where it should be most evident--in this case, within the walls of Academe.
In the seemingly quiet college town of Woodside, Daphne (Vera Miles), alluring fiancee of psychologist and faculty member Harold (Jeffrey Hunter) is walking through a wooded area en route to the home of Dr. and Mrs. MacFarlane (Abraham Sofaer and Madge Kennedy). She has had the ominous feeling that she has been followed, and though the evening is still, the clearly discernible movement of foliage, the rustling drawing ever closer, more than confirms her suspicions. Now detecting something in the growth, she screams and bolts, then sprints the remainder of the way. She arrives, breathless, at the MacFarlanes', where she is greeted by her concerned host who, however, observing no one else even far into the distance, quickly dismisses her claim. Inside, she is welcomed by other faculty members and their coterie. She is told that perhaps her apparent follower was merely fellow guest Paul Hatfield (Ralph Roberts), an ardent bird watcher in pursuit of a hermit thrush. But Paul himself tells her otherwise; that he had been observing among the trees of the local cemetery, not in the vicinity of Daphne's path.
Daphne's anxiety is, however, mitigated upon the arrival of the music professor Edwin Volck (Alf Kjellin), whose deportment and piano dexterity, which he almost immediately begins to display, she finds fascinating. Yet another colleague of Harold's, Dave Fulton (Dick Sargent) finds himself drawn toward Daphne, an attraction which is obvious to Harold, whose own appearance at the gathering further augments tensions. At the dinner table faculty and their spouses begin a morbid discussion on the recent series of campus homicides involving young women both strangled and slashed. Edwin comments that the killer may not be necessarily from the area. Harold, however, thinks otherwise, and holds his audience captive as he offers his own theories on the character of the slayer. "You may remember that Jack the Ripper struck to one section of London; that the French Bluebeard stayed in Paris and that Fritz Harmon (of Hanover) murdered more than forty men in his butcher shop." Harold moreover establishes a campus town as an ideal environment for a similar type of killer: "You see there are a lot of high strung individuals here; some very curious, some very frustrated, easily apt to be well caught up on the literature of murder--couple that with the power of suggestion..."
He expatiates: "Take an intelligent man who's even slightly off-balanced, for example. Say he's dissatisfied--he's building up grudges. Suppose he's been reading about these multiple killers; he may be a specialized kind of madman who's only occasionally seized by these compulsions. He could easily be one of us. You ask why he does this. I think it's a pathological distortion of something normal; something that's already there, waiting, in all of us. Sane, insane--it's all a matter of balance."
In this perturbed air the dinner guests take their leave, Harold escorting Daphne home. Their leisurely walk, however, is interrupted by a scream. Almost instantly a lovely young blonde is detected, her blouse torn; collapsed unto the ground. Harold remarks to Daphne: "She's fainted; he neglected to kill her. Maybe it was you he was after; if she was only substituting, he may try again." The following day Harold imparts to his fiancee that he has volunteered his professional services to the police department, for he is convinced that the would-be homicide "had to be a particular kind of man in a particular state of mind." Dave appears, and Daphne flippantly observes "You're always creeping up behind me, aren't you?" Later, walking alone towards Edwin's residence, she stops before his open window and overhears the virtuoso playing sections of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata." Edwin momentarily ceases to offer Daphne this bit of philosophy: "Music always gives away one's feeling--especially in loneliness. That's the universal predicament, isn't it? Loneliness."
Later at Daphne's home Harold confides to her his own perceptions on this criminal mind: "I've studied these people. . . . He watches you. To him, you're like a living jewel. You're perfection; you're irreplaceable. To destroy you would be a triumph." He then entreats her to serve as a decoy and repeat her original walk through the woods, where Harold will follow her, gun in hand, out of sight of the unknown assailant. Yet Daphne cannot bring herself to accept. That night, however, Daphne is awakened by ominous sounds outside her balcony doors. She quickly investigates, only to witness a man whose face she does not recognize hurriedly dismounting, then fleeing. Fearing now her own safety at home, she telephones Harold, agreeing to proceed with his ruse.
The following evening, again the guests of the MacFarlanes', Harold once more escorts Daphne back by way of the wooded path. For a few minutes they walk in tandem but suddenly Daphne feels herself alone, knowing that Harold has since kept himself concealed. Abruptly Daphne is startled as Edwin approaches. She continues walking as she initially believes their paths have merely crossed, he also having left the MacFarlanes'. But she soon turns apprehensive when Edwin explains that the man following her on her approach to the MacFarlane home two evenings earlier was in fact himself. His words are grave as he confesses "There was nothing to be afraid of, then. I only wanted you to know that you are not alone." Then, in fierce tones, he remarks "You sweet. . . . You must feel that you are not alone now. This will be different. I'm glad you like my music; that's all there is, you know." He produces a length of rope, makes it taught and lunges toward her as she screams and flies from her attacker. A pistol shot is heard, and Edwin falls to the ground as Harold reappears, his weapon properly discharged. A subdued Harold comments only "It worked, Daphne," noting that Edwin is still very much alive, even as Harold now caresses the rope, the would-be instrument of murder.
Later, with Daphne in Edwin's study, following the police inspection there, Harold is contemplative as he reveals a sorrow for the now institutionalized virtuoso. "You know Edwin reads music like you and I might read a book; he hears the sounds in his head." He gathers together several sheets of music, intending to return them to Edwin in his hospital room. Harold reiterates to Daphne what she herself has assumed, that Edwin was not the lone assailant, and that the attacks will begin again. Her fiance repeats to her what he earlier explained to the police: "Some crimes come in waves, as if they're contagious; a ceremonial knife, blood sacrifices--that appeals to some mentalities." Of Edwin's own character he comments "You remember how you felt about Edwin--his music, his charm? And yet, in his heart, he hated all women." He warns her to trust no one, as she initiates a kiss and he reciprocates, only half-heartedly.
On visiting Edwin, Harold whispers to him "Tell me; that time with the girl in the woods, when Daphne and I interrupted you--that was all for nothing, wasn't it? You began it all wrong. You tried to take the life without the ceremonial, so the compulsion stayed with you." He expresses a desire to visit Edwin once again as the still recumbent Edwin methodically remarks "I know you will. I'm looking forward to it." At Daphne's apartment, Harold imparts to her his new impressions of the virtuoso: "He's not so non-sane as one would think."
Later Daphne arrives at Harold's office. She sits solitarily with him, perhaps expecting him to reaffirm his love for her. He tells her "I'll always remember you as you are at this moment, darling, smiling at me . . . across a glass of wine. You came from Dave to me; I like that." Reaching for an object in his desk drawer he continues "Now, I didn't want you to be frightened by what I have to say, and run away as you did with Edwin." She interrupts, "But he intended to . . .," as a look of profound horror comes across her face, and as he rises and moves toward her. Harold methodically proceeds: "Edwin killed those women in hatred and revenge. But I've decided tonight to make you completely my own for love, in the full aesthetic moment of final sacrifice." With both dagger and rope brandished in his hands, he completes his descent into madness: "Pain is only a secret name for pleasure, my darling, and there can be no true sacrifice, no complete feeling of love unless the victim dies." Now almost upon her, Dave, whose room is adjoining, appears, and after a scuffle, Harold lies unconscious on the floor.
The final scene finds Daphne and Dave observing a straight-jacketed Harold being led to a room not far from Edwin's own. Dave summarizes: "He really caught the contagion; the spirit of killing, from Edwin--the strange and ancient illusion that by blood sacrifice you can reach a more intense communion. It totally unbalanced him." In the final shot Edwin, who has been witnessing the scene from an adjacent door, speaks the final words: "Harold is here. I knew he would be. I've been looking forward to it," even as the background score takes up the final strains of the "Moonlight Sonata."
So much remains unresolved at the teleplays' conclusion. If Edwin has influenced Harold to commit homicide, has Harold had a similar effect upon Dave? And was, indeed, Edwin the initial killer? That Daphne did not recognize Edwin running from her balcony, and that she was only a moment later on the telephone with Harold would seem to preclude either man as a suspect in the early slayings. And what strange quality does Daphne evoke, beyond her physical beauty, which induces so many men to want to possess her so entirely? Edwin speaks to her of his music as "all there is," on the verge of strangling her. Later Harold attempts to do the same, speaking of love through sacrifice.
Photographer John Russell elucidates Daphne's fine features. He frames his camera carefully upon her every gesture, as if she were as delicate as the filigree earrings she wears. And Lyn Murray's music complements this careful lensing. By occasionally utilizing the strains of "The Moonlight Sonata," he has manifested moonlight, and the lunacy it is presumed to induce, on evenings where serenity can have no place. That Jeffrey Hunter, two years following his definitive performance as The Christ in Nicholas Ray's 1961 "King of Kings" should now play a role so bereft of the human element proves to be an intriguing choice of casting. With his deep crystal blue eyes now shrouded in somber black and white, he is a stark contrast to the opalescent Vera Miles, herself just two years past the searching sister role she assumed for Alfred Hitchcock's celebrated 1960 "Psycho." Here, viewers have been forewarned "Don't look behind you," for truly none who dwell in this academic community are as they might seem.

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