Friday, October 09, 2015

Something Unpleasant This Way Comes

In the years to come, she would be known as an Oscar– and Emmy–winning actress, famous for her work on the big screen, on television and on the stage.

But on this night 60 years ago, 29–year–old Cloris Leachman was a guest star in the second episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," playing John Forsythe's former girlfriend and present sister–in–law. At the time, she was probably best known for competing in the 1946 Miss America pageant. No doubt Forsythe was the better known of the two.

Forsythe played a pianist who returned to his hometown, hoping to patch things up with his estranged father, with an unsettling feeling that something was wrong. Everything looked the same, but Forsythe's friends and family weren't comfortable seeing him, even though he had been gone four years. That alone was strange, but they were so evasive about certain things — like his father's whereabouts, for example.

He soon found out why. His father had died not long after he had left. His brother (Warren Stevens), who had married Forsythe's girl, had been the beneficiary of a rewritten will and had inherited the father's estate.

Forsythe thought the whole thing sounded fishy. OK, his father was dead, of that there was no doubt, but there was considerable uncertainty about when he died — and how. His father supposedly died of a heart attack while playing tennis, yet Forsythe found a hunting license for which his father had applied the day after he supposedly died.

So Forsythe went to the woods of Maine, where the hunting trip had been planned, to find out what happened.

What the viewers got was a classic Hitchcock double cross.

When the truth was finally uttered by Leachman, she told a story of Forsythe having murdered his own father. They had argued. Leachman's character mentioned a loaded hunting rifle and an accident, never saying how Forsythe killed his father, only telling him that he had never been a musician in Paris or Rome as he had claimed. Instead, he had spent the last four years in a "hospital" in Arizona, and he had run away.

Forsythe's brother, sister–in–law and her father had worked together to protect Forsythe and conceal the nature of the father's death.

"We thought it was the only thing to do at the time," Leachman said. "Now I'm not so sure."

That may have been the most honest statement in the episode. After all, how many times have you been faced with a situation in which you felt you had little choice but to go with the least–objectionable option? If you're like me, the answer is, "More than I can count."

I've heard such a choice described as "the lesser of two evils." That's more poetic than calling something a "no–win situation," but that is what the episode that aired 60 years ago tonight is.

And whereas I thought the series' first episode was a bit predictable, I must confess that, the first time I saw this episode, I didn't see that ending coming.