Versatile in tone and subject matter, its most common theme is how nefarious seemingly respectable people can be. Hitch’s closing skits, in which he reassured the audience that the villain had received their just deserts if the ending of an episode seemed somewhat ambiguous, and saved the show from being scrutinised too closely by the dreaded Standards and Practices, a department that felt duty bound to protect America from the morally reprehensible. It certainly didn’t hurt that, just as with the previous show, Hitchcock’s name was able to entice the big screen stars of the ‘30s and ‘40s such as David Carradine, Lillian Gish, Elsa Lanchester, Jayne Mansfield, Joan Fontaine, and Gloria Swanson to appear. Box office draws of the time also showcased their talents with the likes of Diana Dors, Christopher Lee, James Mason, Vera Miles, Ray Milland, Michael Rennie, Roddy Mcdowell, and Kim Hunter all falling victim, or perpetrating the crimes each week right in the comfort of the viewers living room. And then there was the stars of tomorrow, James Caan, Bruce Dern, a pre-Columbo Peter Falk, Peter Fonda, Walter Koenig (sans Russian accent), Martin Landau, Lee Majors, Robert Redford to name but a few.
I Saw the Whole Thing, was the only episode to be directed by Hitchcock in the entire series, but several well-known contemporary directors cut their celluloid teeth here, most notably Sydney Pollack and William Friedkin. The Alfred Hitchcock Hour also attracted some of the finest genre writers of the time too, writers such as Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Leigh Brackett, Henry Slesar, Alvin Sargent, and Columbo creators Richard Levinson and William Link.
It has been well documented that The Twilight Zone’s fourth season, which was expanded to sixty minutes, lost much of its plot momentum, and it switched back to its thirty minute running time for its fifth and final season. That’s not the case with The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Due to the nature of the stories being predominately crime-based the hour format allows each episode to breath, with the crime in question unfolding at a more natural pace, but still allowing for that ‘sting-in-the-tail’ ending that was also synonymous with Presents. Also present and correct is the theme music, Charles Guonod's Funeral March of the Marionette and another Hitchcock collaborator, Bernard Herrmann, provided his distinctive scores to several episodes.
So how does the series stand-up by today’s standards? Surprisingly well but then what amazingly timeless talent it had working on it. So often these days we hear how *insert current trendy TV hit here, is making a movie every week and there’s a lot of truth in that, but Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Hour were doing just that over half a century ago. Naturally, the language and violence are nothing that audiences are used to today, but they are sophisticated enough to want sharp and compelling storytelling, great acting and something that could look perfectly at home on the big screen. That’s what you get with The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. The picture is razor sharp and of outstanding visual quality, whilst the mono audio soundtrack is as clear as a bell. The episodes range from being deadly dark to humorously macabre, and just watching Hitchcock slyly put down the shows sponsors, as well as his opening and closing skits, is worth the price of admission.
This is an essential purchase for any connoisseur of the golden age of television, and it shows just how subversive and macabre TV could be during what most perceive to be a gentler age.
THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: ALFRED HITCHCOCK, ANNE FRANCIS, GENA ROWLANDS, MICHAEL PARKS, ANGIE DICKINSON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW