Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Hitchcock Project-James Bridges Part Five: Run for Doom [8.31]

by Jack Seabrook

Run for Doom is a novel by Henry Kane that was first published in England in 1960 as #302 in TV Boardman's American Bloodhound series. Reprinted in paperback in the US in 1962, the novel concerns Don Reed, a 27 year old senior in medical school, who drives from his home in New Jersey to New York City with his friend Dora Mason to see a performance at the Hotsy Club by the Bill Floyd trio, a jazz combo. Dora is the 62 year old editor of the Spring Echo Herald, the newspaper in Don's hometown, and she has been a mother figure to him since his own mother died when he was three. Don's father is seventy-four, near the end of a successful career as a lawyer, and it was at his insistence that Don went to medical school instead of pursuing a career as a musician. At the club, Don is captivated by Flame Cortez, a dancer performing with the trio.

John Gavin as Don Reed
Dora knows Bill Floyd and he introduces Don to Flame. Don quickly confesses to having fallen in love at first sight, so he and Flame leave the club together and tell each other their life stories over cheap food. Though she warns him that she is "rotten," he walks her home, they kiss, and she invites him inside. They begin to spend all their time together and Don wants to get married. Dora tries to warn him and says that Flame and Bill Floyd are a known item, but Don does not listen. One night at the club, Bill Floyd also tries to warn Don about Flame, but to no avail. Even Don's father appears at the club, anxious to intervene.

At home, Don's father tries to talk him out of marrying Flame, having investigated her background. Don leaves in anger after shoving his father backward into a chair. After visiting a bar, driving around and doing some thinking, Don returns home to apologize, only to find his father dead of a heart attack. Feeling like a murderer, Don confesses to Dora, insisting that he still plans to marry Flame. He confronts Flame about Bill Floyd and she denies ever having wanted to wed the musician. Don inherits over $60,000 from his father and suddenly Flame is more receptive to the idea of marriage.

Diana Dors as Nickie Carroll (Flame Cortez)
Don graduates from medical school and marries the dancer; they spend the summer honeymooning in Europe before returning by cruise ship. Flame loses interest in her husband and flirts with other men, settling on a handsome Argentinian named Pedro Simone. On the last night of the journey, Don finds them together on deck and a fight ends with Pedro being knocked overboard and into the water. Flame talks Don out of filing a report.

At home again, Flame throws a housewarming party; an unexpected guest is an investigator who questions the newlyweds about Pedro Simone's disappearance. Dora consoles Don, who tells her about the accident but admits that nothing seems to cool his lust for his bride. Don works hard as a hospital intern while Flame entertains a series of men, including Bill Floyd, in the afternoons at home. Called to an emergency, Don meets a beautiful young woman named Alice Horton; he learns that she is a nurse and arranges a job for her at the hospital. Don and Alice fall in love and begin to meet clandestinely; he decides to ask Flame for a divorce, but when she refuses he begins to think about murder.

Time passes and Don visits Dora, who says that Alice's father paid her a visit. She warns him about trying to enlist Bill Floyd's aid in convincing Flame to allow a divorce and, when Don visits Bill at the club, the man refuses to help him. Flame reappears as a dancer and Don, drunk, is thrown out into the gutter. That summer, Flame tells Don that she has cleaned out their bank accounts and is leaving. Things only get worse when Alice tells Don that her family is moving to California to get her away from him. Alice's father visits Don and explains that he is taking the girl away for her own good but if Don gets a divorce they can be together. Soon after that, Don gets a call at the hospital to respond to an emergency at his own home.

Scott Brady as Bill Floyd
Don rushes home to find the police holding Bill Floyd, who has confessed to killing Flame and leaving her corpse in the upstairs bedroom. Don runs upstairs and grabs the money that she had taken, then sees her sitting up in bed, very much alive. Thinking that the police believe her to be dead, he strangles her, but when he goes downstairs Chief Mulloy reveals that he knew Flame was not dead and that is why he called the hospital and not the morgue. Don runs out of the house but realizes "you cannot run forever."

At just 124 pages in paperback, Run for Doom is a short, fast-paced crime novel that falls squarely in the noir tradition in its depiction of the ruin of a good man by a bad woman. Don lost his mother when he was three years old and was raised by a stern father who was nearly 50 when the child was born. One could suggest that Don spends the novel trying to replace his mother, first choosing Flame Cortez, a fantasy figure of a woman, before settling on Alice Horton, a nurse and a more realistic maternal substitute.

First edition
Henry Kane, the author, was born in 1908 and received a law degree but made his mark writing novels and short stories, as well as scripts for radio and TV. His most popular works were a series of hard-boiled detective novels featuring private eye Peter Chambers; the first in the series was called A Halo for Nobody (1947). Kane published over 60 novels between then and 1982, as well as short stories between 1947 and 1967. His TV and movie work spanned the years from 1949 to 1974, though he wrote for the screen mainly in the 1950s. "Run for Doom" was one of two episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour to be based on his novels. He died in 1988. Lawrence Block wrote an entertaining article about Henry Kane that may be read here.

James Bridges adapted Run for Doom for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and it was broadcast on CBS on Friday, May 17, 1963, as the next to last episode of the first season of hour-long shows. In order to compress the short novel to fit the TV show's running time, Bridges cuts out major characters and subplots and focuses on the main thread of the story involving Don and Flame, renamed Nickie Carroll. The televised version is a showcase for actress Diana Dors and opens with her singing "Just One of Those Things," the 1935 Cole Porter standard. The book's first scene, with Don driving to New York with Dora Mason, is gone; also gone from the TV show is the character of Dora in her entirety, replaced in the initial scene by Dr. Frank Farmer, a colleague of Don's from the hospital.

A singer rather than a dancer, Nickie approaches Don at his table to the consternation of Bill Floyd; in the book, the musician introduces the soon to be lovers. In the screenplay, Floyd is more visibly jealous of Nickie--perhaps the novel's portrayal of their relationship was too edgy for TV. Don is not a senior in medical school but rather has recently graduated and is already a practicing physician. The TV show has Nickie leave Don after they share a cheap meal together; in the book, he takes her home and spends the night.

Carl Benton Reid as Don's father
Nickie returns to the club, where Floyd slaps her before kissing her. The courtship between Don and Nickie is implied in the scene that follows, where he uses baseball imagery to lead up to a marriage proposal. At the earlier scene at the sandwich counter, he had spoken of getting to first base and batting 1000; now, he puts on a baseball cap and asks her to join his team. Bill Floyd advises Don not to marry Nickie, telling the doctor that "she's mine" but that she is free to come and go, adding that that is "the only way to keep her." In the TV version, Floyd tells Don that Nickie has been married before but always comes back to him, so he calls her his "boomerang baby."

Don's father talks to him and Nickie sings "How Long Has This Been Going on," a 1927 standard by the Gershwins and another example of how the songs used in this episode provide commentary on the action. Don and Nickie then visit Don's father at home; the old man had Nickie investigated and learned that her real name is Nadine Bryant and she has been married three times. In the novel, Flame Cortez was her real name and, while she had plenty of men, she had never been married before. After Don's father dies, he confesses his feelings to Nickie instead of to Dora. When she agrees to marry him, he tells her: "You make me jealous, I'll kill you," foreshadowing the show's conclusion.

1962 Signet paperback
Nickie visits Bill at the club and he picks out "Here Comes the Bride" on the piano, again having the music reflect the story. Bill tells her that she will tire of Don and come back to him; they exchange vows of "I hate you" in a twisted reflection of the scene where she and Don had declared their love for each other. The honeymoon is compressed into a few scenes on the cruise ship, ending with the lover (rechristened Curtis Cane) being pushed overboard. Don and Nickie return home and, after the investigator leaves, Nickie receives a call from Bill and tells Don that she is going to the city. When Don tries to stop her, she tells him that "the ball game's over," taking his playful baseball analogy and throwing it in his face.

At the club, Nickie tells Bill that she has left Don but also does not need Floyd anymore; she sits down at the piano and sings a few lines of "Just One of Those Things," giving it a darker meaning than it had in the show's first scene, where it suggested that her meeting with Don fit the song's title. Alice Horton is the other major character jettisoned by James Bridges in his TV adaptation; the entire subplot about Don's second love affair and plan to divorce his wife and marry his new love has been eliminated. Instead, events are compressed and hastened along as Don goes to the bank and learns that Nickie has withdrawn all their money. He goes home and confronts her and she points a gun at him when he takes their money from her suitcase. He leaves in disgust after she threatens to tell the FBI agent about his role in Cane's death aboard the cruise ship. Don drives off in anger and we see Bill Floyd sitting in a car outside the Reed home.

Don realizes what he has done
Floyd then pushes his way into the house. A violent struggle ensues between him and Nickie, ending with him strangling her in the upstairs bedroom. In the book, Floyd's attack on Flame is not described; as he often does, Bridges takes events that are referred to on the printed page and dramatizes them for the screen. The conclusion of the show follows that of the novel closely, except Don does not run out of the house at the end. Instead, the camera closes in on his stricken face as the detective heads up the stairs to take a statement from Nickie, Don fully aware of the consequences of what he has just done.

Note the comparison of figures
"Run for Doom" is a satisfying episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour that features strong direction by Bernard Girard, who coaxes good performances from both of his leads. Diana Dors is a competent singer in the mold of Marilyn Monroe; she sings two standards all the way through and the viewing experience is not unpleasant. During her first song, Girard frames her next to a standing bass, making a clever visual comparison between her curves and those of the instrument. Throughout the episode, Girard shows Dors both in closeup and in full figure shots, taking advantage of her looks.

After Don pushes Cane overboard
The director also makes good use of John Gavin, an actor who in other roles often seems wooden onscreen. Gavin and Dors have good chemistry in the early scene at the sandwich counter where they discuss sex without being explicit. Girard shoots closeups of Gavin at two key points of emotional stress and makes him look deranged: the first comes right after he throws Cane overboard on the ship and the second comes when a seemingly dead Nickie suddenly comes back to life. This scene is particularly good. Don rushes into the bedroom but has no interest in Nickie at all. Instead, he opens her suitcase to look for his money. He moves her hand out of the way and is shocked when it falls back and grabs his arm. Nickie then sits up in bed, rising like a corpse from her grave determined to haunt him. He strangles her and, in a particularly chilling moment, he shows clinical detachment by checking her pulse to make sure that she is really dead this time: unlike Bill Floyd, whose emotions get the better of him, Don Reed is a doctor after all.

With Bridges streamlining the story and adding his trademark repetitive touches, such as the baseball metaphor, the strangely appropriate songs, and the idea of Nickie as a boomerang that Floyd can toss and expect to come back, the script is tight and fast-moving. Girard's direction, mixing a good amount of control over his actors with a variety of shots that work to achieve maximum emotional effect, ensures that the episode is entertaining from start to finish. Finally, the actors all give convincing performances, making "Run for Doom" a successful adaptation of its source novel.

Diana Dors sings "Just One of Those Things"
Bernard Girard (1918-1977) directed many TV shows and a few movies between 1951 and 1975. He directed twelve episodes of the Hitchcock show and the last reviewed here was "Ride the Nightmare."

Although "Run for Doom" is a showcase or Diana Dors, John Gavin (1931- ) gets top billing. He started out in movies in 1956 and appeared in such classics as Imitation of Life (1959), Psycho (1960) and Spartacus (1960). Born John Golenor, he was on TV from 1960 to 1981, when President Reagan appointed him the U.S. ambassador to Mexico. He was also the head of the Screen Actors Guild from 1971 to 1973. He nearly played James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever (1971) before being replaced by a returning Sean Connery, and he again almost played the part in Live and Let Die (1973) before being passed over in favor of Roger Moore. This was the first of his two roles on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour; the second was "Off Season."

Tom Skerritt as Dr. Farmer
The voluptuous Diana Dors (1931-1984) was born Diana Fluck in England and later joked that she had to change her name because she was afraid that a light might burn out if her name was displayed on a marquee. She led a fascinating and sordid life, one which she detailed in four autobiographies. Dors was in movies from 1947 to 1984 and on TV from 1951 to 1981, including two appearances on the Hitchcock series--the other one was Robert Bloch's "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." She died of cancer at age 52 and there is website devoted to her here.

Playing the tough and unscrupulous piano player Bill Floyd is Scott Brady (1924-1985), who was born in New York as Gerard Tierney. After serving in the Navy in WWII, his movie career began in 1948 and lasted until 1984. His TV career began in 1955. His films included Johnny Guitar (1954) and the TV movie, The Night Strangler (1973); while he was in many TV episodes, this was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show.

Gail Bonney as Sarah the maid
Actors with smaller roles include Carl Benton Reid (1893-1973), who plays Don's father. After starting out on stage in the 1930s, he moved into movies in 1941 and TV in 1949. His screen career ended in 1966 and included an appearance on Thriller and roles in three episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, including "The Jar." Tom Skerritt (1933- ) plays Dr. Frank Framer, Don Reed's colleague. He had just begun his onscreen career in 1962, not long before this episode was filmed; he would later act in an episode of The Night Stalker before appearing in Alien (1979) and as a regular on the TV series Picket Fences (1992-1996). He is still performing today at age 83.

Two other Hitchcock show stalwarts make brief appearances in ""Run for Doom": Robert Carson (1909-1979) plays the detective at the end who discovers Nickie's body and Gail Bonney (1901-1984) plays Sarah, the Reed family's maid. Carson and Bonney appeared in eleven episodes each, always in similar, small parts.

"Run for Doom" is not yet available on DVD in the U.S. but video clips of Diana Dors singing the two full-length songs from this episode are on YouTube here and here.

Sources:
Block, Lawrence. "The Murders in Memory Lane: Remembering Henry Kane." Mulholland Books. Little, Brown and Co., 22 Nov. 2010. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.
"The FictionMags Index." The FictionMags Index. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
"Henry Kane." Rpt. in Contemporary Authors Online. Gale, 2005. Contemporary Authors Online. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.
IMDb. IMDb.com. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.
Kane, Henry. Run for Doom. New York: New American Library, 1962. Print.
"Run for Doom." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. CBS. 17 May 1963. Television.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

In two weeks: "The Cadaver" with Michael Parks!

4 comments:

Grant said...

I've always liked this one, and I'm definitely looking forward to "The Cadaver."

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks! I'm looking forward to it too.

Grant said...

Until I read this review, I never thought completely about how Don and Bill clash with each other - Bill is a rough character but he's heartbroken when he thinks he's killed Nickie, and Don is a "nice guy" character through most of the story but he's completely cool-headed when when he does it (because of everything he's been through with her by now). So it's one more clever thing about the story.

Jack Seabrook said...

That kind of balance is attributable to James Bridges. In the novel, Bill and Flame and both described as bad characters and the sort of people that Don could never understand. Bridges was quite a writer. Wait till you see what he did with the source story for "The Cadaver."