Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Hitchcock Project-James Bridges Part Fifteen: Power of Attorney [10.24] and Wrapup

by Jack Seabrook

The last episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour with a teleplay by James Bridges was "Power of Attorney," which aired on NBC on Monday, April 5, 1965. It was based on a short story called "Letter of the Law," by Selwyn Jepson. The story is told in epistolary form and consists of a single letter written by Agatha Tomlin to a Mrs. Browne, reporting the events surrounding the death of a woman named Mary, who was Mrs. Browne's sister and for whom Agatha was a companion.

Mary's upstairs neighbor, Mr. Jarvis, had charmed her into letting him take over her business affairs. He promptly swindled her out of all of her money and stopped visiting her, causing her to sink into a depression. One day, Agatha came home to find that Mary had taken her own life with a gun. Thinking quickly, Agatha cleaned up the scene and went upstairs to beg Jarvis to come down to see Mary, explaining that she needed advice regarding a sudden and unexpected inheritance.

In Mary's apartment, Agatha accused Jarvis of financial mismanagement and glanced into an open drawer, where she had placed Mary's gun. Jarvis grabbed the gun and pocketed it to prevent Agatha from using it on him. He then entered Mary's room. Agatha locked the door and called the police to report a shooting. Jarvis was caught in the same room as Mary's dead body, with the murder weapon in his hand. As Jarvis was taken away, Agatha suggested to the police that they also look into his handling of Mary's finances.

The first publication of Jepson's story that I have been able to find is in a 1951 collection entitled Evening Standard Detective Book, 2nd Series. An online search of the London Evening Standard archives did not reveal any prior publication in that newspaper. The story was reprinted in the July 1952 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and then again in the mid-year 1964 Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine Anthology, which is probably where the producers of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour came across it.

Geraldine Fitzgerald as Agatha
Selwyn Jepson (1899-1989) was a British author of mystery novels and short stories who served in both World Wars. His novel and short story credits begin in 1922 and, while he seems to have stopped writing short stories by 1950 or so, he continued to publish novels until 1971. He also wrote for radio, film, and television, and his fiction was adapted for each medium. His novel Man Running (1948) was adapted into the Hitchcock film Stage Fright (1950) and "Letter of the Law" was the only work of his that was adapted for the Hitchcock TV show.

James Bridges had his work cut out for him when he was assigned to transform this seven-page story into an hour-long television drama. He expanded the story mainly by adding detail and by creating an important subplot. The show opens with a scene that is new to the story, as Jarvis, using the name Wilfred James, breaks the news to a woman named Sarah Norton that she has lost everything in the stock market. He feigns distress and promises to be back for dinner but then disappears, leaving her heartbroken. She tells the police that she met him on a plane, and the scene then cuts to a plane in flight, where James, now calling himself James Jarvis, insinuates his way into the life of Mary Cawfield and her companion, Agatha Tomlin.

Fay Bainter as Mary
These opening scenes demonstrate that Jarvis is a crook who changes names and swindles women out of their savings. He is not above seducing them to further his aims and, in a change to the short story, he not only steals Mary's money but he also steals Agatha's heart. Following the women to their hotel, Jarvis cons his way into a room near theirs; when he is alone in his room, he opens his suitcase to reveal a large amount of cash, presumably the money he stole from Mrs. Norton. The Jarvis of the TV show is more violent than the one in the story, murdering Mary's elderly lawyer in his bed in order to clear his own path to becoming her financial adviser. The murder is not shown on screen; rather, we see the old man in bed at night and Jarvis approaching his house wearing black gloves.

Jarvis's two-tiered approach to gaining the trust of Mary and Agatha proceeds apace and Agatha responds by having her hair cut in a flattering style and by wearing fashionable sunglasses. When they met and she was merely the live-in companion to a much older woman, she wore her long hair in a severe bun and rarely smiled. Mary gently prods Agatha into dating Jarvis and soon signs over her power of attorney to the con man. When Jarvis and Agatha are alone, he grabs her and kisses her, prompting her to slap him. After a pause, he slaps her in return and warns her never to do that again; by her reaction, it appears that his assertion of masculinity has won her over.

Richard Johnson as Jarvis
Soon enough, Mary's savings are lost and she commits suicide in a well-staged sequence where she puts classical music on the record player, ignores the ringing phone, and closes shutters to block out the world. Jarvis is ready to fly to Mexico City but Agatha tempts him to come to Mary's hotel suite with the promise of money. Instead of her setting things up so that he grabs the gun from the open drawer, here she shows it to him and asks him to put it in his pocket and get rid of it. When she locks him in the room with the corpse, he grabs a chair and breaks a window to try to escape. He then tries to shoot out the lock and, as a police detective bursts into the room, the detective shoots and kills Jarvis, who falls dead next to Mary's lifeless form.

Much like the unnecessary detail of having Jarvis murder Mary's lawyer off screen, this final scene is an attempt to add some excitement to what is otherwise a straightforward melodrama, demonstrating the tendency of TV shows of this era to resort to gun play. The episode as a whole is well acted and competently directed, and the script by Bridges does an acceptable job of expanding a very short story to fill the time slot, but the experience is rather bland; the actors hit all of the necessary marks but the show never comes to life.

Mary Scott Hardwicke as Sarah Norton
Harvey Hart (1928-1989) directed "Power of Attorney," but shows little of the inventiveness that he showed in "Death Scene," one of the other four episodes of the series with him behind the camera.

Star billing goes to Richard Johnson (1927-2015) as Jarvis; born in England, he was a star on stage in, among other things, the Royal Shakespeare Company. His career on screen lasted from 1950 to 2015, and included The Haunting (1963) and two episodes of Doc Martin. "Power of Attorney" was his sole appearance on the Hitchcock show. He married Kim Novak three weeks before this episode aired, but they divorced a year later. He was also offered the role of James Bond in Dr. No but turned it down, and it went instead to Sean Connery.

Geraldine Fitzgerald (1913-2005) plays Agatha. She was born in Ireland and appeared on the stage in Dublin before moving to London, where she also appeared on stage before moving into film. Coming to the U.S., she starred on Broadway and film followed--she was in movies from 1934 to 1988, including the 1939 classics, Wuthering Heights and Dark Victory. She played numerous roles on TV from 1949 to 1991 and was in one other episode of the Hitchcock series, "A Woman's Help."

Josie Lloyd as Eileen
The unfortunate Mary Cawfield was played by Fay Bainter (1893-1968), who was born in California and who began acting as a child on stage in 1898. Her movie career began in 1934 and, in 1938, she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Jezebel. She appeared in the Danny Kaye classic, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), and began appearing on TV the following year, including an episode of Thriller. "Power of Attorney" was her only appearance on the Hitchcock show and her last credited role.

Jonathan Hole as the hotel desk clerk
In smaller parts:

*Josie Lloyd (1940- ) plays Eileen, Mary's grand-niece. Josie is the daughter of the show's executive producer, Norman Lloyd, and she had a brief career on TV from 1960 to 1967, including a role on The Twilight Zone and appearances in six episodes of the Hitchcock series, including roles in "Burglar Proof," "Coming Home," and "The Star Juror."

Anthony Jochim as Mary's lawyer
*Mary Scott Hardwicke (1921-2009) plays Sarah Norton, who is swindled by Jarvis in the first scene. She was in movies from the early 1940s to the early 1960s and on TV from the early 1950s. She was seen in eight episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "The Diplomatic Corpse" and, like Fay Bainter, "Power of Attorney" was her last credited role. Married to Cedric Hardwicke from 1950 to 1961, she later wrote an autobiography, Nobody Ever Accused Me of Being a Lady, published in 2001.

Mark Sturges
as Roger
*Jonathan Hole (1904-1998) is a familiar face as the hotel desk clerk. He started out in vaudeville in the 1920s and had numerous small parts on radio, on stage, in movies, and on TV all the way up to 1990, including appearances on The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. This was his only role on the Hitchcock show.

*Mark Sturges (1941- ) plays Roger, Eileen's fiancee. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show and his career onscreen was rather brief, lasting from 1964 to 1974. He is notable for being the eldest son of the great film director, Preston Sturges.

*Anthony Jochim (1892-1978) has a brief part as Mary's lawyer, who is murdered off screen by Jarvis. He played many bit parts in a nearly 40-year screen career; his other appearance on the Hitchcock show was as the jury foreman in "I Saw the Whole Thing."

Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the short story!

The FictionMags Index. Web. 8 July 2017.
Galactic Central. Web. 8 July 2017.

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
Jepson, Selwyn. "Letter of the Law." Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine July 1952: 26-32. Print.
IMDb. Web. 8 July 2017.
"Power of Attorney." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. NBC. 5 Apr. 1965. Television.
Wikipedia. Web. 8 July 2017.

James Bridges on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: An Overview and Episode Guide

James Bridges wrote or co-wrote 16 teleplays over the course of the three seasons of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. He began with "A Tangled Web," a complex re-imaging of a novel by Nicholas Blake and his most successful adaptation of a book rather than a short story. "The Star Juror," based on a French crime novel, was less successful, and it was followed by "Death and the Joyful Woman," from a novel by Ellis Peters; the show falls apart in the fourth act due to its over-reliance on a movie serial trope. "Dear Uncle George," co-written with Richard Levinson and William Link and based on their story, is highly entertaining and features a character similar to their Lt. Columbo. His last teleplay for season eight was "Run for Doom," which is satisfying from start to finish even though it is based on a short crime novel.

Of the six episodes he wrote for season nine, five were based on short stories and one of these, "The Jar," was perhaps the best entry in the entire series. "The Cadaver" was based on a story by Robert Arthur that itself had been adapted from his radio play; the script is outstanding and makes for a great episode. Next came "The Jar," based on Ray Bradbury's short story and an absolute classic. "Murder Case" was not much of a letdown, highlighted by strong performances by John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands. The only episode of this season to be taken from a novel, "Beast in View" is a disappointing adaptation of a great book and is marred by weak lead performances and awkward special effects. "The Gentleman Caller" is adapted from a short story by Veronica Parker Johns and has both a good script and good performances, while "Bed of Roses" was adapted from an unpublished story by Emily Neff and is a fast-moving, well-directed hour of television with a winning performance by Kathie Browne.

Bridges wrote five scripts for season ten and all were based on short stories. "Return of Verge Likens" is a masterpiece of suspense that is based on a story by Davis Grubb; Grubb also wrote the story that inspired "Where the Woodbine Twineth," a creepy Southern Gothic with a haunting score by Bernard Herrmann. Rivaling "The Jar" for classic status is "An Unlocked Window," one of the scariest TV episodes ever broadcast and with one of the most shocking twist endings of all time. "Death Scene" is an entertaining look at the contrast between Old Hollywood and the youth of 1965, with the great John Carradine and Vera Miles in starring roles. Last of all was "Power of Attorney," a plodding melodrama.

Had he just written "The Jar," "Return of Verge Likens," and "An Unlocked Window," James Bridges would have cemented his place as one of the great writers for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, but his many other fine contributions show why he would go on to a successful career as a screenwriter, a career that began when Norman Lloyd suggested to the young playwright that he try his hand at teleplays.


Episode title-“A Tangled Web” [8.18]
Broadcast date-25 Jan. 1963
Teleplay by-James Bridges
Based on-A Tangled Web by Nicholas Blake
First print appearance-1956 novel
Watch episode-unavailable
Available on DVD?-unavailable

"A Tangled Web"

Episode title-“The Star Juror” [8.24]
Broadcast date-15 March 1963
Teleplay by-James Bridges
Based on-The Seventh Juror by Francis Didelot
First print appearance-1958 novel
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Available on DVD?-unavailable

"The Star Juror"

Episode title-“Death and the Joyful Woman” [8.27]
Broadcast date-12 April 1963
Teleplay by-James Bridges
Based on-Death and the Joyful Woman by Ellis Peters
First print appearance-1961 novel
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Available on DVD?-unavailable

"Death and the Joyful Woman"

Episode title-“Dear Uncle George” [8.30]
Broadcast date-10 May 1963
Teleplay by-William Link, Richard Levinson, and James Bridges
Based on-an unpublished story by Levinson and Link
First print appearance-none
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Available on DVD?-unavailable

"Dear Uncle George"

Episode title-“Run for Doom” [8.31]
Broadcast date-17 May 1963
Teleplay by-James Bridges
Based on-Run for Doom by Henry Kane
First print appearance-1960 novel
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Available on DVD?-unavailable

"Run for Doom"

Episode title-“The Cadaver” [9.8]
Broadcast date-17 Jan. 1964
Teleplay by-James Bridges
Based on-"The Morning After" by Andrew West
First print appearance-Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine Feb. 1964
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Available on DVD?-unavailable

"The Cadaver"

Episode title-“The Jar” [9.17]
Broadcast date-14 Feb. 1964
Teleplay by-James Bridges
Based on-"The Jar" by Ray Bradbury
First print appearance-Weird Tales Nov. 1944
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Available on DVD?-unavailable

"The Jar"

Episode title-“Murder Case” [9.20]
Broadcast date-6 March 1964
Teleplay by-James Bridges, William Link, and Richard Levinson
Based on-"Murder Case" by Max Marquis
First print appearance-London Mystery Magazine Sept. 1955
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Available on DVD?-unavailable

"Murder Case"

Episode title-“Beast in View” [9.22]
Broadcast date-20 March 1964
Teleplay by-James Bridges
Based on-Beast in View by Margaret Millar
First print appearance-1955 novel
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Available on DVD?-unavailable

"Beast in View"

Episode title-“The Gentleman Caller” [9.25]
Broadcast date-10 Apr. 1964
Teleplay by-James Bridges
Based on-"The Gentleman Caller" by Veronica Parker Johns
First print appearance-Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine May 1955
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"The Gentleman Caller"

Episode title-“Bed of Roses” [9.30]
Broadcast date-22 May 1964
Teleplay by-James Bridges
Based on-"No Bed of Roses" by Emily Neff
First print appearance-Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine March 1977
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Available on DVD?-unavailable

"Bed of Roses"

Episode title-“Return of Verge Likens” [10.1]
Broadcast date-5 Oct. 1964
Teleplay by-James Bridges
Based on-"Return of Verge Likens" by Davis Grubb
First print appearance-Collier's July 15, 1950
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Available on DVD?-unavailable

"Return of Verge Likens"

Episode title-“Where the Woodbine Twineth” [10.13]
Broadcast date-11 Jan. 1965
Teleplay by-James Bridges
Based on-"You Never Believe Me" by Davis Grubb
First print appearance-Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine Feb. 1964
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Available on DVD?-unavailable

"Where the Woodbine Twineth"

Episode title-“An Unlocked Window” [10.17]
Broadcast date-15 Feb. 1965
Teleplay by-James Bridges
Based on-"An Unlocked Window" by Ethel Lina White
First print appearance-The Novel Magazine April 1934
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Available on DVD?-unavailable

"An Unlocked Window"

Episode title-“Death Scene” [10.20]
Broadcast date-8 March 1965
Teleplay by-James Bridges
Based on-"Death Scene" by Helen Nielsen
First print appearance-Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine May 1963
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Available on DVD?-unavailable

"Death Scene"

Episode title-“Power of Attorney” [10.24]
Broadcast date-5 April 1965
Teleplay by-James Bridges
Based on-"Letter of the Law" by Selwyn Jepson
First print appearance-Evening Standard Detective Book, 2nd Series, 1951
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Available on DVD?-unavailable

"Power of Attorney"

In two weeks: Our brief series on Charles Beaumont begins with "Backward, Turn Backward," starring Tom Tully!


Grant said...

I agree about the ending. It could have done very well without the gunplay. (Of course, a LIVE Jarvis might have caused Agatha a lot of worry, so she must have been relieved.)

Jack Seabrook said...

Hah! You're right. Thanks for the comment!

john kenrick said...

Thanks again for the write-up, Jack.

I enjoyed Power Of Attorney more than I thought I would when watching the opening credits. That the competent but unexciting Richard Johnson was the star gave me pause. As things turned out, I liked his performance very much, though I did wonder, once I realized the full extent of his game plan, how Michael Rennie might have played the role. He'd played a similar part in an earlier Hitch hour and was way stronger than I would have expected, and actually sympathetic. Johnson is smarmier but then his character was. He was never sympathetic. There was a potential for a full length Hitchcock feature in this, made maybe ten or fifteen years earlier, with James Mason in the lead,--hey?

All this aside, I agree with your assessment of the episode for the most part, and I too found the gunplay at the end unnecessary; and besides I would rather have seen the Johnson character rot in prison for the rest of his life than die in the prime of his life. It's what he deserved. Director Harvey Hart had done much better on the Hitch series, notably Terror At Northfield, which I at first found borderline cheesy but which has grown in me over the years and is now one of my favorites of the hour longs. But I digress. What really held my attention watching Power Of Attorney was Geraldine Fitzgerald's magnificent, award worthy performance as the woman Johnson courts. She was a superb actress capable of many moods and of developing a character even when the material wasn't quite first rate, as was the case with this episode.

Jack Seabrook said...

I thought Johnson was too hammy, with the fist on the forehead moves and the efforts at crying. He needed to tone down his stage-like performance for the close up camera of the small screen. Fitzgerald was much more appropriately subtle. I was disappointed that the last Bridges show was a letdown, though I wonder if they held it back because they knew it wasn't very good.

john kenrick said...

Well, yes, Jack: Richard Johnson was, I suppose, overdoing it, but he drew me in. His theatricality drew attention to his character's "acting his part", rendering Jarvis/James wholly unsympathetic. I give him points for at least not being campy. This was television, after all, and Johnson was very much a man of the theater. I see what you mean about his acting. What charm his character might have possessed would have been lost on the viewer anyway given that the teleplay "gave him away" from the start.