We’ve had the occasion to mouth off about the Master of Suspense here and here, but have not taken the time to talk about his popular television show Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which ran from 1955 through 1965. Syndicated reruns of this influential TV show are undoubtedly how I first knew Hitchcock. Through this show, he had managed to become a popular personality in ways that few directors had been until that date. Comedians did impressions of him based on his weekly intro the show, which usually began: “Good Evening”. Hitch’s silhouette would step out in front of the line drawing pictures about and then lights would come off. Almost invariably the wrap-arounds would involve dark humor and puns in a manner reminiscent of the cartoons of Charles Addams. And the funny, moody theme music, “Funeral March of a Marionette”, by Charles Gounod there ever after became his theme song.
Hitchcock had always been both highly productive and highly experimental. It was probably inevitable that he should give television a try, though it may have surprised even him how successful the show would be. He was interested in how the aesthetics of television differ from film. It is smaller, more intimate, more quickly produced. He directed 17 episodes personally for the show, and it’s an aesthetics influenced at least a couple of his films, The Wrong Man (1956) and Psycho (1960). Actor Paul Henreid directed over two dozen episodes; Norman Lloyd also directed many. Up and comers included Arthur Hiller, Robert Altman, and William Friedkin.
Frequent guest stars included Vincent Price, Percy Helton, James Gleason, John Williams (the detective in Dial M for Murder), Barbary Baxley, and Patricia Hitchcock, Hitch’s daughter, who was also in Stage Fright, Strangers on a Train and Psycho). Major stars like Bette Davis, Claude Rains, Joseph Cotten and Cedric Hardwicke made appearances, as did future ones like Robert Redford and Steve McQueen.
While the show was pretty narrowly focused on Hitchcock’s particular niche, stories of suspense and murder, it was influential on shows that were more “far out” (i.e. science fiction or horror related) like One Step Beyond, Thriller, The Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Night Gallery, Tales of the Unexpected, Amazing Stories, and Tales from the Crypt. NBC produced a popular reboot in 1985, which went over to the USA Network for another three seasons.