Fortified by liquor, Lottie Mead takes a taxi to Queens, where she visits Artie Birdwell and his wife. Their daughter Eileen is at school and the Birdwells are uncomfortable with their visitor. Seven years before, they had paid Lottie to let them have the daughter she was ready to abandon and they went on to raise her as their own. Now Lottie wants her daughter back, or at least a weekly stipend. The Birdwells throw her out and she tries but fails to find a lawyer until, a week later, Phil Ames appears on her doorstep and offers to help. He recommends that she kidnap the child, insisting that the law will be on her side once she produces a birth certificate that proves she is the real mother.
Ames surveils the Birdwell family and hatches a plan. Lottie moves into a hotel and, a few days later, she picks up Eileen at the school bus stop, weaving a story about having been asked by Mrs. Birdwell to take the girl shopping for a dress. They take a taxi to Lottie's hotel, where the child soon gets bored and falls asleep. Ames calls and says he's on his way. Not long after, he shows up at Lottie's door with a policeman, who accuses Lottie of kidnapping. It seems that Ames is friend and lawyer to the Birdwells, and he and his friend on the police force have tricked Lottie into agreeing to leave the Birdwells alone and finally let them adopt Eileen.
|Claire Trevor as Lottie Mead|
Henry Slesar's short story, "A Crime for Mothers," was first published in the December 1960 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. Like many of Slesar's tales, it is set in New York City and has as its theme the relationship between parent and child. Lottie is an entertaining character, a drunk and an extortionist who speaks with a Runyonesque directness. The twist ending is no great surprise and takes too long to play out, but the story is fun to read. Slesar adapted it for television and it was broadcast on January 24, 1961, midway through season six of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It was followed on NBC that night by "Choose A Victim," a Thriller episode starring Boris Karloff.
|Patricia Smith as Mrs. Birdwell|
|Robert Sampson as Ralph Birdwell|
Lottie's subsequent search for a lawyer is condensed into a brief scene where she meets with a lawyer played by familiar character actor Howard McNear. She later reclines at home with a drink and a cigarette when Ames arrives at her door. He is flirtatious and wears a cheap suit; Biff Elliot gives a strong performance as Ames, playing well off of Trevor. Unlike the story, where he is a lawyer, he is now a private (or "confidential") investigator. Again, Lupino excels in using smooth camera movement in this scene to frame each character perfectly and direct the viewer's attention to what matters. Her camerawork is efficient and avoids showing off, letting the story and the fine acting do the work.
|Biff Elliot as Phil Ames|
One curious thing about the story that the show attempts to clear up is the fact that the little girl, whose real name is Margaret, is used as bait to trap an alcoholic woman. What father would trust his little girl alone with Lottie Mead? The child actress who plays Margaret seems to be from another era, speaking rather haltingly, like one of the children in "A Charlie Brown Christmas," and wearing a skirt with a petticoat underneath. A great line from the story is improved upon in the TV show: Lottie tells the child that she is a governess and the child responds, "'A governess, like in Jane Eyre?'" In the story, Lottie replies, "'What's that?'" which is funny enough, but on TV, Lottie's reply is "'Where's that?'" which is even funnier and may well have been an ad lib.
|"'Ya like anchovies?'"|
The time in the apartment is compressed from the story and the telephone rings right after Lottie and Margaret arrive. By the time Ames shows up, Lottie is noticeably drunker. Instead of a policeman, Ames is accompanied by Charlie Vance, an ex-FBI agent. The final twist is altered as well, as little Margaret is revealed to be the daughter of Ames, not the policeman. This makes it slightly more acceptable that she would be used as bait to catch Lottie, since Ames has her in his sights for all but a short while.
|Howard McNear as the lawyer|
Ida Lupino (1918-1995) was born in London and appeared in movies starting in 1931. She came to the U.S. in 1934 and appeared in such films as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939) and They Drive By Night (1940). She began directing films in 1949 and TV episodes in 1956; while she never acted in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, she directed two, as well as nine episodes of Thriller and one of The Twilight Zone.
|Sally Smith as "Eileen"/Margaret|
Biff Elliot (1923-2012) was born Leon Shalek and appeared in five episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including the Slesar-penned "One Grave Too Many." A website is devoted to his career. Howard McNear (1905-1969), aka Floyd the Barber, also appeared in "One Grave Too Many." Mrs. Birdwell was played by Patricia Smith (1930-2011), who had an almost 40-year TV career but only appeared in this episode of the Hitchcock series. Robert Sampson (1933- ), who played her husband Ralph, was also seen in "The Changing Heart," while King Calder (1897-1964), who played Charlie Vance, was seen in "The Gloating Place."
"A Crime for Mothers" has just been released on DVD but may be viewed online for free here.
|King Calder as Charlie Vance|
"A Crime for Mothers." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. NBC. 24 Jan. 1961. Television.