In addition to writing for television and film, James Bridges was a playwright, something that is reflected in his adaptation of "Murder Case" for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
The original short story by Max Marquis was published in the September 1955 issue of London Mystery Magazine, a British digest (similar to Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine) that ran from 1949 to 1982. As the story opens, Kenneth Rollins is disguised in an overcoat, hat and thick glasses as he boards the Channel ferry, planning to murder his cousin Harold Stewart in order to acquire "his money, his wife and his identity." Rollins had met Stewart at a party eight months before at Stewart's home. Stewart's wife Clara was ten or fifteen years younger than her husband, who was about 40, and she is described as a "voluptuous, calculating blonde."
|"Murder Case" was|
Kenneth and Clara meet one last time three days before Harold is to take the ferry and she remarks that she fears her husband is growing suspicious. On the ferry, Kenneth goes to Harold's cabin and strangles his cousin. After collecting Harold's personal effects, he pushes the body out of the porthole, controlling its descent into the Channel with a rope. He shaves off his mustache and rests till it's time to disembark. He follows a steward off the boat and arrives at customs with Harold's suitcases. When one of the cases is opened, the police are summoned and, inside the suitcase, Kenneth sees "the neatly severed head of Mrs. Clara Stewart."
|Gena Rowlands as Diana (Clara)|
First of all, it was unacceptable to show a severed head on television in 1964. Second, and perhaps more concerning, Bridges had just written another episode that ends with the discovery of a severed head in a container: "The Jar," which aired on February 14, 1964, between "The Cadaver" and "Murder Case" and which is discussed here, in our series on Ray Bradbury. As usual, Bridges takes the story in new directions and solves the problem of the severed head conclusion neatly.
|Murray Matheson as Charles|
Abandoning the story's flashback structure, the TV version begins in a London theater, as actors audition for the role of an American prize fighter in a new play backed by the wealthy Rollins and starring his young wife. In a subtle in-joke, Diana tells the author of the play that his opinion is not valued, asking "what does a writer know?" about casting. Lee Griffin appears and auditions successfully, landing the part; he and Diana were lovers back in the U.S. before she ran off to England to wed the rich, older man. From the moment he comes on screen, Cassavetes is electrifying and Rowlands holds her own with him; together, they smolder in their scenes, their off screen romance carrying over into their parts.
|John Cassavetes as Lee|
Diana telephones Lee to tell him of Charles's plan; Lee promises to take care of Charles but provides no details. In a bar, Lee buys a fake passport in the name of Charles Rollins. Just before they are to leave, Charles gives Diana a large diamond ring, but the gift does not alter her feelings. Charles listens in to a phone call on an extension and hears Diana plotting with Lee to be together. His worst fears confirmed, Charles is crushed when Diana lies to his face.
|Diana's corpse is revealed|
The repetition of "gentleman Charlie" throughout the episode makes the end, where it turns out that Charles murdered Diana, even more of a surprise, since such behavior does not seem consistent with the refined Englishman's behavior. Bridges, Levinson and Link expand the story greatly, adding the theatrical aspect and making the lovers American rather than British, their mutual attraction deepened by the shared experience of being foreigners in London. The episode involving the sabotaged brakes foreshadows Lee's later murder of Charles, and the final twist, which involves a body falling into a car's trunk in slow motion rather than the discovery of a severed head in a suitcase, is more suitable for television. The body is easily identified by the viewer as that of Diana by its blonde hair and by the large diamond ring on its finger, since her face is not shown.
"Murder Case" features solid direction by John Brahm (1893-1982), who keeps the action moving swiftly. The scene in the ferry stateroom features large, looming shadows and is rather eerie, and Brahm draws fine performances out of each of his leads.
As Lee Griffin, John Cassavetes (1929-1989) is outgoing, aggressive, and wholly believable as an actor on the make. He was an actor, writer and director whose career onscreen lasted from 1951 to 1985. He and Rowlands were married from 1954 until his death and he was on the Hitchcock show three times, including Robert Bloch's "Water's Edge." His best-known film role was in Rosemary's Baby (1968).
|Richard Lupino and Ben Wright|
as the writer and Tony Niles, the director
Born in Australia but playing an Englishman, Murray Matheson (1912-1985) is effective as the cuckolded husband, Charles Rollins. He was on TV and in movies from 1945 to 1983 and he was on the Hitchcock show four times, including "The Throwback," where he also competed with another man for the affections of his beloved. Matheson also appeared in many TV shows, including The Twilight Zone, Thriller, Night Gallery and Kolchak: The Night Stalker.
Several familiar faces are seen in smaller roles. Ben Wright (1915-1989) plays Tony Niles, the director of the play in which Lee and Diana star. Wright had a long career onscreen from 1936 to 1989, and was on the Hitchcock Hour three times, including Robert Bloch's "A Home Away from Home." His most well-remembered role was as Herr Zeller in The Sound of Music.
|John Banner as the customs agent|
Ida Lupino's cousin, Richard Lupino (1929-2005) plays the author of the play; was was onscreen from 1940 to 1983 and made four appearances on the Hitchcock show.
Richard Levinson (1934-1987) and William Link (1933- ) co-wrote a total of seven episodes of the Hitchcock show. The last episode that they worked on was "Dear Uncle George," which was also the only other episode where they collaborated with James Bridges.
Finally, Max Marquis (1925-?), who wrote the short story, was the pseudonym of Edward Frank Marquis, a former football referee in England who is credited with three short stories in the FictionMags Index. IMDb credits him with various teleplays and two screenplays between 1959 and 1982, including this single episode of the Hitchcock show and one episode of The Avengers. He also wrote several books, including nine novels, four of which feature a series character, Detective Harry Timberlake.
"Murder Case" is not yet available on DVD in the U.S. and cannot currently be viewed online.
In two weeks: "Beast in View," starring Joan Hackett and Kevin McCarthy!