vt Four O’Clock
US / 48 minutes / bw / Revue, Shamley, NBC Dir: Alfred Hitchcock Scr: Francis Cockrell Story: Cornell Woolrich Cine: John L. Russell Cast: Nancy Kelly, E.G. Marshall, Richard Long, Tom Pittman, Dean Stanton (i.e., Harry Dean Stanton).
Watchmaker Paul Steppe (Marshall) believes that his wife Fran (Kelly) has taken a lover, whom she’s entertaining at their home each afternoon while Paul’s working in his shop. Crazed with jealousy, he rigs a huge timebomb in the basement using an alarm clock and homemade explosives, and sets it for four o’clock, when he imagines the two lovers will be entwined. Just as he finishes, he’s assaulted by two young burglars (Pittman, Stanton), who tie him up, gag him, and leave him immobilized in the basement just opposite the bomb.
Paul (E.G. Marshall) awaits his doom
His only hope is somehow to attract Fran’s attention when she returns to the house from the market. Unaware of his presence, she welcomes a male visitor to the house. This proves to be not a lover but her brother Dave (Long), recently released from prison, to whom she’s giving moral support as he hunts for a job.
Still the clock ticks relentlessly on toward 4pm, and still Paul cannot make himself heard . . .
Mere minutes to go!
This was the opening episode of the series Suspicion, which ran for a single season of 41 episodes on NBC in 1957–8; Alfred Hitchcock was the series’ executive producer and Joan Harrison, his long-term collaborator, was associate producer. This was the sole episode that Hitchcock directed, and various of his mannerisms are evident—most notably the unhurried way in which he shows Paul designing and testing his bomb, knowing that the moments of deliberation and the focus on minutiae will hold us every bit as effectively as might a more overt action sequence. The final minutes before the clock’s minute hand reaches the 12 for 4pm are done in approximately real time, which builds up the suspense very effectively.
Any — second — now . . .
Marshall, asked to carry the acting burden almost single-handed, does well, although his voiceover of Paul’s thoughts—comprising probably more than half the piece’s dialogue—seems just a tad halfhearted. Tom Pittman, who plays one of the two burglars opposite an extraordinarily youthful-looking Harry Dean Stanton, was regarded as one of Hollywood’s hottest young properties before his untimely death, aged just 26, in a car crash. He appeared in a couple of theatrical movies of borderline noirish interest: High School Big Shot (1959) and Sam Fuller’s Verboten! (1959), which latter I’ll hope to cover here at some stage.