Pris au Piège (1957 TVM)

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).

Pris au Piège - 1 the series' evocative opening credits

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.

Pris au Piège - 2 Paul (Marshall) awaits his doom

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 . . .

Pris au Piège - 3 Mere moments to go

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.

Pris au Piège - 4 Any second now . . .

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.

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A curio on Amazon.com: ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. “Four O’Clock.” Original script from the 1985-89 television series.

Also: Suspicion – TV Series on 3 DVD Set- 15 Classic Episodes

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5 thoughts on “Pris au Piège (1957 TVM)

  1. I am sorry to say I haven’t seen this particular episode, but am a lifelong afficianado of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, and can of course see the elements all in place here. The fact that teh story was written by Woolrich says it all, as does the presence of the tragically short-lived Harry Dean Stanton. John L. Russell of course also shot PSYCHO, as Hitch used his television crew for that iconic work. Anyway, a splendid capsule piece here! I’m quite interested.

  2. The thing that always does it for me as far as Hitchcock goes and the same can be said for Welles is their excellent use of sound. Just listening the bomb test sequence practically hypnotizes the viewer during a sequence that last close to 5 minutes with NO live dialogue.

    • Good point. You’re reminding me of that sequence in Frenzy where the killer’s in the back of the truck with the corpse of his latest victim and countless splitting sacks of, as I recall, potatoes, with everything rolling around together. Other directors would have cut away or enlivened the scene in some way, but Hitch was perfectly content to let it run and run and . . . run. A crazy piece of direction, but it works just fine.

  3. Since this particular episode “Four O’clock” also has a French-language title, i.e. “Pris au Piege”, what does that mean? Was that the title of the episode in Canada, specifically Quebec? Is it possible that this telefilm or the Hitch-directed episodes of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” proper- were ever released THEATRICALLY in Europe? Any thoughts? Thanks & Best, HJ Jones

    • Thanks for the query. At the time of writing, I clearly had good reason to believe the episode’s original title was “Pris au Piege” but, two years later, I can’t remember what that good reason was, and some quick searching on the intertubes hasn’t reminded me.

      I don’t know if the episodes were ever given theatrical screenings. I wouldn’t be surprised. They’d make great support features, along the lines of the Edgar Wallace Mysteries.

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