US / 48 minutes / bw / Shamley, CBS Dir: Paul Henreid Pr: Joan Harrison Scr: Robert Bloch Story: This Sweet Sickness (1961) by Patricia Highsmith Cine: John L. Russell Cast: Dean Stockwell, Susan Oliver, Kathleen Nolan, Gary Cockrell, Henry Brandt, Bert Remsen, Bryan O’Byrne, Florence MacMichael, Alfred Hitchcock.
Some years ago chemical engineer David H. Kelsey (Stockwell) went off in search of more lucrative work so that he could marry his girlfriend Annabel (Oliver). He never quite explained to her why he suddenly went away, and besides she wasn’t nearly as serious about their relationship as he was. In his absence she met, fell in love with and married Gerald DeLaney (Brandt).
Annabel (Susan Oliver) and husband Gerald (Henry Brandt) love each other, whatever David thinks.
To this day David continues to have difficulty accepting the status quo. Under the name of William Newmaster he’s bought himself a house in Ballard, seemingly somewhere in upstate New York, where he goes at weekends and deludes himself that Annabel is living there with him. He tells his colleagues Wes Carmichael (Cockrell)—who’s also his housemate—and Linda Brennan (Nolan) that his absences at the weekends are because of an obligation to visit his invalid father. To turn the Vicious Triangle into a Vicious Pentangle, Linda is in desperate if undeclared love with David while Wes yearns for Linda.
One day Linda’s office friend Daisy (MacMichael) snoops in the personnel files and discovers that David’s father died years ago. Accordingly, one Saturday Linda follows David to find out just where he does go at weekends. Finding the house in Ballard, she peeks through the window and sees some female paraphernalia; she thinks she has discovered David’s secret, though she still doesn’t realize that he and the William Newmaster named on the mailbox are one and the same.
Linda (Kathleen Nolan) adopts the role of an amateur gumshoe as she prepares to follow David.
David’s pestering of Annabel has grown to be intolerable. When he sends her a diamond-studded brooch, husband Gerald has had enough. He tracks David to the apartment David shares with Wes. With a definite hint of malice, Linda gives him the Ballard address. When Gerald arrives there and finds it’s effectively a shrine to his wife, he and David get into a brawl, the outcome of which is that David kills Gerald. It’s more manslaughter than murder, but the effect is of course the same.
David (Dean Stockwell) tries to persuade Annabel (Susan Oliver) that they’re destined for each other.
The local sheriff (Remsen) swallows David’s story that he’s William Newmaster and that Gerald was a complete stranger who turned up drunk on his doorstep and picked a fight. But then David, locked into his delusion that Annabel loves him and will be overjoyed to be united with him now that Gerald is out of the picture, starts to get far too clever for himself. And he fails to take account of the wild card that is Linda . . .
Take another look at those production credits and you’ll understand why this is such an enticing piece for noirish fans: Henreid, Harrison, Bloch, Highsmith . . . and of course the portly presence of Hitchcock for supposedly humorous commentary at beginning, middle and end.
Bloch (and/or Henreid?) made some quite substantial changes to the story in bringing Highsmith’s tale to the screen. The major ones—in terms of both plot and motivations—are concerned with simplification, inescapable when trying to pack a novel’s worth of plot into about 45 minutes of screen time. Yet there are lots of trivial ones, too, and it’s hard to understand why these latter were made: David’s nonexistent invalid mother becomes a nonexistent invalid father; David’s alter ego becomes Newmaster rather than Neumeister; Effie Brennan becomes Linda Brennan; Annabelle Delaney becomes Annabel DeLaney . . . All of these seem like changes made solely for change’s sake, and they’re really quite irritating. Imagine how profoundly and justifiably irritating they must have been to Highsmith.
Leaving this matter aside, however, Annabel is in its small way quite a splendid piece. As you’d expect from Bloch, the screenplay flows like a fine malt whisky. Stockwell brings a sort of sexual ambiguity to his role, an ambiguity that’s much in keeping with Highsmith’s original; it’s a very clever performance, and I suspect had quite an influence on Matt Damon’s rendition of Tom Ripley in The TALENTED MR. RIPLEY (1999). (Damon was apparently at some stage interested in making a movie version of This Sweet Sickness, but nothing has so far come of it.) Oliver is quite magnificent as the girl-next-door who’s incapable of mentally grappling with the ferocity of the obsession a past lover has for her. Nolan with great skill invests her character, Linda, with just enough rebarbative elements that we understand why David, despite her many qualifications as a putative sweetheart, simply isn’t interested.
The sinister Mr. Kelsey (Dean Stockwell).
I found Annabel on YouTube. It was first broadcast on November 1 1962 as Series #1 Episode #7 of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Much later Highsmith’s novel was adapted again for the screen, this time the large one, as DITES-LUI QUE JE L’AIME (1977; vt This Sweet Sickness) dir Claude Miller, with Gérard Depardieu, Miou-Miou, Claude Piéplu and Dominique Laffin.
A PAL (region 2) box set of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour Season #1 is available on Amazon.com: Alfred Hitchcock Hour-Season 1 [DVD] [Import]