Annabel (1962 TVM)

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.

Annabel (1962) - 0 opener

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 (1962) - 2 Annabel & Gerald

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.

Annabel (1962) - 3 Linda prepares to follow David

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.

Annabel (1962) - 5 David tries to persuade Annabel they're destined for each other

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.

Annabel (1962) - 4 David

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.

Annabel (1962) - closer

 

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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]

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24 thoughts on “Annabel (1962 TVM)

  1. I am a Hitchcock fan, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen this one. Great write-up as ever, John – I love how you’ve described the screenplay, flowing like a fine malt whisky. That’s an image that works for me, although my equivalent would probably be a fine nebbiolo or pinot noir. 😉 I’ve bookmarked the YouTube link.

    • Hitchcock didn’t have a huge amount to do with these except as introducer, of course, but this one certainly does seem to have a tang of his style about it. Hope you enjoy it when you watch it!

      • I caught Annabel the other night and really enjoyed it. Dean Stockwell is terrifically creepy…I could see the parallels with Matt Damon’s turn as Ripley, but Stockwell’s performance also reminded me a little of Anthony Perkins in Psycho.

        A great little find – thanks for the recommendation!

        • Glad to hear you enjoyed it, Jacqui — loud cries of Phew!, in fact, because I’d have felt guilty had you not!

          Yes, there’s definitely a similarity to the Perkins/Psycho performance as well, but it was the Damon/Ripley one that sprang to my mind first, because of the Highsmith connection. Of course, the Bloch connection might have made me think of Psycho . . .

  2. Bloch adapts Highsmith in an episode that shares its name with my sister… How could I resist? Thank you, John.

    I must read This Sweet Sickness, if only to sate my curiosity regarding the “substantial changes” – unavoidable, as you say, in boiling a novel down to 45 minutes. I’ve long admired James Bridges adaptation of Margaret Millar’s Beast in View (Alfred Hitchcock Hour, season 2, episode 21). Also highly recommended, also on YouTube.

    The less said about the 1985 Alfred Hitchcock Presents version the better, though it does raise the question: When is an “adaptation” not an adaptation?

    • Hope you enjoy it when you watch it! And many thanks for the tip about the Beast in View adaptation, which I must sus out. Thanks, too, for the warning about the other one!

        • Don’t fear. I’ve bookmarked it as well. Bearing in mind that part of that 20 minutes is taken up with Hitch waffling, it’s boggling they could think to even pretend it was an adaptation of a full-length novel!

  3. Glad you liked this one as well John as I’m also a fan (so that means objectively we must be right, yes? 🙂 ). As for the many changes, I wonder if the mother was changed to a father to avoid a PSYCHO comparison? Also, and much as I admire Highsmith, I always though the book was overlong and the ending drawn out well beyond its limits and a re-read definitely confirmed this. Bloch’s more ghoulish and succinct ending is much more memorable in my view.

    • As for the many changes, I wonder if the mother was changed to a father to avoid a PSYCHO comparison?

      That’s a very good thought, and one that hadn’t occurred to me. Overall, I’m not bothered with the changes made to translate a written work into a screen one; but the trivial changes — like fiddling with the characters’ names — seem completely gratuitous.

  4. Great review, terrific comment section. As I mentioned on another thread here, I do have the entire run of the show on the Australian DVD sets I acquired just a few months ago. I will be watching it shortly.

  5. Well, I certainly did enjoy it, and found Stockwell’s performance creepy, appropriately enough. The few twists and turns weren’t terribly unexpected, though the far more physical Gerald’s demise was rather startling. For all intents and purposes a superior episode in the show. Incidentally, this was one of the third season’s shows, not as seems to be implied as the first season. I must enjoyed reading through your review again. Comparable in some ways (obviously) with PSYCHO.

    • Glad you didn’t feel your time was wasted, Sam!

      Incidentally, this was one of the third season’s shows, not as seems to be implied as the first season.

      I wonder if they were shown in a different order in Australia? I’ve just checked IMDB and Wikipedia and they both list it as Series 1, Episode 7, Nov 1 1962.

  6. As someone who will never get Stockwell’s presence in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet out of my mind, here’s the former child actor playing another unforgettable, disturbing character.

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