Throughout his extensive career in the film industry, Alfred Hitchcock worked as a writer, producer, actor, editor, and crew member – but most importantly, he was a director. With a terrific eye for filmmaking that he employed while directing over 50 movies, what he truly excelled at was suspense. Starting in the early 1930s, he began a long streak of suspenseful movies, such as The 39 Steps, Rebecca, Suspicion, and Dial M for Murder.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents was developed after Hitchcock had already seen three decades of success as a director. The anthology program presented stories as thrillers, mysteries, horror, and crime dramas. It premiered 65 years ago in October 1955 and ran until the summer of 1962. A total of 268 episodes aired on CBS and NBC over the course of 7 seasons.
Given its bases as a thriller/horror program, Alfred Hitchcock Presents had some dark and twisted episodes. Throughout the series, Hitchcock directed 17 episodes, 2 of which were nominated for Emmy Awards. The first, “The Case of Mr. Pelham,” saw a man becoming paranoid that he had a doppelgänger who was going to take over his life. The second was “Lamb to the Slaughter” in which a pregnant woman bludgeons her husband with a frozen leg of lamb when he announces his intentions to leave her for another woman.
The Robert Stevens-directed “The Glass Eye,” episode about a woman obsessed with a ventriloquist who discovers that the dummy was really the man won an Emmy. Another memorable episode was “The Man from the South” written by Roald Dahl about a man who bets his finger that he can start his lighter 10 times in a row. “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” episode about a magician’s helper doing the “saw someone in half” trick who actually cuts a woman in half was not aired for being too gruesome.
The show was known for its title sequence which began with the camera fading in on a line drawing of Hitchcock with Charles Gounod’s “Funeral March of a Marionette” playing over the artwork. Hitchcock would appear in silhouette on the side of the screen and then walks to the center to cover the caricature.
He introduced each story with a monologue delivered from an empty studio or the set of the episode. Since the show aired all over the world, two different intros were written for each episode. The one that aired in the US would spoof popular commercials or even make fun of the sponsor, while the European version would often make jokes about Americans.
Hitchcock also ended each episode by delivering closing comments. Episodes frequently had twist endings where characters got away with their criminal activity, so he would detail how the character was eventually brought to justice. This was done to reassure viewers that a sense of morality was achieved.
Many actors appeared on Alfred Hitchcock Presents throughout its seven seasons. Harry Tyler, John Williams, Patricia Hitchcock (Alfred’s daughter), Arthur Gould-Porter, Raymond Bailey, Russell Collins, Robert Carson, Robert H. Harris, Ray Teal, Bartlett Robinson, David Fresco, Barry Harvey, and Lillian O’Malley all appeared in at least eight episodes. Other notable actors who appeared on the show included Dick York, Robert Horton, Dorothea Lord, Barbara Baxley, Alan Napier, Claude Rains, Steve McQueen, Walter Matthau, Joan Fontaine, Vera Miles, and John Cassavetes.
Once the show ended, it was followed by The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, expanding from the half-hour episodes to the hour-long format, which aired from ’62 to ’65. Twenty years later in 1985, NBC aired a TV movie pilot that combined four new stories with colorized footage from the original series. The TV movie was a big success, leading to the Alfred Hitchcock Presents revival series, following the movie’s format of new material with colorized intros by Hitchcock. The series with both original stories and remakes of the first series ran for one season.
The legacy of Alfred Hitchcock Presents has had a far-reaching impact on horror and thrillers by pushing boundaries with its shocking twists and tension-building stories. After 65 years it is still a favorite for horror fans and a topical program to enjoy during the Halloween season.