Alfred Hitchcock Presents

Alfred Hitchcock Presents is an American television anthology series hosted by Alfred Hitchcock.  The series featured dramas, thrillers, and mysteries.  By the time the show premiered on October 2nd, 1955, Hitchcock had been directing films for over three decades.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents is well known for its title sequence.  The camera fades in on a simple line-drawing caricature of Hitchcock’s rotund profile.  As the program’s theme music, Charles Gounod’s Funeral March of a Marionette, plays, Hitchcock appears in silhouette from the right edge of the screen, and then walks to center screen to eclipse the caricature. He then almost always says “Good evening.”  The theme music for the show was suggested by Hitchcock’s long-time musical collaborator, Bernard Herrmann.  The caricature drawing, which Hitchcock created himself, and the use of Gounod’s Funeral March of a Marionette as theme music have become indelibly associated with Hitchcock in popular culture.

Hitchcock appears again after the title sequence, and drolly introduces the story from a mostly empty studio or from the set of the current episode; his monologues were written especially for him by James B. Allardice.  At least two versions of the opening were shot for every episode.  A version intended for the American audience would often spoof a recent popular commercial or poke fun at the sponsor, leading into the commercial.  An alternative version for European audiences would instead include jokes at the expense of Americans in general.   For later seasons, opening remarks were also filmed with Hitchcock speaking in French and German for the show’s international presentations.

Originally 25 minutes per episode, the series was expanded to 50 minutes in 1962 and retitled The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Hitchcock directed 17 of the 268 filmed episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and one of the 50-minute episodes, “I Saw the Whole Thing” with John Forsythe.  The last new episode aired on June 26th, 1965, and the series continued to be popular in syndication for decades.

Actors appearing in the most episodes include Patricia Hitchcock (Alfred Hitchcock’s daughter), Dick York, Robert Horton, James Gleason, John Williams, Robert H. Harris, Russell Collins, Claude Rains, Barbara Baxley, Ray Teal, Percy Helton, Phyllis Thaxter, Carmen Mathews, Mildred Dunnock, Alan Napier, and Laurence Harvey.  Many notable actors, like Steve McQueen, Walter Matthau, Robert Vaughn and Barbara Bel Geddes among others, appeared on the series as well.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents, 25 minutes long, aired weekly at 9:30 on CBS on Sunday nights from 1955 to 1960, and then at 8:30 on NBC on Tuesday nights from 1960 to 1962.  It was followed by The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, which lasted for three seasons, September 1962 to June 1965, adding another 93 episodes to the 268 already produced for Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Two episodes, both directed by Hitchcock himself, were nominated for Emmy Awards: “The Case of Mr. Pelham” (1955) with Tom Ewell and “Lamb to the Slaughter” (1958) with Barbara Bel Geddes.  The third season opener “The Glass Eye” (1957) won an Emmy Award for director Robert Stevens.  An episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour titled “An Unlocked Window” (1965) earned an Edgar Award for writer James Bridges in 1966.

Among the most famous episodes remains writer Roald Dahl’s “Man from the South” (1960) starring Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre, in which a man bets his finger that he can start his lighter ten times in a row.

The 1962 episode “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” was not initially broadcast by NBC because the sponsor felt that the ending was too gruesome.  The plot has a magician’s helper performing a “sawing a woman in half” trick.  Not knowing it is a gimmick, the helper cuts the unconscious woman in half.