Synopsis by Hal Erickson
The first major Hollywood film director to venture into the world of series television, Alfred Hitchcock hosted this long-running dramatic anthology, which was seen on two different networks for ten seasons beginning October 2, 1955. While Hitchcock's films were generally suspense thrillers or romantic melodramas, most of the playlets on Alfred Hitchcock Presents were macabre character studies and mysteries with twist endings. The stories, written by the talented likes of Roald Dahl, Cornell Woolrich, Francis Cockrell, Henry Slesar, and Robert Bloch, trafficked heavily in faithless spouses, world-weary blackmailers, neurotic "innocents" trapped in horrible circumstances, and meticulous murderers who tirelessly plotted "the perfect crime." Intoning his trademarked "Good e-v-ening," the cherubic Hitchcock would appear at the beginning of each episode in a wryly humorous prologue setting up the basic situation, with occasional barbs at the intrusions of his sponsors' commercials, and would return for the epilogue to tie up loose plot ends, make a few more comical observations, and bid the audiences a fond "Good night." In those episodes in which the criminal or murderer seemingly got away with his or her crimes scot-free, Hitchcock would show up at the end to calmly assure the viewer -- and the network censors -- that justice had eventually been meted out and the villain had been punished, though no one was really fooled by these cynical codas. When the series expanded from 30 to 60 minutes at the outset of its eighth season, Hitchcock added a third appearance per episode just before station break, in which he would generally rip his sponsor for the "tiresome" advertisements to follow. All of these act breaks were written without screen credit by James Allardice, who'd been instructed in the satirical approach he was supposed to take via compulsory screenings of Hitch's 1955 black comedy theatrical feature The Trouble with Harry. Since he was still quite busy with his film career throughout the run of his TV series, Hitchcock himself directed a mere handful of the half-hour programs, and only one of the hour-long episodes. Arguably the best and most famous of Hitchcock's TV directorial efforts was the third-season "Lamb to the Slaughter," in which a housewife murders her cheating husband with a frozen leg of lamb -- and then cooks up and serves the "evidence" to the unwitting police investigators. The talent roster on Alfred Hitchcock Presents including several of The Master's movie colleagues, among them actors Vera Miles, John Forsythe, Judith Evelyn, John Williams, Patricia Collinge, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Edmund Gwenn, Oscar Homolka, Barbara Bel Geddes, Bruce Dern, Peter Lorre, Claude Rains, Mildred Natwick, Herbert Marshall, Ray Milland, and musical composer Bernard Herrmann. Norman Lloyd, who had appeared as the slimy title character in Hitch's 1942 feature Saboteur, directed and produced a number of episodes. Other frequent directors included Robert Stevens, Paul Henreid, Arthur Hiller, Boris Sagal, and John Brahm. The series was executive-produced by Joan Harrison (who had started her career as Hitchcock's secretary in 1933) and utilized Gounod's Funeral March of a Marionette as its theme music. Seen on CBS for its first five seasons, Alfred Hitchcock Presents moved to NBC for its sixth and seventh years on the air, then back to CBS in 1962, when the series was reformatted as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. The program was brought back to NBC for its tenth and final season, which ended in September of 1965. Twenty years later, Alfred Hitchcock Presents was revived for a four-season run on both NBC and the USA cable network. Though Hitchcock had died in 1980, he remained a presence on the series via colorized reruns of his original opening and closing remarks -- a rather ghoulish creative decision that Hitch might well have approved of.