29 August 2014

Back for Christmas (1956)
25 min.
Airdate: March 4, 1956
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
With John Williams, Isobel Elsom, Arthur Gould-Porter, Lillian Kemble-Cooper, Gavin Muir, Katherine Warren, Gerald Hamer, and Irene Tedrow.
Jose Cruz
Herbert Carpenter (Williams) and his wife Hermione (Elsom) are planning to take a long holiday in California, but they are quick to assure their friendly neighbors that they will be back in time to celebrate Christmas with them in the U.K. But not if Herbert has any say in it.

Because Herbert’s handiwork that he’s been performing under the pretense of constructing a wine cellar is actually to be Hermione’s final resting place. But Hermione constantly goes about making last minute arrangements, forestalling her fate in the basement to the annoyance of her homicidal husband.

Finally bashing in the old bat’s head and burying her in the basement, Herbert cuts a hasty retreat just before he’s caught in the act by intruding neighbors. But once in California Herbert’s plan goes swimmingly as he methodically plots to inform his friends of their plans to stay in the States longer than planned. Too bad Herbie didn’t count on his wife giving him a surprise Christmas gift…

This is one of the juiciest of macabre morsels from the first season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Helmed by the Master himself, this episode bears Hitch’s unmistakable brand of hand-wringing tension and coal black humor. Through Hitchcock’s direction and Williams’ wonderful characterization, we see how irritable Herbert gets at his wife’s constant nitpicking and his eagerness to get the bloody deed done is enough to get us squirming in our seats in anticipation as well.

There’s a perfect balance of thrills and spills in this one. At first we’re grimly chuckling as Hitch’s camera slowly gravitates from the yawning soon-to-be-filled grave to Hermione standing at its edge chattering away, and the next we find our eyes glued to the screen as Herbert crouches in the shadows as some callers begin poking around the house.

Despite the vile acts that the criminal might have committed, Hitch always succeeds in getting us to root for them when they find themselves just inches away from being exposed. Whether it’s the corpse lying in the trunk-cum-dinner table from Rope (1948) or the achingly slow descent of Marion’s car into the swamp in Psycho (1960), the audience becomes invested in seeing the ne’er-do-wells get away scot-free… at least for the time being.

But as we soon find out, crime never pays. And it’s a kicker of an ending that recalls Edgar Allan Poe that brings this wickedly suspenseful tale to an end. Fans are advised to make a beeline for this episode if they’re craving a story deep in the vein of Hitch’s greatest films.

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