Years: 1955-1962, 268 half hour episodes
Creator: Alfred Hitchcock
The Concept: An anthology with different stars every episode and Hitchcock himself as host.
How it Came to be Underrated: This is an acclaimed show, so it’s not actually underrated amongst TV fans, but it is underrated by Hitchcock fans. College courses and critical evaluations of his work frequently fail to acknowledge that Hitchcock was not merely the onscreen host of the show, he actually directed several episodes. Movie fans watch and re-watch every Hitchcock movie, even the clunkers like I Confess, but they would do well to raid this treasure trove of work that is rarely seen today.
Sample Episode: The Case of Mr. Pelham
Writer: Francis Cockrell, based on a story by Anthony Armstrong
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
The Story: Albert Pelham demands to speak to a psychiatrist about a strange problem— He has a double who has been living his life, going to his club, doing his job, sleeping in his bed, always just out of step with his own life. When they finally confronts each other, he finds that he can no longer live up to his own standards.
Why It’s Great:
- The doppelganger nightmare, borrowed from Dostoyevsky’s “The Double”, is an idea that The Twilight Zone would later borrow three times, but nobody ever matched the master.
- Tom Ewell from The Seven Year Itch and The Girl Can’t Help It, gets a rare chance to do a gravely dramatic role and he gives a powerful, deeply disturbed performance. Fifties TV gave a lot of comedic movie actors opportunities to try out the dramatic parts that Hollywood typecasting had denied them.
- For the most part, movies can’t end on a note of ambiguity. It’s fun to gin up a lot of “are they mad or aren’t they?” questions, but movies burn through a lot of plot in two hours, and so any movie that begins on a note of mystery tends to end on a note of certainty. Generally speaking, movies should answer the questions they ask, or the audience will want their money back. TV episodes are shorter, and they’re free, and there’s always another one next week, so you have more freedom to get a little more daring.
- Hitchcock uses this freedom to its utmost advantage: As an allegory for the alienation of conformity, this episode is devastating. On a plot level, it’s simply surreal, closer to something David Lynch would make than one of Hitchcock’s feature films.
How Available Is It?: It’s on DVD and available to Watch Instantly.
But Don’t Take My Word For It: