“Change of Address”, TAHH, Season 3: Ep. 2 - David Friedkin (1964)

“Change of Address” (1964) was an episode (Season 3, Episode 2) of the popular TV anthology series The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1962-65).  This episode was directed by David Friedkin and scripted by Friedkin and Morton Fine based on an Andrew Benedict story. Interestingly, the musical score was provided by Bernard Herrmann.  As usual, it featured performances by major screen figures in the lead roles. And of course also as usual, it bore the famous Hitchcock earmarks of a suspenseful tale with a twist at the end.

The story concerns a middle-aged couple, Keith (played by Arthur Kennedy) and Elsa (Phyllis Thaxter) Hollands, who have just leased a beach house in fashionable Malibu, California.  The couple seem to have independent means, so this appears to be a lifestyle move, and their anticipations concerning those prospects are decidedly mixed.  Keith, seeking to recapture his fading youth, sees the home as providing an opportunity for adventure and new socializing with the trendy crowds that frequent the beach.  But Elsa, longing for the tranquility of their old homestead, hates the new setting.  When she looks out from their new apartment over the vast wavy ocean, she sees only wild turbulence and loneliness.  She also tells her husband that she thinks there is something eerily wrong with the new house and urges an immediate return to Philadelphia and stability. 

It soon becomes evident to the viewer that the Hollands’ marriage is teetering.  Keith has a roving eye, and his gestures of affection towards his wife are grandiose but phony.  In fact the more we see of Keith, the more evident it is that he is a complete egotist and has concern only for himself and his standing among pretty young women.  Elsa quietly senses this absence of affection from her husband, and she cannot conceal her growing unhappiness.

As an expression of his treasured sense of manliness, Keith fancies himself as a handyman, and he soon begins digging a deep hole in the cellar in an effort to improve drainage in the house in order to reduce the prevailing feeling of dampness.  Any viewer familiar with Hitchcock’s macabre tales can’t help wondering what other use this hole might soon be put to.

Meanwhile Elsa is embroiled in efforts to find a way to break their lease so that they can move out of the odious (to her) house.  She learns that the owners from whom they are leasing the house, the Wilsons, used to live in it, but Mrs. Wilson left her husband, and Mr. Wilson then moved away to Seattle.  Elsa wants to get in touch with the Wilsons, particularly with Mrs. Wilson, in order to learn more about the history of the house and perhaps about possible things wrong with it.

While she is doing this, Keith is busy cultivating a budding amorous relationship with a pretty girl (Tisha Sterling) he finds on the beach, who seems susceptible to Keith’s pseudo-manly boastfulness.

Things don’t look setup for a happy ending, and indeed what turns out doesn’t work out for anyone.  The twist at the end is interesting, but it is something I anticipated early on, and you will probably do the same.  Indeed the closing twist could have been better presented, and too much time is spent on Keith’s obnoxious, self-centered preening. Arthur Kennedy’s performance in this regard is energetic but lacks subtlety.  More nuanced and human is the performance of Phyllis Thaxter as Elsa.  Her worried and concernful visage is what sustains our sympathies throughout most of this tale.

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