“Little White Frock”, AHP, Season Three: Episode 39 - Herschel Daugherty (1958)

“Little White Frock", the final episode of  Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Season 3 (1958), is a quieter and more contemplative drama than the usual offerings of this series.  Based on a story by Stacy Aumonier and scripted by Stirling Silliphant, this episode was directed by Herschel Daugherty.  The story centers around how the emotive expression of heartfelt feelings can affect  us and evoke our sympathies.  It also concerns the nature of playacting.

The tale begins with newly emerged star playwright Adam Longsworth (played by Tom Helmore), along with the play’s director, having difficulty with the casting of his latest play that is set to open soon.  Later at a cocktail lounged he and the director are approached by an elderly, formerly well-known stage actor Colin Bragner (Herbert Marshall), who hasn’t appeared on stage for years.  The meeting is cordial, but Longsworth suspects Bragner is buttering him up in hopes of getting a part in the upcoming play.  Nevertheless Bragner insists that Longsworth and his wife Carol (Julie Adams) be his guests for dinner that night.  Despite Adam’s resistance, Bragner manages to convince Carol to accept the invitation.

That evening as they are chatting over drinks, the Longsworths notice a little white frock draped over a chair, and Bragner launches into a long story about it.  It turns out that the frock is associated with Bragner’s long lost love, back when he was an emerging star actor.  Bragner’s tale is intricate and ultimately tragic – a story of dedicated and unfulfilled passions.  The emotional flavor of the telling is immeasurably aided by the soothing, dramatic tones of actor Herbert Marshall’s famously mellifluous voice.  The Longsworths are moved to tears by Bragner’s sad account.  At the end, though, we (and the Longsworths) learn that there is a surprise twist concerning Bragner’s tale.

There is an interesting multi-level aspect to this narrative:
  • Level-0.  We could say there is a ground level – the real world that we occupy along with Hitchcock’s dramatic performers and production staff.
  • Level-1 is the base fabula world evoked by the production.  This is the world inhabited by Bragner and the Longsworths.
  • Level-2 is the fabula world created by Bragner when he tells his story.
We the viewers are aware of all three levels, but we are moved to suspend our disbelief in these fabula worlds as we enter them.  This is the business in which the fictional Adam Longsworth and Colin Bragner are engaged. It is also the business in which the Hitchcock production staff are engaged, and requires even more subtlety when the multiple levels are involved.

Note that Hitchcock’s TV episodes often feature a fair dose of malice.  There is often a murder; or if not a murder, a death; or if not a death, then a crime.  And these episodes also often have disturbing endings.  The “Little White Frock” episode is an exception to all this.  There are no murders, deaths, or crimes..  And the story concludes with a happy ending.  Remember this if you are looking for a relatively more upbeat Hitchcock TV tale.

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