“Water’s Edge”, TAHH, Season 3: Ep. 3 - Bernard Girard (1964)

“Water’s Edge” (1964) was an episode (Season 3, Episode 3) of the popular TV anthology series The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1962-65).  It was directed by Bernard Girard and scripted by Alfred Hayes based on a story by Robert Bloch.  Bloch, a prolific writer of horror stories, was known for his 1959 novel Psycho, on which Hitchcock’s film Psycho (1960) was based.  The musical score was provided by Bernard Herrmann. 

As usual for the series, the episode featured leading screen stars, in this case John Cassavetes (well-known as an actor and film director) and Ann Southern (famous for her many comedy roles, most notably in the popular TV sitcom Private Secretary, 1953-57). 

Also as usual, the episode features a mistaken, or misunderstood, character identity and a plot twist at the ending associated with the newly identified identity of the previously misunderstood character.  In fact a distinguishing feature of this particular episode is that our understanding of a principal character undergoes two transformations during the course of the story.

The story begins in a prison where two long-serving prisoners, Rusty Connors (John Cassavetes) and Mike Krause (Rayford Barnes) have been cellmates for two years.  With nothing to do for the two but talk, Rusty has always been dreamily regaled by Mike’s stories about his beautiful and luscious wife, Helen, who will be waiting for him when he is released.   But Rusty also has something else on his mind.  Mike’s crimes were the theft of $50,000, which was never recovered by the police, and the subsequent murder of his criminal partner, Pete Taylor, whose corpse was never found.  Now that Mike is critically ill with pneumonia, Rusty greedily pesters Mike about where the stolen money might be hidden.  All he can get out of Mike before he passes away is that the money is with Pete.

When Rusty is released from prison, he goes to Mike’s hometown to look up Helen (Ann Sothern), who he learns is working as a café waitress.   He wants to seduce her and make her his own.  But he is shocked to see that Helen is not the luscious babe that Mike had described to him, but is instead a dowdy, bespectacled, middle-aged  frump.   Nevertheless, he goes ahead with his plans to seduce the woman so that she can help him discover the missing cash, whose whereabouts Helen also doesn’t know.

Piecing together some clues from Helen’s recollections on the day of the crime, Rusty decides that the money must be hidden in an abandoned, rat-filled boathouse down at the local lake.  So they go to the boathouse, and despite some false starts and Rusty’s instinctive horror at the sight of all the rats, Rusty does discover in the rafters Pete’s skeleton and the money.

So far we have seen Rusty as a diabolical and unscrupulous villain, while Helen seems to be a rather innocent and simpleminded hausfau.  But at this point Helen shows herself to be equally as demonic as Rusty.  This represents the second transformation of our image of Helen.  So the two of them are now mortally face-to-face, and each is willing to commit murder in order to avoid sharing the loot.  I will leave it to you to see what happens, but it is not pretty.

Overall, this is a well-staged episode with convincing performances, particularly that of Ann Sothern, who despite her unglamourous role looks good and quite a bit younger than her real age of 55.  But the problem with this particular narrative is that there are no sympathetic characters with whom the viewer might want to empathize.  Both Rusty and Helen are equally reprehensible, and it is all just a horror show.

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