Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Breakdown, November 13, 1955

Written By: Greg Howell - Jun• 09•18

The master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, puts his genius stamp all over this remarkable episode, The Breakdown, from early in the first season of 1955. Gripping, chilling, terrorizing, and psychologically horrifying and suffocating, this episode represents a notable leap forward in television production. No need to catch the closing credits! There is no doubt whom is directing this half-hour production.

As a work of art, Hitchcock creates a canvas that is as still as a frozen lake, yet as emotionally gripping and unforgiving as an erupting volcano. Hitchcock’s use of perspective and inaction envelopes an unforgiving character that emerges, in its complete  horror, as relatable to the viewers’ core, base humanity! It is a momentous achievement in any medium.

In 1955, no previous television dramatic production had utilized the wide spectrum and vivid language of film. Hitchcock delivers a masterwork to the small screen utilizing maximum effect of cinematography, sound, and editing. The utter stillness of the plot, the quick, barbed editing of the film, and the complete lack of melodrama elevate this episode (and series) so far into the stratosphere that all other dramatic television shows are exposed for their B-picture qualities.

Joseph Cotton stars as an elitist businessman that is so cold, he fires a long-time, loyal employee, then hangs up on him when he begins to cry. Leaving from Florida to New York in his luxury covertible, he wrecks into an inbound tractor. The remainder of the nightmarish episodes plays on our psychology of fear – essentially the fear of being buried alive or being erroneously identified as dead, and the fear of helplessness.

This episode, #7 in the new series, is decades ahead of its time;  delivering  new possibilities for television production, essentially proving that the small screen is equally capable of delivering cinema-quality entertainment.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and the 1980’s reboot ran for 14 seasons and produced 438 episodes, a whopping 304 HOURS of television! His opening and closing monologues and series graphics are hallmarks of great television iconography.

Weekly, he offered up dark and humorous anecdotes ridiculing himself, television, Hollywood, or just life in general. He once opined, ” Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to darkest Hollywood. Night brings a stillness to the jungle. It is so quiet, you can hear a name drop.”  At closing, he once dryly commented, ” I hope you’ll join us again next week, when we will present you with another story of gripping, spine-tingling suspense, and three boring commercials to take the edge off of it.” With 2 dozen Emmy nominations, surprisingly, the long-running, groundbreaking show only won 3 trophies, defying logic and throwing suspicion toward the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences!

 

 

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