The Cosmicomicon is very proud and excited to bring you a new feature that will be unspooling right here over the next several weeks, as each Sunday night we will be publishing a new review of the five favorite episodes of the Alfred Hitchcock Hour as selected by Dark Fiction writer and editor Ives Hovanessian, through weekly pieces written by Amber Doll Diaz. Special thanks to both of these wonderful women for gracing The Cosmicomicon with their taste and talents.
Now then, cozy up in a dimly lit room and please enjoy the following review and full episode, and be sure to click on by each and every Sunday night (or blurry-eyed Monday morn) for another review of what is - for my money - perhaps the greatest television series devoted to Noir fiction ever broadcast.
A Review of “The Paragon”, Alfred Hitchcock Hour, by Amber Doll Diaz
Director – Jack Smight
Series - The Alfred Hitchcock Hour
Broadcast date - February 9th, 1963
Teleplay by – Alfred Hayes
Based on - "The Salt of the Earth" by Rebecca West
First print appearance – The Harsh Voice: Four Short Novels (1935)
“Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become insipid, with what shall it be salted again? It is no longer fit for anything but to be cast out and to be trodden underfoot by men.” – Matthew 5:13
Good evening. One of the most rudimentary (but relatively newfound) findings within the field of psychoanalysis is that when people or persons attempt to help the less fortunate in even the highest of altruistic senses, they are found by researchers to have been doing so with subconsciously selfish motives. Volunteer humanitarian workers studied in 2006 were found to be ultimately aiming to satisfy individual moral values, to develop their understanding of the world around them, and to increase their self-esteem as well as their sense of control. A shining example of all these scientific findings is truly the lead character in “The Paragon”, Alice Pemberton.
Portrayed by, well, the paragon of Hitchockian female stars, Joan Fontaine, Alice is a wealthy high-nosed housewife possessing all that her heart desires: beauty, a loving husband, servants tending to her home, and plenty of family members well within her toxic reach. These opportunities have afforded Alice a sense of false philanthropy with which she makes her constant rounds, advising virtually everyone around her on what they should be doing with their lives, if of course they’d like to be as fortunate as she. Unbeknownst to Alice, her deluded busy-body ways are driving her family and friends to hate and resent her, leaving her husband John (Gary Merrill) the only person with an ounce of patience left. But even her good fortune in that regard is about to run out.
“The Paragon” is based upon a short story originally titled “The Salt of the Earth” and written by a novelist considered to be one of the most excellent and refined prose authors of twentieth-century England: Rebecca West. With Alfred Hitchcock being known for his plethora of femme fatales and unwavering leading ladies, it is no surprise that the famous feminist’s work should be included in his anthology series. Ironically, Joan Fontaine, star of “The Paragon” had originally appeared in Hitchcock’s first American film entitled Rebecca. Plenty of cause for Suspicion, if you ask me.
Fontaine’s lilting charm deserves an hour all its own, as her flawlessly fluid acting in this installment is almost enough for one to overlook the predictability of it all…almost. Within this “mystery”, as I will loosely describe it, there is an overabundance of clues stridently thrown in, as well as too few moments of tension, thanks to an overly-forgiving husband whose wits’ end is stretched to the moon, and an almost comically-inclined script. Although the episode begins with a fairly foreboding premonition, not much builds upon the sequence, and ultimately, this hour-long segment would have profited from being chopped down to an Alfred Hitchcock Presents piece. The aforementioned premonition scene was certainly meant to be the zenith of the episode in terms of suspense, but it turned out to be the biggest flop of all, as I can’t imagine anyone being frightened by the silhouette of the substance from Flubber (1997) looming closer and closer in a dark room, 1960’s audience or not.
Perhaps this is the sole Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode I would only re-watch out of insomnia-desperation at the witching hour. Despite the episode’s manifest failures, a tremendous positive within was teleplay writer Alfred Hayes’ meticulously crafted dialogue. I was dazzled and fully engrossed, staying glued throughout the hour without the suspense I craved, as most characters owned a sense of eloquence and tact, despite often being exorbitantly frustrated with Alice’s incessant meddling. Heavy on filler and low on tension, dedicated fans of Hitchcock might be interested in skipping this one, but it is without a doubt a treasure for members of the Joan Fontaine fan-club, which I will be joining post-haste.