A Review of “Final Escape”, Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
by Amber Doll Diaz
Episode title - “Final Escape”
Director - William Witney
Series - Alfred Hitchcock Hour
Broadcast date - 21 Feb. 1964
Teleplay by – John Resko, Randall Hood, and Thomas H. Cannan Jr.
Based on – Reprieve by John Resko
Good evening. If you are a claustrophobic, an alcoholic or a convicted criminal, perhaps this is not the episode for you. However, if you are as bold and dare-deviling as our alliterative lead man Paul Perry (Edd Byrnes) then by all means, don’t bail on this one. Impressive in dynamic, but simpler in plot, “Final Escape” is a very straightforward episode, and thus gives me little leeway for detailing too many plot-points. That said, there will be just a handful of expository sentences here forth. I would gladly sacrifice length and points of interest in the hope that I should never spoil what is perhaps the strongest end reveal in Alfred Hitchcock Hour history.
Opening with a very Hitchcockian, divergent shot of an idyllic wooded lake, Paul Perry is apprehended by police after having recently escaped from prison. A notorious multiple bank robber, Perry is taunted by officers and then tossed back into the darkness from whence he came- along with an additional year added to his initial ten year sentence. Afterwards, we meet the elderly Doc, a “lifer” working the prison infirmary who also handles burial detail for all the convicts when they manage the age-old magic trick of making it out while still within. Doc suffers with alcoholism and the frailty of his polio-stricken niece Lisa. The warden, who despises Perry, puts him to work alongside Doc and it is then that they share their stories. Mutual compassion for their respective dilemmas makes the complacently sad Doc and the desperately wily Perry fast but unlikely friends, with something to offer on either end.
The dialogue here is balanced and clear, and character development is something of a dream for viewers, as it brings no confusion or vague allusions in terms of each individual’s motivations. Doc’s need for Perry’s money stems from the profound love that he feels for his ill niece, and this includes a tellingly heart-wrenching scene with the sickly girl during visiting hours. The warden despises Perry’s insubordination because it undermines his reputation of callous authority; and of course Perry longs to escape because he has clearly contemplated his own disdain for mundanity:
“That world out there Doc…it’s got a little more to offer me than what I can find in here.”
“[in reference to the warden criticizing his ingratitude] Appreciate what?! The next ten years of mush, beans and sow bellies?!”
As compelling as the episode itself are the traumatic and true autobiographical events teleplay writer John Resko utilized when writing the episode. In 1930, John Resko and his accomplice had been tried and convicted for the murder of a store-owner during a botched robbery. Less than a year later, he found himself shaven and sweating in Sing Sing’s electric chair, quite literally moments away from execution when word came in of his pardon by President FDR. He was just nineteen years old. Friends and family had written tirelessly upon his true favorable nature as well as the mental hold his devious accomplice had on him. He was then transferred to the extremely crude and horrifying fortress-like Clinton Prison in New York, where he would be freed years later. Resko went on to publish a memoir entitled Reprieve in 1956, having spent decades painting and writing behind bars. He had gained a significant amount of notoriety as well, for on his behalf Groucho Marx once wrote: “Sir, I would be glad to sign a petition to have this artist released from the penitentiary. I agree with you that he has paid his debt to what is loosely called society.”
Certainly the most fundamental element of noir is the entwinement of disillusionment within the seedy annals of criminal activity, and if “Final Escape” can be described in any way it is in those terms. If events such as what befell John Resko don’t make for the ideal assist in crafting a noir installment, then I am no longer at liberty to say what might, and it is my defeated summation that a tale as potent as “Final Escape” is only further exalted by credible writing and writers. Having been drawn for the most part from actual happenstance, this episode is that much more memorable and well executed.