When the pandemic ramped up last year (how depressing to think we’ve been dealing with this for nearly a year) we all found our lives upended. For me, my schedule went from slam packed to empty in the course of just a few weeks. In my performing life with improv group Blue Plate Special, we had 28 shows locked on our calendar, with a festival appearance in North Carolina scheduled right as things were shut down.
Finding myself with more than ample amounts of time on my hands, I knew I needed a little something to help pass the time. I began thinking about things that I had always wanted or meant to do and realized one of them was to finally watch all of “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour” in order. The show was an hour-long continuation of the long-running “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” — arguably the finest suspense anthology TV series ever made, and one of the first major involvements of a motion picture director in Television. Though “Presents” has been on TV in reruns quite heavily and was mostly released in full on DVD here, the hour-long version of the show has rarely been seen on TV.
I didn’t know the show even existed until about ten years ago, shortly after which a friend gifted me the Australian DVD release of the series, the hour episodes have never been released on home video domestically. So, I’ve been making a point to watch one episode every Sunday night, before going to bed. I’m mid-way through the second season right now. Though on the whole, the hours aren’t quite as consistent as the half-hour “Presents” there are some episodes that are absolute knockouts, such as the entry I watched this past Sunday.
Before I tell you about a great hour of TV you should seek out, I’ll let you know that I wouldn’t tell you of such wonderfulness with no way of being able to see it, should you want to. The Universal/NBC streaming service Peacock has all of both “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” For the first time — to my knowledge — both shows have been available to stream in full. There was a time when Netflix had just the first three seasons of “Presents” to watch.
First broadcast on Valentine’s Day 1964, “The Jar” is one of the best episodes of the hour-long series, and one of the best hours of American television from the era. This is one of the times the show leaned more into Horror than just suspense thrillers. Based upon the Ray Bradbury story of the same name “The Jar” was directed by the long-time co-producer of the series, actor Norman Lloyd, who had a most impressive career and I’m glad to say is still with us and doing well at the age of 106!
Another impressive aspect of “The Jar” is the cast, filled with many actors who were up and coming, on their way to later fill roles on iconic shows. Pat Butram, best known as Mr. Haney on “Green Acres,” George Lindsey of “The Andy Griffith Show,” James Best of “The Dukes of Hazard,” the great character actor Slim Pickens, and none other than the King of Cartoons and Blacula himself, William Marshall.
Butram plays a man who is fascinated by a large “mystery jar” at a carnival. No one is exactly sure what is inside the jar. Having spent upwards of three hours staring at the jar, he asks if he can buy it. The carnival barker selling it to him for $12, which adjusted for inflation is $102 in 2021. He invites the town-folks over every weekend to sit around and look at the jar, all fascinated by what’s inside it, everyone saw something different inside the mysterious objects floating in dark water. What is it after all? Is it living, dead? Real, fake? The magical mystery of the universe, or just carnival film flam?
I can’t tell you any more about the episode without spoiling what comes in the last two acts of the story, but with the episode readily available to watch, you owe it to yourself to check it out sometime. “The Jar” was remade in 1986 on the ‘80s “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” revival series, directed by no less than Tim Burton. I’ve never seen the 1986 version, so I can’t speak as to which is the better take.
Though perhaps overshadowed in Americana by “The Twilight Zone,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents/The Alfred Hitchcock Hour” is in the same league as Rod Serling’s famous creation. No other attempt at a suspenseful anthology series has lasted as long, and many of the episodes still hold up very well today, including my favorite of both series, the Hitchcock directed “Banquo’s Chair” from season four of “Presents.”
Check out these episodes if you’re bored with all Netflix and Hulu has to offer you. Yes, they’re in black and white, but those are story elements, not simply “boring images with no story.” I think you’ll be surprised by how much you’ll find “The Jar” a worthwhile experience. Till next month, I’ll see you Under The Marquee ... with a mask on.