In terms of longevity, Alfred Hitchcock Presents was the most successful American television anthology series. It ran from 1955 to 1962 in a half-hour format and then from 1962 to 1965 as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. The list below includes only the 268 half-hour episodes.
1. Lamb to the Slaughter – When a meek housewife (Barbara Bel Geddes) learns that her cheating husband is leaving her, she whacks him–fatally–with a frozen leg of lamb. She then calmly calls the police to report that her husband was murdered by an intruder. This darkly amusing tale, written by Roald Dahl, works to perfection–right down to the killer punchline. It was one of only 17 episodes (of the total 268) directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
2. Man from the South – Based on another Dahl story, this episode stars Steve McQueen as a young man who bets a wealthy oddball (Peter Lorre) that he can light his lighter 10 times in a row. If he can, he wins Lorre’s snazzy convertible. But if the lighter fares to produce a flame just once, he loses a finger. A suspenseful, well-acted classic featuring another one of Dahl’s trademark twists.
3. Revenge – The very first episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents raised the bar very high. A distraught woman (Vera Miles) tells her husband (Ralph Meeker) she has been assaulted. When the police investigation goes nowhere, the couple seek their justice and go looking for the assailant. In a long-running series featuring a number of memorable twist endings, “Revenge” features perhaps the most potent one. Directed by Hitchcock.
4. The Glass Eye -Director Robert Stevens won an Emmy for this haunting tale of a middle-aged woman (Jessica Tandy) who falls in love from afar with a ventriloquist she has never met. After they begin exchanging letters, he agrees to meet her–with disastrous results. This beautifully written teleplay (by Stirling Silliphant) provided underused actor Tom Conway (George Sanders’ brother) with his last good role. It’s ultimately a very sad story of two lonely people.
5. Bang! You’re Dead – Hitchcock directed this wonderfully tense episode about a young boy (Billy Mumy) who mistakes a real gun for a toy pistol and spends the day playing with it. The worst part: the gun is loaded. Mumy’s success as Will Robinson on Lost in Space has obscured his finest TV work, as in this episode and the “It’s a Good Life” episode of The Twilight Zone.
Honorable Mentions: One More Mile to Go (a man with a corpse in his car trunk) and Victim Four (a Paul Henreid-directed episode about a woman whose bad headaches are really bad). It’s interesting to note that both Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone featured adaptations of Ambrose Bierce’s An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. However, The Twilight Zone episode was actually a short French feature filmed two years before its broadcast on TZ.
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