Alfred Hitchcock Presents – Cheap is Cheap (04/05/59)

ahpcheapis12An AHP Christmas episode.  Unlike TZ, I expect AHP to stick to its charter and give me a watchable episode.

Alexander Gifford is coming home with no Christmas bonus.  He is just sick thinking about “the 4% it could have accumulated in the bank over the next few years.”  I am just sick thinking of the .00001% my money is getting.

After a good gag with a newspaper, the parsimonious Alexander chides his wife for leaving a light on.  He sees a gift on the table and wishes his wife a happy birthday.  He didn’t forget — he reminds her, “What about our understanding?  Didn’t we agree a long time ago that it wasn’t necessary to demonstrate our affection for one another by the extravagant exchange of unnecessary items?”  I can think of another way affection will not be demonstrated that night.

Jennifer got the gift for herself.  “Don’t, worry.  I’m not getting anything for you,”  she zings him in a pitch-perfect retort.  She then horrifies Alexander by sitting down to eat a nice steak while serving him “stewed soup meat.”  Hey, wait a minute, he remembers, her birthday was 2 months ago.

ahpcheapis20She explains today is her new birthday.  While cleaning the closet, she found hidden bank books showing a balance of $33,000 [1].  He explains that is for their old age.  She calls him a cheap, miserly, penny-pinching, money-grabbing . . .”  She can’t say asshole on TV, so she asks for a divorce.  Alexander is stunned. He thinks, “That would be a terrible thing.  I didn’t want to part with Jennifer . . . not in this community-property state.”  So he decides to kill her — Ho ho ho, AHP rules!

Alexander recruits a hitman.  The hitman tells him to go see his friend Arthur who will sell him some poison.  The Chemist has just the thing — a perfume that when dabbed behind each year goes pshhhhh.  I can’t figure out what this means.  He prides himself on his poisons being undetectable, but he makes a sound like this eats right through the skin into her brain.  Anyway, at $600 the price is a little steep for Alexander.

Alexander gets the better (i.e. cheaper) idea of giving his wife food-poisoning.  Since he can’t wait for Chipotle to be created, he visits a young scientist at the university and manages to steal some botulism by drawing it into his fountain pen.  He applies it to a ham in their refrigerator, then claims not to be hungry at dinner.

ahpcheapis28That night, Jennifer’s eyes roll back in her head and she keels over dead. Well, not quite.  Arthur calls the doctor who finds she is in very bad shape, but still alive.  The doctors says if she makes it through the night, she has a small chance to recover.  Not one to take risks, Alexander smothers her with a HOME SWEET HOME pillow.

The bad news keeps coming for Alexander.  The doctor tells him a funeral will cost $160.  Disgusted that Jennifer is still squandering his money even in death, he donates her body to medical science.  He counts up a cool $75 as he walks out the door of State University Medical School.

What the hell — they had the perfect ending and they uncharacteristically bungled it! Alexander had gotten the botulism sample at the university.  There was even BEAT TECH graffiti on the blackboard [3].  He could have disposed of the body properly for $160, but the cheap bastard handed her body over to the same institution where he purloined the poison in his Parker pen.  That same young scientist should have taught an autopsy class and discovered the botulism matched the strain in his lab.[2]  Thus Alexander’s cheapness would have been his undoing.

ahpcheapis34This was such a good episode that the last minute fumble is not a deal-breaker.  The performances are uniformly great.  Dennis Day as Alexander was believably prim and parsimonious.  Alice Backes was almost too good as Jennifer.  She had a sly delivery, an interest-ing angular beauty and a smile that cut through the jokes.  She could have been the standard AHP cookie-cutter shrewish wife, but turned the part into a real person.  The thugs were appropriately menacing and even kind of textured characters.  Their mugs sold the menace, but their deeds and manners showed more depth.  The chemist was a dead-ringer for Bunsen Honeydew, and you can’t go wrong with that.

The script was also a winner.  There were actual jokes, not just a reveal followed by a jaunty musical stinger.  All in almost all, a most wonderful time-slot of the year.


  • [1] $270k in 2016 dollars.
  • [2] As always, Alfred Hitchcock assures us in the epilogue that Alexander was caught.  He still never makes the connection to the university, though.
  • [3] Home of the world renowned VISITORS.
  • AHP Deathwatch:  No survivors.
  • Title Analysis:  OK, we get it — he’s cheap.  I don’t really get the title.
  • A rare bit of 1950’s meta:  The hitman refers to the famous Lamb to the Slaughter episode of AHP which is, naturally, unavailable on Hulu.
  • OK, not really a Christmas episode, but it was mentioned.

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