Alfred Hitchcock Presents – Mail Order Prophet (S3E2)

ahpmailorderprophet08This one is based on a fairly well known stock scam, but maybe it was fresh in 1957. Since the synopsis gives it away, it is really up to the performances and surprise ending to carry the episode — and they do.

Jack Klugman and EG Marshall are drones in an insurance company.  After 17 years, they are still sitting at the same desks they started at.

One morning, Marshall gets a letter from a J. Cristiani marked “personal.”  In the letter, Mr. Cristiani claims to have supernatural powers and want to share the fruits of his powers with Marshall, a complete stranger.  Even the Obama press corp would question something this fishy.

Cristiani predicts the outcome of a local political race, favoring the underdog.  Marshall believes the letter to be some sleazy plot by the candidate, and really who could say a politician was above any sleazy trick?  But the predicted candidate does prevail.

Another letter arrives predicting the winner of a championship fight.  Cristiani again favors the underdog and is proven correct.

Having squandered the opportunity on the first 2 predictions, Marshall places bets based on the next 3 letters and wins every time.  Klugman tries to convince him that it is just a lucky run, but EG Marshall is convinced that Cristiani can see the future.

The next letter suggests that Marshall might be interested in kicking a few backs to the oracle.  Since, he is up $1,000 at this point, it seems reasonable.  In exchange, Cristiani says he will provide a stock market tip and which will return Marshall’s money ten-fold.  So Marshall writes him a $200 check (misspelling his name, for no reason I can detect).

Seeing the fool-proof opportunity for a major score, Marshall makes a big stock purchase on margin backed with bonds he has “borrowed” from work.  He is not 100% confident, though, because in the next scene, we hear him reading back a suicide note he has prepared just in case the stock takes a dive.

Klugman is astounded at how far Marshall has extended himself, helpfully calling him a “poor, stupid slob.”  Marshall has a bottle labeled POISON in his coat pocket just in case.  When the stock market closes, Marshall is stunned to learn that he has made $140,000.

Klugman wants to track down Cristiani, but the Postal Inspector tells him that he has been put in the slammer for mail fraud.  Cristiani had sent out thousands of letters to strangers offering to make them rich (since the letters were handwritten, this was quite an undertaking).  Half of the letters would predict A is the winner, and half would predict B as the winner.  The winners would then get letters again predicting A or B as the winner in the next contest.  And so one until a small group of consistent winners could be hit up for a commission.

ahpmailorderprophet12Marshall just got lucky.  And now that he has big money (at least in 1957 dollars) and is relaxing on a yacht, I think he will be getting lucky quite a bit.

Meanwhile, Klugman is forced to share an apartment with a childhood friend who was asked to remove himself from his place of residence; that request came from his wife.


  • AHP Deathwatch:  No survivors.
  • E.G. Marshall was last seen in A Death in the Family.
  • There is a strange bit of business when Marshall is placing his stock order.  Klugman takes a paper bag from his desk and carries it to a door marked MEN.  So is he eating lunch in the Men’s Room?  Is that a men-only lunchroom?
  • Why is Marshall translucent when pictured aboard the yacht?

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