Alfred Hitchcock Presents – The Cream of the Jest (S2E24)

Broadway actor Claude Rains stops by his favorite watering hole and orders a scotch.  He has been cut off due to his bar tab, and it literally becomes a watering hole as that is all they will serve him.  What he wants is an alcohole.

Being the kind of bar that has caricatures of actors on the wall, there just happens to be a copy of Variety on the floor.  Enjoying his water on the rocks, he sees that Wayne Campbell has a new play.  He goes to Campbell’s office, but Campbell is on the way to a cocktail party.  His secretary talks him into seeing Rains.  Being pre-ADA, Campbell tells him he is a drunk and he won’t hire him.

Rains says he feels that he is only his characters, there is nothing underneath and that’s why he drinks.  Rains says he will blackmail Campbell about the 3 years he spent in prison.  They were both from a bad area of Philly, and had made up more glamorous stories of their background when they got to the big city.  Campbell had stolen $5,000 as a bank teller long ago, but now is married to a high class society dame from a rich family that has probably stolen millions exploiting the working man; so Campbell’s small-time larceny would be humiliating to them.

Campbell gives Rains $20, and leaves him crying in his office.  Rains takes the $20 back to the bar and begins performing Macbeth for the bartender.  It should have been worth another sawbuck to get him to knock it off.  “Nobody writes like that anymore, Jerry,” he says.  Well that is understandable, it has been 350 years.  He laments the modern playwrights as Campbell enters the bar and overhears him.

They speak briefly and Rains passes out, this being back in the good old days when $20 could get it done.  Campbell takes him back to his office and puts him to sleep on his sofa.  Campbell is remorseful about how he treated Rains earlier that day and says it would be an honor to have Rains in his play.

The next morning, Campbell tells Rains there is big role open in the play, but Campbell says he is too soft, which is ironic since the role is of a blackmailer.  Rains tells him he can perform the role through make-up and acting.  He even does a cold-read to convince Campbell of his skills.

ahpcream02Campbell stops him mid-monologue and tells him he is great!  Campbell still needs to convince the backer, so he sends Rains over to see Nick Roper, a gangsta who has decided to dabble in culture.  Rains goes out to get a clean shirt and a shave, or maybe it was a clean shave and a shirt.  Back at Campbell’s office, the secretary is called away, so Rains types up the monologue himself to carry with him to the audition for the backer.

Going all method, Rains barges into Roper’s office and without proper introduction, begins the monologue which in which he identifies himself as Charlie Richtor.  He continues the monologue describing a crime with which Roper is obviously familiar.  Roper pulls a gun and kills Rains.

Roper’s goons hear the shot and rush in.  He tells them somehow “Richtor” knew “all about the Donovan job.”  Searching for how Rains knew of the crime, he finds the script in Rains’ pocket with Campbell’s name on the letterhead.  The episode ends abruptly with Roper saying, “Wayne Campbell.”  It is a strange place to end the story as you don’t know what the crime was, how Campbell was involved or what Roper will do next.

None of this really matters.  It is a good tale with a good — if ludicrous —  twist, and Claude Rains is always great.  I rate it a “Party on Wayne, party on Claude.”

Post-Post:

  • AHP Deathwatch: No survivors.  A couple of the actors have no expiration date on IMDb, but they have no birth date either.  A third actor has a birth date in 1892. He has no date of death, but it doesn’t look good.
  • AHP Proximity Alert:  Paul Picerni was in Number Twenty-Two just 2 episodes earlier.
  • The phrase “Cream of the Jest” is from a 1917 novel of that name by James Branch Cabell.  It was also used as the title of a 1962 episode of Have Gun Will Travel.
  • Story by Frederic Brown, who wrote the classic Arena on which the Gorn episode of Star Trek was extremely loosely based.

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