Alfred Hitchcock Presents – The Day of the Bullet (02/14/60)

In which Alfred Hitchcock Presents proves once again that it is just about incapable of turning out a bad episode.  Ya got an motor-mouth kid, ya got an extended flashback, ya got a straight drama, ya don’t even get a murder.  This feels like a very different type of episode, but they pull it off bigly.

In NYC, Clete Vine picks up a newspaper. [1]  The headline shouts BROOKLYN RACKETS BOSS SHOT TO DEATH.  Who says the news is never good?  The entire front page above the fold is a picture of the bloody gangster slumped behind the wheel of a large automobile.  Clete remembers the gangster from when they were kids 35 years earlier.

Clete and Iggy Kovacs live in Brooklyn.  One day they are excited to see a fancy car.  As they are climbing all over it, they get caught by gangster Mr. Rose and his chauffeur getaway driver Joe.  The two humorless cretins chase the kids off.

Like all 12 year old kids in 1925 Brooklyn, Iggy dreams of golf.  He has his eye on a $10 putter in a store window.  With all due respect to AHP, I have my doubts about this.  That would be about $140 today.  While you can find a putter for that now, I doubt they had such high-end equipment back then.  And could this kid come up with that kind of dough? [2]

His father comes walking by after his softball game at the park.  It is clear that Mr. Kovacs is a hero to his son and respected by Clete.  We also learn that Clete will be moving into the city the next day,  The boys decide to go to the golf course to make some money by fishing golf balls out of the water hazards.

While there, they see Joe and Mr. Rose drive up in either that fancy car, or the world’s fanciest golf cart.  The kids hide behind a bunker as they watch them pull another man out of the car and start roughing him up.  Somehow the gangsters have decided that the fairway of the golf course is a place they are unlikely to have any witnesses, which is true if I’m playing.

Joe and Mr. Rose beat this guy pretty good.  Joe drags him to the water hazard and tosses him in.  After the gangsters drive off, the boys go to help the man.  He just tells them to “get outta here!”

Iggy wants to tell the cops about Mr. Rose, but Clete is hesitant.  He figures the man can go to the police himself, but Iggy knows the man would be too scared.  Clete finally agrees — he’s moving tomorrow; what does he care?  They go to the police station.  When the cops hear Mr. Rose is involved, they are not interested.  Iggy says he will tell everyone, including his father.  Finally the desk sergeant tells another cop to bring in Mr. Rose for question, and Iggy’s father too.  Iggy says to Clete, “Just wait til my pop gets here.  He’ll show that cop, and Mr. Rose, too.”

When Mr. Rose gets there, the sergeant asks him if he was at the golf course.  He calmly denies it and suggests the little scamps are playing a trick on him after he chased them away from his car earlier that day.  Iggy tells his Pop he’s telling the truth and begs to be believed.  “He was only a little guy, Pop, and Mr. Rose nearly killed him!”  The shot is strangely framed as we see his father from the chest up.  Only Iggy’s wrist and hand is visible as he touches his father’s face and tugs at his shirt, begging for his father to do something.

Mr. Rose actually looks concerned that this touching scene might put him behind bars.  Mr. Kovacs knows better than to cross him, though.  He appears pained as he tells Iggy, “I don’t want you going around telling stories about people, ya hear me?”  Iggy looks up at his father — silently, for the first time in the episode — who has just lost his hero status.  Mr. Rose tells Iggy he is welcome to look at his car any time; he might even have some odd jobs for him.  Mr. Rose pulls a bill from his pocket and tells Iggy to have some fun.

As they are walking home, Iggy shows Clete that Mr. Rose gave him a $10 bill.  Clete says that’s a lot of money and “you better give that to your old man or he’ll really jump on you.”  Iggy, crushed by his father’s failure says, “You know what I’ll do if my father tries anything?  I’ll tell Mr. Rose on him, that’s what! You’ll see!”  Iggy repeats “You’ll see!” as he runs down the block past several brownstones while the camera rises high above the street — one of AHP’s best shots (picture at bottom).

35 years later, grown up Clete thinks to himself, “In each lifetime there is one day of destiny.  It may be a day of which none of us is aware at the time.  35 years ago, fate squeezed the trigger.  The bullet has been waiting in time ever since.  Today it struck, but that day long ago when Iggy and I were boys, was the day of the bullet.”

The episode was not what I expect from AHP.  When I say that same thing about TZ, it usually indicates a failure.  AHP, however, gave me something I was not expecting, and delivered an amazing episode.  It is so good, that the sole weakness is easily identified:  Clete’s delivery in the bookend scenes is so lifeless that it drains the emotion out of the words.

Enough with the negativity.  AHP moves all the pieces just right.  Iggy’s loss of innocence is heart-breaking.  He looks up at his father and sees not a hero, not even just a man, but a coward.  His father is crushed, knowing that he has let his son down, and lost his respect.  Probably less important to him, he has let himself down.  The other authority figures — the cops — might as well be pro-wrestling referees.

Above it all is Mr. Rose — always MR. Rose.  With the fancy car, and the fancy suit, he commands, if not respect, at least fear.  Here’s a guy who can get things done.  He is the only adult that has not sold out his principles (lousy as they might be), and is not sadly hanging his head in shame that day.  It is genius that AHP has Mr. Rose 1) be kind to Iggy at the end as a strong father-figure, 2) prime Iggy by putting a few bucks in his hand, then 3) mention that he has some odd jobs the kid could do.  Rather than just relying on Iggy’s loss of respect for his father to suggest his path to a life of crime, this provides a perfect 1-2-3 road-map for how he ended up dead.

Hollywood has had another 58 years of experience making TV shows since this was made.  How can so few have learned anything?

Other Stuff:

  • [1] In a TV rarity, he even pays for the paper.  This show rules!
  • [2] Point hardly worth mentioning:  The price tag is on the spindly putter shaft is right in front of 2 tennis rackets, so it appears he is looking at the rackets.  The putter is almost invisible.  This is even more distracting after the the word RACKETS appeared in the newspaper headline.
  • Didn’t mention above, but 12 year old Barry Gordon IS the episode.  Even Mr. Rose can’t steal a scene from him.  His is a tiny — much shorter than Clete — ball of fire.  He talks fast and non-stop.  He has dreams.  He can make you laugh, make you sad, and could probably sell you a car.  Even a couple of times when he is yelling instead of acting, he is such a dynamo that it doesn’t interrupt the flow.  I guess that’s why he was on every old TV show in the history of television.
  • Clete as a boy is played by Christopher Walken’s brother.  Wait, what?

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