Cotten’s quandary on if it’s his money or (keeping) his wife…
Joseph Cotten heads the bill in a TV suspense filled story with the Master of Suspense, in their last collaboration.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Madman Films and photos © NBCUniversal Television Distribution
Enjoyable blogathons include those with new acting names to discover, and those with new films and television to view. I’d spotted (but not identified) Joseph Cotten in a sea of acting talent in 1977’s Airport disaster movie. Here the actor starred as Olivia De Havilland’s character’s old flame, with the pair reunited just as the plane literally hit rock bottom of the Bermuda Triangle.
Cotten additionally starred with De Havilland in the film Hush… Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964), a TV Movie adaptation of The Screaming Woman (1972) and the TV Series, The Love Boat (1977-87). I compared this TV Movie adaptation to the Ray Bradbury series which told the original story in The Screaming Woman (1986).
Sadly though after watching this particular film, I noted that Cotten appeared in two short but effective scenes and these scenes (and film) were dominated by top billing, Ms De Havilland. I’m putting this film review on hold, should her yearly blogathon return next year. Darlin Husband then recommended I review Soylent Green (1973), but Cotten was on and off the screen before I put pen to paper. Much to my (now) growing frustration.
Then I noticed to my delight that this actor had the claim to fame of acting in two of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies – Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and Under Capricorn (1949) – and three episodes of the TV Series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents. These episodes are listed as Dead Weight (1959), Together (1958) and Breakdown (1955). I chose to review Dead Weight, their final TV collaboration with Cotten getting top billing (as I hoped this meant more screen time.)
The TV Series Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-62) dramatised tales of crime, mystery and suspense. It ran for 10 years in half-hourly episodes, all sporting a wee opening and ending segment from Hitchcock himself. The show had an easily recognisable title sequence and the theme tune of Charles Gounod’s Funeral March of a Marionette.
Other actors and actresses starring in this series included Robert Vaughn, Vincent Price, Robert Redford, Steve McQueen, Barbara Bel Geddes and of course our man of the moment, Joseph Cotten. Dead Weight’s wee intro featured Hitchcock surrounded by car signs. Hitchcock opened the show with his catchphrase “Good Evening” and then added a totally random intro directed to all those who drive;
The road signs became so dense that I had to abandon my automobile and proceed on foot. I do hope the time never comes when billboard will obscure this lovely scenery. Actually, I believe these are seedling signs. This is where the Highway Department grows them. You are probably more familiar with the wild variety that springs up along the roadside.
The wee connection to the tale or as Hitchcock stresses the “tenuous” link to the story is that a car is included in this story! Then those opening credits rolled…
Cotten stars as a rich and successful, middle-class advertising executive, Courtney (Nesbitt) Masterson, seen in the first scene at Lovers Lane with his girlfriend Peg (Julie Adams), They are snogging passionately. Suddenly a torch is shone on her face.
The pair are startled by a man (Rudy) in the shadow pointing a gun at them. Masterson tries to reason with him but he and Peg asked to leave the car and hand over the car keys. They comply.
Masterson is then mocked by the thief about his name and age as Rudy makes menacing and sinister small talk. Masterson and Peg bargain with Rudy both saying they are happy if he takes their money. Rudy adds if he takes their cash they’ll even “forget” about the incident.
Masterson is then asked to take his belongings out of the car boot (trunk) and then climb in there. Peg screams, as Masterson jumps forwards towards Rudy and then overpowers him. Rudy has a knife but now Masterson has the advantage of pointing the gun in Rudy’s face. Masterson orders the thief to lie in the boot. Rudy is terrified and tries to make light of his earlier actions. He then threatens Masterson, saying he won’t forget the incident.
After this man is locked in the car boot, Peg is shaken and in tears, Masterson consoles and kisses her. Masterson says he’ll take Rudy to the police station. But Peg’s concerned the incident will make the newspapers. And that Masterson’s wife will read the story… and their affair revealed.
En route, a motorcycle cop pulls them over for a flat tyre. Masterson doesn’t say anything to the cop about the incident, making Peg angry with him. Masterson appears more concerned with his wife finding out about their affair than what has happened.
Masterson appears more and more panicky at being discovered as an unfaithful husband. This is especially with Rudy knowing his name and with those threats he made. So what to do with Rudy? Masterson runs through the possibilities with Peg. Murder is discussed. Cover stories are suggested that won’t involve Peg.
Masterson drops the still shaken but angry Peg at her home. Then he immediately returns to Lovers Lane and opens the boot. If these moments of suspense have got you on the edge of the seat, I urge you to watch those remaining twists and turns in this episode until the Master of Suspense returns for his final words…
This was a story filled with ominous moments of uncertainty throughout, with Masterson’s marriage the tip of the iceberg. Cotten was able to show many different sides to Masterson’s complex character and personality and how these factors affected his motivations. He initially appeared the romantic hero (albeit in an extramarital affair) to more cowardly in his actions when he remembered he was married. Cowardly, as he did not disclose the incident with Rudy to the motorcycle cop and he hoped to cover up Peg’s part in the story.
Masterson’s initial lawful and more honest character changed for the worst. He appeared keen to save his marriage and keep his outward, professional appearance intact. Whatever the cost. This was heard in his voice as he spoke about the alternative ways of the “Rudy problem”. This with a believable performance from Cotten as a man whose extramarital affair was on the verge of being discovered when the truth came out.
Cotten and Adams were able to show tough but caring and romantic attributes. But the pair also showed Masterson and Peg as having a more disturbing side to their personalities. The pair believes it might have been better to kill Rudy and lie about her involvement in the tale. This is a more favourable alternative to Masterson discovered as a cheating husband and Peg implicated as a home breaker.
However, I understood and emphasised Peg’s angry reaction with him being more concerned about those legal repercussions in his marriage and career, claiming he was “always cautious, safe, and respectable”. To her (and me), his later behaviours were an indication of how serious he was in their relationship. Peg was still angry (in this her final scene), and the fate of their affair was left on an ambiguous note.
Observing Cotten’s multi-layered performance, it was easy to see why Hitchcock worked together so often with him in this kind of role. Cotten proved himself as a versatile actor who could switch his emotions and behaviour in moments and without any difficulties. These attributes are to be seen to full effect in those crucial and tense remaining scenes.
To conclude before this blogathon, Joseph Cotten was an actor that I’ve only now cottoned on as being in a flying appearance in Airport 77 (1977) with his oft acting companion Olivia De Havilland. But now I’m convinced that beyond a Shadow of a Doubt, it’s worthwhile checking out those thrilling films and TV when Alfred Hitchcock introduces Joseph Cotten, an actor now to me no longer just a shot in the dark.
Weeper Rating: 0 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂🙂🙂 🙂🙂🙂🙂 /10
Hulk Rating: /10
This film review was added to In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Maddy Loves Her Classic Films Joseph Cotten Blogathon. Other films with this cast include Cotten in Airport 77. Other series include Fantasy Island and The Love Boat. Cotten also starred in The Devils Daughter and The Screaming Woman. Julie Adams starred in Murder She Wrote and Catchfire. Don Gordon starred in The Dukes of Hazzard and The Towering Inferno.