Unless otherwise noted in the post title, these are not
reviews, per se. They are articles for people who have already seen the film or read the book in question--meaning that there will be spoilers. If you're already familiar with the material being covered, or don't mind the plot being spoiled, please read on and leave a comment.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

[Automatonophobia] Alfred Hitchcock Presents: And So Died Riabouchinska (1956)

Alfred Hitchcock Presents: And So Died Riabouchinska - Title Screen
Title Screen
Lieutenant Krovinch is called in to investigate the murder of a man named Luke Ockham at an old theater. Initially, not much is known about Ockham other than that he had come around numerous times, asking to speak to John Fabian, the theater's resident ventriloquist. Despite Fabian and his wife Alice denying that they knew the dead man, the deeper that Krovinch digs into Ockham's past, the more likely it seems that Fabian was in some way involved. Lucky for Krovinch, there is one witness who is willing to speak out: Riabouchinska, Fabian's dummy.

Riabouchinska doesn't look like your typical ventriloquist dummy. For starters, she's a female, and you don't see many of those in these scenarios. Secondly, she's not a grotesque exaggeration of the human character. She is very life-like, almost like a large-scale version of a girl's pretty princess doll. There is a scene where Fabian relates in creepy detail how he crafted her, ending with an assertion that when he was done, Riabouchinska moved by herself and declared her love for him. The man is obviously broken, his psyche cracked, and it all has to do with a woman.

Riabouchinska isn't just some doll. Her appearance was based on a real woman that Fabian once knew—his former assistant from the days when he was billed as "Fabian and Sweet William". Fabian fell in love with her, acted obsessively, and scared her off. After spending much time trying to find her, it became obvious to Fabian that she was not going to be coming back to him. Instead, he carved Riabouchinska in her likeness as a means to possess her in a manner that was within his control.

Alice is obviously jealous of the amount of attention that her husband pays to the puppet, which explains why she sought solace in the arms of another man, Mel Roberts. Fabian is so enamored with his wooden girl that he doesn't even mind that his wife is stepping out on him, and so Alice's affair continues in full sight of her husband. And, in turn, Fabian's affair with Riabouchinska continues in full sight of Alice…and pretty much anyone in the audience.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents: And So Died Riabouchinska - Primary Cast
Krovinch,Fabian and Riabouchinska
It isn't long into the investigation before Krovinch realizes that although Fabian is more than willing to tell an untruth in order to save his skin, Riabouchinska always seems to tell the truth. His badgering of the ventriloquist isn't getting him anywhere, so he does what needs to be done: he stoops down and actually interrogates the dummy!

Like the real Riabouchinska, Ockham is a character from Fabian's past. He had come around to blackmail his old acquaintance, threatening to reveal to the world the unnatural love between Fabian and his dummy. Obviously knowing on some level that this relationship was taboo, Fabian opted to murder Ockham to keep his action that Riabouchinska simply could not condone.

After her confession, Riabouchinska tells her master that she can't stay with him any longer, and her voice slowly fades from existence until she is gone. Fabian breaks down (as all of these mad ventriloquists tend to in the end), declaring "She's gone. I can't find her. She's run away." Losing his love for the second time is more than he can bear, and Fabian allows himself to be taken away by Krovinch without so much as an utterance of protest. It is the most powerful moment of the episode, and is nearly heart-breaking if you don't stop to think about how absurd the whole thing is.

This is a television program from the 1950s, so if there was anything beyond a chaste relationship between Fabian and Riabouchinska, it is never explicitly mentioned, though there does seem to be a plethora of disturbing possibilities bubbling beneath the surface. Were this remade today, the filmmakers would likely insinuate (if not provide outright visual proof of) Fabian's sexual deviancy.

I bet Hitch would have had a real field day with that.

This was the 20th episode from the first season of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, originally airing on February 12, 1956. The episode was based on a short story by author Ray Bradbury, and scripted by Mel Dinelli, who had already adapted the story for the radio show SUSPENSE. This was the only episode of this series that he worked on, but had previously written THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1945) for director Robert Siodmak and HOUSE BY THE RIVER (1949) for Fritz Lang.

This was the second of seven episodes of the series to be directed by Robert Stevenson, who had been behind the camera for nearly 25 years at this point in his career. He is arguably best known for the multitude of Disney films that he helmed, including THE ABSENT-MINDED PROFESSOR (1961) and its sequel SON OF FLUBBER (1963), MARY POPPINS (1964), THE LOVE BUG (1968), and BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS (1971).

Our two primary stars are both well known for roles on opposite sides of the spectrum from each other. Claude Rains, who perfectly portrays the imbalanced ventriloquist, started out with a small part in 1920's silent BUILD THY HOUSE, and didn't have another film role for 13 years. His performance as the titular character in Universal's THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933) really kickstarted his screen career and he went on to appear in two more of the studio's most well-known shockers: THE WOLF MAN (1941) and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1943). In 1946, Rains had appeared in the Hitchcock film NOTORIOUS, alongside Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. This was the first of five appearances that he would make in the series, a man of genuine class until his dying day.

The role of Krovinch was filled by eternal tough guy Charles Bronson. Although he first began appearing in films in 1951, he didn't make much of an impression on audiences until being cast alongside Vincent Price in 1953's HOUSE OF WAX. In 1958, he scored the lead role in the television series MAN WITH A CAMERA, following it up with an array of macho man roles. To genre fans, he is most fondly remembered for his series of DEATH WISH films, which began in 1974. This was the first of three times that Bronson would appear.

The voice of Riabouchinska was supplied by actress Virginia Gregg, by the way, who went on to voice another not-quite-living woman: Norma Bates in the first three PSYCHO films.

Ray Bradbury Theater: And So Died Riabouchinska
Ray Bradbury Theater: Riabouchinska
Fans of this episode may be tempted to view its other television adaptation, from the second season of THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER (1988). Alan Bates, who plays Fabian in the Bradbury version, is constantly pawing at his throat when Riabouchinska is speaking, hammering home the point that the dummy is not actually alive. There are a few interesting alterations in the plot, including the revelation that the real Riabouchinska didn't merely go missing but was murdered by Fabian, but not enough to overwrite the power of this episode. Being scripted by the same man who wrote the short story it was based on may give it an extra air of authenticity, but the Hitchcock production remains far, far superior.


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