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.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

[Automatonophobia] Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Glass Eye (1957)

Alfred Hitchcock Presents - The Glass Eye
Title Screen
When Julia Lester passes away a lonely old spinster, she leaves all of her belongings to her cousins Dorothy and Jim Whitely. Amongst these items, they locate a most unusual curio, the only memento of the time that Julia very nearly found love. That item is the titular glass eye.

The story behind the glass eye is one that is, conveniently, unknown to Dorothy, and so Jim recounts it to her--and the audience as well.  Through Jim's narration, we learn that Dorothy, in her mid-thirties, was desperately lonely and had only the days in which she babysat a neighborhood boy to look forward to.  One day, she took the boy to the theater and she became enamored with a ventriloquist act, Max Collodi and his puppet George.  She laughs her way through the act, and then returns for the next show...and the next...and the next.  She begins to travel all over the city to watch Collodi, collecting his posters and playbills which she stares at before falling asleep in a presumably masturbatory glow.

When Julia learns that Collodi is going on an international tour, she refuses to let him go.  Instead, she quits her job and follows him on tour, living off of her life savings like a prototype Deadhead.  She writes letters to the ventriloquist in hopes of arranging a meeting, and after much begging, he finally agrees.  She dolls herself up and arrives at Collodi's hotel room to find him sitting at a table, cloaked in shadows (citing "an aversion to light"), with the ever-present George perched beside him.

They talk from a distance, and Julia learns that Collodi is just as lonely as she is, as George is his only companion in this world. What better way to cure two lonely hearts than by bringing them together?

Alfred Hitchcock Presents - The Glass Eye
The Titular Glass Eye
To express her affection for Collodi, Julia crosses the distance of the room and kisses his hand. The man falls lifelessly to the floor, and as Julia tries to revive him, his head falls from his neck, a lonely glass eyeball rolling from its socket.  Julia shrieks in horror when George the dummy rises to his feet.  After only a moment of fearful thought, she realizes the truth: that "George" is the real Max Collodi, and "Collodi" was the dummy all along.

The real Collodi, a little person wearing a mask, stands atop his chair and begins stomping his feet rapidly, like a child in the midst of a tantrum.  "Get out of here!  Get out of here!", he shouts, and Julia is all too eager to obey, somehow fleeing the scene with the glass eye in hand.

That is the end of the story of Julia Lester and Max Collodi.  Following the encounter, Collodi dropped out of the theater circuit and disappeared from the public eye, though Jim tells us that he has heard rumors of a small traveling circus somewhere in the provinces, which has a strange clown with a beautiful voice who is very funny but so very sad.

From the moment that we are introduced to Collodi and George on stage, they are filmed from a distance, almost as if the camera were sitting in the cheap seats.  Even when Collodi and Julia finally meet, they are separated by a fair distance, presumably at Collodi's request.  This was by design, of course, to make the grand reveal seem a tad more plausible.  Even if we do believe that the dummy was a real man in disguise the entire time, it is still a bit hard to swallow that the man we believed to be Collodi was in fact the dummy.  Collodi was never exactly animated during his performances, but could an entire audience be fooled time and time again into believing that a wooden caricature was a real man?  It seems unlikely, but perceptions are easily altered by expectations.  For the viewers of this episode, though, a little suspension of disbelief will go a long way.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents - The Glass Eye
Max Collodi & George
A number of other commentators have mentioned the correlation between this episode and the experience of online dating. They're certainly not incorrect, I just wished that I had thought of it first. Although using analog rather than digital means, Collodi misrepresents himself regarding his physical stature and appearance, while Julia had mailed him an old photograph of herself, misrepresenting her age. When they finally meet, the lies that they were hiding behind become too much to bear. In essence, Julia and Collodi had catfished each other decades before the term even existed.

The wrap-up portion of the story which reveals that Collodi ended up in a circus seems tacked-on, and it would have played better had they just left it open-ended.  I never would have finished watching this episode and taken to pondering what happened to Collodi.  His story began with Julia and it should have ended with Julia, but it's a small complaint for a very solid episode.

The final scene, which shows Collodi on horseback (presumably part of a circus caravan), does offer up a bit of confusion for the astute observer. Collodi is wearing an eye patch. But why is he wearing an eye patch if the glass eye belonged to his dummy?  Although this is never addressed in the episode, this is based on a short story by John Keir Cross, and in the source material it is hinted to be a symbolic gesture, a means of honoring the part of himself that he lost, as well as the love that got away.

This was the first episode of season 3 of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, originally airing on October 6, 1957.  The script was written by Stirling Silliphant, who wrote a total of eleven episodes of the series.  He also wrote the script for VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960), THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974), and THE SWARM (1978), and created the classic hipster television series ROUTE 66 (which ran from 1960-1964).

It was directed by Robert Stevens (not to be confused with Robert Stevenson, director of another dummy-themed episode of the series, "And So Dies Riabouchinska"), who directed an epic total of 44 episodes of this series, and an additional five of THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR.  Even that number can't compete with his run on SUSPENSE, where he racked up 105 episodes.   

The small part of Dorothy Whitely was portrayed by Rosemary Harris, who made two other appearances in the series.  Although she has been appearing onscreen since 1952 (and still continuing to this day), she is recognized by the modern audience mostly for playing Aunt May in the Sam Raimi SPIDER-MAN trilogy.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents - The Glass Eye
Max Collodi IS George!
William Shatner, Captain Kirk himself, took on the role of our narrator Jim Whitely in a decidedly toned-down manor.  He appeared in one additional episode of the series, as well other anthology series like THRILLER, NAKED CITY, TWILIGHT ZONE, and THE OUTER LIMITS.  In 1973, he landed the lead in STAR TREK, and the rest is (intergalactic) history.    

"Big" Max Collodi was portrayed by Tom Conway, who had a pretty varied career in Hollywood.  He appeared in the Val Lewton features CAT PEOPLE (1942), I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943), and THE SEVENTH VICTIM (1943), the low-budget Curt Siodmak feature BRIDE OF THE GORILLA (1951), and he lent his voice to a few Disney productions with the animated PETER PAN (1953) and 101 DALMATIANS (1961).  Sadly, he is probably best remembered for being the brother of the more-successful George Sanders, and he sunk into alcoholism in his later years, dying of cirrhosis of the liver in 1967.  This was the first of three appearances he would make in the series.

George/"Little" Max Collodi was played by Billy Barty, the 3' 9" actor who had worked alongside Mickey Rooney in a number of short films in the "Mickey McGuire" series since the age of three.  He would go on to appear in the Roger Corman film THE UNDEAD (1957), Ralph Bakshi's THE LORD OF THE RINGS (1978), LEGEND (1985), MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (1987), and WILLOW (1988).  He founded the advocacy and awareness group Little People of America in 1957, which is now 6,000 members strong.  Billy passed away in 2000 from heart failure at the age of 76.  This was his only appearance in the series, though he did return for a single episode of THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR in 1964.

This episode could not have been a success without the proper casting of the lead.  Jessica Tandy, eternally a senior-citizen in many people's minds, played the young-ish Julia Lester with just the right amount of palpable loneliness and desperation.  She appeared in two more episodes of the series, and Hitchcock cast her in his film THE BIRDS (1963). She defied the odds by working right up until her death in 1994 at the age of 85, appearing in COCOON (1985) and its sequel COCOON II: THE RETURN (1988), BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED (1987), DRIVING MISS DAISY (1989), and FRIED GREEN TOMATOES (1991).  She brought a sincerity to each of her roles that is rarely seen in modern day.


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