Friday, January 19, 2024

Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Man from the South

With the success of Wonka, Roald Dahl’s kid’s books are selling like crazy, but for cool readers, his macabre stories are where it is at. Alfred Hitchcock was a fan. He “presented” six of Dahl’s stories on his famous anthology show. This one was later remade by the 1980s Alfred Hitchcock Presents reboot and the Dahl anthology series Tales of the Unexpected, but the first was the best. Fittingly, “Man from the South” screens tomorrow as a part of “Good Evening,” a program of Hitchcock’s TV work at UCLA.

When the young “Gambler” meets the young “Woman” in a casino café, sparks immediately fly, even though they are each recovering from a hard luck night. That is why he is initially annoyed when the mysterious Carlos invites himself to their table. However, his interest perks up when the rich weirdo offers him an unusual bet. If the Gambler can light his zippo ten times straight without fail, he wins Carlos’s convertible. However, if he misses just once, Carlos chops off the Gambler’s little finger.

This is a familiar story, because Tarantino spoofed it in his segment of the anthology film
Four Rooms, the only good “room.” Yet, the original Hitch Presents production is still surprisingly tense, because Norman Lloyd’s direction is so tight and focused. (Lloyd, the prolific character actor, also co-starred in Hitchcock’s Saboteur and Spellbound, and later produced a dozen episodes of Tales of the Unexpected, but not the “Man from the South” remake.)

Of course, the legendary cast is another big reason why this is absolutely classic television, starting with Peter Lorre’s massively creepy performance as Carlos. He looks like a man who really wants another finger. He took his share of corny gigs late in his career, but this is the vintage Lorre we know from
M, Mad Love, and, of course, the Hitchcock films Secret Agent and The Man Who Knew Too Much.

“Man from the South” also features vintage Steve McQueen as the Gambler. In this case, McQueen’s own biography gives him extra credibility in the role. Seriously, fans can easily accept he would risk a little finger for a cool car. Reportedly, his first wife Neile Adams [McQueen] was the love of his life—and we can believe it from their screen chemistry as the Gambler and the Woman. It seems like they can hardly keep their hands of each other, so it would be a shame if he lost a finger.

Seriously, the combination of Lorre, McQueen, Hitchcock (our host), and Dahl cannot miss. There are good reasons why this is the
Alfred Hitchcock episode everyone knows and references, like “Time Enough at Last” for The Twilight Zone. Always highly recommended, “Man from the South” screens tomorrow (1/20) at UCLA and it is available on Xumo (but it is one of a handful of episodes not currently available on Peacock).