Monday, October 22, 2018

Halloween 2018 #22: Alfred Hitchcock Presents: "The Case of Mr. Pelham"

In one of the more memorable Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes, directed by the Master of Suspense himself, a man discovers there is someone impersonating him. 

Character actor Tom Ewell was perfectly cast as Mr. Pelham, one of Hitchcock's recurring banal male protagonists who find themselves in an extraordinary situation. The episode begins with Pelham meeting with a psychiatrist as he tells his story. 

Pelham lives an ordinary life: boring days at the office, quiet evenings at home. He starts to notice co-workers mentioning they have seen him at other places, which is impossible since Pelham has no memory of these encounters. Eventually, his own sense of identity begins to disappear, realizing he is being replaced by a duplicate.

What if you meant someone who was exactly like you? Only your doppelganger can do everything just a little better than you. They have a more attractive personality and are more productive at work. It would be enough to drive one to madness in slow motion, a fate perhaps worse than death (as Hitch suggests in the introduction).

The episode is of interest because it explores themes Hitchcock returned to throughout his career, specifically, the fickle nature of identity. In The Wrong Man (1956), Henry Fonda plays a man sent to jail because of mistaken identity. In Vertigo James Stewart loses himself in pursuit of a lost love, while The 39 Steps and North by Northwest bring an espionage twist to the identity concept. A man is mistaken for a serial killer in Frenzy.

"The Case of Mr. Pelham" is unsettling because you wonder if it could happen to you. It would be impossible to convince anyone without sounding insane. Those stories stick with you.

Roger Moore also starred in a 1970 screen version of the story, The Man Who Haunted Himself.

Tom Ewell as Mr. Pelham.

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