As part of the “For the Love of Film” blogathon, I’ll be taking a look at Alfred Hitchcock’s contributions to his celebrated anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I’ll be looking at some of the episodes of the classic show that he directed. The “For the Love of Film” blogathon this year is raising money to keep one of Hitchcock’s earlier works, The White Shadow (which he wrote, edited, designed and assistant-directed), available on-line and streaming for free. It’s a very worthwhile cause and you can donate here.
Hitchcock’s collaborations with Roald Dahl are always worth the time, and I have to admit I have a special fondness for A Dip in the Pool, which is a bitter little comedy about a bet that goes very far wrong. It’s a wonderfully cynical little story about a compulsive gambler who makes an impressive bet on a sure thing. Of course, this being Alfred Hitchcock Presents, there’s no such thing as a sure thing. Filled with Dahl and Hitchcock’s trademark bleak humour and a wonderful central performance from Keenan Wynn, A Dip in the Pool makes for an entertaining little drama.
I feel almost ashamed to admit it, but these episodes have been my first real encounters with Dahl’s writing as an adult. I mean, I know he worked on the script for You Only Live Twice and I grew up on his classic children’s stories, but I’ve never really picked up or read any of his short stories for an older audience. It’s quite reassuring to see a lot of what made him so interesting to me as a child is still present – the characters so distinctly formed, the wry sense of humour and a complete unwillingness to compromise with raw sentimentality.
A Dip in the Pool is populated with all these quirks. Watching some of the other episodes, it seemed that writers often struggled to portray relationships on television. Of course, episodes were pretty much assured to be heading towards a tragic ending, but many of the moments shared between lovers often seemed forced or contrived or even cliché. Dahl, on the other hand, seems to write better interactions. Of course, they are typically a bit more cynical and a bit less romanticised, but I believe in Dahl’s couples more than I do in any other couples presented in the show.
Here, for example, William Botibol only spends a scene or two with his wife, but both characters are defined remarkably well. She is aware of his faults – of “that gambler’s gleam” in his eye – and she’s cautious of it, but she’s also somewhat trusting and willing to accept his faults. While she doesn’t know the magnitude of his loss, when he confesses he has gambled some of their traveling money, she is upset – but makes an attempt to adjust her plans. In a way, that’s almost worse than getting impossibly angry with him. For his part, he seems more worried about facing up to his wife than in the value of the money he has lost – he seems willing to accept his loss until it becomes obvious how deeply she’ll be affected.
Hell, even the introductory scene is well written, with the couple planning their vacation. He is aloof and uncultured, seemingly frustrated at how his wife is so preoccupied with notions of European culture. She, on the other hand, is somewhat upset by his crass materialism. “You know, that’s the trouble with you William,” she tells him. “If you can’t wear it, drink it or ride in it, you think it has no value.” It’s a nice line, because it adds considerable irony to the fact that he seems more afraid of disappointment than the financial loss.
Indeed, Botibol seems far more sympathetic than most of Dahl’s flawed characters. Of course, this might be due to values dissonance. Now we are probably more likely to appreciate addiction as more than a mere character flaw. It makes the character seem somewhat pathetic, as do his attempts to gain face. He spends money he doesn’t have buying drinks for passengers who can afford them, he takes medication for sea sickness while pretending to be an experienced traveler. (Caught out, he confesses it’s his first time traveling on a boat, but it seems just as likely this is his first proper trip.) And then there’s the way he dresses, trying to appear stylish only to look tacky. “He looks like a third-class master of ceremonies,” Mrs. Renshaw comments.
Played by Keenan Wynn, Botibol almost seems tragic, desperate for acceptance from the higher social classes, who do nothing but look down on him as a source of amusement. Even Botibol’s closest acquaintance, Mr. Renshaw, doesn’t offer the gambler a loan to get out of his predicament, but instead merely offers sound advice – treating Botibol as a fascinating and interesting companion rather than a true friend. There’s something remarkably pathetic about a man who seeks to be accepted by a class of people who have nothing better to do with their money than to bet on how far their cruise liner will travel in a day. (Of course, a percentage does go to charity, which makes it seem a bit better.)
It’s funny how genuinely moving Botibol’s predicament is, even though one could argue it is entirely his own fault. The ending is an especially bitter twist, which is one of Dahl’s specialties – one that stings because Botibol is, despite his flaws, a far more sympathetic lead than many of Dahl’s other characters. It gets even sadder if one thinks about the situation facing his wife Ethel after the whole thing is finished.
A Dip in the Pool is a nice little episode, well written, well acted and well directed. I also think it’s awesome that you can spot the original “scream queen” Fay Wray in a small supporting role as the scathing Mrs. Renshaw. I think it’s nice that she was still able to find work after twenty years – opportunities for older actresses, especially old genre actresses, have never been too great. (That said, I know Alfred Hitchcock Presents isn’t the height of stardom, but it’s still nice.)
Like any other combination of Dahl and Hitchcock, it makes for a nice half-hour.
Read the rest of our contributions to the “For the Love of Film” Alfred Hitchcock blogothon, all episodes from Alfred Hitchcock Presents:
- The Case of Mr. Pelham
- Back for Christmas
- The Hidden Thing
- Wet Saturday
- Mr. Blanchard’s Secret
- Lamb to the Slaughter
- Dip in the Pool
- Banquo’s Chair
- Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat
- The Horse Player
Hey, hope you enjoyed the article. It’s just one of a series of articles we’re running this week to celebrate Alfred Hitchcock and raise money to make The White Shadow available streaming on-line for free. It’s a very worthy cause and you can donate here. Or you can click the link below.
Read the rest of today’s thoroughly awesome Hitchcock articles over at This Island Rod.