“Back for Christmas.” An episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Season 1, Episode 23. First airdate: March 4, 1956. John Williams (Herbert), Isabel Elsom (Hermione). Teleplay: Francis M. Cockrell, based on the story by John Collier (The New Yorker, 1939). Director: Alfred Hitchcock.


   While there are eleven speaking parts in this teleplay, only two really matter: Herbert, the put-upon, repressed husband (masterfully underplayed by quintessential British actor John Williams), and his officious wife Hermione (Elsom).

   Our first impression is aural: the sound of someone digging. It’s Herbert, ostensibly excavating an area for a wine cellar.

   When Hermione comes down to check on him, the camera pans and lingers over her in a subjective POV shot from Herbert’s point of view. Later, Hitchcock will give us another long, lingering POV shot of Hermione as the couple are entertaining friends. In both instances, Herbert’s face all but telegraphs his intentions — but no one, especially Hermione, seems to notice.


   Once Herbert hefts an iron pipe, looks sideways at his wife, and — when she has gone back upstairs — checks his passport to confirm how tall she is compared to the hole he’s digging, the audience member who hasn’t caught on by now to what he’s planning really should be ashamed of himself.

   Like anyone who has carefully planned to commit a crime, Herbert has been meticulous almost to a fault — but also like most premeditating criminals, Herbert fails to allow for the unexpected….

   Not to be confused with the American music composer of the same name, John Williams (1903-83) was one of Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite actors. He appeared ten times on Alfred Hitchcock Presents from 1955-59.


   Prior to that, he had won a Broadway Tony Award for playing Chief Inspector Hubbard in Dial M for Murder (1953), a role he would reprise for Hitchcock’s film version (1954), in which he delivers the memorable line: “They talk about flat-footed policemen. May the saints protect us from the gifted amateur.”

   Williams also had a substantial supporting part in To Catch a Thief (1955), dogging jewel thief Cary Grant for most of the film. And he was a pivotal character in the Thriller series adaptation of Robert Bloch’s “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” (1961), ironically an episode directed by Ray Milland, the killer he brought down in Dial M for Murder.

   No suprise that he would be cast as William Shakespeare in a Twilight Zone episode (1963), frequently and ostentatiously quoting … himself.

   John Collier (1901-80) has 27 credits on the IMDb, including seven Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1956-61), one Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1964), and six Tales of the Unexpected (1980-85), among them a remake of “Back for Christmas.”

   The original “Back for Christmas” can be viewed on Hulu here. A fairly detailed discussion of this episode can be found at Senses of Cinema here.