“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.” From 1955 to 1962, Alfred Hitchcock greeted viewers to his weekly series Alfred Hitchcock Presents with some version of this phrase, in his unmistakable English drawl. After the iconic introductory sequence featuring Hitchcock stepping into a caricature—drawn by himself—of his jowly profile, the veteran director introduced the audience to the week’s episode with a droll monologue written by longtime TV writer James B. Allardice, in which Hitchcock would poke fun at himself, the viewers, and the show’s sponsors. In addition to Allardice, Hitchcock’s series relied on the talents of several well-known writers, including literary names like John Cheever, Robert Bloch (author of Psycho), and, most famously, the much-loved Roald Dahl.
Primarily known for his whimsical, and often quite dark, children’s books (James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr. Fox), Dahl was also a novelist, screenwriter, and a writer of macabre short stories for adults (he won three Edgars, or mystery writer awards). In 1958, Alfred Hitchcock Presents adapted Dahl’s story “Lamb to the Slaughter.” And, two years later in 1960, Dahl’s story “Man from the South” provided the basis for AHP’s most popular episode (above). The episode stars Steven McQueen as a young man talked into a grisly wager by a mysterious figure named Carlos, played by Peter Lorre. “Man from the South” was adapted several more times in the following years: in 1979 by Dahl himself in a television series called Tales of the Unexpected, again in the 1985 revival of AHP (starring John Huston as Carlos), and in 1995 as the basis for Quentin Tarantino’s segment in the film Four Rooms. Without a doubt, however, this original adaptation of Dahl’s story remains the most memorable and haunting.
J. David Jones is currently a doctoral student in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.