Alfred Hitchcock Presents a Chilling Tale by Roald Dahl (1960)

“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 Unex­pect­edagain 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.

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