The Movie Waffler Hitchcock in Reverse - <i>The Horse Player</i> (1961) | The Movie Waffler

Hitchcock in Reverse - The Horse Player (1961)

A gambler on a winning streak comes to the aid of a struggling church.

Starring: Claude Rains, Ed Gardner, Kenneth MacKenna

Broadcast on March 14th 1961 as part of Alfred Hitchcock Presents' sixth season, The Horse Player is far lighter in tone than the majority of episodes of the famed anthology series.
Father Amion (Rains) is a catholic priest who presides over a crumbling church. Buckets are placed in the aisles to catch the constant leaking from a roof in dire need of repair. During a midweek mass, Father Amion is surprised, and overjoyed, to find someone has left a $10 note on the collection plate, a generous donation for 1961. More large donations are made over the following weeks and Father Amion discovers the benefactor is Sheridan (Gardner), a gambler who has hit a winning streak since first visiting the church. The priest is unhappy that the money has come as a result of gambling, but with his church in such disrepair he continues to accept it.
One day Sheridan tells him he plans to bet every last dime of his savings on a horse he has insider knowledge of and recommends Amion put some money down himself. The priest is scornful until Sheridan tells him exactly how much a $500 bet would win him. Determined to save his church, Amion withdraws $500 from his bank account and gives it to Sheridan to place the bet. Once this is done, however, Amion immediately regrets it and confesses his actions to his bishop (MacKenna). The bishop urges Amion to pray that the bet doesn't come in, placing Amion in an awkward position. If his prayers are answered it will mean Sheridan has lost his entire savings.
Hitchcock was raised catholic so it's understandable why he would pick this episode to direct, dealing as it does with the theme of guilt. It's a great moral dilemma Amion finds himself in, even if it does require a certain amount of suspension of disbelief, but the problem is it comes right at the end of the episode. Had this been the starting point, it would have made for a far more interesting tale, allowing time to expand on Father Amion's quandary.
Aside from the episode's catholic theme, there's not a whole lot of Hitchcock in The Horse Player. The opening scene, a montage which details the extent of the church's leaky roof, is, however, unmistakably Hitchcockian, setting up a scenario in a purely visual manner. The director of photography was John L Russell, who had just shot Psycho for Hitch, the director having used his Alfred Hitchcock Presents crew to get the movie shot quickly on a tight budget. There's some beautiful framing, especially in that opening montage. Particularly striking is a shot which frames a bucket catching water in the foreground while Father Amion conducts his sermon in the background.
Overall though, the episode is something of a misfire, notable now only for Hitchcock's direction.

The Intro
"Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen. Someone had the brilliant idea that I should don this costume in order to dramatize the title of tonight's play. It is called 'The Horse Player'. I'm sure you want to know who authored this clever charade. His previous works include the following one minute audio collage."

Eric Hillis