The Movie Waffler Hitchcock in Reverse - <i>Incident at a Corner</i> (1960) | The Movie Waffler

Hitchcock in Reverse - Incident at a Corner (1960)

A school crossing guard is accused of pedophilia by an anonymous parent.

Starring: Vera Miles, George Peppard, Paul Hartman, Jack Albertson, Alice Backes, Leslie Barrett

An elderly crossing guard, James (Hartman), is involved in a confrontation with a teacher (Leora Dana) from the school he is posted outside when she refuses to stop for him. The incident is witnessed by a couple who have just moved into a house across the street. The wife becomes distraught, recognizing James from her past, and insists that they will have to leave the neighborhood. Her husband promises to have James removed and that evening the old man is relieved of his job by the school principal, who has received an anonymous note accusing James of being "too friendly" with young girls. James' granddaughter, Jean (Miles), and her fiance Pat (Peppard) endeavor to find the author of the note and clear the old man's name.
Airing Tuesday evenings on NBC between 1959-60, Startime was one of the first US shows to be filmed and broadcast in color. The content was quite random, veering from straight drama to Dean Martin hosted variety shows. Thanks to a deal with Hollywood super-agent Lew Wasserman, the show featured stars who wouldn't normally accept work in TV, still very much a thespian ghetto in 1959. Acting talent of the caliber of Ingrid Bergman, Alec Guinness, Joan Fontaine, James Stewart, Tony Curtis and Rex Harrison appeared on screen, while big names could also be found behind the camera with episodes directed by John Frankenheimer, written by Gore Vidal and scored by Leonard Bernstein. Wasserman had no less a director than Alfred Hitchcock on his books, and so the master of suspense was conscripted to helm Incident at a Corner, which aired on the evening of April 5th, 1960.
Had Wasserman not asked his client for a favor, it's hard to imagine Hitch agreeing to direct a Startime installment. If the rumors are to be believed, the director was obsessed with Vera Miles, so the opportunity to spend a week in her company while working on the show may have been too good for him to refuse. But there's little in this story that you imagine might have whetted Hitch's appetite. Social dramas were all the rage in the US of the fifties; on stage, on film and on TV. Incident at a Corner seems like a more comfortable fit for a socially conscious film-maker like Nicholas Ray or Douglas Sirk.
Pedophilia is pretty much the worst thing you can be accused of in today's world of tabloid hysteria, so it's odd to see how casually most of the characters here deal with the situation in comparison to a modern drama like 2012's The Hunt. Only Peppard reacts with the indignation such an accusation should provoke.
In full color (Hitch's only color TV episode), the episode has the polished sheen of fifties Hollywood but Hitch injects little of himself into the visual aesthetic. The most notable moment sees Hitch frame the accused James in his doorway, his back turned to the camera, as we hear his family celebrating his birthday inside, unaware of the bad news his principal has just revealed to him. Later on, Hitch positions his camera in a bird's eye shot that adds nothing to the storytelling and merely suggests he was bored by the material.
The story gets bogged down in expository dialogue far too often, the suspense element of cluing in the viewer on who is responsible for the damaging note isn't exploited successfully enough, and the running time is padded out with the same questions being asked of several characters. Had Hitch shown a little more interest in his work here we might have had a compelling piece of TV but the episode feels like little more than Hitch fulfilling an obligation he could have done without.

Eric Hillis